Can We Predict Minor League Player Success in the Big Leagues?

US PRESSWIRE

If major league organizations could predict which player, or players, from their minor league system would succeed or fail in the big leagues based on various criteria then we would not only have far more legitimate Rookie of the Year candidates but each team would be substantially better overall. But what if there was a way to at least help make those predictions?

Many fans of baseball understand that there is a difference between every single major league ballpark, sometimes a huge difference, and those differences impact how each individual player performs. One ballpark may be more conducive to putting up strong pitching numbers while other ballparks may be friendlier to the hitters.

The point I’m trying to make here is that we know there are differences in how players perform in the many different ballparks and that’s why metrics such as TAV (true average) and wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) were developed - so we could account for the ballpark factors and come to understand a players true performance and talent level in any given season.

Knowing what we know about major league ballparks and player performance it would then make sense to have the same understanding with Minor League ballparks and minor league players, would it not?

Kevin Ebert from Baltimore Sports and Life wrote a piece detailing the minor league ballpark factors and the various run scoring environments across the different leagues in minor league ball. For the data that Kevin looked at and put together, this is what he found:

In the minor leagues, there are wildly different scoring environments between the different leagues and even between the individual parks in each league. Some leagues such as the Pacific Coast League are known for having extreme hitters parks, while leagues such as the Florida State League are known for being heavily slanted towards pitchers. But even within each league, the parks can vary greatly.

For example, in the PCL, the Albuquerque Isotopes home park has a home run park factor of 1.552 while the Portland Beavers park has a home run park factor of only .678. A park factor of 1.0 would be considered neutral so 1.552 is tilted pretty heavily in the hitter’s favor. The data used to compile each of these park factors is from the last three minor league seasons.

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Since we know that certain leagues within the minor league system are more hitter friendly and some are more pitcher friendly we should then expect hitters to under-perform when called up to the majors, at least initially, relative to their PCL performance right?

For example, Anthony Rizzo had a .331/.405/.664 batting line with 26 home runs over 93 games and 356 at-bats in the PCL in 2011 but batted just .141/.281/.242 with 1 home run over 49 games and 128 at-bats with the Chicago Cubs San Diego Padres that same season. However, he did bounce back with the Cubs quite nicely in 2012 with a .285/.342/.463 batting line and 15 home runs over 87 games and 337 at-bats. So obviously the players able to make adjustments and those with top-tier talent, as has been noted about Rizzo, should be fine overall.

But is there a way to (legitimately) account for the drop off in production going from hitter friendly leagues such as the PCL to the majors?

Adam Eaton tore up the PCL in 2012 by batting .381/.456/.539 with 46 doubles and 38 stolen bases and is now vying for a spot in the outfield and starting lineup with the Arizona Diamondbacks this spring. It’s reasonable to expect him to struggle just as much as Rizzo did when he first broke into the big leagues, right? The answer is an obvious yes but the question remains, by how much? In a 22-game audition with the team late last season he batted .259/.382/.412 but more impressively he had 14 walks to 15 strikeouts in 103 plate appearances (85 at-bats).

Every player is different so each will succeed or fail at different rates but it would be crucial for organizations to know, or at least predict with some level of certainty, how much a hitter will struggle coming from the PCL or how much a pitcher will struggle coming from the Florida State league.

Knowing these things and being confident in the knowledge or predictors of various levels of production from the minor leagues and respective ball parks could do wonders for those players who often get overlooked because of a bad stat line that heavily favors the hitter or pitcher.

What would be the best way to go about figuring all of this out and have our findings viewed as relevant?

You can find Lance on twitter @BSLLanceRinker.

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