Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Interesting Question: Ishikawa - Failed Prospect or Dodd Sucks?

What prompted me to write this post, besides the fact that Travis Ishikawa (and other Giants power hitters going to Connecticut) are, in my opinion, unfairly getting their potential downgraded due to poor performance there, is that I was recently looking at who was recently visiting my old blog, and every other search that brought the visitor to that blog was a search on "Travis Ishikawa". Not that there were that many, maybe 10 out of 20 over the weekend, and not all of them were from the State of Washington, Travis' home state, but it seemed like there is a great interest in him. It is not like there were many visitors looking for Matt Cain, EME, Valdez, Schierholtz, etc. info on that old site.

Ishikawa is not the Best Thing Since Sliced Bread or Will Clark

First off, some people seem to think that I think that Ishikawa is the best prospect around and that I really believe in him to be the second coming or something. This is an incorrect impression, to say the least. What it is, is that I believe he can be a good player for the Giants but people mistake my insistence that he is still a valid prospect for belief that he is a great prospect. But I do think that he is a good position prospect.

And in this era of Giants baseball, that is nothing to sneeze about, we probably haven't had a good one (that we drafted, so no Aurilia) since the days of Will the Thrill and Matty Williams. Not to say that I think Travis is in their company, not at all. He is more like Pedro Feliz except that he can take a walk, from what I can see thus far. And that has value, if Feliz could walk at Ishikawa's walk rate, he would be considered a good 3B, with OBP in the mid-300 to go with his high SLG and HR hitting, and OPS in the 800's.

The thing is, people have been writing him off as a prospect almost since his first season and I don't see any reason to, yet. For example, one so-called expert on the web wanted to release Ishikawa in early 2004, and still thinks he's a waste of time and money on the part of the Giants (ignoring, of course, that the amount of money and time spent on Ishikawa is a pittance compared to the Giants revenue stream and that there are no star 1B prospect being held back by Ishikawa being in our system). And this year Ishikawa's name is not among the Giants Top 10 list on all the lists I have seen, because of his poor 2006 season (or so people think, looking at the surface), though most still have him somewhere in the 11-20 spots. And given the Giants dearth of position prospects, I don't think we should write off someone who still has a lot of potential.

But He Can Still Be Valuable

Let me set the record straight now: I think Ishikawa is, at best, a low BA, high OBP, high HR, high K, type of hitter. He could be similar to another former Giants who made his name elsewhere, Rob Deer, except that he is a very good (maybe great) defensive 1B, whereas Deer was made for the DH era. He is not a sure thing. Ishikawa has severe flaws in his batting approach that causes him to strike out a heck of a lot, though it has also been developed and refined enough to walk a heck of a lot as well.

However, I still think that there is still a lot of value to a 1B who can play good to great defense at 1B and can hit homers and get walks by the bushelful. I said above that he's not like Matt Williams, but looking at Matty's career stat line - .268/.317/.489/.806 with 18.5 AB/HR - I now realize that this is not that far from what Ishikawa can do - career since power kicked in for Ishikawa is .259/.350/.466/.816 with 23.8 AB/HR (Matt Williams hit .282/.336/.513/.849 with 19.8 AB/HR in the minors).

From minors to majors, Matty's BA went down 14 points, OBP down 19 points, ISO down 10 points but HR improved 1.4 points. If Ishikawa performs similarly, .246/.330/.444/.774 with 22.2 AB/HR. Plus, here are their minors stats up to age 22:

Ishikawa: .255/.357/.430/.787 with 31.1 AB/HR
Williams: .265/.314/.444/.758 with 30.2 AB/HR

Williams busted out when 23 years old, in the minors, but didn't have a full good year in the majors until he was 24 years old. That would be Ishikawa's 2008 season, if he developed like Williams.

In addition, up to this age, the highest HR rate that Williams registered in a significant time with a minor league team in a season was 25.5 AB/HR, when he was 22 (he did hit well in the majors that season, in terms of AB/HR, in a short season but still a lot of ABs). Ishikawa already has 2 seasons better than that and, as I will soon show, 2006 should have been the third. Clearly, Ishikawa has better HR power than what Williams showed, up to age 22, plus took walks more as well. His main problem has been that he strikes out way too often, which Williams did not do as badly, his strikeout rate was OK.


I've written a lot on this elsewhere but others have not believed me when I say that Dodd Stadium kills HR hitting, so here are some facts to back me up. Before I used Ishikawa's data first and perhaps that blinded people to the team and league stats I also showed. So this time I'm only showing group, team, and league data to prove my point.

The data is compiled from the great site, Unfortunately, the Defenders' team pitching splits was not available (page was missing) so I had to painstakingly copy each Defender pitcher's stats into a spreadsheet and calculate the team's pitching splits. And why not, it is paid subscribers like you all who keep this site going. Also unfortunately, there were a few pitchers whose data was not available, so the team splits are missing the data for: Quincy Foster, Derin McMains, Aaron Sisk, and Randy Walter (they are all position players anyway, so their stats would probably skew the dataset).

Comparison: Top Connecticut HR Hitters

First, the Defenders hitters who had 10 or more HR, had wildly different AB/HR rates, road vs. home. The foursome are Ishikawa, Schierholtz, Sisk, and Von Schell. On the road, the four of them had a great 25.6 AB/HR rate. Over a 500 AB campaign in the minors, that's a 20 HR season, which is pretty good for a prospect. However, put them at home and its a 41.6 AB/HR rate, or 12 HR in a 500 AB season. Quite a difference, nearly double. As we'll soon see, that's the pattern.

Comparison: Connecticut Hitters vs. Eastern League Hitters

Next, lets compare Connecticut hitters vs. the Eastern League in general. On the road, Connecticut hitters hit homers at a 47.5 AB/HR pace, which is right about the Eastern League average of 45.9 AB/HR. Both also were at about the same HR/FB rate: 8.4% for Connecticut, 8.8% for Eastern League hitters. But once you get to home, the Eastern League is still about the same but the Connecticut home hitting suffers greatly for HR: Eastern League averaged 43.6 AB/HR and 9.0% HR/FB (HR per Fly Ball), but Connecticut hitters only averaged 78.2 AB/HR and 5.9% HR/FB! So as you can see, on the road, Connecticut hitters were about the same as the Eastern League in general, but at home, they were horribly worse, at almost double the AB/HR rate and half the HR/FB rate.

Comparison: Connecticut Pitchers vs. Eastern League Pitchers

Looking at the pitching stats shows the same pattern again. On the road, Connecticut pitchers allowed homers at a 59.8 AB/HR pace or 0.6 HR/9, which is better than Eastern League pitchers who allowed homers at a 43.5 AB/HR pace or 0.8 HR/9. The HR/FB rate showed this slightly superior performance: 7.2% for Connecticut, 9.0% for Eastern League. However, at home, the Eastern League shows about the same rates but Connecticut is much better: Eastern League allowed homers at a 45.8 AB/HR pace or 0.7 HR/9 at home (8.8% HR/FB) whereas Connecticut allowed homers at a 83.8 AB/HR pace or 0.4 HR/9 at home (6.4% HR/FB).

Clearly, pitching at Dodd Stadium helps the pitchers greatly in terms of not allowing homers. At a 83.8 AB/HR pace, in 500 AB, a hitter would only get about 6 HR in a full season. At 45.8 AB/HR, that would be 11 HR. That would be almost double the number of homers in a season that would be given up by a pitcher pitching in the average Eastern League park instead of pitching in Dodd Stadium.

And that is the pattern we see with the hitters, the hitters would hit double the homers given the same number of ABs if they hit on the road versus hitting with Dodd as your home. So hopefully you can see why I believe that Dodd Stadium is horribly skewing the stats of most position players playing at Dodd (some actually do better at home, but clearly the vast majority of hitters suffer greatly hitting at Dodd). And hence why I believe that to proper assess the performance of any of our key hitters in Connecticut, you need to look solely at their road stats.

Closer to Travis Ishikawa's True 2006 Performance: Is It Real or Is It Dodd?

Of course, Ishikawa did not play a full season in Norwich either, so that brings into play the possibility that small samples skewed this road stats. But it is the only available performance data we have, so we have to use them. Plus, as you'll see, his road stats look a lot like his past seasons, so that makes it easier for me to accept that his road stats are representative of his skill level.

Here is a table showing his full season results for his career once he started hitting for power (I left out his 2004 brief stint in San Jose):

As one can plainly see, his road stats for 2006 matches quite well with his 2004 and 2005 seasonal stats. And his home stats show a great drop in both homerun frequency and walk frequency, most probably because pitchers were not afraid of him hitting a homer at home, so they grooved in more pitches into the strike zone, which resulted in less walks, more contact (and less strikeouts), but also much less homers.

Examining each metric, his BABIP is clearly very high for his career when he is not striking out(his BABIP was high prior to 2004). His Road BABIP for 2006 is clearly within the range for his career, while his Home BABIP is clearly not within his career stats, which is pretty much set after 3-4 seasons and most players BABIP stays near their career BABIP. At minimum, sabermetric theory says that his Home BABIP should regress higher towards his mean since it was so far off in 2006.

For BB%, he has always been very good at getting walks. His 11.8% Road BB% is right in range of his career stats (he walked a lot prior to 2004 as well). However, again, his Home BB% is outside the range he established thus far in his career.

For Contact%, which is the time when he makes contact and not strikeout, his Home and Road basically is equally on both side of his career norm for this metric. His overall percentage is basically the same as seasons before, so it does not appear that home or road (or at least not clearly appear) affects his strikeout rate, for better or worse.

BB/K is a ratio that some sabers say is a sign of whether a hitter will be good or bad hitter. With great hitters getting a ratio over 100%, and 50% as the minimum threshold, Travis hasn't been able to even meet the minimum, except for one season. He has clearly been bad from this aspect.

Lastly, and most importantly to me, his Road AB/HR is not that far away from his previous two seasons at 23.4 AB/HR. However, if you only saw Travis in Norwich, then yeah, you might not think much of him as a prospect, going from 19.6 AB/HR (about 25 HR in 500 AB) in 2005 all the way down to 45.7 AB/HR (about 11 HR in 500 AB) in 2006.

Giants Thoughts

The Giants should promote Travis to Fresno's AAA team so that he does not have to deal with Dodd anymore, particularly since ESPN screwed the team by filming in Dodd, preventing the team from resodding the field in a smaller configuration, which means that the Giants could not change the field to minimize any negative offensive aspects. Screw that ESPN!!!

It is clear to me that on the road, Ishikawa was still hitting the way he had in previous years and thus considered to have done a good job, whereas his home numbers clearly stunk and would be a flag of caution if this effect did not affect the whole team, both batters and pitchers, and by a very large margin (basically a doubling).

And it is not like he has any age advantage over the hitters or pitchers in AA. The average age there is 24.8 years for hitters with at least 295 AB (Ishikawa had 297 AB). Of these 79 hitters, only 10 of them were 22 years or younger - Ishikawa was one of those ten (FYI: Schierholtz was another of those ten and hit better than Ishikawa). And the average age for a pitcher there is 25.2 years, so he is much younger and less experienced than the pitchers in the Eastern League, as well, by a good three years on average.

Of the 10 young hitters, only one had an OPS over .800 and just barely at .833 - Travis had .801 OPS on the road. Still, overall, he had the 4th best OPS with a .719 OPS. Looking at homers, even with Dodd, Travis had the best AB/HR at 29.8, with the average AB/HR at 44.9 for the group of 22 year olds and younger. Obviously, without his home stats, he would have been head and shoulders above the other hitters in his age group.

In a hitter's league like the PCL, Ishikawa should be able to return to past performance levels relatively easily. However, the leap from minors to majors is usually fraught with failure, even for AAA hitters who hit pretty well, so even if he did well in Fresno, that does not mean that he'll ever become a major league hitter. As it is for most prospects, it is one step at a time.

And while many, if not most, fans and analysts think that Ishikawa took at step backward in his development in 2006, I believe that he continued showing the skills that he had shown before - patience in taking walks, tempered by his very high (and very poor) strikeout rate, but has 25+ HR power and plays great defense at 1B, according to some (sounds like JT Snow) - and should be promoted to AAA and away from Dodd Stadium, before it plays on his mind and on his confidence, and forces him to change his hitting mechanics to try to do better in that lousy stadium.

However, with Chad Santos still around and maybe even Lance Niekro, though I think we are out of options with him, I'm afraid the Giants might make Ishikawa repeat AA again instead of promoting him to AAA, just because we have other 1B in the system. I still like Lance, and he might in fact be a good platoon partner (one expert rates Travis as a platoon 1B) with Travis at 1B from 2008 on, but I would rather see Ishikawa get a chance to play in Fresno and risk losing Niekro than to see Ishikawa get hampered, or worse, get his confidence shakened, by playing in Norwich again. We don't have enough position prospects that we can screw around with even one with some potential and not hurt the farm system.


  1. If you want to compare Ishikawa to someone, think JT Snow, not Matt Williams. Good defense, poor avg hitter, some pop, good eye. Could be a serviceable major leaguer some day if he fixed his swing to cut down on strikeouts. Will never be a star player.

  2. Thanks Boof, yes, perfect, JT Snow: lefty, 1B, with some but not great pop.

    Though, as I noted, neither did Matt Williams up to age 22. Also, Ishikawa has an inch and 10 lbs on Snow. In addition, Snow never showed much power in the minors, in terms of HR power, until he was 25 (kind of like Niekro), whereas Ishikawa has been doing it since he was 20. So I think it is pretty clear that Ishikawa has far better power potential than Snow ever had.

    I agree that he could be a serviceable major leaguer if he could cut down his strikeouts significantly. More than serviceable, as that would open up everything for him: more hits, more walks, more homers. And he is not that far away, at 70% contact rate, he only has to cut 20% to get it to 75%, which is when batters start to hit adequately for the majors. To get to 80%, however, it would take a 33.3% cut...

    I won't say he will never be a star player, but will agree that the odds are greatly against him, given all the strikeouts. He's been popping the ball out of the park pretty good and walks a ton every he has went and most hitters cannot do both of them, so those are rare skills and a good base upon which to build on.

    His main problem has been striking out too much and not progressing at all on that front. Perhaps Barry can give him some tips in spring training, like he did Ortmeier two STs ago, (or even JT Snow, he's on the payroll now!) on how to not strike out so much, since they are all fellow lefties.

    Or maybe someone should send him a copy of Ted Willliam's Science of Hitting, he seems like a great candidate for learning the techniques that Ted espoused, combining both power and getting on base, plus Ted was not adverse to the occassional strikeout in the name of hitting the long ball.

  3. I enjoyed the analysis, thanks Martin!

  4. Why is your sidebar all the way on the bottom?

  5. You're welcome Chris, much appreciated.

    Yes, el person (your pic always brings a smile to my face :^), it is odd that it happened. I had that happen before when I had a line that stretched all the way over to the sidebar area, which pushed it down in the logic that is HTML. But I don't see anything like that on the page. Any HTML or Blogger experts here?

    My only guess right now is that I used their new function to snip out part of a spreadsheet to publish on my blog and something about that pushed my sidebar down.

    Lastly, I should have noted before that while Matt Williams can hit like he did and be a very valuable 3B, Ishikawa has a higher bar as a 1B, if he is to be even just be average offensively in the NL. Like when the Giants had Snow, how Ishikawa will fit on any team will probably be as a complementary piece, not a centerpiece, and his value will depend on the players around him.

    But if he can continue to get a lot of walks in the majors, even with a low BA, he can probably produce a high 700 OPS or low 800 OPS, which would be valuable as a #6 or #7 hitter, plus be OK in the #3 spot against RHP (he hasn't been able to hit LHP thus far, from what I have heard and read).

    OK, now lastly, I want to note that I'm rooting for Ishikawa wholeheartedly, partly because I'm Asian American too, but mainly because I'm a Giants fan, dammit! :^) We need more position players doing well! I'm getting pumped up about our future and it will be that much more brighter if we had a high OBP, high SLG, great defense 1B in our lineup for a long time.

    At only 23, he is still young, people might be writing him off because he's been around as a top Giants prospect for so long, but he's only 23, his body is still maturing and developing.

    For example, people are talking about Kevin Kouzmanoff, the 'Dres new 3B, but he'll be 25 years old this season (and turns 26 in July). When Kouz was 22, which was how old Ishikawa was last season, he hit .272/.342/.437/.779 with 25.8 AB/HR in short-season A ball. When Ishikawa was a year younger, at 21, he hit .282/.387/.532/.919 with 19.6 AB/HR in high A ball. So I'm willing to give him a break on the 2006 season, as he did well in the majors when called up, and started the season well in AA (maybe on the road a lot?), but something threw him off when he was sent back down. I truly hope he gets placed in AAA for the 2007 season, Chad Santos seemed nice, but Travis could be the future 1B of the Giants and he, probably not. That would be a truer sampling of his skills.

  6. If you like my picture, don't thank me, I stole it from Bleeding Black and Orange.



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