What Can We Learn From Venezuelan League Stats?

Just what sort of predictive value do Venezuelan winter league numbers have?

At FanGraphs, Bradley Woodrum has an analysis of pitching stats and Carson Cistulli has both hitting and pitching leaderboards based on the SCOUT system, which is:

an attempt to derive something meaningful from small samples and is the average of a player’s standard deviations from the VWL mean in three important (and regressed) stats: walk rate, strikeout rate, and home-run rate.

That said, which players from the Venezuelan winter leagues have put up performances that might translate into good major league performances in 2012?

One of those who Woodrum doesn't think has anything left is Carlos Zambrano, whose status with the Cubs is still uncertain. Though Big Z's ERA (2.45) looks good, Woodrum says that's a mirage:

Currently, Big Z has a 5.11 FIP through his first five starts. He is not impressing anyone, frankly. Either his LOB% or BABIP (neither of which I can calculate) must be sky high / moleman low to earn such an exceptional ERA. Maybe he is saving his good stuff for when guys are on base? Maybe he has been unlucky with fly balls? I dunno.

I'm not sure what a "moleman" is, but a team looking for a sleeper to help out in the bullpen might consider former Diamondbacks reliever Yusmeiro Petit:

Petit (age 27), the former swingman reliever for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Miami Marlins, never flourished in the majors, sporting a career 5.44 FIP (and a more impressive, but still not impressive 4.51 SIERA) through four seasons. He spent some time in the Seattle Mariners’ minors through the 2010 season (4.18 FIP) and last year looked a little improved, pitching a handful of games in the Mexican league (3.15 FIP).

Petit hasn't pitched in the major leagues since 2009, but this Spanish-language report indicates that he's signed a minor league deal with the Giants with a spring training invitation.

Cistulli's hitting leaderboards include two players who have had extensive minor league experience but little success in the major leagues, Bryan LaHair and Sean Burroughs. LaHair, who was PCL MVP in 2011, hit .288/.377/.508 in 69 PA in a September callup with the Cubs and smashed 15 home runs in 169 at-bats in Venezuela. At 29, he's a little old to be a true prospect, but as of now, he's at the very least a platoon first baseman on the Cubs' depth chart, and unless the Cubs surprise everyone by signing Prince Fielder, he'll probably get a chance to be the everyday starter there.

Burroughs hit .319 with a .396 OBP in 38 winter league games in Venezuela. He's never hit for any power, but if he could keep up that walk rate, he might finally find himself with a major league role. He signed with the Twins last month; the incumbent third baseman (Danny Valencia) is pretty good, but Burroughs could provide some protection.

Take these for what they're worth, especially considering this comment from Woodrum:

Les Walrond (53.1 IP, 4.39 ERA, 2.62 FIP)
Walrond (35) has shuffled around the league for some time, spending several years with the Cubs, then going overseas to play with the Yokohama BayStars in Japan and Doosan Bears in Korea. He’s back in the eastern hemisphere, now, and pitched quite impressively for the Phillies in 2011 (a sub-3.00 FIP as a Double- and Triple-A reliever).

Les Walrond has a 7.07 ERA and 1.99 WHIP in 35⅔ major league innings, last with the Phillies in 2008. So maybe Venezuelan numbers don't mean that much after all...

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