It’s difficult to compare one league to another when talent is distributed all over the world at different levels.
How can you determine which minor league has the best pitching or the best hitting? Unless you scout every single one and know the minute details of every player, than you might have a chance.
According to Baseball Reference, there are 31 different professional baseball leagues that range from Triple A to Foreign to Independent. Anyone can tell you that Triple A players are the best of the best. They are literally one injury away from playing at the top level. At lower levels of the game, the next Nolan Ryan or Greg Maddux might be waiting in the wings, he just doesn’t have the experience or the tools to fully take advantage of his God given abilities yet.
In short, the comparison comes down to numbers.
Numbers are misleading but can also give you insight into what calibre of competition is out there. At the same time, the numbers are absolutely correct.
Comparing 31 leagues is challenging because the calibre of player in one league could be vastly superior to one in another. For example, many Triple A players have Major League experience and Independent League teams have players who have just graduated from college. The Independent Atlantic League play full schedules and others, like the New York-Pennsylvania League, play short seasons. The Appalachian League develops players, but the Pacific Coast League is feeder system to their MLB affiliate.
Earned Run Average is a great tool to begin with. It determines how many runs a players gives up during the course of a nine inning game. In 2013, after 1030 games, the Dominican Summer League leads all of professional baseball with a cumulative 3.43 ERA. The Independent Pecos League brings up the rear (31) at 6.61, nearly 1.50 runs higher than the Mexican League (30).
The Pecos League, one of the newest Independent Leagues, is known for its high scores and higher altitude. And according to the Pecos League, they are not afraid to tell you.
“The league’s high power offenses are fueled by high altitudes and smaller ballparks. The Pecos League is home to high altitude baseball where our average elevation is 4870.”
The Colorado Rockies play at 5,280 feet above sea level. Four Pecos League parks are above 6,000, the highest being Fort Marcy Park, home of the Sante Fe Fuego, in Sante Fe New Mexico at 7,000 feet.
The Frontier League is the highest rated Independent League at 13 with a 3.96 ERA. They are also one of 14 teams with an ERA below 4.00. They do sit in the bottom quartile in walks per nine innings (3.7), but sit in in the top 10 of another, surrendering less than nine hits per game.
Frontier League pitchers have appeared in 616 games, less than half of the Pacific Coast League, but have tossed 45 shutouts, good for first on this list. The other Independent Leagues are in the top 18, with the veteran heavy American Association (4) and Atlantic League (6) rounding out the top 10 and the Frontier League at 11.
Many of the leagues are very close in comparison, although the Independent’s falter when it comes to control. Control is one area where a pitcher needs to be better than the other guy to succeed. If you can’t throw strikes then you can’t progress to new levels. If you can’t throw strikes fate is no longer in your hands.
The Atlantic League and American Association are the only Independent teams in the top 11. This is no surprise since many of their players have professional experience or have advanced in affiliated ball. They do share the top spots with MLB, Florida State League (Advanced A), Texas League (AA), Mexican League (AAA), Venezuelan Summer League (Foreign Rookie), Japan Pacific League (Foreign), Japan Central League (Foreign), and the New York-Pennsylvania League (Short-Season A).
Pitching is only half the story because the hitters literally determine how good you can or can’t be. In this case, the statistics show that the Independent League can hang with the big boys, and rightfully so.
*All statistics courtesy Baseball Reference*
Devon is the Founder and Executive Director of The GM’s Perspective. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Currently, Devon is a Manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario Canada, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow The GM’s Perspective on Twitter and Facebook. His full bio can be seen here.