I've received a lot of questions on twitter lately about Nolan Fontana and why he's still in Lancaster. It's a fair question for sure and not easily answered in a brief statement. Hence, the need for an article to discuss why it's so necessary to keep his .452 on-base percentage in the hitter friendly winds of the California League.
The growth of sabermetrics has been necessary for the advancement of the understanding of baseball, but there are drawbacks to it when it comes to minor league baseball. At the major league level, the result is all that matters and if your stats are better than the next guy, you have performed better. You can make the case that the stats tell the whole story. That isn't true in the minors. There's more to it than the numbers. There always will be. It's about development, and if the coaching staff and the farm directors think there are things you can improve on, you'll stay right where you're at.
That's hard to chew when the major league team is as poor as it is and seeing prospects advance as they have the stats that show they are dominating is the main source of excitement. I can understand that, but I can't agree that players need to be advanced just because they have some statistical success. When it comes to the minors, I want to see them do more than post good numbers. Some things just don't show in the stat sheet.
It's unpopular to the ears of a starving fanbase, but I'm going to make the case to keep Fontana right where he's at, and it has nothing to do with him hitting the 7-Day DL yesterday. And this does not mean I don't like Fontana. It doesn't mean I want you to lower expectations for Fontana. All this article is intending to do is tap on the brakes for wanting him in Corpus.
First let's take a look at the case for promoting him. I can't argue against that the man has performed phenomenally. He has. He's done great and his .452 OBP proves that. He's walking at a 19.1% rate and strikes out 18% of the time. Can't argue about his plate discipline. I LOVE his plate discipline. His BB% beats the league average by TEN percent! His k% is three and a half percent better than league average. This guy has that part of his game down pat.
His OPS is .947! That's better than league average by .185. That's mostly because his OBP is better than league average by .120. His SLG is .475 and league average is .410. His SLG is that high because his average is .317 and the average is .256. That makes his ISO an impressive .158 but less impressive considering the league average is .154 and his SLG into perspective.
This is where my case is going to be made. His OBP is supported by two things, a great walk rate and a high batting average. Let's assume the walk rate stays high which I think it will. It's lower than last season but it's a level up in competition and last year was a small sample size. The other factor, the batting average, is elevated greatly by a high batting average on balls in play. It's .387. That's very likely to come down.
He's shown a knack for hitting line drives which is why his LD% is a high 19% compared to the 15.6% average for the league. That will allow for higher BABIP numbers but those percentages take larger sample sizes to even out and I doubt he maintains that high of a BABIP.
Video courtesy of Anthony Boyer
Take a look at that video, that's not a great batting practice. Given, they were working on situational hitting in this particular batting practice and it's just one BP, it's not as bad as it appears, but still not a great BP. You see a couple of things. He's late to the ball at times and it's not overly hard contact. It's a small sample, but it goes along with what I'm hearing from multiple people that have seen him this year. I've been told multiple times that his approach is advanced and very strong, but his batted balls are not. His batted balls are not hard hits and a lot of balls are just finding holes.
He's obviously not overmatched. He's obviously very talented. But, he's not quite ready for AA. He probably will be at some point this season, but not right now. He's got some work to do with his swing so that he gets to the ball a bit quicker so that he squares up a bit better and not be late. He's not a power guy and he has some load to his swing that is causing him to be a little late at times as well. There's just some fine tuning that continues to need work there.
His fielding is coming along very nicely, its still workable. He is taking great routes to the ball and is reading the ball great. his range isn't great, but it's workable. He plays beyond his range because his instincts for the position are there. Just continued refinement.
Nolan Fontana is a very solid talent that has a big league future, but it's not tomorrow. Let him continue to get some of these finer details worked out at the level. You can't see everything in a box score. Especially when his approach and discipline at the plate is so far advanced, it overshadows some of the small issues. Just be patient.