Numbers Aren’t Everything

Byline IanBefore you go and say that your favorite prospect should be starting for the major league club, think about a few things first. Numbers like batting averages, slugging percentage and on-base percentage don’t always give someone a good inclination about how a prospect will do in the major leagues. Numbers aren’t everything.

If numbers aren’t everything, then how does the above-average fan know if a prospect is really that good? Why wouldn’t a young player with a .342 average in Double-A be called up to the majors right now? Why wouldn’t a young pitcher be called up when he has a record of 10-4 with a 3.02 ERA? Take a few things into consideration when thinking of these logical answers.

The first thing someone should consider is if the prospect has a place to play. It is a pretty obvious question with a clear answer that arises when drooling over a 21-year-old’s batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. The answer is always yes, right?

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Of course, the young player who has been compared to Cy Young or has been called the next Robinson Cano (there is a reason I used Cano’s name) should be brought up right away.

“He can play over… oh, yeah; we already have a second baseman.”

“We already have a great starting rotation.”

“We already have an average or a good enough player at said position.”

There are three ways you can answer this question.

  1. The front office or the major league manager have to be absolutely positive that the young player is so good that he will definitely be better than the person he is going to be replacing.
  2. The major league has no choice to bring him up. The players at the position have been either terrible defensively, offensively or both, leaving the major league team at the point where they need to promote him.
  3. A combination of the first two.

Take the situation the Baltimore Orioles had with Manny Machado a couple years ago. Machado was a highly-rated prospect; a shortstop nonetheless. The Orioles already had a great shortstop on their team in J.J. Hardy, so the answer to the first question was no. However, the Orioles needed to use him at a different position, third base.

The players the Orioles were using at third base were not the greatest defensively. A combination of Steve Tolleson, Mark Reynolds, Wilson Betemit, Robert Andino and Ryan Flaherty made 25 errors in 134 games. Manny Machado made five in 51 games.

The Orioles needed Machado to play third, a position he had never played before. He had a very good batting average in the minor leagues and thankfully for the Orioles, it transitioned to the major leagues. Also, Machado turned out to be a pretty good third baseman; winning a gold glove in his first full year in the majors.

The second thing any fan should take into consideration is if the prospect is really that good. We can all read numbers. Everyone can look at the batting averages and all that good stuff, but have we actually seen the player play? If someone likes this prospect so much and thinks he should be called up to the major leagues, does the fan really know how he will do once he gets there?

Fans question manager’s and general manager’s decisions not calling up a player or keeping one player on the major league roster or not playing a certain player; whatever it is, fans question it. Even if the team is in first place just two years after the team had 14 consecutive losing seasons; yes I’m talking about you Orioles’ fans. But fans, diehard or not, question the manager and/or general manager because they all want one thing: to have the best team possible.

Most of the time, the managers and general managers know what they are doing, even if it is hard to fathom getting paid to make decisions like that. They are more knowledgeable about these things than the average fan is. The average fan does not have scouts giving them reports on certain players. The average fan does look at tape of certain players or opposing player to make sure he is putting the best lineup out.

Before you go ahead and say “Prospect A should be called up and replace Major League Player 1,” take a trip down to your local Double-A or Triple-A stadium, buy a cheap ticket and see how the player does on a daily basis. Pitchers could have had multiple bad games when they played the team of your favorite prospect, which could lead to lopsided stats.

Your favorite prospect could simply just be better than everyone else and deserve to be called up, but you will never know until you go see him play in person. Video highlights do not do enough justice when scouting prospects. They are called “highlights” for a reason. They never showcase the player’s bad games or how a player overcomes adversity or a tough situation in the field or at the plate.

The third thing a fan should consider is if the prospect will be able to handle the major league competition. A certain prospect could be tearing it up at the Double-A or Triple-A level, again the number thing, but might not be ready mentally to handle the pressures of the major league game.

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Take Johnathan Schoop of the Baltimore Orioles for example. He was a highly rated second base prospect and was compared to Robinson Cano. Experts said Schoop would be power-hitting second baseman with pretty good defensive skills.

Last season he batted .278, had a slugging percentage of .460 and an on-base percentage of .330 in 81 games between Triple-A and Single-A ball. Even though he was only 22 years old, he was the starting second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles opening day.

The first two questions were answered at the start of spring training. The Orioles needed a second baseman and the players whom Schoop was going to replace were either Ryan Flaherty or Robert Andino (circa 2012). Buck Showalter, the manager of the Orioles, thought Schoop could start over both of those players, which he did. The Orioles thought that Schoop “was really that good.” They thought he was far better than the competition presented to him in the minor leagues.

The answer to third question however, is no. Johnathan Schoop has played a very good defensive second base so far this season. However, Schoop has struggled offensively. Anyone who has seen him play every day knows he is overmatched at the plate. He gets fooled on the off-speed and breaking ball pitches, meaning he is not mentally ready for the major leagues.

572233One player highly touted in the Orioles system right now is first baseman Christian Walker. He started this season at Double-A Bowie where he played a total of 95 games. His numbers, and his consistent play backed him up, were good enough for him to be promoted to Triple-A Norfolk.

So far at Triple-A, his batting average and slugging percentage have both dropped, but not by much. He does however, have a better on-base percentage. His name has been talked about by many fans to be brought up. There is a slight problem in that.

Some fans want him to be brought up because reigning home run champion Chris Davis has struggled at the plate all season. Honestly, it seems like anyone would be a better option at the plate than Davis right now. But that does not count out what he means to the team.

Davis is a leader of the team in the clubhouse and on the field. His presence and the possibility of him “breaking out” are too important to sit him on the bench. The only way someone will improve their statistics is by playing.

There is another problem that occurs when discussing whether Christian Walker should be called up; Steve Pearce. Pearce is the backup first baseman, who has played a lot this season and also has seen plenty of playing time in left field, switching off that role with Delmon Young.

Both Pearce and Young, two proven major league hitters, have been strong offensively this season whenever and wherever they play. If the Orioles brought Walker up, it would mean taking a bat away from one of these two players. To take a bat away from either of these could cause the Orioles to decline offensively. They would be adding Walker, a young hitter with no major league experience, to a lineup that has been inconsistent, to say the least.

Granted, rating a prospect and deciding on how great of a player is very hard work. Not every player is a major league-caliber player. But remember this too; even if a player is absolutely dominating at the Double-A level they could still be too young and might need to work on some things to improve their overall game.

So remember, numbers aren’t everything. Major league scouts don’t just look at the numbers and fans shouldn’t either. Take a trip to your local Double-A affiliate’s stadium and see prospects in person. But most importantly, think if those prospects truly actually have a place on the major league roster and if they are better than players who are currently on it.


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