Friday, February 06, 2009

Scouting Buster Posey and Angel Villalona

B3: Big, Bald and Beautiful has been posting scouting reports on Jonathan Mayo's Top 50 prospect list that I had posted on before and has covered Madison Bumgarner (#6), Buster Posey (#19) and Angel Villalona (#47).

Here is what a scout had to say about Madison:

Fastball: 89-94 mph; Slider: 77-82 mph; Changeup: 77-78 mph
Fastball consistently 91-93 mph with tail. Can cut it as additional weapon. Good location, not afraid to go upstairs with it. Smooth delivery, fastball gets on hitter in a hurry. Slider is hard and down, almost a power curve action to it. Didn't need changeup much, it's a work in progress. Some small mechanical flaws, but nothing major to worry about. [This was in May, early when he started doing well; would have been better if at end of season, to see if he had developed anything extra]

Here is what a scout had to say about Buster:

Great instincts and makeup. Natural leader. A little mechanical, but does everything right. Outstanding hitting approach, makes good adjustments. Can go other way when needed. Power will come. Moves well behind plate, will catch strikes. Arm works, fringe plus. Combination of bat and defense should make him solid-average to plus Major League backstop. [seen in October in Hawaiian Winter League]

Here is what a scout had to say about Angel:

Seen over five-game stretch. ... Extremely strong, can hit ball out without difficulty. Easy, pull stroke through zone. Kills mistakes. Plus, plus raw power. Little hitch in swing with hole on inside. Some trouble with offspeed stuff away, but showed improvement. Good arm at 1B, soft hands. Must watch weight. [seen in late May, before he started getting it in August]

Giants Thoughts

Much of the talk above has already been said about each prospect, so I'll focus on what I see as key points.
  • Angel: "Kills mistakes". While that is good, as he rises, he will see less and less mistakes, so he still has a lot to learn. Still, Bonds only got to see one mistake per game himself and he did pretty well in spite of that. "Plus, plus raw power" Has been said before, but want to emphasize this because some reports have doubted his power potential. This confirms the 40 HR power potential noted when he first was signed.

  • Buster: "Natural leader." I think every team will need a leader, so if Buster can make it, he could be our team leader for the next decade probably. On top of that, he would be leading our great rotations of the future. "Outstanding hitting approach, makes good adjustments." He is advertised as a plus hitter, good to see how good this scout thinks, plus a player who can make adjustments is one of the key ingredients of a MLB starting regular. "Power will come." Most commentary has denigrated his power, so this is a key point, I think, between him being plus offensively versus average. "Combination of bat and defense should make him solid-average to plus Major League backstop." Another good commentary. It is not impossibe that he could be a major disappoint if he doesn't develop into at least a solid-average catcher. This scout confirms the other's impressions that he is pretty good.

  • Madison: "Fastball consistently 91-93 mph with tail. Can cut it as additional weapon." That is a good weapon to have. "Good location, not afraid to go upstairs with it." Many pitchers are afraid, it is good when a pitcher is confident of his stuff and using it to good effect. "Smooth delivery, fastball gets on hitter in a hurry." That is shown by how many batters he struck out, but not every pitcher have a fastball that gets on a hitter in a hurry, those are the special ones. "Didn't need changeup much, it's a work in progress." Most pitchers need at least three good pitches to succeed in the majors and he basically has two, his fastball and his slider, which is like a power curve. He needs to work on the changeup, maybe he should speak with Lincecum since Tim figured it out pretty fast. "Some small mechanical flaws, but nothing major to worry about." That's good to hear.

I'm getting excited for the 2009 season!


  1. Don't you mean the 2011 season? That should be the soonest these 3 all make their appearance in SF.

  2. Since one of the major themes of this blog is prospect development, I would say its fair to be excited about the upcoming season. We'll get strong evidence about the player Villalona is going to be and make a fair judgement as to when he is ready for the bigs. Also, if Posey and Bumgarner have the type of years we expect, we can feel assured the 2010 Giants will have two strong ROY canidates on the roster. Needless to say, the 2009 season, at all levels, is going to have a huge impact on the future of the Giants.

  3. Sorry Boof, I guess that was a non sequitur. Obviously, 2009 is not when these guys come up.

    What I meant is that 2009 should be exciting because this season should give further, more conclusive evidence that these prospects are as good as we hope them to be. And based on all the reports I've read, all three are look to be pretty good.

    And right now, I would put even odds on Bumgarner and Posey making the majors in 2010. Bumgarner in particular, he had an outstanding year in Augusta, much like Sanchez did, but unlike Sanchez, the Giants probably won't be rushing him to the majors by mid-season 2009, though if the Giants are as competitive as I think they could be, I would not be surprised if they pull a David Price and pitch in relief for us in September (and I wouldn't surprised if they arrange it so that he can pitch in the playoffs, should they get in).

    And if Posey does as well as hoped, while I don't expect a September call-up, that's not outside the realm either. And with starting catcher right now unspoken for in 2010, they might just bring him up if he is as developed a hitter as he appears to be.

    Villalona, however, I would agree, 2011 is probably the earliest he comes up, but if he can hit as well in 2009 as Justin Upton did in his season after Class A, if Ishikawa and/or Bowker isn't doing that well at 1B, then he has a chance at starting 2010 with us.

    But, yes, that is not likely nor something we can rely on happening. However, it is possible if he can progress as well as Upton did. And given how well he hit in August, once he had things figured out, that gives hope to me that he's going to have a nice breakout in 2009.

  4. You keep saying that Angel "figured it out" in August, and I just don't see what you're basing this on Martin. Other than a high BABIP (which floated his OBP and SLG up) it's pretty difficult to isolate any area in which he was notably better in August than at any other time of the year. His best HR months were in May and August, his best LD% was actually June (which was also his worst month average wise). August saw his highest GB% (not good for someone with Angel's profile). And of course quite notably, his K/BB ratio was as horrendous in August as it was throughout the year (22/3).

    Looking at all of the splits it's frankly hard to see anything in his month to month numbers that suggests progression more than just random small sample sized shenanigans.

    Without seeing any improvement in his k, bb, contact or hard contact numbers, what are you seeing to make you so certain that he "got it?"

  5. All very good points Roger. Here are what I consider key points that make me say that Angel was making a breakthrough in August.

    First off, I understand your points but while small sample is an issue, you are also dealing with a young player who should be making progress duing the season as well.

    A key thing you left out was his progress with striking out during the season. His strikeout rate (and thus contract rate) improved month to month. His contact rate went from below 75% his first two months to almost 80% by season's end.

    Generally, below 75% is pretty bad, but getting to 80%, while still not good (you ideally want the hitter to be above 85%, generally) is at least above average. And those numbers are for the majors where the average is 81%; for the Sally League, where the average was 77.4%, he looks even better.

    To recap, for the MLB, below 75% is bad, 81% is average, 85% is where the best hitters get their strikeout rate. Thus, Angel being 1.4% to 2.4% above the league average at the end of the season for two months, would be like a major leaguer with 82-83%, very close to where you want him to be. Not to say he will reach 82-83% in the majors, but that he was better than the average Class A hitter at the end of the season, while was worse at the start, and that is good progress.

    In addition, his BABIP increased from around .285 the first two months in the season, to .333 the next two months to .351 his last month. As some of you may know, a batter's BABIP is individual to his talent, so it is not unusual to see a young hitter, particularly one in his first full-season league, improve his BABIP as the season progresses. That is not randomness, that is development and progress.

    While ideally you want a batter's walk rate to be much higher than what Villalona was ringing up, with a high BABIP and a relatively low strikeout rate, he is able to ring up a nice batting average.

    Sure, in a perfect world, he gets on base a lot too, but what we really want him for is driving in runs and in August, his ISO was 221 (league ISO was 125), he struck out at a rate better than the league average, when he did make contact, it was at high BABIP (league was .314), and he got his XBH% back to his early season level, 41% (league average was 30%).

    So what I'm seeing is a progression. He didn't do that well his first month, as he was new to all this.

    In his second month, he figured out how to hit for more line drives, which he was able to do the rest of the season, it was about what Michael Stanton, the top hitter in the Sally League had in LD%. He also boosted his power greatly, pushing his ISO to 210.

    In his third month, he struck out a lot more, but also boosted his BABIP up as well. That could be random, but his BABIP stayed that high the rest of the season. He appeared to do more strikeouts while improving his contact when he did hit the ball. But his power when down as he was trying to figure things out with that.

    In his fourth month, he continued to hit the ball well while also improving his strikeout rate greatly, to above average. But his power went down, both XBH% and ISO.

    In his fifth and final month, he continued to hit the ball well, continued to strikeout at a below league average rate (which again is good), and returned his ISO back to prior levels.

    So by his final month, he was hitting on more cyclinders. Before that month, he would do one thing well, while not doing another well. In his last month, he kept his BABIP high, his strikeout rate low (i.e. contact rate high), he hit more extra-base hits, plus connected for more homers, leading to a high ISO for the season.

    It's kind of like that old variety show act, where the person is spinning a zillion plates on sticks and keeps them spinning. When they first started out, they didn't spin very many of them at the same time. They were not experienced enough and/or coordinated enough to keep them all up and spinning at first. But over time, they figured out how to keep more of them up and spinning.

    Same for a minor league hitter, particularly one in the lower levels. There are so many different things happening that is new that it is hard to concentrate and do well in all areas. Villalona, from the chronology I went through above, appeared to tackle one thing or another each month or so. He would improve one while doing very poorly in anotther. But each month, he would do something better as a hitter. By his last month, he did a number of things well.

    And that is why I thought his August was a breakout month in terms of development. Ron Sandler says that once a player shows a skill, he owns it forever; it then becomes a matter of him figuring out how to show it on a consistent basis. Villalona appeared to tackle a new skill each month and was able to put most of them together in August.

    Sure, would love to get more walks, but if he is able to keep his ISO above 200 and XBH% above 40%, then I think pitchers will start avoiding him and giving him more walks, whether he wants to or not.

    Let me put it another way. If he's walking the rate we would like to see, that would ahve been another 7 walks in the month of August. Instead, he had 3 more extra-base hits, doubles and homers. And with a league average of 49 AB/HR, his 21 AB/HR suggests that all 3 of those three extra extra-base hits were homers (49 AB/HR rate means he hits only 2 homers, instead he had 5 in August). I would rather have 3 homers over 7 walks any time, particularly when he's batting 4th, 5th, or 6th.

    Also, I just noticed, he spent a significant amount of time DHing in 2008. Some believe that DH's have a harder time with hitting, that there is usually a hit to a hitter's line when he DHes, as he is not used to sitting around between innings. And that hit is true for Villalona, his batting line was .268/.310/.446/.756 as 1B, .233/.310/.378/.688 as DH.

  6. I still can't help but think that you are looking for progressions, rather than seeing them.

    For example, you say his contact rate improved month to month. That's simply not so. It was virtually the same from April to May and then got much much worse in June (falling from 74% to %63). It improved dramatically from June to July and then dipped again an insignificant amount from July to August.

    And here's where we really get into some sample size shenanigans that you simply have to not want to see to avoid seeing. His worst K or contact rate came in June, but June also saw a dramatic rise in his LD% and BABIP. So was he progressing that month or regressing? You mention the high ISO SLG in August, but it was only a dramatic increase compared to July. His ISO SLG in August (.221) was virtually the same as it had been in May (.210). And it was much higher in June (.187) then it was in the following month of July (.115) despite the fact that June was in many ways his worst month.

    Another example is the BABIP you mentioned. Yes it went up and up, but it did so despite some other indicators moving every which way. His BABIP initially went up in June in conjunction with a dramatic increase in LD% (from 17.6 to 24.0), but along with a huge decrease in contact rate as noted above. However, in the following two months his LD% went back down under 16% but his BABIP didn't go with it. Instead it stayed the same in July and then rose in August. Also rising in August was not his contact rate (which as noted went down an insignificant percentage) but rather his GB%. That says to me that that rise iN BABIP in August is the result of an increase of seeing eye ground balls -- these numbers suggest the very definition of being "hit lucky."

    Which leads me back to where I started. When some indicators are going up, others are going down, and still others are just bouncing back and forth willy nilly, you pretty much have to admit that you're in the bell curve tornado of meaningless sample sizes.

    After all the difference between May and August that you are finding so significant is the difference of 8 ABs (moving from 26 K in 100 ABs to 22 ks in 104 ABs). And I just don't know any statistician who would feel comfortable making any kind of pronouncement on the basis of 8 ABs.

    Angels season had some definite positives and some definite negatives. There are things to look forward to and things to look out for. To say more about than that is to project desire and wish fulfillment on top of statistics, rather than to follow them where they lead.

    As a final slightly OT note, I don't generally find league averages useful in the minors, particularly in the low minors, because you're dealing with a such a large amount of players who have no chance whatsoever of being major leaguers which distort the numbers in two ways: 1) the players who have already risen above their plateau and post very bad numbers; and 2) the players who have plateued and then repeated the level multiple times who are posting numbers that are above their true abilities. While toolsy players can be given grace periods for figuring things out, I don't think that from a statistical standpoint, looking at where prospects stand in relation to an irrelevant average is telling us much of value.

  7. If you want a statistical proof, then you can never be satisfied: there is no proof in baseball, there are only positive and negative indicators. You mention some negative ones, I mention some I consider positive.

    So, sure, it's small sample hell. That's where you are going to be when you are looking at any prospect, he's not a finished product, he's going to take two steps and fall back one if you are lucky, particularly in Class A. That is why Ron Shandler doesn't use stats under AA when trying to figure out how good a prospect might be in the majors, there is so much that can happen between there and the upper minors.

    You point out all the ups and downs. I gave what I consider a plausible explanation: that he was having trouble repeating some skills as he was trying to figure out another skill, but appeared to put some of it together in August.

    And you chastise me for small samples then feel the need to point out that his contact rate "went down an insignificant percentage" in August. Which is it, is that significant or insignificant?

    My point was that generally his stats appear to be improving as the season went on. Some went up and down, some went down and up, but I found a number were in an upward trend or good area when he got to August. And it was not just one month, I was looking at two month chunks to give the general view, then dug into each monthly stat.

    Again, you make good points on his negatives except when you discuss the minutiae of every detail, when you readily admit that such detail is hampered greatly by small samples. Hence why I tried to make my points with two months intervals, which are still small samples, but what I was trying to convey was a general movement in a positive direction for a number of metrics for Villalona.

    Again, if you want a statistical pronouncement, you are not going to find one except by looking at his overall numbers. Still, that's a statistical hell of a mish-mash because a player is developing as the season is progressing, so you are adding a slice of when he was totally confused or disoriented plus a slice of when he has some skills mastered plus a slice when he's getting so much instruction that he's lost again and so forth.

    What you are saying is that you can't really say anything that is statistically proven. I'll agree with that.

    Hence why the prospect experts make their big money scouting and analyzing the players. Hence why bloggers can chime in with their observations on trends that they see themselves.

    Here's what I believe. While I believe that there is not any way to statistically divine exactly how good a player in Class A ball will be, you can take big chunks of his seasons and look to see where things are trending.

    And you got back and forth on whether small samples is significant or not. You point out the difference in strikeouts not being significant, but then I could throw that back at you in regards to your worry about his strikeouts as well. He is right at that edge between good and bad. I consider it good that (and you missed this point I had made) his strikeout rate for the last two months were better than the strikeout rate for his first two months (not just the May and August you noted). You say it don't mean much because there is a small difference between those two points, but there is also a small difference between there and being good at doing it.

    And it's not like I'm saying Villalona is going to be the next Ryan Howard or whatever based on his stats in 2008.

    Here's what I'm trying to convey. If you just look at his overall seasonal stats, it is nice but not great. You pointed out some negatives, which I did not dispute. I feel I made some good arguments that he also made progress during the season, which culminated in some good stats in August overall. I think you can look at overall trend lines and take some positives out of that, sure it was up and down and all over the place, but generally, it was trending upward. All I was trying to say was that I think he will do well in 2009, better than 2008 when things were more up and down, which I consider a breakout.

    I think league averages are very useful for comparison with the general talent level of the league. Yes, some are overmatched and some are too old for the league, and I would throw in that some do well and move up and some do poorly and go down. A huge mish-mash, but the average gives a person a general point of where the talent level for the league is. And that holds true each year, despite few players who last that long in Class A (last 5 seasons):

    Year OPS ERA
    2004 .729 4.29
    2005 .729 4.13
    2006 .707 NA
    2007 .735 4.34
    2008 .707 4.02

    I also wouldn't rely solely on that alone. I didn't go through all the details that goes into my enthusiasm for Villalona, but another reason I like him is because of his ranking. I've looked at his ranking among players under 20 years old, to get a sense of where he stood among prospect in his age range, and he did well against them as well as against the better players in the league overall. He was not at top, but he wasn't at the bottom either, closer to the top than the bottom, and they were all dealing with their own ups and downs and so forth. He was 6th among under 20 YO in HR, 10th in OPS.

  8. Oh Martin, Martin. Why so silly? Let's clear up a couple of things.

    1) I'm not in any way looking for statistical truth. In fact, I'm not overly reliant on stats in general in making my arguments, and tend toward listening to scouting reports more heavily. HOWEVER, I was taking issue with your argument which was ... all together now... completely built on statistical arguments. You didn't say that you believed Angel had put it together in August based on any scouting reports you'd read that said so. You said you believed it based on what you saw in the stats. So to take issue with your argument, I'm forced to look at the stats.

    2) I'm not being inconsistent as to whether the sample sizes are significant or insignificant. I'm making two -- can you believe it, TWO -- correlary but not contradictory arguments. First, that I believe monthly data is too insignificant to draw strong conclusions from. And second, that if you believe that monthly stats ARE significant it is becumbant upon YOU to at least be accurate about what they say.

    Thus, You based your position on the argument that his contact rates went up month by month [at the very least strongly implying that there was a trending upward throughout the season]. My double argument: 1) the difference month to month is insignificantly small AND 2) no they didn't go up month by month at all. To the degree that they went up at all, they went up in only one month and that was from June to July.

    More to the point, I looked at a whole range of other stats and noted similar up and down, down and up tendencies and concluding, pretty logically I believe, that this seems more to be the working of random patterns throughout the season, than indication of any overt trends.

    The problem here is that, as is your wont, you aren't looking at the body of evidence and logically following where it leads, Martin. You are doing what you tend to do far too often -- picking and choosing among the data points for the ones which please you or back up the argument that you begin by wanting to make, and then disregarding the rest. This kind of argument of course has a very long history and is generally known as "pseudo analysis." If you want to say "I believe this because I believe this" then go ahead and say it. But don't throw a patchwork quilt of cherry picked stats in to make your argument look like an act of rational and rigorous analysis when it's just a gut feeling. That really cheapens the work of people (and I am not one at all) who really do sift through statistical evidence to try to make their cases as strong and clear and as objective as they reasonably can.



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