Introduction to CAL

Announcement: For my analysis – including Ranking the Top 250 Prospects, Ranking the Farm systems, and in-depth commentary for over 900 minor leaguers – check out my book, The 2015 Prospect Digest Handbook, now available on Amazon!

 

Let’s play a game for a moment. You’re a General Manager of a non-contending team and you’re interested in dealing the club’s most valuable trade chip – a perennial All-Star whose services no longer fit with the long term plans. Five contending teams are interested for help down the stretch, each offering one of the following prospects as a potential centerpiece:

Player A: Standing a solid 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, the former first rounder, 23rd overall, is one of the elite power bats in the minor leagues – a fact that becomes all that more impressive given his position (SS). Including his work in the Arizona Fall League, he once slugged 57 homeruns in a 163-game stretch. He was briefly called up during his age-23 season and struggled in 150 at bats (.200/.224/.327 with a 43/4 K/BB ratio). He’s widely recognized as one of the top prospects in baseball – despite some swing-and-miss tendencies.

Player POS Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG SB CS BB% K% wRC+
Player A SS 21 AA 522 42 4 25 0.276 0.355 0.552 19 3 10.3% 28.5% 132
22 AAA 488 27 1 23 0.272 0.338 0.497 10 1 9.2% 24.6% 110
23 AAA 448 21 2 31 0.296 0.375 0.595 6 5 10.0% 23.2% 140

 

Player B: Former second overall pick put a rough showing in High Class A behind him (.250/.397/.421) to have one of the best showings in Class AA in recent memory. Twenty-plus homerun potential with solid peripherals from the hot corner. He’s widely recognized as one of the top prospects in baseball.

Player POS Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG SB CS BB% K% wRC+
Player B 3B 21 AA 298 25 0 21 0.347 0.413 0.687 0 1 8.7% 14.1% 194
21 AAA 236 16 0 15 0.293 0.314 0.564 2 0 3.4% 10.6% 114
22 AAA 250 15 1 10 0.287 0.347 0.498 1 1 7.6% 17.6% 105

 

Player C: Former 10th round pick transferred from the SEC to a small-time baseball college. Solid or better defensive backstop who’s continually hit well with solid-average power, though that comes against mostly age appropriate levels of competition. He’s a career .283/.344/.478 minor league hitter. Big league ready and a potential candidate to start for Team Brazil in the World Baseball Classic.

Player POS Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG SB CS BB% K% wRC+
Player C C 22 A+ 247 21 1 9 0.275 0.312 0.489 0 0 3.6% 25.9% 128
23 AA 309 18 1 13 0.250 0.317 0.464 0 0 8.1% 24.3% 111
24 AAA 334 29 1 13 0.328 0.380 0.557 4 0 7.5% 21.6% 140

Player D: Former tenth overall pick is one of the premium defensive center fielders in the minors – a potential game changer on both sides of the ball. A potential 20/20 threat, he’s topped the league average production by at least 25% at each stop since his age-20 season in High Class A.

Player POS Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG SB CS BB% K% wRC+
Player D CF 20 A+ 350 14 5 10 0.304 0.393 0.486 25 6 12.3% 23.7% 145
21 AA 459 15 8 13 0.277 0.375 0.456 21 7 13.1% 27.0% 125
22 AAA 343 18 8 3 0.319 0.399 0.463 8 2 11.1% 16.9% 132

Player E: Another former #2 overall pick, the lefty-swinging second baseman was considered the most polished, advanced bat in the entire class. Above-average patience with 15- to 17-homerun potential from an up the middle position. Big league ready.

Player POS Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG SB CS BB% K% wRC+
Player E 2B 22 AA 350 21 4 2 0.260 0.386 0.381 8 2 15.7% 11.7% 118
22 AAA 237 12 4 5 0.274 0.338 0.439 2 1 8.4% 16.0% 96
23 AAA 331 17 3 9 0.303 0.421 0.487 7 3 16.6% 11.5% 130

 

Remember: you’re dealing the face of the franchise and if you swing-and-miss you’ll put the club year’s behind on the rebuilding effort, not to mention placing yourself firmly on the hot seat.

Of those five, which player do you take?

 

 

 

CAL, the Comparison And Likeness player classification system I developed, is based off of one simple concept: CONTEXT.

In other words, how have similarly performing prospects developed in the latter parts of their respective careers?

CAL, which is based off of Bill James’ Similarity Scores Formula (which can be found on Baseball Reference), uses a litany of differently weighted statistics – age, position, level of competition, speed, plate discipline, power, production – to determine a prospect’s top comparisons.

Then, based off of a prospect’s top comparables, better analysis can be provided by means of comparing similarly performing minor leaguers. For example, Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon earned his first shot at regular duty this season, at the age of 27. But CAL happened to be a pretty big fan of the 2014 All-Star.

Blackmon’s top comps, or CALs, heading into last season: Eugenio Velez, Alex Presley, Jeff Salazar, Alejandro De Aza, and Mike Fontenot.

Now, admittedly, it’s a pretty underwhelming group – until you delve into the numbers. Using Weighted Runs Created Plus, a statistic that measures a player’s total offensive contributions scaled to 100, which is league average, consider each player’s career totals:

Player PA wRC+
Blackmon 1,129 94
De Aza 2,176 99
Fontenot 1,586 93
Presley 1,092 92
Velez 718 70
Salazar N/A N/A

Of Blackmon’s top five CALs, three are sporting career wRC+ between 92 and 99. And where does the Rockies outfielder fall? 94. Looking back at Blackmon’s top five, analytically speaking, it would have been reasonable to assume that we would be a slightly below-average offensive performer. And he has been.

 

Now going back to the original question posed: Which one of the top five prospects would you gamble on?

Well, here are the answers: Brandon Wood (Player A), Mike Moustakas (Player B), Yan Gomes (Player C), Cameron Maybin (Player D), and Dustin Ackley (Player E).

Based on the top CALs for each player prior to entering their first full action at the big league level, CAL would have chosen Gomes – the mid-20s backstop who was flipped with Mike Aviles by Toronto for reliever Esmil Rogers.

Just as before, here’s a breakdown of each player’s top comparisons with their respective career wRC+ totals:

Player PA wRC+
Brandon Wood 751 36
Alex Liddi 188 78
Arismendy Alcantara 300 70
Luke Hughes 348 67
Sean Rodriguez 1,853 88
Matt Davidson N/A N/A

 

Player PA wRC+
Mike Moustakas 1,993 82
Wilmer Flores 375 78
Andy LaRoche 1,336 73
Lonnie Chisenhall 1,215 104
Ryan Wheeler 225 58
Josh Vitters 109 5

 

Player PA wRC+
Yan Gomes 951 118
Welington Castillo 1,069 99
Travis d’Arnaud 533 94
J.P. Arencibia 1,614 74
Lucas May 39 7
Cameron Rupp 78 48

 

Player PA wRC+
Cameron Maybin 2,068 88
Michael Saunders 1,919 92
Robbie Grossman 710 96
Brett Jackson 147 75
Trayvon Robinson 319 70
John Tolisano N/A N/A

 

Player PA wRC+
Dustin Ackley 2,013 92
Nick Franklin 502 82
Blake DeWitt 1,247 87
Jose Pirela 25 149
Nate Spears 8 -100
Adrian Cardenas 67 46

Based solely on the top five groupings for each player, CAL would have suggested taking the prospects in the following order: Gomes (two close to league average backstop bats), Moustakas (two well below-average hitters and one league average bat), Maybin (two fringy offensive outfielders), Ackley (two below-average bats), and Wood (prospect busts).

In a nutshell, CAL uses a couple algorithms to search a database (FanGraphs’ minor league stats which extends back to 2006) to find similar players. 

Here are some additional examples:

 

Billy Butler (top comparables following his final full minor league season): Logan Morrison, Nick Weglarz, Eric Duncan, Carlos Gonzalez, and Matt Kemp

  • Butler’s career wRC+: 117 (4,811 PA)
  • Morrison’s career wRC+: 109 (1,844 PA)
  • Gonzalez’s career wRC+: 121 (3,107 PA)
  • Kemp’s career wRC+: 128 (4,496 PA)

Jay Bruce: Adam Jones, Oswaldo Arcia, Fernando Martinez, Domonic Brown, Brett Jackson:

  • Bruce’s wRC+: 109 (3,951 PA)
  • Jones’ wRC+: 109 (4,487 PA)
  • Arcia’s wRC+: 106 (788 PA)
  • Brown’s wRC+: 97 (1,544 PA)

Pedro Alvarez: Luke Hughes, Marvin Lowrance, Mark Reynolds, Josh Bell, Jerry Sands, Juan Francisco:

  • Alvarez’s wRC+: 104 (2,293 PA)
  • Reynolds’s wRC+: 106 (4,380 PA)
  • Francisco’s wRC+: 100 (1,091 PA)

Andrelton Simmons: Alexi Casilla, Wilfredo Tovar, Didi Gregorius, Hanser Alberto, Luis Nunez:

  • Simmons’ wRC+: 84 (1,416 PA)
  • Gregorius’ wRC+: 84 (724 PA)
  • Casilla’s wRC+: 71 (1,893 PA)

Alcides Escobar: Adeiny Hechavarria, Freddy Galvis, Cristhian Adames, Danny Santana, Marcus Lemon:

  • Escobar’s wRC+: 76 (3,198 PA)
  • Hechavarria’s wRC+: 68 (1,289 PA)

 


Tagged:


About

After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.