Break up the Dodgers!
Carson Cistulli’s had a couple of good ideas lately. The first was to trademark the term breastaurant, if only to capitalize on what seems like the inevitable future of American dining. Except somebody’d already done that. His second idea, though, was just as inevitable but seemingly original: WAR for minor-league hitters.
Now, we can all cast aspersions on the idea if we like. After all, we’ve got detailed data on minor leaguers for their hitting, but not for their baserunning or fielding. And if we’re not going to include baserunning or fielding, then what’s the point? Because we’ve had Major League Equivalencies for minor leaguers since the 1980s, when Bill James first started figuring them.
Ah, but there are workarounds.
Baserunning? We do have Speed Scores – another James invention, naturally – for the farm boys, based purely on the widely available statistics. And the good news? Speed Scores, as Carson demonstrates, correlate highly with more sophisticated measures of baserunning. So it become a relatively easy decision to use Speed Scores as a proxy for Ultimate Base Running (a component of FanGraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement).
Fielding? That’s more problematic, at least in Carson’s view. What you could do is parse all the fielding stats that are available, and come up with some pretty reasonable results. After all, that’s what everybody does for the major leaguers before 1982 or whenever. I might be wrong about this, but we’ve got statistics for the minor leaguers in 2014 that are just as good as what we’ve got for Tris Speaker in 1914. And somehow we make do with those.
Anyway, that’s not what Carson did, probably because it would require way too much work. Instead, Carson just used standard positional adjustments: a shortstop is harder to find than a first baseman, etc. Which isn’t a terrible proxy, especially considering the unreliability of fielding statistics over the course of one season. Let alone one minor-league season.
So all this makes plenty of sense, to me at least. Remember, these are not projections or predictions, but rather simply rough measures of how well players performed, relative to their leagues and including the little things.
After going through the methodology and presenting the top 20 minor-league WARs of 2014, Carson offers just a few notes about the list.
The first? “Cubs third-base prospect Kris Bryant produced the highest WAR figure in all the minors last year. That he is also regarded as one of the top-two or -three prospects in baseball appears to be not a coincidence.”
No, probably not. Seeing Bryant with 8.9 mWAR – or as I would prefer, just plain 9 – isn’t a surprise at all.*
* btw, “mWAR” is something I just threw in there, since I think it’s obvious that this manifestation of WAR deserves its own nomenclature, and mWAR makes as much sense as anything else.
But what Carson doesn’t mention – and here’s why I’m devoting a whole column to this endeavor, rather than simply a retweet or a Baseball Joe – is what seems to me the most striking thing about his results …
The Los Angeles Dodgers dominate this list.
Which should throw the fear of God into the Giants and anybody else with designs on the National League West in the next five years.
Bryant is the only Cub in the top 20. The Mariners and the Red Sox both have two prospects in the top 20. With four players in the top nine, the Dodgers are the only team with more than two in the top 20:
2. Corey Seager (20)
3. Joc Pederson (22)
7. Darnell Sweeney (23)
8. Scott Schebler (23)
I haven’t seen any of the prospect lists yet, so I’ll just guess that neither Sweeney nor Schebler are highly regarded, since both spent their Age 23 seasons in Class AA. Both were low draft picks, too: Sweeney in the 13th round, Schebler in the 26th. On the other hand, both have generally impressive minor-league track records, and both would seem to profile as future major leaguers.
But of course it’s Seager and Pederson who project as major-league regulars, and maybe stars. Which hardly seems fair, considering how much talent the Dodgers have already, and how much money they can spend on more talent.
Youneverknow. We’ve guessed in the past that some franchise would become unbeatable, and it usually doesn’t actually happen. But if there’s franchise right now that’s better-positioned for the future, I’d like to know about it.