THT’s Franchise Player Draft: Picks 12-14

Manny Machado and Aaron Judge are established, elite players, while Vladimir Guerrero Jr., might be one day. (via Keith Allison, Joel Dinda and Michelle Jay)

Pick No. 12: Ryan Pollack selects Manny Machado

The first two things any franchise needs are a location and a name. I live in Austin, Texas and don’t want to move, so as principal owner and GM I’ll base the team here. After debating naming the team after a number of things this city is known for (music festivals, breakfast tacos, Willie Nelson) I settled on the Austin Bats. This name evokes both baseball and the fact that the world’s largest urban bat colony calls us home. Maybe DC Comics will sponsor us.

I had three criteria for drafting the Bats’ first player, the guy we’re going to build the franchise around. First, I wanted a position player. Pitchers get injured too frequently. Second, he had to be young. Third, he had to be a star.

I happen to be an Orioles fan who grew up in the Baltimore area. So imagine my delight when I was able to draft current Charm City third baseman Manny Machado as my franchise cornerstone. I couldn’t believe he fell all the way to 12th!

Machado checks all three of my boxes. He’s a third baseman, he’ll play his age-25 season next year, and he’s tremendous both at the plate and on the field. He’s racked up 26 WAR in his short career. For context, 7,853 players in MLB history have accrued at least 10 plate appearances through age 24. Machado’s WAR total ranks 29th, or better than 99.6 percent of these guys.

He’s ahead of where many noteworthy players were when they were 24. To name a few:

If you restrict the list to third basemen, Machado jumps from 29th to second all-time, behind only Eddie Matthews.

Since he has more WAR to his name than thousands of other players did when they were his age, I was interested in Machado’s Hall of Fame chances. So I turned to Bayes’ theorem, which states:

Probability (belief given evidence) = (Probability (belief) * Probability (evidence given belief)) / Probability (evidence).

In this case:

  • My belief is that Machado is bound for Cooperstown
  • My evidence is that he’s a third baseman who’s accumulated 26 WAR through his age-24 season.

Bayes’ theorem is great because it accounts for the fact that not all the guys Machado’s ahead of, to this point in his career, are inductees. Let’s fill in the numbers, considering only players whose Hall trajectory we know because they retired in 2011 or earlier:

  • P(belief) is the probability that any third baseman is a Hall of Famer. Just 16 third basemen are enshrined, and 957 full-time third basemen have retired in 2011 or earlier. Therefore, P(belief) = 16/957 = .0167.
  • P(evidence given belief) is the probability that, given someone is a Hall of Fame third baseman, he accumulated at least 26 WAR through age 24 or younger. Of the 16 Hall of Fame third basemen, one meets these criteria: Matthews, who notched 32.1 WAR through his age-24 season. Therefore, P(evidence given belief) = 1/16 = .0625.
  • P(evidence) is the probability that, regardless of whether he becomes a Hall of Famer,  any third baseman will accumulate at least 26 WAR through age 24 or younger. Of the 957 third basemen, only Matthews has accumulated at least this much WAR through this age. This makes P(evidence) = 1/957 = .0010.

Therefore: given Machado is a third baseman who totaled 26 WAR through age 24, his Hall of Fame probability is (.0167 * .0625) / .001. That equals 1, which represents a 100 percent Hall of Fame chance. Nothing in life is ever guaranteed, but Manny Machado’s induction chances are as high as they come.

The only other active players with such a high chance at their respective positions are Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria, Mike Trout and Carlos Correa. Cabrera, Pujols, Beltre and Longoria are too old to start a franchise with; Trout and Correa were drafted first and second overall.

I’m positive I got the third-best choice on the board despite drafting 12th. Manny Machado is not only the best third baseman since Eddie Matthews, but also on a Hall of Fame path. Players who’ve done what he has by age 24 typically have excellent careers. He’ll make a fine cornerstone for my budding franchise.

Pick No. 13: Mary Craig selects Aaron Judge

Aaron Judge excels at breaking things. Wherever he is, there is the potential for something to get broken. Just this past season, he broke StatCast, broke part of Yankee Stadium’s right-field wall, broke Mark McGwire’s rookie home run record, broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home field home run record, and broke my belief that Lou Gehrig left no Yankee Goodness for any future player.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

With such an undeniable propensity for laying waste whatever is in his general vicinity, it would seem antithetical to place Aaron Judge at the center of any franchise. But as much as Judge breaks things, he leaves the most important things intact. He embodies all that is good about baseball. He initially seems ridiculous and out of place even among his contemporaries; nothing about him makes sense except that he is very good at hitting things a very long distance while clad in pajamas. He lends himself easily to hyperbole, to fable, being at once such an absurd display of nature and yet being so perfect for baseball.

As we all know, the baseball season, as well as most individual games, is a test of endurance for both fan and player. It offers endless misery for many, a respite from the endless misery of life. And yet in between these stretches of misery is pure unadulterated joy, the kind we like to assume children experience at the drop of a hat. Aaron Judge is this joy. He is everything that is good about baseball–both the mythical and the human.

For starters, Judge is ridiculously, laughably good at baseball. In his first full season, he unanimously won Rookie of the Year and came second in MVP voting. He hit 52 home runs, making him the best player in baseball according to fWAR. He helped make the Home Run Derby an interesting event start-to-finish, which is notoriously difficult to do. Aaron Judge wasn’t supposed to happen, but then he did, and every moment was fantastic.

Of course, as there are no sure things in baseball, there are a couple of red flags surrounding Judge, namely his size and his propensity to strike out. The common assumption is that big bodies break down much more quickly, and that might be the case, but there are a number of players roughly Judge’s size who have had lengthy baseball careers, including Giancarlo Stanton and Adam Dunn, so as with much of baseball, it could be a factor but there’s no guarantee it will be a factor.

More concerning, then, is his 30.7 strikeout percentage, which was the fourth-highest in the majors. While his at-bats in the postseason looked particularly horrendous, there’s no indication that Judge can’t reduce this rate. His highest strikeout rate in the minor leagues was 28.7 percent in his first season in Triple-A, which he reduced to 23.9 percent in his second season there. That is undoubtedly still high, but it demonstrates Judge’s ability to lower it with time. Furthermore, Judge’s high K% shouldn’t be too much cause for alarm since it was paired with an equally high walk rate.

What Judge brings to the table then, is a surprisingly athletic power hitter who isn’t too shabby defensively and whose very existence provides endless discussion. He’s an instant middle-of-the-order threat who is easy to build around and is poised to get even better at baseball over the next few years. And he’s an instant marketing success if the Judge-Jose Altuve photo is any indicator. Just have him stand next to normal sized things in ads, or comically insert miniature versions of large things to play up the size factor.

Even his name is marketing gold. He’s judging pitches, sentencing pitchers, writing concurring opinions as the second half of a back-to-back home run scenario. Lean into it. Give your fans a proper civics lesson. A critically minded fan base might start wondering why Judge isn’t paid fairly for his labor, so maybe stick with the factually incorrect wigs and “Judge’s Chambers” puns instead.

Pick No. 14: Eli Ben-Porat selects Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Elite prospects with elite bloodlines are extremely rare, producing exceptional outcomes. The most recent example of a top-10 prospect whose father had significant success in the major leagues, was Prince Fielder, who had a spectacular six-year run of hitting dominance before injuries took their toll. Baseball America’s top 100 lists go back only to 1990, but I’m sure Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. would have been top 10 prospects. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., should he continue this trend, looks poised to begin an exceptional baseball career, the kind of career you can build an organization around.

There is another aspect to Vlad Jr.’s profile that makes him unique, specifically his outstanding recognition of the strike zone at an extremely young age. After his promotion to High-A Dunedin, Vlad Jr. posted a 25.7 percent Ball%-Called Strike percent (i.e. every 100 pitches, he will take 26 more pitches for a ball than for a strike). Here’s what that looks like for all batters in Class A+ during the 2017 season:

I chose this chart because it most succinctly represents what makes Vlad unique – his incredible plate discipline at an extremely young age, against advanced competition. Here’s the same chart, but going back to 2010, and narrowing the age range a little:

Again, Vladdy stands out for his age and plate discipline. Think that’s impressive? Take a look at his numbers with two strikes:

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. took a pitch for a strike only 3.7 percent of the time when he was in a two-strike count.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Breakdown by # of Strikes
A A+
Strikes: 0 1 2 0 1 2
Called Strike % 20.7% 15.0%  2.1% 25.4% 18.5%  3.7%
SwingPct 39.6% 43.8% 60.1% 31.5% 34.3% 52.9%
SwStrike    7%   12%   10%    7%    5%   11%
Ball % 38.0% 40.6% 36.7% 41.7% 46.8% 43.3%
Whiff %   18%   26%   16%   21%   15%   21%
Slugging % on Contact  .522  .532  .565  .717  .578  .422
Avg Fly Ball Distance   355   351   328   346   280   263

Vlad Jr. clearly adopts a contact-oriented approach when he gets to two strikes, hitting the ball with a lot less authority, as evidenced by the lower average fly ball distance as well as the lower slugging percentage on contact. This was more in evidence in High A, where it appeared he significantly cut down his swing. What I find most intriguing is that the ball percentage remains strong in all counts, while the called strike percentage drops dramatically when there are two strikes on him; Vlad won’t chase pitches, but will cut down his stroke and adopt a contact-oriented approach when he has two strikes on him. It’s an incredibly advanced approach for someone so young.

The allure of building a franchise around a high batting average, power hitting corner infielder would be incredibly compelling if he were just any other prospect; Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is not only the son of a future Hall of Famer, but also the nephew of another major league infielder, the replacement-level Wilton Guerrero, who mentored him in his early years growing up in the Dominican Republic. While there are other examples of young prospects with fathers who played in the majors (Alomar Bros., Lance McCullers, Dee Gordon, Raul Mondesi, Fernando Tatis and Delino Deshields come to mind), none of those had the parental success of Bobby Bonds (57.2 WAR), Ken Griffey Sr. (32.1 WAR), Cecil Fielder (95 homers in 1990-’91, six 30-homer seasons) and Vladimir Guerrero Sr. (54.3 WAR) combined with their own elite, top-10 prospect status.

When I watched Vladdy Sr. play baseball I always wondered just how good he could be if he would just lay off those pitches three inches from the ground. Soon, we’ll get to find out what Vladimir Guerrero with elite plate discipline looks like.

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Adam Dorhauer
6 years ago

It’s kind of amusing that the case for Vlad, Jr. is largely centered around him being basically the opposite of his dad in terms of approach.

It’s also interesting that Vlad, Sr. actually had a pretty similar Ball% – Called Strike%, albeit for different reasons: since he swung at anything close, he took very few called strikes. It’ll be fun to see if Vlad, Jr. can replicate his dad’s success having a lot of similar skills but a more patient approach.

6 years ago

I dont know if i could start a franchise with a player who be there for 2 years