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Collette Calls: Analyzing the Approach

Jason Collette

Jason Collette

Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. He covers the Tampa Bay Rays at theprocessreport.net. You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Towers of Power Baseball Hour Podcast on iTunes. He was selected as the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year by FSWA in 2013.

Back in late February, I wrote this article about the importance of putting statistical performance at the minor league in perspective at each level. Since then, we have added current statistics, and thanks to the hard work of Kyle Boddy at Driveline Mechanics, the revitalization of minor league splits. Until 2010, minor league split data was easily searchable on Jeff Sackmann's database but he had to wind it down so Boddy stepped up and brought the project back to life. Not only does the site allow you to look up how prospects have hit or pitched against righties or lefties throughout the years, it also looks at the body of work at all prospects in a league from 2005 through 2010. This removes any single year fluctuations and gives you a significant amount of sample size to look at statistical performances that are often not from significant enough sample sizes.

We know from the hard work of analysts such as Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andrew Dolphin in "The Book" that there are certain amounts needed to review statistics for them to become reliable. They are:

  • 50 PA: Swing%
  • 100 PA: Contact Rate
  • 150 PA: Strikeout Rate, Line Drive Rate, Pitches/PA
  • 200 PA: Walk Rate, Ground Ball Rate, GB/FB
  • 250 PA: Fly Ball Rate
  • 300 PA: Home Run Rate, HR/FB
  • 500 PA: OBP, SLG, OPS, 1B Rate, Popup Rate
  • 550 PA: ISO

    Most everyday minor league players have somewhere between 100 and 120 plate appearances so at this point in the season, we have enough of a sample size to judge a batters swing rate and how often they are making contact with pitches which leaves many other statistics open for evaluation and discussion.

    The table below shows the statistical average for each of US-Based leagues from 2005-2010 and are separated by classification.

    LEAGUE
    International
    Pacific Coast
    BA
    0.264
    0.277
    OBP
    0.334
    0.349
    SLG
    0.404
    0.432
    GB%
    29%
    30%
    LD%
    18%
    18%
    FB%
    45%
    45%
    Eastern
    Southern
    Texas
    0.260
    0.261
    0.268
    0.344
    0.338
    0.342
    0.395
    0.388
    0.405
    32%
    29%
    28%
    14%
    17%
    18%
    46%
    46%
    46%
    Florida State
    Carolina
    California
    0.257
    0.260
    0.276
    0.330
    0.337
    0.349
    0.375
    0.392
    0.424
    30%
    31%
    33%
    15%
    13%
    13%
    47%
    48%
    47%
    Midwest
    South Atlantic
    0.257
    0.259
    0.332
    0.332
    0.377
    0.383
    30%
    28%
    14%
    15%
    48%
    49%
    NY/Penn
    Appalachian
    0.250
    0.259
    0.328
    0.333
    0.358
    0.384
    29%
    28%
    14%
    14%
    49%
    51%
    Pioneer
    Northwest
    Gulf Coast
    Arizona
    0.274
    0.257
    0.249
    0.265
    0.351
    0.339
    0.328
    0.347
    0.413
    0.374
    0.351
    0.376
    28%
    28%
    30%
    28%
    15%
    14%
    13%
    14%
    50%
    50%
    49%
    51%


    The differences between the International and Pacific Coast Leagues are well known. Currently, there are 14 hitters in the PCL that have an OPS greater than 1.000 while the International League has just five. 17 batters in the PCL have at least 60 total bases already this season while just 11 can make that claim in the International League. When I am doing statistical analysis at this level, I block out the baseball card stats and check the peripheral statistics first and then move back to the baseball card stats and put them in context with the rest of the league. At the Double-A level, the Texas League is the best for hitters, but it is not overall that more favorable than the Eastern or Southern League. At the High-A level, the Florida State League plays tough on hitters because most of its parks are where spring training games are played and thus have larger dimensions than other minor league parks while the California League is a pitcher's nightmare. The Low-A leagues are rather inseparable while the short-season leagues tend to favor the pitchers outside of the Pioneer League where offense comes in bunches.

    Since we cannot take too much from 2011 stats thus far limited to the sample size, let's focus on what we can use with the sample size at hand: swing% and contact rate. The most common thing that keeps prospects from making their climb to the next level or gets them sent back down to the minors is an inability to make contact and a lack of selectivity at the plate. Here are how some prospects are doing thus far in Triple-A:

    Player 2010 Swing% 2011 Swing% 2010 K% 2011 K%
    Jesus Montero 45% 52% 20% 20%
    Desmond Jennings 38% 37% 17% 23%
    Josh Bell 53% 47% 25% 33%
    Mike Moustakas 51% 47% 11% 21%
    Eric Hosmer 38% 32% 14% 16%
    Yonder Alonso 48% 44% 19% 19%
    Scott Sizemore 41% 39% 26% 25%
    Anthony Rizzo n/a 46% 25% 22%
    Wily Mo Pena 53% 56% 19% 23%
    Eric Young Jr 45% 44% 26% 18%
    Brett Lawrie n/a 52% 21% 19%
    Trayvon Robinson n/a 47% 29% 30%
    Dustin Ackley 40% 32% 18% 16%
    Dee Gordon n/a 50% 16% 19%


    Jesus Montero is swinging at more pitches than he did last year but it has not hurt his contact rate in the slightest while cutting into his walk rate. If it is hurting him anywhere, it is in the power department as his slash line is .337/.352/.416. Desmond Jennings is swinging less often but he is also making less contact than he has in the past as this is the first time Jennings has had a strikeout rate north of 20% in his entire career. It could be some frustration with spending parts of a third straight season in Durham as he waits for the Rays to call him up for good sometime next month.

    Josh Bell flashed some incredible leather in Baltimore last season but he was completely overmatched at the plate at the big league level and he has not improved on that so far in Triple-A. He is swinging less, but he is also making a lot less contact. When you look at Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer side by side, it is easy to see why Hosmer made the climb to the majors first when people said it was going to be a dead heat as to who got there first. Yonder Alonso is the definition of blocked as he continues to hold his peripheral skills at Triple-A without a job opening and that will continue until the Reds trade him. Scott Sizemore's improvements at the plate were slight, but good enough to get him back to the Tigers and he makes for a great in-season pickup.

    Anthony Rizzo generated some discussion on last week's rankings article and he has made some great strides this season in cutting down on strikeouts while Wily Mo Pena continues to be Wily Mo Pena. Owners hoping to use EY Jr's speed this year may get their change as he has dramatically cut down on his strikeouts which were a big problem for him with the Rockies, along with his defense. Brett Lawrie has had his own defensive issues in Las Vegas, but he is also swinging at everything right now (MLB average is 45%). Trayvon Robinson is not far behind him but the lack of contact is going to slow his climb to the Dodgers while Dustin Ackley is getting the job done with selectivity but a .238 BABIP has helped lead to a .229/.357/.382 slash line while Dee Gordon has all of the speed in the world, but the selectivity thus far this season leaves a lot to be desired.

    I know it can be tempting to take early sample sizes in the minors and dream about major league fantasy impact, but sample size is everything. Hot starts can get prospects called up early but it are those peripheral skills that will keep them there and selectivity will make or break any prospect at the big league level as not everyone can be Vladimir Guerrero.
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