This week I decided to take a look back on the hitters from the farm system in the 2014 season and see where they struggle and excel in certain offensive categories. I limited things to players with 150 plate appearances in the 2014 season while excluding players who have been released, traded, are over the age of 25 or didn’t play in the US (the Reds have two Dominican Summer League teams). That left us with a sample of 54 players to look at.

Plate Discipline

Plate discipline is very important for a hitter. The general theory is that if you swing at good pitches (strikes) then you are going to make better contact than if you swing at bad pitches (balls). It seems to make perfect sense and with the advent of the Pitch F/X data, we can see just how true that actually is. Guys that walk in proportion to their strikeout totals tend to produce better at the plate. There is more than one way to success. Some guys walk and strike out a lot and can be successful. Likewise, some guys don’t walk much but also rarely strike out and those guys tend to also find success. Where players begin to run into trouble is when their strikeout-to-walk ratio is worse than 3.00, and sometimes even in that 2.00-3.00 range depending on their other skills. Below I’ve charted out the 54 players on the list based on their strikeout and walk rates while highlighting certain players and showing the different areas of what it likely means.

kbbrates

Those within the gray area fall in an ideal ratio of strikeouts and walks. The perfect player would be lower and to the right of the chart, while the big time free swingers are in the upper left part of the chart. I’ve highlighted a few outliers as well as some of the top hitting prospects. You can see all of the data for the players at the bottom of this post.

Strikeouts and power

Strikeouts are a part of the game, now more than ever. The strikezone in the Major Leagues has expanded by over 40 square inches in just the last FIVE years. That is going to put scoring runs at a premium and the easiest way to do that is with power. Extra-base hits get guys closer to the plate and sometimes it will bring them (and others) all the way around the bases. Striking out less is obviously a good thing, but striking out more isn’t always a bad thing as long as it is offset by other things (more power, walks). In this chart we are looking at a guys strikeout rate versus his isolated power (slugging – average).

kpower

Like the chart before it, the ideal rate is found in the gray area. Obviously the more power a player has the more strikeouts are acceptable as the trade off still works out.The higher and more left on this chart, the better. Age comes into play as power generally develops as players get older.

It does need to be noted here that park factors do play a big part here as several places where the Reds affiliates played in 2014 have park factors that skew things. The California League where Bakersfield played is a big time power booster. Left field in Pensacola is a big power booster, but right field saps power in the park. The Pioneer League where Billings plays is also very hitter and power friendly. Dayton and Louisville are close to being neutral in terms of the stadium and the league.

Overall

Strikeouts, walks and power are generally what drive a players offensive abilities. For the most part, players don’t have a ton of control on what happens in terms of the ball being a hit or an out once they put the ball in play. While they do have some control, a large majority of players fall in line with the .290-.310 BABIP range, leaving how often they make contact, how often they walk and how often they hit the ball over the fence to be the large driving forces behind their hitting value.

A player who finds himself in both charts gray areas has a lot working for him and the more in the gray area, the better. A guy like Jesse Winker is well established in both and it is why he stands out among the Reds hitting prospects. He does it all well at the plate. Players who are in one gray area but not in the other will likely need to make improvements in order to become quality big league hitters, though there are always exceptions to the rule. Of course the further away from the gray areas that they are, the less likely it is that they can be an exception in the long run without improvements.

Next week I will look at the pitchers in a similar matter, so be sure to check back.

All Data

27 Responses

  1. zaglamir

    Really neat analysis, Doug. 2D plots make my heart flutter. It’s neat that just those 3 statistics can separate out the ‘men from the boys,’ so to speak.

  2. RedsFanin Pitt

    Doug:

    Good analysis. What does the asterick beside Juan Silva mean? Actually, Silva is the most surprising person on this chart. Why in the world does he not get more love in the Reds org.? And, why did he not get promoted to AA last year? Do you think he is indicative of an org. that places to much emphasis on slugging and not enough on plate discipline? His obp and base stealing could be helpful to the Reds if Hamilton fails next year.

    • GOREDS

      He barely played with several injuries, low sample size.

      • RedsFanin Pitt

        I can see that he didn’t play a full season, but I wouldn’t call 307 ABs a small sample size. My main question is really why did he not start out in AA based on his successful performance in thprior year. I can see why others repeated a level, but why did Silva? A .271/386/.414 In 201300 seems awfully successful to me.

      • Doug Gray

        The AA outfield at the start of the year had a lot of depth and was full of guys who needed the playing time. It gave Silva full playing time to keep him in Bakersfield. At times playing every day is better than playing at the correct level.

    • Doug Gray

      Asterisks mean LHH, while the # means switch hitter.

      I’ve never understood why Silva gets so little love from the Reds. He’s not the most toolsy player around, but he is a pretty fast runner, can play defense and he gets on base at a very high rate.

      I don’t know if the organization doesn’t place enough on OBP or not. On first thought I want to say that they don’t, but then I also sit back and think that they went out and got Choo to try and fix the lineup and they signed the best OBP guy in baseball to a $240,000,000 contract at the time. Then I think about some of the other guys they keep around and it just gets a whole lot more confusing.

      • lwblogger2

        I don’t think they emphasize OBP nearly enough, especially in the minors. The Reds seem very tools-driven in their minor-league and amateur scouting and development.

      • Doug Gray

        When you sign high schoolers or international guys there is almost no real way of knowing how their plate discipline is going to be unless its truly terrible. Plus, we do see guys that can make improvements. Look at Yorman Rodriguez as an example there. Granted he has always been incredibly young, but just two years ago he had 100 strikeouts and 19 walks in a season. This year it was 117 and 47 and outside of the three week window after he came back from his oblique injury it was quite a bit stronger than that.

        With college guys you can get a better idea. They are facing better competition and seeing good enough breaking balls and fastballs that you can begin to see some semblance of who has it and who doesn’t. Taylor Sparks is an interesting example of maybe they don’t pay attention to it. At the same time, they have taken several first rounders with outstanding plate discipline under Buckley as well.

        With the development side of things, I’ve long argued that plate discipline really isn’t something you can teach much. Either a guy has it or he doesn’t and there’s not much a coach can do to help it. Most players aren’t truly free swingers like Vlad Guerrero was. Most “free swingers” have problems distinguishing between pitches. So they see fastball when they start their swing and it’s a change up or a slider that winds up out of the zone. You can’t teach a guy to read spin on the ball much. It’s why generally speaking, most guys are who they are in terms of plate discipline by the age of 24. There are some examples of guys figuring it out, but it’s more of an exception to the rule kind of situation.

    • lwblogger2

      As for the asterisk, this is a guess, but in general on these sorts of things an “*” means that the player is a left-handed hitter and a “#” indicates that a player is a switch-hitter.

      • lwblogger2

        Whoops, I didn’t see Doug’s response.

  3. droomac

    Great work, Doug! . . . This analysis confirms one thing for certain. Jesse Winker is pretty darn good. In your estimation, does he get an invite to big boys’ spring training? If so, is there anything he can do (.400/.500/.600) to stick in April? . . .

    • Doug Gray

      I’d be downright shocked if he isn’t in big league ST. With that said, I’d be surprised if he stuck in April, even with a strong March. Not saying it is impossible, but just unlikely.

      • droomac

        This is what I thought. Though the possibility of Winker in ’15 is likely higher if they do not get a viable outfield bat and/or injuries during the season, I do hope they are able to allow him the entire year at AAA with a September call-up likely

      • tct

        I really like winker, but there is a big difference between raking in the Cal League and hitting in the majors. He hasn’t even mastered AA yet, but I guess you never know. But even if he looks like Barry Bonds in the spring, I wouldn’t have him on the opening day roster if for no other reason than to delay his service time clock. You wait a month or two, and you get Winker for an extra year over what you would get if you started with him on the roster on opening day. I think the reds have made some mistakes in this regard lately with guys like Bailey, who they brought up too early and only got 2 above average years out of his 6 team control years. They wasted a year of Mesoraco’s service time in 2012, having him there on opening day and keeping him for most of the year just to play him once or twice a week. Now, after his first good year, he’s already arb eligible. They could have gotten another year out of Leake, too, if they had kept him in the minors until late May or June in 2010.

        I think the reds should be a little more conscious of this. You want to put the best team on the field, but sometimes it’s worth keeping a guy in AAA for a few extra weeks to get another whole year of control. They could have used Navarro as the backup catcher for a month or two in 2012, and Mes would now have 4 years team control left instead of 3.

  4. sultanofswaff

    Very interesting analysis, Doug. My takeaways are that we shouldn’t trade for a LF because I don’t see any reason why Winker wouldn’t be ready by mid-season and that he has the skills to adjust to whatever ML pitchers will try to do to him. Good hitters hit….anywhere. Jesse will produce.

    Also, Barnhart should be the backup catcher—his OBP plus defense is far more valuable than Pena.

    It also looks like we drafted well with Blandino.

    • ohiojimw

      I disagree philosophically with the comment about Winker and not trading for a LF.
      For half a decade (or more) now we’ve been wondering when Jay Bruce was going to reach his true potential and struggling to come to terms that what we’ve seen may well be what he is and will always be. We will never know how things might have turned out had Bruce been allowed that full year to grow into himself at AAA versus being thrown into the fire because he had the skill set to learn and the fly and survive at the MLB level. I’d hate to see the same think maybe happen with Winker.
      Sure, set the sights lower on the guy being brought in to play left knowing Winker is coming in short order. Settle for a guy who is a solid one or two year bridge. Pay less for him in talent and/ or salary; but go on and get a guy that can do the job for the year or two if Winker didn’t exist and at worst case you’ve improved the bench in late 2015 and 2016.

  5. George Mirones

    Doug;
    A lot of effort and very interesting results. If I could make a suggestion, How about also plotting current Reds players Minor league ratios vs. their major league ratios and comparing to the folks who are on your current chart.
    Votto, Bruce, Frazier, Mesoraco, would be a good comparison to give fans a perspective of how the minor league numbers translate to the major league level. Often the trends (positive and negative) of the Minor league have a habit of being magnified in the majors.
    Just a thought

    • Doug Gray

      The trends are pretty similar.

      Cozart and Hamilton are the outliers. Hamilton is young and is working with a smaller sample size. Cozart was an old rookie, so he’s an interesting case on his own because of that (so was Frazier). Here’s a quick glance at their K/BB rates:

      Player Milb KBB – MLB KBB
      Frazier 2.13 – 2.72
      Bruce 2.69 – 2.62
      Votto 1.65 – 1.23
      Mesoraco 1.98 – 2.44
      Cozart 2.22 – 3.66
      Phillips 2.02 – 2.50
      Hamilton 2.10 – 3.36

      • cfd3000

        This is great stuff Doug, with bonus points for the cool charts. The most promising detail besides the encouraging stats from Jesse Winker is the correlation between K/BB ratio from the minors to the majors. Those numbers are pretty close for all the Reds starters save Cozart and Hamilton. Zack is unlikely to improve, but Billy may well do so. If he does, he will be increasing his walk rate and his balls in play rate. With his speed I expect a BABIP higher than average, so both those changes should result in significantly improved OBP. If he improves his bunting skills and his base stealing selectivity then he’ll be a huge asset. That’s a lot of “if” but this chart is very encouraging that the first two it’s are not just possible but perhaps even likely. Thanks!

  6. chezpayton

    When will CorkyMiller be ready for major league ball

    • tct

      Corky is a danger to his teammates because of his extreme manliness. If you get his sweat on you, then you will test positive for steroids.

  7. Shchi Cossack

    Just an interesting (at least to the Old Cossack) aside…

    Through the 1st 6 games of the AFL, the Surprise Saguaros are 3-3. When Jesse Winker starts, the Saguaros are 3-0. When Kyle Waldrop starts, the Saguaros are 2-1. When Seth Mejias-Brean starts, the Saguaros are 2-1.

    Winker is leading the AFL (not just the Saguaros) with a 1.472 OPS and Waldrop is 2nd with a 1.333 OPS.

    I know it’s just 6 games, but more Winker, Waldrop & Mejias-Brean please. A huge statement by those 3 players in the AFL and a strong performance this spring could make for some interesting 25 man roster decisions going into the 2015 season.

  8. Steve Schoenbaechler

    Dang, nice. And, this analysis on the minor leaguers? Awesome.

  9. RedMountain

    Not that I dont think these are good players, but I would not get too excited too soon. Still it would be nice to see some of them in Cincy because they belong there and not out of necessity.