Last Year’s Minor-League WAR Leaders, If That Existed

Even for those among us who, for whatever reason, derive no particular spiritual nourishment from the Judeo-Christian tradition, it’s difficult to ignore the charms and actual, real wisdom provided by the Book of Ecclesiastes from the Old Testament. The author of that particular text is noteworthy both for his concision and his clear-eyed observations, announcing at the beginning of the text (for example), “Meaningless! Meaningless!… Everything is meaningless” and also noting that “All things are wearisome.” Rarely has truth been uttered more truthfully.

It’s also the first chapter of that Book within which the author proclaims, “What has been done will be done again; / there is nothing new under the sun.” For anyone who has ever bothered to produce an idea inside his or her own dumb head, this sentiment resonates loudly. For it’s just as soon as one has completed the manufacture of an idea, that said idea is accompanied by a gnawing sensation — namely that someone else, in some other place, has probably manufactured that idea before.

This happens to me a lot. For example, I recently had the pleasure of discovering that two of my favorite words, when combined together, form an elegant portmanteau to describe that class of dining establishment — Hooters, Tilted Kilt, etc. — known for employing scantily clad waitresses to compensate for the fact that the cuisine is poor and life is terrible. Upon further examination, however, I learned not only that the term breastaurant is already in wide use, but that it has, in fact, been registered as a trademark by a third such dining establishment (something called Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill) with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

I invoke all this because what follows — although I’ve never seen it attempted before — has probably already been attempted before. The idea is this: to calculate WAR figures for minor leaguers. Or, at least, minor-league hitters. It’s not a particularly daring notion, I recognize. But I had the thought in passing recently — “Who would have led the minors last year in WAR?” or something like that — and was unable, after five or seven minutes of idle research, to confirm that anyone had tried to supply the relevant answer. So what I did this morning was to try and supply the relevant answer.

More than anything, what the reader should know is that my attempt at the answer is flawed. In part, that’s not my fault. The data available for minor-league hitters is less complete than that available for major-league ones. In part, it’s absolutely my fault, as the methodology I’ve employed skews decidedly haphazard. And yet, the results are mostly credible.

To calculate WAR for any sort of hitter, three elements are essential, as follows:

• Batting Runs (Bat); and
• Baserunning Runs (BsR); and
• Defensive Runs (Def).

To calculate batting runs here, I’ve merely used the wRAA figure (weighted runs above average) one finds under the Advanced tab of the minor-league batting leaderboards. One notes that these numbers are not adjusted for park, but merely expressions of each batter’s performance relative to league average. Having a park-adjusted batting line would be preferable, but also difficult to calculate given my limited skill set. As in most other cases in life, I have chosen the path of least resistance.

To calculate baserunning runs, I’ve utilized the Speed Scores (Spd) available for all minor leaguers, as no equivalent to Ultimate Base Running (UBR) is available at that level. Conveniently, Spd and baserunning runs (BsR) correlate quite strongly. Here, for example, is a graph demonstrating the relationship between speed score and baserunning runs per 600 plate appearances for all qualified major-league batters from the past five years:

BsR vs Spd

To derive each hitter’s BsR, I’ve employed the formula depicted in the graph above (where X is the player’s Speed Score), and then prorated the result to the relevant quantity of plate appearances.

Finally, with regard to defense, I’ve made no attempt even to estimate something along the lines of runs saved. Instead, I’ve utilized only a rough approximation of each player’s positional adjustment — which figures one can derive (following the application of some minor arithmetic) from the Steamer projections available at the site.

Having first calculated and then found the sum of those first three figures (i.e. Bat, BsR, and Def), I then also added the replacement-run total [(PA / 600) * 20] for each player. The sum of all those numbers divided by the number of runs per win (10 is a fine estimate) provides a rough WAR figure for any player.

I’ll present some observations momentarily. In the meantime, below are the top-20 minor-league batters by this methodology from the year 2014. Note that both Team and Age denote team and age from 2014. WAR600 denotes WAR prorated to 600 plate appearances.

# Name Team Level Age PA wRC+ Bat Run Off Def Rep WAR WAR600
1 Kris Bryant Cubs AA, AAA 22 594 192 65.4 1.6 67.0 2.4 19.8 8.9 9.0
2 Corey Seager Dodgers A+, AA 20 625 157 45.7 2.3 48.0 6.3 20.8 7.5 7.2
3 Joc Pederson Dodgers AAA 22 553 164 46.0 3.7 49.7 2.3 18.4 7.0 7.6
4 Joey Gallo Rangers A+, AA 20 537 178 48.4 1.7 50.1 1.8 17.9 7.0 7.8
5 Marquez Smith Reds A+, AA 29 554 163 47.4 -0.4 47.0 1.8 18.5 6.7 7.3
6 Clint Coulter Brewers A 20 555 160 38.9 0.3 39.2 6.9 18.5 6.5 7.0
7 Darnell Sweeney Dodgers AA 23 674 140 31.5 2.2 33.7 6.7 22.5 6.3 5.6
8 Jordy Lara Mariners A+, AA 23 585 154 41.4 -0.7 40.7 2.0 19.5 6.2 6.4
9 Scott Schebler Dodgers AA 23 651 152 39.0 4.4 43.4 -3.5 21.7 6.2 5.7
10 Carlos Asuaje Red Sox A, A+ 22 559 156 37.9 2.9 40.8 1.9 18.6 6.1 6.6
11 Daniel Robertson Athletics A+ 20 730 130 29.1 -0.3 28.8 7.3 24.3 6.0 5.0
12 Tony Kemp Astros A+, AA 22 631 138 30.2 6.9 37.1 2.1 21.0 6.0 5.7
13 Aaron Judge Yankees A, A+ 22 669 154 42.6 -1.3 41.3 -3.6 22.3 6.0 5.4
14 Sandy Madera Mexican AAA 33 419 197 54.1 -1.3 52.8 -7.0 14.0 6.0 8.6
15 Patrick Kivlehan Mariners A+, AA 24 698 136 30.1 3.8 33.9 2.3 23.3 5.9 5.1
16 Austin Barnes Marlins A+, AA 24 548 148 30.0 1.9 31.9 8.2 18.3 5.8 6.4
17 Mookie Betts Red Sox AA, AAA 21 464 168 37.0 4.4 41.4 -0.2 15.5 5.7 7.3
18 Agustin Murillo Mexican AAA 32 494 153 34.7 3.5 38.2 1.6 16.5 5.6 6.8
19 Wilmer Difo Nationals A 22 610 131 22.7 6.3 29.0 6.1 20.3 5.5 5.5
20 Andrew Velazquez D-backs A 19 622 129 21.2 7.3 28.5 6.2 20.7 5.5 5.3

Some assorted observations:

• By this methodology, Cubs third-base prospect Kris Bryant produced the highest WAR figure in all the minors last year. That he is also regarded as one of the top-two or -three prospects in baseball appears to be not a coincidence.

• Among all minor leaguers who recorded at least 100 plate appearances, Detroit shortstop prospect Manuel Joseph produced the highest WAR600 figure, recording a 4.2 WAR in 252 plate appearances at the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League — equivalent to a 10.1 WAR in 600 plate appearances. Talented Cubs prospect Kyle Schwarber finished second by this measure, at 9.5 WAR600.

• Former Arizona and now current Tampa Bay prospect Andrew Velazquez produced the most value merely by means of baserunning and defense, accruing 7.3 and 6.2 runs, respectively, in those categories — or roughly the equivalent of 1.5 wins — in 622 plate appearances.

• Note that Arizona Fall League numbers from 2014 are included in the calculations.

• A complete leaderboard of minor-league WAR is available in the form of an unkempt Excel worksheet by clicking here.



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


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
1 year 4 months ago

I love how Carson’s articles, regardless of content, always begin with a rhetorical flourish that is the prose equivalent of the first two minutes of Also sprach Zarathustra.

tz
Guest
tz
1 year 4 months ago

…segueing neatly into a discourse on whether the word “breastaurant” was an original coinage :)

Slacker George
Guest
Slacker George
1 year 3 months ago

I think Evelyn Wood uses Carson’s articles as the basis for their bold claim “Double your reading speed — guaranteed!”

Iron
Guest
Iron
1 year 4 months ago

Hooray, I thought, a reds player I’ve not heard of fairly high on the list. I’ll have to look up his… oh, he’s 29 in A+ and AA. Shit.

Gabes
Guest
Gabes
1 year 4 months ago

I love that, of the 5 story links on Smith’s page, Cistulli wrote 4 of them. That dude is Fringe-tastic!

E_baseball_LI5
Guest
E_baseball_LI5
1 year 4 months ago

I feel that feel.

Sandy Madera
Guest
Sandy Madera
1 year 4 months ago

Thanks to this magic elixir I found in Mexico, I am now 23 years old.

everdiso
Member
everdiso
1 year 4 months ago

BUT WHAT ABOUT MY FAVORITE PROSPECT?

but seriously, two questions re: Dalton Pompey:

1. looks like AFL numbers were included for pompey. I assume that is intentional and fall league numbers were included for everyone? (I only ask because I always ignore fall league numbers myself).

2. how can a CF in this formula come out with only 1.6 defensively? shouldn’t the positional adjustment for cf be bigger than that?

everdiso
Member
everdiso
1 year 4 months ago

did I thank you for the awesome article btw?

I meant to. I love this idea.

everdiso
Member
everdiso
1 year 4 months ago

ah I see you noted the AFL numbers at the end there.

I retract the question.

Phil
Guest
Phil
1 year 4 months ago

4 Dodgers in the top 10, all aged 20-23. Fun!

Connor McC
Guest
Connor McC
1 year 4 months ago

5 with Barnes!

Hurtlocker
Guest
Hurtlocker
1 year 4 months ago

What are they feeding those boys??

Soylent Green
Guest
Soylent Green
1 year 4 months ago

We’ve found a new way to give our guys HGH!

Bob
Guest
Bob
1 year 4 months ago

It would be interesting to put the WAR in terms of MLB WAR. If they were playing at MLB, what would their WAR have been?

Connor McC
Guest
Connor McC
1 year 4 months ago

Dodgers have 5 on the list, including 2 of the top 3! Seager World Series MVP 2015 confirmed.

P.S. Austin Barnes is no longer on the Marlins :)

Connor McC
Guest
Connor McC
1 year 4 months ago

Wait sorry the article said it lists their team as of 2014, my bad!

Matty Brown
Member
Member
Matty Brown
1 year 4 months ago

This needs to be a real thing

cass
Guest
cass
1 year 4 months ago

Wonderful introduction, Carson. You’re in top form.

I did not know, however, that there were now breastaurant chains other than Hooters. So your article, as a whole, has increased my net disappointment in the world. Ignorance is indeed bliss.

Thanks, Comcast
Guest
Thanks, Comcast
1 year 4 months ago

In the event that you’re ever required to name multiple Brestaurants, you should be aware of “Twin Peaks” and the somehow-even-less-subtle “Big Racks”. The latter of which borders on some sort of super pun between the what-have-yous, the mounted deer heads, the ribs, and (I can only presume) gun racks.

Tony
Guest
Tony
1 year 4 months ago

Texas, the land of breastaurants. I believe that Twin Peaks, Big Racks and the aforementioned Bikinis are all based in the lone star state. Everything is bigger in Texas.

2014 National Champions
Guest
2014 National Champions
1 year 4 months ago

TONY KEMP. What an amazing plate approach that young man has. And the ability to go from LF as a freshman to SEC Player of the Year at 2B as a junior…what a talent!

KCDaveInLA
Guest
KCDaveInLA
1 year 4 months ago

Yadi Molina will be worth 31+ WAR if he is ever sent down to the minors for a full year.

“Yadier, our Triple-A team is on the cusp of the championship. You must be sent down to help them!”

Ha, ha, this was fun.

Parker Bernhart
Member
1 year 4 months ago

There is a Bikinis near the AT&T Stadium/Globe Life Park [yes, I did type these initially as “Cowboys Stadium” and “Rangers Ballpark”] area (along I-30) and that is the extent of my knowledge on the subject of that particular breastaurant.

Also, Velazquez would be directly after Alien “Vroom-Vroom” Vazquez in the Rays’ media guide this year, no?

B N
Guest
B N
1 year 3 months ago

Are you legally mandated to use the official names? I try to never use the branding, because it’s always changing. For example, I try to refer to where the Giants play as Telecom Park. Which will work fine until the branding is sold to Frito-Lay, or something. At that point, I’ll stick with McCovey Stadium.

Plus, I mean, the brandings typically sound horrible. Would you rather:
1. Enjoy a concert at Great Woods or the Xfinity Center (formerly Tweeter Center)?
2. Catch a game at Union Station, Minute Maid, or Enron Park?
3. The St. Petersburg Bowl or the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl?

I’d just stick with Cowboys Stadium. At least in 3 years when someone reads your post, they’ll know which one you were talking about…

B N
Guest
B N
1 year 3 months ago

On a slightly related note, is Beef ‘O’ Brady’s some sort of female equivalent to a breastaurant? Like a bumstaurant or something?

Figwhip
Guest
Figwhip
1 year 4 months ago

Thanks for doing this Carson. I think it’s very interesting. Has anyone given thought to how you would weight Level and League to give a more balanced representation of “prospectyness”? Also, as a Mariner fan, I am intrigued to see what becomes of Kivlehan and Lara. They’ve exceeded expectation, but the scouting community doesn’t really care for them much. No position, bat won’t play at high levels. I think correlating minor league WAR to MLB WAR will be a fun exercise.

matt w
Guest
matt w
1 year 4 months ago

If you are like me, you are probably wondering who that lonely blue dot is in the bottom center of the graph, who had the worst baserunning score despite having about an average speed score. It is Giancarlo Stanton in 2011, with a -11 UBR and a 4.3 Spd.

If you are like me, you may be wondering how Stanton accomplished this, especially since some of the factors going into UBR and Spd are the same I believe. This I do not know.

If you are so much like me as to actually be me, you are wondering why you found this by sorting by Spd and looking for anomalous UBR in the 4.2 range, instead of sorting by UBR and looking at the lowest score. This I definitely do not know.

Matt
Member
Matt
1 year 4 months ago

Holy crap “matt w,” I am a lot like you. I was looking up the exact same thing and have the same name (and last initial). Super weird.

BsR is listed as “Base Running” under the Value tab of the leaderboards, by the way, so you can see the exact components from the graph there.

Matt
Member
Matt
1 year 4 months ago

Had to look up the outlier in the graph with a God-awful -12.5 BsR… 2011 Giancarlo Stanton? Is that why he changed his name before the 2012 season?

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
1 year 4 months ago

Seriously, 24 comments, plus the article observations, and nothing on Mookie Betts? Is this a Fangraphs twilight zone? But seriously, If you add real WAR, I think he’s #2 on this list.

Bluebird in Boulder
Guest
1 year 4 months ago

Didn’t I see Wilmer Difo in Barndog Taints?

Todd
Guest
Todd
1 year 4 months ago

Why is the Arizona Rookie League not included?

Mike
Guest
Mike
1 year 4 months ago

Ok, the White Six signed Olympic short-track speed skater silver medalist Eddy Alvarez?!? And his WAR600 was 10.9. Sure he’s 25 now, but he hit .346 .433 .500 after not playing organized ball since 2011 at a community college. I know, super small sample size, he’s got a massive L/R split, but stick that man in AA and let’s see what he can do.

This is the most fun i’ve had on fangraphs in years. Thank you.

Lucas
Guest
Lucas
1 year 3 months ago

How much of Schwarber’s numbers are due to him playing catcher? Would his WAR600 be so sexy if he was an outfielder?

Brock Holt!
Guest
Brock Holt!
1 year 3 months ago

So what is a replacement level player in the minors? Some readily available high school kid?

Sylvan
Guest
Sylvan
1 year 3 months ago

Minor league teams have to do in-season injury replacement, too. It works pretty much like the majors. They promote a kid from a lower level, or from extended spring training, or occasionally sign someone out of indy ball.

Ben
Guest
Ben
1 year 3 months ago

Very interesting.

I note that Cedric Hunter, AA Mississippi (Southern League, ATL) is missing from the Excel list. Based only on his slash line, he looked like about the third or fourth best hitter in that league last year, and he’s at least average in the OF.

Is there something about the methodology that would have excluded him?

Kevin Goldstein
Guest
Kevin Goldstein
1 year 3 months ago

Tony Kemp is the next Jesus.

willkoky
Member
11 months 29 days ago

Why isn’t anyone making a bigger deal about this augustin murillo guy and why he doesn’t try the majors? Wouldn’t he qualify as a modern day Crash Davis? Via MVP votes instead of longevity that is.

doorbot
Member
doorbot
9 months 29 days ago

Manual Joseph…wonder what the story is there. He was released by the Tigers after the season, and apparently didn’t sign anywhere else.

wpDiscuz