Baseball Books: Minor League Baseball Analyst

[editor's note, by Ryan]: Moved from the diary section. I had been planning to start a series of baseball book reviews, so why not start with this one? If anyone else wishes to get in on the act, just publish your review as a diary, and I'll bump it (after review) front and center. [Ryan]

Over the years, I have owned my share of the prospect books by Sickels and Baseball America, so I thought I'd take a few minutes to review a new player:  The Minor League Baseball Analyst by Deric McKamey.

If you were to scan the total of minor league prospects, how many would you guess have the potential to be #1 starters in the major leagues?  That's right, how many potential #1s are in the minors right now?

According to the premier edition of the Minor League Baseball Analyst that number is rather small.  Three.  That's right three, as in Liriano, Verlander, and some guy named Miller.  One of the nice features of the Analyst is that each player is projected as to his potential role in the majors.  

The goal of the Analyst is to bring together those two complementary (and occasionally competing) methods of prospect evaluation:  skills and stats (otherwise known as scout and nerd).

Compared with most baseball annuals, this is a small book.  It is 8.5 by 11 but only about as thick as a national geographic.  Open it up though, and you'll find a ton of information in rather small font.  

- On the skills side, the book has a 1 to 5 rating system for 4 skill categories.  Evidently these ratings come from discussions with scouts and management.  Power, average, speed, defense, for position players;  or 1 to 5 rating on each of a pitchers offerings.  And McKamey is very stingy with the 5s.  There is also the projected role at the major league level, and a quick paragraph on the players development in the last year.  Many of the pitchers have speed ranges listed for each of their pitches.  

Here is how the Analyst compares Franklyn Gutierrez and Brad Snyder.  

Franklyn Gutierrez
Power = 4 stars
BAvg = 2 stars
Spd = 4 stars
Def = 4 stars
Projected role:  Starting RF

Brad Snyder
Power = 3 stars
BAvg = 3 stars
Spd = 3 stars
Def = 3 stars
Projected role:  Platoon RF/LF

Now, obviously those stars aren't based on their actual performance from the last couple years but projected skills.   The paragraphs on the players discuss the extent to which the player has been able to harness those skills.

- On the stat side, the book lists lines for the players' last 5 stops, including the major sabermetrics.  Can't add SLG and OBP in your head?  The Analyst lists OPS right there.  Can't work out that tricky BB to PA ratio?  It's listed.  The same with ISO, contact rate, runs created, etc.  All the relevant ratios for the pitchers are present as well, such as K per 9 (called "dominance"), BB per 9 ("control rate"), K per BB ("command ratio"), expected ERA, etc.  For the pitchers, he combines the most important statistical markers into an overall measure of performance called Base Performance Value.  It's a quick and easy way to see the difference between Tony Sipp and Sean Smith's performances, as an example.

Most of us are conditioned to look for these ratios automatically, but this book does a handy job of simply printing them out.  The glossary is very useful, showing how to calculate each stat, and giving benchmarks to get you started.

- There is also an essay on prospecting using statistical markers, and one on minor league relievers.  There is an additional table of Major League Equivalent Stats.  Finally McKamey provides his own lists of prospect rankings by position and organization.

    In two ways, the book is very different from the Baseball America Prospect Handbook.  First, it is much more concise.  With the Handbook, there is a nice long paragraph for each player (depending on the ranking), but with the Analyst each player only gets 3 or 4 lines.  Still, you get a remarkable picture of the player, both past stats and projected skills, in a quick and easy layout.  You can sit and read the Handbook, while the Analyst is an easier reference to carry along.
    Second, the Analyst doesn't seem to inflate each prospect as much as the Handbook.  I don't know about you, but after reading BA's report on the Indians prospects each year, I am convinced they will all be all-stars, barring injury.  Then I read the White Sox chapter and see a dynasty on the South Side.  The Analyst is more realistic.  There simply aren't that many players who should be projected as major league regulars.  
    To be honest, the real value of this book will turn on the amount of legwork McKamey has done in obtaining his skill ratings.  The stats are great and very clearly laid out, but that information can easily be found elsewhere.  We will have to wait to evaluate the accuracy of his assessments.
    One final note.  According to the Analyst, Ryan Garko is a slow runner.

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