Happy New Year everyone, this post will be kind of short, but it’s something I figured I’d comment on in the infant stages of this blog. One of the biggest things for me, as a big fan of minor league baseball, is understanding the context of a player’s numbers, and using said context to understand just what the numbers mean. Let me give you a quick example. Here are two theoretical pitching lines from two different minor leaguers. Which one would you choose?
Pitcher A: 130 IP, 3.78 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 125 K, 45 BB
Pitcher B: 140 IP, 3.45 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 130 K, 40 BB
At first glance, you’d probably take Pitcher B, right? What if I were to tell you that Pitcher B was 23 years old and pitching in the Sally League, low A ball, and Pitcher A was 19 years old, pitching in the double A Eastern League? Surely you’d take Pitcher A. A player’s statistics are the outside layer of the onion, so to speak, but you have to look a bit deeper to truly understand just what his numbers mean. It’s far more impressive for an 18 year old to hit .300 in Low A than it is for a 5 year minor league veteran to do the same. This is kind of one of those things where you say “yeah, duh”, but it’s something I often see people misunderstand when talking about prospects. By no means is this a definitive rule, but this is my “Prospect Rule” when it comes to age:
17-18 years old = Rookie Ball
18-19 years old = Short Season/Low A
19-20 years old = Low A
21-22 years old = AA
22-24 years old = AAA
25 or older = MLB
That’s a general guideline, but there are clear exceptions. Major League Baseball has placed limits on visas for foreign players, which forces teams to keep certain players out of the US, even though those players are in their system abroad. So, a 20 year old from the Dominican Republic, at a team’s academy, might have to wait to come to the US for two years, and teams are cautious with inital assignments, and may send him to Rookie Ball. That doesn’t mean that player isn’t a prospect, it means he’s a victim of circumstance or the numbers game. Another example, which is actually more common, is for a college drafted player to be sent to the lowest level of the minors after being drafted. Many college players, especially pitchers, deal with heavy workloads in college, and upon being drafted, teams tend to play things slowly at first, often times restricting pitch counts and assigning players to rookie ball or short season ball. So, a college senior, many times 22 years old, may find himself in the rookie level Gulf Coast League. That doesn’t mean he’s not a prospect, it means his team is probably being cautious.
The final thing to consider when looking at a player’s stat line is the league he plays in. All 20 HR hitters aren’t quite equal, as some leagues are more known for being offensive heavy (the PCL) while others are known more to favor pitching (the FSL), and so on. Just for reference, check out the league offensive averages for all the domestic MLB affiliated leagues:
- Gulf Coast League (RK): .247/.323/.342
- Arizona League (RK): .265/.355/.373
- Appalachian League (RK): .255/.334/.369
- Pioneer League (RK): .265/.348/.391
- New York Penn League (SS): .242/.313/.334
- Northwest League (SS): .251/.325/.366
- Midwest League (A-): .254/.325/.366
- South Atlantic League (A-): .255/.331/.376
- California League (A+): .276/.350/.414
- Carolina League (A+): .257/.336/.384
- Florida State League (A+): .255/.327/.376
- Eastern League (AA): .252/.323/.381
- Southern League (AA): .250/.323/.368
- Texas League (AA): .269/.344/.418
- International League (AAA): .259/.326/.390
- Pacific Coast League (AAA): .271/.342/.416
Just a quick guide, as I will be using these abbreviations in the future, RK stands for Rookie League, SS stands for Short Season, and the “-” and “+” represent low and high, respectively. As you can see from this list, the Texas League, the Pacific Coast League, and the California League are hitters leagues, with an average slugging % over .400. Conversely, the Southern League and Florida State League are not as hitter friendly. When looking at a player’s stats, it’s important to know where he stands in terms of his peers, as well as considering the factors previously mentioned.
So remember, when looking at a player’s numbers, consider his age and his league first, and that will give you a good jumping off point.