The Prism of Performance: Correa, Duvall & Heyward
Sample size is a phrase we sports fanatics hear a lot, especially Fantasy baseball fanatics. Discussing sample sizes by its nature implies that past performance and their most recent don't jive, for good or for bad.
Sometimes its a veteran having a poor season without much explanation (Giancarlo Stanton) or having a year that suggests the decline has officially arrived and the end is near (James Shields) or it could be a guy we thought was done while it looks anything but (CC Sabathia).
It is difficult to project veterans based on small sample sizes because we have large sample sizes to contradict the small ones. The strange juxtaposition of being foiled by a small sample size because of a larger one, but the small sample might be right.
But what about players that have never done it before or they have only done it in the minor leagues, certainly a different level of competition than we see in the show? Adam Duvall, Carlos Correa and Jason Heyward are three players in three different stages of their careers and with different sample sizes to confuse our future projections and distort our expectations.
This is MinorLeagueBall.com, we all follow prospects, we know the uncertainty of the stats and often the misleading nature of minor league numbers. Everyone steals bases and very few prospects produce significant power numbers in the minor leagues for example. How do you evaluate an inexperienced player that is having a season we have never seen at the major league level or even more difficult, we never saw in the minors and has blindsided us in the majors? I chose a few 2016 performers for analysis to try to figure out if we should be buying or selling the small sample size that is the 2016 season. Lets get after it.
Adam Duvall, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Stats: 20 HRs - .257 BA - .287 OBP - BAbip .265 - .883 OPS - 130 OPS+
I have to pat myself on the back and state for the record that I liked Adam Duvall as a prospect. You can check my Dynasty league rosters to prove it, but he flew way under the radar coming in to 2016. He came to the Reds from the San Francisco Giants in the 2015 trade deadline deal that landed the Giants Mike Leake.
Duvall never received "top prospect" hype and a lack of buzz often plays a significant roll in determining whether a player is a pleasant surprise, a complete shock or a sour disappointment and we have some of that with Duvall. The factors that hurt Duvall, prior to 2016, are that he was blocked in San Francisco, he isn't much of a defender, he doesn't run well and he has had some trouble making consistent contact over six minor league seasons. Duvall did bat .285,.298 and .281 in 2011, 2014, and 2015 but he also batted .245, .258 and .252 in 2010, 2012 and 2013.
What I look for in a prospect is an impact tool and then I look to see if their "issues" will prevent them from making the impact with that tool and I liked what I saw with Duvall. He hit home runs, doubles and he took "some" walks at every minor league level regardless of whether he was struggling with his batting average or not. He hit 20 or more doubles and walked 30 or more times in six of his minor league seasons and he hit 17 or more home runs in all of those six seasons as well.
A major reason why people are reluctant to buy in to Adam Duvall is that he is already 27 years old and he has only walked 18 times and has a .280 career on-base percentage in 367 major league at bats. The fact that he has hit 28 home runs gets overlooked. If he was 21 years old analysts would be talking about how he is developing into a power hitter rather than voicing concerns that this is a fluke.
Well, when Duvall was 21 he was hitting double-digit home runs, he was just doing it in the minors. In 2016 he is receiving his first opportunity at the elite level and he continues to do what he has always done, hit home runs. He doesn't have significant splits to be concerned about when it comes to batting average while 18 of his 20 home runs have been against right handed pitching, an odd reverse split - and he has homered evenly both at home and on the road.
As far as a lack of walks, it is a slight concern but not a significant one yet. We are still only talking about 230 at bats. You never like to see anything bad whether it be high strikeout totals or low walks, but Duvall has always walked a moderate amount while never being accused of being "the greek god of walks" like a Kevin Youkilis was or that Joey Votto is now (minus the greek part).
Duvall will have some struggles because he can be inconsistent with his contact rates, but the power is consistent and he has a solid approach that does result in some walks. He will never be Joey Votto or Bryce Harper when it comes to the free passes. Mark Trumbo only hit 26 home runs in his first 554 major league at bats and while he isn't a perfect player and I am not suggesting that Duvall is on his way to being one either, but Trumbo is having himself quite a season in Baltimore, only slightly better than the one Duvall is having as a rookie with the Reds. You should be buying in to Adam Duvall - small sample size or not.
Jason Heyward, OF, Chicago Cubs
Stats: 4 HRs - 7 SB - .239 BA - .330 OBP - .297 BAbip - .669 OPS - 82 OPS+
8 years, $184 million - $69 million guaranteed in the first three years after which he can opt out if he chooses. The beauty of advanced metrics, the inexactness of defensive metrics and Theo Epstein's unrelenting confidence in analytics in spite of his horrific history in the free agent market.
Welcome to the perfect storm Mr. Heyward and congratulations for capitalizing upon it. Sabermetricians and the military arm of the Advanced Metrics Militia came flying to the defense of this contract and even went "Trump before Trump," arguing that it was not only a good deal for the Cubs, but a steal.
That kind of media onslaught is why most baseball fans have to be significantly disappointed in what they have seen this season. If he was paid closer to what he should have been his 2016 season would still be disappointing, but it wouldn't be the albatross that it currently is. I am sure the Advanced Metrics Militia have WRC+ and UZR stats that after some misdirection, a sprinkle of snaffoo and a spackel of wallakazaam has Heyward on his way to an MVP. My first thought after looking at his numbers this season was, "is anyone surprised?" Then i realized... sadly.. many probably are.
Heyward has only hit 18 or more home runs or had an OPS over .800 twice in his career and the last time he did either was in 2012. He batted .293 with the St. Louis Cardinals but had never batted higher than .277 prior to 2015. Heyward is seen as a potential star partially because of his plus defense, but another significant factor is the idea that he has "upside" to dream on. A significant reason behind that narrative is that he has stolen 20 bases or more three times and slugged 27 home runs in 2012. A dual threat, power/speed athlete that also plays plus defense is extremely easy to fantasize about and we are seeing that kind of profile from Mookie Betts in Boston this season, which is ironic. We are becoming more and more of a statistical sports culture and yet Heyward repeatedly disappoints in the measurables while his legend continues to grow, proven by his enormous free agent contract.
Heyward has shown flashes of both power and speed to go with plus defense and above average on-base percentages. That combination of skills is unique and it is understandable that early in a players career this kind of profile could create high expectations, but when do we stop "dreaming on" his upside and start accepting his reality? He isn't any better than Starling Marte or Lorenzo Cain and he is a lot closer statistically to Alexei Ramirez than to any $200 million dollar star you will find in the league. I threw out Alexei Ramirez because of his three year averages and the fact that THAT name compared to Jason Heyward has to throw you for a loop. It threw me.
This year has been a disappointing one by any measure, but if fans start looking at Heyward as a player closer to Brett Gardner the more realistic and accurate future expectations will be. Money always creates expectations, but Heyward's status in the game generated the money rather than the money generating the expectations and that is what is so baffling. Don't be so sure that Heyward opts out after year three of his eight year, $184 million dollar contract because eventually the Advanced Metrics Militia will pack up, retreat and acknowledge that they fought the wrong battle with Heyward and so will his agents.
Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
Stats: 9 HRs - 8 SB - .254 BA - .354 OBP - .322 BAbip - .775 OPS - 112 OPS+
I love discussing Carlos Correa because when you compare his minor league profile to his rookie season there is a disconnect and that makes for fascinating speculation when it comes to prospects. Correa was drafted #1 by the Houston Astros because he agreed to sign for below slot money; don't let anyone else try to convince you otherwise. Byron Buxton was the runaway best player in that years Amateur draft and regardless of how things have turned out, revisionist history doesn't change that fact.
The Astros aren't geniuses because of unfortunate circumstances or that the Twins have botched Buxton's development. The Astros wanted Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers more than they wanted Byron Buxton and whoever else they could have afforded with their second pick in that years draft and that is why Correa was drafted #1 overall. It was a strategic draft game plan that has worked out brilliantly, except it has created, along with an otherwordly rookie campaign, expectations due to a small sample size that could be difficult to fully realize.
Correa's pre-draft 2012 profile was that of a player with good speed and above average power for an infielder who should also hit for average as a third baseman. His work ethic and intangibles were praised and he was one of the youngest players in that years draft, both elements that can lead to a prospect exceeding expectations. In 2015, he certainly did that. He was promoted to the major leagues after only 29 games at Double-A and 24 at Triple-A and even though that would seem to be rushing the youngster, he dominated the majors by rookie standards. He hit 22 home runs, 14 stolen bases, had a .279 batting average, .345 On-base percentage, .857 OPS and 133 OPS+. That put him in the same statistical neighborhood as Andrew McCutchen and Matt Kemp and he had a better slugging percentage than Ryan Braun and Justin Upton who had big time home run/stolen base seasons.
Correa is having a season that fans should be extremely happy with and that they can expect consistently. These kinds of numbers are that of a star at shortstop and a well above average third baseman. The problem is that after his rookie campaign fans and analysts recalibrated their expectations thinking he was a 30 home run, 30 stolen base, .300 batting league Most Valuable Player. The home runs and stolen bases are well above average at his 2016 level and the batting average isn't a concern. Batting average shouldn't be the stat you look at to determine whether a player is having a disappointing season. It is easy to see .254 and wince a little bit, but the power is there, the OPS is there and the on-base percentage is well above average. When you have other stats in the plus column then don't worry about the batting average.
Unlike Jason Heyward who isn't the player that people think he is or can still eventually be, Correa is the player that his pre-draft profile suggested he would be only better. He has been able to stay at shortstop when most scouts believed he would transition to third base and he is on pace, in a "disappointing year," to be a 20/20 middle infielder. His 2015 rookie season re-created a profile that Correa never profiled to be and elevated our expectations, but that is the fans fault, not Correa's. The kid is a star and will be one for a long time.
The next article referencing Correa? When does Alex Bregman shove him to third base and who is better, Corey Seager or Carlos Correa? Interesting topics that aren't far from being timely and relevant.
Staff Writer RotoExperts.com
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