Cistulli: Strikeout rate for AFL pitchers as indicator of future success

From Carson Cistulli at FanGraphs on October 31, 2014:

The Arizona Fall League is a remarkable spectacle for those with even a passing interest in prospects, insofar as it provides an opportunity to see many of the best ones of those (i.e. the best prospects). This year’s edition of the AFL, for example, has featured Byron Buxton, Addison Russell, and Francisco Lindor — ranked first, fifth, and sixth, respectively, among Baseball America’s midseason top-50 list. Except for the Futures Game, there’s rarely an occasion upon which one is able to witness such a substantial collection of minor-league talent.

 One finds, however, that while the AFL is generally acknowledged as an excellent medium for scouting such players, that the actual performances produced by those players are largely dismissed. Even the author himself — a person with an unhealthy interest in the numbers produced in the more obscure leagues — announces something to this effect when publishing the weekly statistical reports for the AFL which appear in these electronic pages.

There’s some logic to this, of course. First, the level of competition isn’t standardized. Some participants have already made their major-league debuts; others, like 20-year-old Mets right-hander Robert Whalen, for example, haven’t even graduated to High-A baseball yet. Second, the run environment is inflated, teams averaging 4.9 runs per game thus far. In order to protect the latter group from overuse, clubs are more likely to send their top hitters than top pitchers. That, in tandem with the hot and dry weather, naturally leads to more run scoring — and slash lines and ERAs that are both higher than one is accustomed to seeing in the majors. As a result, one is accustomed to ignoring all the numbers that come out of Arizona.

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Originally published: October 31, 2014. Last Updated: October 31, 2014.