Phelps’ Power is Off the Charts

Thursday, January 23 2003 @ 11:19 AM EST

Contributed by: robertdudek

The newest Prospectus Cover Boy is the best power hitting prospect in the game today.

Most of us have seen Josh in action. Craig Burley and I attended a Yankees-Blue Jays tilt last year in which Roger Clemens started for the visitors. Phelps blasted two monstrous homeruns in that game, and after one of them I turned to Craig and mentioned the name that surely was on the mind of many Jays fans at that moment – Mark McGwire.

Is Josh Phelps going to be the new Mac? It would be wildly premature to speculate on that to be sure, but when did that ever stop any of us before? Phelps is the young hitter most likely to put up Mac-like power numbers.

After some tinkering some months ago, I settled on an estimate for power which was simple to understand and could be calculated for any hitter using only the basic offensive stats. There are actually two versions:


The other version drops the SF from the denominator. The formula estimates how hard a batter puts a ball in play on average. Outs in play and singles are counted as zero on the power scale, doubles and triples are a 1, and homeruns are a 2. While it is true that you can hit a ball hard and single or make an out, it is not possible to weed out the soft ones based on official stats. There are line drive singles (and outs for that matter), but many singles are of the infield hit variety or else sneak through the infield. Aside from the bloop doubles and triples and a rare inside-the-parker, extra base hits are hard hit balls. Triples are no harder hit than doubles: they are merely “speed” doubles.

In any case that’s the logic behind the formula. Let’s see what it tells us about 2002.

TOP 15 by Manifested Power (200+PA, non-Park Adjusted), 2002

                       MP        PA          Age(July1)
Jim Thome 0.360 613 31.85
Barry Bonds 0.349 612 37.94
Sammy Sosa 0.286 666 33.64
Alex Rodriguez 0.283 725 26.93
Erubiel Durazo 0.279 276 28.44
Josh Phelps 0.279 287 24.14
Brian Giles 0.276 644 31.45
Manny Ramirez 0.276 518 30.09
Mark Bellhorn 0.272 529 27.86
Russ Branyan 0.268 435 26.53
Carlos Delgado 0.264 628 30.02
Jared Sandberg 0.262 401 24.33
Pat Burrell 0.262 684 25.73
Rafael Palmeiro 0.261 663 37.77
Lance Berkman 0.261 692 26.39

The Giambi boys were 16th and 17th (Little G actually finishing ahead). Park adjusted numbers would show Barry moving ahead of Thome. Josh leads the youngsters, with Jared Sandberg and Pat Burrell next. Other young power hitters (under 26.0) include: Andruw Jones (.241 – 21st), Alfonso Soriano (.240, 23rd), Adam Dunn (.223, 30th), Eric Chavez (.218, 37th), Brad Wilkerson (.214, 40th) and Carlos Beltran (.214, 41st).

Let’s see how Josh stacked up against his AAA cohorts in his monster half-season in upstate New York.

Top 15 Manifested Power, AAA (under 26, 150+ PA), 2002

                     Org        MP        PA         Age(July1)
Phelps, Josh TOR 0.394 295 24.14
Cust, Jack COL 0.290 450 23.46
Petrick, Ben COL 0.281 311 25.23
Stratton, Rob NYM 0.274 282 24.73
Ludwick, Ryan TEX 0.263 352 24.30
Restovich, Michael MIN 0.261 580 23.49
Rivera, Mike DET 0.256 305 25.81
Cuddyer, Michael MIN 0.256 372 23.26
Borchard, Joe CWS 0.256 493 23.60
Ryan, Mike MIN 0.248 600 24.99
Pena, Carlos OAK 0.240 206 24.12
Cash, Kevin TOR 0.230 266 24.57
Chen, Chin-Feng LA 0.229 576 24.68
Ross, Dave LA 0.227 346 25.28
Munson, Eric DET 0.221 569 24.74

No contest! It was an awesome display – Josh demonstrated that he was far too good for AAA pitching.

Phelps put up a .272 MP at AA Tennessee in 2001, a combined .295 MP in AA/A+(Dunedin) in 2000, and a .232 MP at Dunedin in 1999 (age 21.14). That suggests a fairly normal progression, as most hitters increase their power significantly between age 21 and age 24.

What’s in the cards for Phelps in 2003? To progress as a hitter, he’s got to work on his strikeout to walk ratio. Josh was one of the big whiffers in MLB in 2002:

Top 10 by Strikeouts per PA (minus intentional walks), 200+PA, 2002

                  Walk rate   Strikeout rate   PA     Age(July1)
Russ Branyan 0.112 0.350 435 26.53
Jared Sandberg 0.091 0.349 401 24.33
Jose Hernandez 0.082 0.326 582 32.96
Chad Hermansen 0.085 0.309 265 24.81
Jason LaRue 0.056 0.299 397 28.28
Felipe Lopez 0.072 0.292 309 22.14
George Lombard 0.073 0.290 270 26.80
Brandon Inge 0.069 0.288 351 25.12
Josh Phelps 0.067 0.286 287 24.14
Greg Vaughn 0.137 0.277 297 36.99

Josh put up similar rates in AAA (.092 walk rate; .287 strikeout rate) in 2002. I don’t expect him to cut his strikeout rate dramatically – but hopefully he’ll fall to somewhere between 15 and 20 on this list for the upcoming year. His walk rate is low. I expect it to rise a little, mostly because he’s going to get pitched around a bit more than last year (especially if he bats 6th). I’ll wager that his K/W ratio ends up in the neighbourhood of 3.5 to 1.

Expect Josh’s batting average to drop off significantly. His BIP average (batting average when the ball stays in the yard) was .399 last year (.340 in AAA). That was 2nd in the majors, bested only by the .406 BIP posted by the enigma that is Jose Hernandez. Phelps swings hard and hits line drives, so he should continue to post high BIP averages for years to come, but nobody maintains a .400 BIP average.

Overall, expect the drop in BAVG to offset the rise in walks and then some, causing the OBP to slide into the .340-.350 range. I think his slugging percentage will fall in proportion to his batting average. That would be a fine 2003, in which Josh consolidates the gains he made in 2002.

If Josh Phelps works diligently on his strike-zone judgement and pitch recognition, I expect that one day I will be able to call him the best hitter in baseball and not be ridiculed.

Get your tickets for Blue Jays V ’03, folks – it’s gonna be a great show.