Last week in these electronic pages — for reasons that remain opaque even to the author himself — I plumbed the depths of the 2005 edition of Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook with a view towards identifying how players distinguished for possessing certain tools (hitting for average, hitting for power, etc.) have eventually fared after graduating to the majors (or, alternatively, not graduating to the majors, from lack of opportunity/talent).
The precise method and relevant data for that small exercise are available here. The results are relatively easy to summarize, however: prospects noted within their respective organizations for their ability to hit for average and control the strike zone fared well, on the whole; prospects noted for power, footspeed, and athleticism fared markedly less well.
The table below illustrates that point further. It provides the median-level career production for each group of 30 prospects (one for each organization in 2005) corresponding to the relevant tool.
The reader will note that, while the best-hitting and most-disciplined prospects have recorded nearly average park-adjusted hitting lines and positive WAR figures, this isn’t the case for players from the other three groups. As also noted in that post from last week, prospects from the first two groups have both graduated to the majors at a higher rate and also recorded more career marks of 5.0 WAR or higher up to the present.
Merely one season’s worth of prospects isn’t enough to render such a study exhaustive, of course. A more enterprising author than myself would certainly endeavor to collect a larger sample of data before moving on to further considerations. The present, less enterprising author, however — largely owing to his Considerable Sloth — has no interest at the moment in endeavoring to do such a thing.
A question which did present some interest, however, in the wake of that post last week concerns the future performance of prospects who were recognized as possessing both the best hit tool and best plate discipline within their respective organization. If prospects who possess one or the other were reliably able to produce competent numbers (the reasoning went), then prospects recognized for possessing both tools would likely produce even better numbers.
With a view towards addressing that question, then, what I proceeded to do was find the career numbers of all such players as had been named both their organization’s best and also most disciplined hitter by the editors of Baseball America between 2005 and -09.
Before we consider that data, I’ll note once again that there are a number of caveats that ought to be made regarding this exercise. For one: BA’s Best Tool lists represent a distillation of opinions from scouts and other industry contacts. Educated opinions, of course, but opinions nonetheless. Accordingly, there’s a lack of absolute precision. For two: talent isn’t now, and wasn’t 10 years ago, distributed evenly among all 30 organizations. The best-hitting prospect in one organization might be the fifth-best in another. The value of the Best Tool designations, for our purposes here, is that they function as a proxy for more sophisticated data that isn’t available publicly.
A table featuring the best-hitting and most disciplined prospects from 2005 to -09 is presented below. Of the 29 prospects who met the aforementioned criteria, 27 (93%) of them have recorded at least one major-league plate appearances. Of those, 12 (41%) have recorded at least 5.0 WAR over the course of their respective career — comparable rates to the hitting and discipline groups from 2005 on their own. HRC% denotes home runs on contact (that is, home runs per ball batted into fair play). WAR550 denotes WAR for every 550 plate appearances of a player’s career. Because we’re concerned with tools related exclusively to hitting, players are sorted by career wRC+ to date (as opposed to WAR, which includes defensive considerations, obviously).
Here’s a second a table — in this case, comparing the median performances of the prospects from 2005 recognized for hitting (AVG 2005) and discipline (DIS 2005) to the median performances from this second group of prospects, the ones from between 2005 and -09 recognized for possessing the best of both tools within their respective organizations.
*Prospects from 2005 to -09 have had fewer years to accrue career totals, naturally. Their totals are understandably lower than those which belong to the prospects from 2005 alone.
Some observations and half-conclusions:
- As the final table above illustrates, the prospects recognized both for their hitting and discipline from 2005 to -09 have so far produced a slightly higher — although, not substantially so — park-adjusted batting line than the prospects from 2005 considered in last week’s post who were recognized (in most cases) for just one or the other tool. Recognition for both tools, in other words, doesn’t appear to greatly amplify a hitter’s future major-league production. In either case, however, this appears to be a population of competent future hitters, on the whole.
- To that last point: of the 29 prospects considered in this particular study, over half (15) have produced a park-adjusted batting line within 10% (on either side) of major-league average. Rephrased: a prospect recognized for demonstrating both the best hit tool and best plate discipline in his organization has, more often than not, become something very much like a major-league hitter.
- The two players of the 29 matching the relevant criteria not to have recorded a major-league plate appearance are former San Francisco outfield prospect Eddy Martinez-Esteve (2006) and Houston middle-infield prospect Jonny Ash (2008). Martinez-Esteve played affiliated ball through 2011 and has spent the last two seasons in the independent Atlantic League. Ash, somewhat curiously, was out of affiliated ball only a season after being named the Astros’ best and most disciplined hitter. One possible explanation for that: as a member of the club ranked 29th in terms of organizational talent, Ash’s “best tools” were probably less impressive than those belonging to more talented organizations overall.
- As noted above, the players featured on the table here are sorted by wRC+, on account of how the tools being considered relate exclusively to hitting. “What,” the author wondered, “what if one were to reduce the list further — in this case to include only those players who were recognized for possessing their respective organizations best hit tool, best plate discipline, and then also best defensive skills, as well, at either catcher, the infield, or the outfield, such as the case may be?” In fact, using that more refined criteria one finds a small collection of excellent players: Michael Bourn, Andrew McCutchen, Dustin Pedroia, Matt Wieters. That group has averaged 3.7 WAR per every 550 plate appearances over their respective (and all still very active) major-league careers.
- Of note regarding that last point: in fact, three players are designated in the 2014 Prospect Handbook as possessing their organization’s best hit tool, best discipline, and best defensive skills at the relevant position. That brief list: shortstop Francisco Lindor (Cleveland), shortstop J.P. Crawford (Philadelphia), and shortstop Jace Peterson (San Diego).
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