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homer at the chalkboardMath and baseball have been linked since the first sportswriter typed up the first box score. Just because some of those numbers have been around for ages, though, doesn’t mean we can’t improve on them. I’m not quite talking about the bleeding edge stats produced by SABR and related organizations here (although those can be very useful as well), but simply fiddling with basic stats to produce a number that comes closer to measuring exactly what we want to see.

I do a lot of that sort of thing, and for today’s column I’ll show a minor example of this type of number tweaking. First, though, we should take a look at the teams.

Iowa Cubs : 5-10

Iowa is actually a respectable 4-2 at home, but that abysmal season opening road trip left them just 1-8 on the road so far. They are dead last in division, but there is plenty of time to make up the four game deficit.

Tennessee Smokies : 10-6

The Smokies are exactly where we would expect them to be – first place in the division. Thanks to their five game win streak, Tennessee is the first time in the league to reach 10 wins. This team features a good mix of veterans, prospects, and prospects who happen to be veterans in this league; that means the Smokies should be the team to beat in the first half of the season.

Daytona Cubs : 7-9

Daytona still has just one home win. Their six road wins are good for second best in the league, though, and that strongly suggests to me that Daytona is far better than their record indicates. Bad teams don’t consistently win road games. I think it is just a matter of time before the Cubs start to fire on all cylinders and begin climbing up the division standings. Right now they are just three games back of first.

Kane County Cougars : 6-8

Kane County got off to a rough start this season, but since then they have started playing some pretty good baseball. The Cougars still have one of the most prospect heavy rosters in the minors, and that collection of minor league star power will only get shinier when Albert Almora returns from his wrist injury in a few weeks.

OPS Over Average

OPS (On Base Plus Slugging) remains one of the best quick-glance stats for evaluating a particular hitter. When looking at minor league numbers, though, we have to be a little careful to keep in mind that each league has a somewhat different standard for a good OPS. An OPS of .800 may be great in one league, but merely above average in another league. One way to account for this variation is keep track of the league average OPS for each league and evaluate players based on their OPS relative to the league average. For today’s list, that is exactly what we’ll do. All numbers are from Baseball Reference.

First of all, let’s establish the current average OPS for each league.

Triple A – Pacific Coast League – 0.762
Double A – Southern League – 0.667
High A – Florida State League – 0.697
Low A – Midwest League – 0.672

And now for the OPS leaders on each team (minimum 25 AB).

Ryan Sweeney – OPS : 1.233. OPS Over League Average : 0.471

No doubt about it, this guy is absolutely crushing the league right now. Of course, that is exactly what we would expect him to be doing. Sweeney could hold down a platoon or a bench job in the majors. Guys like that are supposed to beat up on minor league pitching.

Still, an OPS Over League Average of 0.471 a pretty nice stat to have.

Rubi Silva – OPS : 0.921. OPS Over League Average : 0.254

Silva has gotten off to a very nice start this season, and I would not be at all surprised to see him stay above league average all season long. I do not think he’ll be able to hold on to the top spot for the Smokies, though. One of these days Justin Bour is going find his bat has woken up, and when that happens look out. Bour is over league average in OPS (with a 0.721) despite hitting just .216 and slugging well under .400 so far this season. Those trends will not last. Look for Bour to be posting a Sweeney-like overage by mid-season.

Jorge Soler – OPS : 1.167. OPS Over League Average : 0.476

No surprise here. Soler’s overage exceeds even Sweeney, and he’s doing it despite seeing High-A pitching for the first time. Interestingly, the next three names on Daytona’s list are players who will likely never be mistaken for sluggers: Stephen Bruno (0.910), Zeke DeVoss (0.906), and John Andreoli (0.873). I don’t think that is any sort of an aberration, either. DeVoss is very good at finding ways to get on base, Bruno is a very good hitter, and Andreoli is sort of a mix between the two. Those three should be fun to watch as they move up the system.

Rock Shoulders – OPS : 1.166. OPS Over League Average : 0.494

Meet the champion. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Shoulders is the kind of guy that bats hope to be swung by one day. It remains to be seen how well Shoulders’ abilities at the plate will translate higher up in the farm system, but for now he is doing just about everything right. His K% is acceptable for a slugger, his BB% as healthy, his SLG% is a little silly, and he is playing well enough in left to make keeping him there a realistic proposition for the Cubs.

Another way to calculate this stat would be by dividing the player’s OPS by the league average figure. By that system, Shoulders would check in with a League Standardized OPS of 1.7366. Theoretically, that would give us a number that would be directly comparable between players despite what leagues they are in. We could, if we liked, use such a number to rank all the outfielders in the organization in terms of normalized offensive production. And I might be doing something very similar to that in this space later this season.

We can use the Over League Average approach to examine pitchers as well. I’ll play around with that next week.

  • Die hard

    If these 4 are hitting 90+ MPH fastballs shouldn’t they be promoted soon?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Not necessarily. They’re still learning to recognize professional breaking pitches, learning how pitchers will attack them, refining their instincts at the plate and on defense, and a number of other things.

      Hitting a 90+ MPH fastball is one part of it, but by no means the only… or even the biggest… part.

      • Die hard

        Always believed that if can get around on the fastball with power everything else will be developed when actually facing big leaguers rather than pitchers who will never make the bigs… defense is instinct — either have it or not– and speed can’t be taught– so my vote is what do Cubs have to lose?

        • gocatsgo2003

          Years upon years upon years of team control, team-friendly contracts, and any kind of leverage in Super Two and other arbitration discussions?

      • http://www.bairsdenuni.wordpress.com BAIRSDEN

        If we’re not contending a ‘no pressure’ September call up would be awesome for Soler. If DDJ, Sori and Hairston haven’t been dealt it makes it less likely but Dale certainly does a better job getting the young dudes AB’s. (Aside from the inconsistent starts Vitters got)

        I don’t think anyone would argue letting Hairston and/or Schierholtz grab some bench in favor of Soler. Looking forward to a AA promotion for him.

        Luke/Brett, when would be the soonest you could see Soler promoted to Tennessee?

  • X The Cubs Fan

    Good write Luke. Could you do write up of how the topp prospects are doing? And any news on Almoras return. Thank you!

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I’ll run down my Top 40 and check on the progress of each once we have some larger and more meaningful sample sizes in for them. The numbers for a lot of those guys are still pretty skewed.

  • HCS

    Welcome back, by the way. Brett was more than capable, but I still missed your writeups this week.

  • Jp3

    Interesting in Kane County at 1B/DH with Vogulbach and The Rock. These 2 are both hitting well with Rock being better this season to this point. I’m sure one of them will slow up at some point while one gets promoted but right now they both could get promoted at the same time. It would be a classy problem to have if they both get promoted together all the way to Iowa by the end of next year. If both are hot then and Rizzo is still hitting .200 and hitting 30 HRs what’s the plan??? Something will happen to make this a non issue but its still fun to think about.

    • http://JUICEDMOTORSPORTS.COM JUICED1

      Mid A ball is a long way away from the majors. I would think with Rock Shoulders being in his early 20s he’ll probably start getting fast tracked a little quicker though.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I still think Shoulders can stay in left, so the only question would be Rizzo vs Vogelbach at first. But as you said, the Cubs are a long way from needing to make that decision.

      • http://401klogic.net Westbound Willie

        They’re probably about four to five years away.

        • Bric

          How’re Vogelbach and Shoulders’ defense and fundamental skills? The last thing we need is a couple of more power hitters that can’t play their positions, run or execute- either now or in five years. Or are we just hoping that these skills will develop by themselves as these kids start to face faster, quicker, stiffer completion?

          • DocPeterWimsey

            Those skills are small pennies on the hundred dollar bills of slugging and getting on base. After all, there are only two true fundamentals for a position player: pitch identification and contact skills. Base-running, fielding, etc. are nice, but they are not fundamentals: you can be a very good player while doing those things poorly and a very poor player while doing those things well.

            Indeed, I would pay good money to add a couple of high OPS bats to the Cubs lineup. Their slugging actually has been pretty good: but this team’s inability to get on base is killing them, game-in and game-out.

            • Bric

              Doc, you’re an expert on stats and so I believe you when you say this. However, how then do you explain the inability to plate runners in scoring position? Putting the ball in play, sacrificing, bunting, good base running? What stat correlates OPS to actual scoring and why are the Cubs struggling here?

              • DocPeterWimsey

                People have looked at this a half a gazillion ways, and nobody has found any particularly good set of explanations for why teams do well/poorly in “clutch” situations over any one stretch. Moreover, the teams doing *relatively* well in the first 3 weeks won’t be the teams doing *relatively* well (with relative meaning compared to overall BA) in the next 3 weeks.

                The only possible pattern that might emerge over a season is lineup *if* you have a mix of good and bad hitters. If you cluster the high OBP guys together, then you’ll tend to get higher BAwRiSP as a team even if everyone on the team does the same in all situations. If you mix them up, then you’ll get low BAwRiSP as at team, again, even if everybody does the same.

                Of course, if you have a more even collection of good or bad hitters (and we know where this team falls on that spectrum!), then you do not expect this as much.

                The closest thing we’ve had to the “bad lineup” model for the Cubs was 2010, where they were awful with men in scoring position for the first month of the season. However, the only guy doing worse wRiSP was (I think) Byrd: and he was batting close to 0.300 there! The problem was DLee and ARam both could not buy hits: and although they were marginally less sucky with men in scoring position (Theriot and Fukudome were getting on base a lot), they were still pretty sucky. So, men got on, DLee & ARam elevated to 0.200 hitters instead of 0.175 hitters, and the rallies died.

                • Bric

                  Well, again, Doc you rock with the stats. But again, I don’t understand why there isn’t just a simple stat to indicate the percentage of runners that score who’ve reached 2nd or 3rd.

                  A run is a run. It doesn’t have to come from a hit or walk. It can be plated by wild pitch, force out, sac fly, bunt, HBP, whatever. It still counts and could easily be calculated by dividing the number of runs scored by the number of players that reach 2nd or 3rd and would be a simple indication of the team’s ability to execute in scoring situations. We could call it the Doc stat.

                  • MichiganGoat

                    That stat is the RISP % I’m not sure what the norm is for that rate of how much it fluctuates year to year.

                  • MichiganGoat

                    Take a look here http://www.teamrankings.com/mlb/stat/runners-left-in-scoring-position-per-game
                    It rates teams by the amounts of RISP they leave in average each game.

                    • MichiganGoat

                      The odd thing is that there are many teams that are much better than us that have much lower scores, and last year wasn’t as bad as I suspected.

                    • Bric

                      Thanks goat, but again the stat doesn’t make reveal the percentage of runners who cross the plate after reaching 2nd. In fact it doesn’t even look right. The Cubs have only 3.5 runners left on base in scoring position in 2013? I guess if you factor the number of innings when they have no one reach base at all or something but that’s not the same thing.

                      All I’m talking about is a simple stat that show the percentage of scoring that occurs after someone reaches second (similar to the red zone stat in football). Oh well, I don’t get it. I’ll move along now.

                  • jt

                    OBP is not a primary stat.
                    Castro slashes through a large K zone while putting the ball in play with many of his swings. Valbuena short strokes pitches many of which he spoils as foul balls.
                    One guy has a BA dependent OBP and the other works a combo of BB and hits. If RISP success rate is to be considered then this spit of OBP should also be considered.

              • MichiganGoat

                I just a goat but I think the contact skill relates to OBP, if you can regularlyake contact and put the ball in play then your BABIP approaches the norm and will relate to a decent OBP and thereby increasing the chance of moving runners. Right now the Cubs have a very low BABIP as that normalizes things will improve. Of course K rate is the other concern.

                • jt

                  Valbuena’s recent minor lg stats showed a pretty high SLG. When he was first called up in 2012 his SLG for the first 60 PA’s was 0.509. Then his BB rate rose while his SLG went to almost nil. He was walking but not hitting the ball with authority. He changed his style and was no longer smacking the ball. His BABIP sucked because of wimpy swings. It didn’t normalize because he was working on controlling the K zone.
                  This past winter his SLG returned. Again, this spring he is showing a little pop while still controlling the K zone. His batting isn’t “normalizing”, it is improving. He may never be more than a 0.720 MLB OPS guy, but that would be a huge improvement over what he was a year ago.
                  Sure, luck plays a part. But luck is really overrated.

  • http://401klogic.net Westbound Willie

    “Classy problem”?. Lol

    I’d like to say that you are mixing your metaphors but your comment never even got that far.

    Next.

    • Jp3

      You’ve never heard of a “classy problem”? It’s like having so much money it’s going to take you a week to count all of it, or maybe you’ve got 4 supermodel girlfriends and they all want to spend time with you but there are only so many hours in a day😀. You know, “classy problems”

  • another JP

    A related point is that the team OPS stats show that TN & Daytona are ranked #2 in their leagues and KC ranked third. Overall pitching stats aren’t as rosy as each team has a couple prospects that are doing well but many others are currently under-performing.

    • http://401klogic.net Westbound Willie

      You are looking at it all wrong. You should probably never look at team success in the minors to gauge future help at the mlb level. The best you can hope for is that one or two of these guys actually have a decent career. I’d rather have a couple guys hitting ..400 and the rest of the team struggling than have a bunch of .280 hitters that have decent ops.

      Next.

      • another JP

        No I’m not looking at it wrong, you are. Read my post again- I mention it’s a “related point” to Luke’s observations. So it already accounts for the fact that there are guys at the top that are raking and, therefore, having an effect on the overall team OPS. And yes, team success does matter at the minor league level. I’d argue that indifference to the success of the team at lower levels will eventually affect the attitude toward winning in the majors. Also, year-to-year improvement of some team stats will need to occur if we’re to judge the progress of our minor leagues. The Cubs have been generally regarded to have become a top ten system in the past year and the improvement in team stats indicate this.

        • MichiganGoat

          JP save your energy everyone knows exactly what you said- he’s just baiting you.

        • http://401klogic.net Westbound Willie

          It doesn’t matter whether its a related point or not. Team stats are almost meaningless until you get to mlb.

          Next

  • Idaho Razorback

    Brett: I have a feeling Luke won’t be around long. He will soon be promoted to ESPN. Excellent work Luke!

    • MichiganGoat

      Nah he actually uses stats and does argue or as ESPN calls it “debate” stupid stuff.

      • MichiganGoat

        Ignore this one ;)

    • MichiganGoat

      Nah he actually uses stats and doesn’t argue or as ESPN calls it “debate” stupid stuff.

  • MichiganGoat

    Sweet, I’m looking forward to Soler getting to AA and possible being a September call up. I think the plan was always to get him to the pros as quickly.

  • Leon’s Gatorade soaked mitt

    Hey Doc, if you think fielding isn’t important you should have caught last nights game.

    • AB

      How many runs did the Cubs score last night?

  • http://bleachernation.com RicoSanto

    To even suggest anyone else at 1B, is a joke. Rizzo just crushed another ling Hr. His last 3 Hrs, 475 ,450,450, ft. He is our 1B, for the next 10 years. His average is due to the extreme cold. Remember , he didn’t play in Chicago last April.He is on pace for 56 Home Runs.

    • another JP

      Yeah, but Vogelbomb just stole a base against Peoria.

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