Today I want to continue with the work in thinking about prospects in accordance with the WAR they might produce in the Major Leagues. With your help, the flaws of the analysis we’ve done so far have been recognized. In some cases, we’re at work behind the scenes. But I also want to flesh out this new thought process in the open. Today, I want to go through the four components of WAR, and talk about how we might treat each when projecting a prospect.
Runs Above Replacement
To keep things simple, this is computed in WAR as just 20 runs per 600 plate appearances. In my first two forays into this brand of analysis, I was after the question of what these players might look like given six full Major League seasons. It allowed for me to keep the math simple, but many of you correctly pointed out that I was overlooking the likelihood that these players fail. This, “Bust Potential,” is one of the white rabbits of minor league sabermetric analysis, but I think we can account for it in these quick-and-dirty projections in this quadrant of WAR calculation. Given that runs above replacement is only concerned with playing time, we can properly account for varying outcomes of each player’s career: a regular player, a bench player, a complete bust.
Today, I’ll be using Philadelphia Phillies top prospect Domonic Brown as my guinea pig. Brown is a consensus top 25 prospect, and the one player the Phillies would not let into trade discussions this winter. I wanted to see how rare he was, so I went to see who else Baseball America has ranked as a top 30 prospect as a “tall” (above 6-foot-2) outielder. In their first 15 years of top 100’s (1990-2004), BA ranked 25 players in that demographic. I’ll make the full list available in the comments. But the cross-section gives a really nice break down of the different possibilities for Brown’s career: 10 players became full-time regulars in the bigs, 8 players were never given a full-time shot, and the rest only got a few seasons.
So, while I’ve been giving guys +20 runs above replacement because it’s more fun to acknowledge a perfect world outcome, even for the top prospects it’s an up-hill climb. I think we can actually do better by saying that Brown’s peak is +20, but also acknowledge all outcomes and conservatively project +10 runs above replacement.
When projecting what a player’s positional adjustment will be, there are two factors to consider: playing time and position. We have taken care of playing time in the runs above replacement adjustment — so like I did with Jesus Montero, this section allows us to look at a player’s specific situation and project a likely position. We look at the Philadelphia Phillies, and we see their outfielders contract situation: Jayson Werth is a free agent after 2010, Raul Ibanez after 2011, and Shane Victorino after 2012. While some scouts have said that Brown would work in center field, his size plus the long-term presence of Shane Victorino allows for confidence in seeing Brown in LF/RF. This means Brown would receive a -7.5 position adjustment in a full season, or -3.7 if we correspond with his conservative +10 runs above replacement projection.
Presently, there are both quantitative and anecdotal offerings available, thanks to Sean Smith’s TotalZone play by play metric (offered at MinorLeagueSplits), or any of the great scouting reports you’ll find at Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, ESPN and more. Domonic Brown, by TotalZone, was a -6 defender in 106 games. Meanwhile, we have Keith Law’s scouting report which reads, “His biggest deficiency is in the outfield, where his reads are poor and he doesn’t set his feet to throw, but he has the speed and arm strength to become plus at the position and already runs down many balls he misreads.” Given the two, which say roughly the same thing, I’m fine with projecting Brown to be -5 UZR/150 as a Major League corner outfielder — and can accept improvement up to +0. These aren’t scientific, but it’s using an acknowledgment of everything available to us in determining a usable round number.
Continuing today’s theme, I think we can look at batting runs in two ways: a median performance that acknowledges many of the guys that have tried and failed; and a rosier projection that comps the player to more success stories. So, I’m concerned with two things: how a player might hit if he lives up to that +10 runs above replacement number, and how he might hit if he gets to +20. However, one note that I’d like feedback on: I don’t think we should assume a lower number of plate appearances in our projection for the former. Since we are discounting a player in the first two columns for the likelihood of not reaching the Majors, I don’t think we need to double-dip when calculating wRAA. It’s essentially what a one-season snapshot in two different paths would look like.
I’m getting predictably long-winded, so I’m going to save you from the specific wOBA-generating math and use some round numbers. It’s essentially: does Brown’s power develop, or doesn’t it?
Paths BR UZR Rep PAdj WAR Rosy +25 +0 +20 -7.5 3.8 Mean +10 -5 +10 -3.7 1.1
One day, I want to get to this point more scientifically, but I think you get the point. I think prospect analysis has a lot of value when we can call Domonic Brown a 1.1/3.8 WAR talent and understand what that means relative to other prospects. Hopefully we aren’t far away.
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