I’ve nothing against stats, but I do have something against people who abuse stats.
Most of you have heard of sabermetrics. As defined by Wikipedia, sabermetrics is “analysis of baseball through objective evidence, especially baseball statistics.”
Which is fine and dandy.
Based on the posts written by some “statheads” I read at various sites on the Internet, although they claim to be “objective” they often abuse the use of statistics, selecting only stats that prove their point while ignoring others that disprove their opinion. They often fail to evaluate stats in context, and seem to have never heard about a basic of statistical analysis, namely the validity of your population sample.
A few even go to the extreme of treating certain stathead assumptions as dogma, which is why I refer to their belonging to “The Church of Sabermetrics.” Some people think they see the Virgin Mary in a piece of garlic bread. I wouldn’t be surprised if these people thought they saw Bill James in a ballpark hotdog.
One recent example I’ve read on a couple sites is certain statheads dismissing Brandon Wood as a prospect.
Never mind that Wood at age 21 had one of the best seasons in the Double-A Texas League last year, and was named by Baseball America as the #2 prospect in that league behind Alex Gordon. Never mind that he was fifth in homers (25), second in doubles (42), third in slugging percentage (.552) and first extra-base hits (71) despite missing the final month of the season to go play for Team USA.
No, Brandon Wood must be dismissed because he struck out a lot.
Apparently this is one of the mortal sins in the Church of Sabermetrics, along with not taking a lot of walks.
So I decided to look at the minor league career of Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, a prolific whiffer in his own right, to see how he compared to Wood.
While Wood was drafted and signed out of high school, Schmidt was selected by the Phillies after graduating from Ohio University. Taken in the second round of the 1971 draft, he was a couple months short of his 22nd birthday when he reported to Double-A Reading to begin his career. In 74 games, Schmidt had an AVG/OBP/SLG of .211/.302/.350 (.652 OPS) in 268 TPA. Since we’re talking strikeouts, Schmidt struck out at a rate of once every 4.06 plate appearances (4.06:1). Schmidt was a shortstop that first year, just as he was in college.
In 1972, Schmidt played the entire minor league season at Triple-A Eugene. In 131 games, he posted a line of .291/.409/.550 (.960 OPS) in 528 TPA. His TPA:SO ratio was 3.64:1. Interestingly, the Phillies moved him all around the infield that summer — 76 games at 2B, 52 games at 3B and five games as SS.
The Phillies called him up to the big league at season’s end, with only 40 plate appearances. His TPA:SO ratio in that limited audition was 2.67:1.
At age 23 1/2, Schmidt began his first full major league career in 1973 that finished 71-91 and had one of the lesser offenses in the National League. Schmidt posted a line of .196/.324/.373 (.697 OPS) in 442 TPA. His TPA:SO ratio was 3.25:1.
If sabermetrics had been around then, I’m sure some of its most devout believers would have dimissed Schmidt as a “bust,” “flop,” and “dud” — all words I’ve seen used by some people to dismiss Wood.
Schmidt continued to whiff with quite some regularity for many years, but it didn’t affect his productivity.
Over his first five seasons, his OPS were .697, .941, .890, .900 and .967. In those same five years, his TPA:SO ratios were 3.25, 4.97, 3.74, 4.73 and 5.47.
Over time, Schmidt learned to reduce his strikeouts, but he was also taking a lot more walks. Because he became one of the most feared hitters of his time, pitchers walked him a lot more. In fact, in his second through fifth full seasons, he both struck out and walked over 100 times each. In 1975, for example, he struck out 180 times but walked 101 times.
Now let’s look at Wood’s career.
As noted, Brandon signed out of high school so he’s been playing pro ball full time at an age Schmidt was playing in college. Pro experience is far more valuable but college is nowhere near the quality of professional minor league baseball.
In any case, Wood was 21 last year when he played Double-A, the level at which Schmidt began his career. Roughly speaking, Wood was a few months younger. At the same age and level, Wood posted a .907 OPS while Schmidt posted a .652 OPS. Now, those are different leagues and ballparks separated by 34 years, so it’s foolish to draw too close a comparison.
Of more importance is to look at Wood’s TPA:SO trend, which is our subject of discussion.
Wood’s TPA:SO ratios by year and level:
- 2003 Provo 3.77 (181 TPA; .823 OPS
- 2004 Cedar Rapids 4.54 (531 TPA; .726 OPS)
- 2005 Rancho Cucamonga 4.63 (593 TPA; 1.054 OPS)
- 2006 Arkansas 3.50 (521 TPA; .907 OPS)
Looking at Schmidt’s strikeout rates in his early years, they were far uglier than what Wood has done so far, but other than his freshman year in the majors he was productive enough that the strikeouts really didn’t matter.
The Angels’ offense is based on what I’ve called “Contactball,” meaning that they like to put runners in motion and the ball in play. Walks are nice, but a walk doesn’t advance a runner unless there’s a force. So the Angels tend to stockpile prospects who might have relatively low walk rates but who also don’t strike out a lot.
If Wood’s power numbers continue to trend parallel to Schmidt’s, it might not be “Contactball” but it also won’t matter.
So it turns out that, in the case of at least one Hall of Famer, strikeouts just weren’t that big a deal. Productivity is the bottom line, and the bottom line is that Wood so far has been quite productive. He’s been one of the youngest players in his leagues the last two seasons, and at age 22 will be one of the youngest in Triple-A this year. He’ll face plenty of pitchers with prior major league experience. The high strikeout rate will probably continue, but in hitter-friendly Franklin Covey Field expect his power numbers to explode. The PCL has plenty other hitter-friendly parks — Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, Las Vegas and Tucson are the main culprits — so in analyzing Wood’s progress this year it will be important to factor out his numbers in those ballparks.
But don’t obsess about the strikeouts. They’re just growing pains. Ask Mike Schmidt.
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