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Tuesday, June 14, 2022

How one pitching prospect could change the MLB draft forever—by not pitching

On April 12, six days after the outing in which Lesko was hurt, Barriera notified scouts that he would be making two more starts, then shutting down for the remainder of the season to prepare for July’s MLB draft. (He is committed to play at Vanderbilt if he ends up not signing.) Barriera would still be a part of all team activities, he said, but was effectively skipping one regular-season start and the postseason (which could mean as many as five additional starts). No amateur pitcher had ever made this specific decision.

“I’m doing what’s best for myself,” Barriera said in an interview with ESPN last month. “You see all the Tommy Johns this year, even for college guys, they were so close. You have to ask yourself if it’s worth it.”

Although Lesko’s injury certainly weighed on him, Barriera said this decision wasn’t purely reactionary. “I had been thinking about this for a while,” he said. “It wasn’t just one morning I came up with it. Every night I was sitting with my parents and talking until we came to a peace about it.”

A number of sources I spoke with think that Barriera will be an early domino to entice more pitchers to take their futures more into their own hands, much like college football players skipping their teams’ bowl games has become practically the norm. Running backs have only so many hits they can take, pitchers have only so many fastballs in the tank, and we don’t know what that number is, so they need to be timed well.

With pitchers throwing harder at younger ages and the incentives to throw nearly year-round, this attrition problem isn’t going away. I asked an NL GM how much he’d pay for a magical algorithm that would tell him a pitcher’s next five years of health. His answer: “Everything we have.”

 

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: June 14, 2022 at 01:25 PM | 29 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: draft

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   1. Brian C Posted: June 14, 2022 at 07:42 PM (#6081774)
I asked an NL GM how much he’d pay for a magical algorithm that would tell him a pitcher’s next five years of health. His answer: “Everything we have.”

Seems like the wrong question to ask. The right question would be, how much would you pay for a system that would allow pitchers to stay healthier? The answer to that should be "everything they have". Being able to predict which pitchers would stay healthy and which wouldn't sounds fun in a Back to the Future sports almanac sort of way, but being able to actually keep more guys healthy would be revolutionary in the game.

Along those lines, I'm a little skeptical of this:
pitchers have only so many fastballs in the tank, and we don’t know what that number is, so they need to be timed well.

This seems like an unproven assumption to me. "Guys get hurt" could mean that their injuries are inevitable ... or it could also mean that we're just doing it wrong.
   2. Ron J Posted: June 14, 2022 at 10:13 PM (#6081811)
#1 And then there are the occasional guys who can actually handle any workload. Nolan Ryan had at least one start where the pitch count couldn't really have been under 240 pitches (OK 20 years later it caught up with him) -- and at least 3 seasons where he had to have averaged 135+ pitches per start.

Would he have been more effective if asked to do less? I doubt it. He was always maximum effort and he could handle it. Though the counter point is his 1987 -- where he was on a pitch watch and had his career best rate stats. But he had no meaningful dropoff the 4th time through the order. And his worst (by far) inning was his first. No idea what that means beyond -- well knowing what you were going to get with Ryan was never the issue.

Mind you, using Nolan Ryan as a data point for what kind of workload a pitcher can handle makes exactly as much sense as using Tony Gwynn as a model for what's possible in terms of making contact.
   3. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: June 14, 2022 at 10:35 PM (#6081827)
This seems self-defeating. The only way to prove you can pitch is to pitch. Guys who want to be babied are always going to be babied. Who cares. Who wants them?
   4. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: June 14, 2022 at 10:48 PM (#6081832)
Looks like they are preserving a huge signing bonus. Most prospects don't get the big bucks anyway, so why not maximize the chance to get the one big payday?
   5. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: June 14, 2022 at 11:10 PM (#6081837)
So this guy is expected to overpitch for his HIGH SCHOOL TEAM while he has multi-millions on the line?

   6. Brian C Posted: June 14, 2022 at 11:15 PM (#6081839)
Mind you, using Nolan Ryan as a data point for what kind of workload a pitcher can handle makes exactly as much sense as using Tony Gwynn as a model for what's possible in terms of making contact.

OK so let's level down just a bit from Ryan and see if we can use guys like Maddux, Glavine, Randy Johnson, or Clemens as our modern ideals - all guys whose careers were in the last 35 years that hit 4000 career IP, all in the top 40 in career IP despite playing the modern game, and which no one active is likely to hit right now unless Verlander pulls a Ryan himself. And different kinds of pitchers, too.

I guess my bigger point is that it's virtually unheard of in athletics for guys to no longer be able to do things that guys could do 50-60 years ago, at least in terms of raw physical ability and endurance (i.e., I don't want to confuse the athletic part of it with rules/strategy changes). But durability in pitching seems to be one of them. And I know that there are mitigating circumstances here that have nothing to do with durability - panic over pitchers going more than twice through the order, for example - but also it just seems like the entirety of MLB is maybe thinking about how they develop pitchers with undue and probably even counterproductive conservativeness. And it's not like they're successful in avoiding DL time as a tradeoff to make it all worth it.

Or another way of looking at it is that it seems like we should actually have had more Nolan Ryans by now. In an age of such advances in training and conditioning, why hasn't he become more of a prototype instead of an outlier?
   7. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: June 14, 2022 at 11:25 PM (#6081842)
Nolan Ryan debuted over 55 years ago. It's not just a modern phenomenon that he hasn't been replicated.
   8. Mayor Blomberg Posted: June 15, 2022 at 12:12 AM (#6081852)
his worst (by far) inning was his first. No idea what that means beyond --

He would have benefited from an opener?
   9. Dog on the sidewalk has an ugly bracelet Posted: June 15, 2022 at 01:48 AM (#6081870)
This seems self-defeating. The only way to prove you can pitch is to pitch. Guys who want to be babied are always going to be babied. Who cares. Who wants them?

The GMs and scouts the author interviewed who said they agreed with the decision? Or the scouts who don't like the decision but still see 99 on the radar gun? Or the people who drafted Hunter Greene 2nd overall after he did something similar?
   10. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: June 15, 2022 at 08:43 AM (#6081874)
Looks like they are preserving a huge signing bonus. Most prospects don't get the big bucks anyway, so why not maximize the chance to get the one big payday?


This is kind of where I'm at, in the sense that:

1) Most baseball draft picks are never going to make it to the majors, or at least, make the big money as major leaguers.
2) Even for the best prospects, what's the earliest a high school pitcher is going to make the majors (with a few exceptions)? Three or four years, quite possibly five years? And then even if you are awesome as a major league pitcher, you're not going to make life-changing money until you reach arbitration, or sign a deal where you give up free agent years in exchange for "you're good for life" money. So it could be 8+ years - if you are a successful major-league pitcher - before you get life-changing money.
3) As noted above, teams appear to be willing to overlook any issues they might have with skipping your final HS/college starts. All you need is one of the top 10 teams to not care, in fact, for things to work out fine.
4) I mean, a growing number of high-end NCAA football and basketball players are skipping post season games in order to get ready for a draft that won't occur for several months. This is simply baseball doing the same thing. It was inevitable.

Imagine you are 18 years old, and are literally weeks away from getting several million dollars, guaranteed in a lump sum. Let's say that, after taxes, this kid has $2 million. If he takes good advice and invests the vast majority of that money, I don't know that he is set for life, but pretty close. And, of course, he will be a professional baseball player for the next several years, which is a pretty cool thing to do in your late teens and early 20s. And then, if he makes the big leagues, he is living out a dream. And if he ends up getting to FA or signing a nice FA buyout deal, then he truly is set for life in his mid-to-late 20s.

Worst case? He is out of baseball at 22 years old, still has $2m+ in the bank, and he can go back to school and start on his career.

Skip the friggin' high school starts - he has an opportunity virtually none of us will ever see, but virtually all of us would love to try.
   11. sotapop Posted: June 15, 2022 at 12:03 PM (#6081906)
Funny timing. Barriera just declined a $1.5 million bonus offer from me in OOTP. (His ratings aren't as strong as he is in the real world. judging by the story, or I'd have offered him more.)

I totally understand his decision and would do the same thing, I guess. But as a former HS player, I wonder if his teammates and coach aren't a little frustrated with losing their best pitcher for the league and state championships.
   12. The Mighty Quintana Posted: June 15, 2022 at 12:26 PM (#6081912)
Anecdotally: my co-worker's son is a junior in high school and he said his son will never throw another pitch at that level. The son already has his scholarship guaranteed to Ole Miss and nothing good could come from pitching in high school, according to my co-worker.
   13. SoSH U at work Posted: June 15, 2022 at 01:49 PM (#6081921)
The son already has his scholarship guaranteed to Ole Miss and nothing good could come from pitching in high school, according to my co-worker.


Except for the whole playing baseball thing, which was probably the whole point in the beginning.

I understand the reasoning, but this trend is still kind of shitty.
   14. Cris E Posted: June 15, 2022 at 02:46 PM (#6081928)
Amen. You've been playing with your boys since grade school, but hey, got some banking to attend to. Good luck in the playoffs! I'd pitch, but maybe not do anything super-human in terms of innings or pitch count. And if I had anything to offer elsewhere on the diamond (eg Greene) I'd play there for sure. But no one has ever called me prudent or offered me millions of dollars to show restraint, so who knows what I'd really do.

   15. Bhaakon Posted: June 16, 2022 at 06:30 PM (#6082261)
Or another way of looking at it is that it seems like we should actually have had more Nolan Ryans by now. In an age of such advances in training and conditioning, why hasn't he become more of a prototype instead of an outlier?


Because, for all the advances we've made, the only way to discover an outlier like Ryan is still to burn through hundreds of arms to find him.

This seems like an unproven assumption to me. "Guys get hurt" could mean that their injuries are inevitable ... or it could also mean that we're just doing it wrong.


I think it means that while we've improved our knowledge of mechanics and medicine, the underlying risk/reward calculation hasn't really changed. If the ultimate cause of injuries is the pressure to push the envelop of what is possible, either through quantity of pitches or fewer and more stressful ones, and ultimately the fact that baseball is a competitive enterprise will result in external and internal pressure to accept a fairly consistent level of injury risk to maximize performance.


This seems self-defeating. The only way to prove you can pitch is to pitch. Guys who want to be babied are always going to be babied. Who cares. Who wants them?


Based on trends in pitching staff management, most if not all of them. Teams seem perfectly willing to limit workload in pursuit of effectiveness.
   16. Brian C Posted: June 16, 2022 at 07:34 PM (#6082273)
Because, for all the advances we've made, the only way to discover an outlier like Ryan is still to burn through hundreds of arms to find him.

You're missing my point, though - my question is, why is Ryan still such an outlier now? I'm not talking about "discovering" more Ryans, I'm talking about making more of them. I'm talking about improving durability and preventing injuries.

And I'm not really sure what advances we've made along these lines. Sure, we can extend careers after arm injuries in a way that we couldn't back in the day. But we don't seem any better at preventing injuries in the first place - in fact, it seems like we're doing worse, because guys are still constantly getting hurt despite teams drastically reducing the workloads that they're expected to handle.
   17. Tom Nawrocki Posted: June 16, 2022 at 08:25 PM (#6082283)
You're missing my point, though - my question is, why is Ryan still such an outlier now? I'm not talking about "discovering" more Ryans, I'm talking about making more of them. I'm talking about improving durability and preventing injuries.


In The Diamond Appraised, Craig Wright and Tom House posit that the key to longevity is limiting the number of innings thrown by young pitchers, which they define as under 25. Ryan came up as a swingman with the Mets, throwing about 130 innings a year until he was traded to the Angels at 25. A lot of the career leaders in innings show a similar usage pattern - Gaylord Perry, Warren Spahn, Phil Niekro.

But the position of swingman has disappeared. Plus, teams don't own their pitchers' futures in perpetuity anymore, so they don't see a value in limiting their innings in hopes that they'll last for a couple of decades.

Corbin Burnes had that kind of pattern in his early years in the majors. Maybe he'll last a while.

   18. Howie Menckel Posted: June 16, 2022 at 09:40 PM (#6082296)
potential NBA first-rounders have been getting cheap, 7-figure insurance policies for at least 30 years (Duke's Bobby Hurley famously was the guy who didn't take one because Jersey Hardscrabble and all that - then was in a near-fatal car accident a month or two into his rookie season with a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract).

I didn't read TFA, but I hope no one thinks these kids are risking everything or anything close to it.

I still understand these decisions, but id I'm 17 years old and I am already guaranteed a million bucks - worst-case scenario - my mind would be soothed.

(it is possible that insurers won't do this for modern MLB pitchers? would be interested to hear.)

as for the "under age 25" issue, I remember almost 40 years ago researching if there had been any "Dwight Goodens" before. I wound up with a few - but they were Russ Fords, not Walter Johnsons. I was confused at the time.

and it took me too long to disabuse myself of the notion of "let's give Bob Feller 50 more wins or whatever due to missed time in WW II. he wasn't the same upon returning, but he had staying power. no Hitler or Stalin, and maybe Bob Feller is Sandy Koufax.
   19. sunday silence (again) Posted: June 17, 2022 at 12:34 AM (#6082354)

as for the "under age 25" issue, I remember almost 40 years ago researching if there had been any "Dwight Goodens" before. I wound up with a few - but they were Russ Fords, not Walter Johnsons. I was confused at the time.


Im confused now. Reading this sentence 50 times, just makes it more confusing. What are you saying?
   20. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: June 17, 2022 at 01:22 AM (#6082373)
I might be misremembering, but didn't a few of the guys from the 60's, 70's, who threw a lot of innings, suggest they only reared back occasionally and most the time threw 85-90% of max effort? Guys like Carlton, etc?

Pitchers today seem to throw as hard as the can on each and every pitch. It's kind of boring. That's why a guy like Greinke(who's BREF page says he's earned $330 mil--wow) is so darn fun to watch.
   21. Bhaakon Posted: June 17, 2022 at 04:22 AM (#6082381)
You're missing my point, though - my question is, why is Ryan still such an outlier now? I'm not talking about "discovering" more Ryans, I'm talking about making more of them. I'm talking about improving durability and preventing injuries.


Because he's a genetic freak rather than the result of some repeatable training regimen. If there was some repeatable process to transform pitchers into machines that can throw 250+ max effort innings a season for decades, someone would have made a lot of money employing it by now. Probably Ryan himself. "Producing" another Nolan Ryan would be a matter of eugenics, not kinesthetics.
   22. Ron J Posted: June 17, 2022 at 08:35 AM (#6082392)
#20 That's pretty much how it's always been. As the workload a pitcher was asked to handle was cut back they went higher effort more frequently. Christy Mathewson talked about the need to pace yourself. By the 20s you had Dazzy Vance saying that the reason he struct out so many more than anybody else is that he didn't pace himself. And you'll find similar quotes all along the way.

What has happened since the beginning of organized baseball is that you've get some high profile injuries and baseball would back off on the workload expected. And the pitchers responded to the reduced workload with greater effort. Which is probably why simply reducing workload has not had much impact on pitcher injuries.
   23. Brian C Posted: June 17, 2022 at 07:14 PM (#6082584)
Because he's a genetic freak rather than the result of some repeatable training regimen. If there was some repeatable process to transform pitchers into machines that can throw 250+ max effort innings a season for decades, someone would have made a lot of money employing it by now. Probably Ryan himself. "Producing" another Nolan Ryan would be a matter of eugenics, not kinesthetics.

And my whole point is that this seems like a series of assumptions that are all probably not actually true.
   24. toratoratora Posted: June 18, 2022 at 01:28 PM (#6082687)
Everyone tends to blame drugs and fake but I vaguely remember reading that the season after his transcendent year Doc was snagging flies in the OF and some idiot old timer coach had him throwing in heavy waterlogged balls for a few hrs and his arm was never the same
   25. toratoratora Posted: June 18, 2022 at 01:28 PM (#6082688)
Everyone tends to blame drugs and such but I vaguely remember reading that the season after his transcendent year Doc was snagging flies in the OF and some idiot old timer coach had him throwing in heavy waterlogged balls for a few hrs and his arm was never the same
   26. Best Dressed Chicken in Town Posted: June 18, 2022 at 08:41 PM (#6082745)
I wonder if his teammates and coach aren't a little frustrated with losing their best pitcher for the league and state championships.

Ya think?


nothing good could come from pitching in high school

Fun?

   27. Bhaakon Posted: June 19, 2022 at 01:53 AM (#6082777)
And my whole point is that this seems like a series of assumptions that are all probably not actually true.


One person out of how many hundreds (thousands?) of modern pitchers have managed Ryan's combination of effort and durability. There are millions if not billions of dollar waiting out there for the person who can figure out the secret of replicating that. I'm sorry, but the weight of the evidence comes down on that one person being an extreme, even unique, outlier rather than the beneficiary of a transferable, repeatable process.
   28. Hombre Brotani Posted: June 19, 2022 at 04:47 AM (#6082778)
nothing good could come from pitching in high school
Fun?
In an ideal world, the kid pitches without a second thought. In this world, Vanderbilt is a baseball factory that costs nearly $75,000 year for tuition + room and board. Barriera skipping out on the rest of the season is a completely rational decision. The way college sports and the cost of colleges in general is what's irrational.
   29. The Mighty Quintana Posted: June 19, 2022 at 12:47 PM (#6082800)
I should've clarified...my co-worker's son headed to Ole Miss will be playing in those high-level 18U summer leagues (Perfect Game, I think). So he'll be pitching regularly and having fun, but with an assumed better level of competition and coaching (and workload restrictions).

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