Todd Van Poppel
My write-up on Joba Chamberlain was recently posted on the Baseball Think Factory Newsblog page with the following description:”Everything you need to know about Joba Chamberlain. Is he the next Roger Clemens or another Todd Van Poppel?”
It was nice to see that others had taken an interest in my musings, but there were four words in the title that made me nervous:
The “everything” was a concern simply because I didn’t actually write much about Joba, just posted his stats, made some comparisons and made a few basic projections. In a biographical sense there was a lot I didn’t say about Joba, so I was concerned that readers may be disappointed when they realized my post didn’t cover “everything”. But that’s inconsequential and I think most people could look past that part. What really mattered about the title was the “Todd Van Poppel” bit. When I sat down to write about Chamberlain, I never once thought about comparing him to Van Poppel, even though he is one of the most notorious “busts” in baseball card history. How could I overlook Van Poppel?!
After seeing the title, I immediately feared that I had failed to find any comparable pitchers that could have provided us with a realistic idea of Joba’s “bust”-factor, and had thus exposed myself to an onslaught of naysayers and their stacks of stat books and unyielding knowledge of all things baseball. In a moment of panic, I pulled up all the stats I could find on Todd Van Poppel.
I was about 10 years old when the Van Poppel craze began, so naturally I don’t remember much about that event in baseball history. However, looking back at his stats, it’s difficult for me to imagine what all the fuss was about. Van Poppel’s A- number were good, but after that his BB/K ratios completely fell apart and he never put up any kind of “elite” numbers that would have given any support to the hype surrounding him. Even if I had remembered to include Van Poppel on my “bust” list, his stats are not at all comparable to Chamberlain’s.
Apparently, when the A’s signed Van Poppel, they signed him to a major league contract and not a minor league contract. Consequently, the A’s could only use a limited number of minor league options on Van Poppel, so they had to rush him through the minors and he never really had time to develop. In scouting reports, Van Poppel was described as having a blazing fastball with no movement, which helps explain the discrepancy between his A- numbers and the rest of his career. I’m not sure what other pitches he developed, but they obviously weren’t good enough to compliment his fastball. Van Poppel also suffered from set-backs due to injury, and that probably added to his demise.
Looking at Van Poppel’s stats got me thinking about a few other pitching “busts” of the last 20 years and one of the first names that came to my mind was Brien Taylor.
Brien Taylor Minor League Stats
Taylor was signed the year after Van Poppel, and had similar hype surrounding him. After his year at AA ball, Taylor suffered a torn labrum in a fight and his numbers only got worse after his stint in rookie ball at the age of 23. His labrum tear was supposedly one of the worst ever seen by doctors and considering that the success rate today for labrum tear surgeries is about 70%, it’s easy to assume that 15 years ago the success rate was much lower. In a sense, Taylor was a bust, but really he was just a kid that lost it all due to one bad decision in a heated moment.
While I feel more assured in my analysis of Joba Chamberlain (at the very least we know he most likely will not be the next Todd Van Poppel), I am interested to know if there are other pitchers out there that I missed that posted similar numbers to Chamberlain but went on to have mediocre careers. I’m sure they are out there, so if you find any, let me know.