Designated HitterSeptember 03, 2009
Ivy League to MLB: Advanced Metrics and Minor League Baseball
By Shawn Haviland

Hello loyal readers of Baseball Analysts. My name is Shawn Haviland and I am a right-handed pitcher in the Oakland A’s organization, currently pitching for the Kane County Cougars in the Midwest League.

Prior to being drafted by Oakland I attended Harvard University, graduating in the spring of 2008. After playing in the Northwest League for the Vancouver Canadians I began blogging about my experiences, starting with my off-season workout regimen and continuing on through the season recapping each start and discussing other parts of the minor league experience. I’ve been reading The Baseball Analysts for a while and really enjoy the work that they do so hopefully I can keep up the high standard that has been set.

I became interested in advanced metrics a few months before this season when I first heard about Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) through my search for answers as to why I was striking out more than a batter per inning but still had a batting average against of over .260. It seemed like every time they put the ball in play it was going to be a hit. From there I was hooked on the “numbers behind the game.” Despite my interest, the “saber metric revolution” hasn’t really made a huge impact on minor league baseball from the standpoint of how pitchers approach the game.

Minor league pitchers focus on only a few statistics: ERA, WHIP and K/BB ratio. Our pitching instructor preaches that if you want to advance to the next level (the only thing that minor league players really care about) you need to have a below league-average ERA, a WHIP below 1.3 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of at least 3 to 1. Seems easy enough but as I know now I have less control over these statistics than I would like to think.

For example, my season this year has been a tale of two different halves. The first half of the year I was very successful hitting each mark, I was in the top 10 in the league in ERA, had a WHIP below 1.3 and was averaging approximately 8 strikeouts and 2 walks per game. The second half of the year my strikeout-to-walk ratio has stayed around 3 to 1 (7.5 to 2.8) but my ERA and WHIP have shot up, despite the fact that I feel like I have executed my pitches better in the second half of the season than the first half. What happened, you might ask? The answer here seems to be that my BABIP has gone up almost every month all the way up to over .360 in August.

April .303 2.35
May .304 3.06
June .346 5.61
July .327 6.46
August .368 4.54

(You can check out my full month-by-month splits and other assorted numbers of interest on minor league

I know that BABIP is not the only factor that is affecting my ERA but it certainly is not helping me achieve the organizational goal of having a below league-average ERA. The fact of the matter and the unfortunate thing for anyone victim of high BABIP, is that these stats are not prevalent in minor league clubhouses. Coaches see a rising ERA and think that the pitcher is pitching worse, which may be the opposite of the case.

Now if I handed that last paragraph to the majority of minor league baseball players I probably would be met with a blank stare. However, if I asked minor league pitchers about their ground ball ratio, most would be able to tell you exactly what their ratio is (mine is .89) and how they are trying to improve their ratio by throwing different pitches to force ground balls.

Batted ball type is the area where advanced metrics has broken into minor league baseball. Our roving pitching instructor Gil Patterson constantly says that it is “impossible to hit a ball out of the park if it is on the ground.” During instructional league we talked a lot about if you are able to make the hitter hit the ball on the ground the worst-case scenario, unless they hit the ball directly down the line, it is going to be a single. If you can make a team hit three singles to score a run you are going to be very successful. While BABIP is slightly higher on ground balls than fly balls it is worth the sacrifice because doubles, triples and home runs are what really hurt pitchers and allow for multiple runs to be scored very quickly.

Pitching for ground balls also eliminates the effect of the ballpark you play in. Our High-A team is in Stockton, California, in the hitters’ paradise that is the California League. Every pitcher that I have talked to says, “Pick up a sinker or a cutter in Kane County because you are going to need it in Stockton.” If you turn on the television and watch any major league baseball game the number of pitchers who are throwing predominantly four-seam fastballs is dwindling. Brian Bannister is a perfect example of this, in that he as all but scrapped his four-seam fastball and instead throws a sinker and a cutter.

The majority of teams in the major leagues rely heavily on home runs as a source of run production; and after the high-powered offense era pitchers are finally catching up and realizing that velocity is not the most important factor in success (although it is nice to throw gas) but rather the ability to make the hitter hit the top of the ball truly breeds success. Armed with this information, pitchers, like Bannister, are making adjustments to force the hitters to keep the ball in the yard.

This brings up the argument as to what is more important: pitch type or pitch location. When we have our pitchers' meetings to formulate the game plans against opposing hitters, axioms like, “he can’t hit a curve ball,” or “he has a long swing, so he won’t be able to catch up to a fastball,” are consistently thrown around. I have never liked speaking in absolutes because I don’t think that there is a hitter in pro ball, or college baseball for that matter, who can’t hit a certain pitch. The players who have a hole that blatant were weeded out long ago. However, there are players who cannot hit a well-located fastball or curveball. My point being that every hitter can hit a fastball belt high right down the middle or a hanging curveball so to simply throw a pitch that the hitter “can’t hit” is not enough. As with real estate, pitching is all about location, location, and location. Although I have no statistical proof, I would argue that throwing the “wrong” pitch in a good location is going to lead to a lot more success than throwing the “right” pitch that is poorly located.

Vladimir Guerrero is one of the best fastball hitters in the game today but you will see him weakly hit a well-placed fastball. Hitters have the hard job, they need to recognize what pitch is coming and then hit a round ball with a round bat to a place that is not occupied by a defensive player. As a pitcher, all you have to do is locate your pitch and let the batter hit it at someone. Statistics tell you that more times than not the hitter is going to get himself out.

Thanks for reading. If you have any thoughts or questions, feel free to leave comments below, email me or check out my blog Ivy League to MLB.


Very interesting. It's great to hear of professional ballplayers moving beyond the cliches.

Our pitching instructor preaches that if you want to advance to the next level (the only thing that minor league players really care about) you need to have a below league-average ERA, a WHIP below 1.3 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of at least 3 to 1.

This seems brutal to me. Caring about a minor leaguer's ERA, are you kidding me? All I care about Red Sox prospects doing well in are K%, K/BB, and GB%.


Thanks for the great guest post. I hope you've enjoyed your time at Kane County this year. It's a tremendous host for Class A ball. (As a disclaimer, I developed my love of baseball from attending many of their games when I was young.) The note Ryan pointed out also surprised me, as I find it hard to believe that the A's, of all teams, would rely on a traditional metric like ERA to judge you and your fellow minor league pitchers. That just seems like contradictory thinking to their famed use of OBP for hitters.

"I’ve been reading The Baseball Analysts for a while and really enjoy the work that they do so hopefully I can keep up the high standard that has been set."

If you want to do that you need to go back to your HS English teacher and stop using words like "hopefully".
Keep up writing, it shouldn't detract from your ability to do your day job. Brad Ziegler used to post at A's Nation when he was in the minors and it didn't hurt him.

Why is it that some people (Gilbert) find slamming others necessary?

Great post. Really interesting. Thanks for taking the time to write it. I think back in the 60s, the White Sox manager, Eddie Stanky, promised his pitchers he would buy them a new suit any time they got 20 groundball outs in a game.

Great insight into pitcher development at MILB level. Please continue to be so candid.

Did you also cross-reference your LOB% (Left On Base %) with your BABIP? They are often linked.

Also, you can find reliable formulas online to self-calculate without the help of sites like Fangraphs.

PS -- Ignore Gilbert's comments. They're not constructive.



Ryan- those stats are to "guarantee" advancement, a very high standard but in the minors you have to force the hand of the organization to promote you especially as a 33rd round pick.

Matt- Kane County has been awesome, the stadium is always packed and the fans are awesome. It is possible that the higher ups (billy beane, dave forst etc) in the organization focus on different types of stats, I just haven't run into it yet.

Cyril- I'm going to ask my pitching coach to look into this kind of incentive program, maybe lowering the standard to 15 ground balls because we rarely get to go more than 6 innings.

Drew- LOB% is a stat I don't know much about. I have heard it is supposed to be around 70%, I am not sure what my percentage would be. I'll have to look into it.

Thanks for all the comments, this has been a good learning experience for me and hopefully I can do it again.


15 sounds more reasonable, especially since it would be in fewer innings. If no one believes you about it, just google "eddie stanky" along with suit and/or ground. I found a few sites that mentioned this. But I think the pitcher needed to pitch a complete game. More common in those days. One site said that Stanky had to change the policy one year because he was buying too many suits. I recalled it from being a White Sox fan back in the 1960s. Anyway, as an economics professor, I believe in incentives.


Really enjoyed hearing from a pitcher who thinks beyond just the scoreboard stats. I'm glad there are becoming more and more pitchers who are willing to speak about sabermetrics.

Oh, and forget the grammar police.

Add me to those above: Thank you for sharing your information.

I'm surprised that the A's are not more sabermetrically advanced in what they are asking from their minor leaguers. One would think the Moneyball team would be doing more.

I would suggest concentrating on K/BB along with GB%. And, of course, K/9. As you note, is great for those stats.

Since you are new to saber, may I suggest you check out Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster? If you check them out on-line, you can get their old annuals for less than half price (at least you could before they were bought out; not sure now, haven't checked lately). The fantasy stuff you don't need (though that is good stuff if you are into it), but they have great stuff teaching you about analyzing players sabermetrically that I found helped me understand everything much more clearly. I love their Toolkit. I had bought Baseball Prospectus for years before, but never understood everything until I read this book.

I would also suggest checking out "Curve Ball" by Jim Albert and Jay Bennett. Lots of interesting stuff there. Jim Albert also wrote, "Teaching Statistics Using Baseball" if you want a more text book oriented tome to read.

Lastly, I recall that someone from SABR is a professor at Harvard. Victor Wang? He sometimes writes an article for SABR's monthly publication, just search for it on the web, usually easy to find. Maybe you can make a connection through school and he can help you out.

Good luck!

Oh, and I suggest you and your buddies try to get starts in San Jose. Jonathan Mayo of studied minor league parks and found that Municipal Stadium has the highest strikeout rate in the minors. A hitter noted that the background enables that, making it hard for hitters to see pitches. And BP notes that the Park Factor for San Jose makes it an extreme pitchers park in the hitter's league that is the Cal League.

And, if any of your buddies ever can, Norwich is a great place to pitch at, extreme pitcher's park, limits homers greatly. I would include you but Norwich soon will not be in the Eastern League, at least not with the Giants, and I'm not sure where it will or has ended up.

Great post....unique and informative. I'll be reading everything you write from here on out!

"Pitching for ground balls also eliminates the effect of the ballpark you play in"

Not so!

For 2006-2009, the groundball hit factor for California League parks ranged form 1.12 at Lancaster to 0.75 At San Jose. For all of pro baseball, 1.52 at Parque Foro Sol in Mexico City and 1.45 at The Diamond in Richmond, down to 0.59 at Hammind Field in Fort Myers (compared to the other parks in their league). This is the percentage of all non-bunt groundballs that go to the outfield for hits, comparing home to road in a matched pairs analysis.

                  GBH  IFH
Lancaster        1.23 1.11
San Bernardino   1.17 0.94
Lake Elsinore    1.06 1.22
Adelanto         1.03 1.03
Visalia          1.00 0.81
Stockton         0.98 1.10
Rancho Cucamonga 0.98 0.85
Modesto          0.91 0.96
Bakersfield      0.89 0.96
San Jose         0.75 1.02

My best guess for reasons why is the hardness of the dirt and the length of the grass. I was watching the PGH/MIL game the other day, and the announcers quoted players about the hard infield in Milwaukee - I checked to see that Miller Park has a GBH factor 1.08.