Farm Report: How stats can help evaluate minor league players
Cubs Pro Scouting Director Joe Bohringer at the Cubs Convention.
Visit Baseball Reference, Fangraphs or MiLB.com, and you can look up everything from how a player performed in the Dominican Summer League to a breakdown of his left/right splits.
But missing are the stats organizations really care about—the ones for 2013 and beyond.
Predicting what a player will do in the future is a front office’s most important, and toughest, task. A few seasons of data can be telling, but the uncertainty surrounding those numbers increases with each level removed from the majors.
Cubs Pro Scouting Director Joe Bohringer and his staff try to isolate and grade the true talent of thousands of professional players spanning eight different levels. These scouts, who filed many of the team’s 14,000 reports over the last 13 months, aren’t tasked with crunching numbers so much as incorporating them as pieces of the puzzle.
“You’re trying to balance the available information—a player’s track record—with the information you get from your live looks, which is based on the experience and opinions of your scouts,” Bohringer said. “Our job is to try and take all the available information … and then use all that information to make what’s really the best educated guess we can as to what the player may or may not be down the road.”
Popular stats like wins above replacement (WAR) and on-base plus slugging (OPS) aren’t nearly as relevant in the minors. Walk and strikeout rates, ground ball and fly ball rates, speed and power are more fundamental components that help categorize types of players.
“In general, those broad categories won’t change a ton as players move up or down the chain,” Bohringer said. “You will see players who make adjustments to their game as they go. In most cases, they’re really just trying to tighten things up within a specific skill set as opposed to becoming something entirely different.”
The Cubs will look at trends to see if a hitter is making adjustments, reducing his strikeouts or getting into better counts. And they compare players to their league (controlling for age) more than they try to project a major league line.
Minor league numbers also play a role in evaluating how Cubs farmhands are developing. Director of Player Development Brandon Hyde and his crew of coaches and coordinators create “player plans,” a direct implementation of the newly codified Cubs Way. Every farmhand signs off on developmental goals, which list his strengths and weaknesses in the physical, fundamental and mental aspects of the game.
“We break it down into categories, and we have progress reports on goals and things we feel—and the player feels like—they need to do to get better,” Hyde said.
The team collects proprietary information in nightly game reports that include pitch-by-pitch data alongside coaches’ comments. It’s all aggregated and searchable by the front office like any other stats.
It may not replace a crystal ball, but the Cubs hope that good use of the information at hand will allow them to see some bright futures ahead.
US VS. THEM
Here are some of the Cubs’ 2012 minor league pitching leaders versus their leagues.^ The pitcher’s highest level is listed along with his performance relative to the league average (e.g., Loosen struck out 22 percent more batters faced than the rest of the FSL). The top three starters* are followed by the top three relievers.
K% vs. LEAGUE
Matt Loosen* HiA +22%
Jake Brigham* AA +20%
Kyle Hendricks* HiA +10%
Marcus Hatley AAA +37%
Jeff Lorick HiA +35%
Tony Zych AA +32%
UBB% vs. LEAGUE
Kyle Hendricks* HiA -66%
Nick Struck* AA -26%
Jose Rosario* LoA -21%
Casey Harman AA -50%
Scott Weismann AA -28%
Joe Zeller HiA -28%
GB% vs. LEAGUE
Rob Whitenack* HiA +23%
Dallas Beeler* AA +19%
Dae-Eun Rhee* AA +16%
Frank Batista AAA +34%
A.J. Morris HiA +26%
Felix Peña LoA +11%
^Among players currently with the Cubs who have not made their MLB debut (min. 50 IP).
*Pitcher faced at least 90% of his batters as a starter.