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July 19, 2013

Overthinking It

When Big Leaguers Go Back to the Bush Leagues

by Ben Lindbergh


The first inspiration for this article was watching the Futures Game. We know that the Futures Game is great because it gives us a chance to see top prospects face off against top prospects. But an underrated aspect of its appeal is that it sometimes pits top prospects against much less advanced top prospects, letting us see, say, 19-year-old Dilson Herrera, who’s in A-ball, hit against 23-year-old C.J. Riefenhauser, who’s in Triple-A (Herrera flied out). Riefenhauser may not have a super high ceiling, but he’s by far the most mature pitcher Herrera has ever had to hit against. The four years and three levels of development between those two players makes a massive difference—much more than the months and the lone level that separate the Futures Game rosters’ more advanced members from the majors. (Actually, World Team member Henry Urrutia has already been called up by Baltimore.)

The second inspiration for this article was podcast questions. A few weeks ago, a Fringe Average fan asked what Miguel Cabrera would hit in the minors. Effectively Wild listeners often ask the same sort of thing. (“What would my ERA be in the majors?” wondered one formerly league-average little leaguer.) Judging by my own curiosity and the kind of questions we get, we’re all intrigued by showdowns between players of dramatically different ability.

Fortunately, there is one way to see such lopsided matchups, which takes us to the third inspiration for this article: the results of some currently or recently rehabbing players. Derek Jeter going 1-for-9 with a single and four walks for Triple-A Scranton. Alex Rodriguez hitting .188/.250/.406 in a combined 36 A, High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A plate appearances. Colby Lewis getting knocked around to the tune of a 9.82 ERA in four short Double-A and Triple-A starts.

We don’t know what Miguel Cabrera would hit in the minors, because he hasn’t played there since 2003 and has no incentive to do so. But many major leaguers do return to the minors to rehab against a level of competition they’ve long since left behind. How do rehabbing big leaguers fare against hitters who can barely touch a breaking ball and pitchers who hardly have one? Thanks to Corey Dawkins’ 2005-12 DL data, which includes the dates that players joined and left the big-league disabled list, we can query for rehab results and find out.

***

Disabled major leaguers most often rehab at Triple-A, followed by (in descending order) High-A, Double-A, rookie ball, full-season A ball, and short-season A ball. For reference, here are the 2005-12 run environments at each level:

LVL

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Minor League Update: G... (07/19)
<< Previous Column
Overthinking It: This ... (07/15)
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Premium Article Overthinking It: Secon... (07/21)
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Premium Article Raising Aces: Back to ... (07/19)

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