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Oh, the Cardinals have a farm...


Today’s post is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s an idea I had last season and never really could figure out how to do it well, and it’s fairly time intensive so I put it on the back burner. With the trade deadline approaching, however, and the major and minor league teams at the All-Star break, it seemed an opportune moment to pull it out.

We’re now just more than a couple of weeks away from the trade deadline and the team’s going to be attempting to figure out its needs and which of its minor leaguers it would be willing to include in any deal. Part of this evaluation includes determining which of these minor leaguers will be able to help the big club and to what degree they’ll be able to help them.

At this point I wanted to figure out which Cardinal minor leaguers have had the most success over the first 3 ½ months of their seasons. This doesn’t mean, necessarily, that we’re only evaluating those prospects on most people’s top-10 lists at the beginning of the season b/c it is their performance during the season that changes future expectations. For example, nobody had pitcher Jess Todd on their top-10 list at the beginning of the season but if he’s able to continue pitching in the second half the way he pitched in the first, he’ll definitely be there next year.

The other thing is that you can’t compare a player at Memphis’ numbers to a player at Palm Beach b/c so many things are different – quality of competition, park factors and weather, etc. With that in mind, I wanted to compare all the Cardinal pitchers’ by ERA+ and all the Cardinal hitters by OPS+ to be able to establish which minor leaguers have had the best first halves.

By measuring ERA+ rather than ERA, and OPS+ rather than OPS, we can compare players across leagues. These statistics enable us to compare each player to the average performance in their respective leagues. 100 is exactly league-average. An ERA+ or OPS+ of 120, for example, places the pitcher’s ERA or the hitter’s OPS roughly 20 percent better than the average player. Therefore, we could say that a Memphis pitcher w/ an ERA+ of 120 has been better over the first half than a Quad Cities pitcher w/ an ERA+ of 110 b/c the Memphis pitcher was 20% better than the average pitcher in the PCL whereas the Quad Cities pitcher was only 10% better than the average pitcher in the Midwest League. This would be true despite the fact that the Memphis pitcher’s ERA would probably be considerably higher than the Quad Cities pitcher’s ERA.

This approach isn’t a perfect one, I’ll acknowledge. First of all, ERA+ --- while it is a pretty good measure of how well they’ve pitched --- isn’t a good predictor of future performance. BB/9, K/9, HR/9 and GB rate are all better predictors of the future so while this will tell us which pitchers, for the most part, have had the best first halves, it won’t necessarily tell us who will be better next year or 5 years from now. Secondly, my method for computing ERA+ and OPS+ doesn’t include minor league park factors as that would complicate the analysis more than it was already. ERA and OPS will be affected by the parks in which they play but w/o taking the park factors into account, our measures of ERA+ and OPS+ won’t be as accurate as they would be if they included park factors. Finally, there are problems w/ sample sizes (esp. w/ relievers’ innings) and w/ measuring relievers by ERA at all b/c their poor pitching often affects the previous pitcher’s ERA more than theirs. I know all this and understand it. It’s not meant to be a perfect analysis but it will tell you just how good Todd has been this season and that Clayton Mortensen, despite just less than 30 IP, has done an excellent job at Memphis.

Despite all of the lack of precision, we’re going to get a pretty good idea of which players have been the best over the first half of the season.

The top 10 Cardinal pitchers by ERA+:

Pitcher Team ERA+
Kelvin Jimenez Memphis 329
Jess Todd Springfield 281
Jess Todd Palm Beach 230
Mark Worrell Memphis 223
Jaime Garcia Springfield 213
Nicholas Additon Quad Cities 159
Fernando Salas Springfield 159
Clayton Mortensen Memphis 156
Chuckie Fick Quad Cities 153
Matthew Scherer Memphis 152

Some other notables: Jaime Garcia at Memphis – 117, P.J. Walters – 102, and Ron Flores – 99. That’s right at league average for AAA. Former first-rounders Adam Ottavino and Mark McCormick at Springfield are at 68 and 72, respectively.

Some of those in the table are our best pitching prospects and others, so far, are not though they’ve done extremely well the first 3 ½ months. Despite Scherer’s excellent ERA, for example, his peripherals just don’t provide much indication that he’s a top-flight prospect. Then you look at how good Jess Todd has been, for example. ERA+’s of greater than 200 at 2 levels so far this year. He has gone from fringe prospect to legitimate prospect and, possibly, someone the Cards don’t want to even consider trading this July.

Let’s now take a look at the hitters:

Batter Team OPS+
Joe Mather Memphis 134
Daryl Jones Palm Beach 126
Bryan Anderson Springfield 125
Paul Vazquez Quad Cities 123
Tyler Henley Palm Beach 119
Shane Robinson Springfield 118
Jon Jay Springfield 116
Nick Stavinoha Memphis 115
Francisco Rivera Quad Cities 115
Charles Kingrey Quad Cities 115

I left out Andrew Brown’s (Springfield) performance (127 OPS+) b/c he only had 59 PA’s.

Some other notables: Rasmus – 96 (though he’s been tremendous of late); Anderson at Memphis – 111; Kozma – 103; David Freese – 101; Allen Craig – 107; Tommy Pham – 113; Steven Hill – 111; former first rounder Tyler Greene – 91; Jose Martinez – 77. My personal 2nd favorite (after Rasmus) – Jarrett Hoffpauir is exactly at 100.

The Cards will have to figure out whether or not Freese or Craig might be able to take over at 3rd when Glaus’ contract expires after next season. This helps to give us a barometer on what type of prospect they are. Daryl Jones is clearly finally coming into his own, as (of course) is Mather. These players have emerged, like Todd, as legit prospects. Jones is finally turning tools into performance and this measurement tells us that Mather has been the Cards’ best minor-leaguer so far this season. Anderson is proving that he can hit at any level. Yadi’s hit well this year but his OPS+ is only 96. There just aren’t that many catchers who are more productive than the average major leaguer at the plate. These numbers should only increase Anderson’s potential trade value.

Jay has re-emerged as a prospect after a down year last year. Robinson is emerging also a legit prospect, possibly in the mold of Skip Schumaker, despite the fact that his BB/K numbers have fallen backwards somewhat this year. All he’s done so far this year is hit.

Despite the litany of imperfections I mentioned earlier, I think this is a useful exercise b/c it does help us see how well players like Shane Robinson, Bryan Anderson, and Jon Jay have hit this year. These are guys who are often criticized for their lack of power but, as Schumaker has shown, the ability to get on base frequently is a skill that has considerable value. They may never be stars, but when one can go from level to level and continue to get on base, and hit w/ some extra base power, the organization has to take notice.

As many here know, I’m a big proponent of keeping our good prospects, not trading them for league-average rentals or league-average players w/ large contracts. As the Cards’ farm system has gotten better the past few years, I’ve become an even bigger proponent of going w/ the young guys. Make no mistake, the Cards’ farm system has gotten considerably better. If I had gone on this journey 4-5 years ago, I’d have probably gotten quite depressed in really seeing the lackluster performance of the Cards’ minor leaguers in relation to their peers. Now, 30 of the 54 (56%) minor league hitters I evaluated had an OPS+ of 100 or greater. For the pitchers, 30 of the 57 (53%) had an ERA+ of 100 or higher. More than half of the Cards’ pitchers and hitters have been better than league average so far this season. That’s a tremendous improvement over just a few years, and it’s one that is going to bear fruit at the major league level very soon.