Max’s Sporting Studio recently unveiled a new tool to the leaderboards — an MiLB similarity function that can compare any player’s minor league season since 2007 and find the most similar player performances.
With this tool, you can find out who some of your favorite MLB players and prospects performed like in the minor leagues, for general prospect analysis, in order to gain an edge in fantasy dynasty leagues, and for general fun. This article will feature 5 of MLB’s top prospects and the similarity data based on their largest MiLB sample from the 2019 season.
In order to find MiLB similarity, a specific MiLB league must be selected. For example, the Texas League (Double-A). Then, two drop-down menus will appear, one for pitchers and one for position players, in which you can search for a player in mind.
The tool is based on a variety of league adjusted stats such as walk-percentage-plus (BB%+) and Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) and orders every player that has competed in that league since 2007 based on the statistical similarity of their seasons. The last column on the table shows the Mahalanobis distance which measures how far players are away from each other in the distribution.
First, let’s look at MLB’s unanimous top prospect, Wander Franco. Franco most recently reached the Florida State League (High-A) in 2019. His peripheral numbers included a ridiculous 1.73 walk to strikeout ratio (BB/K) and 3 home runs over 223 PAs. Franco’s Florida State League similarity data looks as such:
The most similar performance came in 2015 from, former Rays prospect and current Indians player, Jake Bauers with established big leaguers and (former) top prospects in suit like J.P. Crawford, Bo Bichette, Amed Rosario, Royce Lewis, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
That is certainly impressive company, however, Franco is a tough player to compare because of how rare his player profile is, especially his plate discipline and overall hitting ability. It’s worth noting that the distance between Bauers and Franco was over 3.7 which doesn’t suggest a lot of similarity.
Next, let’s look at one of my favorite prospects, lefty Mackenzie Gore. Like Franco, Gore has posted some unbelievable minor league numbers in his career and his performance with the Lake Elsinore Storm of the California League (High-A) don’t compare well to other past performances. In 79.1 innings, the southpaw owned an elite 5.50 K/BB and 38.2 strikeout percentage. He was also reluctant to allowing hits, giving up just 36, 4 of which were home runs. All in all, Gore posted a masterful 1.02 ERA before getting a midseason promotion to Double-A.
Here are the most similar performances to Gore’s jaw-dropping California League showing:
Heading the list is Patrick Corbin and his 2010 season, not a bad player to be compared to — though Gore’s ceiling is higher. The other similar performances include top prospects Luis Patino and Josiah Gray, along with established big leaguers Tony Cingrani, Michael Pineda, Edwin Diaz, and Derek Holland. The late Tyler Skaggs is also featured.
Again, like Franco, these are good names to be associated with, however, we’ve started this article with two incredible performances that could be considered statistical anomalies, hence the distance between Gore and Corbin over 2.1.
In order to find a sample closer to the respective league average, let’s jump to Christian Pache, a player so slick in the field that anything he provides offensively is a bonus. That’s not intended to be a knock on Atlanta’s top prospect as he’s still demonstrated a respectable hit tool and some power, it’s just that he actually compares well to other minor league performances.
Pache made his MLB debut in 2020. Previously, in 2019, he spent the most time with Atlanta’s Double-A affiliate, the Mississippi Braves of the Southern League. The outfielder hit 11 home runs in 103 games and got on base a respectable 34% of the time. Here are the most similar Southern League performances:
The closest performance came from former Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez in 2007 — a comparison Braves fans have to be hopeful about. MLB stars of the past, present, and future also make an appearance with Evan Longoria, Dansby Swanson, Ian Happ, Keston Hiura, and Alex Kirilloff having performed comparably during their time in the Southern League.
Back on the mound, let’s take a look at one of the Tigers’ top prospects, Matt Manning. The former 9th overall pick has managed to improve year after year, reaching new heights in 2019 with Detroit’s Double-A affiliate, the Erie Seawolves of the Eastern League. The righty struck out an impressive 28.1% of hitters, while walking just 7.2%. Most notably he allowed just 93 hits in 133.2 innings, which kept his WHIP at 0.98.
Though Manning had an incredible season, it wasn’t on the level of Franco or Gore leaving the door open to some close statistical similarity:
Tigers fans might be concerned about this considering the sour taste left behind by Jordan Zimmerman after signing a huge contract with the club in 2015. That concern should be set aside as Zimmerman was a great pitcher early in his career, especially in this 2008 sample. Beyond him, some standout pitchers in Marcus Stroman, Zack Wheeler, Carlos Carrasco, Zach Davies, and Michael Fulmer come in closely, as well.
I couldn’t resist including this last player because of the 3rd closest performance. Cardinals prospect Dylan Carlson soaked up time with the big league club this in 2020 after having spent most of 2019 in the Texas League with the Springfield Cardinals. The outfielder straight up raked, mashing 21 home runs in 108 games and walking 10.8% of the time. He also stole 18 bases. This group of Texas League performances is easily stacked with the most star power so far:
Franklin Barreto‘s 2016 season stands as the most similar which is a bit anti-climactic after how I just prefaced this list, but as you can see, it gets better. Dexter Fowler‘s 2008 season comes in right behind Barreto’s, followed by future Hall of Famer and the best player in baseball, Mike Trout. The 2.12 Mahalanobis distance suggests the two didn’t perform overly close, although their walks per strikeout ratio (BB/K) came in quite comparable, as well as their ground ball percentages. Fernando Tatis Jr. also makes an appearance a little further down the list.
We’ve now run the MiLB similarity tool on 5 of MLB’s top prospects, finding the closest performances to their 2019 showings. I hope this article clearly demonstrated this useful and interesting tool. Once again, the data for every minor league performance since 2007 is available and sorted by league, not level.