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5 Stats to Watch for Cubs Minor Leaguers

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Matt Swain

Illinois engineering student, way too emotionally invested in the Cubs.

1. DJ LeMahieu- Line Drive %

I talked about this in detail during my Top 5 shortstops post, but to summarize, DJ LeMahieu hits way too many groundballs. His swing, while quick and contact oriented, is short and choppy. Last season he beat balls into the ground at a 72% clip, which is absurdly high. Conversely, his line drive rate ended at just 9%, which is about as unimpressive as it sounds.

From ESPN, here are the percentage of each type of balls in play in the MLB that turned into hits:

Ground ball BABIP: .237
Fly ball BABIP: .138
Line drive BABIP: .724

For major league players, every grounder they turn into a line drive basically results in half a hit added to their totals. It's obviously different in the low minors, where infield defense is not nearly as efficient, which is one of the main reasons LeMahieu's batting average has stayed so high. If LeMahieu plans on hitting at higher levels (and you would hope that he does), he needs to adjust that swing and shed his worm-burning ways.

2. Casey Coleman- Home Runs per Fly Ball

By all traditional measures, Casey Coleman had a very successful 2009 season, compiling a 14-6 record record with a 3.68 ERA on his way to Cubs minor league pitcher of the year honors.

The story his peripheral stats tell doesn't have as happy of an ending. Coleman had a relatively low strikeout rate to go along with a relatively high walk rate, for a ratio of 1.44 K/BB, and his groundball rates weren't particularly high (49%). Those numbers beg the question: How was he so good last year?

One of the main places to look is his HR/FB%. Without going too far into it, there's a good deal of luck behind whether a pitcher gets a fly ball out to the warning track or a home run in the first row of the bleachers. Coleman gave up just 8 HR's in 149 innings, even with 51% of the balls hit against him being fly balls or line drives. That's a rate of 3% of balls in the air going for home runs, wayyyyyyy below where it should be (MLB league average is about 10%).

As is usually the case in baseball, that number will probably correct itself. There's some kind of small chance that Casey Coleman has some attribute that allows him to keep balls in the park, in which case he's a fine prospect. But I'll be watching his HRs allowed this year, and if they aren't low again, Coleman becomes just another guy.

3. Rafael Dolis and Chris Archer- Walk %

Dolis is a guy who burst onto the scene this fall by showing up at instructs with a near triple-digit fastball, something not many guys possess. The Cubs quickly added him to the 40-man roster to keep him from getting plucked away in the Rule 5 draft, but to validate that spot, Dolis needs to be more productive in game situations. His walk rate has sat at about 13% thus far in his career, which is unacceptable for anyone, but especially a starting pitcher in a very pitcher friendly environment. The potential is there, but the command needs to come before Dolis is worth getting too excited about.

The story is similar with Archer, though not identical. Just 21 years old, Archer has already whiffed 299 hitters in his minor league career over 301.1 total innings, including 119 Ks in 101 IP for Peoria last season. He's had success, especially in 2009, but the one thing holding him back is his command. Archer has good, if not overwhelming stuff, but his control lapses more than occasionally, resulting in 193 walks in his 301.1 innings, or about 6 BB/9. He has a long way to go with that number, but even getting it to 4 or so would lead to a major improvement in his prospect status.

4. Brett Jackson- Strikeout %

He's got the speed, he's got the power swing, he's got the range and fielding ability in centerfield. The only thing at this point that could hold Jackson back from stardom is his plate discipline. He draws an adequate amount of walks, but one of the most common causes of a prospect's failure is simply not making enough contact, and that's a concern going forward for Jackson.

If he can maintain the strikeout rates he showed last year in Peoria (around 25%) he should be fine and continue his path towards being an impact MLB player. But if that number creeps too much higher it could lead to some problems, especially considering the unfriendly offensive environment he'll face in Daytona. Hopefully Brett can continue to make strides in this area, but I have a feeling we might have to re-visit this later on in the year.

5. Josh Vitters- Batting Average

You might be thinking: I thought stats guys hate batting average? I thought it's not important? Well you're right; they do and it's not. But this is a weird case.

Josh Vitters doesn't like to walk. He's made that perfectly clear. And that's fine, but to have value to a baseball team you need to get on base. Vitters has the kind of special bat that just might be up to the task of doing that without taking walks, but it definitely remains to be seen.

From where I'm standing, Vitters needs to prove he can reach base at a .330-.340 clip or higher to be a good MLB hitter, and that will probably imply a .300-.310 batting average. So to Josh I say- let's see it.

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1 Comment

Dan Davis said:

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You're so harsh on my LSU boy DJ. I think he'll be fine. He's got a lot of tools... just needs to refine them.

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