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.



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