November 21, 2011

Farm system success

Flip Flop Flyball has had a number of good infographics (and humour items) in the past, but their recent "Wins and loses throughout each team's system" chart is particularly interesting.  One thing that caught my eye is that no team in the Houston Astros system managed to break the .500 mark in 2011.

This raises a question in my mind. Can the current performance of minor league afflitates be used to predict MLB team performance at some future date?  (Economists would call this a leading indicator.)  All of the research on minor league performance that I'm aware of is in service of forecasting individual player performance. For good review of that work, see "The Projection Rundown" at Fangraphs.

But I'm wondering if the fluid nature of the minor leagues will yield any sort of meaningful result at the team level.  Not only are players constantly moving up and down between the levels, it also seems to me that they are every bit as likely (if not more so) to move mid-season from one organization's farm system to another (resource: Baseball America's listing of minor league players).  And the farm teams themselves are prone to shifting from one organization to another, and moving up and down the levels.  As one example, the Vancouver Canadians of the single-A Northwest League were affiliates of the Oakland A's for 11 seasons, but in 2011 came under to Toronto Blue Jays umbrella (they finished with a 0.513 record, second in their division).

Which then leads me back to the infographic: other than 2011 results, does it tell us anything?


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