We toss around a lot of stats when we talk about baseball and prospects, and batting average is used as often as any of them. But, when we really stop to think about it, how useful is batting average?
That may seem like an easy question It may even seem like a rhetorical question, but it is a question worth thinking about, and especially in the context of prospect evaluation and player promotion. Take the case of Zeke DeVoss. DeVoss is a switch hitting second baseman currently playing for Peoria. He was taken last summer in the draft and was ranked as the Cubs’ 14th best prospect by Baseball America. Since he was drafted out of college, it is fair to assume that he would have little trouble handling the Midwest League and that he would quickly be ready for a promotion.
But after 186 AB in Peoria, his batting average is only .247. At first glance, that’s not very impressive. The league average batting average is just .250 (this is a notorious pitchers’ league), so that puts DeVoss right at average. The batting average looks better in the context of the league average, but is even that verdict accurate? Is this guy already just an average hitter in Low A Peoria?
When we factor in his OBP of .371, suddenly DeVoss’s numbers look quite different. This isn’t a hitter muddling along through an average season in a tough league for hitters. This is a guy who is doing a great job of getting on base thanks in large part to his ability to draw walks at a tremendous pace (about 12%). The batting average alone suggests he should stay in Peoria for awhile. The OBP suggests that he is too advanced a hitter for this league and that the Cubs should consider moving him up the ladder. Which is accurate? The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle.
So, how useful is batting average? Like all baseball stats, it can be extremely useful or all but useless depending on the context. Stats are tools, and any tool used incorrectly will yield poor results. You can’t do a good job of cutting down a tree with nothing but an electric screwdriver, and you can’t do a good job of evaluating prospects with nothing but batting average (or any other single stat). Using more data and using that data more effectively can only increase our appreciation and enjoyment of the entire prospect process.
While the Cubs did win game one, they had to use three pitchers to do it. Frankie De La Cruz needed 96 pitches to throw four and a third innings (thanks in part to his four walks). Ryan Rowland-Smith finished off the fifth and collected the first two out of the sixth in perfect fashion; that effort was good for his second win of the season. Rafael Dolis came in for the final four outs. He allowed one hit as he retired two batters via the ground ball and two via strikeouts on his way to his first Iowa save.
Iowa scored their four runs of Game One on seven hits. Matt Tolbert had a two hit game (including a double, the team’s only extra base hit), as did Juan Apodaca. Brett Jackson finished the game 1 for 3 with a run scored, two RBI, and a sacrifice fly.
Things really went badly in Game Two. So far this season Jay Jackson has been Dr. Jekyll when he is pitching in relief, but a true Mr. Hyde when starting. He started in this game. Four innings later he left with the disappointing line of 8H, 6R, 1BB, 4K, and 2HR. His ERA as a starter this season is 7.79. As a reliever, it is just 1.86. His other numbers show a similar disparity. This might be the worst case of starter / reliever stat discrepancy I have seen in some time.
Esmailin Caridad pitched well in the fifth inning, but Shane Lindsay could not find the strike zone in the sixth. Lindsey pitched to five batters and walked four of them. Manny Corpas came on to clean up the bases loaded mess, but only after allowing two of those runners to score.
And with that the Iowa Cubs used seven different pitchers, including five relievers, in this pair of seven inning games. Once again, the Cubs find themselves in a position in which their bullpen has been stressed. This has happened before this season, and the result is usually a great performance from the starting pitcher in the next game. I think Chris Volstad is up next in the rotation. He has pitched well for Iowa so far this season.
The Iowa offense in Game Two was all but non-existent. They had just two hits, including a solo home run by Brett Jackson (his sixth).
Eric Jokisch pitched well, for the most part. He came out with one out in the seventh inning having given up just one hit all night. On the other hand, he had also walked six. Brian Schlitter finished off the seventh inning and, thanks to a rally by the offense, received a win for his troubles. Kevin Rhoderick pitched the eighth inning (and lowered his ERA to a minuscule 0.79 ) and Frank Batista struck out the side in the ninth for his seventh Double A save.
Michael Burgess launched his fifth home run of the season as part of his 2 for 3 night. Junior Lake and James Adduci both doubled and Elliot Soto tripled to complete the Smokies’ allotment of extra base hits.
Austin Kirk did not have a great night, but since the wind was blowing out to left at 15 MPH, that is forgivable. He tossed five innings and gave up five runs on eight hits, all earned, while walking one and striking out five. Joseph Zeller must have had his knuckleball working as he allowed just one hit and struck out three in two innings of work. A.J. Morris blew the save when one of his pitches became a solo home run, but that just set up Jeffrey Lorick to earn his first win of the season.
Matt Szczur was a productive 0 for 2 with a walk, a sacrifice, and a run scored. Arismendy Alcantara, Greg Rohan, Rubi Silva, Chad Noble, and Ronald Torreyes all had two hits in the game. Rohan doubled, Silva tripled, and Torreyes won the game with his first home run of the season in the bottom of the ninth. The biggest blow of them all was provided by Nelson Perez who launched a grand slam in the third inning for his eighth home run of the season.
Gerardo Concepcion again had trouble with walks, but this time it did not hurt him. In six fairly solid innings of work he gave up four hits, gave away four walks, and also struck out four. Only two runs scored off the promising lefty; that counts as a quality start. Thanks to a solo home run in the seventh, Austin Reed took the loss (his fourth of the season).
Zeke DeVoss reached three times on a hit and two walks and Yaniel Cabezas had two hits to lead the Chiefs’ anemic offensive efforts.