The Astros received Orioles outfielder L.J. Hoes as part of the Bud Norris trade. Hoes was recently called up to the Orioles' major league team from AAA Norfolk. Let's look at Hoes' 2013 minor league season through a sabermetric lens. Some TCB commenters are non-plussed by the acquisition of Hoes. However, the advanced stats tell a different story: Hoes was one of the best offensive performers in his league, particularly in relation to his age.
Recently I wrote about the advantages of evaluating minor league players with wRC+ rather than OPS. The former is a more accurate measure of offensive performance than OPS, and the relative difference between wRC+ and OPS shows that certain players are over- or under- rated by OPS
OPS Underrates Hoes
Hoes is another minor league player who tends to be underrated by OPS. Hoes ranks 17th in International League OPS (.808). He is tied for 8th in wRC+. For example, OPS would suggest that Mauro Gomez was a much more valuable offensive player, with 46 more points of OPS than Hoes; however, Hoes has a 131 wRC+ compared to Gomez's 129. Hoes created more runs than the 28 year old Gomez, the International League Player of the Year last season.
Why is Hoes underrated by OPS? First, we know that his offensive production is heavy in OBP rather than SLG. Based on the actual contribution of OBP and SLG to run creation, OPS places too much emphasis on SLG and too little weight on OBP. Second, wRC+ is league and park adjusted. Hoes plays in a league (IL) which suppresses offense relative to the Pacific Coast League. Hoes' home ballpark (Norfolk) also suppresses power relative to the rest of the International League. OPS provides a distorted comparison because it fails to account for the league and ballpark environment.
Based on Minor League Central's park factors, the Norfolk ball field has the lowest park factor for HRs (88) and the fourth lowest park factor for doubles (94). Hoes' offensive weakness is lack of power, but the ballpark may have contributed somewhat to his low .099 ISO. Given that Norfolk's park also suppresses doubles, Hoes' No. 7 ranking in the IL for doubles (25) is even more impressive.
wRC+ Relative to Age
Hoes has the highest wRC+ (131) of any IL hitter below the age of 24. This includes highly rated young prospects like the Tigers' Nick Castellanos (116). Hoes is not one of the 4A hitters posting big offensive numbers. He is 23 years old.
Walks and Strike Outs
High walk rates in AA and AAA are highly predictive of major league success. AAA hitters with high walk rates are twice as likely to become productive ML players, compared to those with average walk rates. Hoes' 13.5% walk rate is high. In fact, Hoes has the 7th highest walk rate in the IL. The youngest hitter with a higher walk rate than Hoes is two years older than him. This is consistent with the post-trade deadline article I wrote last year, pointing out that Luhnow tends to trade for high walk rate hitters. Carlos Perez, Marc Krauss, and Robbie Grossman all had high walk rates.
Hoes' strike out rate (13%) is also better than average for the IL (20%). Hoes' 1.04 BB/K rate is 4th highest in the IL. This is particularly good for a 23 year old. The three IL hitters with a higher BB/K rate are age 26, 30, and 33.
A legitimate question about Hoes' ability to succeed at the ML level is his low level of power. Most corner outfielders are HR hitters. In a discussion spurred by Robbie Grossman's first call up, I previously evaluated the types of ML hitters with low power, high BB%, and average to high K%. However, Hoes' profile is different because of his low K rate.
In order to achieve a high wRC+, Hoes has to rely upon low Ks, high BBs, above average line drive rates, and a good batting average. His power is likely to be in the form of doubles rather than home runs. Examples of hitters who generally fit this profile are Chris Coghlan, Willy Aybar, Matt Carpenter, Logan Morrison, and John Jaso. We don't know if Hoes can achieve ML success, but you have to like the season he was having in AAA.