Why You Can’t Go On Stats Alone

I’m a big stats guy.  I think that stats are extremely important in the game of baseball when it comes to evaluating players.  I think that when it comes down to “the eye test”, a lot of subjectivity can be inserted in to the analysis.  More often than not, when people watch players, they’re watching them with a pre-conceived notion.  If they go in thinking the player is good, they’ll excuse his poor plays, and highlight his good plays.  If they think a player is bad, they’ll do the opposite.

I think it’s very important to actually see a player.  That’s why I’ve made every effort to see everyone in the system at least once this year.  Outside of the guys in the foreign rookie leagues, and the draft picks who signed in the last month, I’m pretty much there.  But I’m still a “stats guy”.  My approach is to look at the stats, have the stats tell the story, then go and confirm or deny the story by watching the player live.  That said, there are some times where looking at the stats and looking at some basic information about the player can tell a lot.  Take the following example:

Player A: .282/.351/.469, 15 HR, 386 AB, High-A, Florida State League

Player B: .284/.387/.413, 9 HR, 320 AB, High-A, Florida State League

Looking at the numbers alone, you’d probably say that Player A is the better prospect.  Both players play in the same league, and Player A is clearly having a better year, power-wise.

Baker has the same numbers as Jonathan Singleton, but is four years older.

Player A is Aaron Baker, recently traded by the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Derrek Lee.  Player B is Jonathan Singleton, a big piece in the package that landed Hunter Pence for the Philadelphia Phillies.

I was asked why the Phillies traded Pence for a combination of Singleton and Jarred Cosart, when their numbers look similar to Aaron Baker and Kyle McPherson.  While the numbers look similar, the talent levels are totally different.

For example, Baker does have the better numbers in high-A this year, compared to Singleton.  However, Baker is 23 years old, and played three years in college.  Singleton is 19 years old, and is in his second full season in pro ball.  Baker pretty much is what he is.  He’s unlikely to add more power, making him a 20 HR a year guy.  Meanwhile, power is usually the last thing to develop for young prospects, which means that Singleton should improve on his power numbers, which aren’t bad right now, as he gets older.

Singleton and Baker look the same now, statistically, but this current performance is close to the ceiling for Baker, while Singleton has a lot of room to improve on his already strong numbers.

And what about Cosart and someone like Kyle McPherson?

Cosart had a 3.92 ERA in 108 innings in the Florida State League this year, with a 6.6 K/9 and a 3.6 BB/9 at the age of 21.  Meanwhile, McPherson had a 2.89 ERA in 71.2 innings at the same level, with a 7.5 K/9 and an 0.8 BB/9 at the age of 23.  He’s moved on to put up a 2.88 ERA in 56.1 innings in AA, with an 8.9 K/9 and a 2.2 BB/9 ratio.

There is an age difference there, although it’s not as significant as the difference between Baker and Singleton.  The big difference here is the stuff.  McPherson has good stuff, highlighted by strong control and command.  However, his fastball usually sits in the lower 90s.  Meanwhile, Cosart throws his fastball in the 94-98 MPH range.  McPherson, as a best case scenario, profiles as a number three starter in the majors.  Cosart profiles as a potential top of the rotation pitcher.

This shouldn’t be new territory for Pirates fans.  Jameson Taillon can throw in the upper 90s, but has worse numbers than McPherson this year.  I don’t think any Pirates fan would be trading Taillon and keeping McPherson if they had a choice of which pitcher should go.

The end of the year prospect rankings are getting close, and these are important things to consider.  Stats can tell a lot, and obviously having good numbers are important.  But stats aren’t the tell-all method of evaluating a player.  I don’t think any true “stats guy” would suggest otherwise.  The stats point you in the right direction, and cover a lot of the research, but they’re incomplete without considering all of the factors involved with the player, and stats are unconfirmed without seeing the player.

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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 AccuScore.com, 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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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_D47VYW4V7KX5IAMCZZAFP7RM2Y Jay Stone

    You can compare stats here, the stat is age. Haha…

  • Anonymous

    Another great article Tim. I have said on this site that the measure of most prospects goes well beyond their stats. The majority of players that have determination and desire are the one’s that excel, and those that don’t will falter. Great scouts and organizations draft kids that have good make-up… on top of great skills. Of course it doesn’t hurt to be young either. It is difficult to measure the heart and work ethic of a player, but it looks like the Pirates are doing a pretty good job recently.

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