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40 in 40: Juan Then, the only Juan

an experiment in prospecting and cloning

What does the word “prospect” mean? Dictionary heads would say “the possibility or likelihood of some future event occurring.” Which is a very dictionary (read: boring) definition. And it definitely doesn’t approach the baseball version of the word.

A baseball prospect is, in a word, a risk. The team takes a risk that a young, unknown player will turn out to be a major league contributor, and the player takes a risk that they’ll be good enough to make a career out of the game. A prospect not panning out is not just the ending of a career or a waste of a roster slot. It’s the end of a dream: For the player, their friends and family, and, to an extent, the fans who have been hoping to see the prospect for years.

Which brings us to Juan Then. Juan is a returner to the Mariners system. He was signed out of the Dominican Republic back in 2017, traded to the Yankees, and then traded back to the M’s in 2019. He was promising the first few years of his minor league career, with his ERA hovering around 2.50 in Rookie league ball.

After the pandemic-cancelled 2020, however, the wheels came off the Thenmobile. At High-A Everett, he posted an ERA of 6.46 through 14 starts and 54 innings. Last year he was moved up to Double-A Arkansas and pitched 10 innings in relief for an ERA of 5.40.

So what’s the problem? Then has always been good at getting strikeouts, averaging over 1 per inning, and limiting home runs, but counting stats show that guys tend to string a lot of hits together against him. As a minor leaguer, we have limited batted ball data for Then, but his career GB% is only about 40%. With his low homer rate, it seems like opposing hitters are barreling him up for line drives constantly.

So what can we hope for? Could/should Juan Then be called up to the Majors in 2023? Stat people are probably (fairly) yelling “no.” But is there another way to get the answer? If only there was a way we could clone a bunch of Juan Thens and simulate them through a whole major league season and see what happens.

Oh yeah.

So I cloned Juan Then using his in-game ratings, and replaced all of the starting pitchers in the Mariners organization with Juan Then. No Luis Castillo, no Logan Gilbert; there is only Juan. The lineups were unchanged however. Maybe the M’s bats will be able to carry the team through the Juanining.

oh no

With no other choice but to send Juan out to the bump for every game, we’ll get a pretty good sample of what Juan could be like if he was on the starting roster. San Diego Studios uses Statcast percentile rankings for player ratings, so we should get a decent approximation. Will the Mariners win the World Series? Will they make the playoffs? Will they have a winning record?

No. It did not go well for the M’s. At the All-Star break, they were 13 games below .500 (Julio was an All-Star, though!). And it did not get better. Here’s the standings at the end of the year.

better than oakland!

In this fictional 2022, Anaheim ended their drought before the Mariners. Lame. And I should point out that MLB The Show 2022 actually really likes the M’s lineup. Simulating seasons in the same way I did the Juan season, they consistently have 90+ wins with their usual rotation, sometimes beating out the Astros for first in the division. So those 40 games back? That’s Juan.

Let’s look at some personal stats.

So there’s some things I’d like to draw your attention to. First, the ERAs. All north of 5. Sad! And the FIPs of nearly 6+. Bad! Even worse is the WHIP of over 1.50. Having on average one and a half baserunner every inning is nightmarish. You’d never be able to settle in, and other teams would easily put rallies together. Which, of course, they did.

But now some positive things. The Juans put up a HR/9 of about 1.5, which is mostly fine. In a pre-deadened ball time, it would have been league average. It’s about equal to what the real life Robbie Ray put up in 2022. Of course, the Juans had a WHIP almost 50% greater than Robbie’s (who already had a baserunner problem) so their homers were worth more runs on average.

Juan #4 in the rotation also threatened to be league average with a K/9 of 8.04, just below 2022 league average mark of 8.5. Just like real life Juan, virtual Juan does tend to get strikeouts and limit dingers, just maybe not at a major league level.

So what did we learn? Almost nothing. Should Juan Then be on the Opening Day roster? Almost certainly not! But even though he’s been in baseball a while, Then is still just 22 years old; it’s too soon to write him off, and so we will not. There’s a paucity of information out there on Juan, but from what I can find, he seems like a humble guy who’s grateful for the opportunities baseball gives him. I can’t help but want the best for him. Maybe in 2023 he’ll return to his pre-pandemic form. He already strikes out 12 hitters per nine innings. And again, he’s only 22! Then may have a 61 overall, but he has an A in potential. Best of luck, Juan. Hope to see you up there one day.