This is not an earth-shattering statement, but you simply cannot scout everyone on statistics. Consider that your latest public service announcement from Captain Obvious. That said, you have to use what is at your disposal. We hear a lot of talk about the 1 percent and the 99 percent in the political arena these days, but when it comes to prospecting, it is more like the 0.1 percent and the 99.9 percent. There are a select few whose job it is to travel the country and watch everyone play in person, and then there are the rest of us who read the public reports, see the public data, and form our own opinions. We can get to a handful of games in our area and watch guys hit with power, run fast, or throw fast, but looking at data is still the most readily available tool that most of us have at our disposal. Full disclosure - I started writing this piece on Tuesday before Bernie Pleskoff published this very complementary and wonderful piece. Bernie has been doing this for a very long time and you would be wise to do what I do and leverage his knowledge against the stats to help form your own opinions of players. After all, prospecting is far from an exact science and some guys can slip through the cracks.
Throughout this offseason, I have done several statistical-based reviews of Triple and Double-A hitters as well as looking at some key ways to start identifying pitchers to follow via the wonder stat work that places like MinorLeagueCentral.com and StatCorner.com make available. Today, I would like to focus on a way to help find guys to follow if you are looking for help for steals for the coming season or future seasons.
Last season, I wrote two different articles related to stolen base talents: prospects that could help in the near future and then dedicated one to the speed freak show that is Billy Hamilton. If you listen to Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks on the Up & In podcast (if not, you should be), they have talked about Hamilton recently. You are likely familiar with the 20-80 scale that scouts grade tools with; let's just say Goldstein said he would love to give Hamilton a 90 grade for his speed. Yea, that fast.
My point in bringing up Hamilton is that even though he may be the fastest player in as baseball uniform these days, the stats do not say so. Fangraphs employs a version of the original SpeedScore metric by Bill James. His formula took six elements and put them on a scale of 1-10, then took the average of the six elements. These elements included stolen-base percentage, stolen-base attempts, triples, runs scored, and grounded-into double plays . If you're interested in the exact formulas, here they are:
Stolen base percentage: ((SB+3)/(SB+CS+7)-0.4)*20
Stolen base attempts: SQRT((SB+CS)/((H-2B-3B-HR)+BB+HBP))/0.07
Runs scored: ((R-HR)/(H+BB-HR+HBP)-0.1)/0.04
Grounded-into double plays: (0.063-GIDP/(AB-HR-K))/0.007
Raise your hand if you have a spreadsheet with those formulas inputted into it so you can input the data and get the results. Anyone? Anyone? Buehler? This is where Fangraphs helps out. They have a SPD metric listed on their leader boards that factors in stolen-base percentage, frequency of attempts, triples, and runs scored thus dropping the GIDP component from the original template for the metric. If we use their leader boards to see who are the fastest of the fastest players in the minor leagues based on stats (min 300 PA), we find 32-year-old Rich Thompson.
Thompson has but one plate appearance in his major league career, but has had quite the run as a Triple-A hitter dating back to 2003. He has played parts or all of 10 seasons in Triple-A and has swiped 249 bases in that time while being caught only 46 times. Last season, he was 48-for-52 on the basepaths, but he is the prototypical organizational player that fills Triple-A rosters and is not going to get a spot on the 40-man roster unless a few things break his way. Hamilton was third on the list last year with a SPD score of 9.2. He was penalized for being thrown out 20 times, which still gives him just over an 80 percent success rate while he scored 99 runs and tripled nine times. We talked about Hamilton at length in the other article but who are some others that scored highly last season?
Junior Lake (CHC) - The infielder had a 9.7 SPD rating but had a 19:109 BB:K as a 20-year-old between High A and Double-A. This came after a 18:138 ratio in 2009 and 35:99 in 2010. He gave back the gains from 2010 and it was not because of his promotion to Double-A as his ratio was just 6:49 in High-A. It does not matter how fast you are if you cannot get on base enough to use those skills. Despite a .316 OBP last season, he was 38-for-44 on the basepaths. He was one of the surprise performers in the AFL, and I was rather unimpressed with what I saw at the plate and body language wise. I do not know quite how to qualify those types of observations, but I was looking for Carlton Fisk to come out and yell at this kid as he did Deion Sanders back in the day.
Anthony Gose (TOR) - Take my criticisms of Lake and flip the script as I was quite impressed with Gose. He has his offensive challenges but he is extremely fleet of foot and is quite knowledgeable of his craft as a basestealer. In an AL-only league, he would be a high target of mine on the athleticism alone. If he can cut down on the strikeouts, his fantasy stock will soar.
Gary Brown (SF) - He is not much of a secret these days, but he was thrown out 19 times in 72 stolen-base attempts in High-A last season. Even though he is only going to Double-A ball, this may be your last chance to roster the future fantasy phenom.
Rymer Liriano (SD) - The Midwest League is a proving ground for stolen-base fiends and Liriano is another one out of the league as he was 65-for-85 on the basepaths last season. The issue here is he is 20 years old and is already listed at 6-feet and 211 pounds. Odds are, that weight will increase as he finishes maturing and with that will go his stolen bases. He is still an excellent fantasy prospect, but half that stolen-base total from 2011 if you are looking for a future ceiling in the majors by the time he gets there.
Jean Segura (LAA) - Here is an example of what I was talking about with Liriano. Segura swiped 50 bases in the Midwest League in 2010 in 60 attempts. Last season in High-A, he was 18-for-24 albeit in only 232 plate appearances. He is listed at 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds and after seeing him in person in the AFL with Bernie in November, that seems high on the height and low on the weight. That said, he is quite athletic and his pop is quite impressive for someone of his stature. The fact he can play both middle-infield positions, hit with power, and run gives him a potentially bright fantasy future.
Hak-Ju Lee (TB) - His 8.1 SPD rating comes more from his 15 triples than his 33-of-49 effort in stolen bases last season. He has the potential to be a three-category fantasy contributor hitting at the top of the lineup in the future and his defense will help expedite his path to the Rays. Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac and Tim Beckham are in front of him but none of them have done anything to lock in any guarantee beyond 2012. His numbers hit a wall upon his promotion to Double-A, but by his own admission, he wore down over the course of a full season and has worked to build up his endurance over this offseason.
Collin Cowgill (Oak) - Before Billy Beane went out and signed 46 outfielders, I had hope for Cowgill after he was traded to Oakland. You figure that Cespedes and Crisp are guaranteed to start leaving only one outfield spot for the other 44 outfielders to compete for. You have to discount what Cowgill did in Tucson last year because of the hitting environment but he is 55 for his last 67 on the basepaths over the past two seasons and is someone worth targeting in a reserve capacity if you want to speculate on steals. He stole just four bases in 37 games last year with Arizaon, but his speed score has been 7.4, 6.3, and 8.7 over the last three seasons and that is what first got my attention with him despite the fact he may never be more than a reserve outfielder.