Ryan Flaherty deserves a Line of the Week. He deserves it as much as anyone who has picked up one up this season. He’s right among the leaders in all minor league baseball in RBIs, he’s playing all over the diamond, and he’s having the kind of season that most players dream about. His day will come. Eventually. But not today.
Today, for the second time this season, the Line of the Week goes to the Daytona Cubs collectively for not losing the week of May 23. As I write this, the winning streak has been snapped… at twelve. Their winning percentage stand at .755, and everyone in the Florida State League knows they could start another long winning streak anytime. Daytona is an impressively good baseball team.
But they have not one of Baseball America’s 2011 Top 10 Prospects. They have exactly zero guys off Jonathan Mayo’s list of top Cubs prospects, now that Robert Whitenack is in Tennessee. On top of that, they are the second youngest team in the league, half a year younger than the league average. How is Daytona this good?
Good question. Let’s take a look.
On a broad level, the answers are easy. They have one of the best pitching staffs in the league, and they easily have the best offense in the league. That combination is going to equal a lot of wins. But this is still a team devoid of top prospects (or so we’ve been told…). Either there are lot of guys in Daytona who have been severely undervalued, they are just lucky, or their average age is an aberration.
We can rule out luck immediately. They score a league leading 5.57 runs per game (second place is about 4.9) and only give up 3.66. That’s a difference of almost two runs a game. Over the course of 53 games, that eliminates luck.
So what about the average age statistic being misleading?
While the average age of this team is second lowest in the league that doesn’t mean that the team isn’t being carried by a few much older players who are playing at a level they can dominate. So let’s take a look at the more detailed statistics for the Daytona roster, sort the hitters by OPS, and check the ages of the top performers. The league average age is 22.7 years, so we should see lots of 22 and 23 year old prospects.
And that is exactly what we see. David Macias is near the top by OPS and is old for the league, but he has only played in 19 games. In fact, several of the top Cubs by OPS are a year or two younger than league average (Ha, Cerda, and Lake).
So what about the pitching staff? Are they the age we would expect? In this case, sort the pitchers by innings pitched so we can highlight the starters. Once again, they are at league average or (in the case of Struck and Kurcz) are younger. If we focus on performance for both starters and relievers by sorting by WHIP (low to high), and toss out Doug Davis and Ryan Buchter since they aren’t with Daytona anymore, we’re left with another string of league average ages.
In short, the Daytona Cubs really are young for the league. They are not being carried by minor league veterans. There is only one way I can explain that gaudy winning percentage: they really are just that good.
Let me say again… not one of these guys are on the Cubs Top 10 list. When I looked over the farm system before the season started, I expected great things from Tennessee because of the number of top prospects on their roster. I expected Peoria to be good because I really liked the 2010 draft class that would be moving into Peoria. And I expected Daytona to be the worst of the three. Now that Daytona has proven to be so much better than expected, I have to conclude that the Cubs farm system is better and deeper than even I thought… and I was as high on it as anyone.
Like I said on Monday, help is on the way. The lower minors are absolutely loaded with talent at every single position. That talent is a few years away and not all of these guys will make it to Wrigley, but the help will come. The help will most definitely come.