Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Next Great Shortstop...

…is 19 year old Jurickson Profar, of the Texas Rangers organization. Before the 2012 season began, Baseball America released their list of top 100 prospects in the game. Only a handful of players, some of the games most recognizable young players, ranked ahead of Profar. These players include Bryce Harper, the super prospect who grazed Sports Illustrated's cover while a Sophomore in High School, Matt Moore, the next bright young pitcher out of the Tampa Bay Rays farm, Mike Trout, who as a 20 year old is playing like a potential American League MVP, and Yu Darvish, the newest all star Japanese pitching import. Coming in at 7 on Baseball America's list, he is a little more of an unknown than some of those high profile players, but that should soon change.

The legend of Jurickson Profar began in 2004. The site was South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the famous site of the Little League World Series. Born in Willemstad, Curacao, Profar helped lead his country, the representative of the Carribean, to the finals against the representatives of the United States, Thousand Oaks, California of the West region. Profar propelled his team to victory, going 2-3 with 2 RBI and a home run, as Curacao defeated Thousand Oaks 5-2.

Fast forward to July 2, 2009. This marked the beginning of the 2009 international signing period, the period in which baseball clubs are given the green light to sign international prospects to their minor league farm. Profar was not the biggest name on the market. Players like Miguel Sano and Gary Sanchez stole the headlines. Still, he was very highly regarded, and the Rangers agreed to sign  him for $1.55 million. Many compared him to another top shortstop prospect, who the Rangers received from the Braves in a blockbuster trade that sent current New York Yankees first baseman to the Atlanta, Elvis Andrus. However, the two developed into completely different players as their careers progressed.

It is now 2012, and Elvis Andrus, the popular comparison for Profar, is the starting shortstop for the Texas Rangers. So far, Andrus has been a defensive wizard, a man who can steal bases – stealing at least 32 bases every year he has been in the majors – and a good leadoff option, posting a 372 OBP so far this season. Profar profiles as something much more exciting than that, something the Rangers scouting department and coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for. Profar has worked his way up to AA ball, and as mentioned earlier, he earned a #7 overall ranking in Baseball America's preseason top 100 prospects.

The road to super prospect hasn't always been easy for Profar. As a 17 year old, in his first professional season, he managed only 4 home runs and a slash line of 250/323/373 in 299 plate appearances for his low A ball team. Not terrible given he was the youngest player on that team, but certainly nothing close to garnering the top 10 prospect status he is receiving now. However, he worked hard during the winter, and impressed enough scouts with his tools to enter the Baseball America top 100 list prior to the 2011 season, coming in at a respectable 74, especially considering he was only 18 years old at that point. His 2011 season, for the Hickory Crawdads, the Rangers class A affiliate, was a huge success. Profar was the youngest player on that team, but he proved to be the teams best position player, hitting 12 home runs, swiping 23 bases, drawing 65 walks while striking out 63 times, and posting a slash line of 286/390/493 in 516 plate appearances. All of this offense production was fantastic, but besides that, he also proved that he has a future as a shortstop.

So far this year, for the Frisco RoughRiders, the Texas Rangers class AA affiliate, Profar is tearing it up, and once again, he is the youngest player on the team. His numbers are impressive once again, as he has hit 9 home runs, stolen 9 bases, drawn 40 walks, posted a slash line of 292/370/476 in 364 plate appearances, and his defense has been stellar. The biggest jump in the minors is from class A to class AA, and he has not struggled at all. In fact, his worst month so far has been April, and he has improved since then. It's always good to see prospects in AA, especially when they aren't even 20 yet, draw walks on over 10% of their plate appearances, and hit for power around 200 ISO or better.

So, what are the scouts saying about this super prospect? Pretty much everything good you can say about a prospect. He has a very athletic body, and he isn't too big so he will be able to stay at shortstop, despite the fact that he is 6'3". As for his tools, some have said his hitting tool could reach an incredible 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. And he has definitely shown flashes that they could be right, beyond the tool. He is a switch hitter, but his left side swing is lagging a little bit. Still, he's very mechanically sound.

In this video, you can see his swing from the left side. He doesn't have much of a leg kick, so he's able to plant his foot quickly, and turn on the ball. His hands don't move too far back before the swing, which means he isn't wasting any time or effort. You can see the balance he has as he makes contact with the ball. At 0:13, you can see that his body is very straight, and his center of mass is perpendicular to the ground. These mechanics should allow him to repeat his easy swing, and help to generate some bat speed.

Speaking of bat speed, his smooth, easy swing from both sides of the plate should generate plenty of line drive power. While that doesn't necessarily mean 40 home runs, he should be able to reach 15 home runs a year consistently, while generating plenty of doubles, and with his speed, some triples as well. At the shortstop position, that's very good production, and if he can develop an elite hitting tool, he's going to find himself a second home on second base. His power projects to fit the 2 hole perfectly, and with his speed, he should find home plate quite a bit, especially with how friendly Rangers Ballpark has been to hitters. Grades have ranged from 40 to 50 for him, again, very good for the shortstop position.

I've talked a bit about his speed. While he will probably never be a 40 steal man, he should get his fair share of stolen bases, maybe around 15 to 20 a year. Certainly, any team would love a 20-20 player from their shortstop, and he looks like he could be that kind of player. He definitely has enough speed to play his defensive position, and though he isn't a speed burner, he knows how to move well enough that he'll seem faster than he actually is.

His offense should exciting any major league team, but what really puts Jurickson Profar ahead of the rest is his defensive ability. Besides catcher, the most important position in the field is shortstop, and he has plus-plus ability at that position. His instincts in the field have been compared to Derek Jeter's, but unlike Jeter, he has the range and athleticism to get to more balls than most players at that position. Amazing range and instincts often leads to a very good defender at shortstop. Many scouts give him a 60 grade here. But wait, there's more! His arm is special as well. Not the greatest of all time, but he can certainly make all of the throws, and scouts give him a 60 grade for this tool as well. He has a very quick release, and is a very accurate thrower. As he matures a bit, and grows into the position more, we should see a decline in errors, and perhaps several gold gloves in his cabinet by the time he's done, should all go well.

All of this sounds great, but what scouts love the most are not his tools. Scouts love his makeup and his baseball IQ. He is one of the smartest teenagers to play the game, and he knows what he is doing. Scouts rave about his maturity on and off the field, so he's probably not one you're going to read about in the news too often for something negative, and he is a very cool and calm player on the field, so you may see his name pop up as one of the most respected players in the game. Not just that, but he works out hard, and demands that he and his teammates give everything they have in the gym and on the field. He's a guy who wants to be great and he wants to win, but most of all, he's a guy who wants to do what's right for his team and his teammates.

If I were to throw out a major league comparison right now, I would say he looks an awful lot like Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees. Both are middle infielders who are line driver hitters, and play very good defense. Furthermore, both are very calm and cool on the field, and are very smart baseball players. However, Profar plays the more valuable middle infield position, and he hits from both sides of the plate. A switch hitting Robinson Cano who plays shortstop? Sign me up. Another popular comparison is Asdrubal Cabrera of the Cleveland Indians. In many ways, this is a better comparison because Cabrera is also a switch hitting shortstop who plays good defense. Cabrera has 20+ home run power, can steal 15 or more bases, and hits in the 280-300 range. Either comparison works, and if he becomes a player of their caliber, he will be one of the top shortstops in the league for a long time. Look for his name to appear on a lot of all-star rosters, his talent is off the charts.

Disagree with anything? Leave a comment, I love discussing prospects, and would love to discuss Jurickson Profar more. Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Joey Votto's Swing... the best in baseball. I admit, I love the Reds, and I may be a bit of a homer here, but right now, I honestly cannot think of anyone who has a better swing in the majors. Results? All of his hits, homers, doubles, walks, and pretty much every positive stat you can think of for a hitter can be attributed not only to his awesome talent, but to the way he handles himself at the plate.

But what makes his swing so great? Is it because he swings harder than other people? Does he have Ted Williams eyes? Maybe, it's a whole lot of things. Actually, it is a whole lot of things. So, first, let's look at how he actually sets up at the plate. Fortunately for me (and you), user tnarg2012 posted this amazing video. Take a minute to watch this swing:

Watch from 0:06-0:11, when he begins to cock his bat, and when he begins the swing. The bat goes down, not backwards. The old saying in tennis is that if you have a shorter backswing, you will generate more speed. I am no tennis expert, so I have no idea whether or not that's true. But in baseball, that is absolutely the case. You want as short and compact a swing as possible. Joey Votto has a very short and compact swing, with virtually no backswing. That is very important, because that means he will not fall behind often if he guesses breaking pitch and gets a fastball, or if he gets pumped a high-90's fastball up in the zone, or down and away. Another positive that comes from a short, compact bat swing? Power. As I said, the shorter the swing, the more bat speed is generated. There is another part to bat speed, but I'll get to that a little bit later on. The point here is that bat speed is generated in his swing because he isn't expending extra energy on a backswing, and the full force is going forward, without having to stop and start again. The same concept applies to a runner, you don't want to start off by stepping back and pushing off, you want to push off going forward.

Next, watch his head, starting again from 0:06, but this time, watch till 0:15. It is facing perfectly towards the pitching mound, he has complete vision of the pitcher and the ball. Also, notice how little his head moves during the swing, except when the ball is coming in. This helps with many things. First, he is not losing sight of the ball at any point, and when his head moves down slightly, he is actually still looking at the baseball as it is getting closer. The point at which he stops seeing the actual ball is when he has fully committed to where he is going to swing the bat. A batter with poor mechanics will see the ball for a shorter time than Votto does, which gives much more room for error in the actual swing location. Another positive that comes from keeping his head still is balance. By not expending extra energy here, he is actually swinging with the least possible motion, which lowers wasted energy, and puts more power into the swing. The balance part allows him to see the ball a little longer as well. Ever wonder why he walks so much? This is part of the reason.

Now, let's go back to the bat speed. There are two key components to power, and muscle mass is not one of them. Muscle mass, of course, helps generate torque and drive in the legs, which can create an advantage, but it's not that necessary. After all, how much did Hank Aaron weigh? 180 pounds. And Stan Musial? 175. How about Willie Mays? 170. So I guess a big muscle brain like Jose Canseco, who weighed 240 pounds of muscle, should be ashamed that his career high of 46 homers never topped Mays' 52, after all, he had 70 pounds of muscle on Mays. But that just supports my point, that bat speed and power is not generated by muscle, but rather by torque and leg drive. Let's go back to the video, this time, focus on his lower half. Starting from 0:06, notice where his hips are pointing. Directly at us, almost a 90 degree angle formed by where his head is pointing and where his hips are pointing. At 0:13, the point of contact, look where his hips have ended up. Facing the same direction as his head. He gets his hips through the zone, and that creates tons of power. And notice his leg kick, and how well he shifts his weight forward, driving into the ground and through the ball. By doing this, he is generating a more stable source of power, and using the ground to shift his weight, he can put more energy into the ball.

And the torque? Of course, he has plenty of it. Look how quickly his hips explode through the zone. This creates a whip like motion when he swings the bat, and with his vision, this creates a lot of bat speed while maintaining swing accuracy. Bat speed generates power and line drives. Next, I'll analyze his stats to support what I have been saying, simply because I'm a stat geek when it comes to baseball.

Now that I've somewhat analyzed his swing. It's time to look at why he is so successful. First and foremost, plate discipline and plate vision. Obviously, he has fantastic plate vision. As I've shown through a scouting video, he does everything perfectly with his head. The results? This year, so far, this is how he is hitting against each pitch type, according to weighted pitch values:

18.3 wFB, 0.7 wSL, -0.6 wCT, 2.8 wCB, 7.2 wCH, -1.7 wSF, 1.6 wKN

And the percentage of pitches he's seeing, for context (very important to consider context, always)...

57.9% FB, 15.1% SL, 5.1% CT, 9.8% CB, 9.0% CH, 2.6% SF, 0.5% KN

Well, clearly, fastballs and changeups do not work at all. He simply destroys those pitches. His weakness appears to be cutters and sinkers, but those numbers have jumped around too much in his career to be considered weaknesses. I guess the most logical pitches to throw against him are breaking pitches. However, he's a professional hitter, and he will make adjustments to the breaking pitches if that's all you throw him. So you have to set Votto up with, well, fastballs and changeups, and if you miss too many times, you will not survive too many innings, major league pitchers. So yeah, make sure you throw strikes when he's looking to take a pitch, otherwise, many hits will come.

Now, let's actually take a look at the plate discipline and vision, and not the results of them. His stats in this category, plate discipline on

21.4 O-Swing, 66.3 Z-Swing, 39.6 Swing%, 68.7 O-Contact%, 83.8 Z-Contact%, 78.9 Contact%, 7.6 SwStrk%

Alright, seriously Joey? Can you please miss? I mean, man, his swinging strike percentage is an unbelievable 7.6. That means for every 100 pitches he gets, he swings and misses about 8 of them. And not only that, he doesn't swing very much. Less than 40% of the pitches he sees, he takes. Want to know why he has drawn 50 walks through 61 games? There's your answer. And when he does choose to swing, he doesn't miss. Even when it's out of the zone, he makes contact nearly 70% of the time. Could you imagine trying to get a guy to chase a bad pitch, only to see him turn it into a positive offensive outcome? That's what Joey Votto does, and that's what makes him so tough to beat as a pitcher. And when you do miss, he will not chase 4 out of 5 times. Incredible stuff, almost inhuman. The results are clearly great, here are some more familiar statistics:

18.9 BB%, 18.9 K%, 33.8 LD%, 35.0 GB%, 31.3 FB%, 0.0 IFFB%.

Yeah, so he strikes out 19% of the time. In today's game, that doesn't really matter. What does matter is that he's walking 19% of the time. One in every five plate appearances is a walk. One more time, that means he's guaranteed being on base by walks alone, once every five plate appearances. That's some serious run scoring value there. But that's not the best part, the best part is that one third of his hit balls are line drives. Line drives are what produce tons of doubles, and are also the most likely to land for a hit. Results? A BABIP over 400, a BA over 360, and a major league record setting pace for doubles. His swing is incredible, if you haven't gotten that yet.

Finally, lets look at some more results, more classic, highly regarded results. His stats from and (as of 6/12/12):

357/479/643, 423 BABIP, 285 ISO, 464 wOBA, 195 wRC+, 197 OPS+, 26 2B, 49 BB, 3.0 oWAR

These numbers are beyond incredible. Over a full year, he projects to have 71 doubles, which would be a ML record, and 132 walks, which would just be amazing. Let's add in hits, where he's on pace for 202, 29 home runs, and about 700 plate appearances. Not bad, Joey Votto, he's on pace for a historical offensive season. Not to mention, his fielding may be the best at his position this year, and his base running has improved significantly. Is he the best player in baseball? Yeah, that's pretty fair to say.

Thanks for reading! If you disagree with anything, let me know, and why. I love learning and discussing baseball, and would love to hear from you. Once again, thank you!

Ozzie Smith Was Not The Best...

...defensive shortstop of all time. Mark Belanger was.

"Who the hell is that, you damn dirty ape?"

Well, let me tell you. Remember Brooks Robinson? Yeah, well, his teammate helped make by far the greatest defensive left side of an infield in major league history. And Belanger was the better defender.

"Well, I don't agree. Baseball writers all say Ozzie is the best, and look, he won 13 straight gold gloves! Belanger only won eight, that's five more for Ozzie!"

Okay, well, gold gloves suck. They tell nothing about anything. Did you know that Rafael Palmeiro once won the AL gold glove at first base....while playing 128 games at DH? That's right, he only played 248 innings in the field, and won a gold glove. The best part? He wasn't even that good when he did play in the field, so there is absolutely no reason to pay any attention to such an award that...well, awards players for doing something that they didn't even do.

"Whatever, that doesn't even matter, because Ozzie still was the better player according to scouts."

Not so fast. If you look up old scouting reports, their reports are identical. Quickness of the foot, elite instincts, great glove work, good arm, and good recognition of hit balls. So, scouts would have suggested that they weren't too different.

"Ok, well, Ozzie had better fielding stats."

Eh, not so fast. It's true, Ozzie accrued greater overall numbers and ended his career with a higher fielding percentage. And the fact that he played more does help him. However, if you look at how effective each player was per season, per 162 games, it's pretty clear who the greater defensive player was. Here are their defensive statistics:

Mark Belanger: 15337 IN (at SS), 238 Total Zone, 2.1 TZ per 112 games, 3.0 TZ per 162 games, average 112 games at 2.2 dWAR, per 162 games 4.4 dWAR, 39.3 total dWAR

Ozzie Smith: 21785 IN (at SS), 239 Total Zone, 1.77 TZ per 135 games, 2.1 TZ per 162 games, average 135 games at 2.3 dWAR, per 162 games 3.1 dWAR, 43.4 total dWAR

Pretty startling difference actually. Clearly, Belanger is better than Smith statistically. His total zone ratings, and dWAR ratings are clearly in Belanger's favor, and even the raw numbers themselves are very very close, and when you look at how many more innings it took Ozzie Smith to get to the marks that Belanger have to at least question the common notion that Smith was the better fielder.

"I don't know what any of that means. And you didn't compare their errors and fielding percentage!"

Explanations for WAR can be found on both and The other statistics can be found at or As to why I didn't compare fielding percentage and errors? They are by far the most overused, overrated defensive metric known to baseball fans. Why? Let me give you an example.

Pretend for a little that there are two shortstops who get the exact same groundballs. They start off in the exact same place for the exact same grounders. Nothing is different at all about where the balls end up and how hard they're hit. Essentially, I'm asking you to pretend that the variables are exactly the same for player A and player B.

Player A: 800 chances, 50 errors.
Player B: 800 chances, 10 errors.

So, player B is better right?

Player A: 929 F%
Player B: 980 F%

So yeah, you'd definitely rather have player B right? He has a 51 point percentage advantage in fielding percentage, and he made 40 fewer errors. Well, not so fast...

Player A: 800 chances, fielded 700 balls, made an error on 50, but recorded 650 outs.
Player B: 800 chances, fielded 500 balls, made an error on 10, but recorded 490 outs.

Suddenly, that huge F% and errors difference isn't so important, because player A ended up recording a staggering 160 more outs than player B. Clearly, you'd rather have those 160 more outs, even if he's more likely to commit an error.

So, the difference between this dream scenario and the Belanger and Smith comparison? Belanger had a 977 f%, while Smith had a 978 f%. The difference, of course, is that Belanger didn't have a higher rate of errors, he simply got to more balls, and that was it. He made more plays, and he made better plays. He made more outs that should not have been outs than Ozzie did. Bottom line, the stats don't lie and the scouting reports were too similar. Mark Belanger, ladies and gentlemen, is the greatest defensive shortstop in baseball history. Remember his name.

Disagree? Leave a comment, I love discussing baseball, and would love to discuss this topic. Thanks for reading! Also, I apologize for the not so convincing arguing voice. He just made my points look better.


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