The Farm Report -- 4/4/2013

Today's Starters:
AAA: Nick Tepesch vs Omaha (KC), 7:05 CDT
AA: Cody Buckel at Arkansas (LAA)
Hi-A: Luke Jackson vs Wilmington (KC), 6:05 CDT
Lo-A: CJ Edwards vs Greensboro (MIA), 6:00 CDT (POSTPONED)

Only Round Rock is assured of playing.  Hickory will play a doubleheader Saturday.

The Departed

P Shawn Blackwell -- 2009 24th-rounder fanned nine in seven innings with Hickory last year; K rates elsewhere were lower.
P Kyle Devore -- 2011 27th-rounder was a swingman at Myrtle Beach, fanned 43 in 72 innings.
P Ben Henry -- The latest pick (30th round) remaining from the 2007 draft.  Effective, albeit wild, in low-A Myrtle Beach last year.
P Tim Murphy -- The 2008 3rd-rounder was topping at 87 MPH when I saw him in Surprise.  He'd missed all of 2011 after Tommy John surgery. 
P Zack Osborne -- Strong in Myrtle Beach, battered in two sessions with Frisco.
P Matt Thompson -- Sad.  The 2008 7th-rounder from Burleson was hit-prone but struck out 130 against just 23 walks in 129 innings as a 20-year-old with Hickory.  Sent back to Hickory, Thompson's control evaporated, resulting in 80 walks in 88 innings.  By 2012, Thompson couldn't get the ball over the plate and made only two appearances in rookie ball.  This spring brought no better news.
1B Brandon Snyder -- Last year's 25th man and decent bat against lefties.
1B Brandon Allen -- Recent dismissal after Chris McGuiness's return.
IF Santiago Chirino -- Backup infielder for Myrtle Beach.
OF Jared Prince -- I recall praise of him as the leader of Myrtle Beach's playoff 2011 squad, but he batted only .234/.301/.364 as a 26-year-old in Frisco last year.  A future coach, perhaps?
OF Jeremy Williams -- Powerful but old for Myrtle Beach, where he batted .237/.288/.356.

Also: pitchers Jorge Dejesus, Brandon Kuter, Daniel Lopez,  Denny Peralta, Andres Perez-Lobo, Chance Sossaman, Austen Thrailkill, Pedro Tirado and Brett Weibley, C/UT Yefry Castillo, 1B Jhonny Gomez

DAILY REPORT PRIMER -- PART TWO

Context for Hitters: Runs and RBI

From MLB.com writer TR Sullivan two weeks ago: "Manager Ron Washington likes Kinsler in the leadoff spot for one main reason: he scores runs. The two offensive statistics that Washington looks at most are runs scored and RBIs." 

For my purposes, individual runs and RBIs are irrelevant.  Homers aside, players can't score or drive in runners without help.  They're team-oriented stats.  They're also deceptive, sometimes.  A weak leadoff hitter can still score plenty of runs with superior middle-of-the-order hitters behind him.  In 1990, Joe Carter drove in 115 runs despite a .290 on-base percentage.  Batting in front of him were Bip Roberts (.375 OBP), Tony Gwynn (.357) and Roberto Alomar (.340). 

In the recaps, I'll mention players who score or drive in an inordinate number of runs, but in terms of telling you about the quality of the player, these statistics aren't useful.  My focus is on the statistics that highlight the individual and remove or downplay the team context.

Context for Hitters: Slash Stats

If I say Jurickson Profar is batting .280/.340/.420, his batting average is .280, his on-base percentage is .340, and his slugging percentage is .420.  These are the "slash stats," and you'll see them every day, as they convey a lot of critical information in a small space. 

On-base percentage is the most important.  OBP measures how often a batter avoids making an out.  It is the essence of baseball.  The formula for OBP is (hits + walks + HBP) / (at-bats + walks + HBP + sac flies).  The denominator in that equation is plate appearances. 

Slugging is total bases on hits divided by at-bats.  So, a home run in one at-bat means a slugging percentage of 4.000. 

Batting average is the least useful of the three, but it's still meaningful, particularly in the minors.  Hitters need more than a good eye for balls and strikes to reach the Majors.  Usually, the best prospects have excellent contact skills.

Walks and strikeouts are also important, particularly among younger hitters who might be struggling.  A batter struggling with a .200 average might be drawing walks at a decent rate and not striking out too much.  That likely indicates the batter has some plate discipline and isn't overwhelmed by the competition.  Depending on the league, a typical walk rate is 8%-10% of all plate appearances.  A very high strikeout rate may foreshadow difficulty in making contact as the prospect climbs the ladder. 

Context for Pitchers: Win-Loss

A pitcher's win-loss record is meaningless.  I stopped reporting it three years ago, and almost nobody complained.  The Newberg Report has a discerning audience. 

Exhibit A for the prosecution:



Schlact departed with a 3-0 lead after six innings.  Two other relievers offered scoreless innings.  Danny Touchet allowed two homers and three runs in his inning… and got the win because he was the "pitcher of record" when Frisco scored a go-ahead run in the 9th.  He only gained the opportunity for the win by pitching badly.

Attributing wins and losses to pitchers is a relic of the 19th century when they nearly always completed games. In modern times, the rules of assigning wins explicitly reward bad relievers and punish quality starting. 

At the lowest levels, starters often fail to attain the five innings needed to qualify for a win.  By rule, the scorekeeper has no choice but to assign the win to a reliever, even if the starter fanned fourteen consecutive batters in four-and-two-thirds innings and the other innings were spread among five relievers.  Hickory's 2009 edition averaged only 4.5 innings per start, meaning they usually didn't qualify.

These aren't isolated examples.  Even if they are, the logic still doesn't hold.  Starters have no control over their teammates' hitting and defense or the relievers.  At best, they're responsible for about 40% of their team's likelihood of winning. 

Now, pitchers themselves love wins.  But they also love eating at Chipotle every day.  You don't have to love what they love. 

Last year, Frisco's Barret Loux had a 3.47 ERA and a 14-1 record.  Myrtle Beach's Kyle Hendricks was 5-8 despite a 2.82 ERA.  Their win-loss records are anecdotes, not indicators of performance.  Just ignore them.

Context for Pitchers: ERA

ERA is often a good shorthand indicator of a pitcher's performance, more so for starters than relievers.  However, ERA only partially succeeds at separating the pitcher from his defense.  Starters can be helped or hurt by relievers, and a reliever can still have a great ERA despite allowing a bunch of inherited runners to score.  As mentioned, defense in the minors is spotty, and pitchers are more likely to be hurt by fielding miscues that still result in “earned” runs.  So, like runs and RBI, ERA is a team-oriented stat.  Here’s three examples of how fielders can affect the earned run average of a pitcher, all beginning with two outs, none on, bottom of the 1st:

Example 1:  An Omaha batter hits a sharp grounder to Mike Olt, who makes a heroic diving stab and throws out the batter by a step to end the 1st.  In the 2nd, Nick Tepesch allows a leadoff homer.  Scoring summary: 1 run scored, 1 run earned for Tepesch.

Example 2:  Olt dives but can’t come up with the ball cleanly, and the batter reaches safely.  The play is ruled a hit.  The next batter homers off Tepesch.  Summary: 2 runs scored, 2 earned runs for Tepesch.

Example 3:  Olt dives but can’t come up with the ball cleanly, and the batter reaches safely.  But this time, the grumpy scorekeeper rules the play an error.  The next batter homers off Tepesch.  Summary: 2 runs scored, 0 earned runs for Tepesch.

Tepesch threw the same pitches in each scenario but has 1, 2, or 0 earned runs depending on the fielder and scorekeeper.   Similarly, a bullpen can greatly affect a starter’s ERA in its ability to strand his bequeathed runners.  These issues may even out over the course of a season, but not completely. 

Unearned runs shouldn't be completely dismissed.  If a fielder makes a two-out error and the pitcher subsequently gives up five line drives and three runs, those runs are technically unearned but don't speak well of the pitcher's performance. 

Context for Pitchers: Peripherals

If ERA can be a little deceptive, what else should you watch?  WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) isn’t a bad stat, but it’s best to focus on what defense and pitching changes don’t affect:  walks, strikeouts and homers.  In particular, walk and strikeout rates stabilize pretty quickly, giving insight into a pitcher's control and command.

I often express walk and strikeout rates as a percentage of batters faced rather than per nine innings.  Per-nine calculations can deceive if a pitcher is exceptionally good or bad at preventing baserunners.  Let’s say Will Lamb and Scott Lucas both strike out nine batters per nine innings, but Lamb allows just one baserunner per inning, while Lucas allows two.  Lamb will have about a 25% strikeout rate, Lucas only 20%.  Even though they have the same K/9, Lamb is better at striking batters out than Lucas.  That 5% difference doesn’t seem like much but is actually very significant.  Assuming 600 batters faced over the course of a season, that extra 5% means a whopping 30 additional strikeouts. 

Resources

My twitter account is “@scottrlucas” (http://twitter.com/scottrlucas).  If you’re eager to get the news earlier, I post notable events, player promotions, injuries, etc. 

Organization depth chart: http://rangers.scottlucas.com/site/org.htm

Radio broadcasts of all minor-league games are available for free here:
http://www.milb.com/milb/multimedia/audio.jsp

For $39.99, you can watch every Round Rock game, all but a few of Frisco and a majority of Myrtle Beach.  The video/camera quality in Round Rock and Frisco is excellent.  Other teams are just as good, while AAA New Orleans has a single camera perched atop a light standard in Slidell.   Myrtle Beach is offering video for the first time this season.  Hickory does not have video.  Three South Atlantic teams do, but Hickory will play only seven games all season in those locations.
http://www.milb.com/milb/multimedia/milbtv.jsp#teams

And The Return Of "Five Years Ago Yesterday"

Notes preceding the 2008 Openers:  22-year-old Eric Hurley was youngest Opening Day pitcher in the AAA Pacific Coast League.  19-year-old Elvis Andrus was seventeen months younger than anyone in the AA Texas League, and 17-year-old Engel Beltre of low-A Clinton was the youngest player in full-season ball.

To quote myself: "Matt Harrison tormented the [AA Springfield] Cardinals for 5.2 innings… Harrison has fared well despite a bland strikeout rate that belies his strong repertoire. If he can miss more bats while maintaining his excellent control... oh boy"  Acquired before his 22nd birthday, Harrison has pitched only 108 minor-league innings (some on rehab) and over 600 in the Majors.  SS Elvis Andrus and C Taylor Teagarden singled twice, while 1B Chris Davis raised them a double.

AAA Oklahoma won when 3B Ryan Roberts plated catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  Eric Hurley allowed a leadoff double to Cory Rasmus and three runs in five innings.  High-A Bakersfield's Tommy Hunter retired 15 of 16 after giving up four quick runs.

--
Scott Lucas
Newberg Report  (newbergreport.com)
rangers.scottlucas.com
twitter: @scottrlucas

 
title_authors

Jamey Newberg

Dallas attorney Jamey Newberg has been commenting on Rangers from the big club down through the entire farm system since 1998.

Scott Lucas

Scott Lucas was born in Arlington, Texas, to Richard and Becky Lucas. He lived mostly in Arlington before moving to Austin, where he graduated from The University of Texas. Scott works for Austin Valuation Consultants, Ltd., and has published several boring articles about real estate appraisal and environmental contamination. He makes a swell margarita and refuses to run longer than ten kilometres.

Eleanor Czajka

Eleanor grew up watching the AAA Mudhens in Toledo, Ohio. A loyal Ranger fan since 1979, she works "behind the scenes" at the Newberg Report.

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