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JimAndPatrickLeylandThe numbers aren’t particularly flashy for Patrick Leyland: one home run, one double, and eleven singles in 46 at-bats, but the .283 batting average that the above line produces is good for third on this year’s West Michigan Whitecaps team.

I don’t believe that batting average tells us anything useful about a player’s value at the plate, but it does, perhaps, give us an indication (in conjunction with his walk and strikeout rates) of the hitter’s approach at the plate. Leyland’s 2012 numbers present an interesting case. He has only been called out on strikes in 16.7% of his plate appearances, which is probably a bit below (better than) the average player. But his relatively low strikeout rate isn’t necessarily a sign of great discipline because he’s only drawn a single walk (2.1%).

We see a similar, though slightly different pattern if we also include his numbers from his last two years in short-season leagues (2010 in the Gulf Coast League, and 2011in the New York-Penn League). For his minor league career, Leyland has only fanned in 10.4% of his plate appearances, and walked in 4.4% of them. So, it appears as though he has tended to swing at the ball to make (any) contact instead of selecting pitches to drive. His career .253 BABIP probably supports this thought, though he’s only had 339 total plate appearances.

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The big difference to 2012 is the jump in BABIP and slugging average. This year, Leyland’s BABIP is a much better .324 (high, but not unreasonable), and he’s also seen a near 100 point jump in his slugging percentage over his career average. Of course, we’re probably still seeing lots of random variation in play (it’s still early in the year and in his career), but those numbers suggest he’s smacking the ball much better in the early going of this season.

Leyland’s on-base percentage is a sub-par .298 (due to the miniscule 2.1% walk rate), so there’s still room for him to grow in the plate discipline department.

Add everything up, and Leyland has amassed a non-astonishing (and somewhat below average) .667 OPS, but that might not be so bad considering (1) he’s two years younger than the median age of the league and (2) that he plays the weak-hitting position of catcher.

Leyland has split the catching duties in West Michigan with 23 year-old Curt Casali (with Casali getting slightly more playing time) and, given his age, I would expect him to end repeating the level in 2013. Leyland isn’t thought of as a top (or even middling) prospect by anyone, but I think the Tigers still see him as potentially more than organizational depth at this point (jokes about nepotism aside).

I doubt Patrick Leyland will ever become a head-turning player (I think his ceiling probably tops out around ‘marginal MLB backup’), but so far he has shown improvement at every level, and that’s as much you can really ask. The reason for following his progression continues to be more interesting for his familial relationship to the Detroit Tigers’ Manager (he’s Jim’s son, by the way) than for his prospect value. But either way, he’s still holding his own at the plate so far this year.

Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.