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Equating Greatness: A Look at Top Prospects Through the Major League Equivalency Model

 

There are plenty of projections readily available, many based on opinion or flat-out guesswork. But what if we could take a player’s minor league or international statistics and calculate how his performance would equate at the Major League level? Our new model does just that. 

By: Taylor Bechtold

He’s already drawn comparisons to stars past and present, including Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Cesar Cedeno, Ellis Burks, Dave Winfield, Andruw Jones, Mike Trout and Aaron Judge.

And Chicago White Sox rookie outfielder Luis Robert certainly hasn’t disappointed early in his MLB career, going 14 for 40 (.350) with two home runs, three doubles and three stolen bases over his first 10 contests. The center fielder is one of several top prospects and rookie imports expected to have an impact on Major League Baseball’s shortened season.

“The comps are what they are,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn told the Chicago Sun-Times. “They’re exciting, they’re fun to do, but in the end we just want him to be Luis Robert. We think he’s got a chance to be pretty special.”

But just how special can these first-year standouts be for their big-league clubs – not to mention those who have them on their fantasy teams? It’s simply not enough to settle for someone’s opinion or guess at a projection on whatever website. As a result, Stats Perform has created a Major League Equivalency (MLE) Model, which takes into account several data points and estimates a player’s numbers as he moves from a minor or international league to the majors.

Starting with Robert, the following rundown reveals how some of MLB’s top newcomers would have done in the majors last season based on their performance in the minors or, in Yoshi Tsutsugo’s case, Japan. We’ve set the model to calculate a stat line based on a regular 600 at-bat big-league campaign.

PlayerPositonTeamAvg.OBPSLGHRs
Luis RobertOFWhite Sox.267.310.51332

Gavin Lux homers during Game 1 of the NLDS last October in Los Angeles.

PlayerPositonTeamAvg.OBPSLGHRs
Gavin Lux2BDodgers.277.343.47123

Fellow top prospect Dustin May has gotten the call, but Lux didn’t make the Los Angeles Dodgers out of summer camp. Manager Dave Roberts recently hinted that he could be called up soon. When he does, the 2016 first-round pick is likely to start out sharing time at second base with Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor. Lux hit .240 with two home runs, four doubles and nine RBIs but also 24 strikeouts in 75 at-bats over 23 games with the Dodgers last season.

PlayerPositonTeamAvg.OBPSLGHRs
Dylan CarlsonOFCardinals.236.306.43223

The St. Louis Cardinals’ top prospect has started the season at Double-A Springfield quite possibly for service-time reasons, though there have rumblings that he could be recalled as the Cardinals deal with a COVID-19 outbreak. Carlson, a 21-year-old switch-hitter, batted .292 with 26 homers but with a 21% strikeout rate in 489 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019.

Jo Adell bats during training camp on July 13, 2020, in Anaheim, Calif.

PlayerPositonTeamAvg.OBPSLGHRs
Jo AdellOFAngels.236.296.40318

Adell’s time has arrived as he went 1-for-4 in his big-league debut at Seattle on Tuesday night. One of the top prospects in all of baseball, the 21-year-old immediately becomes the starting right fielder for the Los Angeles Angels with Justin Upton mired in a 5-for-37 slump. Adell hit .289 with 10 homers and 27 doubles in 305 at-bats across three minor-league levels in 2019, though there are concerns about his defensive abilities.

PlayerPositonTeamAvg.OBPSLGHRs
Carter Kieboom3BNationals.243.335.37413

Kieboom opened 2020 with the big club after star third baseman Anthony Rendon left for the Angels via free agency. Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez initially opted to start Asdrubal Cabrera before giving Kieboom the past three starts at third. The 2016 first-round pick has held his own by going 5-for-12 over his four starts, though he has struck out five times. In 2019, Kieboom batted .303 with 16 homers while fanning 100 times over 412 at-bats at Triple-A and he struck out 16 times in 39 at-bats over 11 games in April and May with the Nationals.

Nick Madrigal bats against the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020.

PlayerPositonTeamAvg.OBPSLGHRs
Nick Madrigal2BWhite Sox.267.323.3545

After Eloy Jimenez and Robert, Madrigal is the latest highly-touted prospect to join the White Sox. The 5-foot-8 second baseman made five straight starts since getting recalled on July 31, though his status is uncertain after leaving Tuesday’s game with a shoulder injury. The 23-year-old doesn’t have the pop some the other guys on this list have, but he hit .311 with four homers, 27 doubles, five triples and 35 stolen bases in 473 at-bats across three minor-league levels in 2019.

PlayerPositonTeamAvg.OBPSLGHRs
Brendan Rodgers2BRockies.282.338.47223

If Rodgers’ line seems impressive, keep in mind that our model is park-neutral so his numbers don’t even take into account that he’ll be playing his home games at Coors Field. The 24-year-old former top prospect is believed to be the first man up should the Colorado Rockies need reinforcements on the infield. Rodgers, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft, struggled with a .224 average and only two extra-base hits in 76 at-bats with Colorado in 2019. However, he impressed with a .350 average, nine homers, 10 doubles and 21 RBIs in his 37 games at Triple-A.

Yoshi Tsutsugo looks on against the Atlanta Braves on July 29, 2020.

PlayerPositonTeamAvg.OBPSLGHRs
Yoshi Tsutsugo3B/OFRays.253.344.46229

Here’s an example of how the model can also show how a season in Japan would translate to MLB. Tsutsugo has gotten off to a slow start with the Tampa Bay Rays, batting .182 with one home run, one double and 10 strikeouts over his first 33 at-bats. He isn’t expected to play much against left-handers, but the model shows solid power numbers because the 28-year-old Japanese import hit .293 while averaging 35 home runs over his last four seasons in NPB.

PlayerPositonTeamAvg.OBPSLGHRs
Sean MurphyCA's.216.293.40326

There was a lot of excitement surrounding Murphy this season after he homered in his first big-league at-bat and ended up with a promising .245/.333/.566 slash line with four home runs in 20 games last year. Murphy, however, has gotten off to a rough start, going 3 for 20 (.150) with one home run and 11 strikeouts while playing in nine of Oakland’s first 11 contests. Murphy’s MLE slash line is down somewhat because he spent time playing in both rookie ball and the PCL’s high-scoring environment.

PlayerPositonTeamAvg.OBPSLGHRs
Alec Bohm3BPhillies.254.319.44424

Bohm, a slugging third baseman, is considered the Philadelphia Phillies’ top prospect and one of the best in all of baseball, but he hasn’t played above Double-A yet. There was talk of the third overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft getting recalled after his service time is extended, but that period has now passed. Bohm’s MLE is solid after he hit .305 with 21 home runs and a .986 OPS in 475 at-bats at three minor-league levels last season.

 

Advanced analytics and data analysis provided by Lucas Haupt

 

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