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July 30, 2014

Moonshot

Separating the Phenoms Who'll Make It From Those Who Won't

by Robert Arthur


Predicting rookie players’ performances is one of the most difficult tasks for any projection system. By definition, they lack the extensive body of work necessary to analyze their performance. While it’s tempting to foresee a Hall of Fame career in the demeanor of one at-bat, statistics (as well as common sense) caution against it. No matter how locked in or lost a player looks in the sample of a few games, his true skill cannot be inferred from such meager experience.

The ultimate cautionary tale here is Mike Trout, whose first year (2011) MLB stats go like this: .220/.281/.390, in 135 plate appearances. Such a line is not the stuff from which legends are made, and had a lesser prospect posted it, there might have been rumblings of doubt in the media. Trout was decidedly not a lesser prospect, and his raw combination of discipline and athleticism had every scout and fan salivating despite the poor batting average. Even so, it’s still possible to find a few sentences in the press reports of that time which noted his difficulties:

Offensively, he has looked overmatched at times, with a .125 average (three for 24), seven strikeouts and two walks.

Granted, these utterances were often embedded in the context of articles praising Trout’s maturity, focus, or resemblance to Mickey Mantle, but my point remains: the best player in the world can flounder for his first hundred at-bats.

In the early days of a player’s career, there is a silent struggle going on between him and the rest of the league. Each side is feeling the other out, looking for weaknesses and avoiding strengths. Just ask Mike Trout, from September 2011:

It’s been tough but they are pitching to my weaknesses and I have to make adjustments…

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

BP Comment Quick Links

OonBoon

Great stuff!

Jul 30, 2014 05:02 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Robert Arthur
BP staff

thanks!

Jul 30, 2014 15:13 PM
 
swarmee

The tables at the top are swapped compared to the text in the article. FWIW.

Jul 30, 2014 05:10 AM
rating: 0
 
edwinblume

yes, the stabilization graphs

Jul 30, 2014 06:32 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Robert Arthur
BP staff

Fixed.

Jul 30, 2014 07:47 AM
 
kmbart

Are the Zone and Swing stabilization charts reversed? The 100-pitch and 250-pitch markers appear on the x-axes of the opposite charts.

Jul 30, 2014 05:38 AM
rating: 0
 
carlbrownson

Travis d'Arnaud's season needs to be divided in two: before and after he got sent down. I wonder what his distance looks like when split in two that way.

Jul 30, 2014 05:50 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Robert Arthur
BP staff

Good point: d'Arnaud's demotion and subsequent return happens around pitch ~325 in the above chart (roughly the middle of it). If anything, his zone distance has decreased since then--.99 before the demotion, .94 after. He is seeing much better results, though, which will maybe persuade pitchers to stop attacking the zone so vigorously.

Jul 30, 2014 06:20 AM
 
johnorpheus

Free Oscar!

Jul 30, 2014 07:54 AM
rating: 9
 
BillJohnson

So how robust is this analysis for veterans not named Trout? If you go back and apply it to highly touted hitting prospects who made it big (Stanton), not so big (say Jason Heyward), and to everyone's puzzlement, not at all (say B.J. Upton), how do the curves look? As a Cardinals fan, it's nice to know that Taveras seems to have much in common with Trout in terms of the way his at-bats are going, never mind the results so far, but I can't help but wonder how things worked out with similarly touted prospects who never made it big.

Jul 30, 2014 08:01 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

What kind of idiot would name himself after an auxiliary kitchen implement?

Jul 30, 2014 08:11 AM
 
therealn0d

We should get go the bottom of this.

Jul 30, 2014 08:52 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

So that was meant to be literal? I always assumed it was a misspelled allusion to the cut fastball action apparent in Mike Piazza's throws back to the mound.

Jul 30, 2014 11:39 AM
 
therealn0d

Tremendous, Ken.

Jul 30, 2014 18:22 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

I see what you did there, and I have to say, I like it.

Jul 30, 2014 19:40 PM
 
therealn0d

That's just the tip of the spear, but I don't want to clog up the thread.

Jul 30, 2014 20:23 PM
rating: -1
 
orlandoca7

Curious to understand how d'Arnaud compares to other highly-thought of young catchers at similar points, or is position irrelevant?

Jul 30, 2014 09:28 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Robert Arthur
BP staff

Position is probably mostly irrelevant. Good hitters scare pitchers regardless of what position they play, and keep good swing discipline regardless of their position. However, it's plausible that catchers might develop more slowly or something like that--something to look into.

Jul 30, 2014 15:11 PM
 
Bryan Cole

How about this: it's a lot of work to learn the defensive side of catching, which takes emphasis away from learning how to recognize pitches.

(That's the best I can come up with.)

Jul 31, 2014 09:35 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Robert Arthur
BP staff

totally plausible, I think. I'll take a look.

Jul 31, 2014 09:58 AM
 
gweedoh565

Yeah, I've heard this said too, and there's some anecdotal evidence that this is the case, at least- Yadier Molina, Jonathan Lucroy, and Devin Mesoraco were all particularly slow bloomers offensively. Then again you also have the Buster Posey's and Joe Mauer's that hit fine out of the gate.

Jul 31, 2014 14:24 PM
rating: 0
 
Truthteller

Fascinating stats - how does George Spring and Jon Singleton rate?

Jul 30, 2014 12:13 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Robert Arthur
BP staff

Springer's pretty good, and obviously a power hitter, but he's also incredibly patient, with a zone distance of 1.02 and a swing distance of .745 (in the bottom 15 in MLB). I wrote about his hyper-patient approach a while back:
http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=23846

Singleton is also solid: zone distance 1.08, swing distance .82. I would expect both to be OK, although they also have top 10 swinging strike rates, which scares me a little.

Jul 30, 2014 15:37 PM
 
therealn0d

This is absolutely my favorite feature. I can only lament that Robert will likely not be with us much longer (or you can just stay forever please)...let us enjoy it while we can.

Jul 30, 2014 18:32 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Robert Arthur
BP staff

thanks man. I'm not planning on going anywhere any time soon.

Jul 30, 2014 19:04 PM
 
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