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Toolshed: McMahon made most of Modesto

After leading prospects in BABIP, Rockies prospect reflects on season
January 15, 2016

Ryan McMahon read he was tops among's Top-100 prospects in a statistical category and "liked" @MiLB's tweet on the story. Even if he didn't previously know what the stat was all about.

"Nah, I had no idea. It was kinda cool to see, though. Honestly, I had to Google it. B-A-B-I-P or whatever it was. I just thought it was interesting. I didn't even know that was something people even keep track of."

That's BABIP, or rather, Batting Average of Balls in Play -- which can tell us a lot about the talent level and/or luck of a given hitter. (Full explanation and formula in the link above.) A low BABIP could mean a hitter is making a lot of weak contact or is slow (i.e. unable to beat out a couple infield hits) or just plain unlucky. A high BABIP could mean a lot of hard contact, a speedy player or a relatively lucky one. McMahon definitively fit into the latter category.

HIGHEST BABIPs for Batters among's Top-100 Prospects
50 Ryan McMahon 496 149 18 153 2 .300 .401
65 Lewis Brinson 398 132 20 98 5 .332 .393
97 Anthony Alford 413 123 4 109 3 .298 .393
38 Tim Anderson 513 160 5 114 2 .312 .391
11 Trea Turner 454 146 8 97 5 .322 .390

We posited in the original story that McMahon's high BABIP was on account of mostly hard contact, given that he collected 67 extra-base hits over 496 at-bats for Class A Advanced Modesto. That's a notion the Rockies' No. 5 prospect was quick to back up. 

"When I say hard contact, I don't mean just homers," he said. "I'm trying to square the ball up as much as possible and put a lot into my swing. Yeah, that leads to high number of strikeouts sometimes, but I'm just looking for something to get a hold of, so when I do hit the ball, it's not soft at all."

Nuts manager Fred Ocasio echoed those sentiments.

"For me, the average he had this year, it was solid," Ocasio said. "It was a hard-contact average. With him, it wasn't the case where you could say, 'Yeah, but it's a soft .300.' It was a hard .300 the whole year."

But what of luck? The left-handed-hitting slugger claims his performance at the plate had nothing to do with four-leaf clovers or horseshoes when it came to lucky hits.

"Shoot, my teammates will tell you [that I did] here and there, but I used to complain a lot that I never got any cheap hits."

There is one more explanation, however, as to why McMahon had such a high BABIP compared to his teammates -- location, location, location. The California League is consistently thought of primarily as a hitters' league, thanks to the crooked numbers put up in places like High Desert and Lancaster. Indeed, Cal League teams averaged 4.9 runs per game in 2015, highest among the 10 full-season circuits, beating out the Pacific Coast League (4.7) and South Atlantic League (4.4).

But Modesto's John Thurman Field is a horse of a different color in the Golden State. The outfield wall stands at 319 feet down the right-field line and 312 down the left, but really opens up in the gaps, expanding to 370 feet in right-center, 393 feet in left-center and 400 straight out. The walls are 15 feet high to boot.

"It's a big yard," Ocasio said. "You pretty much have to hit the ball right down the line if you want to hit a home run because center field is pretty big. It's a pitchers' park, but that means it's good for hitters here because you gotta concentrate on line drives. That's how you'll most likely succeed in Modesto."

California League Park Factors
High Desert 1.359 1.629 1.107
Lancaster 1.257 1.346 1.090
Visalia 1.059 0.897 1.022
Stockton 1.029 2.155 0.985
Rancho Cucamonga 0.978 0.840 1.052
Bakersfield 0.953 1.196 0.993
San Jose 0.901 0.883 0.912
Lake Elsinore 0.845 0.406 1.008
Inland Empire 0.841 0.673 0.955
Modesto 0.796 0.532 0.875

McMahon obviously did succeed during his time with the Nuts, but his home-road splits add some interesting context. Only three of his 18 homers on the season came at home, despite similar sample sizes (246 home at-bats vs. 250 road at-bats), while five of his six triples were at home. In other words, more space in the outfield meant area for well-struck balls (i.e., homers in other parks) to fall into play. For his part, McMahon said he tried to stay consistent, no matter the park, in 2015.

"I don't think it changed my approach because I've always been a middle-of-the-field guy trying to aim for the gaps," he said. "I've been working on getting stronger this offseason, so hopefully a couple of those balls will get out next year. It sure beats a triple, so I don't have to sprint to third every time."

That said, the fewer homers this summer did lead to a large jump in his home BABIP, when compared to the road.

Ryan McMahon Home-Road BABIP Splits
Ryan McMahon (Home) 246 77 3 78 2 .313 .443
Ryan McMahon (Road) 250 72 15 75 0 .288 .356
Ryan McMahon (Total) 496 149 18 153 2 .300 .401

Going forward, McMahon shouldn't expect such a high BABIP in 2016 as he exits Modesto for Double-A Hartford, where park factors haven't been determined yet for still-under-construction Dunkin' Donuts Park. However, if the increase in level and competition doesn't dampen his numbers slightly, the Eastern League itself, where offenses averaged .8 runs per game fewer than their California League counterparts in 2015, should dampen at least his road splits. 

As for his general prospect profile, the bulk of the work remains on the defensive end at the hot corner, where the Rockies are asking him to focus on quickening his footwork and working on the consistency of his throws. There's also the problem of his 27.5-percent strikeout rate that, for a player who did so well on balls in play, seemed to be damaging, even if it came from somewhat of an all-or-nothing swing approach.

"Talking to a couple coaches, they've talked to me about extending the zone with two strikes, trying to cut down those numbers," he said. "The more balls I can put in play, the more runs, hits, times I can get on base to help the team. It's something I'll take into next season."

The ultimate goal remains to get to and succeed in Colorado, where the park factors are always in the hitter's favor and where McMahon's BABIP isn't likely to be as high once those Modesto doubles and triples turn into Denver homers.

"Oh man, I mean obviously Coors Field is a hitter's dream," McMahon said. "It'd be amazing to make it up to the big leagues, no matter what, but Coors is a dream park for a hitter."

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.