Hitting prospects 2015

This is a ranking system that considers a base that is stolen to be as valid a unit of offensive production as a base that is attained any other way. It takes the sum of total bases + walks + SBs, adjusts it slightly, and divides by games played to arrive at a score, according to which the players are ranked. (Hitting prospects are starters, not pinch hitters or defensive replacements, so dividing by games is roughly the same as dividing by at-bats or plate appearances.)

The adjustment represented by the “adj points” column is Points minus Games. This adjustment rests on the idea that one total base (or walk or SB) per game is a baseline, required to get you to zero.

Players included here are at South Bend (“sbn”) or higher. I include Eugene (half-season league) numbers and even Arizona League (“cbz”) numbers if a player has advanced to South Bend (A ball) or above.

This is the first Hitting Prospects list I have compiled since 2013, and I find it clarifying. I look at box scores and slash lines pretty closely from day to day and week to week, and yet when I build this data table and then sort by “score,” high to low, the results surprise me. I wasn’t expecting to see Ian Happ at the top of the ranking, now that Bryant and Schwarber are gone. Before today, I would have mentioned Contreras, McKinney, Young and Torres as the best hitting prospects. Now I can see that they’re a little weak in the total-bases department. Too many of their hits are singles. Contreras in particular may not have the pop you would like to see in a righty-hitting catcher. Today, with this list in front of me, the best hitters look like Happ, (Javier) Baez and Zagunis. (I would also mention Matt Szczur, a late bloomer who, if he can turn it up another notch, could find a place in someone’s outfield.)

In major-league stats today, WAR is the standard composite number, which is fine, except that I spend more time trying to rank minor leaguers, who don’t get WARs. Without a convenient composite number, minor-league reputations tend to be internet-scout-driven. (Hype-driven?) The table above attempts a number-driven ranking, superior, I think to OPS, because it takes speed into account.

Meanwhile, below, I have generated scores, based on the same formula described at the top of this post, for a handful of major-league players including Anthony Rizzo and the four “core” 2015 Cub rookies. I sort the table by the Score column, but I have appended the player’s offensive WAR (oWAR) in the column at the far right.

The rankings are roughly similar, but with some disagreements. The discrepancies are mainly, I would say, regarding Trout, Votto and Schwarber. Even though it’s called offensive WAR, oWAR adjusts for defensive position, so that could penalize first-baseman Goldschmidt (5.5) and even corner-OF Harper (6.2) relative to centerfielder Trout (6.8). Also, oWAR may privilege Trout’s high total-base number over Harper’s and Goldschmidt’s and especially Votto’s high number of walks. My formula counts total-base units and walks equally.

I have Chris Davis with a higher score than Kris Bryant. According to oWAR, Bryant is better. I assume that is because Bryant plays a defensive position, third, while Davis stiffs it out at first; but my post is titled Hitting (not Fielding) Prospects. Generally, we have a sense of what position a player plays, and whether he is competent at that position, before we start looking at offensive numbers, and we allow for the difference between center and left, short and second, third and first. So Davis ranks slightly higher in my ranking while I recognize that Bryant is more valuable.

I have no idea why Schwarber’s oWAR is so low. The WAR formulas are a bit complicated for my taste, to be honest.

Why aren’t there minor-league WAR numbers? Apparently, WAR needs a certain data-collecting infrastructure that professional baseball at the minor-league level is not equipped to provide.

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