The RENDON Rankings

June 4, 2010

The 2010 MLB Draft class is universally regarded as having a pretty light crop of college hitters. At this point, still a couple weeks away from the draft, it looks like there could be only six college position players taken in the first 32 picks.

Many teams prefer high level college hitters on draft day because college hitters tend to have the best return on investment. In general, hitters are safer bets than pitchers and college players are viewed as safer than high schoolers. It stands to reason that college hitters are among the most sought after prospects come draft day.

However talent comes before anything else. No GM in his right mind would take Johnny College over Harry Highschool just because one played collegiately. General Managers and Scouting Directors are in the data accumulation business. The more scouting reports, interviews, medical records, background checks, video, and statistical analysis, the better. This is the one area in which college stars have a distinct edge on their prep counterparts: stats.

Let’s take a look at how the likely first round picks have fared statistically in our first unveiling of the 2010 RENDON Ranking System. All the data below is from the full regular season and does not include any conference tournament or post-season data:


Player School Year Pos Total Score Year Score wOBA* Power BB% K% Speed PA
Yasmani Grandal Miami 2009 C   449.377 0.387 727.627 13.924 15.612 33.920 237
Yasmani Grandal Miami 2010 C 480.4533669 497.187 0.492 764.559 20.179 12.108 -50.123 223
Zack Cox Arkansas 2009 3B   345.325 0.330 820.078 8.889 28.889 59.899 225
Zack Cox Arkansas 2010 3B 377.4812927 394.796 0.428 372.583 13.306 11.694 196.778 248
Christian Colon CS Fullerton 2009 SS   484.259 0.412 454.678 7.895 7.895 220.767 304
Christian Colon CS Fullerton 2010 SS 523.9743372 545.359 0.447 657.292 11.203 5.394 215.669 241
Michael Choice UT Arlington 2009 OF   427.609 0.431 493.994 11.069 11.450 98.189 262
Michael Choice UT Arlington 2010 OF 463.6516617 483.059 0.486 698.424 27.711 17.671 151.245 249
Gary Brown CS Fullerton 2009 CF   388.567 0.384 457.943 4.746 11.186 415.696 295
Gary Brown CS Fullerton 2010 CF 448.9118021 481.405 0.494 621.659 3.930 5.240 565.600 229
Bryce Brentz MTSU 2009 OF   532.267 0.530 872.181 11.439 11.808 121.911 271
Bryce Brentz MTSU 2010 OF 459.4455082 410.898 0.431 683.221 13.990 17.617 82.576 193
Kolbrin Vitek BSU 2009 3B/2B   540.034 0.472 847.767 11.429 13.878 400.878 245
Kolbrin Vitek BSU 2010 3B/2B 518.7843762 507.342 0.454 789.397 12.134 13.389 269.013 239

If you’re unfamiliar with RENDON (named for Rice star Anthony Rendon) the basic idea is simple. I built a database of every top 50 pick from 2001 -- before that college stats are hard to come by. In the process I sort of reverse engineered an algorithm to rank players on the likelihood of becoming quality major league hitters. Focusing on year-to-year trends and using comparable players for a guide, the RENDON system boasts a .518 correlation to major league OPS (draft position is -.306).

In general, players who score of 470 are deemed first-round worthy – strictly from an offensive point of view. The higher the score, the better.

Yasmani Grandal may well be the first college player taken on draft day, and would be a worthy choice. The Miami Hurricane backstop has been one of the most productive hitters in the country this year, on the heels of a very solid sophomore campaign. Grandal appears to combine well above-average patience with good power, all while making consistent contact. Miami does play in a hitter’s-park, so his raw numbers (1.311 OPS this year) take a small dip and his power output has stayed relatively static despite being more patient – a possible clue that Grandal has been pitched around this spring.

The positional adjustments in my system are pretty small, since forecasting defensive value in college is rather difficult. But there appears to be little doubt about Grandal’s ability to stay behind the plate and he possesses the natural arm strength to help control the running game.

Grandal looks like a solid bet to be an average to above-average MLB hitter, regardless of position. Getting that ability from a catcher is extremely valuable and makes Yasmani Grandal worthy of a top 10 overall selection.

While Grandal looks poised to deliver solid value for any team that drafts him, if a team uses a top pick on Zach Cox they may not be so lucky. Make no mistake about it, the Arkansas third baseman is a talented player. Cox has shown the ability to hit for solid power and make contact. Unfortunately, he hasn’t shown the ability to do them at the same time.

Some may be surprised that Cox’s 2010 season doesn’t turn out better in the eyes of RENDON. Cox is hitting .431/.500/.607 for the Razorbacks, leading the SEC in batting average. After seeing 56.6% of his hits go for extra bases in 2009, Cox has only managed an extra base hit rate of 21.9% in 2010. Cox has traded strikeouts for singles. While that is a move in the right direction, it doesn’t get you all the way there yet. If a player is a singles hitter in college, he’s unlikely to become a quality major league hitter.

The only player to score lower according to RENDON and carve out an MLB career is Kelly Shoppach. Cox would be only the second player to score under 400 according to RENDON and not be either a catcher or shortstop. Former Oklahoma State third baseman Josh Fields scored 394 after struggling to hit for contact and power.

It is worth noting that Cox is younger than college players in this class, as an age-eligible sophomore he may have more upside than the average player. Still, Cox would have to dramatically improve his offensive game in order to be considered a top prospect.

Every year there are rankings that surprise me, Christian Colon’s ranking surprised me. A shortstop known more for his glove work than his bat, Colon gets bonus points for his excellent contact ability. While Cox gets near-universal praise as one of the draft’s best pure hitters, Colon wipes the floor with him statistically. Colon makes more contact and does more with it. Many have viewed Colon’s prospects as strictly depending on his defensive value. RENDON sees Colon as a quality MLB hitter, period. While he isn’t likely to be an elite OBP guy, Colon has solid-average power potential and should hit for a high average. Think of Colon in the Placido Polanco-mold.

Michael Choice has been covered in-depth. It is worth reiterating that while a score of 470 is generally the cutoff for first rounders, the wide spread differences between Choice’s 2009 and 2010 seasons and unique nature of his talent give him more unpredictability than most.

Middle Tennessee star Bryce Brentz came into 2010 on the heels of one of the better sophomore seasons in recent draft history. Brentz showed elite power/contact abilities combined with solid patience in a truly outstanding 2009 season. But Brentz 2010 hasn’t lived up to those lofty heights. RENDON doesn’t like the increase in strikeout rate, up above the 17% threshold.

No matter how hard I try, I am yet to imbue RENDON with sentience. So what RENDON doesn’t know is that Brentz suffered a stress fracture in his ankle this spring which kept him out of action for several weeks and was likely the reason for the slight decrease in production. Given that he’s got solid tools, a smooth swing and was so good as a sophomore, I’m willing to give Brentz the benefit of the doubt and still call him worthy of a first round grade.

Kolbrin Vitek entered the year as Bryce Brentz without the buzz and has stayed healthy and productive all year long. Combining excellent power and speed with a solid ability to control the strike zone, Vitek is a strong all-around prospect. There is some dispute about Vitek’s ultimate defensive home – personally I’d leave him at third where his arm strength plays up and his range could be plus – but he should hit enough to play just about anywhere.

Coming up soon we’ll take a look at some sleepers and the top college hitters beyond the first round.


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