Are We Systemically Overrrating Yankee Pitching Prospects, Underrating Yankee Hitting Prospects?

The Yankees have a lot of strong prospects in their minor league system since about 2005, when they began to turn around one of the worst farm systems in baseball. Some of these top prospects include: Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, Austin Jackson, Jose Tabata, Christian Garcia, Tyler Clippard, Mark Melancon, Eric Duncan, Melky Cabrera,  Brett Gardner, Alan Horne, Jesus Montero, Jeff Marquez, David Robertson, Zach McAllister, Hector Noesi, Eduardo Nunez, plus the current crop.

I list out those names for a couple of reasons. The first is a little bit of nostalgia. I loved following these players as they climbed the minor league ladder. But the second is more important: it seems like Yankeee pitchers have on the whole disappointed a lot more, while quite a few Yankee hitters have significantly exceeded expectations.

I tackled this idea last season, putting the blame on the Yankee coaching and front office staff for generally sucking at evaluating pitchers. But a chart that I saw yesterday gave me another idea. From Baltimore Sports and Life:

Minor-League-run-environments (1)

This is a chart of how many runs are scored in each minor league. From left to right, Yankee affiliates play in the South Atlantic League, Eastern League, International League, New York-Penn League, Gulf Coast League, and Florida State League. In other words, Yankee affiliates play in the five most difficult minor leagues to score runs in.

Intuitively, we adjust for this. WE all know that the Florida State League is an extreme pitchers league, and keep that in the back of our minds when someone plays at that level. But don’t think we really do a good job of accounting for it. Yankee hitting prospects are effectively running the gauntlet while clawing their way to New York, while Yankee pitching prospects are comparatively nurtured.

What are the implications of this for the current Yankee hitting crop? It definitely makes Slade Heathcott, Tyler Austin, Gary Sanchez, and Mason Williams look great. At the same time, it means we should put a little more faith in David Adams, Corban Joseph, Zoilo Almonte, Austin Romine, and the rest of the second tier Yankee hitting prospects. At the same time, this doesn’t give me a ton of confidence in Yankee pitchers who don’t put up fantastic three true outcome statistics, like Brett Marshall, Nik Turley and Adam Warren.

In the future, I hope to spend some time normalizing Yankee hitting statistics for their league. But for now, its just an interesting note that we should all think more about.

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

6 thoughts on “Are We Systemically Overrrating Yankee Pitching Prospects, Underrating Yankee Hitting Prospects?

  1. Derpy

    It is kind of interesting how these leagues work. I am curious how the Mets are going to fair with their move to the PCL. I bet their top hitting prospects, like Flores, are going to increase in value, while pitchers are given slack for going into an extreme hitters league.

  2. Nice piece. Not many realizes how hard it is to hit in the Yankee minor league stadiums. When it comes to the right handed hitters especially, Charleston and Tampa are tough places to survive. It's Safeco field bad for righties, and it's amazing that Austin and Williams have been any good. For that reason, I also still really like Dante Bichette.

  3. Scout

    Although "we" may underestimate league and stadium effects, you can rest assured that major league organizations do not. They have developed statistical tools that let them discount, for example, the extreme hitter-friendly bias for which the PCL has always been known.

    • I'm not actually sure that this is true. Major league organizations are subject to the same cognitive biases that the rest of us are subject to. Even if you *know* that the PCL is a crazy hitters league, you might not assign the appropriate level of skepticism, and the skepticism gap might be even worse for a league like the California League, which is nearly as bad.

  4. NYFAN

    I'm not sure that correcting for runs is enough. runs are created by many factors which may or may not have a linear relationship with the hitting statistic you would like to evaluate….making all the runs equil across league might help but also might be misleading especially at the extremes.

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