Digging For Gold: The Boog Powell Story
When you name your child Herschel Mack Powell IV you enter that infant into a lifetime of expectations that will never be met. Sure you might become the Assistant to the General Manager for the Southeast corridor for Publix Supermarkets, but your grandpappy Herschel Mack Powell Sr. WAS the General Manager for a prolific dry goods wholesaler back in HIS day. And he did it several years younger, too. These expectations can cripple the mental pscyhe of a weaker man, as your dad Herschel Powell III has had no issue reminding you for the last dozen Thanksgivings after the turkey gets put away and the Turkey comes out. Sometimes it’s just easier to do it another way.
Another man with similar expectations shook off the binding chains of his family name and after a trip to the mountains of the Far East he returned with a new identity known only to himself and his butler. Herschel Mack Powell IV realized that the only way that he could create his own identity was to forge out into the world under an alias. To create his own blazing path under the moniker Boog Powell so that someday he could return home with his head held high bearing the confidence of someone that has fulfilled the enormous expectations that the ambitious place upon themselves. Tune in next week to find out how he goes about sating this famished desire.
Just kidding! Someone that this author admires has a name for the kind of ballplayer that has figured out how to get on base in the minor leagues without having the requisite power that forces pitchers to be careful with their offerings. The idea is that if pitchers can just throw it in the zone without fear of the mashjob then the walks will dry up leaving a creekbed full of old tires and weak contact. Boog Powell is one of these types of players, but the aforementioned nickname for guys of his ilk is “a Gathright.” Some folks maybe never knew who Joey Gathright was. Well, Joey was the definition of a waterbug. Boy, could he run. On the bases. In the outfield. Over a car. Seriously. Time was Joey even got on base.
In 389 A+ plate appearances Gathright put up a .406 on base percentage. He basically did the same thing in 231 AA plate appearances and you could start to see him being a quick mover. The 2004 season saw a promotion to AAA where he put up a .326/.384/.373 line in 260 PA before a cup of coffee replacing the perpetually injured Rocco Baldelli to close the year. He started 2005 with the then Devil Rays where he batted to the tune of a .350/.409/.500 line before inexplicably being demoted back to Durham for half a season. He would get back in July, but only manage a wRC+ of 69 with a 4% walk rate the rest of the way. The next season saw him get sucker punched in the grill by that coward Julian Taverez and then get traded to the Kansas City Royals for J.P. Howell. Despite world class speed, a great minor league walk rate and the ability to jump over a car Joey Gathright never really made good on the promise that he showed as an empty OBP, just get on anyway you can, hitter. Obviously, this proves that no player of this variety can ever make it work.
Turns out that that statement is mostly true. I was able to pull minor league data for all batters from 2006 – ’15 with the goal to capture all batters that had produced an OBP of .400, but had an isolated power of less than .100 over the course of at least one season. This is something that apparently happens quite a bit in Rookie ball so it became apparent that these guys should be trimmed and why not throw A- guys out, as well, since both levels are so very far away and feature so many non-players. This left the relatively more vetted A, A+, AA and AAA levels and 140 player-seasons that met the criteria. We can take this a step further and realize that some players did this more than once so really there were only 127 players to post a .400 or better OBP with a .100 or lower ISO. That’s 127 players meeting this criteria out of the just over 7,500 players in that time frame. This is a pretty obviously a rare skillset that you don’t come across very often. Boog Powell is one of those players (via the previously linked Baseball-Reference):
His entire minor league career meets the requirements! Confirming that Boog is a Gathright is the first step, but the next is to bring in the research on those 127 players. Here are some summary statistics for the group courtesy of Fangraphs:
Really not a whole lot between these two so we’re looking at a pretty normal distribution for the most part. The group as a whole failed to put up a .400 SLG to match the .400 OBP they provided. Strikeouts and walks are really tight, and somewhat surprisingly, the Speed score and value from stolen bases is closer to average than what Joey showed all those years ago. Overall, these were exquisite seasons from a total value standpoint as captured by wRC+. You can view all of the player-seasons at this link.
It might be unconventional, but these players are universally a positive on offense as only one player had a sub-100 wRC+ (Barbosa, 2014). This isn’t news. We know that Boog Powell has been a really good player in the minor leagues over the last three years. He has rode the rocket ship all the way to AAA Durham where he has hardly skipped a beat. He is now looking like a guy that could see some time in the Show over the next 12 months, which begs the question of whether or not he’ll ultimately be a good player with this skillset. For that, we need to turn to the players from our sample that have a Major League track record. As I could only go back to 2006 (and am including 2015) many of these players still have a chance to break into the big leagues, but we’ve also seen the file closed on several others so I think we can and should use this stuff to get an idea of what to expect.
Excluding 2015 there were 119 players that met the criteria. Of those, 37 (31%) went on to at least make an appearance in the show with only 20 of them accruing at least positive WAR (0.1) in their careers. So it’s probably safe to say that Powell has something like a one in three chance of even playing in MLB and something like a one in six chance of being above replacement level. The odds may not be in his favor, but there have been success stories:
The class of the skillset is Brett Gardner who has combined elite baserunning with elite defense in LF for roughly 24 WAR to this point in his career. The next guy on the list shares something in common and it’s neither the defense nor the baserunning. Gardner and Brantley put up ISO scores of 0.095 and 0.074, respectively, throughout the entirety of their Minor League stays. In their Major League careers they have seen those rates go to 0.131 and 0.125, respectively, which is pretty astounding. The gold standard here is to be really good at everything that doesn’t involve hitting and then also nearly double your established power level. Fat chance of that happening, but there are some other interesting players on here.
Ellis is a catcher and Pennington is more of a shortstop/util guy there for his glove. Hamilton is a total speed merchant, much like our pal Joey Gathright who shows up here as one of the “positive” outcomes. Brock Holt plays all over the field, but might be a similar comp at the plate. Burns might seem like a good comp, but he doesn’t walk much now after doing quite a bit of that on the farm. Of the positives I think the best outcome to hope for is Gregor Blanco. Blanco is above average at everything, but great at nothing, and good is also not beyond argument.
Like Powell he holds the platoon advantage more often than not so it’s easier to manipulate his time. He has been a little better than average in CF and a little better than that in LF so you’ve got a little flexibility there. Blanco has been an adequate base stealer in the past, but that has faded a bit over time, though he is still pretty good at taking the extra base. He walks and strikes out like Gardner, which is to say pretty good and pretty average, but he has the power of minor league Brett Gardner not the Major League version. Still, in what amounts to his original “six years” of team control he has given his teams 10ish WAR. I think anybody would be happy to get that from Boog, though as shown here, that is hardly the likely outcome.
When your name is Herschel Mack Powell IV you become accustomed to expectations at a young age. You realize that most of the others aren’t going to make it doing the same things that you do. You realize quickly that they aren’t you. The man called Boog will someday get to walk tall to the man named Herschel Powell Mack III and offer a firm handshake and a pat on the back. If Boog can play a competent CF and either gain a bit of power or somehow figure how to sustain his OBP then he could be a good player and someone that can honorably someday pass on his legacy to Herschel Powell Mack V. It’s the circle. The circle of life.
Prose aside, I wanted you to get the chance to hear the real story from the man, sans myth. Please enjoy and root for Boog to make it as hard as I will be: