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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Cut Alex Rodriguez? What minor league batting stats justify major league playing time?

Bring them up.

Give the kids a chance.

We'll never know about them until we try them.

You hear that kind of stuff often. It's usually vague and unfocused. It's late June, so replacing a major league player in the starting lineup with a minor league player suggests either:
- the team is so far out of contention even for the second wild card spot in the tournament that it doesn't matter
- the player to be replaced is doing so poorly that the minor league guy can't be much worse.

That second scenario has been voiced recently by a Yankee fan I know. The idea is to cut Alex Rodriguez and replace him in the lineup with 24 year old minor league outfielder Aaron Judge, who has zero major league PA. Current Yankee right fielder and top hitter Carlos Beltran would make room for Judge by replacing A-Rod as designated hitter (DH).

Yankee fans started wanting Judge on the team last year, without bothering to even check his stats.

Judge had good numbers in the lower minor leagues but I require a Candy Gram informing me that a player has done well for a season at AAA to take that player seriously. Unfortunately, Judge flopped in his first exposure to AAA pitching. In the second half of 2015 Judge had OPS .680 in 260 AAA plate appearances (PA). OPS is On base plus Slugging averages.

In 2016, thanks to a recent surge, Judge has OPS .812 in 310 PA, boosted by his 14th home run last night. That gives Judge about a full season at AAA: OPS .752 in 710 PA. Good but not anything special.

Maybe the most weight should be given to his most recent performance. But that greatly reduces the sample size.

But there is also the common sense factor: won't his performance suffer batting against major league pitching for the first time? Probably. But how much?

I'm not a statistician and do not have the data to even try a detailed analysis. But I'm guessing that teams consider all that. This post will take an anecdotal look at four prominent recent Rookie of the Year batters: two from 2012, two from 2015.

Mike Trout: Trout's highest minor league level of a substantial amount of PA was AA. Trout started his 2012 rookie season at AAA but had only 93 PA before being called up. At AAA Trout's OPS was 1.091. For this analysis, Trout's AA numbers from the previous year will be used. Trout has a tiny performance improvement over his AA numbers in his rookie season.

Bryce Harper: Like Trout, Harper started his rookie season with his first exposure at AAA: 84 PA, OPS .690. Harper was called up anyway.

Carlos Correa: Correa started his rookie season with 246 PA in the minors with these OPS:
AA 1.185
AAA .794

So far in 2016, his OPS has dropped from .857 as a rookie to .811.

Kris Bryant: The oldest of the four, Bryant dropped the most from minors to rookie. So far in 2016, his OPS has improved from .858 as a rookie to .887.

The minor league level is the highest in his final "full" season.

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It would seem that the best that Yankee fans could hope for in the first major league season of Aaron Judge would be OPS .731. But lower than .700 seems more likely. Here are the OPS for the current Yankee outfielders and Rodriguez:

Brett Gardner .726
Jacoby Ellsbury .745
Carlos Beltran .900
Alex Rodriguez .666

Judge might hit better than Rodriguez in 2016 but I doubt it. Plus, there is no way that the Yankees would eat A-Rod's contract for this season and next. Oh, and A-Rod is only five home runs short of 700. Who in his right mind would rather see Aaron Judge in 2016 than Alex Rodriguez?

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