One of the questions I receive through e-mail most often is, something like, "Bryan, to what minor league level do you think college baseball best equates with?"
This is always a tough question to answer, currently impossible to quantify. The best we can do is to guess with our eyes. College baseball's best teams probably hover around high-A ball, while most regional qualifiers might be able to hold their own in the Midwest League (low-A). As we get towards the bottom, some aren't good enough to compete in the Rookie Leagues.
As college baseball fans know, a week for a big program usually consists of 1-2 midweek games and a 3-game weekend series. For most teams, the best pitcher on the team opens the weekend series, usually starting Friday nights. Friday nights are when teams should be at their best, with the best starter on the mound, and the best 8 behind him. Many Carolina League teams would want to avoid UNC on Friday nights.
Recently, I started to wonder how hitters perform on Friday nights. At the Major League level, we have splits for everything: month, LH vs. RH, spot in the order, with RISP, etc. I started to realize that for college hitters, in addition to monthly splits, we could add four more: individual numbers for Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and the rest of the week. Today, I present the first step towards achieving that goal.
Below, I have calculated how fifteen junior hitters -- considered by some to be the best 15 in the country -- have performed on the weekend series' opening night. If a series started on Thursday, I chose that night. But, nine times out of ten, it simply meant combing through Friday game logs. These numbers, ideally, should tell us how hitters do against some of their best competition.
However, as with many splits, multiple caveats apply. First, I want to stress that I'm not presenting how Evan Longoria did against the best 13 pitchers he's faced. Rather, we're computing how he did against the best pitchers from the 13 teams that Long Beach State has faced on the weekends. Without a doubt, the Saturday Texas starter (Kyle McCulloch) is better than the UC Irvine Friday pitcher. But on Fridays, UC Irvine should be at their best. Other caveats include that this stat screams sample-size, and that due to being done by hand, it might not be perfect. In the cases where it's not perfect, I can promise that it's close.
So, onto the numbers. Again, below is the performance of 15 highly projected Junior hitters on Friday nights, ranked by OPS:
The most noteworthy mitigating factor in regards to this split is schedule strength. The chart's OPS leader, Pittsburgh 2B Jim Negrych, is a prime example of this, facing a weak Big East schedule. The best pitchers that Negrych has faced on Friday nights this year are David Price -- a great LHP from Vanderbilt -- and Jeff Samardzija, the overrated Norte Dame WR/SP. On the other hand, Drew Stubbs has faced a very hard slate of pitchers, thanks to Texas' tough schedule. Stubbs' 2006 competition has included four pitchers (Butler, Reynolds, Hughes, Chamberlain) that will likely be drafted in the '06 first round. Generally the level of competition is fairly even across the board, but it's important to note that it could have an affect on the final totals.
A few other thoughts that the above table produces...
Previously, I have noted that complaints exist about Matt Antonelli's performance against his best competition. His numbers refute that point, his 1.056 OPS has included match-ups against 2007 top-ten talents Sean Doolittle (Virginia) and Andrew Brackman (NC State). While Antonelli's patience (7 BB) and power (6 XBH) are both impressive, I was most wowed by his fantastic display of contact. In 44 at-bats, Antonelli has struck out just one time. Add an insane amount of athleticism to these numbers, and I maintain that Antonelli is the June draft's most underrated talent.
Other players that profit from this analysis include Mark Hamilton and Josh Rodriguez. Hamilton's contact skills are problematic, neither his .245 average or 11 strikeouts are positive indicators. However, no one has hit more Friday home runs (5), and few have drawn more walks. I was a big fan of Hamilton's before the season, and with his stock on the way up, I want to re-stress my Ryan Klesko comparison.
Rodriguez entered the year close on many draft boards to Evan Longoria, but his stock fell a bit when Longoria flew past him. However, Rodriguez is my pick for the best natural shortstop in the draft. His contact skills are fantastic; in the last five Fridays, he has not struck out. Josh isn't the most patient hitter, nor the best shortstop, but his talents with the bat outshine those weaknesses. I would draft him in the supplemental first round.
Looking for reasons that the Florida Gators have underperformed this season? Point your fingers in the direction of their three junior hitters. Adam Davis and Brian Jeroloman have both proven to be extremely weak with the bat, both showing little power and a high propensity to strike out. And while Matt LaPorta was projected to be the Gators' rock, injuries and poor Friday performances should hurt his draft stock. Shouldn't we raise a red flag knowing that only one of LaPorta's 13 extra-base hits have come on Fridays?
I believe LaPorta, like Greg Reynolds in the pitching department, will end up as one of the first round's biggest disappointments.
The other noteworthy disappointments, rounding out the bottom five, are Jon Jay (Miami - OF) and Chad Tracy (Pepperdine - C). Jay has shown more athleticism in 2006 than in the past, however, his bat has not been the strength that many projected. In the last 13 weekend series, Jay has not hit a single extra-base hit on opening night. Tracy's position could lend an early-round selection, but his offensive talents are overstated. If his Friday numbers prove to be any indicator, neither Tracy's patience (5 BBs) or power (3 XBH) project well with wooden bats.
Again, the numbers which I presented today are nothing more than a sample-size split. But, in college baseball, where a weekend can drastically change a player's draft position, I think the numbers are important.