Projecting Josh Tobias, Boston’s Return for Clay Buchholz

The Phillies have acquired long-time Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz in exchange for minor-league second baseman Josh Tobias. Here’s how Tobias grades out by my KATOH system. (KATOH denotes WAR forecast for the first six years of a player’s major-league career. KATOH+ uses a similar methodology with consideration also for Baseball America’s rankings.)

The Phillies snagged Tobias in the 10th round in 2015, and he’s performed admirably in the minor leagues. He increased his prospect stock by hitting .321/.362/.475 in short-season A-ball to close out his draft year. He had similar success in Low-A last year, but saw his performance crater following a late-season promotion to High-A. He hit a weak .254/.324/.357 at the latter level with a concerning 21% strikeout rate.

Tobias’ offensive numbers have been fine: he’s made a decent amount of contact, mixed in some power and stolen a few bases. But everything else about him gives KATOH pause. At 24, he’s kind of old to still be mastering A-ball. Furthermore, he stands at just 5-foot-9, which is very short in baseball terms.

He’s also a second baseman, and the prognosis for low-minors second basemen isn’t great. While second base is a premium position, many big-league second basemen still play shortstop until they reach baseball’s higher rungs. The minor-league second basemen, on the other hand, often don’t pan out. Clay Davenport’s numbers also haven’t been particularly fond of his work at second, marking yet another strike against him.

As you’ve probably inferred, KATOH doesn’t offer much optimism for Tobias, projecting him for 0.3 WAR over his first six seasons by the traditional method (KATOH) and also 0.3 WAR by the method that integrates Baseball America’s rankings (KATOH+). To help you visualize what his KATOH projection entails, here’s a probability density function showing KATOH+’s projected distribution of outcomes for Tobias’ first six seasons in the major leagues.


To put some faces to Tobias’ statistical profile, let’s generate some statistical comps for the undersized second baseman. I calculated a weighted Mahalanobis distance between Tobias’ A-ball performance this year and every full-season A-ball season since 1991 in which a second baseman recorded at least 400 plate appearances. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues. A lower “Mah Dist” reading indicates a closer comp.

Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just there for fun.

Josh Tobias Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Mah Dist KATOH+ Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Carlo Cota 0.9 0.3 0.0
2 Jim Crowley 1.0 0.4 0.0
3 Ryan Luther 1.1 0.2 0.0
4 Sam Bozanich 1.4 0.5 0.0
5 Ramon Zapata 1.4 0.2 0.0
6 Rick Short 1.6 0.2 0.3
7 Chris Lemonis 1.8 0.3 0.0
8 Brad Beanblossom 1.9 0.3 0.0
9 Joe Kerrigan 2.1 0.3 0.0
10 Kevin Wong 2.2 0.3 0.0

Print This Post

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

Comments Are Loading Now!