In January of this year, the author of this post, following some statistical perambulations, arrived at the conclusion that Max Schrock, a 13th-round selection out of the University of South Carolina during the most recent (2015) draft, would someday win an MVP award. The basis for that conclusion: no SEC batter in 2015 had produced numbers more similar to Josh Donaldson’s — during Donaldson’s own final year as a collegiate player (also in the SEC) — than Schrock. And Donaldson himself had just collected an MVP award in the American League. So, by a very liberal application of the transitive property, I concluded that Schrock would as well.
There were, of course, a number of reasons to suppose that Max Schrock would not win an MVP award in the major leagues. There remain a number of reasons. Chief among them is probably this: the best player of the current era — and possibly any one’s era ever — has received only one MVP award during his first four seasons in the majors and faces a non-negligible chance of extending that record to one in five years. If Mike Trout is capable of just a 20% conversion rate on MVP awards, everyone else’s chances are dramatically lower.
Moreover, there’s the matter of Schrock himself. Because, here’s a type of prospect who rarely develops into a perennial MVP candidate: a 5-foot-8 hitter. And here’s another kind: an infielder who’s incapable of playing a competent shortstop. And here’s a third sort: a player who’s selected in the 13th round. How many 5-foot-8, 13th-round second basemen have been recognized as their respective league’s best? I lack the requisite ambition to perform the search. But none seems like a reasonable answer. Let’s assume none or somewhere close to none. Indeed, even Josh Donaldson, whose ascent to stardom is regarded as improbable, is a former first-round selection. And features physical attributes that suggest the ability to hit for power. And offered, as a young player, the possibility of defensive value as a catcher. (And continues to offer it as a markedly above-average third baseman.) Schrock possesses none of these redeeming qualities.
But ever since that mid-winter’s post celebrating Schrock’s virtues, he’s acquitted himself almost perfectly, first recording the lowest strikeout rate among all Low-A batters and, more recently, recording almost the lowest strikeout rate among High-A batters — while also producing a roughly league-average isolated-power figure at both levels. That combination of extreme contact and satisfactory power — combined with the capacity to occupy a place on the more challenging end of the defensive spectrum — is a deceptively valuable one. Players who’ve paired those skills at the major-league level have been almost uniformly helpful.
What do those major-league seasons look like? Regard, a table featuring all the qualified players over the first half of this decade who recorded an elite strikeout rate (under 11%, in this case, which accounts for roughly 10% of batters each year) and exhibited roughly league-average power (.130-.160 ISO) and produced a positive positional adjustment. Note: catchers have been excluded because their positional adjustment renders them otherly.
|Dustin Pedroia||Red Sox||2012||623||9.6%||.160||114||1.9||4.5|
I don’t feel comfortable declaring that a solid campaign by Martin Prado represents Max Schrock’s floor. Although, to be fair, I don’t feel comfortable doing anything else, either. And, to continue being fair, it’s important to note that, however authoritative this table renders the conclusions it renders, it’s merely one form of prospect-related alchemy. Upon whatever method one relies for analyzing/projecting prospects, it’s still difficult to identify which good prospects will actually become good players.
For the moment, however, what Oakland has done it to trade away a left-handed reliever for a promising young player. And it seems unlikely that believing said young player will become an MVP has any chance of materially hurting anyone.
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.