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November 15, 2007

Schrodinger's Bat

Minor League Baserunning Awards

by Dan Fox

"Maybe being a minor league baseball player makes you insane. Maybe you just have to be crazy to be a minor league baseball player."
--Jim Bouton, from I'm Glad You Didn't Take it Personally

Players spend time in the minor leagues in order to hone their skills, while hopefully ascending the ladder (and perhaps avoiding insanity) that takes them to the big leagues. Those skills run the gamut from their approach at the plate, pitch recognition, and swing mechanics, to defensive positioning and technique, and even--yes, you guessed it--baserunning. So, to honor all of that work this week, after some blood sweat and tears by yours truly, and with a big assist from the ever-patient Bil Burke, we'll take a look at just who is and who isn't learning their lessons on the basepaths.

A Minor Drill Down

Overall, the software that computes my five baserunning metrics cranked out ratings for over 5,500 2007 minor league player and team combinations. Because this is a whole heap of data, we'll walk through it first by going through the different levels of the minors, taking a look at the top and bottom five runners at each level, and then take a quick look at the overall leaders and trailers. It should be noted that the numbers here are not park-adjusted for EqAAR and EqHAR--as are the major league numbers--but they do use multi-year run expectancy matrices, calculated specifically for each league.

We'll start right at the top with Triple-A, and the Pacific Coast League (PCL) and the International League (INT):


Name        Team  Lg Opps EqGAR Opps EqSBR Opps EqAAR Opps EqHAR Opps EqOAR Opps EqRuns
Wayne Lydon  SYR INT   34   1.7   37   1.7   44  -0.1  46   3.7  333   2.2   494   9.2
Eric Reed    ALB PCL   21   0.4   37   5.7   15   1.2  18   1.8  184   0.0   275   9.0
F. Guzman    ORH PCL   31   1.2   77   3.0   43   2.4  46   2.6  375  -0.6   572   8.6
Lillibridge  RIC INT   17   0.8   33   2.8   16   0.0  17   1.6  167   2.1   250   7.4
Brian Bixler IND INT   40   1.4   36   1.9   32   1.9  49   2.1  321  -0.6   478   6.8
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Matt Tupman  OMA PCL   22  -0.6    4  -0.6   11  -0.1  31  -4.5  206  -0.6   274  -6.5
Terry Tiffee NOR INT   24  -1.3    2  -1.4   22  -1.2  39  -1.7  246  -1.3   333  -6.8
Gary Burnham OTT INT   32  -0.8    2  -0.7   25  -1.7  62  -2.6  305  -1.2   426  -7.1
Chris Carter TUC PCL   23  -0.8    1   0.1   22  -0.9  50  -5.1  281  -0.4   377  -7.1
Jeremy Brown SAC PCL   10   0.2    0   0.0   17  -1.1  30  -7.6  177  -0.3   234  -8.8

A trio of 26-year-olds occupy the top three spots at Triple-A. Syracuse's Wayne Lydon takes our top spot at +9.2 runs by scoring well in all aspects, save advancing on fly balls (EqAAR). In 2006 Lydon recorded a +4.1, and in 2005 a +2.4; he's pretty well-established as a good baserunner. Would that he were as good a prospect. The Marlins' Eric Reed (+9.0) has spent most of his time at Albuquerque the last three years, and grabs the second spot on the strength of 30 stolen bases in 33 attempts; Freddy Guzman in Oklahoma City turned in a well-rounded performance for third. Meanwhile, younger, actual prospects like Brent Lillibridge (+7.4 in less than a full season for the Richmond Braves) and Brian Bixler (+6.8 at Indianapolis) round out the top five. Incidentally, the Richmond team finished second in the minors by contributing +13.1 runs on the bases.

At 27 years old, former Moneyball pinup Jeremy Brown was the clear winner of the Triple-A Plodder Award, giving up 8.8 runs, 7.6 of those while attempting, or not attempting, to advance on hits (EqHAR). His total in that category was almost 2.5 runs worse than anyone else at his level (Chris Carter was second), so it deserves a closer look. It turns out that Brown was thrown out four times in 30 opportunities and only advanced farther than the batter pushed him twice. Getting dinged for that huge opportunity cost--and getting thrown out two-thirds of the time you do try to take the extra base--is a recipe for disaster. Carter split time between Tucson in the PCL and Pawtucket in the International League, and was guilty of poor baserunning at both stops. Combine the two, and you can add another -0.2 to his total, bringing him down to -7.3 overall at the level.

Now, let's move on to the Double-A results, which includes the teams of the Eastern (EAS), Southern (SOU), and Texas leagues (TXS):


Name        Team  Lg Opps EqGAR Opps EqSBR Opps EqAAR Opps EqHAR Opps EqOAR Opps EqRuns
Mel Stocker  HUN SOU   13   0.3   42   4.0   20   0.0   24   1.9  214   0.9  313   7.1
E. Bonifacio MOB SOU   46   0.9   62   1.4   30   1.8   50   2.7  326  -0.6  514   6.2
M. Hollimon  ESW EAS   16   0.9   23   0.4   27   1.6   43   2.5  316   0.3  425   5.7
A. Reyes     AKR EAS   31  -0.2   38   1.1   20   0.6   23   2.1  251   1.6  363   5.2
C. Benjamin  FRI TXS   19   0.1   11  -0.1   33   1.1   38   3.1  298   0.5  399   4.7
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
V. Mercedes  BIR SOU   13  -0.1   15  -4.0   24  -0.6   26  -1.5  187   0.8  265  -5.3
B.Colamarino MRO TXS   14  -0.2    3  -1.1   15   0.7   35  -4.3  194  -0.5  261  -5.4
A. Raglani   JAX SOU   25  -0.4   17  -2.0   25  -0.2   36  -1.6  284  -1.7  387  -6.0
A. Morrissey ARK TXS   46  -0.2   16  -3.9   34  -0.4   63  -0.9  423  -1.1  582  -6.5
Aaron Rifkin TUL TXS   27  -0.3    7  -0.7   16  -1.3   39  -4.2  251  -0.9  340  -7.4

Mel Stocker, playing at Huntsville in the Brewers system, contributed +7.1 runs and takes the top spot. His EqSBR of 4.0 was a run and a half better than the next highest total at his level (Joshua Flores at +2.4). A close second was Emilio Bonifacio (+6.2) despite both a somewhat disappointing season with the bat and a little big-league time with the Diamondbacks this summer. Detroit prospect Michael Hollimon continued to produce offensively after moving up a level, even earning a few at-bats at Triple-A while turning in a good performance on the bases (+5.7).

Tulsa's Aaron Rifkin ended up on the bottom at -7.4 thanks to his challenging for the bottom spot in advancing on hits (EqHAR). In the end, he was beaten out by infield corner man Matt Craig in the Cubs system who, despite playing a third of the season at Iowa (where he was a surprising +1.2), managed to end up 4.4 runs in the hole. Minor league journeyman Adam Morrissey drew a ton of walks for the Angels' affiliate at Arkansas, but didn't manage to contribute much on the bases, especially in EqSBR, where he was at -3.9. Another Moneyball alum, Brant Colamarino (-5.4), turned in a thoroughly disappointing season, as his offensive performance tanked after an encouraging 2006. He didn't fare any better on the bases, although he barely beat his 2006 total (-5.5).

Next, it's on to the High-A ball of the California (CLF), Florida State (FSL), and Carolina Leagues (CRL):


Name        Team  Lg Opps EqGAR Opps EqSBR Opps EqAAR Opps EqHAR Opps EqOAR Opps EqRuns
J. Constanza KIN CRL   28   0.8   50   2.3   28   1.5   40   2.0  311   1.2  457   7.9
W. Ramirez   LAK FSL   23   0.8   35   1.2   17   1.2   21   0.3  174   2.1  270   5.7
Ovandy Suero LAK FSL   27   1.1  104   3.7   18   0.9   19   1.1  219  -1.0  387   5.7
Jose Duarte  WIL CRL   34   0.1   52  -1.9   39   1.9   51   4.3  324   1.3  500   5.7
Darren Ford  BRE FSL   15  -0.5   43   3.1   19   1.2   28   1.7  182  -0.2  287   5.3
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
O. Mercado   VIS CLF   13  -0.8    6  -1.9   15  -2.4   18  -0.8  145  -0.9  197  -6.7
T. Berkery   BAK CLF   14  -0.1   13  -4.0   20  -1.4   23  -1.1  201  -0.3  271  -6.9
Bryan Byrne  VIS CLF   20  -0.6    6  -0.7   28   0.9   45  -5.4  331  -1.2  430  -7.0
Ian Desmond  POT CRL   27  -1.9   39  -2.9   21   0.3   31  -1.7  302  -0.9  420  -7.1
D. Roberts   WSW CRL   13  -0.2   28  -2.1   17  -1.1   23  -2.4  178  -2.5  259  -8.2

The switch-hitting Jose Constanza blew away the competition at +7.9 runs by scoring well in all five categories. Ovandy Suero out of the Tigers organization had trouble getting on base--evidenced by his .306 OBP--but when he did he ran and ran and ran some more, racking up the most EqSBR opportunities in the minor leagues, totaling +3.7 runs for his team (Eric Young Jr., playing for Modesto in the Colorado organization, had 97 opportunities but totaled -1.5). Twenty-two year-old Royals farmhand Jose Duarte (+5.7) had a nice little season, and found himself in fourth place; in 2006 he placed 18th in the minors at +6.1. Darren Ford struggled after being promoted to Brevard County but still managed a +5.3; during his stint in the South Atlantic league, Ford was +2.3, bringing his total for the season to +7.6 after ranking third in the minors in 2006 at +8.7.

Daron Roberts, a 24 year-old outfielder in the White Sox system, ends up on the bottom by virtue of a poor showing in stolen bases and other advancement (EqOAR); he also managed to finish well below his already bad 2006 performance of -5.1. Visalia's Bryan Byrne (-7.0) easily beat all comers in failing to advance on hits (-5.4) and was over a run worse than anyone else at this level. In 2006, playing in the Midwest League, Byrne was also less than impressive, recording a -2.9 mark. His team ended up by far the worst in the minor leagues at -51.3 runs, and had four players (Byrne, Mercado, John Hester, and Derek Bruce) finish at -5.0 or lower.

Onward and downward, as we make our last stop and visit the Low-A Midwest (MDW) and Sally Leagues (SAL):


Name        Team  Lg Opps EqGAR Opps EqSBR Opps EqAAR Opps EqHAR Opps EqOAR Opps EqRuns
G. Hernandez WMI MDW   33  -0.1   75   2.5   33   1.0   57   4.7  334   2.1  532  10.2
M. Hilligoss CRD SAL   31   1.1   43   1.8   39   1.9   45   2.4  374   1.7  532   8.9
D. Figueroa  DEL SAL   39   2.0   50  -0.5   30   0.2   39   4.0  331   2.4  489   8.2
John Raynor  GBO SAL   28   0.8   66   6.0   26   0.5   39   1.3  359  -0.7  518   7.8
C. Quintero  LEX SAL   29   1.8   24   2.7   11   0.6   15   0.7  133   0.9  212   6.8
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
E. Perez     SWM MDW   18  -0.8   13  -1.7   15   0.3   42  -2.6  232  -1.7  320  -6.5
Robert Felmy AUG SAL   18   0.6   47  -5.5   18  -1.3   33   0.1  240  -0.9  356  -7.0
Drew Stubbs  DAY MDW   25   0.6   44  -7.9   37   0.0   48   0.4  302  -0.2  456  -7.1
F. Pena      SAV SAL   19  -1.2    3  -1.3   14  -2.2   32  -2.3  178  -0.7  246  -7.6
H. Pellot    SAV SAL   32   1.0   58  -4.8   16  -1.8   37  -2.1  283  -1.4  426  -9.2

One of the principals in the recently completed Braves/Tigers Edgar Renteria deal, 19-year-old Gorkys Hernandez (+10.2) claims the top spot at this level, which was also good enough for second overall in the minors in 2007. He was excellent at going from first to third and second to home on hits (easily tops at the level in EqHAR), and stole bases at an 83% rate, good for +2.5 runs. Shortstop Mitchell Hilligoss of the Charleston RiverDogs (Yankees) banged out a South Atlantic League record 38-game hitting streak early in the season, and ranked second at this level at +8.9. One of the "great leaps forward" in 2007 was certainly made by Greensboro (Marlins) outfielder John Raynor. He hit .333/.429/.519 and stole 54 bases in 62 opportunities, making his EqSBR +6.0, tops at the level and tops in the minor leagues in 2007.

Mets second base prospect Hector Pellot (-9.2) also had a turnaround season offensively at the tender age of 20, after putting up a .189/.292/.259 line in 2006 at the same level. Overall, he managed to just get under Jeremy Brown, thereby claiming the coveted title of 2007's Minor League Plodder of the Year (it is awards seasons, after all). Pellot scored poorly in 2006 as well (-3.7) but this time managed to lose 4.8 runs in stolen bases by being caught stealing 17 times and picked off another five times. Perhaps incredibly, he was actually picked off an additional five times, but was either safe on throwing errors or was charged with a caught stealing. But even as the overall champion, he couldn't match Drew Stubbs of Dayton in the stolen base department; with an EqSBR of -7.9, Stubbs found himself last among all minor league runners in that category. How did he do it? Stubbs was caught stealing 15 times in 38 attempts, and was also picked off four times. Ouch.

Wrapping It Up

Since players routinely move between leagues during the season, our final table records the top and bottom ten runners aggregated over all of their playing time at various minor league levels in 2007:


Name                  EqGAR   EqSBR   EqAAR   EqGAR   EqOAR  EqRuns
Cesar Quintero          2.3     5.2     0.2     2.0     1.2    10.9
Gorkys Hernandez       -0.1     2.5     1.0     4.7     2.1    10.2
Wayne Lydon             2.3     1.8     0.1     3.6     2.1     9.8
Eric Reed               0.4     5.7     1.2     1.8     0.0     9.0
Mitchell Hilligoss      1.1     1.8     1.9     2.4     1.7     8.9
Freddy Guzman           1.2     3.0     2.4     2.6    -0.6     8.6
Starling De Los Santos  0.0     3.3     1.0     1.9     2.3     8.5
Matthew Angle           1.0     4.8     1.6     1.0    -0.2     8.3
Daniel Figueroa         2.0    -0.5     0.2     4.0     2.4     8.2
Brent Lillibridge       0.7     1.5     0.1     1.5     4.3     8.1
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Christopher Malec      -0.5    -3.4     0.0    -2.7    -1.2    -7.7
Anneury Peguero         0.6    -2.6     0.4    -5.6    -0.6    -7.8
Hector Gomez           -0.2    -6.6    -0.5     0.0    -0.6    -7.9
Wilfredo Sosa           0.0    -6.0    -0.2    -1.0    -0.9    -8.2
Daron Roberts          -0.2    -2.1    -1.1    -2.4    -2.5    -8.2
Ruben Contreras        -0.3    -3.1    -1.7    -1.3    -1.9    -8.3
Ogui Diaz              -0.3    -7.8    -0.3     0.0    -0.1    -8.5
Javier Robles           0.1    -3.2    -1.5    -3.7    -0.3    -8.7
Jeremy Brown            0.2     0.0    -1.1    -7.6    -0.3    -8.8
Hector Pellot           1.0    -5.2    -1.8    -2.0    -1.5    -9.5

A new entry, 24-year-old outfielder Cesar Quintero (+10.9) split his season almost evenly between Lexington at Low-A and Salem at High-A in the Astros organization, totaling +6.8 at the former stop and +4.1 at the latter to take the title of Minor League Baserunner of the Year for 2007. This list also includes 19-year-old shortstop Starling De Los Santos (+8.5), who played in the Appalachian League, and Matthew Angle (+8.3) from the New York-Penn League. At the bottom of the list we also find Mexican Leaguer Javier Robles (-8.7) and Ogui Diaz (-8.5), who was thrown out stealing a combined 13 times in 35 attempts in the Northwest and Midwest Leagues; in the end, though, he wasn't quite able to catch Drew Stubbs in this category.

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