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Colvin and Boesch Going Forward

The accolades being handed out to baseball’s current rookie class have been impressive — the best rookie class ever, the Year of the Rookie, etc. For prospect mavens and scouts alike, the successes of Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward and Carlos Santana are validations that baseball’s future can be predicted to some degree. However, alongside that touted triumvirate of rookies are Tyler Colvin and Brennan Boesch, two smooth-swinging lefties currently batting a combined .310/.358/.586 in 387 plate appearances. Neither was ever a top 100 prospect. Colvin was a first-round pick that many (including myself) criticized; Boesch was a guy I undershot on the day of his debut.

It’s easy to say that these are two guys that we missed, but I’m also hoping we can learn something from it. What traits do they have, or did they show in the minors, that we can look for the next time around? After all, both are former highly regarded college guys, have some swing-and-miss in their pretty left-handed swings, and have body types that intrigue scouts. You trade a little Colvin speed for some more Boesch power, but we have some undeniable similarities as a jumping off point.

So my first question was this: is this player, the left-handed slugger pegged as a platoon player, something we have underrated before? My findings were very telling. I started with this query in the Baseball-Reference Play Index: what left-handed hitters not ranked in a Baseball America Top 100 have had a .200 ISO in their first chance at regular playing time (150 plate appearances)? Here are the findings from 1995-2009:

Chris Duncan – 2006
Garrett Jones – 2009
Matt Joyce – 2008
Jay Gibbons – 2001
Andy Tracy – 2000
Jody Gerut – 2003
Mike Jacobs – 2005-2006
Chris Davis – 2008
Brad Wilkerson – 2002
Eric Hinske – 2002
Luke Scott – 2006
Chris Richard – 2000
Brian Daubach – 1999
Erubiel Durazo – 1999
Jon Nunnally – 1995
Mark Johnson – 1995
Matt Luke – 1998
Armando Rios – 1999

Overall, we have 18 players, with their seasons covering a total of 6,290 plate appearances. Cumulatively, in their first chance at regular playing time, this left-handed group hit .274/.352/.512. Only Luke Scott had a better OPS+ than where Boesch stands currently, but seven players finished above where Colvin’s 127 OPS+ resides. Colvin isn’t far from the group average, and when both players see some second half regression, I’m sure they’ll fit cleanly in this group.

But with the 1.5 dozen players listed above, what they did as rookies is equally interesting to what they did the rest of their careers: .254/.335/.444. This is a 10% drop-off in OPS, and a 20% drop-off in ISO. Look at the list: these are not players that blossomed into stars after good rookie campaigns. Guys like Daubach, Wilkerson, Hinske and Gibbons would go on to fight for a spot between the starting lineup and the bench. Others like Nunnally, Luke, Tracy would barely have big league careers after. You could count the number of 500+ PA seasons this group achieved after their early career breakouts on two hands. Luke Scott is becoming the group’s best success story.

Part of me wonders if there is some market inefficiency to be found here — that left-handed minor league sluggers are geared for some immediate big league success before teams start to figure out their holes. Perhaps they are a group that peaks a little earlier than most. But that would be ignoring a group I’m sure is even larger than 18 — the left-handed sluggers given a shot in the big leagues that failed. Colvin and Boesch, two players that combined to hit .267/.311/.402 in 1,400 plate appearances in A-ball, are merely in a fraternity of guys that were unfazed in the Majors. In time, their weaknesses will be exposed, and while retaining some value going forward (as the bench/platoon players we pegged them for), it’s unlikely either will be a good bet for regular playing time.

Or, perhaps, I should just let this tried-and-true method speak for itself:

Name        PA   2B   3B   HR   BB   SO
Player A   229   15    3   12   16   44
Player B   239   14    2   14   17   40

Player A led the Eastern League with 28 home runs the year before he produced those counting stats in his Major League debut. Player B finished third in the Texas League with 29 home runs the year before he produced those counting stats in his Major League debut. Player A is Brennan Boesch. Player B is Chris Richard.

Boesch and Tyler Colvin have earned regular jobs for 2011, but those should come with tempered expectations. Their numbers are as good as they’re going to be.