Before the season began, I ranked Halos' prospects in a "best of" list, and completely blew it with these guys. Where did I go wrong? The Short Answer: In short, all three of these guys had a discrete skill that underwent a massive fluctuation, obliterating the preseason projections that I and other commentators made based on their track records. The Long Answer Grab a coffee, settle in, and read on...
Before the season began, I ranked Halos' prospects in a "best of" list, and completely blew it with these guys. Where did I go wrong?
The Short Answer:
In short, all three of these guys had a discrete skill that underwent a massive fluctuation, obliterating the preseason projections that I and other commentators made based on their track records.
The Long Answer
Grab a coffee, settle in, and read on...
All teams value hitting the ball hard, though focus on patience and homerun indicators has been the trend lately. Because line-drive rates strongly correlate to batting average, the Halos appear to value it more highly that the other skills. The development of Bourjos, Moore and Fuller indicates why.
Below is a graph showing the percentage of line drives that the three prospects have hit plotted against their batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. Moore's '07-'09 seasons come first on the x-axis, followed by Bourjos' '06-'09 seasons, and finally Fuller's '07-'09 seasons. The y-axis is given in percents, so Moore's '07 BABIP of .371, for example, shows up at 37%.
Graphs like this are the reason I fell in love with math. While it's a rule of thumb that line drives are one of the primary variables behind BABIP, the tight correlation above is a thing of beauty. You can clearly see Moore's improving line-drive percentages over the past three years driving higher BABIP's, Bourjos' steady gains since '07, and the collapse of Fuller's liner rate in '09 leading to a low BABIP. Now let's introduce batting average.
This is the same graph, but with the batting average given in green and gaps to separate the individual players. The space between the BABIP and BA points is driven entirely by strikeouts - Moore's gap is huge, Bourjos' gap is steadily closing, and Fuller's gap is about constant.
Moore's growing line-drive skills over the past two seasons potentially returns him to prospect status. As we'll see below, he's got a lot of other work to do, but his improvement this year is no BABIP fluke. Bourjos is simply a stud, making steady year-over-year progress even as he's faced better competition, and this isn't even his area of most dramatic improvement. The near halving of Fuller's line-drive rate in ‘09 was a disaster - what used to be liners have mostly turned to fly balls, which are much easier to convert into outs. That means a slightly higher homerun rate, but the drop in his overall production could stall his career.
Controlling the Strike Zone
The Halos have made a public commitment to plate discipline this season, and no one has internalized that message more than Pete Bourjos. Let's take a look at unintentional walk rates.
In 2006, there was little separation between Moore's and Fuller's promising unintentional walk rates, while Borjous' lower rate is easily explained away by the fact that he was facing more advanced competition. Since '07, Moore and Fuller have diverged. That gap increased again in '09: Fuller's 14% rate is outstanding, and Moore clearly has some work to do.
Bourjos, on the other hand, saw his walk rate decline to a very bad 3.9% in '08. Commentary on Bourjos leading into that season raised questions about whether he would hit enough to remain a viable prospect, so he was undoubtedly focused on making solid contact and not on patience. He did, in fact, hit. This year, preseason commentary revolved primarily around his walk rate, and he is again proving that he can make adjustments. His current .370 OBP is perfectly acceptable for a dynamic leadoff man, and he has shown the ability to keep getting better. Have I mentioned that the guy's a stud?
Strikeouts are the biggest enemy of raw prep hitters, and minimizing them is the second key skill involved in controlling the strikezone. Below is a graph depicting each prospect's strikeout rate.
They all started at about the same place in 2006, though again, Bourjos was playing against more advanced competition. Since that time, Bourjos has made steady progress in cutting his punch-outs, dropping his rate from 24% to a much better 17% so far in '09. He's looking more and more polished. The K's are the weakest point to Moore's game, and he'll have to reduce them if he's going to succeed at the higher levels. Fuller's done a fair job of chipping away at his own K-habit, but at this point it's the liner rate that's his biggest concern.
Guys who hit lots of homeruns generally (1) hit a high percentage of balls in the air (fly balls + line-drives), and (2) have a high percentage of those fly balls and line drives leave the yard. Here's how Moore, Bourjos, and Fuller have done under those metrics so far.
Moore put up classic power hitting numbers with the Kernels in '08. 62% of the balls he hit into play were in the air, and of those 11% left the yard. This year his flyballs and homeruns per ball in the air are down, but the 5% more line drives and 10% more groundballs have contributed to a significantly higher average. He's a different but more productive player this year, and the power could still reemerge at any time.
Bourjos' rate of balls hit into the air has crested 50%, due to the additional line drives and a few more fly balls. His homerun per ball in the air has declined to .03 in the Texas League, but it has a lot of room to grow next year in the PCL.
Fuller's increased in flyballs this year, from 38% to 44%, may be the result of a conscious effort to boost his power output, though his total balls hit into the air has actually declined slightly due to the dramatic drop in his liner rate. His homerun per ball in the air rose this season to .06, meaning a few more roundtrippers, but you'd think that more would be leaving those cozy California parks. Moreover, his isolated power is down due to fewer liners to the gaps, and the rest of his production has dropped proportional to his batting average. He was a much more productive player without the flyballs.
Other Interesting Stats
All three of these guys had speed as their primary plus tool when the Halos drafted them and remains an important part of their game.
Moore historically has been a decent base-stealer, swiping 17 at a 77% success rate in '07 and 28 at a 74% success rate in '08. This year he's been abysmal, stealing 9 bases, but at an abysmal 45% success rate. He does, however, have 9 triples to his name this year.
Bourjos was outstanding on the base paths last year, swiping 50 at an 83% success rate. He's only taken 19 so far this year, and at the significantly lower rate of 70%. Let's give him a break though; he's been working on other things. He's also legged out 10 triples so far.
Fuller has been mister consistent, posting 78%, 78% and 77% success rates over the past three years. He's on pace to surpass his '08 total of 36 swipes this year.
With the exception of Moore in '08, none of these guys look like your classic power hitters, but they all have impressive gap power. Below is a chart depicting number of plate appearances per extra base hit over the past four seasons.
This is where Moore shines. Low is good in this graph, and even with the drop in homerun production this year, a lot of those liners are turning into doubles and triples. Bourjos remains pretty consistent, even as he's moved up the latter. Fuller has been the most volatile, and has the worst rate for the second straight year. Much of that is the sheer number of walks he's taking, which has the effect of spreading out his hits over more plate appearances, but some of it is due to his overall drop in production.
Ok, those of you who are getting bored can bail. The next section is only to provide further context for the true die-hards
At the time they were drafted, all three of these guys were described as "toolsey" outfielders, burners on the basepaths and having the size - Moore and Bourjos are 6'1", Fuller is 6'2" and each weighs in the neighborhood of 180-90 lbs. - to project for power. The Angels drafted Moore and Bourjos out of high school in the 6th and 10th rounds respectively of the 2005 draft, and Fuller in the 4th round of the 2006 draft. Though Fuller graduated a year later, all three players were born within 3 months of one another.
With the exception of which side they bat from - Bourjos hits from the right side, Moore from the left, and Fuller from both - they had very similar scouting reports from their prep days and early in their professional careers. Writers applied the clichés "tremendous athlete," "toolsey," "raw but with high-upside" with abandon, as these guys were the very paragon of the high-risk high school prospects the Angels seem to prefer. Interestingly, the player who is currently the most advanced of the group, Bourjos, went latest in the draft.
Moore signed shortly after the draft in 2005, early enough to garner some Arizona League at bats, and struggled. He took another stab at the league the following year. Bourjos, the last picked of the trio, signed much later that summer, but impressed the Halos enough over the offseason to make the leap to Orem in the summer of 2006. The son of a former minor leaguer and scout, Bourjos had a better feel early on for the intricacies of the game than Moore, who was a four-way athlete in high school and very nearly followed a football scholarship. Fuller signed early after the 2006 draft and joined Moore in Arizona that June.
In '07, Bourjos advanced to Cedar Rapids where he played well for a still-raw 19-year-old before breaking a finger that eventually required surgery. There were still questions about whether he would hit entering '08, but he quelled those criticisms in the first half, carrying a .340 average into June before falling victim to a terrible slump. I saw him play in the midst of his troubles, and that game, combined with his lack of control for the zone, led me to undervalue his tools and underestimate ability to make adjustments coming into '09. I won't do that again, and believe that he is now one of our top five prospects.
Moore advanced to Orem in '07 and had a classic all-tools/no-polish season, hitting an impressive 14 homeruns and 33 extra base hits overall while stealing 17 bags. His BA and OBP were middling, but his power was an intriguing tool. All of those descriptors remained apt in '08, when his skill-set remained more or less the same. As stated above, he's become a different player in '09, hitting more line-drives and for higher average though with less home run pop and speed.
Fuller spent two years in Arizona learning to switch-hit. All of his stats obscure the fact that he is really two different kinds of hitters - from his natural right side, he hits for good contact and high average; however, from the left, he is much more patient and hits for power, but has a more difficult time making contact. At any rate, he posted a very good season in '07, and then again '08 in Cedar Rapids, with line drive rates around 20% and steadily increasing walk rates.
Some critics warned that his '08 season looked better than it really was due to an out-of-this-world July, when Fuller racked up the hits and homeruns. I downplayed that criticism because of the consistent month-to-month OBP and a reasonable-looking aggregate BABIP. However, there was something to it, as Fuller has shown little consistency in anything but walks and strikeouts this year. July has been better - his line drive rate is 15% on the month, his walk-rate has spiked, and his k-rate is down - so hopefully Fuller can wrestle his BA up over the .250 mark and get his OPS to .800. He remains a breakout possibility in my book.