For all the giant steps that statistical analysis has taken in the last decade, prospect evaluation remains largely the domain of scouts. This is particularly true when considering defensive contributions; not only are defensive stats less established than offensive measures at any level, but the data available for the minor leagues is scant.
That is, until now. Using the 2006 play-by-play logs that power MinorLeagueSplits.com, I’ve begun to tackle this longstanding problem. I highly doubt that this project is going to put any professional scouts out of work, but it may open the door to new ways of looking at prospects, and it will certainly give fans more insight into an area that the scouts formerly monopolized.
For my first foray into defensive stats, I’ve used David Gassko’s Range. Range is based on a simple premise: the number of batted balls that are hit to each fielder depends on the handedness of the batters that each team faces. The math gets a little hairy once you delve into the details, but the concept is simple. Given a few basic stats about a team–the percentage of RHBs and LHBs faced, the number of grounders hit to second, third and shortstop, and the number of balls hit in the air to left, center, and right field–you can predict how many plays an average fielder would make.
From there, you can compare the actual number of plays made. For infielders (not including first basemen), Range looks only at groundball assists. For outfielders, it counts putouts. For the time being, I’m only doing those six positions–there’s plenty more work to be done before I can expand to minor league first basemen and catchers.
Without further ado, here’s a look at the Mets system at each of these six positions.
In about 30 games at Triple-A, Anderson Hernandez was great, making 11 plays above average–one of the best performances in the high minors on a per-game basis. Jeff Keppinger was excellent before he was traded: +10 in about 50 games. Wilson Batista was nearly as good playing full-time in Binghmaton: 17 plays above average.
After that, it goes downhill fast. Both Ryan Coultas and Enrique Cruz were more than 10 plays below average in St. Lucie; Hector Pellot allegedly made 191 plays in Hagerstown, but should’ve made 39 more; and in Brooklyn, Jon Schemmel was five plays short of average. On the assumption that average defense is stronger in the higher-level minors, these guys have a hard road ahead of them.
It probably doesn’t matter whether the Mets have anything in the system at third base, but there are a slew of guys at the position who may have more value that is commonly thought. Chase Lambin may have a Double-A bat, but he appears to have a Major League glove, making 16 plays above average in about 100 games between AA and AAA. Chris Basak has an equally low ceiling, but was +12 in only 200 innings, a rate that would make him among the best in the minors if he kept it up for a full season.
The low minors hold more promise: Jonathan Malo was +25 a half-season, and in Kingsport, Alejandro Zuaznabar was +29. I have no sense yet whether that means that Zuaznabar has a MLB-quality glove, or just that Appy league third basemen are generally awful. But if you’re going to have a little-touted third baseman in rookie ball, why not have one with gaudy defensive numbers?
Anderson Hernandez was almost as good at short as he was at second, making 17 plays above average in 600 innings. The Mets organizational depth may be just as meaningless here as it is at third, but it’s similarly strong: every SS in the system who played at 200 innings was above average for their level.
Notable among them were the two rookie ball shortstops. In Kingsport, Emmanuel Garcia was +15 in 420 innings, and in only 317 innings in the Gulf Coast League, Jonathan Santos came in at +11.
I suspect that Range isn’t terribly worthwhile for corner outfielders, at least until it’s park-adjusted. (I haven’t done that yet.) It seems implausible that anyone could be quite so good as Jonel Pacheco, who apparently made 31 plays more than average in Hagerstown. 31!
Dustin Martin, Corey Coles, and Brahiam Maldonado all came in with positive double digits, while Jorge Padilla made 14 fewer plays than average.
Like Carlos Gomez? Try liking him more. His 24 plays above average tied him for the best among Double-A centerfielders. (Though, to be fair, Jacoby Ellsbury came close in fewer than half as many innings.) Lastings Milledge also supplemented his bat with some nice glovework, rating a +5 in 464 innings.
After those two, there’s a whole bunch of mediocrity. Corey Coles managed a +6 in limited FSL action, but everyone else was below average. Fernando Martinez was +2 in St. Lucie but -8 over more innings in Hagerstown.
Victor Diaz doesn’t appear to be a MLB-caliber defender in right: he was -17 in about 700 innings for the Tides. Jorge Padilla, on the other hand, turned in a much better performance in RF than he did in left, performing right at league average. Could be a quirk of the Binghamton park or it could just be the limitations of a small sample size.
Jonathan Sanchez is another study in contradictions: in Brooklyn, he was +13; in Hagerstown, he was -14. “Average” may be better in the Sally League than it is in the New York-Penn (though probably not by that much), or it could be due to the park.
As with any statistics, offensive or defensive, it would be great to have more data to go on, especially for guys like Anderson Hernandez who played multiple positions. The same problems appear with major league defensive stats. But as a glimpse into how some Mets prospects performed in 2006, these numbers suggest a few guys who are underrated, and a few others who can be completely removed from your radar screen.