18 October 2013

Performance Scouting the Independent Leagues: Atlantic League

As we mentioned in the previous Indy scouting post, performance scouting can be a dreadfully misleading thing to do.  Briefly put:
  1. Statistics can often hide things, such as a well performing player who makes more of his success against filler.  
  2. However, this does not mean the stats are worthless.  They are an incomplete story just as in person scouting is incomplete.  They both add a piece to complete the puzzle.  
  3. Ideally, you want them both together to give you a full picture.
In these posts, we are trying to find the players who are young and are exceptional.  Exceptional performances are less likely to be situations where a player is taking advantage of the poorer part of the talent spectrum.

I will be focusing on three skills measured with four metrics.  To qualify as being exceptional for a specific skill, the player needs to rank in the top 20% of players in the league for that metric.  The skills:
Plate discipline - I measure plate discipline by the walk rate (BB%) and the ratio of walks to strikeouts (BB:K).  The intention behind this is to target players who have a good understanding of hittable pitches and their ability to work for a walk.

Contact rate - I use batting average for this.  From an anecdotal perspective, players with good plate discipline AND poor contact rates have trouble progressing through the minors.  As they face a greater number of pitchers with more command of their pitches, the opportunities for walks will decrease.  Pitchers are more likely to pitch in the zone and for a player to make contact.  Players who do not have good contact rates tend to get eaten up as they move on to higher levels of competition.

Power - Good contact rate and plate discipline are a great foundation for a hitting skill set.  However, slapping the ball in professional leagues with players who field better is not as useful.  There are just not many Ichiro Suzukis out there who have the speed to take advantage of a rapidly improving defense.  In the pro game, there needs to be some power to go along with these skills.  Otherwise, pitchers will go at hitters and give them pitches to hit, knowing that there is unlikely to be much damage.
Additionally, these leagues have a level of competition that is more or less on par with low A and below talent with an occasional old salt who would be average in AA.  As such, I am looking for players who are 25 and younger (emphasis on younger) where there may be some hope for a few years of development.  This kind of player should be not available in these leagues.  The MLB scouting apparatus should have found them and locked them into their minor league systems.

In this post, we will cover is the Atlantic League.

The Atlantic League is where baseball players after a long career, holding onto the hope that they can easily shift back into a MLB roster.  Alumni include Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Jose Offerman, Bill Hall among others.  Some in the Baltimore Metro Area may remember that prior to there being the Aberdeen Ironbirds, the Aberdeen Arsenal played in the Atlantic League.  The business model of this league is basically is to fix up stadiums to a standard between AAA and MLB clubs and focus on signing players who are on the fringe.  As such, the league tends to be older than the other Indy leagues and players often shuttle back and forth between this league and AAA.

The 20% marks for the Atlantic League are as follow (players with >300 PA):
  • 9.8% BB
  • 0.77 BB:K
  • .296 batting average
  • .166 isolated power 
The average age for the league is 29.  That is 2 years older than the league we last covered the American Association.

The only player to hit all four marks was the 32 year old Brian Burgamy.  Of those that hit three of the marks, the youngest were 28 years old.  Perhaps the most interesting younger player in the league was 25 year old UTL Paddy Matera.  He was in his fourth season in the Indy league having never been in the MLB system.  With 180 PA in 2013, he managed a slash line of 304/365/525 for Camden and was signed for the Indians Hi A minors team.  For the Mudcats, he showed some difficulty in the field, but was at home at the plate slashing 282/415/419.  He may well be the best Indy pickup this year for a position player.

Anyway, here is the role call for the Atlanti League.

Brian Burgamy CIF/LF
32 years old
Drafted in 9th round (Wichita State University) in 2002 by the Padres

200322Fort WayneASDP53920241747898.222.335.301
2004232 TeamsA+-ASDP2041201441835.257.322.339
2005242 TeamsA+-AASDP4701869635292.254.338.393
2006252 TeamsA+-AAPHI5742161324895102.269.392.422
2007262 TeamsA+-AAPHI521213131177099.233.337.381
2008272 TeamsInd-A+NYM172803513331.273.420.402
2013324 TeamsAAA-Ind54019332517988.322.425.588
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/10/2013.

Burgamy had difficulty figuring out baseball in AA.  Those failures led the Padres leave him open in the minor portion of the 2005 Rule 5 draft.  He was then picked up by the Phillies who gave him a couple more years to prove he could hit against advanced competition.  Gaining his freedom as a MiL free agent, he signed on with the Mets where he promptly injured his shoulder with the Mets letting him go.  Since 2009, he has been playing in the Indy leagues where he has progressively shown improvements in contact, power, and plate discipline.

In 2014, he will be 33 and vying for a corner spot on a team.  I doubt that any MLB teams will give him a chance due to those two facts.

The Near Misses Under 30 years old

Blake Gailen, LF/CF
28 years old
Gailen was last year's Baseball America Independent Player of the Year.  However, he went unsigned by any MLB team.  After performing well with BB%, BB:K, and ISO, the Blue Jays picked him up to help finish the year out at AAA Buffalo where he held his own in a handful of games.  For a team like Baltimore, perhaps some upper minors depth would have been useful.  That said, it is probably a stretch to think Gailen is serviceable as a 4th/5th OF.

Travis Scott, C/CIF
28 years old
Scott tended to hold himself well against HiA pitchers, but struggle greatly in a small sample of plate appearances against AA talent.  I do not know, but he appears to not have a true position along with a bat that won't carry him.  Scott showed good marks in BB%, BB:K, and ISO, but not quite to the same success as Gailen.

Next time:
Canadian-American Association


Philip said...

Jon, you analysis and insight are pretty valuable.
Does anyone in the Baltimore FO listen to your thoughts?

Jon Shepherd said...

Informally, I had talked to people under the MacPhail regime, but I have had no contact with anyone under Duquette. Duquette actions often seem to be pretty similar to things I would have done if I was limited to the second and third tier markets (which he very well might be). Beyond that...I certainly imagine the team has a couple people just as bright as me and probably much more experienced with the actual goings on in a MLB front office.

Duquette does follow our twitter feed if that means anything. I don't know if it does.