Monday, January 17, 2011

Tim Beckham vs. Hak-Ju Lee: A Look At Stats And Opinions

Since the Rays traded Matt Garza, Fernando Perez, and Zach Rosscup to the Chicago Cubs for Chris Archer, Hak-Ju Lee, Brandon Guyer, Robinson Chirinos and Sam Fuld, there have been hundreds of articles about the trade. I don't want to re-hash all of that here. For great analysis of the trade see DRaysBay, RaysIndex, The Process Report and Dock of the Rays.

What I want to do is compare one of the players the Rays acquired, Hak-Ju Lee, with former number one overall pick Tim Beckham. There are a number of similarities between the two. Both have played exclusively shortstop in the field. Both were born in 1990, Beckham in January and Lee in November, making Lee approximately one year younger. Both began their careers as 18 year-olds in short-season ball, Beckham with Princeton in the Appalachian League (plus 2 games with Hudson Valley) and Lee in the Northwest League (our equivalent of Hudson Valley). As 19 year-olds both played low-A ball, Beckham in the South Atlantic League and Lee in the Midwest League. In his third professional season Beckham played for Charlotte in the Florida State League, a spot Lee is expected to fill this season as Beckham moves up to Montgomery.

Given the similarities in position and age-to-level, let's take a look at how they have performed. We'll look at the experts' opinions later, but first let's view their raw stats. Offensive stats, first Beckham:
Year   Age Leag Lev   AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
2008    18 APPY  Rk  177  30  43 12  0  2  14  5  1  13  43 .243 .297 .345  .642
2008    18 NYPL  A-    6   5   2  1  0  0   0  1  0   2   1 .333 .556 .500 1.056
2009    19 SALL   A  491  58 135 33  4  5  63 13 10  34 116 .275 .328 .389  .717
2010    20 FLOR  A+  465  68 119 23  5  5  57 22 14  62 119 .256 .346 .359  .705
3 Seasons           1139 161 299 69  9 12 134 41 25 111 279 .263 .332 .371  .703
And then Lee:
Year   Age Leag Lev   AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
2009    18 NORW  A-  264  56  87 14  2  2  33 25  8  31  50 .330 .399 .420  .820
2010    19 MIDW   A  485  85 137 22  4  1  40 32  7  49  86 .282 .354 .351  .704
2 Seasons            749 141 224 36  6  3  73 57 15  80 136 .299 .370 .375  .745
Lee is better across the board, especially when you consider his first season was against more advanced competition in short-season A ball while Beckham was in Rookie-advanced. But Beckham has shown the ability to hit above league-average in high-A ball, where Lee has yet to play.

Speaking of league average, here are the average batters ages and slash lines (batting average/OBP/SLG) for each league they have played in during the season they played:
League - Year - Player          AvAge    BA   OBP   SLG
Appalachian - 2008 - Beckham     20.3  .262  .331  .387
Northwest - 2009 - Lee           21.3  .264  .342  .380
South Atlantic - 2009 - Beckham  21.5  .254  .324  .368
Midwest - 2010 - Lee             21.4  .257  .333  .384
Florida State - 2010 - Beckham   22.7  .255  .324  .364
As 18 year-olds, Beckham was below average across the board in the Appalachian League while Lee above average playing against players a full year older and a level higher than Beckham played against. As 19 year-olds both players hit above league average on all counts except Lee's slugging. As a 20 year-old Beckham was above average in batting average and OBP but below average in slugging.

When you look their career numbers in the context of the age and level of their competition, figure in walk and strikeout rates and baserunning (SB's and CS's only), offensively Lee clearly is the better player so far.

Now lets look at the raw defensive numbers, first Beckham:
Year   Age          Team Leag   Lev Pos   G   Ch  PO   A  E  DP  Fld% RF/G
2008    18     Princeton APPY    Rk  SS  37  171  62  96 13  15  .924 4.27
2008    18 Hudson Valley NYPL    A-  SS   2    7   3   4  0   1 1.000 3.50
2009    19 Bowling Green SALL     A  SS 117  531 160 328 43  64  .919 4.17
2010    20     Charlotte FLOR    A+  SS 121  488 167 296 25  62  .949 3.83
3 Seasons                               277 1197 392 724 81 142  .932 4.03
And then Lee:
Year   Age          Team Leag   Lev Pos   G   Ch  PO   A  E  DP  Fld% RF/G
2009    18         Boise NORW    A-  SS  61  334  92 215 27  35  .919 5.03
2010    19        Peoria MIDW     A  SS 118  561 178 349 34  73  .939 4.47
2 Seasons                               179  895 270 564 61 108  .932 4.66
Not much to like here from either of them. Remember how similar I mentioned they were, look at those identical career fielding percentages. Lee has a pretty big advantage in range factor (RF/G), but fielding data isn't very advanced at this point, particularly in lower levels of the minor leagues.

Here is what Jim Callis of BaseballAmerica had to say in a recent interview with Kevin on each players' defensive abilities and who is the better prospect:
Lee is definitely a better prospect than Beckham. He's still two to three years away from the majors, but he's a much better defender (and will stay at shortstop), a much better runner, and I think he'll hit more. Beckham has more power but isn't going to stick at shortstop.
I'd be worried about Beckham. He's not a bust like Bush, but Beckham can't stay at shortstop and he hasn't hit consistently or shown much power. He will be just 21 this year, so he still has time, but right now he looks like a guy who's going to have to play third base and won't have the bat (especially from a power standpoint) for the position.
For another expert opinion, here is what John Sickels had to say about Beckham in an interview with Kevin back in December:
He’s made a little progress but I can’t see any way to spin him overall as anything but a big disappointment. Right now I think they should be happy if he becomes a useful role player, and even that isn’t a guarantee at all.
Based on the raw stats and the expert opinions, what do you think? Does anyone still see a case for Beckham over Lee?

Note: I haven't gone back and revised my personal Top 30 list from back in November, where I ranked Beckham as the Rays #20 overall prospect. If I reworked the list to include the players we've added since then, I would put Lee around #10 and Beckham around #23.


  1. Just with the bat alone, I don't see as much of a gap as maybe others. A little more pop and K's from Beckham at the expense of a few more singles and walks from Lee seems like a decent trade.

    But if Lee is that much better of a defender and baserunner, and Beckham has to move to corner IF/OF, then yeah it seems like an easy pick at this point.

  2. I pretty much agree Jay. My concern is AA pitchers are going to see a guy who strikes out a lot and doesn't take a ton of walks. They will have the ability to get him to swing at bad pitches more than A-ball pitchers did, which will erase some of Beckham's power. And Lee is a couple of inches taller and a year younger, so he could add some strength. But the clincher for me is if Beckham can't stay on short as Callis believes. His bat might be passable at SS but not at 3B.

    Also, wish I would have included the league averages in each players chart so you didn't have to look up and down and try to match them up. Sorry, will try to make it easier to read next time.

  3. The Midwest and Florida Leagues are tough hitter's leagues. If Beckham is going to make a case for himself, this would seem to be the optimal year. Bigger long term is whether either of these guys can push Brignac off at MLB within the next 6 seasons.

  4. Lee have a two-year military obligation. That will be a problem some years later.

  5. Good point anon, that's why I posted the league avg's. With us and Lake County moving from the Sally to the Midwest, I think we'll need to see how they trend going forward. There is also the differences from year to year in the quality of pitchers and hitters from the various orgs, so it's hard to pin down. The FSL is definitely a pitchers league. I didn't go into the Brignac issue, if he's even still there, or who's in between, the article was long enough just comparing Lee and Beckham :).

    CLE's Choo was around 28 when his team won the Asian Games and he was exempted, so I think we've got plenty of time to worry about that. But it is a valid point H22.

  6. Choo didn't join Korean National team at 23 years old in 2006. And I think there is a very little chance for Lee to join the team at 2014 too. Maybe the only chance to avoid military obligation will be a 2018 Asian Games.

    Lee expressed concern over the military duty at recent interview. Choo expressed his concern many thmes before avoiding and he once thought an applying American nationality. It's very complicated thing for Korean.

    Of course, as you mentioned, we have a lot of times and anything can happen. What's the use of worrying? I just hope he feel confortable for that and focus hs on baseball.

  7. Thanks for the explanation Homein22. Since you seem to understand the Korean military obligation requirements, could you explain them for us here in the US? How long can a guy wait, are there ways out of it, etc. Thanks in advance.

  8. I dont care what stats you put up, According to Draysbay, he is going to be the best SS ever. DOnt bash him.

  9. I understand the Korean military obligation requirements, because I am Korean. As you see, my English is too poor to explain that exactly and properly. I am much concerned about that.

    But, I will try it and hope you or someone correct my post. It will help to clear up any misapprehensions due to my poor English.

    It's my pleasure to exchange of information about Rays and their prospect. and It will be my little reward for the joyness from the site.