October 28, 2007

Twins 2007 Minor League Numbers: Intro

Later this offseason I'll be putting together my annual Top 40 Twins Prospects rankings, but before that happens it's important to evaluate how the team's minor leaguers performed in 2007. When it comes to major-league players, most fans recognize the need to take things like defense, home ballpark, league, and run-scoring environment into account when evaluating their performance, but for some reason those same factors are often overlooked in examining minor-league players.

Putting a player's numbers in context is even more important in the minors, because the differences between ballparks, leagues, and run-scoring environments are often far more extreme than in the majors. For an example, take a look at how different the two Triple-A leagues are when it comes to offense. As a whole, the Pacific Coast League batted .279/.346/.437 and saw 10.3 runs scored per game. Meanwhile, the International League batted .262/.332/.395 and saw 8.7 runs scored per game.

Most people wouldn't think twice about saying that a pitcher "had a 4.00 ERA at Triple-A," but "Triple-A" can be vastly different depending on the league. A 4.00 ERA in the Pacific Coast League was fantastic in 2007, checking in at about 15 percent better than average. Meanwhile, that same 4.00 ERA in the International League was actually worse than average in 2007. In fact, a 4.00 ERA in the PCL was roughly equivalent to a 3.30 ERA in the IL, and that's far from the most extreme league-to-league gap.

Beyond leagues, ballparks, and run-scoring environments, there are also factors like age, defense, and multi-year track records. For an example, compare Garrett Jones hitting .280/.334/.473 at Triple-A with Trevor Plouffe batting .274/.326/.410 at Double-A. With a 71-point edge in OPS, Jones' season appears on the surface to be much better. However, look deeper and there's little doubt that Plouffe had the more impressive season and is the superior prospect.

Jones was a first baseman playing his third season at Triple-A and at 26 years old was 1-2 years older than most of his competition. Plouffe was a shortstop getting his first taste of Double-A and at 21 years old was 2-3 years younger than most of his competition. For Jones and Plouffe, putting their numbers in context casts their performances in a completely different light, and the same can be said for players throughout the Twins' minor-league system.

In an effort to create an even playing field for evaluating how Twins minor leaguers performed in 2007, I've created a quick-and-dirty system that normalizes all leagues and run-scoring environments to fit the level of offense in MLB this season (.268/.336/.423 with 9.6 combined runs per game). I've also put in adjustments for a player's defensive position and age relative to the level he played at, so that guys like Jones and Plouffe can be compared properly.

On an organization-wide level much has been made, both here and elsewhere, of the Twins' lack of quality position-player prospects. That's accurate and it's telling that among all the position players in the entire Twins minor-league system who batted at least 350 times, not a single hitter posted an OPS of even .900. However, the system also features extremely pitcher-friendly run-scoring environments at every level, which means that the sub par numbers are much better than they initially appear.

Meanwhile, even more has been made of the Twins' abundance of quality pitching prospects. While also accurate, those same pitcher-friendly run-scoring environments play a big part in the pretty ERAs that were posted throughout the system. Just as the lack of .900-OPS hitters can't be written off entirely to a dearth of position-player talent, the system's never-ending stream of 3.00 ERAs can't be credited entirely to great pitching talent. Over the next few days I'll try to put all of that in context.

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Last October, I created a WhatIfSports.com Hardball Dynasty league for readers of this blog. We're on the verge of completing Season 4 of "Gleeman World" and there will be a handful of open franchises this offseason. The league is filled with a bunch of friendly AG.com readers who fill the message board with daily chatter, but it's also extremely competitive. Because of that, any new owners would have to convince me that they're capable of devoting time to maintaining their team on a near-daily basis.

Previous experience with WhatIfSports, and especially Hardball Dynasty, is a substantial plus, but not necessarily required. However, Hardball Dynasty is unique and nothing like fantasy baseball, so you should at least read up on it before deciding if it's for you. If you're interested in claiming a spot and aren't worried about real-life responsibilities getting in the way of running a fake baseball team made up of pretend players, drop me an e-mail.

Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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