Thursday, June 28, 2018

Just for the Heliot: Ramos' Bad Bad Terrible 7 Games

I was trying to think up a prospect question for Jim Callis on Twitter, when I decided to dig into Heliot Ramos' numbers.  Here's what I found.


ogc thoughts

Looking at his stat line, it's easy to draw a narrative of his season so far:  .244/.321/.380/.700, very hot prospect struggling with his first time in a full season league, his youth is showing, as the 18 YO is having a hard time.  I searched a little bit and found one Giants prospect observer who noted how bad it was (though, at least advised readers not to worry, wait until next year to complain).

It gets a lot better if you compare him to the Sally League's average batting line:  .251/.318/.385/.703.  As an 18 YO, 3-5 years younger than most of the pitchers in the league (average age of pitchers:  22.0 YO), he's hitting as well as the average hitter in the league, almost exactly the average.  That's actually good.

Looking at his monthly stats, it improves some more:

Apr:  .235/.309/.365/.673
May: .212/.295/.365/.659
June: .284/.357/.409/.766

Young prospect, struggles for two months, finally figuring things out in June and taking it to the league now, .766 OPS would pace him 47th in the league in OPS.  Not great, but it is very good still.

Perspective Depends on Nuances Beyond Norms

When trying to analyze, we are often guided by the norms that we all follow.  One norm I see all the time, is the assumption that a season is representative of what a player did, and viewing.  Baseball Forecaster has brought this up, numerous times in their annuals, about how a player projected to do, say, .800 OPS, doing poorly on April, then hits .800 OPS the rest of the way.

Similarly, we look at months as separate entities of their own, as if the calendar demarcation is significant.  I studied commodities trading long ago, and one famous trader noted that looking at pricing on a monthly basis is not the proper way of doing that, that we need to redo the calendar and look at it from the lunar cycles, which, when you think of it, makes some sense.

And I'm as guilty of this as anyone, something I try to remind myself all the time.  But not this time with Ramos, as I caught myself.  I dug deeper into his games, provided so freely at baseball-reference.com.  What I found is that the apparent narrative is really just a coincidence of his really bad stretch, stretching between April and May.

Great Hitting by Heliot

In Heliot's first 18 games of the season, he hit .274/.338/.425/.762, .346 BABIP which is good for any prospect in A-ball, but especially good for an 18 YO, as most players in this league is closer to college graduation age than high school, there are very few teenagers playing in this league, let along 18 YO.  His peripherals were not that bad either, 23.8% K% and 5.0% BB%, sure, could cut some K's and add BB's, but when the guy is hitting well for his age, and facing guys 3-4 years older (and more experienced), that's pretty good.

In his last 42 games of the season, up to today, he's hitting .269/.343/.419/.761, .354 BABIP, which is almost exactly what he did in his first 18 games.  And similar peripherals, with 24.6% K% and 8.4% BB%, good improvement in walks (no IBB, so no help from the other team, he improved on his own; and perhaps for those 18 games, just random bouncing around his talent level, for taking walks).   So Heliot has actually been very consistent for most of the season, 60 of 67 games.

He even improved some, as he was 1 of 5 in stolen base attempts in his first 18 games, 4 of 5 in his last 42 games.  Speed is a big part of his game, and hopefully, unlike recent Giants speedster prospects, he can utilize it to steal a large number of bases for us.

Bad 7 Games

The above looks good, but why the bad April and May months?  Ah, but that's the rub, those 7 games in between the two good stretches.  A really bad, terrible 7 game stretch, where he didn't hit at all:  .000/.138/.000/.138.  He just was way off, he struck out 48.3% of the time, though oddly, he also added walks, 13.8%.

So the narrative changed greatly because of a historically bad 7 games, and then further by the coincidence of his bad 7 games happening to cross between two months.  Else, we would have a pretty good story of a good prospect doing well in his first full season league.

Historical Perspective

So Heliot hitting is hitting (roughly, estimating) .271/.341/.421/.762 in 60 out of 67 games so far.  That compares favorably with recent 18 YO seasons of top prospects for other teams.  I'm noting these because they are top prospects, there were other 18 YO with similar seasons, so I'm not saying Heliot will match these great prospects, only that he is sitting in good company with his stats so far:

2017:  Juan Soto:  .360/.427/.523/.950  (obviously, no where near, but wanted to include)
2016:  Ronald Acuna:  .311/.387/.432/.819
2015:  Ozzie Albies:  .310/.368/.404/.771
2015:  Rafael Devers:  .286/.329/.443/.773
2014:  Miguel Andujar:  .267/.318/.397/.715

Overall, Heliot is Doing Well

Hitting so high, .762 OPS, above the league mean is generally good, but it s made great by the fact that he's an 18 YO doing it against much older competition.  As one can see, he sits in good company, and if he can continue doing this well, could be reaching the majors in a couple years, which was his goal.  But that 7 games do put him a step or two behind these guys, and as I noted, there were other 18 YO who hit well, and hasn't reached the majors to this point.  I'm not saying he'll reach the majors soon, like those guys, there are so many steps still to reach the majors, but neither is he struggling as bad as his overall or monthly numbers are showing, either, I think he's making wonderful progress towards his two year goal is what I'm saying.  Got to take your first steps, and he's doing it.

The argument is often made that you can't ignore the 7 games of bad.  And that would not be entirely true, especially for young prospects, and very especially for a guy in his first time in a full season league.  A player will succeed and struggle, prospects especially so, as they are learning to be consistently good, by understanding why he's failing.  It is like a pendulum, swinging back and forth, it is like the angel on one shoulder, a devil on the other, so those 7 games are there, and we're aware of it, but that does not mean that is who he is, or how he's doing, it would be like judging a child by what they did when they were under one year old, there will be mistakes made, that won't necessarily be indicative of that kid once he develops and matures. 

And thus bad stretches, while it is often an indication that they can be attacked by other teams, it could also have been a random blip in a prospect's professional life.  Maybe he woke up with a stiff neck that affected him for a week (I've had that before), or he's young, maybe he went out for a night on the town, and that just made him sick and weak for a while.  Or he could have been battling a flu, which would make him weak, but he felt he could play anyhow. 

Also, he was hit by a pitch on April 25th, and while he got a hit in his next game, then those 7 bad games, so maybe he was somehow affected by that.  Plus, probably should include he game on the 26th as part of the bad stretch, making it 8 games, as he struck out 3 times in that game (it was the start of a stretch of 2 to 4 strikeouts in six straight games). 

So the 6-7-8 games is certainly a warning sign, sure, but it's not necessarily indicative of his talent level, if he can continue to do as well as he has been and continues to avoid such bad extended stretches.   As Baseball Forecaster often advises about players:  once a prospect performs, he owns that skill, and then it becomes a matter of him consistently doing that from that point on.  That also applies to bad stretches as well, I believe, so it is something to watch, but so far, 60 games of almost near perfect consistency around .760 OPS. 

Yeah, SSS, but at this point in his career, everything is SSS, and the bad stretch is more SSS than the other parts where he's one of the league's better hitters.  Or we could create a list of good and bad, under a T, and while that bad stretch definitely is in the bad category, he has so much in the good category, that we need to have perspective of how that stretch of bad games hitting fits in with everything else he is doing.

Furthermore, that stretch was a hilariously bad, putrid, smelly mess, suggesting that whatever he was off of, whether mental or physical, he was way way way off, and as long as he continues what he did last season and for 60 of 67 games this season, is not a sign that he's struggling overall, just a sign that he just had a really bad stretch. 

It happens.  Kind of like when Bumgarner was totally lost early one season as a prospect, and Pitcher Whisperer Dick Tidrow went down, taught him the mechanics that makes him successful (he never knew them before then; and once he knew them, he could be more consistent in his performance, around 10 years now of good, great, and historic performances), and he's been fine ever since (except for the bike and pinky).   Or when Cain was skipped a start to fix something, then came back and shut down the A's.  Or when Lincecum was lost for a whole month, which seemed to happen to him about once a season, but he was so sublime the rest of the time, few remember the rare times he struggled to be even a fifth starter.  Or Posey, who was battling with the Mendoza Line when Molina was traded.  Or Belt and Crawford, who took a few years to get out all the kinks with their batting.

Hopefully just a blip on his trajectory to the majors.  The minor league ladder is so hard to climb, so it's easy to fret, especially when your top prospect appears to be struggling just in A-ball.   But he's actually been pretty good throughout most of the season, except for around 7 games of really bad strikeout-itis, and his hitting otherwise is on par with other top prospect results in the Sally in recent seasons.  He is not a top prospect I would worry about.

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