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Friday, March 19, 2004

VORPal Swords, Part 2

Jon links to a David Cameron article on Baseball Prospectus about Dodger prospect James Loney. Cameron makes a good point, one I was pleased to make yesterday about Eckstein, namely PECOTA goes down hard on any player who's been injured. Trouble is, it doesn't do so selectively and seems to assume the worst...
At the end of his professional debut in 2002, Loney's left wrist was broken when he was hit by a pitch, ending his season. Wrist injuries are notorious for lingering, and Loney was clearly bothered by the recovery during the early part of 2003. After his first 45 games in the Florida State League, his line was .233/.283/.337. From game 46 through the end of the season, he hit .301/.369/.436, a much more impressive performance than his final totals would indicate. As Clay Davenport noted, that is the difference between a projected peak EqA of .289 versus .316, or roughly the difference between the 2003 versions of J.T. Snow and Nick Johnson. Usually, selective sampling is frowned upon, but the injury provides a legitimate reason for the dramatic improvement as the season goes along. At full health, he returned to his prior levels of ball-whacking, finishing the year as one of the best hitters in the lower minors at the tender age of 19.

Youth is certainly one of the main factors on Loney's side. He will spend 2004 in Double-A at the age of 20, putting him squarely on the fast track to the major leagues. Looking through his list of comparable players provided by PECOTA yields names like Hank Blalock, Miguel Cabrera, Sean Burroughs, and Adrian Beltre, who all arrived in the majors before their 22nd birthdays. It also includes players who have stalled in Double-A-- Adrian Gonzalez being the most notable--or have yet to establish themselves, and PECOTA is clearly picking up on the risk of getting too excited about players on the wrong side of the defensive spectrum who haven't tasted Double-A pitching yet. However, Loney gives a plethora of reasons for excitement beyond his age.

Given Eckstein's relative youth (well, maybe 29 is pushing the extent of that word), the same issues PECOTA has with Loney -- and IMO are being overstated -- are going to be present with young master David as well.

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