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June 27, 2014

BP Top 50

Austin Hedges vs. Blake Swihart vs. Jorge Alfaro

by Jason Parks, Nick J. Faleris, Chris Mellen and CJ Wittmann

Links to Other BP Top 50 Debates

Tim Anderson vs. J.P. Crawford | Daniel Norris vs. Jose Berrios | Albert Almore vs. Stephen Piscotty

The Rules
Rather than re-printing the BP Prospect Team Midseason Top 50 debates—much of which involves discussion of multiple players at the same time—we thought it would be interesting to call out some of the more interesting pairings among players in consideration for the #BPTop50 and allow an advocate for each to make his case for why that player should be ranked ahead of the other.

In each case, the BP Prospect Team member advocating on behalf of a prospect may or may not ultimately prefer that prospect, but in any event has agreed to argue that prospect’s case for purposes of this series. It’s a good reminder that the differences in value between players on these rankings is sometimes quite small, and in most cases a strong case can be made for ranking players in any number of combinations.

Nick Faleris serves as a quasi-moderator for the debate, introducing the players and leading a question-and-answer session to help tease out the arguments for and against each player.

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17 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links


Where the heck is Christian Bethancourt in this discussion?

Jun 27, 2014 08:50 AM
rating: -3
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

He doesn't belong in this discussion. Not in the same prospect hemisphere.

Jun 27, 2014 09:25 AM

These debates are a welcome addition to BP's prospect coverage. I enjoy the process discussions.

Jun 27, 2014 09:09 AM
rating: 6

Professor Parks knows who the best player to put on a catcher's mit in the last 20 years is,and it isn't Swihart.

Jun 27, 2014 11:34 AM
rating: 0
David Martin

How close is Kevin Plawecki to this discussion? It seems that the description of Swihart (.280 BA/15 HRs, decent D) is at least what I would think Plawecki is capable of in the majors. I know he doesn't belong in the same defensive conversation as Hedges or Alfaro but Swihart and Plawecki aren't too far apart, are they? Both Swihart and Plawecki have had similar minor league careers at the plate. Is there a big gap in overall potential value between Plawecki and the others, particularly Swihart?

Jun 27, 2014 13:57 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Nick Faleris
BP staff

For me, Swihart is the better overall athlete and has more room for growth in his game. Assuming the floor is about the same, Swihart has a much better chance of realizing another developmental jump (particularly at the plate) and emerging as a true all-star type talent. Swihart is almost a year younger, as well.

Jun 27, 2014 17:33 PM

What do you see a real gap between Swihart and Hedges offensively? I've recently seen them both, but I kinda saw them as similar hitters. Swihart will probably hit a few more dingers and hit for a higher average,but kinda a .265 with 12HR vs. .280 with 15HR

Jun 27, 2014 20:05 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Nick Faleris
BP staff

The power upside is a fairly big separated, but even setting that aside Swihart shows a much better feel for the barrel, projects, and has demonstrated a better ability to realize the hit tool in-game thus far.

Jun 30, 2014 06:43 AM

I've read recently that offensive production from the catcher position has reached an all-time high. The A's are a team which has overlooked defensive value from catchers who yield excellent offensive production. While Hedges defensive skills are borderline pornographic, I have concern his overall value will diminish because he might struggle to produce offensively like other catchers are currently. However, catching is really effing hard, and Hedges appears to have mastered it at a younger age than most. I might go Swihart just because he appears to have the highest offensive floor, and his defensive skills are good enough to remain behind the plate. Switch hitting it also an added bonus. The Legend's propensity to be overly aggressive at the plate, and receiving skills behind the dish concern me some. Excellent debate. My favorite of the week.

Jun 28, 2014 08:57 AM
rating: 0
Eric M. Van

Clay Davenport calculates a defensive run number for catchers, based, I believe, on SB, CS, PB, and WP (and maybe E). Here's R/150, first career, then 2014:

Alfaro, -2, +12
Hedges, +8, +15
Swihart, +27, +36

Swihart this year, 0 PB, > 50% CS rate.

Your FRAA for minor league catchers seems broken. Swihart is +2/150 career, Alfaro +1, Hedges 0.

Jun 29, 2014 07:54 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Nick Faleris
BP staff

Why would you use career minor league numbers to measure anything? These guys are not only developing themselves, but also working with pitchers that are developing, and at different rates. The variables at play are immense, and make it impossible to even know what most of those defensive-centric numbers mean without a great deal more context (time to plate from pitchers, ability to hold runners, number of balls in the dirt, number of balls 8+ inches from target, etc.).

Jun 30, 2014 06:41 AM
Eric M. Van

Career simply increase the sample size and also allows you to assess any trend (note that all are improving).

Of course there are confounding variables in any defensive metric. I'm not sure how many of them Clay tries to eliminate (as many as he can, I'm sure). But if one guy has allowed 0 PB and another, say, 15, that obviously represents something real that can't be entirely explained because of a difference in the staffs being handled (not sure if Clay excluded knuckleballs).

Again, if someone's throwing out 55% of runners and someone else is throwing out 10%, some of that is clearly the catcher.

A proper metric regresses to the mean to account for the confounding variables.

BP's catcher FRAA's all seem to be within the +2 to -2 runs per 150 games range, which can't be right.

Jun 30, 2014 08:09 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Nick Faleris
BP staff

Again, how can caught-stealing percentage (for example) reliably tell you anything of import at the minor league level (particularly over a career) when you are dealing with pitchers that have such a wide variance in present ability to hold runners and maintain solid times to plate?

At the major league level there is less noise.

Jun 30, 2014 08:40 AM
BP staff member Rob McQuown
BP staff

At present, we only take into account balls in play for FRAA. And these values are regressed, as you note, so partial season results won't be as extreme as you may expect.

We are definitely considering ways to get the numerous other aspects of catching into FRAA. It's clearly misleading to see something like:

J.P. Arencibia, 2013: +0.4 FRAA

Raw stats: 1058.2 Inn, 13 PB, 50 WP, 62-21 SB against, and I don't have season-end framing data available, but through midseason 2013, he was bad, though he'd worked with Sal Fasano and was expected to improve (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=21363)

For contrast, Baseball-reference lists him at +1.2 dWAR, with "replacement level" being league average, so their metric paints an even more rosy picture of Arencibia's 2013.

In short, FRAA is "right" for what it's trying to do, but yes, it is certainly missing many aspects of catcher defense.

Jun 30, 2014 09:12 AM
BP staff member Rob McQuown
BP staff

Looked up Arencibia 2013 on sortables (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/sortable/index.php?cid=1667332), and he was +0.2 runs from framing, so I guess the improvement took.

Jun 30, 2014 09:18 AM
Eric M. Van

Is it my imagination, or did CJ Wittmann answer the "who's your runner-up" question by extolling Alfaro for two additional paragraphs while essentially saying nothing about Swihart or Hedges? Did he slip Nick a $20 or something?

Jun 29, 2014 07:57 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Nick Faleris
BP staff

Witt's ability to evaluate outdistances his ability to follow instructions.

Jun 30, 2014 06:42 AM
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