May 22, 2014
PECOTA Takes on Prospects
Onward (and left-ward) we go.
Meet baseball’s two most unique prospects. As teenagers, Gallo and Sano showcased their monstrous power last year, slugging a combined 75 home runs. They also struck out a combined 314 times, creating skewed profiles that limited their comps.
Gallo’s Similarity Index of 27 makes him PECOTA’s least-comparable player. A prospect who strikes out 35 percent of the time doesn’t exactly inspire visions of major-league stardom, but Gallo’s 40 bombs last season make a strong argument for potential success. He’s fighting history: from 1980 to 2010, 127 hitters have struck out at a 30 percent rate at Low-A. Three have exceeded 1 WARP in the majors: Russell Branyan, Shane Andrews, and Wily Mo Pena (and just six have accrued 2-plus WARP at Triple-A).
Run Gallo’s power and age through most forecasting systems, and no matter his future strikeout rate, the power keeps growing, according to our knowledge of aging curves. On slugging alone, only Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Ryan Howard best his projections. Home runs can compensate for tons of lost value striking out—under the construction of linear weights, a theoretical player who hits 100 home runs while striking out 500 times is worth roughly 10 batting runs.
The feasibility of such a player diminishes as the strikeout rate rises, however. Gallo’s long-term forecast calls for 47 home runs at age 22, and a 38 percent strikeout rate. At the major-league level, someone with that much swing-and-miss will be exploited. Historically, only Jack Cust shares Gallo’s whiff propensity, and Jack Cust didn’t last very long.
This is why PECOTA makes use of comparables. While forecasts can go haywire with unusual players like Gallo, history provides a reasonable basis for their likelihood of success based on fundamental skills like contact and raw power. Gallo lives on the extremes in those respective skills, making him a highly unusual prospect. While his UPSIDE came out high, the probability of failure is quite high, too, because there’s been no one like him. Comparables safeguard PECOTA’s projection of players like Gallo by noting the extreme nature and high variability of their weighted-mean forecast. Like Mookie Betts last week, Gallo’s weak Similarity Score calls for attention. Giancarlo Stanton might be his top comp, but they’re really not that similar.
Miguel Sano, who also draws Stanton as a comp, shows more similarity by simply being less extreme than Gallo. With Double-A experience under his felt, Sano is also safer than Gallo, who sits two levels below his counterpart. However, Sano is recovering from Tommy John surgery, while Gallo is hitting a home run once every 10 plate appearances at High-A. Sano won’t fare terribly in UPSIDE next year because he’s so advanced for his age, but his absence does raise the question of how losing a crucial developmental year impacts his future. Like Oscar Taveras last year, Sano will miss his age-21 season, and the lost growth may have a harmful effect on his overall projection.
Very Good Prospects
Remember Josh Bell? Throughout his minor-league career, Bell qualified as a solid power prospect yet lived on the edge, as he struck out time and time again in the big leagues. He’s the top comp for Matt Davidson, who arrives in Chicago with the same warning labels. The performance in Triple-A Reno deems him major-league ready, but PECOTA is wary of the 27 percent strikeout rate and, unlike Gallo and Sano, Davidson doesn’t bring an explosive power package to the plate. The White Sox’ fears can perhaps be assuaged by his early walk rates in Arizona last year, since impatience was the liability that doomed Bell. There’s enough there for Davidson to stay average; ultimately, the swing-and-miss scares PECOTA enough to place him closer to replacement level.
Frank, who swings plenty and hits plenty, doesn’t have the same problem. PECOTA doesn’t fear his aggression much because he makes so much contact and hits for power. At an easier position, the negative fielding projection should hurt him less and shape him as an average major leaguer.
The remnants of Miles Head’s emergent offense from two years ago make him a still-viable prospect, and PECOTA’s giving him a pass for missing 2013 with an injury. Jermaine Curtis is essentially an org guy at this point, but PECOTA will hold out hope for on-base types who make tons of contact. As a college draftee, Dozier lit up Rookie League, just not enough for a 21-year-old.
(Position note: When we produced the long-term projections, we ran Nick Castellanos’ PECOTA as a left fielder (a mistake in hindsight). He’ll appear here in a few weeks.)
Notable Average/Marginal Prospects
Without any power improvement from Cecchini over the past two years, PECOTA doesn’t envision it ever materializing (his peak SLG projection is .374). His on-base skills make him a solid-average hitter, with below-average defense at third. That offensive profile is the polar opposite of the recently demoted Will Middlebrooks, but value-wise, they even out—if Cecchini hits. As we discussed with Gallo before, home runs make up for a lot of shortcomings. Without power, Cecchini needs to produce everywhere else to offset his low slugging numbers. To illustrate the climb Cecchini has ahead of him, third basemen who slugged .374 weren’t worth very much last year. The Red Sox may prefer the stability of a good hitter, but he’ll ultimately lack the upside of a slugging third baseman like Middlebrooks.
Moran, Peterson, and Bryant aren’t prospects PECOTA dislikes. Rather, PECOTA just hasn’t gotten to know them. Bryant comes out worst with only 139 plate appearances to his name. The components that drive comparables—patience, contact, and slugging among them—take time to stabilize, and as you know, 200 plate appearances isn’t always enough.
Top 25-and-under third basemen
Lawrie and Machado have the best long-term forecasts here, boosted by their fielding. We’ve seen nearly three seasons of Lawrie, yet we’re still not very sure who he is—PECOTA, seeing his minor-league history and blazing major-league start and defense, suggests he’s capable of annual 4-5 win seasons.