I have a mystery.

In the June 9th edition of This Week In The Minors I mentioned the online auction the Tennessee Smokies were having to raise funds for the recent tornado victims. In that article (which was actually written in the afternoon/evening of June 8) is this paragraph:

That list does have some rare and unusual items. This might be your only chance to bid on a game used bat signed by reliever Frank Batista. I have to wonder, though, who used that bat? According to Baseball Reference, Batista does not have an At Bat this season. Or in any other season for that matter.



And then we reach The Great Coincidence. In the Monday, June 10 edition of the Cubs Minor League Daily we find this paragraph:

I mentioned in “This Week In The Minors” on Sunday that Frank Batista had yet to record an at bat in his career. Sure enough, he stepped to the plate on Sunday. That is either one wild coincidence or … I have no idea. That has to be a wild coincidence.

But the story does not end there. Somewhere out there was a person crazy enough to bid on an autographed bat signed by a minor league relief pitcher who had exactly zero professional plate appearances when the auction was posted and even today has just one.  A relief pitcher that has never reached the majors and has spent only limited time in Triple A.  A pitcher, in other words, that no one outside of minor league fans has ever heard of.



Bat Three

That crazy person was me.  That picture is the bat. [Brett: AHHHHHHHhhhhhhhh!!!]

According to the auction listing that bat is “game used,” but it can’t have been used by Batista. The auction listing was up before Batista got his first professional plate appearance. Oh, I suppose it could have been in used in pre-game batting practice or something of that sort, but that is pushing the definition of “game used.” So let’s assume it was actually used in a regular Smokies’ game by one of the Smokies’ hitters.

That’s the mystery. Whose bat is it, anyway?

My first suspicion is that the bat in question was used by Ty Wright. Wright, a native of Oklahoma, was the face of the auction and certainly one of the motivating forces behind it. And in this picture we can see Wright holding a bat with a black barrel that has a very pronounced divot hollowed out of the top, similar to the autographed bat now in my possession.

But there is a problem with that theory. You see, my bat has no pine tar on it. There is some tape evenly spaced in a regular pattern on the handle, but not a spec of pine tar. Hitters, particularly sluggers like Wright, tend to use the pine tar rag to prepare their bats. And other photos suggest that Wright does indeed tar his bat and does not tape it.



If not Wright, then who?

And so I appeal to you, my readers. Particularly my readers who either (A) have attended some Smokies games and observed the bat use and preparation close up, or (B) have a lot of time on their hands and will find entertainment handling endless Google image searches to find good pictures of bats used by various Tennessee players this season (particularly in the immediate aftermath of that giant tornado).

The best theory for this mystery likely remains Bastita in the Ballpark with Wright’s Bat And A Silver Sharpie, but as with Roswell and the Lake Champlain monster, the mystery remains.

I’ll be adding a few more bat pictures on the Message Boards later today, just in case anyone would like to study the evidence for themselves. For now this unusual item will not only be the most recent piece of my small but growing collection, but will also be the one with the best story behind it.

Iowa Cubs : 42-41

That is no typo. The Iowa Cubs have surged from having the worst record in the organization all the way to a game over .500, and they have done it very quickly. They now have a two game lead over the Memphis Redbirds, not to mention a 3 game winning streak and the most home wins in the league.

Unfortunately, that does not mean that this is a prospect laden team ready to supply lots of talent to Wrigley. As is so often the case with winning teams in Triple A, the Cubs are one of the older teams on offense. Their pitching trends towards the young side, but not significantly so.

Tennessee Smokies : 6-3

The Smokies are also in first place. The Cubs Double A franchise has a one game lead over both Birmingham and Chattanooga in the second half division race. They are riding a four game winning streak, and they’ve been winning despite the loss of Jae-Hoon Ha to Iowa. Then again, this is a team starting to get reinforcements from Daytona. John Andreoli is finally up, as is Austin Kirk, and there will be more to come.

Daytona Cubs : 7-3

Three minor league teams down, three teams in first place. Daytona holds a one game lead over Brevard County and boasts the most home wins in the second half of the FSL. Not surprisingly, given who is in that lineup, they are winning by scoring lots of runs. They’ve scored four or more runs eight times since coming off the All-Star break on June 17.

Kane County Cougars : 1-8

Kane County seems to be inventing new ways to lose. They are in dead last in their division, and even though the second half just started they are already eight games behind.

So what’s the problem? Like Daytona they are consistently putting up enough runs to win, but unlike Daytona they are not getting enough help from the pitching. The Kane County bullpen, in particular, seems to have struggled quite a bit lately. I would not be surprised if some of the college pitchers the Cubs took in the 2013 draft find their way to the Kane County bullpen in the not too distant future.

Boise Hawks : 7-8

Boise is one game under .500 (not counting the result of Saturday’s game which is still underway as I write this), but they are hanging out in second place. They are four games shy of leading Salem-Keizer, but they should have plenty of time to close that gap.

And this should be a roster that stays in flux for some time as draftees are shuffled into and up the organization. That could help the Hawks as they get reinforcements, but they could also see some of their older talent shipped out to Kane County and Daytona in the coming weeks.

Arizona AZL Cubs : 2-5

The Rookie League team is off to a slow start, but that should not worry anyone in the slightest. This is a roster patched together rather than assembled, and not all the pieces have yet arrived (or even signed, in some cases).

Even so, there have already been some very nice surprises on this team. Erick Leal has caught some attention by fanning 12 in 10 innings, for example, and Daury Torrez is not far behind him.

Stat School: wOBA

Stats should be a baseball fan’s best friend, but for a fan who is not familiar with where those numbers come from stats can be an intimidating mess.

One of the most useful of the newer wave of baseball statistics is wOBA. This handy measure of a player’s offensive performance exists to make your life easier. If you only want to look up a single statistic to see how a batter is doing, wOBA is a good choice.

Learning wOBA

The acronym stands for weighted On Base Percentage, and if you’re interested you can read all about the derivation, equations, and other fine details here. For this article I am just going to stick to the basics.

In general, wOBA should look a lot like OBP and is deliberately scaled that way. Just like with OBP, a wOBA around .340 is pretty good. A wOBA of .390 is extremely good. And a wOBA of .250 is just about terrible. If you are used to reading OBP, reading wOBA should come very naturally for you.

But unlike OBP, wOBA takes into account walks, hit by pitch, singles, doubles, triples, home runs, and sac flies. It is adjusted from year to year based on a series of annual adjusted weights (that’s the ‘w’ in wOBA) that are designed to ensure that the wOBA for each year accurately reflects performance. It does not adjust for parks, so you can expect to see somewhat inflated numbers in smaller stadiums (or deflated numbers in large ones, depending on your viewpoint). It also does not take into account stolen bases, although it did at one time.

Using wOBA

That is really all you need to know to use wOBA. There is more to be learned if you are interested, but just knowing that it sums up a player’s total offensive performance and is scaled to resemble OBP tells us enough to use it when looking up prospects.

So let’s apply wOBA to some prospects. We’ll start with Javier Baez. Baez, as we all know, got off to a horrible start in Daytona but has lately made some remarkable improvements in his strikeout rate and is currently tearing up the league. If you check Fangraphs, you can see that he has a wOBA of .388.

How good is .388? Remember to think in terms of OBP. An OBP of .388 is pretty darn good, and so is a wOBA at that level. In this case, wOBA confirms that Baez is having a very good year.

For comparison, Jorge Soler currently clocks in at .363. That is also a high quality number. Up in Tennessee Arismendy Alcantara currently has a career high wOBA of .366. Those are all impressive numbers.

But to get this into better context, let’s roll back a season and look at a truly great minor league performance. Last year Anthony Rizzo began the year in Iowa where he proceeded to put on one of the greatest displays of minor league hitting we are likely to see in a decade. Even by Pacific Coast League standards his performance was jaw dropping. It got to the point that multi-extra-base-hit days were considered pretty much par for the Rizzo course.

How good was he in terms of wOBA? Would you believe he had a wOBA of .462? I wouldn’t either, but that’s the real figure. That is phenomenal. As good as Baez is performing right now, he is not Rizzowning. Not yet, anyway.

Wrap Up

Of course you can apply wOBA to any level of baseball. Fangraphs displays it on the right side of the default player page for hitters. A quick search can tell you that Castro is down .070 from his normal level, that Soriano has actually been pretty good during much of his Cub’s career, and that Ryan Sweeney has had an impressive season. We knew most of that anyway, but using wOBA we can verify it and make comparisons with a single number that is more  accurate and more encompassing than the usual assortment of two or three numbers.

That’s wOBA. It is fast, already scaled in a familiar way, and designed specifically to be as easy to use as possible. In a single number if provides more and better information than the slash line, and it allows us to easily compare players at a glance. wOBA is a very nice stat to have around. One of these days it would be nice to see batting average removed from the conversation altogether and replaced with wOBA or something like it. I don’t think baseball fans are quite there yet, but we are on the way.




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