How the Best, Most Disciplined Hitting Prospects Have Fared

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.

Tool PA BB% K% HRC% wRC+ WAR
ATH 401 5.5% 27.7% 1.0% 72 0.0
AVG 3092 8.5% 16.9% 3.3% 96 5.4
DIS 2128 8.6% 18.5% 2.7% 93 3.3
POW 414 7.9% 24.4% 3.7% 82 -0.1
RUN 54 3.9% 25.0% 0.0% 30 -0.5

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).

Name PA BB% K% HRC% BABIP wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR WAR550
Joey Votto 3790 14.9% 18.5% 6.2% .359 156 -11.4 240.1 -44.1 33.0 4.8
Andrew McCutchen 3171 11.4% 16.7% 4.5% .332 139 17.9 161.2 -2.5 27.2 4.7
Billy Butler 4208 9.2% 14.3% 3.7% .327 120 -37.0 62.2 -108.8 9.8 1.3
Jason Heyward 2170 11.4% 20.6% 4.9% .303 119 10.6 60.1 28.1 16.5 4.2
Dustin Pedroia 4548 9.3% 8.9% 2.7% .314 119 3.8 105.7 75.6 34.4 4.2
Curtis Granderson 5044 10.2% 23.1% 6.4% .305 118 27.6 136.4 22.3 33.2 3.6
Alex Gordon 3753 9.4% 20.8% 3.9% .321 110 14.2 55.6 12.7 20.1 2.9
Yonder Alonso 1121 9.3% 16.0% 2.4% .319 108 -6.2 4.2 -16.5 2.4 1.2
Chris Snelling 273 12.5% 21.6% 3.9% .300 107 -2.9 -0.5 -6.9 0.2 0.4
Jason Kubel 3707 9.1% 20.9% 5.4% .302 107 -14.5 17.6 -113.7 2.7 0.4
Gaby Sanchez 1981 10.2% 15.6% 3.7% .283 106 0.2 13.6 -23.9 5.5 1.5
Daric Barton 2021 14.1% 16.5% 2.1% .293 105 2.5 14.4 -8.2 7.6 2.1
Matt Murton 1058 8.8% 14.1% 3.6% .312 101 1.7 3.4 16.3 5.4 2.8
Scott Sizemore 598 11.4% 25.8% 3.7% .311 98 0.5 -1.0 -7.1 1.2 1.1
Conor Jackson 2485 10.1% 11.7% 2.7% .290 98 2.6 -3.7 -45.8 3.3 0.7
Matt Wieters 2610 8.7% 18.4% 4.6% .283 96 -16.2 -27.2 77.9 14.4 3.0
Jeremy Hermida 2261 9.6% 22.9% 4.3% .314 96 -9.4 -18.6 -38.6 1.8 0.4
Chris Coghlan 1582 8.5% 16.8% 1.8% .317 96 2.3 -4.8 -33.5 1.1 0.4
Michael Aubrey 145 6.9% 10.3% 5.0% .254 96 -1.0 -1.8 -2.5 0.1 0.4
Casey Kotchman 3412 7.8% 9.9% 2.5% .271 93 -25.1 -54.9 -31.9 2.7 0.4
Michael Bourn 3941 8.5% 20.6% 1.0% .342 92 53.4 14.9 66.5 21.7 3.0
Steve Pearce 847 9.4% 20.1% 2.8% .283 87 0.9 -12.1 -13.5 0.2 0.1
Jeremy Reed 1376 7.3% 14.2% 1.1% .289 78 0.1 -36.8 10.4 2.0 0.8
Trevor Crowe 894 6.7% 17.9% 0.6% .292 69 3.6 -29.4 -5.5 -0.5 -0.3
Chris Getz 1546 7.1% 10.9% 0.2% .283 67 11.1 -48.8 9.3 1.2 0.4
Jordan Brown 109 4.6% 10.1% 0.0% .250 56 0.6 -5.0 -0.8 -0.2 -1.0
Nick Noonan 111 5.4% 21.6% 0.0% .284 35 0.6 -7.6 1.7 -0.3 -1.5
Average 2176 9.3% 17.0% 3.1% .301 99 1.1 23.6 -6.8 9.1 2.3

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.

Tool PA* BB% K% HRC% wRC+ WAR* WAR550
AVG 2005 3092 8.5% 16.9% 3.3% 96 5.4 1.2
DIS 2005 2128 8.6% 18.5% 2.7% 93 3.3 0.8
BOTH 05-09 1981 9.2% 17.9% 2.8% 98 2.7 0.8

*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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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.


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DrBGiantsfan
Guest
2 years 5 months ago

I remember Eddy Martinez-Esteve! Terrific hitter, but extremely poor work ethic and multiple injuries and surgeries to both shoulders.

FeslenR
Guest
FeslenR
2 years 5 months ago

so, moral of the story: not to take walks or own decent plate discipline?

NatsFan73
Member
NatsFan73
2 years 5 months ago

No. Only that minor league page discipline and walk numbers have a shit ton of crappy minor league pitcher noise in them

tz
Guest
tz
2 years 5 months ago

If you had done this a decade ago, Adrian Beltre would have been on the disciplined list. He had a double-digit BB% in each of his minor league years, including 67 BB as an 18-year old!

In his first full year in the majors, at age 20, Beltre dipped to a 9.9% BB rate, drawing 61 walks over a 614 plate appearances. The 61 walks are still a career high for Beltre.

This sort of makes Beltre the Benjamin Button of plate discipline. And it hasn’t hurt his excellence one freaking bit.

Ian R.
Guest
2 years 5 months ago

Eh. Beltre has never been a high-walk hitter, but there’s evidence that he has fairly decent discipline regardless. He’s usually right around the league average in P/PA, and although he does swing a little more often than most hitters, most of the extra pitches he’s swinging at are strikes.

To borrow a Dusty Baker-ism from a classic Fire Joe Morgan piece, he’s something of a smart-hacker.

tz
Guest
tz
2 years 5 months ago

True. Maybe should have used “walks” in place of “plate discipline”.

He’s one of the hardest-working guys in the game, so I bet the high walk totals came from him intentionally watching more pitches, and letting a lot of minor-league junk pass by. With his plate coverage, he can put up solid power numbers AND solid contact %s, so I have zero problem with his approach.

Steve
Guest
2 years 5 months ago

Bodes well for Oscar Taveras,, I guess.

redsox1
Member
redsox1
2 years 5 months ago

Favors a guy like Chris Owings too.

CSJ
Member
2 years 5 months ago

C’mon Cistulli, an article about prospects and discipline and you don’t mention my ?

CSJ
Member
2 years 5 months ago
Lou
Guest
2 years 5 months ago

“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.”

This makes me uncomfortable. Shouldn’t the author establish what Replacement-Level Sloth looks like before assigning himself a superlative that implies he’s achieved SlARR (Sloth Above Replacement Reporter)?

tz
Guest
tz
2 years 5 months ago

You’d have to ask one of his colleagues. Sloth Above Replacement Reporter, by its very definition, becomes increasingly less accurate at higher values.

Iron
Guest
Iron
2 years 5 months ago

Bothering to establish such a level would inherently put you below it.

Peter Jensen
Guest
Peter Jensen
2 years 5 months ago

Carson – I would be interested in having the players original draft rankings and whether they were drafted out of high school or college listed. Were these players recognized as having superlative potential before they entered professional baseball?

RAJ Jr
Guest
2 years 5 months ago

Information that would have been useful to me 5 years ago, if I had hired an analytics department

Snidely Whiplash
Guest
Snidely Whiplash
2 years 5 months ago

a note regarding the note regarding the last point…the three mentioned might be the best ‘3-toolers’ in their respective organizations, but maybe their respective organizations suck and there are other prospects with higher DIS+AVG scores overall, just aren’t their respective orgs’ best at one of the parameters…one thing was true about this unfinished stack of cyberpaper…the authors sloth

Conrad
Guest
Conrad
2 years 5 months ago

Jeff already mentions this point in the article. From his discussion of “caveats”:

“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.”

As a rule of thumb, it’s nice to actually read an article before you log on to bitch about it.

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