Last Year’s Minor-League WAR Leaders, If That Existed

Even for those among us who, for whatever reason, derive no particular spiritual nourishment from the Judeo-Christian tradition, it’s difficult to ignore the charms and actual, real wisdom provided by the Book of Ecclesiastes from the Old Testament. The author of that particular text is noteworthy both for his concision and his clear-eyed observations, announcing at the beginning of the text (for example), “Meaningless! Meaningless!… Everything is meaningless” and also noting that “All things are wearisome.” Rarely has truth been uttered more truthfully.

It’s also the first chapter of that Book within which the author proclaims, “What has been done will be done again; / there is nothing new under the sun.” For anyone who has ever bothered to produce an idea inside his or her own dumb head, this sentiment resonates loudly. For it’s just as soon as one has completed the manufacture of an idea, that said idea is accompanied by a gnawing sensation — namely that someone else, in some other place, has probably manufactured that idea before.

This happens to me a lot. For example, I recently had the pleasure of discovering that two of my favorite words, when combined together, form an elegant portmanteau to describe that class of dining establishment — Hooters, Tilted Kilt, etc. — known for employing scantily clad waitresses to compensate for the fact that the cuisine is poor and life is terrible. Upon further examination, however, I learned not only that the term breastaurant is already in wide use, but that it has, in fact, been registered as a trademark by a third such dining establishment (something called Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill) with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

I invoke all this because what follows — although I’ve never seen it attempted before — has probably already been attempted before. The idea is this: to calculate WAR figures for minor leaguers. Or, at least, minor-league hitters. It’s not a particularly daring notion, I recognize. But I had the thought in passing recently — “Who would have led the minors last year in WAR?” or something like that — and was unable, after five or seven minutes of idle research, to confirm that anyone had tried to supply the relevant answer. So what I did this morning was to try and supply the relevant answer.

More than anything, what the reader should know is that my attempt at the answer is flawed. In part, that’s not my fault. The data available for minor-league hitters is less complete than that available for major-league ones. In part, it’s absolutely my fault, as the methodology I’ve employed skews decidedly haphazard. And yet, the results are mostly credible.

To calculate WAR for any sort of hitter, three elements are essential, as follows:

• Batting Runs (Bat); and
• Baserunning Runs (BsR); and
• Defensive Runs (Def).

To calculate batting runs here, I’ve merely used the wRAA figure (weighted runs above average) one finds under the Advanced tab of the minor-league batting leaderboards. One notes that these numbers are not adjusted for park, but merely expressions of each batter’s performance relative to league average. Having a park-adjusted batting line would be preferable, but also difficult to calculate given my limited skill set. As in most other cases in life, I have chosen the path of least resistance.

To calculate baserunning runs, I’ve utilized the Speed Scores (Spd) available for all minor leaguers, as no equivalent to Ultimate Base Running (UBR) is available at that level. Conveniently, Spd and baserunning runs (BsR) correlate quite strongly. Here, for example, is a graph demonstrating the relationship between speed score and baserunning runs per 600 plate appearances for all qualified major-league batters from the past five years:

BsR vs Spd

To derive each hitter’s BsR, I’ve employed the formula depicted in the graph above (where X is the player’s Speed Score), and then prorated the result to the relevant quantity of plate appearances.

Finally, with regard to defense, I’ve made no attempt even to estimate something along the lines of runs saved. Instead, I’ve utilized only a rough approximation of each player’s positional adjustment — which figures one can derive (following the application of some minor arithmetic) from the Steamer projections available at the site.

Having first calculated and then found the sum of those first three figures (i.e. Bat, BsR, and Def), I then also added the replacement-run total [(PA / 600) * 20] for each player. The sum of all those numbers divided by the number of runs per win (10 is a fine estimate) provides a rough WAR figure for any player.

I’ll present some observations momentarily. In the meantime, below are the top-20 minor-league batters by this methodology from the year 2014. Note that both Team and Age denote team and age from 2014. WAR600 denotes WAR prorated to 600 plate appearances.

# Name Team Level Age PA wRC+ Bat Run Off Def Rep WAR WAR600
1 Kris Bryant Cubs AA, AAA 22 594 192 65.4 1.6 67.0 2.4 19.8 8.9 9.0
2 Corey Seager Dodgers A+, AA 20 625 157 45.7 2.3 48.0 6.3 20.8 7.5 7.2
3 Joc Pederson Dodgers AAA 22 553 164 46.0 3.7 49.7 2.3 18.4 7.0 7.6
4 Joey Gallo Rangers A+, AA 20 537 178 48.4 1.7 50.1 1.8 17.9 7.0 7.8
5 Marquez Smith Reds A+, AA 29 554 163 47.4 -0.4 47.0 1.8 18.5 6.7 7.3
6 Clint Coulter Brewers A 20 555 160 38.9 0.3 39.2 6.9 18.5 6.5 7.0
7 Darnell Sweeney Dodgers AA 23 674 140 31.5 2.2 33.7 6.7 22.5 6.3 5.6
8 Jordy Lara Mariners A+, AA 23 585 154 41.4 -0.7 40.7 2.0 19.5 6.2 6.4
9 Scott Schebler Dodgers AA 23 651 152 39.0 4.4 43.4 -3.5 21.7 6.2 5.7
10 Carlos Asuaje Red Sox A, A+ 22 559 156 37.9 2.9 40.8 1.9 18.6 6.1 6.6
11 Daniel Robertson Athletics A+ 20 730 130 29.1 -0.3 28.8 7.3 24.3 6.0 5.0
12 Tony Kemp Astros A+, AA 22 631 138 30.2 6.9 37.1 2.1 21.0 6.0 5.7
13 Aaron Judge Yankees A, A+ 22 669 154 42.6 -1.3 41.3 -3.6 22.3 6.0 5.4
14 Sandy Madera Mexican AAA 33 419 197 54.1 -1.3 52.8 -7.0 14.0 6.0 8.6
15 Patrick Kivlehan Mariners A+, AA 24 698 136 30.1 3.8 33.9 2.3 23.3 5.9 5.1
16 Austin Barnes Marlins A+, AA 24 548 148 30.0 1.9 31.9 8.2 18.3 5.8 6.4
17 Mookie Betts Red Sox AA, AAA 21 464 168 37.0 4.4 41.4 -0.2 15.5 5.7 7.3
18 Agustin Murillo Mexican AAA 32 494 153 34.7 3.5 38.2 1.6 16.5 5.6 6.8
19 Wilmer Difo Nationals A 22 610 131 22.7 6.3 29.0 6.1 20.3 5.5 5.5
20 Andrew Velazquez D-backs A 19 622 129 21.2 7.3 28.5 6.2 20.7 5.5 5.3

Some assorted observations:

• By this methodology, Cubs third-base prospect Kris Bryant produced the highest WAR figure in all the minors last year. That he is also regarded as one of the top-two or -three prospects in baseball appears to be not a coincidence.

• Among all minor leaguers who recorded at least 100 plate appearances, Detroit shortstop prospect Manuel Joseph produced the highest WAR600 figure, recording a 4.2 WAR in 252 plate appearances at the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League — equivalent to a 10.1 WAR in 600 plate appearances. Talented Cubs prospect Kyle Schwarber finished second by this measure, at 9.5 WAR600.

• Former Arizona and now current Tampa Bay prospect Andrew Velazquez produced the most value merely by means of baserunning and defense, accruing 7.3 and 6.2 runs, respectively, in those categories — or roughly the equivalent of 1.5 wins — in 622 plate appearances.

• Note that Arizona Fall League numbers from 2014 are included in the calculations.

• A complete leaderboard of minor-league WAR is available in the form of an unkempt Excel worksheet by clicking here.

Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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Well-Beered Englishman
9 years ago

I love how Carson’s articles, regardless of content, always begin with a rhetorical flourish that is the prose equivalent of the first two minutes of Also sprach Zarathustra.

9 years ago

…segueing neatly into a discourse on whether the word “breastaurant” was an original coinage 🙂

Slacker George
9 years ago

I think Evelyn Wood uses Carson’s articles as the basis for their bold claim “Double your reading speed — guaranteed!”