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May 5, 2004

Can Of Corn

Hidden Hitters, Continued

by Dayn Perry

If you'll recall, last time out I gave the once-over to Magglio Ordonez in an effort to explain how someone with relatively vanilla minor league numbers could go on to such unassailable success at the highest level. Here's what came out of the wash in terms of Magglio's record of performance on the farm:

1) Rates stats that are, at first blush, unspectacular.
2) In seasons of poor performance, less decline in peripheral power indicators than in other areas.
3) Superior record of performance in the high minors when compared to the low minors. In particular, peripheral power indicators, while perhaps not outrageous on a rate level, increase greatly in percentage terms.
4) Overall minor league numbers dragged down to middling levels because of weaker performances in the low minors.
5) Minor league numbers that can't otherwise be explained away by his being drastically younger than his peer group (e.g., Juan Gonzalez).

I posited that this might be the profile of the "Hidden Hitter"--one who, like Ordonez, wields the lumber with impunity in the majors despite an underwhelming record of performance coming up through the minors. This idea applies really only to power production, and the metrics I focused on were primarily SLG, ISO (Isolated Slugging Percentage, or SLG minus AVG) and XB% (extra-base hits expressed as a percentage of overall hits).

To test this further, I picked the brains of my BP label mates to come up with a laundry list of hitters who meet this profile. By no means is this an exhaustive litany of said prototype, but it will provide a deeper look into whether the Hidden Hitter profile is worth our time. Powered by oatmeal and Van Halen I...

Here's the list of hitters we came up with: Jeff Bagwell, Jim Edmonds, Brian Giles, Sammy Sosa and Jose Vidro. Taking them one by one according to the above list of Hidden Hitter criteria:

Jeff Bagwell

In Bagwell's case, it's not that his minor league numbers were unimpressive (.323 AVG/.439 SLG/.116 ISO). Rather, it's that they didn't augur the tremendous power he'd go on to display in the bigs. Let's break it down into low minors/high minors ("Low minors" consists of all lower-level leagues up through High-A ball; "high minors," in minor league parlance, refers to Double- and Triple-A.):

Low .310 AVG/.415 SLG/.105 ISO, 25.4 XB%
High .333 AVG/.457 SLG/.124 ISO, 28.1 XB%
Majors .300 AVG/.549 SLG/.249 ISO, 42.3 XB%

Bagwell did make strides in his SLG, ISO and XB% despite facing more advanced competition. Overall, however, this isn't a profile with a great many similarities to Ordonez's. Bagwell really meets only criteria three and five of the above list. Despite his lack of raw power on the farm, it was apparent he was a hitter.

Jim Edmonds

A career minor league line of .295 AVG/.437 SLG/.142 ISO, 32.1 XB% shows that Edmonds wasn't a bad hitter by any means, but, like Bagwell, there's little sign of the power to come. The breakdowns:

Low .277 AVG/.379 SLG/.102 ISO, 27.3 XB%
High .310 AVG/.490 SLG/.180 ISO, 36.0 XB%
Majors .293 AVG/.533 SLG/.240 ISO, 41.9 XB%

Let's delve a little further into the case of Edmonds by looking at how his indicators increased from level to level:


Jump                    % increase in SLG / ISO / XB%
Low to High              29.3% / 76.5% / 31.9%
High to Majors            8.8% / 33.3% / 16.4%
Minors to Majors         22.0% / 69.0% / 30.5%

This is the kind of profile we're looking for in terms of power potential. In terms of power-related skills growth, Edmonds sees larger gains on a percentage basis from low minors to high minors than he sees from high minors to majors and also from overall minors to majors, just as Ordonez did.

Brian Giles

Once again, here's a player whose minor league stats are just fine on balance (.307 AVG/.450 SLG/.143 ISO, 26.4 XB%), but they seemingly lack signs of the power he'd later show. To the breakdowns:

Low .297 AVG/.375 SLG/.078 ISO, 19.3 XB%
High .312 AVG/.490 SLG/.178 ISO, 30.1 XB%
Majors .302 AVG/.563 SLG/.261 ISO, 44.1 XB%

As we did with Edmonds, let's see how his percentage increases from level-to-level stack up:


Jump                     % increase in SLG / ISO / XB%
Low to High               30.7% / 128.2% / 56.0%
High to Majors            14.9% / 46.6% / 46.5%
Minors to Majors          25.1% / 82.5% / 67.0%

Turns out we have another strong Hidden Hitter profile. Giles saw more drastic power-indicator increases when jumping from low minors to high minors than from high minors to majors. Additionally, he had greater percentage increases in low to high than he had from overall minors to majors, save for the XB% category.

Sammy Sosa

No introduction needed. The minor league digits: .265 AVG/.401 SLG/.136 ISO. Obviously, those numbers bear little resemblance to the Sosa we know and admire today. Let's see how these disassemble:

Low .258 AVG/.390 SLG/.132 ISO, 30.9 XB%
High .282 AVG/.431 SLG/.149 ISO, 32.9 XB%
Majors .278 AVG/.546 SLG/.268 ISO, 43.0 XB%

There's not really a need to do the percentage comparisons here, as it's obvious his statistical puddle-jumps from high minors and overall minors to majors are greater than anything he accomplished theretofore. Still, the results are somewhat skewed by the numbers of the post-Jeff Pentland/plate-disciplined Sosa that materialized in 1998. Although he did perform better in the high minors from a power perspective than he did in the low minors, Sosa doesn't fit the profile.

Jose Vidro

Vidro's cumulative minor league stats: .280 AVG/.416 SLG/.136 ISO, 32.8 XB%. And now the level-by-level digits:

Low .280 AVG/.388 SLG/.108 ISO, 28.5 XB%
High .280 AVG/.442 SLG/.162 ISO, 34.2 XB%
Majors .306 AVG/.473 SLG/.167 ISO, 35.0 XB%

And the percentage comparisons:


Jump                   % increase in SLG / ISO / XB%
Low to High             13.9% / 50.0% / 20.0%
High to Majors           7.0% / 3.1% / 2.3%
Minors to Majors        13.7% / 22.8% / 6.7%

Again, we see a hitter that made greater statistical leaps from the low minors to the high minors than in any other scenario. What has emerged as a trend among these hitters is a steep jump, in percentage terms, of ISO from low to high minors. Ergo, it's possible this is an indicator of buried power potential.

***

We might be able to learn a thing or two from those who do fit the Hidden Hitter model (Ordonez, Edmonds, Giles and Vidro). In terms of identifying minor league hitters with untapped power potential, the major league numbers obviously won't be available. But there still may be some overarching lessons that can be applied to hitters still toiling on the farm. To wit:

  • Viewing minor league offensive numbers through the prism of percentage gains rather than simply rate stats and plate discipline indicators can provide further insight.

  • Hitters who show notable percentage gains, in terms of peripheral power indicators, from low minors to high minors (especially with regard to ISO) may have underlying power potential not indicated by your garden-variety examination of minor league numbers.

  • Minor league numbers viewed on an aggregate level aren't as instructive as those viewed level-by-level, especially those broken down into low- and high-minors numbers.

  • Poor performance in the low minors is no reason to dismiss a hitting prospect.

  • Neither is poor surface-level performance in the high minors, provided impressive percentage gains are in place.

Expect to see more on this subject in the future, as I'll attempt to identify some hitters still in the minors who fit the Hidden Hitter profile.

Related Content:  Power,  Jim Edmonds,  SLG,  Numbers

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