The Prospect Corner with Adam G.

Looking back at the 2006 MLB draft, I’m still not sure what to think. Luke Hochevar, the #1 pick, has been a huge disappointment, and the #2 pick, Greg Reynolds, has barely been better than average. Other head-scratchers in the top 10 picks include Brad Lincoln (underwent elbow surgery this year), and Drew Stubbs (hasn’t been horrible, but definitely hasn’t been top-10 quality). So it’s easy to look at the 2006 draft and be a little disappointed, especially when you consider the 2005 draft when we saw Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki and Cameron Maybin all go in the top 10. But if you look just a little bit closer at the 2006 draft class, you’ll see that it wasn’t all that bad. Besides the previously mentioned top-10 duds, we also saw Evan Longoria go #3, Andrew Miller at #6, Clayton Kershaw at #7, Billy Rowell at #9, and Tim Lincecum at #10. So really, 2006 wasn’t as bad as it might have seen and I think our opinion of that draft as collectors will only go up over the next couple of years. One of the main reasons I haven’t given up hope on the 2006 draft class is Evan Longoria. In a draft class that has so far been well known for its’ pitchers, the success of the 2006 draft in terms of big hitters will largely depend on him.

In 2 short seasons and just 733 at-bats, Longoria has terrorized minor league pitching by hitting 44 HRs, and posting a stat line of .388/.546/.934. Listed at 6′ 2″ and 180 lbs, Longoria seems to have plenty of room to add some bulk to his frame and increase those power numbers. He’s also done very well defensively and seems to be a good fit at third base. Going into Spring Training, he ranks among the top 3 hitting prospects in all of baseball, right up there with Jay Bruce and Colby Rasmus. If all goes well, Longoria could compete for time on the major league club in 2008 and should be a well established starter by 2009. So, with all this hype, what can we really expect from Longoria during his major league career and where does he fit in with Bruce and Rasmus? If we want to accurately look into the future, we must first look into the past:

Usually, I like to look at raw stats, but since Longoria has played at 5 different levels in his 2 year career, I think it’s best to look at trends and percentages to get an idea of what kind of hitter he is. Looking at these numbers, the K% seems high but that’s not unusual for a young power hitter. By comparison, Jay Bruce and Colby Rasmus have a K% of 25.4% and 22.9% respectively. Longoria’s BB% is also about average for a young slugger. Rasmus comes in at 12.4% and Bruce is at 9.8%. When we combine K% and BB% for each of these three players, we can see that 33% of their total at-bats result in either a walk or a strikeout. To be more accurate, I’ll just post their totals:

In order for a power hitter to post big power numbers, he must minimize the number of at-bats that do not result in making contact with the ball. Though walk rates and strike out rates directly effect on-base percentage and can tell us a lot about a hitters’ patience and plate discipline, for this article I am only interested in these totals because they allow us to see that all three hitters are putting the ball in play at about the same rate and are “losing” virtually the same number of at-bats to walks and strikeouts. That means that the numbers each of these players puts up will almost completely depend on what happens after they make contact. So let’s get to the good stuff and see how they stack up against one another.

Before analyzing these stats, it is important to note the age differences between each of these players.

Since Bruce was a year younger at AA ball than the other 2 guys and his XBH% is higher, I think it would be fair to adjust his HR% to be about the same as Longoria, which would bump his ISO up as well. With that in mind, who would you rank higher? I think Rasmus probably comes in at #3, but what about Bruce and Longoria? Bruce is younger with similar power numbers, but he strikes out more and has a lower walk rate, but he’s listed as being a little bit bigger than Longoria, so he might develop more power. Then again, Rasmus might have the luxury of hitting in the same line-up as Albert Pujols, and Bruce might be hitting behind (or ahead of) Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr., and that will affect their numbers as well. We also have to take into consideration park factors for both their minor league careers and their future major league home parks. After adjusting for park factors, Bruce comes out slightly ahead, but it’s not a significant difference. Any rankings of these three hitters at this point is primarily based off of opinion, so just go with the one you like. Personally, I would put Longoria at #1 since he’s a more developed hitter in terms of his plate approach, and then I would put Bruce at #2 because of his power numbers, and finally Rasmus at #3. That’s just my opinion though.

Regardless of what their current rankings are, let’s spend some time looking at some comparable players and come up with some basic projections.

Each of the above hitters posted a HR% of 4.4% or higher, and with the exception of Ryan Howard played through AA ball between the ages of 20 and 22. Longoria matches up well with Billy Butler and Prince Fielder in terms of K% and BB%, and if you consider the age difference at AA ball, their HR%’s are fairly comparable as well. Jay Bruce matches up well with Chris Young (and maybe Ryan Howard to an extent), while Rasmus is a bit of a mix between Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. It’s a nice group of hitters to fit in with, so I think we can realistically expect great things from Longoria, Bruce and Rasmus.

If you look at the numbers posted in the majors by the above players at the age of 22, you’ll see that most of them hit about 20-25 HRs, with a batting average in the high .200’s. If Longoria gets called up in 2008, I would expect him to put up similar numbers, and consequently his card prices will probably drop by about 50%. If you’re considering buying any of his cards at this point, I would wait until fall of 2008 and then I would stock up and buy as many as I could afford. The same approach should be used for Bruce and Rasmus. By 25 years old, all three players will likely be good for 30+ HRs a year, with batting averages close to .300 or higher. At least one of them will break the 40 HR mark within the next 3 years, and that of course would be a good time to sell a few cards. I think Bruce and Longoria could both hit 40 HRs several times before the age of 30.

Bill James recently said that there is more young talent in baseball right now then there has been in decades and possibly the history of the game, and I tend to agree. With guys like Longoria, Bruce and Rasmus coming up through the ranks, it will only get better, and don’t forget that we haven’t even looked at others like Justin Upton, Delmon Young, or Cameron Maybin. Great young players make card collecting a very exciting hobby (and often very expensive), so don’t miss out!

The Prospect Corner with Adam G.

Three days ago WaxHeaven.com had it’s biggest day in its 2 1/2 month history with close to 1,000 page views in one day thanks in part to Adam G. and his second write up of New York Yankees prospect Joba Chamberlain. Today, he has sent in his newest article on another hot prospect among Yankee fans and card collectors, Phil Hughes.

Phil Hughes

Well guys, I thought that by writing a follow up Joba Part II post I would be able to clarify some of my primary opinions about him, but it seems to have only stirred the pot over at the Baseball Think Factory. I’m not a Sabermetrics stud and I don’t even understand all the things stat people spend their time talking about, so I’m not too worried that a few of them had a few qualms with my work. I really just wanted to point out to the average fan and card collector that when compared to other options, Joba is a very promising guy to focus on. I am also interested in helping collectors understand the statistics that provide the best means of clarifying which prospects are worth investing in and what it all means in terms of the baseball card market. Maintaining a proper perspective is paramount to minimizing risks, and my intention for every post I write is to provide a bit of perspective when assessing a prospect. I’m flattered that the guys at The Baseball Think Factory would even bother reading my work. Thanks to the folks over at TBTF for taking an interest. At current it seems that most stat guys aren’t interested in cards, and most card collectors aren’t interested in heavy stat analysis, but I think if we can get the two sides to take interest in one another it can only mean good things for the card collecting hobby.

Moving on, I think now would be a good time to look at Philip Hughes while Joba Chamberlain is still fresh in our minds. I had the opportunity this past spring to watch Hughes pitch in Tampa for Spring Training and listening to the buzz from the Yankees fans while he was on the mound was amazing. Most fans will casually follow a ball club throughout the year and only pay attention to individual players after an outstanding major league performance, but the Yankees faithful know a lot about their up and coming talent and are very excitable. At times while sitting in the stands it felt like I was surrounded by George Castanza’s immediate family. There’s nothing quite like a Yankee’s fan.

Anyways, if I was a Yankees fan I’d be pretty excited right now, too. The Red Sox may have been the most recent victors of the World Series, but the Yankees are really loading up for a long term run. Besides Chamberlain, one young pitcher that has caught a lot of people’s attention is Phil Hughes. At 21 years old he had a minor stint in the majors this year, and although his season was marred by a leg injury, he still did very well for himself.

Those numbers aren’t bad, but I think Yankees fans were hoping for more. Before we brush off Hughes’ first big league stint as a luke warm non-event, I want to give you his monthly breakdown for 2007:

Generally I don’t like to base prospect evaluations off of month-by-month stat analysis, but I think it is worthwhile to note that Hughes spent his summer bouncing between AA ball, AAA ball and the major league team after his early season leg injury, and it seems that he took a while to find his stride. His August numbers could be due to all that bouncing around.

Looking at his September numbers, I think we can begin to see what kind of potential Hughes really has. Though his strikeout rate dropped compared to August, he showed better control with only 10 walks and managed a 2.73 ERA. Of course, every pitcher is capable of having a good month every now and then, so I don’t expect Hughes to keep his ERA under 3.00 all the time. However, I think Hughes could be a good candidate for a sub-4.00 and even sub-3.50 ERA within the next year and here’s why:

It is very likely that Hughes will be able to maintain a major league GB% close to 50%, and I think he could keep a K/9 rate of 7 or higher with a low BB/9 rate of less than 3. To give you an idea of where that would put Hughes compared to active players, let’s look at Andy Pettitte’s stat line from 2007:

Just for fun, here’s a few more comparisons from the 2007 season:

As you can see, there’s a lot of variance between each of these pitchers, but we can get a feel for where Hughes might fit in. I think something close to the following stat line might be a fair prediction for Hughes in 2008:

Considering that Hughes will benefit from some of the best run support in the majors, I think his win total is going to be fairly high. His ERA will fluctuate throughout the season, but once he settles into a rhythm I think he’ll string together some really nice starts. With his 2004 Bowman Chrome Auto RC currently trading steadily in the $80-90 price range, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it bounce up to $150 or higher some time next season if he doesn’t get traded to the Twins. If you haven’t picked up any of his cards yet, now would be a good time to look into that.

Now that we’ve looked at the 2008 season, let’s start thinking more long term. In order to come up with some decent 5 year projections for Hughes, here are the minor league stats from a few comparable pitchers that have spent a few years or more on a major league ball club (some pitchers do not have available GB% stats for their minor league career, so I will be using the GB% average from their time in the majors):

If these pitchers are any indication as to what we can expect from Hughes, I’d say that over the next 2 seasons Hughes will probably keep an ERA in the 3.75 to 4.00 range and then by the age of 24 or 25 we’ll begin to see him consistently post an ERA under 3.50 or better. As long as he stays with the Yankees and stays off the DL, I think he could win 15 games a year, and possibly 20 by the age of 25. If I was a Yankees fan, I’d be pretty excited about that.

The Prospect Corner with Adam G.

Joba Chamberlain Part II!

Last week I did a little piece on Joba Chamberlain that elicited a wide range of reactions. While I’m not a Yankees fan and I don’t own a single Joba Chamberlain card, I had to admit that Joba is generally worth the hype. Others, especially those that frequent the Beckett baseball forums, took my views as simply another sheep following the herd and falling for the Yankees hype machine. While I appreciate most of the opinions that I read and try to keep a level head about the prospecting side of card collecting, I am sometimes shocked at the lack of perspective that some prospectors seem to have at times. For instance, one individual questioned the hype surrounding Chamberlain, while in the same post mentioning something about Ian Kennedy having a chance to be a real solid starter for the Yankees. Another individual posted a comment saying that the only reason that Chamberlain did so well in the majors this year was because he had a BABIP of .229 and that if Andy Pettitte had had similar BABIP then we would be singing his praises and not Chamberlain’s.

In the interest of clarifying some of the mystique surrounding pitching prospects and to give the average fan a little more perspective, I’d like to give a quick breakdown on statistical pitching factors:

These numbers were pulled from an article written by James Click titled Baseball Prospectus Basics. The article ran February 20, 2004 and can be found here.

In simple terms, the Metric side of the table is a list of statistics kept on pitchers. The R-Squared column is the measurement of correlation, or the amount of importance the stat has in projecting a pitcher’s career. The closer the stat is to 1.000, the more likely it is that the stat will be a determining factor in predicting the future success of a player. The third column under Standard Deviation is the amount of variance you will likely see in each statistical category over time from player to player. The higher the standard deviation, the more variable the value of each stat is likely to be.

According to Click’s article, the most important statistics in predicting a pitcher’s future success are K/9 (R-squared = 0.5627) and GB/FB (R-squared = 0.5591). K/BB ratios (0.361) and BB/9 ratios (0.3413) are also of some importance, but generally speaking the more batters a pitcher strikes out per 9 innings and the more ground balls a pitcher can induce, the more successful they will be. This should make sense to even the casual baseball fan since the goal of a pitcher is to record as many outs as quickly as possible and the 2 most efficient means of recording outs is via the strikeout or groundout. To help put this information in perspective, I’ll give you a few comparisons from the 2007 season:

In general, all 4 of these pitchers had the same defensive players behind them and pitched against the same offensive line-ups throughout the season. Though ERA is based off or many variable factors, I think this short list illustrates the basic importance of the K/9 stat and the GB/FB stat. Carmona and Westbrook had similar K/9 rates, but Carmona had a much higher GB% and thus had a considerably lower ERA. If we compare Carmona with Sabathia, we can get a feel for the comparable values of the K/9 and GB/FB stats since their ERAs were both in the low 3.00 area. Sabathia averaged 2 more strikeouts per 9 innings pitched, while Carmona averaged about a 20% higher GB%. This breaks down to a 10% increase in GB% equaling an extra strikeout per 9 innings. To test this theory, let’s take a look at another pitching staff:

In this instance, Ted Lilly seems to be an outlier as the 3 other pitchers statistics neatly follow the basic formula of correlation between the K/9 and GB% statistics. You can see that Rich Hill and Carlos Zambrano have virtually the exact same ERA while Hill averages an extra strikeout per 9 innings and Zambrano averages 10% more in GB%.

I could go on and on with stats like these, but the important thing to take from all these numbers is the correlation between a player’s K/9 ratio, GB/FB ratio and his success as a big league pitcher. There are always a few pitchers that don’t fit neatly into these correlation formulas, but generally all pitchers do and those that don’t probably succeed for other reasons that are rarely consistent and usually don’t have much to do with the pitcher.

To get back to the debate surrounding Joba Chamberlain, let’s take a quick look at his numbers compared to a few more established pitchers:

Though Chamberlain’s GB% wasn’t very high, his K/9 ratio was so high that he effectively pitched better than every pitcher we have looked at thus far. I am fully aware that Chamberlain’s numbers are based off of a small sample size and his ERA will not stay at 0.38, but his K/9 ratio is very consistent with his minor league stats and his GB% is actually much lower than his minor league average. I expect that his K/9 ratio will remain above 10 and his GB% will likely reach 50% next year, meaning that he could easily outperform 95% of American League pitchers, including Johan Santana. Many collector’s will say that it’s too early to make predictions like that since Chamberlain is so young and inexperienced, but history has shown that pitchers only get better as they age into their late-20’s, and that means Chamberlain will only become more dominant. (On a side note, I threw in Pettitte’s and Kennedy’s stats to counter the posts I mentioned earlier)

I hope this post had put a little more perspective into the “hype” surrounding Chamberlain. As I said earlier, I’m not a Yankees fan nor do I own any Joba cards, but it is my intent to help other collectors refine their prospecting approach. Baseball is not a perfect science, and I don’t expect anyone to place their prospecting faith 100% on statistical analysis, but if you don’t understand the stat side of baseball, you are severely missing out both as a fan and a collector. I hope I have shed a little more light on this subject and hopefully I can move on to other players besides Chamberlain. I look forward to your comments and hope you’re as excited about Spring Training as I am.

-Adam G.

The Prospect Corner with Adam G.

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:

1) Everything
2) Todd
3) Van
4) Poppel

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.