Why Nick Franklin is My Hitter of the Year So Far

9191637927_0e19dd72dc_c== Let a thousand flowers bloom … ==

We got a comment from Cary when we cross-posted our “Hitter of the Year So Far” article at SeattleSportsInsider.com.

He points out that Nick Franklin is not near the top of the organization in OPS, and a lot of other guys look better.

Here’s my answer:

1. My approach is just a way to look at baseball; I don’t purport to have solved the riddle.  But we seem to get some interesting results and our worldwide audience of dozens finds it an interesting diversion.  I do let a thousand flowers bloom, and don’t go to war with those to disagree.

2. OPS and the refinements of OPS are a very good representation of what happens on the field of play.  But there are problems with using it to predict which minor leaguers are likely to have long-term success in the majors.

a. OPS contains a considerable “random” — or “random-y” as I often say — element, which is BABIP.

b. OPS does not, nor do any of its refinements (such as wOBA), deduct for strikeouts as a negative.  Strikeouts reduce the number of balls in play and thus the possibility of producing offense.

c. In the minors you have to take “age-arc” into account in addition to the simple numbers.

3. My approach does use the basic insight of OPS (whether intentional or not, I’m not sure), which is that a major key to baseball is the intersection of “not making outs” (OBP) and “producing offense” (SLG) — which are often, if not usually, in tension with each other.  Being good at both being the key to long-term success.

4. “Not making outs” is a yes-no proposition (you’re either out or you’re safe), while “producing offense” is weighted (a home run is worth a lot more than a non-home run).  So I think you need to use different ways of measuring those two elements.

5. My “composite” rating is a combination of my two initial ratings.  The stat I call “PSA+” measures “avoiding non-random outs” (or, for pitchers, getting non-random outs).  The stat I call “Conv+” measures “producing non-random offense” (or, for pitchers, denying non-random offense).  The “composite” combines them in the same way that OPS+ combines OBP+ and SLG+.  These aren’t perfect measures (getting velocity off the bat and launch angle and the like would be much better), but they have the virtue of being applicable at all levels and all times, whereas the “advanced media” stuff, when we get it, is only from MLB parks and won’t look back in time.

6. I ultimately do two separate spreadsheets of minor leaguers to address the “age-arc” issue.  Guys who hit in the majors are almost always identifiable early.  They have success in the minors, at an age-appropriate level, by age-23.  Almost always.  I developed this by looking at the pool of hitters who have had success and looked at their minor-league records.  It’s like 99%.  The “MLB Track” very much entails AAA by age-23, and, accordingly, AA by 22, High-A by 21, Low-A at 20, lower minors at 19 or younger.  Or, obviously, moving up faster.  You will find guys who make it who move up slower.  I’m not saying anything is absolute, but usually there is a “story” (injury, time off to play football, developed in a cold climate and/or non-baseball area, etc.).  It is very rare to find an “impact player” who moves through the minors slower than the MLB Track.  [Major exception: this does not really apply to pitchers.]

a. That doesn’t mean I ignore the stats of guys who are older or moving up the ladder more slowly.  But I give them less weight.

b. When it comes to guys age-26 and above and still in the minors, then I do ignore those stats.

c. And if a guy is two years or more older than the MLB Track age-arc, unless there is an injury or other explanation, I also tend to ignore those stats.

===

Does it work?  Well, I had Brad Miller over Franklin earlier than any other rankings.  I gave thumbs down to Casper Wells, Alex Liddi and Stefen Romero when almost everyone else was touting them.  I had Dominic Leone and Chris Taylor in my top 30, when no one else did.  No one.  I was way high on Carson Smith and Ji-Man Choi before most anyone.  We’ll see about those.

===

So here’s the spreadsheet for the guys on “MLB Track” — there are only 13 (also, I don’t count the foreign leagues because the stats are too unpredictable to have much value; and I’ve excluded anyone with fewer than 100 plate appearances):

Edit to add: Chris Taylor should be on this chart and not the following one.  He would show up after Tyler Marlette.

Age Lvl HR% BB% XBH + BB% ISO K% PSA+ Conv+ Comp
Slugger > 4% Goal > 8.5% Goal > 19% Goal > .200 Goal < 20% Strong Prospect > 100
Nick Franklin# 23 AAA 3.24% 14.39% 23.02% 0.185 17.63% 133 104 137
D.J. Peterson 22 A+,AA 5.75% 7.40% 20.82% 0.275 20.55% 98 129 127
Ji-Man Choi* 23 AAA,AA 1.68% 15.13% 21.01% 0.121 15.97% 129 83 112
Tyler Marlette 21 A+ 3.86% 8.58% 18.03% 0.190 17.60% 97 99 96
Phillips Castillo 20 A- 2.83% 10.38% 19.81% 0.181 21.70% 92 87 79
Tyler O’Neill 19 A 4.44% 8.89% 17.78% 0.201 27.41% 71 79 51
Tim Lopes 20 A+ 0.62% 8.95% 14.51% 0.097 17.59% 75 65 40
Julio Morban* 22 AA,AAA 0.88% 11.50% 17.70% 0.103 24.78% 75 53 28
Ketel Marte# 20 AA 0.00% 4.24% 11.14% 0.088 12.47% 58 70 28
Gabriel Guerrero 20 A+ 2.33% 6.20% 13.44% 0.131 23.00% 52 63 15
Martin Peguero 20 A 0.55% 2.21% 7.73% 0.071 13.26% 41 58 -1

So D.J. vs. Nick is quite close, really.  Franklin is better at “avoiding non-random outs” with the lower K-rate and higher BB-rate.  Peterson is slugging much better.  But, of course, Little Nicky is a middle infielder, which makes a huge difference as well.

===

Here’s the spreadsheet for guys who are at an age and level that does not put them on “MLB Track.”   That doesn’t mean they’re “old for their level” necessarily.  Just that guys who have an impact in the majors usually would be at a higher level by that age.  I’ll go down to a composite rating of 50 or higher.  I will also note that the spreadsheet is about a week old, so it doesn’t capture, for example, Jesus Montero’s hot streak.

As noted: Chris Taylor should not be on this chart since he is in AAA at age-23.

Year Age Lvl HR% BB% XBH + BB% ISO K% PSA+ Conv+ Comp
Slugger > 4% Goal > 8.5% Goal > 19% Goal > .200 Goal < 20% Strong Prospect > 100
Jabari Henry 23 A+ 5.50% 14.07% 26.30% 0.287 18.96% 146 144 189
Dario Pizzano* 23 AA,A+ 2.69% 14.03% 25.07% 0.218 11.64% 151 129 180
Ty Kelly# 25 AAA 3.36% 17.37% 24.93% 0.179 16.81% 154 105 160
Daniel Paolini 24 AA 2.19% 11.60% 21.94% 0.174 14.73% 121 107 128
Jabari Blash 24 AAA,AA 5.69% 13.04% 23.41% 0.264 27.09% 111 112 123
Patrick Kivlehan 24 AA,A+ 3.77% 9.55% 19.85% 0.217 19.35% 100 106 106
Jesus Montero 24 AAA 3.55% 10.00% 20.32% 0.202 19.68% 101 103 104
Austin Wilson 22 A 4.06% 8.86% 19.19% 0.225 20.66% 93 104 96
Travis Witherspoon 25 A+ 4.12% 8.64% 18.52% 0.204 19.34% 94 101 96
Kevin Rivers* 25 AA 1.14% 11.41% 20.15% 0.140 17.11% 104 89 93
Jordy Lara 23 A+ 3.76% 8.02% 18.30% 0.212 19.30% 89 102 92
Chantz Mack* 23 A,AAA 1.92% 9.62% 15.87% 0.131 12.02% 104 85 89
Tyler Smith 22 A+ 1.83% 11.78% 18.32% 0.133 17.54% 103 80 84
Chris Taylor 23 AAA 1.60% 10.86% 20.77% 0.178 21.73% 91 92 83
Jack Marder 24 AA 1.85% 9.96% 16.24% 0.128 13.65% 102 78 80
Marcus Littlewood# 22 A 2.05% 11.07% 18.03% 0.127 18.03% 99 78 77
Aaron Barbosa* 22 A,A+ 0.00% 14.70% 16.61% 0.034 13.74% 116 56 72
Burt Reynolds 25 A+,A 5.07% 6.45% 19.82% 0.288 30.41% 58 113 72
Zach Shank 23 A,A+ 2.22% 7.28% 15.19% 0.144 16.14% 81 80 61
John Hicks 24 AA,AAA 1.81% 9.50% 16.74% 0.131 20.36% 80 74 54
Xavier Avery* 24 AAA 1.85% 9.57% 16.05% 0.121 19.14% 83 71 54
Austin Cousino* 21 A- 2.38% 7.14% 13.49% 0.134 15.87% 78 74 52
Lonnie Kauppila 22 A 0.00% 7.50% 13.13% 0.063 10.63% 83 68 51
Jeffrey Zimmerman* 21 A 1.61% 8.87% 16.53% 0.130 20.16% 77 74 51

Then you have to figure in things like Henry being at High Desert, Kivlehan being more raw due to time off for football, the fact that 10+% BB-rates for non-sluggers don’t carry over into the majors, which guys can play “glove” positions, and a host of other things.

Anyway, I figured I would “show my work” — so there it is.  Franklin is tops so far.

 

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3 thoughts on “Why Nick Franklin is My Hitter of the Year So Far

  1. Jim, one of the things I have always liked about your analysis matrix was that you took strikeouts into effect. I know I’m old, and strikeouts don’t seem to matter much to folks these days, but they just purely annoy the heck out of me. Sure, you are going to have them. Sometimes the pitcher wins. But swinging for the fences when you are 0-2 in the count and if you whiff it’s “oh well” grates on my nerves. Especially with men on base. Put the damn ball in play – make the other team perform to get the out.

    It’s possible to hit 25-35 home runs with 90-100 RBI without striking out 150 times. Players did it in the sixties when pitching was dominant and the ballparks were larger. There’s no reason it can’t be done today.

  2. Interesting analysis. I notice that you say that 99% of successful MLB hitters would have fared well in your stat scheme. Which is different than saying that 99% of those who fare well in your stat scheme make good MLB hitters. In other words, you are looking at the skillset necessary to play at the majors level but it is not a guarantee of success there. The next logical step would be to see if you could refine the concept to identify those who fare well in your stat scheme but then struggle or fail at the big leagues (e.g. Smoak, Ackley?). My guess is that it is a less tangible or at least more difficult skill to measure such as the ability to adapt and adjust. Perhaps it is an inability to eliminate “holes” in your game. Much has been noted of Ackley’s inability to handle the outer part of the plate. Good major league pitchers are really good at identifying and exploiting a hitter’s weakness. I don’t know the answer but I like your thought process.

    • Yes, you are dead on. There are very few “false negatives” but plenty of “false positives.” And it’s much harder to identify which ones will be the “true positives.” One thing I have concluded is that guys whose minor league numbers are inflated by very high walk rates do not tend to transfer as effectively. Both Smoak and Ackley were in that category. But some things escape easy answers. I thought Vinnie Catricala would be our left fielder by now after he crushed AA at age 22, but instead he’s a police officer in Sacramento.

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