Baseball

Some Undue Optimism for Mauricio Dubon

Carson Cistulli / 7 Dec, 16 /

Some Undue Optimism for Mauricio Dubon

Any idiot with modest control both over the English language and also Microsoft Excel is capable of writing a weblog post about the implications of Mauricio Dubon‘s statistical record as a minor leaguer on his possible future as a major leaguer. The only idiot prepared to do it for FanGraphs.com, however, is the one composing these words right now.

Who is Mauricio Dubon? A different person to everyone he meets, probably, because this is how humans work. Who he is for the purposes of the current post, however, is one of the players received by Milwaukee in a deal that sent reliever Tyler Thornburg to Boston this morning. Travis Shaw is almost certainly the most well-known player acquired by the Brewers. Dubon, however, is likely the best.

As a professional, Dubon almost immediately joined that class of player who presents a challenge to evaluators. He was drafted in the 26th round, has always lacked a carrying tool, and plays what amounts to probably just a fringe shortstop. At the same time, however, he also possesses nearly elite contact skills and — regardless of the position at which he’s being deployed — profiles as a net-positive defensive contributor.

The final three-plus months of Dubon’s 2016 season represented probably the best of of his career so far — and might call for whatever credentials he continued to possess over “fringe” status. Promoted to Double-A Portland towards the end of June, Dubon continued to exhibit his usual collection of skills while also displaying unprecedented power, hitting six home runs and recording a .199 isolated-power figure in 269 plate appearances. The result: an overall offensive line roughly 50% better than league average. In light of his youth — the 2016 campaign represented Dubon’s age-21 season, while the average age of an Eastern League batter this past year was 24.3 — the offensive production was impressive. Not only that, the production was supported by indicators (strikeout rate, ISO) which become reliable in smaller samples.

Curious about the implications of Dubon’s performance, I identified every 21-year-old Eastern League batter from the five-year interval between 2010 and 2014 who had recorded (a) at least 200 plate appearances and (b) a strikeout rate below 15% and (c) an isolated-power figure above .150. The list is a short one: from a sample of 964 Eastern League players who meet the plate-appearance criterion, only two others meet the additional constraints. Both of their names are familiar.

Mauricio Dubon’s Eastern League Comparables, 2010-14
Name Team Year Age PA K% ISO
Mookie Betts Red Sox (AA) 2014 21 253 7.9% .196
Lonnie Chisenhall Indians (AA) 2010 21 524 14.7% .172

To rephrase: out of nearly a thousand possible outcomes, these are the batting lines from the recent past most comparable to Dubon’s half season at Portland. And to reiterate: they belong to a pair of players, in Mookie Betts and Lonnie Chisenhall, who’ve combined for about 20 wins in roughly 3,500 plate appearances — or about 3.5 wins over a full season.

It should be noted: the emergence of Dubon’ power seems vital to the optimism implied by these comparables. If one removes the isolated-power criterion from the table above, the additional results are less encouraging:

Mauricio Dubon’s Other Possible Comparables, 2010-14
Name Team Year Age PA K% ISO
Mookie Betts Red Sox (AA) 2014 21 253 7.9% .196
Lonnie Chisenhall Indians (AA) 2010 21 524 14.7% .172
Che-Hsuan Lin Red Sox (AA) 2010 21 543 11.6% .068
Adeiny Hechavarria Blue Jays (AA) 2010 21 273 14.7% .087

Adeiny Hechavarria continues to remain employed based almost entirely on the strength of his defensive reputation. Che-Hsuan Lin remains employed, too — but as a pitcher now in the Rangers’ system. In other words: the skill set is a promising one, but probably more promising when it’s complemented by the power. Otherwise, there’s a greater burden placed on Dubon’s shortstop defense, and the returns — by the numbers, at least — haven’t been entirely encouraging.

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