Scouting the Stat-Line — Movers and Shakers
The Dynasty Guru updates its peak performance leaderboards weekly. View the latest update here, updated through last week’s games.
The leaderboards present peak MLB wOBA for all players, minor and major leaguers. Peak MLB wOBA captures league difficulty, adjusting minor league performance from each league to the same major league baseline. It also adjusts for aging. These adjustments are derived from research done by Jordan Rosenblum. Please see our debut introducing the leaderboards here. Jordan’s first weekly update landed here and was an exceptionally entertaining read that highlighted some largely unknown prospects who have been creating intrigue with their early-season performances.
If you’re interested in learning more about this research, please go here to read about Jordan’s MLB equivalency calculator. This article also links to his four-part series of articles on the related research. Each week, Jordan and I are authoring a new piece to the “Scouting the State Line” series, highlighting interesting movement and players that we have recognized through analysis of this data.
As much as I am a believer in finding answers through hard data, it’s important to keep in mind that stats don’t always tell the full story. Context is always worth taking into consideration and that is part of what we hope to accomplish with this series of articles. In addition to our work, our colleague Jesse Roche consistently puts some of the best prospect reports together you will find. You won’t find many, if any, people with such deep, detailed, and in-depth knowledge of prospects. I recommend everyone keep up with his articles for more information about these players – you may find his latest prospect update here.
Before I get to the players of interest this week, I would like to share my approach to coming up with these names. Below is the general criteria that I look for:
- A High Projected wOBA.
This might seem obvious, and it is. You probably won’t be seeing me detailing players that don’t project to be at least good MLB regulars. I will mostly fixate on players that project to have peak wOBA’s above .370 or so.
- A Low Percent Change in Peak wOBA from Last Year.
A big change in the trajectory of player can indicate many things. It could mean that the player has significantly improved or regressed. Perhaps they have just reached mastery of their level. More often, however, I believe it is an indicator that a player has been either lucky or unlucky. In general, I believe a projected wOBA that is +/- 20% (the closer to 0%, the better) from what it was last year is more reliable and gives me confidence that current performance isn’t just an anomaly.
- High Risers
In addition to looking for a level of consistency, it’s also worth keeping an eye out for players that are shooting up the rankings. This could mean they are swinging a hot bat. It could also mean that they are figuring out their level. For players in the high minors, it could mean that a call-up may be impending.
In addition to this methodology, it’s probably worth mentioning that I will not always touch on the hottest players or best minor league performers. I may skip a player that we have already talked about in previous weeks. For example, one of my favorite diamonds in the rough this year, Jarren Duran, was already discussed here, and other very interesting-looking prospects like Alejandro Kirk, Jonathan Ornelas, and Tyler Freeman were detailed by Jordan in his article last week that I linked to earlier.
Prospects of Note
Yordan Alvarez, HOU/Luis Robert, CHW
Level: Triple-A (Alvarez), Double-A (Robert)
Season Slash Lines: 396/.483/.864 (Alvarez), .369/.433/.730 (Robert)
Peak wOBA Projections: .547 (Alvarez), .501 (Robert)
At this point in the season, no stats-based player analysis would be complete without at least an occasional reference to these two players. Throughout the first third of the season, it has either been Luis Robert or Yordan Alvarez leading these rankings. After being challenged with a promotion to Double-A, Robert’s bat has cooled somewhat, though he still sports a solid .273/.342/.515 slash line at his new level. While I am a big fan of Alvarez’s bat, I have been anticipating some regression to come eventually. So far that just hasn’t really happened. Alvarez is still hitting nearly .400 in Triple-A with 19 home runs and a Barry Bonds-like 1.347 OPS. His batting average is somewhat buoyed by a likely unsustainable .412 BABIP, but there is no reason to assume he won’t continue putting up ridiculous numbers until the Astros finally give him a shot at the big leagues.
The burning question is how does Alvarez crack the Astros lineup? They already possess one of the best records in the league, and have a healthy, productive outfield. Another option, first base, is currently plugged by veteran Yuli Gurriel, whose bat has also warmed up as of late. In the long-run good players end up playing, and Alvarez will get his shot, but anxious owners may end up needing to be patient for a while before seeing what he can do in the Show.
Wander Franco, TBR
Season Slash Line: .287/.376/.476
Peak wOBA Projection: .415
Expecting Franco to match last year’s extremely impressive numbers would have been an exercise in futility. That said, Franco has validated those numbers according to our projected peak wOBA leaderboard. Last week, Franco moved up to #4 in projected peak wOBA, with only Alvarez, Robert, and Brendan Rodgers above him. All three of those players came into last week swinging extremely hot bats. On the flip side, I don’t think we’ve seen Franco fully hit his stride yet this year.
While he has moved down the leaderboard this week some, Franco checks the boxes of what I look for when I analyze the projected numbers. Franco’s projected peak wOBA is .415 (elite level) and that projection has remained in line with what his projected peak wOBA was last year. Last week his projected peak was 1% higher than last year, this week it is 5% lower than what it was last year. A range that tight indicates that his numbers were not a fluke and that he is a remarkably consistent producer. In addition, it is well-documented how rarely Franco swings and misses, a rarity for a player that hits for Franco’s level of power. On the season, Franco has walked 20 times while only striking out 15.
Franco’s numbers are impressive for his age and level, and I think he has actually been pretty unlucky on the season. His BABIP is currently tethered to his batting average (.287 for both). Generally-speaking, this is a low BABIP, which is typically around .300 at the MLB level. In fact, Franco ranks #146 out of 211 qualified hitters at the Single-A level. In addition, the average player’s batting average is at least 6% higher (between 6-19%) than their BABIP. If Franco fell on the low-end of this spectrum, he would currently be hitting .303. All this information indicates to me that we are only scratching the surface of what he is capable of. I suspect that these numbers will rise over time, along with Franco’s already solid slash line. To me, Franco will be the de facto #1 prospect by mid-season.
Kyle Tucker, HOU
Season Slash Line: .252/.331/.576
Peak wOBA Projection: .384
Okay, so Tucker didn’t crash into 2019 with a bang like many expected. However, he has consistently hit for power, even when his hits weren’t finding holes/gaps. Quietly, Tucker has turned his season around, and the projections see him performing at a similar level to last year. I think he looks like a good trade target as some owners may have concern about the 80 point difference in his batting average from last year, when he hit .332, to this year. As is the case with Alvarez, cracking into the Astros lineup will be a challenge, but eventually Tucker will have his chance. I see something similar to George Springer being possible here.
Alek Thomas, ARI
Season Slash Line: .296/.383/.451
Peak wOBA Projection: .373
Thomas has fully validated last year’s strong debut this season, actually increasing his projected peak by 6% according to the numbers. While the numbers aren’t eye-popping along the lines of Luis Robert, Thomas is only 19 and across his two seasons in the minors has demonstrated the ability to be an all-around team contributor, hitting for average, getting on base, and doing it with a solid power/speed combination. That said, Thomas also possesses a .382 BABIP and some regression with his batting average would not be a surprise given his age and level.
Dylan Carlson, STL
Season Slash Line: .289/.361/.548
Peak wOBA Projection: .414
A first round pick in 2016, the power appears to be coming around for Carlson in his fourth season in the minors. The projections now see him as having future star potential, with a .414 projected peak wOBA. A reasonable .315 BABIP indicates that the batting average hasn’t been a result of luck. While the increase in his projection (23%) is higher than I typically am comfortable with, if the power really has arrived like it appears to have, I think it’s possible that his performance is sustained across the board.
Sam Huff, TEX
Season Slash Line: .327/.359/.724
Peak wOBA Projection: .413
Similar to Carlson, the increase in Huff’s projected peak wOBA is higher than I typically would highlight (43%), but the numbers are pretty striking. Unlike Carlson, I don’t think it’s sustainable. I think the power (17 home runs) is legit, but Huff will need to put in some serious work on limiting the strikeouts to find similar success as he moves up the ladder. Still, as a catcher, Huff may be able to add value as a single category contributor at least, if he can keep hitting in the higher levels.
Abraham Toro, HOU
Season Slash Line: .321/.419/.526
Peak wOBA Projection: .404
Another Astros prospect – their front office really knows what they are doing. Toro has really stepped up his game in 2019, showing superior plate discipline while hitting for average and power in Double-A. If he can maintain the same performance, the projections see him peaking with a .404 wOBA. Toro’s line is buoyed by a slightly high, but not completely unsustainable, .359 BABIP. While his performance has taken a significant step forward from last year (20% peak wOBA increase), it is also coming on the heels of a very impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a slash line of .348/.463/.561. I think there is enough evidence here suggesting that his current performance is legit.
Miguel Vargas, LAD
Season Slash Line: .324/.426/.400
Peak wOBA Projection: .382
Vargas brings an extremely advanced approach to the plate for a 19-year-old experiencing his first taste of Single-A pitching. That approach has led him to walk more times than he’s struck out over the course of the season (26 walks, 22 strikeouts). Unfortunately, not a lot of power has accompanied his bat so far this season as he has yet to hit a home run. At only 19 he has plenty of time to develop in that regard. With such an advanced plate approach, I have confidence that his talents will translate as he moves through the levels.
Josh Ockimey, BOS
Season Slash Line: .235/.403/.613
Peak wOBA Projection: .405
The power certainly seems legit, and he has demonstrated the willingness to take a walk (20.8% walk rate), but is there any chance that those slash rates successfully translate to the Major Leagues? I can’t think of any successful Major Leaguers with a similar profile. Joey Gallo, perhaps?
“Too Old to be a Prospect” Guys to Keep an Eye On
Austin Dean, MIA
Season Slash Line: .365/.447/.661
Peak wOBA Projections: .412
Austin Slater, SFG
Season Slash Line: .331/.463/.615
Peak wOBA Projections: .420
Kevin Cron, ARI
Season Slash Line: .339/.437/.800
Peak wOBA Projections: .454
|Taylor Ward, LAA
Season Slash Line: .292/.441/.613
Peak wOBA Projections: .396
Above are several players that are too old to really be considered prospects at this point but have been absolutely destroying Triple-A pitching. These players have either received a call up to the Major Leagues or are close to it. While their mastery of the high minors does not always translate to major league success for players like them, there is chance to land a difference-maker here through your league’s free agency.