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Friday, August 11, 2017

Braves vs. White Sox is an epic battle for MLB’s best farm system

And it’s no wonder Braves fans get all parochial when someone dare say the White Sox might have a better system.

Except here’s the thing: They do.

It is not inarguable. One evaluator whom I trust believes deeply Atlanta’s is better. A handful of others agree. Of the 24 people surveyed, though, 18 voted White Sox. And almost all came back to the same reason: The position players.

They love pitching. Everyone loves pitching. Pitching is the lifeblood of baseball. Develop a homegrown rotation and, as the Mets showed, it can take you to a World Series. The problem with pitching is its volatility. One GM brought up the 2011 Royals, who had four left-handed starting prospects in nearly every top 100.

“Danny Duffy is a really good big league starter, Mike Montgomery is a reliever and John Lamb and Chris Dwyer were busts,” the GM said. “So it’s like 1½ out of four. And that’s pretty good.”

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 11, 2017 at 02:27 PM | 15 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: braves, white sox

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   1. bfan Posted: August 11, 2017 at 04:27 PM (#5511506)
without wading into the debate, isn't there a miss rate for prospect position players that is not that different? I just bulled a BA top 20 from 2007 (I picked 10 years ago). The top hitting propsects on that list are Gordon (yes); Demon Young (no); Maybin (no); Longoria (yes); Brandon Wood (no); Justin Upton (yes); Chris Young (no); Mccutchen (yes); Bruce (yes); Tulo (yes); Brignac (no); carlos Gonzalez (which one was he?); andy Laroche (no).

the pitchers were Dice-K (yes); Philip Hughes (yes); Homer Bailey (yes); Andrew Miller (No!, wait, Yes!); Lincecum (yes); Gallardo (yes); Pelfrey (yes).

That year and source was random on my part and maybe not representative, but I would say the pitchers ended up much better than the hitters, out of this group.
   2. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: August 11, 2017 at 04:35 PM (#5511512)
without wading into the debate, isn't there a miss rate for prospect position players that is not that different? I just bulled a BA top 20 from 2007 (I picked 10 years ago). The top hitting propsects on that list are Gordon (yes); Demon Young (no); Maybin (no); Longoria (yes); Brandon Wood (no); Justin Upton (yes); Chris Young (no); Mccutchen (yes); Bruce (yes); Tulo (yes); Brignac (no); carlos Gonzalez (which one was he?); andy Laroche (no).

the pitchers were Dice-K (yes); Philip Hughes (yes); Homer Bailey (yes); Andrew Miller (No!, wait, Yes!); Lincecum (yes); Gallardo (yes); Pelfrey (yes).


How are Homer Bailey and Mike Pelfrey a yes and Chris Young a no?

   3. Buck Coats Posted: August 11, 2017 at 04:37 PM (#5511513)
Bailey and Pelfrey are "yes"? Chris Young's got more bWAR than those guys combined.

edit: beat me to it!
   4. Buck Coats Posted: August 11, 2017 at 04:41 PM (#5511515)
Maybin's also got more bWAR than Phil Hughes, Dice-K, or Andrew Miller
   5. madvillain Posted: August 11, 2017 at 04:48 PM (#5511520)
The impressive thing about the Braves' system is that they did it not through trades but really smart drafting, international signings and solid player development. Not to take anything away from what Hahn accomplished, and he'll have a top 3 pick, perhaps #1 overall, to add to the Sox' system next spring, but the Braves didn't have the benefit of three stars to trade away to get where they are.

On a side note, the top three picks in the 2014 draft were Aiken, Kolek, Rodon. The stats on Aiken and Kolek should come with a NSFW attached. Rodon is just now turning it back on from his injury so at least he's on path to be a solid #2 or even #1, but man, TINSTAAP.
   6. dlf Posted: August 11, 2017 at 05:24 PM (#5511541)
but the Braves didn't have the benefit of three stars to trade away to get where they are.


Really? Heyward begat Miller begat Swanson, et al. Kimbrel and the better Upton. Alex Wood brought back domestic violence and a lack of work ethic.
   7. bigglou115 is not an Illuminati agent Posted: August 11, 2017 at 05:29 PM (#5511544)
I think this is the real issue with the way the Braves have chosen to rebuild. There's this idea among fans that the team will trade away surplus pitching prospects for position players, but as we've seen that's very optimistic. The Braves have graduated 4 pitching prospects since the rebuild started (not including Folty who graduated in Houston).

Blair and Wisler are done, Wisler isn't even working as a pen guy.

Newcombe is looking like pretty much what everyone was worried he'd be, a guy with front end stuff who's dragged back to mediocrity by walks. Sims is new to the big leagues but his prospect luster had worn off a while ago.

Let's say the Braves have 20 prospects who might become MLB SPers. If they get a rotations worth they should be ecstatic, if they get a full rotation with enough left over to trade for even a single position player they should consider it a miracle.

That aside they still don't have any real front end talent coming up through the minors at P. I tend to agree with the fear they the Braves have assembled the deepest farm in history of 3rd starters.
   8. Walt Davis Posted: August 11, 2017 at 06:16 PM (#5511564)
WAR from the lists in #1 (assuming Gordon is Alex Gordon not Dee Gordon):

Gordon (33); Demon Young (2); Maybin (13); Longoria (50); Brandon Wood (-4); Justin Upton (31); Chris Young (17); Mccutchen (40); Bruce (18); Tulo (44); Brignac (0); carlos Gonzalez (23, I checked, it's that one); andy Laroche (0).

the pitchers were Dice-K (9); Philip Hughes (12); Homer Bailey (6); Andrew Miller (9); Lincecum (21); Gallardo (20); Pelfrey (7).

That's 267 WAR from 13 hitters so an average of 20.5

It's 80 WAR from 7 pitchers so an average of 11.5

The best pitchers produced 20-21 WAR which is the hitters' average. Six of the 13 hitters have put up more WAR than Lincecum.

We'd probably prefer to look at WAR through their pre-FA period but that's too much work and isn't likely to change the picture much.

I don't know if that's a typical year either. That seems a very high success rate for both groups -- even Brignac made it past 1000 PA and Wood made it to 750 while none of those pitchers were a complete injury bust and most were pitching at least within the last couple of years. And Lincecum, Longoria, Tulo and McCutchen seems a very high star hit rate.
   9. Rickey! will gladly sacrifice your janitor Posted: August 11, 2017 at 06:47 PM (#5511578)
I'm not sure the plan was to trade extra pitching prospects for hitters. The plans was to collect a gazillion pitching prospects, specifically BECAUSE the hit ratio on them is so low. The thinking is that pitching is the most over priced luxury on the free agent market, and thus should be developed. From that, they move to the need to collect 20 prospects for every 1 they need to work out.

Their strategy for drafting hitters is more "we can identify and develop hitters."
   10. I am Ted F'ing Williams Posted: August 11, 2017 at 07:01 PM (#5511580)
Certainly Atlanta has drafted better than the White Sox over the last several years, although the White Sox seem to have started correcting their league-worst drafting methods.

Contemporary reliever usage has changed prospect values. Major league squads used to be 14-15 position players and 10-11 pitchers. Now it's 11-13 position players and 12-14 pitchers. In the past a B+ position player prospect could get a bench or platoon spot and now they can't - so the B+ position player prospects have fallen in value which increases the value of the A/A+ position player prospects. If teams are willing to carry 8 relievers, they don't need 3 starters consistently going 7+ innings, so the B+ pitching prospects have a little more value than before and the A/A+ pitching prospects have a little less.

But ten years from now the proportions could swing back the other way.
   11. bfan Posted: August 11, 2017 at 09:19 PM (#5511649)
I don't know if that's a typical year either. That seems a very high success rate for both groups -- even Brignac made it past 1000 PA and Wood made it to 750 while none of those pitchers were a complete injury bust and most were pitching at least within the last couple of years. And Lincecum, Longoria, Tulo and McCutchen seems a very high star hit rate.


And in rankings 21-30 that year were a pitcher named Kershaw and a hitter named Braun.
   12. bfan Posted: August 11, 2017 at 09:32 PM (#5511660)
The reason I would downgrade the Braves MiLB system is, well, they suck on the field. Their AA team, with their "dream rotation" is 47-67. Their high A team is 41-68. Their AAA team is a mere 4 games under. Their A team is 61-53. Their top-end talent is fine (the 9 players that make the top 100); there is not much past there. The Cardinals, by example, always seem to be able to pull a guy up that can hit. I am not sure there is 1 guy on the AAA roster other than Acuna and a 20 year old pitcher (Just called up) that will ever see meaningful time in MLB. I think their AA team and their high A team are each the worst hitting teams in their league by OPS.

Yes, the Braves loaded up on pitching to the detriment of hitting in the recent drafts, and that is the way it has turned out for them. And this isn't that the Braves have a special skill in developing pitchers and cannot develop batters; they just do not dip into the best batters in the draft.
   13. Barnaby Jones Posted: August 12, 2017 at 08:41 AM (#5511808)
The reason I would downgrade the Braves MiLB system is, well, they suck on the field. Their AA team, with their "dream rotation" is 47-67. Their high A team is 41-68. Their AAA team is a mere 4 games under.


This is a terrible way to look for prospect quality.
   14. stealfirstbase Posted: August 12, 2017 at 10:47 AM (#5511829)
The reason I would downgrade the Braves MiLB system is, well, they suck on the field.

The only team to suck worse, by minor league record, is the white sox
   15. Walt Davis Posted: August 12, 2017 at 07:35 PM (#5512034)
#13-14 ... yes and no. bfan notes that the big prospects are all doing fine but he's making a comment about depth and hitting talent. He notes that the AA and A+ teams are the worst hitting teams in their league which suggests overall awfulness. Now there could be mitigating factors -- maybe they are also the youngest teams by a good bit.

If we take that you need 20 pitching prospects to find 5 ML-quality pitchers then the whole strategy has to be seriously questioned even if pitching is the most expensive item on the FA menu. IF the hitter conversion rate is, say, 20 prospects become 12 hitters ... the cost of pitching is not 12/5 that of hitting.

The next question is whether you can acquire hitter prospects as easily as pitchers. Everybody understands pitchers get hurt so maybe the Angels would not have given up the hitting equivalent of Newcomb's pitching talent. If injury/bust risk is reasonably accounted for in draft/trade decisions then, in talent terms, 20 pitching prospects producing 5 ML-quality must be closer to something like 8 hitting prospects ... but that doesn't sound right either.

How accurate is that 20 to 5 ratio. That would take a lot of time to figure out. Here's one swipe at a very incomplete way of thinking about this. 130 pitchers made their ML debut in 2007. Given they made the majors, these are guys who would have predominantly had a above-average minor-league success or at least looked good by scout standards. This ranges from Jeff Ridgway with 1/3 of an inning to Dice-K over 200. That Matt Chico and Micah Owings were 2nd in IP among 2007 debuts suggests where this may be going.

Obviously given 130 pitcher debuts, we're reaching way below the top 100 prospects and even the top 100 pitching prospects in 2007. But it's also less than 5 per team so if we're seriously talking about the Braves having 20 pitching prospects or even more realistically 10, this isn't unreasonable.

Over the first 7 years of their career -- chosen to have a good chance of covering all (nearly all, a bit over) of their pre-FA careers -- well, that wasn't a great year for pitcher debuts. Lincecum leads the way in WAR with 23. Danks is the only other one to reach 20. Only 9 passed the "Rich Becker" line of 8 WAR, Ian Kennedy being the cut point. In terms of pure quality, obviously Lincecum was awesome for a few years, the next best if probably the oft-injured Buchholz and Joakim Soria has been an excellent reliever.

Ignoring quality, 45 made it to 200 innings. Ignoring innings, 48 had a ERA+ of 100 or better. Looking at WAA, 41 were 0 or above. Only 70 even made it to 0+ WAR. Matt Chico didn't have many more ML innings and finished under 1 WAR; Micah Owings had another 300+ innings but also finished under 1 WAR (I don't know if that includes his hitting).

Obviously you'd need to do this for several years. As it turns out, no long-term stud pitchers debuted in 2007. Kershaw debuted in 2008 and having his 40 WAR in his first 7 at the top of the table would speak better to the impact when you get a pitcher right. But just based on 2007, the conversion rate for pitching prospects (going deep down the list) looks closer to 3 to 1 than 4 to 1 ... but then it's unlikely the Braves have 20 prospects in the top 130. And that's the chances of getting a pitcher who gives you at least average production or 200+ innings or some other middling combination.

We already know the top 2007 hitting prospects whack the pitching ones so I thought it might be more interesting to pick 2005 for the hitters. I'm not sure I can completely remove pitchers but it gives 107 "non-pitcher" debuts (min 1 PA). The Japanese vet Iguchi led with 582 PA and Teahen 3rd and Dan Johnson 4th in PA suggests this might not be so impressive.

Cano leads the way with 29 WAR and Hanley and Zimmerman are a bit ahead of Lincecum with McCann also reaching 20 WAR. Sixteen make it to the Becker line (Ryan Doumit). For quantity, 52 made it past 650 PA; for quality, 27 had a 100 OPS+ or better, 30 had 0+ WAA, 68 had 0+ WAR.

All told, the hitters obviously turned out at a higher rate but those success rates don't blow the pitchers out of the water. Because of the lower injury risk, there are presumably fewer opportunities for young borderline hitters to find PT and possibly less chance to prove themselves. Cano is the only future HoFer here although possibly Zimmerman would have had a shot if he'd stayed healthy and at 3B. The only late-career bloomers I noticed were Nelson Cruz and Encarnacion.

So out of 10 pitching debuts, we get 1 who crosses the Becker line while for 10 hitting debuts we'd get about 1.5 such players. So 6-7 hitting debuts are about the same as 10 pitching debuts. But those 6-7 hitting debuts might come out of your top 10 hitting prospects while, mainly due to injury, you might need ... let's say 18 pitching prospects to produce 10 debuts.

An argument can be made that the "Becker line" for pitchers should be lower than for hitters. Pitchers are responsible for 33-40% of total WAR (relative to offense plus position player defense). If you put it as low as 4 then 23 of 130 pitchers made it which is a higher hit rate than hitters.

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