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Using MLE’s To Look at Sacramento

January 30, 2011

I’ve been very intrigued by Minor League Equivalencies (MLE’s) because these guys are the “replacement” in Wins Above Replacement. I found a cool website that allows you to input statistics and then it spits out the MLE (only hitters on this particular one). So I thought I’d look at some of the guys’ performance last year at Sacramento and see what would happen if a crazy rash of injuries had struck and they’d be forced to play in Oakland all year. Let’s first understand what MLE’s are: they take a players performance at any given level and then based upon that, show what that number would be like if they played at another level. So for example say someone tore it up in the offense-happy Pacific Coast League and then joined the A’s and had to face Major League pitching at a less than hitter friendly Coliseum, what would their .343 average translate to with the jump? So first off, they only look at past performance, they are not projections. But they can give us insight into why some guy who seems to be tearing it up in the minors isn’t just yet getting a call to come up to Oakland just yet.

Last year’s Sacramento River Cats won the Pacific South division of the Pacific Coast League with a 79-65 record. Let’s look at some of the prospects on that club and what their years would have translated to had they spent that time in Oakland instead. Let’s start of with Josh Donaldson, a catcher who is blessed with power.

Donaldson AB HR BB K BA OBP SLG SB CS
SAC 294 18 45 79 .238 .336 .476 3 1
OAK 306 13 34 85 .194 .277 .367 2 1

As you can see Donaldson’s already low average and on-base-percentage despite the hitter friendly PCL just drop off at the Major League level. His power is still strong enough to be one of the tops on the A’s but his K rate is insanely high at 27.8%. These numbers really aren’t that far off from Donaldson’s actual production in his limited time in Oakland (rate wise). In 32 at-bats with the Green and Gold, Josh hit for a .156/.206/.281 slash line with a 37.5% strikeout rate. So perhaps over the course of a fuller year he’d have had more opportunity to shine.

What about Eric Sogard, Steve Tolleson? Much has been made of them being in the lineup potentially if Adam Rosales and Cliff Pennington are not healed by the time Spring Training starts. What do their MLE’s from 2010 look like?

Sogard AB HR BB K BA OBP SLG SB CS
SAC 514 5 75 68 .300 .391 .407 14 9
OAK 534 4 56 73 .245 .320 .325 12 10


Tolleson AB HR BB K BA OBP SLG SB CS
SAC 292 9 37 50 .336 .415 .507 8 2
OAK 302 7 28 54 .275 .342 .402 7 2

So it seems our obsession with Steve Tolleson may have been well warranted? His numbers last year at Sacramento were quite impressive as he hit for a high average (he didn’t have enough at bats to qualify for a batting title but for perspective sake his .336 would have placed second if it was qualifying) and got on base a lot. Those numbers wouldn’t have been as exceptional at Oakland but offensively he truly gives Cliff Pennington a run for his money and is very similar to Adam Rosales in production (Rosales’ slash lines being: .271/.321/.400). So it seems Tolleson was worth keeping around.

Sogard on the other hand, struggles with a .245 batting average and his impressive BB/K ratio becomes a bit more average. Neither had much time in the majors last year but Tolleson didn’t fall too far from his MLE, in his 49 at-bats he put up a .286/.340/.408 line.

In the outfield, the big two bats we all are watching are Chris Carter and Michael Taylor. Carter for one mashed his way through the PCL last year hitting 31 home runs good for fourth best in the circuit. But his power stroke came at the expense of striking out a lot (138 times) good for third in the PCL and at a rate of 29.7% times. How do these numbers translate to Oakland where we know Carter struggled when first facing big league pitching?

Carter AB HR BB K BA OBP SLG SB CS
SAC 465 31 73 138 .258 .365 .529 1 1
OAK 485 23 55 149 .210 .298 .407 1 1


Taylor AB HR BB K BA OBP SLG SB CS
SAC 464 6 51 92 .272 .348 .392 16 5
OAK 478 4 38 99 .224 .286 .314 13 6

Carter’s strikeouts sure do not improve ballooning to 149, Taylor too swings and misses a lot with 99. Both put up pretty substandard slash lines though Carter still would slug twenty-three home runs, more than enough to lead the club, they come at the expense of a fairly routine out with it most likely being via the strikeout.

So there you have it as to why these guys (exception Steve Tolleson) spent most of their summer in Sacramento instead of the big club. The important thing to remember with MLE’s is again that they look at past performance. So this is what they would have done last year if thrown into the bigs. This year they will have hopefully improved as prospects, improved upon their weaknesses and look to be better equipped to handle the rigors of the level of baseball they will be playing at so think of these numbers sort of as a baseline. Needless to say MLE is a fun thing to mess around with, and it gives you an idea of how things translate. They also do work both ways, if Kevin Kouzmanoff was at Sacramento he’d be hitting at a great .296/.345/.494 clip…

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dangerous Dean permalink
    January 31, 2011 10:33 pm

    I am in a Diamond Mind Baseball league were we can protect 10 minor leaguers from year to year. I have had Donaldson for 2 years now and hope that he can translate his raw power into success soon. I think he has a realistic shot to do it, but won’t be surprised if he doesn’t. So many talented players wash out inexplicably.

    In that same league, I drafted Tolleson this year as a long-shot, hoping that he will continue his 2010 success. I hadn’t heard of him a month ago but I liked his career minor league OBP of .374. His stats look like his glove is not well suited to play SS in the majors. But maybe I can catch lightning in a bottle with him.

    I also own Cliff Pennington in a different DMB league. I haven’t seen him play much, but he seems to be a really good defensive SS. Is that what you guys who watch him every day see?

    • February 1, 2011 7:14 am

      Donaldson hopefully can come around. His on base percentage is a true liability. I don’t think he can dislodge Landon Powell from his backup catcher role this year but if he gets his average up it would seem he could do that and be a good guy to put in for days when the DH rests.

      I like Tolleson. Defensively I think he is acceptable but not anything to write home about whereas Cliff Pennington is something special. He has good range and a great arm.

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