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.

AAA – Iowa Cubs. 25 – 28
The Cubs’ split a doubleheader on Thursday, but I’m not sure either game really went according to the plan. The Cubs won the first match 4-1, but lost the nightcap 10-1.

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).

AA – Tennesse Smokies. 23 – 31
Tennessee never trailed on their way to a 4-1 win.

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.

High A – Daytona Cubs. 21 – 30
Daytona made it two wins in a row in dramatic fashion. The final was 7-6.

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.

Low A – Peoria Chiefs. 23 – 31
The offense arrived, but it was too little and too late as the Chiefs lost 3-2.

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.

  • Stinky Pete

    Would it be fair to say OBP is skewed at this level? .371 is wonderful, but as he climbs, won’t the opportunities to stand and watch pitches out of the zone decrease and pitches will break harder out of the zone, etc.?

    • HoustonTransplant

      This is probably me knowing nothing about baseball or how stats work or how the minors and prospects actually pan out, but if he’s moving up, and there are more pitches in the zone to HIT…does that mean we could see a similar OBP with a slightly higher average?

      That sounds probably pretty wrong, haha…I wouldn’t think it would get easier to hit as you climb the ladder. Nevermind. Foot firmly planted in mouth.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Sort of, but the hitters aren’t as good either, so league-wide, you don’t really see that effect. But your point – pitchers are more in the zone the higher you go – is correct, generally.

      The thing with DeVoss’s OBP/BA is that he’s going to have to get that average up if he wants to sustain the OBP. An IsoD of more than .125 just doesn’t seem realistic at the higher levels for a non-big-time-slugger.

  • Cubs Dude

    Is DeVoss striking out a lot? That’s amazing his obp is that high with that low of an avg.

  • Cubs Dude

    It is good to see that BJax is hitting lefties well.

  • Gergő

    Is DeVoss considered an average defender? He has made 8 errors in 47 games which sounds a lot to me. On the other hand his 13 stolen bases are also impressive.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      His defense is still a work in progress.  He has the tools to be an average defender, at worst, but he’s still learning how to do it.

  • ferrets_bueller

    Generally, an OBP of .370-.380 is the real ‘.300’ hitter level- the OBP equivalent of a ‘.300 hitter.’ So DeVoss is actually doing quite, quite well.

    BA is only useful when it is combined with walks, and OBP is best used when combined with SLG.

  • Kyle

    While drawing a ton of walks to get your OBP up is how a major leaguer brings his value up despite a low average, I don’t think it’s quite as awesome for a prospect. I mean, it’s not a bad thing, but problems making solid contact at the lower levels often turns into a completely exposed hitter at the top levels. A 19.4% K-rate for a 21-year-old in the MIdwest League isn’t horrific, but I think it’s a yellow light when that same kid has a low BA and absolutely no power ability.

    I’m pretty bearish on DeVoss. We’d all love a 280/390/390 hitter at the major league level, of course, but that same slash line doesn’t project all that well as you move down the minor league ranks. All I’m seeing is a slightly younger version of Bobby Hill.

  • CastrotoBarneytoLaHair

    Luke: I remember Brian Schlitter being with the big club a few years back. Was he a Rule 5 guy that was just reassigned appropriately when eligible, or has he regressed that much to be down in AA? Just curious…

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Lots and lots of injuries.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke


        Esmailin Caridad is a similar story.

  • AB

    For a guy with college experience and a speed game, DeVoss batting line is a disappointment. However, Doesn’t the Midwest League have a history of depressing offensive stats the first half of the year anyway??

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      The Midwest League is rough on hitters in general, all year long.  So is the Florida State League.  And the Southern League.  But the Midwest League can make a case for being the roughest of the three.

  • http://bleachernation Allen

    Did Rizzo play last night?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      No.  The Cubs had Blake Lalli on first.

  • http://bleachernation Allen

    When is he supposed to come back. I had read that he would come back on wed and thurs and those days have passed

  • http://bleachernation Allen

    When is he supposed to come back. I had read that he would come back on wed or thurs and those days have passed

  • Spencer

    I had no idea they didn’t play nine inning games for double headers in the minors.

  • RoughRiider

    The stats I like for hitters is Runs produced.( Runs + RBIs – HRs), strikeouts vs walks is less than 1.5 & Avg with RISP.
    For Pitchers it’s WHIP, more than 2 -1 strikeouts vs walks and an average of 6 innings per start.

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  • MichCubFan

    Man, Szczur and Lake are looking good. Lake really looks like he is turning a corner…especially if he can keep up his hitting approach.

    And i wouldn’t mind if our A level team’s pitchers get hit around for a while, but they need to learn to the the ball over the plate. Maybe they take a little time to be able to locate the ball in the corners but walking guys is a great way to lose games.

  • Serious Cubs Fan

    baez is just looking terrible in peoria. he needs to refine his swing

  • Njriv

    I know Junior Lake makes a lot of errors, but are they because of wild throws, decision making, is it a specific problem or a combination of them? What type of role will he fit into at the major league level?

  • Noah

    To me, DeVoss ends up as the next Tony Campana in this system, but with more defensive versatility due to an ability to play 2B as well as the OF positions. I think he’s someone whose speed will entice Cub fans, but will probably never do enough offensively to warrant more than a bench spot.

    His real problem is that he’s a one skill player at the plate: his contact skills are mediocre at best and he hits for little power. His one plus skill is an ability to take walks. But it’s hard to be a successful major league hitter if you can only do one of those three things well. Some guys excel that way, but they are the rarity, and that’s typically guys with exceptionally elite contact skills (think Tony Gwynn or Ichiro).

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      A switch hitting, more versatile Tony Campana isn’t a bad guy to have on the bench.  I won’t be disappointed if that’s how things work out.