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Wednesday, April 04, 2001

The Eternal Mystery of Brooks Kieschnick

Voros tries to create hope for ballplayers who don’t fit the perfect profile.

With the 10th pick in the first round of the 1993 Amateur Draft,   the Chicago Cubs selected OF/DH/P, Brooks Kieschnick.   At the time, the pick was considered surprising and drew criticism from some   scouting circles. Indeed Kieschnick was very well known as he would win the   College Player of the Year Award that year, but Baseball America called the pick ?the   biggest surprise of the first round? and commented on Kieschnick?s ?defensive   shortcomings.?

To be blunt, the problem many scouts had with Kieschnick was that he was considered   to be slow and fat and that generally those traits are thought to be very damaging   in the transition from the amateur to professional leagues. In any event, then   GM of the Cubs, Larry Himes, liked big college hitting stars, having had success   across town with his picks of Robin Ventura and   Frank Thomas.   Himes felt that Kieschnick?s potential to hit for power from the left side outweighed   any deficiencies he had in the other areas.

Anyway, to speed up the story a bit, the early returns seemed to favor Himes?   evaluation as Kieschnick had a good season in 1994 in AA, and a very good season   in AAA in 1995 leading the American Association in Home Runs and finishing 9th   in hitting. However, Himes was no longer around as GM to see his pick thrive.   Instead, a new regime, headed by Andy McPhail, had been installed after the   strike and this regime seemed to feel that Kieschnick?s shortcomings were still   a serious hindrance to him succeeding at the highest level. Under this regime,   Kieschnick never really established himself in the majors with only 119 at bats   for the Cubs through 1997, at which point he was lost in the expansion draft.   He soon after suffered an injury, and his career as a major league prospect   was officially over.

Now before anybody gets ahead of me here, let me assure you that I?m not going   to argue the merits of Brooks Kieschnick as a prospect circa 1995.? Which evaluation   of Kieschnick was ?more accurate? is not the purpose of the article. Frankly,   I have no idea. That is the purpose of the article.

Often people believe things simply because they haven?t ever received any information   to the contrary. In everyday life, the attitude is fairly effective.? I don?t   believe the Hunan Wok across the street is purposefully poisoning my food because   I?ve yet to encounter any information that they might be.

On the other hand, the lack of evidence existing that a belief is false is   not de facto proof that it is true. The problem of hidden information (the lack   of relevant information because it either hasn?t been provided or isn?t possible   to determine) often plagues the evaluation of decision making processes.

For example, let?s say the scouts of Major League Baseball generally believe   that players 5?9?? or shorter almost never become decent major league players.   Then, after they adjust their decisions for signing players accordingly, you   see very few players 5?9? and under in the majors ten years later. That doesn?t   necessarily mean their initial belief is correct. Thomas   Gilovich refers to this phenomenon as a ?seemingly-fulfilled prophecy.?   He writes, ?Seemingly-fulfilled prophecies? refer to expectations that alter   another person?s world, or limit another?s responses, in such a way that it   was difficult or impossible for the expectations to be disconfirmed (author?s   emphasis).?

In the example of Brooks Kieschnick above, once a group who did not expect   him to be successful in the major leagues took over his team, Kieschnick was   in a situation where it would be very difficult to prove them wrong. It?s a   simple four-step process in reinforcing their belief:

1.      They believe Brooks Kieschnick will not succeed   at the major league level.
  2.      They therefore give opportunities at that level   to players they feel might succeed, rather than Kieschnick.
  3.      Brooks Kieschnick ages past prospect age   and ceases to be a prospect.
  4.      Kieschnick never succeeds at the major league   level.

To the Cubs, their evaluation has proven to be correct. The problem is that   we are missing extremely relevant information on the subject. We need to know   whether Kieschnick would have succeeded on the major league level had the Cubs   acted in a manner opposite of their beliefs. Unfortunately, it is information   we just don?t have, and therefore we don?t know for certain whose evaluation   (Himes? or McPhail?s) was more accurate. You often hear people claim that the   scouts ?find almost everybody who can play Major League Baseball.? What you?ve   heard is the seemingly-fulfilled prophecy. Since the scouts are the major determinants   of who receives opportunities to play Major League Baseball, those judged as   unable to play in the majors will never receive the chance to prove the assessment   wrong, even if the assessment actually was wrong. It may seem unlikely   at first, but consider that the career of a certain Hall of Famer in Mike Piazza was   almost entirely due to accident and the good fortune of having an influential   acquaintance. The scouts missed Piazza, so it leaves one to wonder what   happens to others not quite as fortunate.

But this isn?t an indictment of scouting. The hidden information problem is   the basic obstacle of scouting and the source of most of the mistakes that happen.   Scouting is an extremely difficult job, made more difficult by the vastness   of the pool of players to evaluate. You can imagine how difficult it is for   a handful of scouts to sort through 10,000 players and get accurate info on   each. Often scouts need to use tactics that limit the pool of available talent   (like the 5?9? example above or, as in the case of Kieschnick, players ?past   prospect age?). They do this not so much because they believe that nobody   in the excluded pool can succeed in the majors, but rather because they believe   the rewards of getting the pool of players down to a manageable number outweigh   the risks of missing a player here and there. In fact, this could very well   be the most effective method available to them, and yet it would still lead   to hidden information problems.

So keep this in mind during the upcoming season when you hear things like ?Keith Foulke wouldn?t   be a good starting pitcher? or ?Roberto Petagine   can?t hit major league pitching.?? The belief in these statements, regardless   of their accuracy, is based mostly on the fact that it hasn?t yet been proven   wrong. What needs to be understood is that the opportunities to prove it wrong   have been very limited.

Voros McCracken Posted: April 04, 2001 at 06:00 AM | 3 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Mike Emeigh Posted: April 05, 2001 at 12:03 AM (#603620)
The most important point in this article bears repeating:

"They do this not so much because they believe that nobody in the
excluded pool can succeed in the majors, but rather because they believe
the rewards of getting the pool of players down to a manageable
number outweigh the risks of missing a player here and there. In fact,
this could very well be the most effective method available to them,
and yet it would still lead to hidden information problems."

Similar problems with hidden information affect the various ways of
estimating major league performance from minor league numbers. We know
that MLEs work well for players who pass the bar and are admitted to the
major leagues. What we don't know - and what we can't know, because of the
same hidden information problem - is whether the MLEs work as well for
players like a Petagine or an Arquimedez Pozo. Is there some fundamental
flaw in their skill set that doesn't show up in their minor league
performance, but which scouts know major league pitchers will exploit to
death? Or are they just victims of the other ways that the pool is narrowed?

We don't know, and we can't know. If you turn the statements that Voros
makes around - "Keith Foulke would be a good starting pitcher? or
?Roberto Petagine can hit major league pitching" - his conclusion is
equally valid.

-- MWE
   2. Rich Rifkin I Posted: April 06, 2001 at 12:03 AM (#603627)
When the Cubs drafted Brooks Kieschnick in the 1st round, there was a diversity of opinions among the various organizations in major league baseball at the time.

However, when the Cubs lost faith in Kieschnick (after McPhail tookover), all of the other 27 clubs had every opportunity to trade for Kieschnick. Ultimately, the Reds (and now I think the Rockies) did take a gamble on Kieschnick. But insofar as Kieschnick has not had any impact in the major leagues - having had very few major league AB's so far - I think that is largely just a reflection of the fact that not one of the current 30 teams really admires Kieschnick's talent.

If there were only 4 teams in major league baseball, it seems conceivable to me that a decent player might get overlooked by the prejudice of only those four teams. But in a world of 30 teams (plus some foreign bidders for baseball talent), if no one thinks enough to grab a guy (like Kieschnick), I think there's a very, very strong chance that they are right.

As far as Piazza goes, that better makes the case how a potentially very good player (who is in high school) can be overlooked - there are just so many, many players in the U.S. and in so many foreign countries to scout. Some good ones will get away (at that level). But that would not have been the end of the road for Mike Piazza. There are hundreds and hundreds of junior colleges in the United States playing very competitive baseball, so if Piazza was not much of a scholar, he could have made his way onto one of those teams and proved himself to scouts at that level. Or if he was a good student, he might have done the same at one of the better (for baseball) 4-year colleges.

My sense is that if there are some talented players not getting a fair shot, they are not the types like Mike Piazza or Brooks Kieschnick. Rather, they are players who come from very troubled families or neighborhoods, and they never finish even a high school education. Joe Morgan has often spoken eloquently that scouts are mistakenly not picking up on the talent in poor black communities. And insofar as this is true, I would bet that the players Morgan views as having real abilities but are overlooked are ones who dropped out of school early and had no team on which they could show themselves to scouts.
   3. Boileryard Posted: December 03, 2001 at 12:16 AM (#604376)
I just want to say a few things about Kies. I've been following his career very closely since '95 (i actually had every boxscore he played in until 3 weeks ago when my computer decided to no longer read the cd i had it all burnt onto). Kieschnick could still be an everyday player, not necessarily an all-star, but an everyday player. There are teams out there who could use a left handed power hitting OF/1b/DH. Kies. could easily put up .260 w/ 20 hrs. The thing with him is that he's a streaky player. He can go 2 weeks w/ only 3 hits, but when he gets hot watch out. Over the last 4 years in the minors he's hit very close to .300 with tremendous power and RBI output even with these streaks (he's so hot that it easily cancells out). The reason he does "poorly" when he gets to the bigs is b/c he is used only in PH roles. I'm sure someone else saw that in '01 he was hitting .400 or better until his 26th at bat. He very easily shoud've made the club in '97, but Riggleman liked Brant Brown's speed more. Once he was called up, he was never given consistant at-bats. He broke his arm in '98 before he was 2 weeks into the season. In '99 he was the Edmonton Trapper's MVP after hitting .314 with them with 23 Hrs, 73 RBIs in 296 ABs. In '00 he made it back to the bigs w/ the Reds but was used as a Pinch Hitter only 14 times from July 19 to Oct. 1 w/ not one start or even multiple AB in one game. In the minors that year before the recall, he hit 25 Hrs and 90 RBI in 440 abs and was named to the AAA All-Star team. In '01 as mentioned before, he was tearing the cover off the ball, but went into one of his slumps. The Rockies (being a last place team) apparently didn't find this convenient and sent him down with his last AB being a 395-ft flyout to the wall in Arlington (i was there for that game). Basically, if Riggleman had liked him or he had not gotten hurt in '98, he'd easily be in someone's lineup right now.

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