The Most Unusual Minor-League Prospect

No respectable prospect list has ever read as a leaderboard of minor-league on-base percentages. There are a million other important considerations, details that help to fill out a profile. That being said, the best hitting prospects tend to avoid making too many outs, and when you don’t make outs, you get a high OBP. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.‘s OBP this year was .425. Bo Bichette‘s OBP was .423. Lewis Brinson’s OBP was .400, and Rhys Hoskins‘ OBP was .385. Scouts are always repeating that minor-league numbers aren’t that important, but then, minor-league competition is awfully good, and the numbers show who’s most often winning the battles.

Guerrero and Bichette are both in the Blue Jays organization, and they’re considered two of the better position-player prospects anywhere. They wrapped up their seasons with High-A Dunedin, but the teenagers opened with Single-A Lansing. Down there, they were the stars of the roster, but they had one particularly unusual teammate. A teammate who fell short of Guerrero’s OBP by only four points. This player reached base in more than two-fifths of his plate appearances. He also registered a hit in barely one-fifth of his at-bats. He knocked all of one single home run, out of just about 300 opportunities. There’s nobody else quite like Nick Sinay.

How does a player end up with a batting average of .215 and an on-base percentage of .405? It’s not just walks. Oh, Sinay walked plenty, but if you saw his walk rate on a list, you wouldn’t stop to stare. That one is a rather ordinarily-looking number. Sinay’s specialty is something else. Let’s think about those 2017 Lansing Lugnuts. Bichette and Guerrero tied for fifth on the team, each getting hit by five pitches. The guy in fourth got hit by six pitches. Third place, 11 pitches. Second place, 13 pitches. I’d say that 13 is a lot of hit-by-pitches.

Nick Sinay got hit by 38 pitches. Compared to the guy who got hit by 13 pitches, Sinay batted 171 fewer times.

Lansing plays in the Midwest League. Sinay is the new owner of the league’s single-season hit-by-pitch record. Sinay spent almost all of last season with the lower-level Bluefield Blue Jays, so, this past April 7, he made his Lansing debut. It was the first Lugnuts game of the season. In the top of the seventh, batting with the bases loaded, Sinay got hit by a pitch, forcing in a run. It was his first of just 16 RBI.

You might be surprised to learn that 38 hit-by-pitches did not lead the minor leagues. The leader was actually Brett Cumberland, with 41. However, compared to Sinay, Cumberland batted 159 more times, and all that’s really important is the rate statistic. Let’s get to that. Using the numbers available on FanGraphs, I looked at every single minor-league hitter who batted at least 200 times. Here are the 10 highest hit-by-pitch rates.

2017 Minor League Top 10
Player HBP%
Nick Sinay 13.0%
Brett Cumberland 9.1%
Juan Montes 7.9%
Yeuris Ramirez 7.8%
Laz Rivera 7.5%
Juan Carlos Negret 7.4%
Collin Woody 7.3%
Cody Bohanek 6.8%
Ismaldo Rodriguez 6.7%
Hunter Owen 6.5%
Minimum 200 plate appearances.

I didn’t go intentionally searching for this. During my chat last Friday, someone asked about Victor Robles‘ high rates of getting hit by pitches. Robles this summer got hit in 4.2% of his plate appearances, a pretty high rate that’s three times the overall minor-league average. For Robles, indeed, this seems to be one more way that he works to get on base. Yet Robles’ rate is less than a third as high as Sinay’s. In context, Robles’ numbers couldn’t be less interesting, because Sinay’s rate is a black hole, consuming all possible matter and light. You see that rate, and you can’t see anything else.

Think about it. Sinay was hit 13% of the time. Through all of major-league history, using the same 200-plate-appearance minimum, the highest single-season hit-by-pitch rate is 9.0%, set just last season by Brandon Guyer. The next-highest rate is all the way down at 7.8%. There is, of course, no direct comparing minor-league numbers and major-league numbers, because the games are different, and there are fewer bad pitches in the bigs. But I might as well point out that Guyer’s hit-by-pitch rate has doubled since leaving the minors behind. He got to the highest level and picked up a skill. Sinay seems to already have it.

Sinay put up a silly statistic, and as he was getting hit by 38 pitches, he managed to register just 47 regular hits. Of those, only six went for extra bases. So here’s how Sinay ranked throughout the minors, in terms of percentiles.

By batting average, Sinay ranked in the bottom 10%. By slugging, isolated power, and pop-up rate, he ranked in the bottom 5%. By OBP, he ranked in the top 5%, which is how a guy with four doubles and one home run finished with a 112 wRC+. This is a tale of extremes. In terms of turning at-bats into hits, Nick Sinay this year was extremely bad. In terms of turning plate appearances into times on base, Nick Sinay this year was extremely good. It’s not something he achieved through walks. It’s something he achieved through a means plenty more painful.

I asked our own Chris Mitchell about minor-league hit-by-pitch rates. I know, because of his previous work, that minor-league walk rates tend not to be very sticky. A guy who walks a lot in the minors might not walk a lot in the bigs, unless he has the other skills to force pitchers out of the zone. Mitchell’s response was inconclusive; he’s never studied hit-by-pitches in depth, because there’s just not much signal among the noise. That much is most certainly true, because rare is the player who uses that category to be a standout. Enter Sinay. I have no idea how this attribute of his might keep up, should he climb the organizational ladder, but one thing we can say is that Sinay isn’t lacking for track record.

See, this is the rest of the story. Up above, I embedded a table, showing Sinay as this year’s minor-league leader in hit-by-pitch rate, given a minimum of 200 plate appearances. Using the same criteria, last year’s minor-league leader in hit-by-pitch rate was also Nick Sinay. Sinay was drafted in 2015, and though he spent just a half-season with Bluefield, he led that team in hit-by-pitches. Also in 2015, in college, Sinay led the Mid-American Conference in hit-by-pitches. In 2014, he led the Mid-American Conference in hit-by-pitches. He played in the Valley League in the summer, and he led in hit-by-pitches. In 2013, in the New York Collegiate Baseball League in the summer, he led in hit-by-pitches. The Ringer’s Michael Baumann wrote about Sinay in April of 2015, for He and Ben Lindbergh arranged to have Sinay on today’s Ringer MLB Show podcast. A quote Sinay gave Baumann a few years ago:

“I took a little bit off the plate, stepped away from it, just to get more on the barrel so I can start barreling up balls a little more,” Sinay said. “But they keep hitting me, and I’ll take it, because I love to get on base.”

I could find just one video clip of Sinay hitting in 2017. He hit a triple! Here’s where he stood, relative to the plate.

Sinay stands fairly close. A little closer than, say, Bichette.

Also a little closer than, say, Guerrero.

Yet, Sinay doesn’t seem to be extremely close. I mean, this is Brandon Guyer. The fact that this guy gets hit by a million pitches makes sense.

With Sinay, it just…happens. Part of it is his stance. Part of it is his I don’t know what. But the history is there. For as long as Sinay has an established statistical record, he’s been getting drilled. Setting a career minimum of 500 plate appearances, Guyer has the highest major-league hit-by-pitch rate ever, at 5.8%. Since becoming a professional, Sinay has batted a little shy of 700 times, and his hit-by-pitch rate is 10.4%. He hasn’t done much of anything else, but he seems like a capable defensive outfielder, and he can run. I timed Sinay at 11.2 seconds on a triple, which is awfully fast. Sinay has speed on his side. Speed, and the ability to not get out.

Odds are, Nick Sinay will never see the major leagues for himself. He was, after all, a 23-year-old slugging .256 in Single-A. But the one thing Sinay’s always done is get his way to first. If a player keeps doing that, he’s going to keep getting chances. Somewhat improbably, the exceptional Nick Sinay still has a chance.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Free Clay Zavada
5 years ago

When people think OPS is still a viable alternative to wRC+, show them this player.

5 years ago

OPS is an imperfect stat but ironically, the traditional slash line does the best job of telling the story here: 215/405/256 is a more useful and illustrative overview of this dude’s weird effectiveness than +wRC, imo.

Free Clay Zavada
5 years ago
Reply to  Eltneg

I mean, the traditional slash line basically translates into wRC+ as well as OPS, just obviously far less directly. I more meant that if someone mentioned his OPS was .661, you’d think he was ineffective at the plate when that clearly isn’t the case.