One more on Player of the Year

Last one, I promise. But I couldn’t resist based on the comments left here from yesterday’s post. In case you didn’t see it, someone (Christian G., I’m guessing by the username) wrote this:

My reading comprehension skills may have failed me. I was unaware
that your “POY” excluded a players actual prospect status (re:
Clemens). I was also unaware that your “POY” award excluded defensive
contributions (re: Carter vs Jennings, one guy is is destined for 1b/DH
while the other is a plus CF’er.) So if you’re looking for offensive
stats, and prospect status is eliminated, these guys belong in the
conversation:

Mitch Jones
Randy Ruiz
Kyle Russell
Drew Locke

I love it when someone goes to an extreme to make a point. But I’m calling this out for a few reasons, partially because of the absurdity and partially because there’s a valid point in there. Let’s start with the absurd.

Now, I’ll admit I purposefully put Koby Clemens on the “candidate” list in the hopes of getting a response. As I’ve said, I can be fairly confident in telling you he won’t be the Player of the Year. Yes, he played in Lancaster. Yes, he played in the California League. Yes his K/BB rate is a little concerning. But to compare a 22-year-old to Mitch Jones (31 in AAA, hit .297/.400/.651) or Randy Ruiz (hit .320/.351/.531 at age 31 in AAA) in terms of non-prospectness is just silly. I’m not saying Clemens is a big prospect now; all I’m claiming is that it’s now worth watching to see what he does next year. It’s also worth mentioning that it was Clemens’ first try at that level, as opposed to the 30-somethings above who have spent multiple years in Triple-A.

Kyle Russell’s numbers don’t even come close to Clemens’s, I don’t think. And since he’s actually older than Clemens and played a level lower, he shouldn’t even been mentioned. Hurts your argument. Locke’s numbers are indeed pretty good (.323/.389/.531). At 25 in Double-A, he’s not a prospect, but he’s a better example for you to use in your debating the issue. Still, he’s 3 years older than Clemens.

OK, enough on Clemens. He’s just an interesting side discussion when you really think about it. I think the better point made by the commenter is about how defense should figure into any discussion about Player of the Year talk, whether you’re thinking prospect or not.

I’ll be the first to admit that discussions we have about this do lean heavily toward offensive performance. Much of that is out of necessity. It’s a lot easier to look at a player’s numbers at the plate on paper than evaluate defense. We don’t get to see most of these guys with any consistency, so any look at defense would have to rely on what others see. Thanks to another commenter to including a link to ProjectProspect’s scouting report on Chris Carter. They do good work over there.

Keep in mind, though, that that report is just one scout’s perspective. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that two scouts can see the same player and see different things. Yes, he still strikes out a bit. But his K rate went down and his BB rate went up this year, all while he moved up a level and faced presumably better pitching overall. I’ve had people tell me that he’s made many more adjustments than people thought he could and he has the chance to be more than just a three true outcome kind of guy.

The report also only touches briefly on his defense, saying he’ll be limited to 1B/DH, as the first commenter believed as well. That very well may be true. But I have to throw out there that there are those who felt he looked fairly comfortable in a corner outfield spot. He’s never going to be a gold glover, but I wouldn’t peg him as a liability just yet.

Defensive stats in the Minors aren’t all that available, so I can only throw out what I can find. Range Factor for a first baseman isn’t all that telling, but I’ll use it as one example. There were 24 first basemen (thanks to our stats guru Cory Schwartz for the info) who played 100 games or more at the position at one level. Carter’s 9.65 RF in Double-A put him 13th. Not great, but not terrible. Firmly middle of the road (In 7 Triple-A games at first, he had a 10.16 RF — meaningless stat for you). His RF for the season was 9.68, keeping him in that same overall place.

Some claim that assists are a better indicator for a first baseman’s range. Carter doesn’t fare as well there. His assists per game ratio in Double-A was 21st among those 24 first basemen. Obviously, this isn’t weighting anything toward league or level or if a player’s pitching staff was more groundball or flyball oriented, so take it for what it’s worth.

Then there’s Jennings, a “plus CFer,” according to our commenter. Jennings played 113 total games across two levels in center field. There were a total of 31 players who played 100 games or more at that position in 2009. Again using the less than perfect range factor, Jennings’s 2.83 combined puts him 7th. Now, obviously, a center fielder ranking that highly gives more value to a team than a 1B, especially one who’s middle of the road. So score one for Mr. commenter. (By the way, it might make a good case for Jason Heyward, who — without doing the math — seemed to do well at all three outfield positions in 2009).

But here’s the thing, and the question I throw to you. What does all of this mean? Is Range Factor a worthwhile enough index to measure a Minor Leaguer? I like the idea of including defense in this discussion, I’m just not sure how to do it since we don’t have the same kind of data we’ve grown to trust more on the hitting side.

Of course, as I’m looking at our Awards page from last year, I’m remembering (or being reminded) that we call the award Best Overall Hitter. So for the purposes of deciding that, this long, drawn out blog post is moot. But for us and this debate, we can consider it.

So comment away if you’d like. Tomorrow I’ll get to pitchers, I promise and we can come back to this conversation if necessary.

2 Comments

I really wasn’t being coy when I said, “my reading comprehension failed me.” I honestly don’t know your POY criteria, and the inclusion of Clemens in a group containing Carter and Posey was just odd, since he’s not on the same level prospect-wise, and his numbers are severely inflated by the league he plays in. So I assumed you were literally going by statistics only, which is why I included the list of non-prospects who put up impressive numbers (Mitch Jones, Randy Ruiz, Kyle Russell, Drew Locke). So, which is it? Stats? Improvement in prospect status? Combo?

Also, the reason I referenced defense with Jennings was because you did initially say, “Player of the Year,” not “Hitter of the Year.” If it’s simply a “Hitter of the Year” award based on triple slash lines only, then you’re right, Jennings doesn’t belong in the discussion. But the quotation marks around my statement “Plus CF’er” indicates to me that you’re questioning the statement? Am I misreading this, or have you heard/seen otherwise regarding Jennings defensive ability?

As for Jennings vs Heyward from a defensive perspective, I’m fairly certain Jennings is considered the much better defensive player, with the ability to play CF for a top division club. That’s not really a knock on Heyward, but speaks more to Jennings ability. Offensively, Heyward is clearly the better bat, but then again, they’re different offensive players, one being a middle of the order talent vs a top of the order talent.

I think you’re probably right on the Jennings vs. Heyward defense front and like you said, that’s not taking anything away from Heyward, who will be an above-average RF when all is said and done. Yes, our award is called “hitter of the year,” so in our official discussions that won’t matter.

I don’t question your assessment, I was just quoting what you said directly rather than it necessarily being my assertion. I guess in the end, I was confusing myself. I think, in truth, it’s a hybrid of stats, prospect status, age for level, all those things. I will say that we don’t weight prospect status as much as, say, Baseball America does. And, as you’ve probably surmised, I put Koby Clemens in there just to get a reaction, so thank you for that.

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