Do Arizona Fall League (AFL) Stats Mean Anything?

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The Cubs, along with all the other teams, have several well known prospects playing in the Arizona Fall League (AFL) right now. They're about 10 games into their season and we've been recapping those games here. There are a lot of issues to consider when looking at these stats if you'd like to put them into some kind of perspective.

First, they're against minor leaguers. Second, it's in Arizona and teams tend to send their best hitters while the best pitchers more often than not are not sent. Third, the disparity in talent in is huge. There can be AAA players, or even players who got some MLB playing time, along with guys in A ball. Fourth, the sample sizes are never all that large. For example, Howie Kendrick had about 125 plate appearances in 2005 and that led the league. Only 8 players had 100 at-bats or more.

Calculating plate appearances is a bit difficult given that mlb.com does not list HBP and SF with the final season stats. There may be game logs we could go through, but it's not worth it. All you have are at bats and walks and that's what I've used to calculate PA in the table at the bottom.

The sample size issue alone is a big one. We know that it's not nearly large enough to learn a whole lot about the player that we didn't already know. A good season shouldn't really change our expectations going forward just as a bad season doesn't tell us it's only going to get worse.

Finally, due to the lack of stats available, calculating the exact league offense is difficult. We can come close with what we have, but it is going to be off a bit.

One other small thing, there aren't all that many who have even enough PA to qualify in the league among the league leaders. Playing time is spread around and not given out to who is the more talented players. Teams send their players there to get playing time and expect them to be played. MLB front offices probably have influence over how much certain players play. The league is smaller so being in the top 5 at the end of the short season isn't the same.

In 2005, there were only 42 qualified hitters. If you are 10th, you're only the in the top 25% of hitters in the league that year. A guy who ranked 10th in OPS in the AFL in 2005 would be comparable to someone who ranked 35th at the MLB level. 

Despite all of the issues, we can answer unequivocally that yes, AFL stats mean something. They are important and they do tell us something. It's data. Of course it's meaningful.

The question is how meaningful and that's not something I can answer. I can say that we should consider all the issues above, as well as others I haven't thought.

I can only offer an opinion. It's one I offered in the comments recently. I don't believe they're that meaningful. I don't think they really tell us much about the player that we didn't know before. I can say with some certainty that none of the performances by Cubs prospects, whether good or bad, is going to change my opinion of their ability with one possible exception.

Kris Bryant had fewer than 200 plate appearances after being drafted. He could get about 100 in the AFL, which is actually at a level a little above where he has played so far. After the AFL, a considerable amount of his professional plate appearances will be in the AFL. I'd probably only use that information as a tie-breaker if I was in charge. For example, if I was torn between sending him back to High A or AA (or AA or AAA) then his performance in the AFL could affect my decision. I'm doubtful the Cubs front office is torn at the moment and has already decided where he'll begin the 2014 season. If that is the case, you might learn a thing or two, but ultimately the AFL served as a place where he and others could game playing time.

Anyway, below are the top 10 qualified AFL hitters each year from 2005 through 20011. You can get the picture that the stats should be taken lightly, but they do include some very good players too.

Year NAME POS G PA HR AVG OBP SLG OPS
2005 Eric Duncan 3B 23 104 8 0.362 0.423 0.734 1.157
2005 Stephen Drew SS 23 106 6 0.337 0.439 0.708 1.147
2005 Andre Ethier OF 23 103 2 0.366 0.495 0.598 1.093
2005 Brandon Wood SS 29 123 14 0.307 0.375 0.711 1.086
2005 Kendrys Morales 1B 24 104 2 0.38 0.444 0.598 1.042
2005 Kevin Howard 2B 25 98 3 0.409 0.475 0.557 1.032
2005 Matt Kemp OF 23 99 3 0.383 0.414 0.606 1.021
2005 Brad Snyder OF 25 109 3 0.367 0.438 0.582 1.019
2005 Garrett Jones 1B 25 104 9 0.289 0.336 0.68 1.017
2005 Corey Smith 3B 24 99 7 0.33 0.39 0.626 1.016
                   
2006 NAME POS G PA HR AVG OBP SLG OPS
2006 Chip Cannon 1B 29 126 11 0.352 0.474 0.714 1.188
2006 Kevin Frandsen 2B 23 97 4 0.388 0.48 0.588 1.068
2006 Ryan Braun 3B 25 103 6 0.326 0.396 0.641 1.038
2006 Yunel Escobar SS 22 95 2 0.407 0.463 0.558 1.021
2006 Ben Zobrist SS 27 124 2 0.366 0.469 0.515 0.984
2006 Mark Reynolds 3B 27 110 5 0.327 0.389 0.564 0.954
2006 Amaury Cazana OF 21 87 4 0.345 0.378 0.571 0.949
2006 Michel Abreu 1B 22 105 6 0.28 0.362 0.548 0.91
2006 Curtis Thigpen C 23 100 2 0.307 0.392 0.5 0.892
2006 Eric Patterson 2B 28 125 1 0.345 0.408 0.46 0.868
                   
2007 NAME POS G PA HR AVG OBP SLG OPS
2007 Sam Fuld OF 29 124 3 0.402 0.492 0.626 1.118
2007 Scott Sizemore 2B 21 100 2 0.356 0.416 0.578 0.994
2007 Juan Miranda 1B 22 94 5 0.295 0.423 0.551 0.974
2007 Corey Wimberly 2B 18 64 0 0.407 0.462 0.508 0.97
2007 Evan Longoria 3B 18 71 4 0.308 0.378 0.585 0.963
2007 Nate Schierholtz OF 23 90 4 0.348 0.363 0.596 0.958
2007 Travis Snider OF 26 113 4 0.316 0.404 0.541 0.944
2007 Sergio Santos SS 24 97 5 0.319 0.337 0.585 0.922
2007 Marc Maddox 2B 21 92 2 0.321 0.398 0.481 0.879
2007 Kory Casto 3B 18 76 1 0.281 0.418 0.453 0.871
                   
2008 NAME POS G PA HR AVG OBP SLG OPS
2008 Tyler Flowers C 20 85 12 0.387 0.46 0.973 1.433
2008 Jason Donald SS 25 102 5 0.407 0.476 0.747 1.223
2008 Michael McKenry C 28 90 9 0.369 0.43 0.786 1.216
2008 Eric Young OF 31 112 5 0.43 0.504 0.64 1.144
2008 Rhyne Hughes 1B 27 116 5 0.394 0.432 0.697 1.129
2008 Mike Baxter OF 22 96 3 0.402 0.495 0.634 1.129
2008 Casper Wells CF 23 84 8 0.321 0.424 0.705 1.129
2008 Gordon Beckham SS 18 74 3 0.394 0.468 0.652 1.119
2008 Logan Morrison 1B 25 107 5 0.404 0.444 0.667 1.111
2008 Daniel Murphy 2B 15 76 2 0.397 0.487 0.619 1.106
                   
2009 NAME POS G PA HR AVG OBP SLG OPS
2009 Colin Curtis LF 20 89 5 0.397 0.472 0.731 1.203
2009 Matt McBride C 22 93 4 0.378 0.511 0.649 1.159
2009 Casper Wells CF 21 88 4 0.351 0.433 0.662 1.096
2009 Grant Desme CF 27 124 11 0.315 0.413 0.667 1.079
2009 Brandon Snyder 1B 17 78 3 0.354 0.456 0.6 1.056
2009 Nevin Ashley C 18 73 2 0.366 0.405 0.648 1.053
2009 Brandon Laird 3B 22 100 6 0.333 0.406 0.633 1.039
2009 Brent Morel 3B 16 66 2 0.435 0.456 0.565 1.02
2009 Marcus Lemon 2B 18 72 4 0.343 0.389 0.627 1.016
2009 Corey Brown OF 25 116 6 0.333 0.397 0.619 1.016
                   
2010 NAME POS G PA HR AVG OBP SLG OPS
2010 Dustin Ackley 2B 20 92 4 0.424 0.581 0.758 1.338
2010 Adam Loewen OF 14 64 5 0.333 0.438 0.667 1.104
2010 J.C. Linares OF 17 69 3 0.397 0.423 0.662 1.084
2010 Derek Norris C 16 65 4 0.278 0.403 0.667 1.07
2010 Brandon Belt 1B 22 95 1 0.372 0.427 0.616 1.043
2010 Cord Phelps 2B 19 95 3 0.367 0.474 0.557 1.031
2010 Mike McDade 1B 22 99 1 0.375 0.45 0.557 1.007
2010 Charlie Culberson 2B 21 98 2 0.366 0.394 0.591 0.985
2010 Jason Kipnis 2B 19 83 3 0.295 0.337 0.628 0.966
2010 Kristopher Negron SS 24 89 4 0.296 0.36 0.593 0.952
                   
2011 NAME POS G PA HR AVG OBP SLG OPS
2011 Jedd Gyorko 3B 18 81 5 0.437 0.5 0.704 1.204
2011 Scooter Gennett 2B 22 100 2 0.411 0.47 0.556 1.026
2011 Nolan Arenado 3B 29 129 6 0.388 0.423 0.636 1.059
2011 Robbie Grossman OF 26 124 7 0.375 0.472 0.625 1.097
2011 Leury Garcia SS 20 86 3 0.361 0.379 0.59 0.97
2011 Wil Myers OF 23 106 4 0.36 0.481 0.674 1.156
2011 Josh Vitters OF 24 104 4 0.36 0.383 0.54 0.923
2011 Mike Olt 3B 27 121 13 0.349 0.433 0.764 1.197
2011 Kevin Mattison OF 25 124 6 0.349 0.433 0.624 1.057
2011 Adam Eaton RF 30 136 2 0.344 0.41 0.475 0.885

Sam Fuld. (dying laughing)

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