MLB Draft: Comparing top college bats

The first two rounds of the 2016 MLB Draft took place last night. While it certainly doesn’t get as much hype as drafts in other sports, the MLB draft is no less important. Christoper Long, sabermetrics analyst for the Detroit Tigers, offers that, “Analytically, the draft is the hardest part of baseball. But it’s far and away the most important.” The MLB draft is tough in terms of an evaluation standpoint for a few reasons. One, once players are drafted they are usually still a few years away from actually playing for their major league team. A lot can go wrong in time spent in the minors. Two, a large portion of draftees are 17-18 year old high school students that aren’t physically or mentally mature. So, projecting their future on and off-the-field performance is almost impossible And three, with baseball being such a data-driven sport, it can be difficult to evaluate college and high school players based on their statistics because of a lack of uniformity. Quality of competition varies drastically across college and high school baseball which makes it challenging (and fun?) to compare players across conferences, states, and divisions. In this piece, I’m going to take a look at a few statistics of the college hitters selected in round one and try to get a sense of how they compare to each other and the rest of the field.

There were eight college position-players selected in the first round and Lottery Round A (where select low-revenue teams are awarded picks). Here they are, in order of draft position:

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From watching a lot of MLB Network, I’ve gotten a sense of a few statistics that teams evaluate college hitters on — OBP (on-base percentage), ISO (isolated power), BB%, and K%. They are presented in the chart above.

ISO is the difference between batting average and slugging percentage. It measures how well the batter accumulates extra-base hits. This is important because a batter that hits more doubles, triples, and homeruns, is more valuable than one who hits predominately singles, even though they may have the same batting average. BB% is simply how often a player walks, and K% is how often he strikes out.

Now, all of these players have tremendous statistics and rightfully so, they were taken in the first round and will receive millions of dollars to sign. So in order to differentiate the top hitters and better objectively compare them, I developed the following system.

First, I found the averages of the four statistics mentioned above among NCAA division 1 hitters with at least 220 plate appearances (sample= 1,016). Then I found the following percentiles for each stat– 75th, 80th, 90th, 95th, and 99th. They are shown int the table below. So, for example, the 75th percentile OBP was .418 which means 25% of players had a OBP higher than .418 (alternatively, a batter with a .418 OBP ranked higher than 75% of players). I awarded one points for a stat that was higher than the average, two points for higher than 75th percentile, three points for higher than 80th percentile, and so on. The maximum points per stat that a player could receive was 6. No points were subtracted for below-average (50th percentile) stats.

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Here are the results:

  1. (Tie) 18 points. Kyle Lewis, OF (SEA) and Will Craig, 3B (PIT)

Lewis ranked in the 99th percentile in OBP, ISO, and BB%, but had a below-average K%. The only knock on Lewis is that he played at Mercer, a team in a non-power conference where the competition isn’t as talented, as say the SEC. Craig, a slow, unathletic guy who can flat-out hit, ranked in the 99th in OBP and ISO, 95th in BB%, and had a slightly above-average K%.

3. (Tie) 16 points. Nick Senzel, 3B (CIN), Zack Collins, C (CHW), and Matt Thaiss, C (LAA)

Senzel, the #2 overall pick and first college position-player, was steady — ranking in the 90th percentile for each statistic. Senzel won MVP of the Cape Cod League in 2015 and was also touted as the best prospect in the league. Collins ranked in the 99th in OBP and BB%, 90th in ISO, but had a well below-average K%. Thaiss ranked in the 90th for OBP and K%, and 80th for ISO and BB%. Both Collins and Thais were drafted for their offensive ability and may end up playing  first base when they reach the majors.

6. 12 points. Will Smith, C (LAD)

Smith ranked in the 90th percentile in OBP and K%, 75th in ISO, but had a below-average BB%. Unlike Collins and Thaiss, Smith has the ability to stay behind the plate as a pro. Though he doesn’t have nearly the hitting ability of his cathcing-counterparts, and those limitations are reflected in this ranking.

7. 8 points. Anfernee Grier, OF (ARI)

Grier ranked in the 90th percentile in OBP, 80th in ISO, had a slightly above-average BB% but well below-average K%. Grier has plus speed as a centerfielder, though some scouts are concerned about his long swing and ability to hit major league velocity.

8. 7 points. Corey Ray, OF (MIL)

Ray, the #5 overall pick and second college position-player selected, finished last in my estimates. He did rank in the 90th percentile in ISO, but only had slightly above-average (50th percentile) marks in OBP, BB%, and K%. Ray has the best combination of speed (39 steals) and power (15 homeruns) as anyone on the list. Ray may also be the most athletic player in the draft– and thus may have the most upside, though his stats don’t reflect it quite yet.

Posted by Jeb

From the great "vacationland" state of Maine. Former D3 baseball player on an underachieving team. Prior: TrackMan with A's. Current: Check Down Sports. Soon: Video with Reds. All-time facial hair lover.

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