The injury bug has been a constant for the Oakland A's system over the past few years, so when…
By The Numbers: Early Results On Offense
I have developed a statistic called Ultimate Value Index (UVI) that basically condenses the value of a hitter or pitcher into one statistic. You can read more about UVI at http://bleacherreport.com/articles/17934-The-Stat-That-Will-Revolutionize-Baseball-Introducing-UVI-160408.
Looking through the numbers that the A's and their prospects have put up, there are many statistical developments to note. For this column, I've picked out a number of hitters to look at. All stats are through Sunday (April 20), and all UVIs listed are UVI2s, which means they adjust for a player's home park. For more specific information on UVI2, follow this link: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/17970-Second-Order-Hitting-UVI-A-Few-Facts-and-Examples-160408.
Without further ado, here are some players of note thus far:
C Kurt Suzuki: .411 UVI—Suzuki's below-average UVI comes as a bit of a surprise, given that his park-adjusted line features a .344 batting average and .408 OBP. He hasn't shown a lot of extra-base pop, however, and has already hit into two double plays. Don't worry about Suzuki too much; his UVI as a rookie was .452, and with more playing time this year he figures to be somewhere in that range again.
1B Daric Barton: .441 UVI—Expectations were through the roof after Barton posted a .668 UVI during his September call-up last year. This year, he has struggled out of the gate, although like Suzuki, his relatively low UVI seems to be caused primarily by a lack of extra-base hits.
SS Bobby Crosby: .484 UVI—It's great to see Crosby finally hitting well again after posting a paltry .374 mark last year. His extra-base pop has been a big help to a team that has struggled to slug thus far.
2B Mark Ellis: .490 UVI—Surprisingly, Ellis has posted a higher mark than Crosby thus far. This is due to the contribution he's made with his base-running. Crosby has also hit into three double plays, while Ellis has only grounded into one twin killing. The epitome of consistency, Ellis is right back where he was in 2007, when he put up a good .486 UVI.
3B Jack Hannahan: . 398 UVI—Hannahan's .196 batting average thus far certainly hasn't helped him establish himself as a big leaguer, but for a player with a batting average that low, a UVI this high is very good. Hannahan has never had much of an issue making contact before, so I'm not worried about his early performance. Hannahan's exceptional defense also makes it easier to deal with his low offensive production.
DH Mike Sweeney: .375 UVI—An .063 ISO isn't acceptable from anywhere, let alone from a DH. Sweeney needs to get his extra-base hit bat going.
OF Emil Brown: .420 UVI—Coming to Oakland from Kansas City has helped Brown thus far, as he has improved on last year's UVI by .049. However, Brown doesn't play a premium defensive position, and if he doesn't start contributing more at the plate, he'll soon be in danger of losing his job to Carlos Gonzalez or Todd Linden. Two walks in 68 plate appearances is unacceptable.
OF Travis Buck: .275 UVI—Buck shows flashes of getting out of his slump, but they haven't been enough to get his production anywhere near where it needs to be. He's been out for two games with shin splints and desperately needs to find his stroke.
OF Jack Cust: .409 UVI—Cust's park-adjusted batting average is a whopping 145 points below Emil Brown's, but their value thus far has been basically equal. If Cust can raise his batting average 50 points (and I believe he will), he could be a premier hitter once again. Keep in mind that his UVI last year was .576; that's higher than either Matt Holliday or Jimmy Rollins.
OF Ryan Sweeney: .372 UVI—Sweeney and Chris Denorfia (.280 UVI) have both performed fairly well, but they have combined to ground into five double plays, which has hurt their value. Sweeney needs to walk more, but other than that, he's been passable thus far.
SACRAMENTO RIVER CATS
C Landon Powell: .396 UVI—Powell's astounding 2007 puts him in line to possibly overtake Rob Bowen as Suzuki's backup as early as this year, but he hasn't hit very well so far. Then again, he's been sharing time with Justin Knoedler (.424 UVI), so a nine-game sample doesn't really tell us much. The slow start is unsurprising, given that Powell is not only coming back from the off-season, but also from a severe knee injury.
3B Jeff Baisley: .523 UVI—Baisley has ripped the ball in Sacramento this year after missing the first week of games with a leg injury, which is certainly a positive development after he posted a mediocre .421 UVI in Midland last year. If the 2006 Midwest League MVP can continue to hit like this, he could shoot up prospect lists.
2B Brooks Conrad: .407 UVI—A personal favorite of mine, Conrad, as you may know, switch-hits, can play everywhere on the field, and led the minors in extra-base hits with Triple-A Round Rock in 2006. He had a severe drop-off in 2007, but still posted a .489 UVI. Don't take the .407 mark as "bad;" Conrad was at .194 a week ago and has caught fire recently.
SS Gregorio Petit: .328 UVI—Petit has really hurt himself by going just 1-for-5 in steals this year, which effectively removes three singles from his line. For a speed-and-defense player, he grounds into a ton of double plays (15 in 67 games in Sacramento last year), and he has already hit into two this season. Petit has a nice base-hit bat and a solid glove, but he needs to cut down on the base-running/situational hitting mistakes to make a case for a big-league job.
1B Casey Rogowski: .406 UVI—This offseason acquisition has always been well above-average defensively at first and has had surprising speed for a first baseman. Those tools have allowed the River Cats to give Rogowski some starts in the outfield this season, as well at first. Rogowski's offensive skill set is similar to Daric Barton's, although he strikes out more and walks less. He may prove to be the better 1B pickup than Wes Bankston (.295), but it's too early to say.
OF Carlos Gonzalez: .603 UVI—The size of the bandwagon has only increased; Gonzalez's UVI3, which translates his performance to the major leagues, is .444. That's higher than all of the A's except Ellis and Crosby. Gonzalez is tearing the PCL apart; he should be in the big leagues soon if the hand injury he suffered on Monday night isn't serious.
OF Todd Linden: .661 UVI—While the A's wait for Gonzalez's time to arrive in the big leagues, they really should give Linden a look; his UVI3 of .499 is the highest in the entire organization right now. A Quad-A guy who has never gotten consistent MLB time outside of NL pinch-hitting, Linden would make some sense in RF right now for the A's, and Oakland could let Buck get back on track in Sacramento, much like the Royals did with former A's prospect Mark Teahen back in 2006.
OF Danny Putnam: .517 UVI—Oddly enough, Putnam's UVI3 of .473 is higher than Gonzalez's, and I'm not sure why, given the large discrepancy in their UVI2s. Systemic oddities aside, the Gonzalez-Linden-Putnam outfield has far outperformed Brown-Sweeney-Buck thus far. It's good to see that the River Cats' outfield is a good backup plan if the major league trio continues to falter.
C Anthony Recker: .336 UVI—Recker has really struggled out of the gate, although he has improved on the .305 mark he posted at Midland in 2007. His isolated power seems to be the problem so far; given that he normally excels there and is coming off of a broken hamate bone he suffered last season, so he should show some growth as the year progresses.
1B Tom Everidge: .417 UVI—One of the more overlooked prospects in the system, Everidge has seen his slugging percentage drop over 100 points from last year, but most of the drop is due to a low batting average on balls in play. A .417 UVI for a .222 batting average isn't bad, and once Everidge's batting average increases (it will), he should be near the .481 mark he put up across two levels last year.
2B Jesus Guzman: .582 UVI—Guzman put up a nice .502 UVI at High-A High Desert last year, but no one expected this. The middle infielder has absolutely lit the Texas League up thus far; all of a sudden, the A's look like they have a ton of IF depth.
SS Cliff Pennington: .454 UVI—The .407 translated OBP is great, and it's given Pennington pretty decent value thus far. He needs to slug better than .281, however, or else pitchers will throw him more strikes and his tremendous walk rate will go down.
SS Justin Sellers: .289 UVI—Sellers' .245 UVI with Midland after his August promotion last year didn't inspire optimism, and while he has improved thus far, especially OBP-wise, he, like Pennington, needs to get that SLG out of the .200s.
OF Adam Klein: .495 UVI—Klein jumped straight from the AZL to Midland, and while he hasn't repeated last year's .618 UVI, he's still been well above-average. It doesn't matter where he goes from here; Klein has already proven himself a 48th-round steal for the A's. His combination of speed, contact ability and patience brings to mind Reggie Willits.
OF Jon Zeringue: .651 UVI—Zeringue had one good year in the Arizona system and then seemed to go backwards for there. After being released and winding up in an independent league, the A's found him. Sure, he had a .580 UVI at Stockton for 56 games last year, but who saw this coming? Zeringue may be saving his career and combines with the River Cats outfielders to be nice insurance for the A's. Remember, the A's had to use more outfielders than any other team last year; if a similar injury cascade strikes in 2008, there are plenty of worthy replacements available.
C Jed Morris: .598 UVI—One of the best stories in the system, Morris has overcome leukemia to return to baseball this year. He has absolutely plastered the ball thus far, hitting three homers in 11 games. Morris is 28 years old, and he deserves to be moved to Midland, if not Sacramento.
1B Chris Carter: .578 UVI—After struggling to start the year, Carter's torrid last few games have quickly elevated his total production to an elite level. After putting up a .551 UVI in Low-A Kannapolis last year, Carter has certainly found the Cal League to his liking; if he continues his feverish pace, he'll be in Midland before long.
1B Sean Doolittle: .706 UVI—Doolittle has been the biggest bright spot in a system full of them thus far. When he was drafted, Doolittle was questioned by many insiders in terms of whether he would produce enough power to be a first baseman. A .456 UVI in Vancouver and .382 in Kane County last season did nothing to answer those questions, but if this year's breakout continues, the A's may just have another Daric Barton on their hands.
IF Darryl Lawhorn: .613 UVI—Lawhorn, like Zeringue, was an independent league find last year from the Northern League. A .363 Cal League UVI from a 24-year-old wouldn't normally inspire much hope, but the A's gave him another shot this year, and so far Lawhorn has come through. A .613 UVI and .988 OPS is nothing to sneeze at, whether Lawhorn is 25 or not.
OF Archie Gilbert: .471 UVI—Gilbert's park-adjusted line has him at .348/.403/.522, but the reason his UVI is basically dead-average is that he's a miserable 1-for-7 in steals. Given that he went 35-for-48 last year in the White Sox system, there's plenty of reason to believe that that is just a fluke, and that his UVI will improve as long as he stays hot at the plate.
OF Jermaine Mitchell: .507 UVI—Mitchell is sort of the minor league version of Mark Ellis; while many other prospects come and go, Mitchell consistently does some of everything, and it all keeps adding up to him being a good player. He seems to be building on his .484 UVI from last year and continues to make the rather clichéd "transition from athlete to baseball player."
OF Matt Sulentic: .557 UVI—Everyone's pulling for Sulentic, who slaughtered the Northwest League after being selected by the A's in the 3rd round of the 2006 draft, and then completely fell apart in Kane County last year, posting a horrific .240 UVI in 56 Midwest League games. The promotion to the Cal League seems to have re-energized both Sulentic and his bat, and he might just be back on the prospect path now. It's always great to see comebacks like this.
KANE COUNTY COUGARS
C Jake Smith: .497 UVI—Even though Kane County's hitter-friendly park translates Smith's stats down a bit, a .359 batting average from a catcher attracts notice. The A's are looking very deep at the up-the-middle positions, with Suzuki, Powell, Recker, Morris and Smith all being pluses at the plate.
1B Greg Dowling: .491 UVI—Dowling has drastically improved on his .398 UVI from last year, which was also spent at Kane County. While Carter, Doolittle and Barton get all of the hype, Rogowski, Everidge and Dowling are three lesser-known first base prospects in the A's system who all have some real pop in their bats. The A's shouldn't be needing a first baseman for a long, long time.
OF Corey Brown: .683 UVI—After Doolittle, it has been Brown who has been the second-most valuable A's farmhand this year. He has struggled some with strikeouts, but as Jack Cust has shown, if you hit enough, strikeouts just don't matter.
OF Toddric Johnson: .481 UVI—Two years ago, Mitchell, Sulentic and Johnson were the talk of Vancouver, as they combined to rip NWL pitching apart. While Mitchell garnered notice with his good 2007, and Sulentic garnered notice with his bad 2007, Johnson seemed to fall off the radar last year. However, he has improved his UVI by 134 points thus far and could follow Mitchell and Sulentic to Stockton if he continues to show well at the plate.
About The Author: Nathianel Stoltz is a statistics major at James Madison University in Virginia. He is the creator of the "Ultimate Value Index" or "UVI" baseball statistic. He hopes to some day work in the front office of a major league team. You can e-mail him with questions or comments by clicking here.
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