23 February 2013

Stars or Depth -- One Dylan Bundy or Two Other Prospects?

Just how good a prospect is Dylan Bundy? He’s the consensus best pitching prospect in baseball. The Orioles are lucky to have him in their farm system; every other team would love to have him in its farm system. But a team needs more than one superstar to be a contender. Are the Orioles better off with Bundy than with, say, two prospects ranking in the high teens? Two prospects who rank around #50? Baseball America has just come out with their 2013 Top 100 Prospects for 2013. In this article, I will look at their list and try to identify how valuable Bundy is.
Last year, the Nationals’ Bryce Harper was the consensus #1 prospect in baseball. The number 2 and number 3 prospects were Mike Trout and Matt Moore. Obviously, the package of Trout and Moore would be superior to Harper alone. Numbers 10 and 11 were Orioles’ system-mates Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado; again, the combined package of Bundy and Machado would be superior to Harper alone. I don’t remember where I thought Harper would be equal to the package of two consecutively-rated prospects, and redoing the process now would be tainted by what happened in 2012; I think the spit was somewhere around #40 and #41.
For 2013, Dylan Bundy ranks #2, in a tightly bunched group with #1 Jurickson Profar of Texas, #3 Oscar Taveras of St. Louis, and #4 Wil Myers of Tampa Bay. Given a choice, any sane, unbiased GM would rather have any two of the other three than Bundy alone. The question is, at what level does Dylan Bundy become more valuable than a package of two prospects at that level?
I want to make a couple of points. First, this will be my opinion; you or someone else may put more valuable on best-case ceiling, or worse-case floor, or position, and thus rate player packages differently. Also, this won’t be an absolutely consistent ranking. Sometimes, two prospects you or I don’t happen to like are rated together, and so we might think Bundy more valuable than a specific package but less valuable than a similarly-rated package. For example, BA rates two teenage Twins prospects, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, at #9 and #10. I would rather have Bundy, a more advanced and more certain prospect, than even a package of Sano and Buxton, both of whom have a fairly good chance of not making the major leagues at all. On the other hand, #13 is young shortstop Carlos Correa and #14 is major-league-ready pitcher Trevor Bauer. Bauer’s already pitched in the major leagues and is almost as likely as Bundy to be a star. Correa is more than adequate compensation for having Bauer over Bundy.
Since I’ve compared Bundy to the #13-#14 package, I’ll now take a look at the players around #25. #24 is Kyle Zimmer, a right-handed pitcher in the Royals’ system; #25 is Archie Bradley, a right-handed pitcher in the Diamondbacks system, and #26 is the Orioles’ own Kevin Gausman. Bradley and Bundy share a lot. They were both #1 draft picks from Oklahoma high schools in 2011; Bundy went #4 and Bradley #7. Bundy raced through Low-A and High-A to AA in 2012; Bradley pitched all year at Low-A. Bundy showed more control, but the Diamondbacks let Bradley pitch thirty more innings. While Bundy is a better prospect, if someone told me they’d take Bundy but I could have Bradley AND either Zimmer or Gausman, it’s a no-brainer – I’ll take the two-prospect package.
Let’s move down to around #40. #40 is Matt Barnes, another 2011 first-round pick, this time in the Red Sox’ system. Barnes pitched brilliantly in 4 Low-A starts, but because he’s a college pitcher and was age 22, that doesn’t tell us much. He pitched well but didn’t dominate at High-A. Barnes looks to be a good bet to be a solid rotation starter, maybe making the all-star teams in his good season, but he’s unlikely to be a star. #39 is Cardinals right-handed pitcher Trevor Rosenthal, who is kind of hard to evaluate. He pitched very well as a major-league relief pitcher. He pitched well in the minors as a starter in 2012, less well in 2011. #41 is Oswaldo Arcia, a corner outfielder in the Twins’ system. His 2012 performance is much better than his performance in an injury-plagued 2011, and he’s already lost some speed and may lose more. This is a close call, and I would be okay with either Bundy or the Barnes-Arcia package.
And that’s about as far down as I’d go. After Arcia, the top 100 prospects don’t project to be stars, are substantially higher risk, or both. There are individual pairs that I might take -- #59 Alex Meyer and #60 Kaleb Cowart might tempt me, as might #67 Lucas Giolito and #68 Kyle Gibson – but those are the exceptions. So, based on the past couple of seasons, a top-three or top-four prospect in baseball is roughly as good as having two prospects around the fortieth-best in baseball.


The Oriole Way said...

The proper way to do an analysis like this is take the historical Baseball America Top 100 lists, determine the value each spot has provided and find the breakeven. It's probably much higher (closer to #1) than you'd expect.

Jon Shepherd said...

Well, the historical answer using that methodology was first done by Victor Wang and is everyone on the internets. A top ten pitcher is equivalent to a position player in the 50-75 range.

That is what the numbers inform you.

You can also make an argument that Bundy is not your typical top ten pitcher. In that case, the Wang method is going to fall short.

Joe Reisel said...

I'm focusing on prospect value right now, rather than on retrospective prospect value with the benefit of perfect hindsight. Dylan Bundy, right now, is perceived to be more valuable than Jedd Gyorko. It is certainly possible that, when their careers are over, that Jedd Gyorko will have had a better career than Dylan Bundy. If the Orioles think that's the case, then they should trade Bundy straight-up for Gyorko. I assume that they don't think so, and so won't make that trade.

Andrew said...

The best qualitative argument on this topic that I've heard goes something like this:

Superstars are the hardest commodity to come by. You can't win with superstars alone, but once you have superstars in place, it becomes relatively easy to piece together supporting parts, whether through free agency, trades, or your farm system. Johnathan Schoop is a nice prospect, but you could approximate his likely production with a one year deal for Marc Scutaro or someone like that. But the superstar will always be the elusive piece." So, even considering the bust rate of any prospect, and especially a pitching prospect, the possibility of him being a superstar makes him more valuable than a package of lesser prospects that 1. Contain their own (lesser) chance of becoming superstars and 2. Might combine for as many wins in a single season. The question then becomes at what prospect level do you go from realistic superstar potential to guys more likely to simply be above average regulars. At that point I imagine you'd want to rely on history and simply go by the numbers.