The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a few years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.
Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion in the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) received a future value grade of 45 or less from Dan Farnsworth during the course of his organizational lists and who (b) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, and John Sickels, and also who (c) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on a midseason list or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.
In the final analysis, the basic idea is this: to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.
*****Rookie Davis, RHP, Cincinnati (Profile)
Davis was a fixture among the Five last year, tying for 11th
on the arbitrarily calculated Scoreboard by way both of an excellent strikeout- and walk-rate profile at High-A and a fastball that sits at 93-95 mph. Traded to Cincinnati this offseason as part of the deal that sent Aroldis Chapman
to the Yankees, Davis has stalled a bit — so far as his statistical indicators are concerned, at least. His most recent starts have been encouraging, however: the right-hander has produced a 13:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 39 batters over his last 11.0 innings.
Why he appears here now, though, is because of a different leaderboard on which he’s recently appeared — namely, the secret and proprietary one the author utilizes to track each minor league’s top fringe batters. Through his first 20 plate appearances this year — which also represent the first 20 plate appearances of his career in affiliated baseball — Davis has recorded a walk, two strikeouts, and four extra bases (essentially, extra bases minus hits). That’s a 20% extra-base rate versus only a 10% strikeout rate. For context, between 2011 and -15, only 43 batters produced even a positive differential between extra-base rate and strikeout rate — out of 335 qualified batters total during that interval.
Here are the top-10 batters by that measure between 2011 and 2015:
Top Differentials, Extra Bases Minus Strikeouts, 2011-15
Only qualified batters considered.
That’s a collection of basically the league’s top batters. The bottom of the list, meanwhile, includes most of the league’s worst ones. A combination of extra bases and strikeouts serves as a good proxy for success — and each has the benefit of stabilizing long before the typical slash stats.
It’s improbable, of course, that Davis will continue hitting like one of the top batters, literally, of the last half-decade. He needn’t do anything of the sort, of course, to offer some value. Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke, for example, have both produced more than three extra wins over the last five years on the basis of their offensive contributions alone — each while batting roughly 50% worse than a league-average hitter.
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