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Lorenzo Cain

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2018 HoME Update, Active Center Fielders

You wouldn’t be wrong if you called this position “Mike Trout and a bunch of other guys”. This list is hardly rife with Hall of Famers. Still, both the has-beens and never-weres are kind of interesting. To think that there isn’t an up-and-comer in center field is pretty shocking though. Only Lorenzo Cain and Kevin Kiermaier join Trout 4 wins per year over the last three. That’s pretty stinky.

For more of the stinky and the great, check out our other hitter posts in this series.

[Catcher], [First Base], [Second Base], [Third Base], [Shortstop], [Left Field]

Mike Trout
2018 BBREF WAR:
10.2

CHEWS+ rank at the position after 2018:
8
Ahead of Richie Ashburn, Jim Edmonds, and Carlos Beltran
Trailing Billy Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., and Joe DiMaggio

MAPES+ rank at the position after 2018:
9
Ahead of Andruw Jones, Jim Edmonds, and Paul Hines
Trailing Richie Ashburn, Billy Hamilton, and Ken Griffey Jr.

Current career trajectory per MAPES+:
He’s the best player in baseball. He’s the best player a lot of us have ever seen. In fact, it’s possible he’s the best player any of us has ever seen. Yes, I’ve heard of Pujols, Schmidt, A-Rod, and Mantle. And I said what I said. However, in this scenario I haven’t heard of Bonds, Mays, and Aaron. Not yet. But I’m studying baseball, and those guys may come up soon. In all seriousness, it’s very difficult to estimate where Mike Trout ranks. First, his career is far from over. Second, as hard as MAPES and CHEWS try (CHEWS tries harder), comparing eras is incredibly difficult. If you’re wondering why Mantle is on the former list while Mays and Aaron are on the latter, I have two answers. First, Mays was just better than Mantle. Second, Mantle didn’t play in a league that was as integrated as Aaron’s league. Also, Mantle was amazing for five seasons and excellent for six more. Aaron may have been amazing for only four, but he was excellent for another twelve. Anyway, to understand Trout’s career trajectory, just see the names we’re tossing around.

HoME Outlook:
Well, he’s going. What intrigues me is how he climbs the ranks in center field. Previously, I had him passing Griffey and DiMaggio without much difficulty but falling short of Mantle. Let’s play things out after another incredible season is in the books. Since he’ll be just 27 next year, let’s imagine repeating 2018 three times before a gentle decline. If he does so and leaves after his 18th season, at age 36, I have him just sneaking past Mantle into fourth place on the all-time CF list (Cobb, Mays, Speaker). By the way, Trout will be just 27 next season. It’s entirely possible he hasn’t peaked yet. Oh, and repeating 2018 next year moves him past Ashburn, Hamilton, and Griffey for me.

Andrew McCutchen
2018 BBREF WAR:
2.7

CHEWS+ rank at the position after 2018:
44
Ahead of Earl Averill, Curtis Granderson, and Devon White
Trailing Edd Roush, Roy Thomas, and Fred Lynn

MAPES+ rank at the position after 2018:
39
Ahead of Mike Cameron, Earl Averill, and Fred Lynn
Trailing George Van Haltren, Roy Thomas, and Vada Pinson

Current career trajectory per MAPES+:
While things used to look somewhere between very good and great, now they look hopeless. It’s a shade over 1.7 WAR per for the last three years.

HoME Outlook:
Through age 28, he was going to the HoME. Three years later, there seems like no chance at all. Will he be a Yankee next year? Why was he ever a Yankee??? Sure, maybe the Evil Empire would have signed him. But the “budget-minded” Yankees of today never should. Or now, maybe they should. I don’t know. I don’t have much hope.

Curtis Granderson
2018 BBREF WAR:
0.9

CHEWS+ rank at the position after 2018:
46
Ahead of Devon White, Torii Hunter, and Andy Van Slyke
Trailing Earl Averill, Andrew McCutchen, and Edd Roush

MAPES+ rank at the position after 2018:
44
Ahead of Andy Van Slyke, Edd Roush, and Torii Hunter
Trailing Lenny Dykstra, Fred Lynn, and Earl Averill

Current career trajectory per MAPES+:
In another life, I hope to be as cool as wonderful a human as Curtis Granderson. What an outstanding career. It may be over now or a year from now. Whatever the case, he has much to be proud of.

HoME Outlook:
He’s not going, but with Dale Murphy, he could form the base of a Hall of Great People.

Adam Jones
2018 BBREF WAR:
0.2

CHEWS+ rank at the position after 2018:
66
Ahead of Marquis Grissom, Dummy Hoy, and Bill Lange
Trailing Darin Erstad, Ben Chapman, and Al Oliver

MAPES+ rank at the position after 2018:
59
Ahead of Bill Lange, Ray Lankford, and Bobby Thomson
Trailing Amos Otis, Garry Maddox, and Curt Flood

Current career trajectory per MAPES+:
A nice run of very goodness preceded a decline, one that always accompanies age but isn’t always so steep. He simply can’t defend center any longer, and it’s only going to get worse. Maybe he gets hurt in Spring Training next year, retires a year later, and becomes ambassador to somewhere not entirely central to global safety. Or otherwise. I think I’d be good with that.

HoME Outlook:
Though he never will, I’d love it if he got in the top-50 in center. He’s not going to the HoME.

Lorenzo Cain
2018 BBREF WAR:
6.9

CHEWS+ rank at the position after 2018:
73
Ahead of Brady Anderson, Chili Davis, and Andy Pafko
Trailing Mickey Rivers, Baby Doll Jacobson, and Dwayne Murphy

MAPES+ rank at the position after 2018:
70
Ahead of Willie McGee, Ginger Beaumont, and Chick Stahl
Trailing Mickey Rivers, Dummy Hoy, and Al Oliver

Current career trajectory per MAPES+:
I wonder how the fortunes of the Brewers and Royals may have been different if he and a few others weren’t shipped from MIL to KC in the Zach Greinke trade before the 2011 season. Whatever, Cain got a ring out of it. And he got back to Milwaukee.

HoME Outlook:
Nah. Interestingly, Cain doesn’t hit homers. It’s 2018 and this guy has been in the majors for nine seasons with only 67 long balls. Again, he’s not going to the HoME, but that fact is pretty cool.

Jacoby Ellsbury
2018 BBREF WAR:
0.0

CHEWS+ rank at the position after 2018:
107
Ahead of Austin Jackson, Jake Stenzel, and Denard Span
Trailing Al Bumbry, Lloyd Moseby, and Rick Monday

MAPES+ rank at the position after 2018:
98

Ahead of Vernon Wells, Dode Paskert, and Lloyd Moseby
Trailing Larry Hisle, Benny Kayff, and Tony Gonzalez

Current career trajectory per MAPES+:
He missed the whole year with Jacoby ailments. Perhaps the hip surgery he had in August will allow him to play next year. The Yankees hope not.

HoME Outlook:
While a Red Sox fan, I’ve never been a Yankee hater. I didn’t mind Wade Boggs or Johnny Damon in pinstripes. And by the time Roger Clemens got there, I had hated him for years. Ellsbury was another story. I still remember when the Yankees signed him. I thought it was hilarious! Ellsbury was awesome once, excellent another time, and injured a lot. More than twice his career value at the plate came in one season. What that means is that he’s had a negative Rbat otherwise in his career. Seven years for this guy? He still has two more left, which I think is awesome. Oh, no HoME for him.

Denard Span
2018 BBREF WAR:
1.9

CHEWS+ rank at the position after 2018:
110
Ahead of Ruppert Jones, Mookie Wilson, and Coco Crisp
Trailing Jake Stenzel, Austin Jackson, and Jacoby Ellsbury

MAPES+ rank at the position after 2018:
112
Ahead of Ruppert Jones, Mookie Wilson, and Gary Pettis
Trailing Mark Kotsay, Jerry Mumphrey, and Shane Spence

Current career trajectory per MAPES+:
Cool dude. Nice player. He’s like Al Bumbry and Mookie Wilson. Again, cool, though not really valuable.

HoME Outlook:
Nah.

Carlos Gomez
2018 BBREF WAR:
0.5

CHEWS+ rank at the position after 2018:
119
Ahead of Marlon Byrd, Makr Kotsay, and Kevin Kiermaier
Trailing Matty Alou, Gary Pettis, and Johnny Hopp

MAPES+ rank at the position after 2018:
106
Ahead of Matty Alou, Al Bumbry, and Shane Spence
Trailing Rick Monday, Stan Javier, and Jake Stenzel

Current career trajectory per MAPES+:
When he came up, he shouldn’t have. When he became a regular at 22, he shouldn’t have. When he suddenly reached 19 homers in his sixth year, he shouldn’t have. When he made this list, well, he kinda should have.

HoME Outlook:
He’s been worth less than 2 WAR per season over the last six. And he’s not 45. That should be all you need to know.

Kevin Kiermaier
2018 BBREF WAR:
2.5

CHEWS+ rank at the position after 2018:
122
Ahead of Stan Spence, Lloyd Waner, and Pete Reiser
Trailing Mark Kotsay, Marlon Byrd, and Carlos Gomez

MAPES+ rank at the position after 2018:
116
Ahead of Bill Bruton, Barney McCosky, and Coco Crisp
Trailing Gary Pettis, Mookie Wilson, and Ruppert Jones

Current career trajectory per MAPES+:
Quick, he’s been in the majors for six seasons. How many times has he played in 110 games? Once. Exactly once. He’s an elite level defender, thought far less wonderful per MAPES. Still, he’s never healthy, and he can’t hit.

HoME Outlook:
Not in his future.

Austin Jackson
2018 BBREF WAR:
-1.8

CHEWS+ rank at the position after 2018:
108
Ahead of Jake Stenzel, Denard Span, and Ruppert Jones
Trailing Jacoby Ellsbury, Al Bumbry, and Lloyd Moseby

MAPES+ rank at the position after 2018:
127
Ahead of David DeJesus, Michael Bourn, and Johnny Grubb
Trailing Lloyd Waner, Mike Kreevich, and Ender Inciarte

Current career trajectory per MAPES+:
The last season of over 1.8 WAR by MAPES was 2013. Yuck! The closest person to him in center field who debuted with at least 4 WAR was Dummy Hoy in 1888. In other words, players who debut like he did usually do better than this.

HoME Outlook:
According to BBREF, he’s been a negative with the bat since 2012. Plus, he’s been a negative in the field since 2011. There’s no reason to believe he has any prayer of reaching the HoME.

Ender Inciarte
2018 BBREF WAR:
3.4

CHEWS+ rank at the position after 2018:
128
Ahead of David DeJesus, Mike Kreevich, and Michael Bourn
Trailing Ron LeFlore, Steve Brodie, and Pete Reiser

MAPES+ rank at the position after 2018:
124
Ahead of Mike Kreevich, Lloyd Waner, and Austin Jackson
Trailing Steve Brodie, Marlon Byrd, and Ron LeFlore

Current career trajectory per MAPES+:
Though he’s played in 118 or more games each of the last five seasons, I have to admit that I don’t really know who this guy is. He has no power, he gets caught stealing a lot, and has never stolen more than 28 bases. He can field though. Hooray for him.

HoME Outlook:
No, it’s not happening.

Please join us again on Monday as we finish off our active hitters with right field.

Miller

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End of the Year HoME Roundup, CF

Mike Trout, 2017Continuing down the road with our post-season evaluation of active major leaguers, today we move to center field. What are the chances Mike Trout and others eventually get elected to the Hall of Miller and Eric? Read on to find out. And please check out our analysis of other positions in this series.

FIRST BASE | SECOND BASE | THIRD BASE | SHORTSTOP | LEFT FIELD |
CENTER FIELD | RIGHT FIELD | CATCHER | RELIEF PITCHERS | LEFT-HANDED PITCHERS | RIGHT-HANDED PITCHERS

Carlos Beltran

2017 BBREF WAR:
-0.4

Rank at the position after 2017:
Miller:   12
Ahead of Kenny Lofton, Duke Snider, and Mike Trout.
Trailing Andruw Jones, Jim Edmonds, and Paul Hines.

Eric: 10
Ahead of Paul Hines, Mike Trout, and Andruw Jones
Trailing Billy Hamilton, Rich Ashburn, and Jim Edmonds

Current career trajectory:
Beltran’s career could be over after a lousy 2017 campaign.

HoME Outlook:
But what a great career it is/was. He’s one of the greatest base stealers of all time with an 86% success rate in 361 attempts. He’s hit nearly 450 homers, collected 2725 hits, poled 565 doubles and 78 triples and walked 1084 times. He even leads all active players in sacrifice flies for Pete’s sake. Defensively, until his legs gave out in his early thirties, Beltran played plus defense and sometimes plus-plus defense. About the only thing he couldn’t do was pitch, though he never tried in a game. For years, concerned sabrmetric citizens bemoaned a likely shunning by the writers, but his longevity and several blistering post-season series have made that outcome unlikely. Then again, HoME-wise, he’s been a made man since somewhere between 2008 and 2010.
—Eric

Mike Trout

2017 BBREF WAR:
6.7

Rank at the position after 2017:
Miller:   15
Ahead of Jimmy Wynn, George Gore, and Max Carey.
Trailing Duke Snider, Kenny Lofton, and Carlos Beltran.

Eric: 12
Ahead of Andruw Jones, Kenny Lofton, and Duke Snider
Trailing Jim Edmonds, Carlos Beltran, and Paul Hines, and none of them for long

Current career trajectory:
No one is like Mike Trout. He’s doing things that only guys with names like Cobb, Mantle, and Mays do. Assuming he’s still MIKE TROUT in 2018, he could conceivably pass Billy Hamilton and Ken Griffey, Jr., in my personal rankings. In just 4700 or so PAs. Extreme? These three all have basically the same seven-year peak after all of my adjustments: 52–54 WAR. But because Trout has only played for seven years, we’re including his 135-PA 2011 season, and the 0.5 WAR my system spits back for it. So if Trout has merely a 7.0 WAR season next year, then his peak will be not 53 WAR but 60. Here’s the list of guys who in my system have assembled a 60+ WAR seven-year peak (nonconsecutive):

  1. Babe Ruth: 85
  2. Rogers Hornsby: 77
  3. Ty Cobb: 76
  4. Ted Williams: 76
  5. Willie Mays: 74
  6. Barry Bonds: 72
  7. Nap Lajoie: 72
  8. Tris Speaker: 71
  9. Honus Wagner: 69
  10. Stan Musial: 68
  11. Lou Gehrig: 68
  12. Eddie Collins 67
  13. Mickey Mantle: 66
  14. Hank Aaron: 64
  15. Alex Rodriguez: 64
  16. Mike Schmidt: 64
  17. Albert Pujols: 63
  18. Rickey Henderson: 62
  19. Jimmie Foxx: 62
  20. Carl Yastrzemski: 60

You couldn’t ask for better company. I’m rooting for Trout’s return to 10-WAR play just like everyone else, but even a mere fringe-MVP campaign puts him into some amazing company.

HoME Outlook:
Wait, what? He needs a rest of his career? Well, sure, of course. But if Mike Trout played replacement level baseball for another 6000 PA he’d still be a HoMEr.
—Eric

Curtis Granderson

2017 BBREF WAR:
1.5

Rank at the position after 2017:
Miller:   50
Ahead of Andy Van Slyke, Earle Combs, and Steve Finley.
Trailing Devon White, Edd Roush, and Andrew McCutchen

Eric: 46
Ahead of Torii Hunter, Andy Van Slyke, and Earle Combs
Trailing Edd Roush, Earl Averill, and Devon White

Current career trajectory:
An interesting career is winding down. His bat and glove are both still passable though, unless you consider an elevated infield pop rate skill degradation. He’ll have a job if he wants it and doesn’t demand huge money.

HoME Outlook:
Clearly he’s not going. But Edd Roush is in the Hall of Fame, and Curtis Granderson will retire as much the same player, so anything is possible.
—Miller

Andrew McCutchen

2017 BBREF WAR:
2.5

Rank at the position after 2017:
Miller:   45
Ahead of Edd Roush, Devon White, and Curtis Granderson.
Trailing Torii Hunter, Fred Lynn, and Lenny Dykstra.

Eric: 39
Ahead of Fred Lynn, Ellis Burks, and Roy Thomas
Trailing Mike Cameron, Vada Pinson, and Lenny Dykstra

Current career trajectory:
Trajectory connotes an arc to me. Like the trajectory of a baseball off a bat. Sure, spin will affect it greatly, but there’s still a roundness of some sort. Not McCutchen. That pothole in 2016 dropped the bottom out of the parabola. A bounce back to merely average in 2017 sure makes it seem like the end of his prime. His rebound offensively earned him a mere 16 batting runs, less than half of his peak years. His doubles have begun to ebb away. He hits about half as many triples now and steals fewer than half as many bases. With the loss of batting skill has come a drop in walk rate. His BABIPs have plunged 30 to 50 points thanks, surely, to some combination in loss of batting skill and speed. Indeed, on the bases, he turned in his third straight year of -3 runs or more. The percentage of extra bases he’s taken once on base has dipped from well above average (peak in the 60%+ range) to Ortizian (29%, 27%, 37% in the last three years). In the field, his continued immobility cost the 2017 Bucs 13 runs, his fourth consecutive campaign under par, and third of four in double-digit negatives. The saving grace to all of this could be a move to right field. No, he doesn’t have the arm of a right fielder, but his range, even diminished as it now is, plays well enough there to be average or positive. That was the plan for 2017, but Starling Marte’s untimely suspension crippled not only the Bucco’s offense, but its defense, forcing McCutchen back to center, which he then never relinquished. Hopefully the team, almost certain to pick up his cheap option, will once again station him in the rightmost pasture in 2018.

HoME Outlook:
Curiouser and curiouser, I’d say. Cutch’s peak is only decent since 2016 and 2017 ate up two years of what should be his prime. If he picked up 20 more WAR in his next 3000 plate appearances—4 a year for the next five or six years—he might squeak by as a borderline candidate. Or not. He’s such a wild card at this point, an amazing thing to say about someone whom two years ago could nearly have written his ticket to immortality with one more great season or a couple merely good ones.
—Eric

Adam Jones

2017 BBREF WAR:
2.5

Rank at the position after 2017:
Miller:   66
Ahead of Dwayne Murphy, Brady Anderson, and Chili Davis.
Trailing Hack Wilson, Bill Lange, and Dummy Hoy.

Eric: 67
Ahead of Mickey Rivers, Brady Anderson, and Al Oliver
Trailing Dummy Hoy, Bill Lange, and Dwayne Murphy

Current career trajectory:
Before discussing Jones, let me just interject how crazy it is to call Chili Davis a center fielder in my rankings. Sure, I don’t categorize anyone as a DH since comparison would be so difficult. But center field? Yeah, he played 539 games there, more than at any other defensive position. Still, it’s weird. Back to Adam Jones. What a solid citizen and player. When the season begins, the Orioles know what they’re going to get, about 150 games, about 28 homers, and about a 110 OPS+. He’ll only be 32 next year, so there’s a reasonable chance he can keep doing this for a few more years.

HoME Outlook:
No, there’s no reasonable projection of Adam Jones that suggests he can get to the HoME. However, I could envision a scenario where he reached 400 home runs and 2500 hits. If he does that, he’d join only Willie Mays, Ken Griffey, and Carlos Beltran among center fielders with those numbers. If this were 1997, we could create a scenario under which he’d get enough votes. As the voters improve, however, that’s less and less likely.
—Miller

Jacoby Ellsbury

2017 BBREF WAR:
1.7

Rank at the position after 2017:
Miller:   79
Ahead of Lorenzo Cain, Lloyd Waner, and unranked guys.
Trailing Benny Kauff, Grady Sizemore, and Dode Paskert.

Eric: 84
Ahead of Gary Pettis, Lloyd Waner, and teeming throngs of the middle pasture
Trailing Lorenzo Cain, Dode Paskert, and Rick Monday

Current career trajectory:
Health hasn’t been Ellsbury’s calling card in his career, and he’s simply not the player many hoped he would be after his breakout 2011 campaign. It’s been a while since then with mediocre season after mediocre season. He’s signed for three more years, which is pretty funny if you’re not a Yankee fan. If you’re looking for a positive, he did have the best BB rate of his career in 2017. That’s not nothing. Just close to it…

HoME Outlook:
Through age-33, his profile isn’t so different from that of Phil Rizzuto. So Ellsbury’s path to the Hall seems to be laying down a track with Meatloaf and becoming an insane announcer who checks out of games early, both intellectually and literally. Even if things work out for him, he’s unlikely to be among the best 70 center fielders ever.
—Miller

Clearly, Miller underrates Ells. Doesn’t breaking the coveted catcher’s interference record get someone at least to the borderline?
—Eric

Lorenzo Cain

2017 BBREF WAR:
5.3

Rank at the position after 2017:
Miller:   80
Ahead of Lloyd Waner and guys I haven’t ranked.
Trailing Jacoby Ellsbury, Benny Kauff, and Grady Sizemore.

Eric: 81
Ahead of Dod Paskert, Rick Monday, and Jacoby Ellsbury
Trailing Curt Welch, Chicken Wolf, and Grady Sizemore

Current career trajectory:
Cain didn’t become a regular until he was 27 or 28, which is why we shouldn’t expect so many more seasons from him like this one. On the other hand, his vast skill set should be able to hold up for a few more years. Those hoping to sign Cain this winter may point to career best K and BB rates, and then salivate. Others will see that his calling card great defense has been getting less great for years, and he’s on what they call the wrong side of 30.

HoME Outlook:
Guys who start as regulars at age 27 don’t get into the HoME, and Cain will be no different. But let’s imagine another season like last year followed by a long slow fade to one win per year. If that happened, he’ll retire at a level with Earl Averill, Mike Cameron, and Dale Murphy. There’s nothing wrong with that.
—Miller

We finish the outfield with right fielders on Monday.

Negro Leagues: Measuring the Quality of Competition

How good were the Negro Leagues? If you’re considering translating Negro League statistics to a Major League setting, you have to have an answer to this question. If you want reasonable translations, you have to have a really good answer to the question. If you want all your translations to line up systematically, you have to answer that same question for many, many leagues. So today, that’s what we’re considering.

In some sense, organized baseball has answered parts of the question for us. Under the National Agreement, the minor leagues have been classified since the early 1900s. We’ll soon see how those classifications have changed repeatedly over the years, but fans today recognize this structure:

  • MLB: The AL and NL
  • AAA: The Pacific Coast and International Leagues (and the Mexican League)
  • AA: The Eastern, Southern, and Texas Leagues
  • Hi-A: The California, Carolina, and Florida State Leagues
  • Lo-A: The Midwest and South Atlantic Leagues
  • Short-Season A: The New York-Penn and Northwest Leagues
  • Rookie (non-complex): The Appalachian and Pioneer Leagues
  • Complex Rookie: The Arizona Summer and Gulf Coast Leagues
  • Foreign Rookie: The Dominican Summer League

Today, the classification of these leagues represents a ladder that young players climb on the way to The Show. In past eras, however, the National Agreement based classification on the size of the population the league served. But when you think about, this was a strong proxy for quality. Of course, the larger the area you drew from the more talent you could scout locally, the more ticket sales you could do. But remember, unlike the organized minors of today, until the 1960s or so, most minor league teams were trying to win their league’s pennant. So fans of the time also exerted more pressure on minor league squads to win. The point is this: The ladder existed then and exists now.

So what’s this got to do with Black Ball? Simply put, if we can figure out the quality of play at each minor league level, we may be able to place the Negro Leagues and other independent leagues that signed dark-skinned players into the framework. It’s a method that can produce a reasonable and familiar estimate of play.

Here’s a timeline of minor league classifications presented for puzzlement/enjoyment. The hashed arrows indicate that a league shifted to a new level. It’s a pretty wacky timeline, so…this is a blues riff in B, watch me for the changes, and try to keep up. Okay?

What if we knew the discount (if you will) off of major league performance for each of these leagues? That is, if we knew that a person created 100 runs in AA, what percentage of those 100 runs created would he give back by moving up to the majors?

Luckily for you and me, others have plumbed these very depths and done the math. I pieced together information from an excellent article by Ben Lindbergh at the former Grantland as well as some of Clay Davenport’s work to reach some SWAGs for conversion rates for leagues in the current minor-league classification system. To the best of my ability to use Google, I haven’t been able to find an updated table that includes all levels and indy and international leagues and their conversion rates to MLB.

To provide some context, let’s see how the discount structure works using two players’ 2016 seasons. Mike Trout led the AL with 148 runs created, 64 more than average in his 681 plate appearances. Lorenzo Cain created 52 runs in 434 PAs, exactly average for a player in his playing time in the AL of 2016. What would we expect these guys’ major league performance to be if they had created the same number of runs in AAA? Or in AA?


                   CONV
LEVEL LEAGUES      RATE  TROUT CAIN
======================================
MLB   AL  NL       1.00   148   52
AAA   IL  PCL      0.80   118   42
AA    EL  SL  TXL  0.72   107   37
Hi-A  CAL CAR FSL  0.62    92   32
Lo-A  MWL SAL      0.58    86   30
SSA   NYP NWL      0.50    74   26
NCRK  APP PIO      0.50    74   26
CXRK  AZS GCL      0.50    74   26
FNRK  DMS VZS      0.50    74   26
AAA   MXL          0.49    73   25

When you are as good as Trout was in 2016, you can be playing as far down on the farm as LoA and still produce an approximately average MLB season. Even down in Rookie ball, you’re not yet at replacement. On the other hand, Cain plummets to roughly replacement level in Hi-A. Now, obviously, this bootstrapping-like method has limitations. Guys in the Arizona Summer League have probably never seen a great breaking ball and won’t until they hit A ball. But on the whole, it appears defensible because it’s telling us that a Trout-like season by a veteran player in Lo-A would only appear as about average in the bigs. As we’ll see below, this may make good sense.

Let’s bust thing out a little further to include some foreign and independent leagues.


                          CONV
LEVEL LEAGUES             RATE  TROUT CAIN
============================================
MLB   AL NL               1.00   148   52
INT   NPB                 0.90   133   47
AAA   IL PCL              0.80   118   42
WINT  DMW                 0.80   118   42
AA    EL SL TXL           0.72   107   37
IND   ATLANTIC            0.72   107   37
WINT  AZF PRWL VZWL MXWL  0.72   107   37
INT   CUBA                0.63    93   33
Hi-A  CAL CAR FSL         0.62    92   32
IND   AA CANAM            0.62    92   32
Lo-A  MWL SAL             0.58    86   30
IND   FRONTIER            0.58    86   30
SSA   NYP NWL             0.50    74   26
NCRK  APP PIO             0.50    74   26
CXRK  AZS GCL             0.50    74   26
FNRK  DMS VZS             0.50    74   26
AAA   MXL                 0.49    73   25
INT   KBL                 0.49    73   25

That’s a pretty reasonable spread to work from, right? So how would the Negro Leagues fit into this? The Negro Leagues are variously described as anywhere between Nippon Pro Baseball and AA quality. That would put them in the range of 0.75–0.90 of MLB. I suspect the truth is they come in at both ends of this spectrum at different times in history. Did I mention that the Negro Leagues are complicated?

The Negro National League and Eastern Colored League of the 1920s were probably close to NPB level leagues. The talent was well concentrated in those leagues, and while the cream of the crop were Hall-level players, the very bottom end were probably Hi-A or Lo-A players. The spread of talent was larger than in MLB, but the cream got more playing time, and the really bad teams with mostly nobodies tended to play fewer games and/or fold quickly. Compare that to the early 1940s. At that time, the league’s biggest names jumped to Mexico and/or went to war. Pending further research, the combination of the two seems likely to me to have lowered the quality of play to AA quality. Once the color line was broken and the exodus of talent hastened, the quality of play sank rapidly.

On the flip side there’s the Mexican League. With so many black stars jumping to it, the league’s quality rose steeply in 1940 and 1941 and ebbed and flowed in the 1940s. It imported several quality MLB players in 1946–1947 before Happy Chandler started handing out suspensions for signing a contract with la Liga. Although this requires more investigation, we can make some initial guesses. Today’s Mexican League draws primarily from Mexico and surrounding countries. Despite its AAA classification, Clay Davenport’s studies show it’s at about a Rookie ball level. Mexico’s best have rarely proven to be superior quality major leaguers. Fernando Valenzuela being an exception that proves the rule. So, add to that Rookie-level league a couple dozen high-profile MLB stars and some veteran AA and AAA players, and what would happen? The ceiling would absolutely rise, but so would the floor because the lesser native players would garner fewer appearances. So the guess here is that the league of the 1940s rose to about an overall AA level. Maybe a tad more, maybe a tad less depending on how much talent it imported for any given season.

Now here’s a kicker. In some seasons, the Cuban Winter League might have been NPB level or better. The Cuban leagues only included three or four teams each season. Numerous Negro Leagues stars made the trip south (or returned to their homeland in Martin Dihigo’s case), their numbers were augmented by the very best Cuban and Latin American players, as well as occasional white minor league or major league players (especially native sons Dolf Luque, Armando Marsans, Rafael Almeida, and Mike Gonzalez). The number of players who appeared for a team fluctuated from small (15) to large (25), and the championships were hotly contested. Talent burst at the seams of the league, though, like the Negro Leagues, this may have been more true some years than others.

Now, finally, we arrive at the organized minor leagues themselves. They are of concern for players who transitioned into organized baseball during integration. If Negro Leagues expat Marv Williams hit .401 at the age of 32 with 45 homers in the 1952 Arizona-Texas League, what does that mean? His stats (with an extrapolation for his walks and other peripherals at known career rates) probably compute to a runs-created total around 150, very close to Trout’s 2016 total. The Arizona-Texas league was a C-level league. Consulting my chart above on the history of league classifications, Williams probably played in a context around Hi-A or Lo-A level by our current nomenclature. It might well mean that Williams’ performance translates to very near the major league average despite the gaudy numbers (especially because the AZTX league was a very high-octane loop with 7.1 runs/game. Yeah, you read that right, 7.1). And that makes sense, doesn’t it? If Lorenzo Cain played all of 2016 in the Midwest League, wouldn’t we expect him to destroy it just like Williams did the AZTX?

So at the very worst, bootstrapping from today’s minor league setup gives us a strong foundation to build conversion factors from. There are issues with it, though. Leagues, especially lower level leagues, from the Integration era were typically populated with older players than they are today. As much as two or three years older. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are as talented as today’s younger players. But it’s a thing. Also, with so many more and more localized leagues back then, we can’t say for sure that something like the Arizona-Texas league wasn’t worse (or better) than other leagues at the same classification. This is also true today in some measure, but the spread must have been much wider back then. Still, despite these issues, we can probably work with some confidence because baseball as a game hasn’t changed much. The minor leagues are minor for a reason, and the big leagues have always used them as a means for procuring and developing talent.

No one has ever said that the translation of Negro Leaguers stats into a major league context will provide highly accurate assessments of performance. Not possible given the limitations of the data. We would instead hope to achieve a reasonably accurate assessment. The definition of accurate remains open in this context, and details like the difference between A and AA ball require attention and a flexible concept of “correct.” But if we go down this path, we could only do our best to arrive an answer that passes the sniff test and doesn’t have any glaring mathematical errors.

Institutional History

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