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;
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
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:
Winner: Michael Taylor
Runner Up: Jason Donald
2nd Runner Up: Lou Marson
Winner: JA Happ
Runner Up: Carlos Carrasco
2nd Runner Up: Drew Naylor
There you have it.