Phuture Phillies Player(s) of the Year

Just like the Phillies with the Paul Owens Award, I’m going to give a PPPoY to my most outstanding pitching and positional prospect. This year, the inaugural year for the award, the winners are JA Happ and Michael Taylor. Neither choice was particularly easy, and I moved around a bit on both selections, but in the end, I was fairly confident in the Happ selection, and marginally happy with the Taylor selection. I’ll go through my reasoning on each guy, as well as the runners’ up and some more details below…

We’ll start with Michael Taylor. The choice here came down to Taylor and Jason Donald. I was actually ready to take Donald, but I did a bit more analysis, and I think I’m happy going with Taylor. I should quickly remind everyone that this is only a 2008 award/designation, and when I get around to ranking my Top 30 prospects, I’m fairly sure I’m going to have Donald ahead of Taylor. Thats a debate for another time. For right now, I’m focused on 2008, and I think in that instance, Taylor has to get the nod. Here are the raw numbers;

As always, if that image is hard to read, click here for a larger copy.

A few things to look at here. First, Taylor had a large advantage over Donald in plate appearances. Donald was bothered by a minor hand/wrist injury for a few weeks, and then missed time while at the Olympics. Taylor didn’t skip a beat, and ended up amassing 554 plate appearances between Lakewood and Clearwater, ending up with 22 more at Lakewood. Taylor’s composite 3 slash line is excellent, a .346 average across 2 levels is very good, obviously. He was old for Lakewood (av prospect age is 20/21) but more age appropriate for Clearwater. After an adjustment period, Taylor exploded in the pitcher friendly FSL. In June he posted a line of .154/.175/.179 in 39 AB, but improved to .340/.404/.532 in 94 July AB, and then capped off his season with a .373/.417/.709 line in 110 August AB’s. Those are eye popping numbers for sure. Donald was consistent to a degree in Reading, posting a .796 OPS in April, .874 in May, .924 and .964 in June and July, and then .812 in August before departing for the Olympics. Donald’s power really dipped in August, I’m not sure if it was just fatigue or something else.

When you move past the three slash lines, you start to look at the peripheral numbers. Donald bettered Taylor in the walks department, drawing 47 walks (1 IBB) in 414 PA’s, while Taylor drew 50 (4 IBB) in 140 more plate appearances. When you remove intentional walks, both guys drew 46 BB, but Donald did so in many fewer PA’s. While I hate to harp on it, plate discipline is the most important skill (in my opinion) when evaluating a prospect going forward. Being able to discern strikes from balls is the core element to being able to hit at any level. Taylor’s case may simply be him just overpowering pitchers and being able to cover everything he saw, and really he was locked in for 2 months. Players with big raw power are sometimes able to improve their plate discipline, as pitchers are more likely to pitch more carefully once you’ve established what you can do when you make contact. Taylor’s BB rate last year in his debut was 8.8%, so he’s been consistent in this area. While his power isn’t massive (a .211 ISO is good, not incredible though), there are indications that some of his 39 doubles will turn into home runs down the road. Taylor showed some home/away splits in 2008 at Clearwater;

Home: .279/.342/.519
Away: .367/.411/.590

Incidentally, he hit for more isolated power at home than on the road, but his overall line was better away. Using the park factors at FirstInning.com it appears that his home park hurt doubles (9%) but helped home runs by 6%. Donlad also showed home/away splits at Reading this season

Home: .315/.402/.528
Away: .295/.375/.475

Reading is a good hitter’s park, inflating home runs by 13% and deflating doubles by 9%. Donald’s road OPS is nothing to sneeze at, and the splits aren’t really drastic enough to knock either guy.

The last thing I wanted to draw attention to was the Secondary Average for both guys. If you’ve never encountered secondary average, this is what it is;

Secondary average, or SecA, is a baseball statistic – more precisely, a sabermetric measurement of hitting performance. It is a complement to batting average, which is a simple ratio of base hits to at bats. Secondary average is a ratio of bases gained from other sources (extra base hits, walks and net bases gained through stolen bases) to at bats. Secondary averages have a higher variance than batting averages.

For the formula, click here. Secondary average is important because it basically isolates batting average and then looks at everything else a player does, like hitting for power and stealing bases, and computes this into an average that makes it easy to compare. Both Taylor and Donald had very nice secondary averages this season, but Donald had a 20 point lead based largely on two factors; his walk rate was better and he stole bases with a much higher success rate. Donald was 11/13 in SB’s, while Taylor was 15/24. Caught stealings factor into secondary average, and while Taylor stole 4 more bags, he was thrown out 7 more times. Taylor had a slight edge in extra base hit percentage, but Donald had only 5 fewer home runs in those 140 fewer plate appearances, no small accomplishment.

When I looked at these two players, considered their 2008 seasons, I wanted to give the nod to Donald for 2 main reasons; level and his defensive position. By all accounts, Donald isn’t going to win a gold glove at shortstop, but if he had to, he could probably play average to slightly below average major league shortstop from a defensive standpoint. He doesn’t have very good range or a great first step, but he makes the plays on balls he gets to. For a lower tier MLB team, his defense would probably be good enough. A move to 2B seems like a possibility, 3B is possible, and worst case scenario, he ends up in LF, but its likely that he’ll spend his prime years in the infield somewhere, and as long as its anywhere other than 1B, that keeps him ahead of Taylor on the defensive spectrum. Up the middle guys (C, 2B, SS, CF) have the most value in terms of defense, obviously. Taylor’s arm is a definite plus in RF, and from all accounts he plays the position well, so its not a knock on him, its just a plus in Donald’s favor. Donald also did his work this season in AA, while Taylor jumped across two levels in A ball. I hate to again overstate this, but the jump from A ball to AA is one of the toughest jumps in baseball. Donald’s statistical profile improved from 2007 to 2008, and he did this while making this jump. Taylor will be tested with the same move next season, and how he adapts to better pitching will be the true indicator. As I said, I went back and forth here, but isolating their 2008 performances, Taylor just put up a monster year, and I see no harm in giving this award to him. In the bigger picture, Donald will be a few slots ahead of him on the Top 30.

I gave Lou Marson a look as well. Everyone here knows how much I love Marson as a prospect. He’s at the peak of the defensive spectrum, and from the scouting reports, it seems like he’s growing in that aspect of the game. Not quite the polished jewel, but he’s getting there. Marson has made the slow and steady climb, one level at a time, and had his best season yet offensively, and did it again while making the toughest jump (A ball to AA) in the minors. Lou’s profile;

And get your larger version here. Obviously we have the spike in OB%, but he’s always posted solid numbers in that department, in the 10-12% range, this season he just took it to another level, while losing a bit of his power. His LD% dropped a bit from last season, yet he posted a higher BABIP. There was definitely a bit of luck here in terms of his average and slugging %, but he did flash promise, posting an ISO of .149 in May and .158 in July, with three subpar months surrounding those. One theory is that catchers are often the last to develop in terms of their offensive profiles, because they spend large bulks of their time working on the defensive part of the game, which is considered much tougher. Marson wasn’t a natural catcher in high school and had to learn the position, so his progress defensively is very promising, as is his plate eye. As I mentioned before, guys with high OB% and little power in the lower minors generally see the OB% dip when they face better pitchers because they get challenged more, and the lack of power is exposed. Marson’s mastery of the strikezone didn’t suffer at all, in fact, it hit a career high. While there is no guarantee that he’s going to develop legit MLB power, I think he still has plenty of time. Very few 22 year old catchers are regularly launching home runs and also drawing walks in 17% of their plate appearances. A few other guys had nice seasons offensively and contended for the 3rd slot, but Marson’s defensive home, his age and his plate discipline earn him the bronze.

From the hitters to the pitchers. This portion of the program was somewhat easier to decide on. The best pitching performances, by and large, came from the draftees in Vance Worley, Michael Stutes, Mike Cisco, and Michael Schwimer, but I would have had a tough time giving the award to a guy who only threw 30 or 40 innings, no matter how good those innings were. I narrowed my list down to JA Happ and Carlos Carrasco, with Drew Naylor a distant 3rd, more on Drew later. Most of you know the back story on both guys at this point. Carrasco is ranked ahead of Happ on every prospect list, but I do think Happ had the better 2008, and Happ at this point is big league ready, while Carrasco probably isn’t. Similar to Donald/Taylor, I’ll end up ranking Carrasco above Happ on my Top 30, if Happ is even eligible, but for just 2008, I give the edge to JA. Let’s dig in

Happ and Carrasco both pitched well in 2008, both logged their share of innings, both struck out a lot of guys, and both had some issues with walks. In chart form;

As I mentioned in the lead in, both guys had very similar seasons. Carrasco logged 15 more innings, while Happ had a superior strikeout and walk rate, and they were close in the home runs allowed department. If you’re curious, DICE stands for Defense Independent Component ERA. This is one of my favorite statistics to look at for pitchers, because it considers a pitcher’s peripheral numbers and projects what his ERA should have been based on that, while attempting to reduce luck and neutralize defense. It’s not a fool proof statistic, but it does really give you a good idea with a quick glance whether a pitcher was lucky or unlucky based on the things he has more control over. To give you an example on both sides that shows a more dramatic difference, Antonio Bastardo’s actual ERA this season was 2.96, but his DICE was 4.28, largely due to the high number of walks he allowed along with his home runs, so you could consider Bastardo’s 2008 a bit lucky if you look at his ERA. On the flip side, Spencer Arroyo posted an ERA of 5.65 in 42.1 innings, but his DICE was only 3.46, indiciating he was probably a bit unlucky. Its a fun tool to use, and does give you some insight into a pitcher’s line.

Anyway, back to Happ and Carrasco. Both guys were slightly unlucky regarding their respetive ERA’s, but both guys ended up with sub 4 ERA’s. Carrasco definitely enjoyed pitching at home in AAA, throwing 25.2 scoreless innings at Coca Cola Park while 7 ER in 11 IP on the road. He also showed massive splits while in Reading, posting a 2.63 ERA in 48 home IP, and a 5.53 ERA in 66.2 IP away from home. I really can’t pinpoint a reason for this, to be honest. His key peripherals (K’s and BB’s) were almost the same, the 60 point difference in BABIP might have been the only real difference. Happ, on the other hand, was consistent for the most part, posting a 3.44 ERA at home in 81 innings and a 3.84 ERA on the road in 54 innings. His BB% was higher at home, but his K rate was also higher. Happ posted a BABIP of .306 overall, in the normal range but maybe a tick high, while Carrasco posted a .310 BABIP at Reading and a .347 BABIP at Lehigh Valley, definitely on the high side. Happ’s GB% was 42.3% compared to Carrasco’s 45.6%.

Carrasco and Happ both share a common thread in one other area. Happ, a LHP is better against RH batters (.237 AVG v .262 AVG) because of his changeup, and likewise, Carrasco is better against LH batters (.241AVG v .258 AVG) because of his changeup. Reverse splits are common for guys who depend on a changeup as their out pitch. Carrasco’s curveball was considered a distant 3rd pitch 2 years ago, but scouting reports indicate its gotten better, but is still not really where it needs to be for him to throw it consistently. Happ’s looping breaking ball is more of a show me pitch as well, as he relies on his fastball/changeup combo to keep hitters off balance. In a small sample, Happ was better against LHB than RHB in the majors this year, but a 14 inning sample doesn’t tell you more than a 135 inning sample. Happ held RHB to a .255 AVG last year compared to .296 for LHB, so I’m sticking to my guns on that one.

So how do we get to Happ over Carrasco? To me, its kind of simple. Happ had the slightly better statistical year. His peripherals were a little bit better, and he made his way back to the majors and had two so so starts. More importantly was his improvement from last season, and his ability to stay healthy this year. Carrasco battled bouts of inconsistency, but rebounded well in his second tour of AA and showed flashes of brilliance in AAA. At this point, he still has some work to do, but he’s very young, 4 years younger than Happ, and on those grounds I could have given him the nod. But Happ gets the edge because of the slightly better peripherals. On the overall prospect ladder, Carrasco is still higher, and still has a higher ceiling. But this was a nice bouneback year from Happ, and in a year where no one really dominated, he pitched well and reclaimed his prospect status.

Drew Naylor comes in a distant 3rd in the running here, and in all honesty, I’d rank his 2008 behind guys like Vance Worley and Mike Cisco, but the previously stated disclaimer about new draft picks applies. Naylor had a rough go in Clearwater, but his overall composite line is still decent;

165.1 IP — 3.87 ERA (3.41 DICE) — 8.50 K/9 — 2.83 BB/9 — 0.87 HR/9

After a disastrous outing on July 28th, where he allowed 10 ER in 3.1 IP, he regrouped and finished the season with 5 quality starts in 6 tries, posting an ERA of 2.93 in his final 40 IP, striking out 28 and walking only 6. Walks were a problem early, including a 9 walk adventure on July 9th, but after a rough transition, he seemed to settle in a bit more. Naylor also had the reverse split issue, righties hitting .267 against him and lefties only .225, and RHB hit 12 of the 16 HR he allowed. Naylor’s fastball velocity is only average, maybe one tick above, so his margin for error is reduced as he climbs the ladder, but he’s shown good control for the most part, and he should be able to make adjustments. His overall prospect status will probably land him in the 10-20 range, closer to 10 than 20, and he backed up his great short season breakout in 2007 with a solid 2008 on the whole. Consistency and command will be the obvious keys.

So to summarize:

Hitters

Winner: Michael Taylor
Runner Up: Jason Donald
2nd Runner Up: Lou Marson

Pitchers

Winner: JA Happ
Runner Up: Carlos Carrasco
2nd Runner Up: Drew Naylor

There you have it.

25 thoughts on “Phuture Phillies Player(s) of the Year

  1. I had no idea how sabermetrically inclined you were, PP. That read like a BP article.

    I mean that as a compliment. I can’t say I disagree with your reasoning in either case.

  2. PP I certainly have something to say about Happ’s one start last year.
    1. he had pitched only a few innings after IR
    2. he got no help from DUBBIE or RUIZ in the first inning
    (reyes was playing a mind game pretending to have been
    hurt LODUCA should of been brushed back or more and told why)
    3.ROLLINS makes an error and Happ strikes out REYES
    (I came out of my chair yelled and scared the dog)
    4.DUBBIE ignoring the pitchers conditon brought him out for
    anothe inning big big needless mistake
    when he went back to the minor he gave up a pile of runs in 2/3 of an inning.
    p.s eventual HAPP got back of track ran 20 no errand run
    innings, RUSSEL ran him out for a 21st again needless
    if HAPP’S carreer was a book it would be a horror story

  3. Well put together, James. I agree with everything you wrote, especially with regard to the hitters – I would rank Donald higher than Taylor as a prospect, but Taylor deserves the Award, and is IMO the most exciting player in their system now.

    I’d also say that it’s a pretty good sign for the state of the Phillies system that a catcher with a .440 OBP finishes third for this award. I’d still say Marson is the #1 prospect in the system without any hesitation though.

    - Jeff

  4. PP,

    Great Analysis.

    i agree totally. Really excited to see if Taylor can continue at Reading what he’s done in A ball. Wonder how long if he rakes at AA they wait to move him to AAA. Maybe a september callup next year (he says optimistically). Also Happ has to be given props for how he handled being sent back down this year when he pitched well enough to stay. Pitched with a chip on his shoulder and he should get another ML start this week (wouldn’t CC look good here in this spot too???). Tough start probably against the Brewers but they are struggling now so who knows. If he does well enough down the stretch he definitely will have a spot in the rotation next year along with CC if he does well in ST.

  5. PP,
    I read this site everyday, awesome site. I agree with your picks but I do have a question. Why did Donald not get a call up. He is the obvious choice to take bruntlett’s spot next year so wouldn’t he be good for him to get some seasoning?

  6. Do you think the fact that Taylor had a more “surprising” year had any factor in your decision making?

  7. PP, thanks for the article. I really liked that you defined your terms. So often I read these things and people do not define what the stats mean. I end up having to use wiki or just google the term. Its a hassle and I’m glad I don’t have to do it with your write up.

    I agree with your arguments. I don’t know what I would have done with the #3 pitcher either. Great job.

  8. I’m not so certain that Donald’s future is as a utility man. If anything, Harman would be a more logical choice to replace Bruntlett – I believe he was voted best defensive second basemen by some group of scouts this year, and from what I saw, he handled himself very capably at short. Offensively, he didn’t do much this year, but he had some nice pop and, at the very least, is probably equal to Bruntlett in terms of average

    - Jeff

  9. Excellent stuff as always, James. I went with Marson, but it’s hard to quibble with any of the three. As jeffoast says, it’s an encouraging sign for the system that a possible Top 100 prospect in Marson finishes third in a player of the year analysis.

    One aside: have we learned any more about Cisco since the draft? Information was scarce on him then — not surprising, as a 36th round pick — but the numbers he’s put up have been phenomenal, as you alluded to. A 0.99 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 8.16 K/9 and 0.78 BB/9, and a 61.2% groundball ratio is very impressive, even in a relatively small (57.1 IP) sample size. I’d be curious to find out his repertoire, if the Phillies have tweaked his mechanics at all, etc.

    Finally, a couple of statistical questions for you. Where do you find your Secondary Average numbers? And do you know the difference between DICE and FIP (which I believe is very similar)?

  10. One aside: have we learned any more about Cisco since the draft? Information was scarce on him then — not surprising, as a 36th round pick — but the numbers he’s put up have been phenomenal, as you alluded to. A 0.99 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 8.16 K/9 and 0.78 BB/9, and a 61.2% groundball ratio is very impressive, even in a relatively small (57.1 IP) sample size. I’d be curious to find out his repertoire, if the Phillies have tweaked his mechanics at all, etc.

    Cisco is an interesting guy. I found his reports at PGCrosschecker prior to him going to college. The reports on his fastball basically had him in the high 80′s, and he threw a curveball and changeup. He was listed as only 5’11 — 185 lbs when he entered college, and SC’s website lists him at 6’0 185 now, so he didn’t really grow a whole lot. BA didn’t have him ranked in their Top 30 prospects from the state of South Carolina in 2005. BA left him off their 2008 list for South Carolina as well, with 51 guys listed total including Erik McConnell, a Phillies draft choice. You can read about his 2006 and 2007 seasons here

    http://gamecocksonline.cstv.com/sports/m-basebl/mtt/cisco_mike00.html

    Finally, a couple of statistical questions for you. Where do you find your Secondary Average numbers? And do you know the difference between DICE and FIP (which I believe is very similar)?

    I computed the SecA and DICE with a system I built using Microsoft Excel. I’m going to unveil this system when I do affiliate by affiliate reviews in a few weeks. DICE and FIP are very similar. FIP doesn’t account for HBP (the orginal version developed by Tom Tango), but the version given at The HardBall Times does. DICE was easier for me to set up in my system, so thats what I went with.

  11. very good distinction of performance over prospect status.

    it is also nice to have a debate over a few very good prospects. unlike the past few years. to put it in perspective, last year’s Owens winner isn’t even in the conversation (and he had a resepctable year).

    for my money, marson putting up such good numbers as a catcher (the most physically demanding position) bumps him up in this ranking. his plate discipline is an uncanny tool. i could also argue Donald getting a defensive edge. but not really relevant.

    the net is, this was a very good year for the phillies farm. a lot of prospects steped up. we are getting depth as well as top end talent. we didn’t even touch this years draft, which looks good as well. all signs are pointing up. i can’t remember the last time i felt this positive about the farm.

    to me, most of the credit to gillick

  12. Great write up, thanks!

    Taylor is a great choice in part because he was able to make adjustments after his promotion and shift into a higher gear. It’s one thing to get on a roll while you’re comfortable with one group of coaches and teammates but to have success adjusting to a new team in a higher league isn’t easy. Marson and Donald both did quite well in the Olympics, also showing they are capable of making adjustments and adapting. But overall, Taylor rose up the charts more than any other prospect and definitely deserves the honor of PP POY.

    I gave Happ the nod on the pitching side because he essentially showed he has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues. Carrasco finished strong after his promotion to AAA — a great sign — but he really struggled at times in AA. Consistency is going to be his watchword from now on. All in all a very encouraging season but Carlos still has to prove he can handle taking the ball every 5 days without losing intensity or focus. We know when he’s on, he’s dominating. We don’t know if he can pitch through his bad days and still have success.

    My early favorites for next season are Marson and Savery.

  13. Great write-up. Just accumulating all that data in one place in impressive enough, but the analysis and scouting tips were well written too.

    When it comes to the hitter’s, I have the opposite thoughts: Marson as having the more impressive season given level and age, but Taylor as the better prospect. I won’t repeat my concerns about Marson’s hitting profile here, but it’s hard to argue with the actual numbers he put up as a 22 yo catcher in AA.

    Also, it’s good that you mentioned SB% as being a part of SecA. You can assume that as Taylor progresses (and especially if he works with Lopes) his SB% will either go up or he will stop running: either way that’ll boost the SecA.

    On the pitchers side, it was a weird year. We’re so used to having studs at the lower levels but little at the top – and now it’s the opposite. Happ and Carrasco can be major league starters, and the draft crop looks good, but it’s disappointing not to see a full season of dominance from any pitcher in the system.

  14. xfactor -

    I’m betting (hoping?) that you’re predictions for next year are wrong. In all likelihood, Marson will graduate to the Bigs. If not right out of ST, then by midseason. There’s a lot smaller chance, but a chance nonetheless, that Savery could be in Majors next year too. For that to happen, he’d have to be Light’s Out at Reading, but it could happen nonetheless.

    - Jeff

  15. Agree with you that Marson will likely see time with the big club at some point in 09 but would be stunned to see Savery make that kind of leap…

  16. Savery COULD happen…bloody unlikely outside of a cup of coffee in Sept. He’s older though so its possible.

  17. With Myers, Hamels, Blanton, and Moyer (who appears to be planning a return in 09) already in the rotation and Kendrick, Happ, Carrasco, Carpenter, and possibly a couple of other starters ahead of him, Savery would only make that jump because of a rash of injuries to the rotation.

    Assuming a solid 09 combined season between AA/AAA, I see him being targeted as Moyer’s successor in 2010…

  18. Looks like the right tradeoffs between proximity and ceiling. Taylor’s ceiling is huge enough to trump a decent prospect’s proximity. Happ’s proximity trumps Carrasco’s similar performance, even though his ceiling looks significantly, but not immensely, higher. That could change next year if Carlos show more consistent control of his pitches.

    I think the Donald vs. Marson argument is very close. Good arguments either way and you come down to a decision on subtle points. From a value point of view, it’s who has the potential for more impact on the Phils. To me it’s Marson, hands down. He could be a solid starting catcher for many years, maybe a healthy Lieberthal for O and D, with more competitive fire on the field. Donald might be Bill Mueller at 2B/3B but more likely a utility guy.

    However, for Player of the Year, Donald is a reasonable choice.

  19. Great analysis.

    PP, one question about Carrasco v. Happ. You mentioned that the choice of Happ was made based on a “slightly better statistical year.” Carrasco’s K/9 at LHV was 11.43, compared to Happ’s 10.07. Granted, this was an extremely small sample size (36.2 IP) – however, I’d be curious to hear if it’s common for a pitcher to see an increase in K rate following the AA-to-AAA jump (since one can argue that he’s facing much better talent at the AA level). You say that the jump from A to AA ball is the toughest in all of baseball – might the opposite be true for AA to AAA?

    It’s nitpicking, and again, a very small sample size, but might have some relevance given Happ’s “slightly better statistical year.” Thanks!

  20. Also, since Mike Sisco was mentioned earlier – I asked a friend and South Carolina alum who follows Carolina baseball about Cisco. Here are his comments (keep in mind he’s a Braves fan). Granted, they’re observations from someone who’s followed from a fan’s perspective, not necessarily someone looking to evaluate him as a pro prospect. He references Cisco’s Lakewood stats in paragraph 3:

    Mike Cisco. EH. He was our ace. He was our Friday night pitcher the past 3 seasons. He was a badass when he was younger but I guess when SEC scouting caught up to him, he had more trouble. He used to be our most reliable guy but had a tendency to wilt during big games (he’ll fit right in the Phillies pitching staff). :)

    I’m not joking either.

    The past 2 years the biggest problem with our baseball team has been pitching. If Cisco had THOSE numbers we’d have at least gotten to Omaha.

  21. Thanks for answering my questions, James. This is the first time I’ve seen secondary average, and it seems like a really intriguing statistic, so muchas gracias for that. Looking forward to seeing it (and DICE and the like) incorporated into your affiliate reports.

    @ tchaump: thanks for that. Every little bit of information helps, especially when we don’t know much about a guy. Even if the guy is a Braves fan. ;-)

  22. Off the topic a bit but just wanted to let everyone know that R.J. Swindle was DFA’d today to make room for Tad Iguchi.

    Interesting to see if he clears or not..

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