Starting 9: Pirates rewarded for smart evaluations
1. The industry should start paying closer attention to Clay Davenport’s statistical translations of how foreign professional league statistics translate to major league production. Consider the Davenport Translations for three recent foreign pro players to be the first, or one of the first, to migrate from their respective leagues to the majors. Here is a look at their Davenport Translation of OPS in their final foreign pro season followed by their OPS in the first MLB season:
PlayerDaven. Trans.MLB OPS
Jung Ho Kang.856.828 (Friday)
2. The translations speak to the fact perhaps the fear of the unknown is something for a front office to take advantage of. Cespedes and Abreu were two of the first professional hitters from Cuba to jump to the majors, and both are undervalued in their first contracts. Now Kang looks to be undervalued, signed to a four-year, $11 million deal as the first Korean Baseball Organization hitter in the majors.
3. Of course, traditional scouting played a role in the signing of Kang. The Pirates sent multiple scouts for multiple looks at Kang in South Korea, not only to see the bat and glove in person but also to get a feel for his personality. C.J. Nitkowski, who played against Kang in the KBO, told the New York Times that Kang has an “alpha male” personality. Kang has shown little fear to date. He gobbled up a one-hop grounder from Giancarlo Stanton on Wednesday, said earlier this season he wanted to face Aroldis Chapman and Thursday, in his first major league game televised in South Korea, launched a 450-foot homer in San Diego. Kang’s story is perhaps a success story of blending traditional and analytical scouting.
Revising the 2011 draft
4. Speaking of smart player evaluation, perhaps there should be a greater appreciation of the process that led to Gerrit Cole being selected No. 1 overall in 2011.
5. Some sabermetric types liked Cole’s UCLA teammate Trevor Bauer — selected third overall — to Cole because of his superior college production. But Greg Smith, who then ran the draft for the Pirates, believes baseball is a “big man’s game” and preferred Cole. One evaluator told BaseballProspectus.com that prep pitching prospect Dylan Bundy was the top talent in the draft. Bundy since has had Tommy John surgery. The No. 2 overall pick, Danny Hultzen, had a significant shoulder injury. Some pegged prep outfielder Bubba Starling as the top athlete in the draft. Starling, the fifth overall pick, has struggled in the minors. And while Francisco Lindor might end up being an elite shortstop for Cleveland, he would not impact the 2015 season like Cole.
6. While the Pirates have made some mistakes in the draft, the club deserves credit for making the proper evaluation with the most important pick of the Neal Huntington Era. The Pirates cannot, or will not, pay free agent aces. They have to draft and develop them.
7. In Cole’s first two seasons, the right-hander produced two so-so first halves and then authored two excellent second halves. The question this year was whether Cole could take the lessons from his first two years — how to better maintain his shoulder health (see: 2014 disabled list trip), how to incorporate velocity separation from his fastball (see: 2013 September strikeout surge with addition of curveball) — and put together a complete season? Cole has demonstrated better feel for his breaking pitches this season. “I feel I can command at least two pitches every time I go out, and that’s been a separator,” Cole said. Health might be another separator as Cole has adopted a more disciplined shoulder strengthening regimen. His average fastball velocity is up a tick to 95.6 mph. “It’s a managing-the-throttle thing,” Cole said. “It’s understanding where you are in the season and what you have to do for the next start.”
8. According to Fielding Independent Pitching, there’s been only one NL pitcher better than Cole (2.56) throughout the first two months of the season, and that’s Jake Arrieta (2.39). Cole is averaging a career-best 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings and a career-low 1.9 walks per nine. The Pirates have just two Cy Young winners: Doug Drabek in 1990 and Vern Law in 1960. Maybe Cole will be the third.
Can’t vote for A.J.
9. Fans cannot vote on All-Star pitchers, but it’s interesting that A.J. Burnett never has been on an All-Star team. That might change in July.