Jays From the Couch looks at what Toronto Blue Jays outfielder, Anthony Alford could contribute at the big league level, complete with comps
Sunday night, Adam Jones tweeted:
Why don’t more ppl talk about Anthony Alford? 🤷🏾♂️🤷🏾♂️🤷🏾♂️🤷🏾♂️
— 10 (@SimplyAJ10) March 12, 2018
It was a classy move for a veteran who had played a Spring Training game with the Orioles against Alford and the Jays a few days earlier. Alford went off for two doubles and a triple in four plate appearances. For the Spring, he’s posting a .410 wOBA over 31 PA.
The vibe right now is that he is very close to major-league ready. Andrew Stoeten broke down a recent interview with Ross Atkins (behind a paywall) and highlighted how excited Atkins was about Alford. By all accounts, Alford has off-the-charts intangibles. He is a bright, motivated person who uses the guidance of his team to help him attack challenges, like improving on pull hitting, cutting down on whiffs and improving on his fielding technique. For these reasons, the people around him believe that he is capable of meeting his performance ceiling as a major-league baseball player.
In light of that, I thought it would be cool to create a picture of what Anthony Alford‘s career would look like if it plays out the way the various scouting sites suggest it might. First, let’s have a look at the rankings and grades these sites have given to Alford. Two sites, Fangraphs and MLB Pipeline, make their rankings and grades public, while another three, Keith Law at ESPN and Baseballs America and Prospectus, only make their rankings public.
The latter three rank him between #52 and #60, while Fangraphs and MLB Pipeline have him in the backend of their Top 50, with a 55 overall future value (FV). There’s a wide range in his hit grade—Fangraphs gives his hit tool a 45 FV (and a 35 right now), while MLB Pipeline gives it a 55 FV. Those grades imply that he’d be expected to hit for a .250-.270 batting average, while probably able to maintain a .230 average at the moment (according to Fangraphs, who provides current grades as well).
Fangraphs uniquely differentiates between a player’s raw power and their game power. It allows a scout to convey how the player generates their game power, between some combination of good form (hit tool) and brute force (raw power). They view Alford as a batter whose raw power could produce around 29 homers per season, which would have put him 42nd in home runs last season (pretty solid). For further context, the average batter hit 19.7 homers per 600 PA. His game power is rated as below-average now, capable of hitting about 9 dingers. However, both scouting sites rate his future game power as average, capable of producing closer to 20 homers a year. Both sites also agree on the plus-plus speed he already displays, which can help him steal loads of bases and beat out infield singles to boost his batting average. His arm looks like it will be his main weakness, but his fielding is already solid and is projected to become a plus tool for him.
In order to see what kind of MLB performance each tool grade is implying, I created a dataset of 1455 qualified player-seasons since 2008. Each tool is associated with a different statistic: hit (batting average), power (homers), speed (BsR), arm (the ARM component of UZR) and fielding (UZR, excluding ARM). The grade itself tells us how many standard deviations above or below league-average a player will be at some particular tool. A 50 is league-average; a 40 is one standard deviation below-average; a 70 is two standard deviations above-average.
The table below associates each tool grade with its equivalent stat based on the performances of those aforementioned 1455 qualified player-seasons since 2008. Based on Fangraphs’ current value, Alford’s below-average hitting and power would hurt his production. [I calculated each wOBA using a regression equation using AVG and HR.] This is made up some by his well-above-average base running and average defence but, overall, he’d only be expected to produce about one win above replacement. [Steamer 600 projects him to produce a .299 wOBA, but due to poorer base running and defence than his scout grade-based projection, he’s limited to 0.5 fWAR.]
Fangraphs’ future scouting grades project a very positive future for Alford. His just-below-average hitting and average power result in a strong wOBA, while his base running and defence are now above-average. The outcome is above-average overall production (4.2 fWAR), enough to put him in the Top 40 among position players in a typical season. Jacoby Ellsbury is a good comp for this version of Anthony Alford. Ellsbury produced 3.9 fWAR/600 PA while under team control with the Red Sox. He hit double-digit home runs with a solid batting average, ran better than most, was limited by his arm and excelled defensively otherwise.
The final projection is based mainly on the (even more optimistic) MLB Pipeline grades. The one alteration I’ve made is to include Fangraphs’ raw power grade, to get a sense of Alford’s true ceiling. In this case, he has four above-average tools. His hitting and power are refined enough to produce above-average production with the bat, while his base running and defence both remain strengths (while his arm becomes less of a weakness).
This version of Alford produces 6.4 fWAR per season, usually reserved for the Top 8 to 10 position players in the game. In this case, his closest comp is somewhere in between Lorenzo Cain (4.6 fWAR/600 PA) and Mike Trout (8.0). This most favourable projection of Alford has him matching Trout for power (about 29 HR per season), about even with Cain for hitting (.290 AVG), just ahead of Trout in base running (6.9 BsR/600 PA), even with them both with his arm and roughly even with Cain in terms of fielding (10.4 non-ARM UZR/season).
Obviously, all the necessary caveats apply to an exercise like this (especially after I just used Mike friggin’ Trout as a quasi-comp for Alford). Scouting grades are possibilities, with all sorts of variance attached to them. However, given what they are and how close Alford appears to be from the big leagues, it’s interesting to see how his tools project to big league production. At the moment, he is destined for AAA Buffalo, with Kevin Pillar firmly entrenched in Toronto’s centre field.
However, if he continues to produce well in AAA, our assumptions of what he can do in the majors will increase. Once he is capable of being an average big-league hitter (or even slightly below-average hitter, given his strong running and defending abilities), he will be banging on the door for a call-up. What he achieves beyond that will be the result of luck and the extent to which his excellent demeanour and work ethic get the most out of his high-quality skill set.
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.