Four days into the splits debut at FanGraphs, I think we understand the need to exercise caution with using these small sample numbers. The left/right splits, for instance, need to be regressed to the league averages until a high number of data has been collected. However, if we trust Minor League numbers enough to help us project players at the Major League level, I believe we can use splits at the Minor League level to help in our understanding of a player. Obviously, studies need to be done to find the correlation of splits at the Minor League and Major League level before I can say this with any certainty. Luckily, we now have the data to do so, thanks to the splits here at FanGraphs, and the wealth of information at Jeff Sackmann’s MinorLeagueSplits.com. I’m not here to do that kind of heavy lifting today, but to show the direction of analysis I believe we can achieve with the numbers currently available.
We are taught to essentially ignore the splits posted by rookies, because we would need to regress those numbers so much to have any certainty in them. But if a player had 1,200 more plate appearances in the Minor Leagues, shouldn’t we trust those splits more than a broader league average? Today, I took the seven rookies that had at least 300 PAs in 2009 and 700 more in the Minor Leagues, and I want to compare the splits congruent between this site and Minor League Splits: batted ball info by handedness. I believe this will inform our comprehension of each player’s Major League splits, and our projection of their performance going forward. (LD-L is a player’s line drive percentage versus left-handed pitchers. You can figure out the rest.)
Chris Coghlan, 2B, Florida Marlins
Level AB LD-L% GB-L% FB-L% LD-R% GB-R% FB-R% MLB 504 18.9 47.2 34.0 23.7 47.8 28.5 MiLB 1117 17.4 45.5 36.7 18.2 43.9 37.7
What Changed: Many fewer fly balls vs. RHPs.
Going Forward: Coghlan’s batted ball profile against LHPs barely changed from the Minor Leagues to the Majors, and I see little reason he can’t continue to be successful against southpaws. Against right-handers, I don’t believe he’s a hitter that will routinely post a 20% line drive rate, so I think you’ll see some regression in BABIP this season, and I’ll think we’ll have that to point to.
Elvis Andrus, SS, Texas Rangers
Level AB LD-L% GB-L% FB-L% LD-R% GB-R% FB-R% MLB 480 27.2 48.5 24.3 20.1 57.4 22.5 MiLB 1600 17.2 58.8 23.7 14.4 58.3 27.0
What Changed: Traded 10% of groundballs for line drives vs. LHPs.
Going Forward: I would like to believe Andrus’ aging and development led to the change, but he’s just not a guy that can sustain a 27% line drive rate against any kind of pitcher. He should maintain his performance against right-handed pitching, if not improve, to compensate a regression vs. LHPs
Colby Rasmus, CF, St. Louis Cardinals
Level AB LD-L% GB-L% FB-L% LD-R% GB-R% FB-R% MLB 474 14.1 41.0 44.9 21.1 33.0 45.9 MiLB 1569 15.1 34.8 49.8 18.0 33.8 47.7
What Changed: More groundballs, less elevation vs. LHPs.
Going Forward: Scouts have criticized Rasmus’ approach against southpaws for years, and a change in process didn’t do much to his results in 2009. The Cardinals should see if Rasmus can start making harder contact against lefties early in the season, but if contention stands in the way of Rasmus’ development, he should be platooned quickly.
Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Level AB LD-L% GB-L% FB-L% LD-R% GB-R% FB-R% MLB 433 20.5 37.5 42.0 17.9 43.9 38.2 MiLB 1964 15.8 40.8 43.4 15.5 49.1 34.9
What Changed: More line drives.
Going Forward: This is the most difficult case, because I don’t see a real reason for regression. McCutchen has been a scouts favorite for a long time, dating back to some of his struggles in the lower levels. Nothing about this batted ball profile is out of line — he’ll be a great case for personal development vs. regression to Minor League standard.
Gerardo Parra, RF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Level AB LD-L% GB-L% FB-L% LD-R% GB-R% FB-R% MLB 455 11.7 64.9 23.4 20.1 49.7 30.3 MiLB 1402 8.7 61.4 29.9 12.7 54.3 32.9
What Changed: More Power vs. RHP, not enough vs. LHP.
Going Forward: Parra should be platooned from Day One of Spring Training, no regression to the league, or further chances at development needed. The stigma against platoon players is such that people will think I “hate” Parra, but it’s not true — he’s becoming a legitimate threat against right-handed pitching. You could do worse than a Jacque Jones or Michael Tucker career.
Everth Cabrera, SS, San Diego Padres
Level AB LD-L% GB-L% FB-L% LD-R% GB-R% FB-R% MLB 377 10.1 72.2 17.7 16.7 58.9 24.5 MiLB 877 13.6 67.1 18.8 12.1 59.8 27.6
What Changed: Even more groundballs vs. LHP.
Going Forward: Cabrera will be this type of player forever — bashing the ball into the ground — more when batting left-handed than the opposite. With game-changing speed, Cabrera just needs to right his defensive woes to become a very manageable shortstop. And he’ll need it, because you’re not going to win long-term with this offensive strategy.
Nolan Reimold, OF, Baltimore Orioles
Level AB LD-L% GB-L% FB-L% LD-R% GB-R% FB-R% MLB 358 16.3 51.0 32.7 13.3 46.7 40.0 MiLB 1512 14.6 34.8 50.6 11.1 40.4 48.4
What Changed: Drastic fluctuations in flyball-to-groundball ratios against both pitchers.
Going Forward: Essentially, it looks like Reimold translates a whole lot of infield flies (career 18.0% in the minors) into groundballs against left-handed pitchers. This actually is a step forward, and as a result, his numbers on fly balls (.453 wOBA) were very good now that he wasn’t mixing in an infield flies a fifth of the time. Still, a high IFFB% against right-handed pitchers, so that split bears watching in 2010.
Note: I generally ignored the percents difference between fly balls and line drives between the Minor League and Major League level. It seems that so-called “fliners” are classified different, and I believe are marked as line drives less in the Minor Leagues. Something else to study, I suppose.