Baseball Judgments

Baseball Judgments |
The minor league adjustment


By Roger Weber


We're almost to the point where we can say it's been "decades" since 1985.


According to James' 1985 Abstract, the average triple-A minor player has stats equivalent in a neutral league 18% lower than the average major league player. Some other statisticians have made the contention the number is as low as 16%.


But what does this mean? Well, let's take offense for instance. It's the most influential component of the game.


Based on data from 2005, I found that the average ARC, or adjusted runs created, a statistic I have created to enhance Bill James' famous "runs created" statistic to account for number of times to the plate, a player's running ability and the ballpark he plays in, is 80. The standard deviation is 26. A player who scores 84% of the average value- what an average triple-A player should at the major league level has an ARC of 67. This puts him in the 31st percentile among major league players. This means that 31% of major league players are inferior to this average minor league player. Later in this production, we'll discover that half of major league players could be replaced by minor league players, and the talent wouldn't chance.


There is a cutoff between the minor leagues and the major leagues. It's not to say that any player in the major leagues below the line doesn't deserve to be there. But the pinnacle of competition that so many people like to say is all of major league baseball is actually just part of the major leagues.


If a slightly below average player in the major leagues is in the major leagues, other than chance of team and time, and possibly work ethic, there is no real reason he is in the major leagues and another player isn't.     


We figured out that 31% of major league players are "worse" baseball players than the average minor league player because the average level of talent at the AAA level is about 16% lower than at the major league level. So what's the answer? Do we just take the bottom 31% of major league players and replace them with above average triple-A players? Not exactly.


There are 46 triple-A teams. So theoretically there are about 1.5 times as many players playing AAA-ball as are in the major leagues. Given this information, we can pretty easily compute that there are as many players in the bottom 1/3 of minor league baseball as there are in the bottom of major league baseball. And although I don't have a computation of the quality of AA-baseball, I can assume that there is a top 5 or 10% that could be added to this group of minor leaguers of better quality than many major leaguers. And going even beyond, there are, according to a normal distribution curve, which this may or may not follow perfectly, at least a percent or three in single-A ball who could beat out the worst major leaguers.


When I read Bill James' statement in his 1985 Baseball Absract that almost any below average major league players could be replaced by minor leaguers, I figured he was exaggerating. But my simple calculations, which, admittedly make several assumptions and don't actually explore that 16% figure I'm using but are still thus worth computing, a little over half of the major leagues could be replaced by minor league players without the general level of talent changing.


This gives support to the ideas of expansion. More teams don't mean the field of competition gets worse. The minor leagues may suffer minimally for a while but expansion, but for the necessities of a city, fan base, ownership, etc. the play on the field could remain about at the same level if a few more teams were added today.


Major league teams fail to utilize their minor leaguers much. Most prefer to use a "proven" 36-year old that costs several million dollars a year than take a chance on a young stud in the minors. We see over and over the failure of that methodology. Teams like the San Francisco Giants and Cincinnati Reds have repeatedly failed to win a championship recently because they trade away their minor league stars for average, overpriced old players to fill gaps in their lineup. Those old players disappear after a season or two, leave a smoldering gash in the team's wallet and certainly added nothing to a rebuilding effort.


This is why it is my contention that if any team is offering one or more minor league players as part of a trade for a player over 30, it's smart to accept the offer even if the "proven" player being traded is a fan favorite or a staple on your team.


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