Throwing Cold Water on the Bradenton Marauders

The Bradenton Marauders have arguably been the best story of the 2010 season so far for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  You’ve got three pitchers who are striking out close to a batter an inning, and allowing just over one walk or hit per inning.  You’ve got eight players hitting for a .282 average or better.  The team as a whole is hitting 15 points higher than any other team in the league, with an OPS that is 40 points higher any other team in the Florida State League.

When I was doing my April recap of the Marauders, I noticed a trend.  Several of the big surprise players had less than impressive numbers last year in West Virginia.  Jeremy Farrell hit for a .248 average and a .696 OPS in 270 at-bats in West Virginia last year.  Quincy Latimore hit for a .251 average and a .706 OPS in 479 at-bats.  Austin McClune hit for a .256 average and a .648 OPS in 308 at-bats.  All three have been tearing it up in their jump to high-A ball, which has really fueled the feel good story of the 2010 Bradenton Marauders.  Unfortunately, after looking in to their numbers further, I noticed that the feel good story is just an illusion.

McKechnie Field is a very hitter friendly ball park, thanks to the Gulf Coast winds.  When I was looking at each individual player, I noticed a trend, especially with the West Virginia graduates.  Guys like Latimore, Farrell, and McClune were destroying the ball at McKechnie Field, and playing horrible baseball everywhere else.  Take a look at the chart below.

You’ll notice that the majority of players see a spike at home.  There are two reasons for this that stand out.  First is that McKechnie is a hitter’s park.  Second is that the Florida State League is a very pitcher friendly league, one of the most pitcher friendly leagues in the minors, if not the most.

A few of the guys aren’t seeing extreme splits.  Brock Holt is killing the ball at home, with a .370 average and a .966 OPS, and on the road he has a .313 average and a .781 OPS.  Tony Sanchez is hitting for a .372 average and an amazing 1.232 OPS at home, but a .270 average and a .731 OPS on the road.  Starling Marte is one of the few players who is even, with a .342 average and a .896 OPS at home, all to go with his .333 average and .914 OPS on the road.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these three players, who are considered three of the top hitting prospects in Bradenton, aren’t seeing their production limited to McKechnie.

Then there’s the West Virginia crew.  Jeremy Farrell is hitting for a .353 average and a 1.048 OPS at home, but a .268 average and a .752 OPS on the road.  Quincy Latimore is hitting for a .365 average and a 1.059 OPS at home, but a very weak .216 average and .525 OPS on the road.  Austin McClune is hitting for a .323 average and a .834 OPS at home, but a .238 average and a .654 OPS on the road.  Robbie Grossman is hitting for a .302 average and a .818 OPS at home, but has a .212 average and a .598 OPS on the road.

All four of those players hit around the .250-.260 mark in West Virginia last year, with an OPS around the .700 mark.  Now all of those players are looking excellent with their overall stats, but the truth is that they’re just benefitting from McKechnie Field, and struggling everywhere else.

There are two anomalies in the group above.  Greg Picart had success in 2009 at West Virginia, hitting for a .308 average and a .808 OPS in 237 at-bats.  Picart is hitting for a .340 average and a .732 OPS at home this year, but has a .227 average and a .550 OPS on the road.  Unlike the group above, Picart had success in West Virginia in 2009, but he is still struggling along with that group.

Meanwhile, Calvin Anderson’s numbers are very interesting.  Anderson hit for a .274 average and a .793 OPS in 372 at-bats last year.  This year he’s actually struggling in McKechnie, with a .160 average and a .472 OPS, but he’s raking in road games, with a .361 average and a .939 OPS.

There are a few reasons to withhold judgement at this point.  First of all, all of these are small sample sizes.  One big game on the road could take Jeremy Farrell from the Latimore/McClune/Grossman group, up to the Holt/Sanchez/Marte group.  Second, we don’t know the impact of the park factors.  We know that McKechnie is hitter friendly.  We know that the rest of the league is pitcher friendly.  The only problem is we don’t know the baseline for each player, and the park factors for McKechnie, to compare to the rest of the league, is not available.

We do, however, have the park factors for the rest of the Florida State League, which could allow us to compare the road stats to something we’re all used to, like the Carolina League, for example.  Here is how everyone would look on the road if they were in the Carolina League, rather than the Florida State League (thanks to Minor League Splits for the MLE calculator):

This gives us an idea of how each player is really doing this year, although again I will stress that this is a small sample size.  Holt, Sanchez, and Marte still look good.  Jeremy Farrell jumps up to their group as well.  Latimore, McClune, Picart, and Grossman don’t really see major improvements, which makes sense.  The Florida State League is a pitchers league, but that’s not going to take a .230 hitter and make him a .300 hitter in a more neutral league like the Carolina League.  Anderson is looking good, but his home struggles make him an interesting case.

If there’s one thing we can celebrate, it’s the pitching.  The Florida State League is a pitching friendly atmosphere, but it’s clear that McKechnie is hitter friendly.  Take a look at the numbers from the five Bradenton starters below.

The top three pitchers in the rotation, Bryan Morris, Nathan Adcock, and Jeff Locke, are all doing very well at McKechnie, despite the obvious hitter friendly atmosphere.  Aaron Pribanic and Brian Leach are both struggling at home, but both are struggling even more on the road, which is unusual, and almost the exact opposite of Calvin Anderson (it would be the exact opposite if they were doing well at home).  Again, we don’t know the park factors for McKechnie, but we don’t really need them.  If McKechnie is making guys like Austin McClune and Quincy Latimore look like star prospects, then the success Morris, Adcock, and Locke are having would have to be legit.

I originally

thought that the success had to do with the ground ball ratios of the pitching staff.  The theory was that since McKechnie was impacted by the winds, pitchers who keep the ball on the ground a large percent of the time would have success.  Bryan Morris has a 53.2% ground ball ratio this season.  Jeff Locke has a 54.1% ground ball ratio this season.  Both of those marks are way above average for starting pitchers, and the theory would work for their success.  However, Nathan Adcock is just below average, at 41%, and his home percentage is a bit lower, at 39.7%, so that theory doesn’t work for him.  Furthermore, Aaron Pribanic has a 58.3% ground ball ratio this season, highest on the staff, and is struggling at home.

So what can we take from this?  I would say that the hitting from Holt, Sanchez, and Marte is legit, although probably not as good as their overall numbers indicate.  Jeremy Farrell is more of a Matt Hague level prospect.  Bryan Morris, Nathan Adcock, and Jeff Locke are all probably legit, although their road performances should be viewed the same as the home hitting for Holt, Sanchez, and Marte.  As for guys like Latimore and McClune, until they show they can hit somewhere other than McKechnie, their prospect status remains in doubt.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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