31 August 2018

Orioles State of First Base: 2019-2023

As 2015 wound down, Peter Angelos spoke openly to local reporters.  He noted how important it was to the Orioles to be able to retain their first baseman, Chris Davis.  At that point in time, Davis was coming off his second best season of his career.  It was the second year that put him in the discussion as being the Most Valuable Player.  He certainly provided a great deal of production that the 2016 Orioles would need to account for and the comfortable way to think you are doing that is simply to re-sign those that performed the year before.

However, at the Depot there was concern.  There was also hope as the Tigers were becoming more and more engaged with Davis.  Dan Duquette tried to cover the gap by trading for Mark Trumbo with plans to play him at first base and to seek either a starting pitcher or a corner outfielder.  While Davis was fairly exceptional in 2013 and 2015, his other seasons and 2014 were of concern.  His profile was unique in MLB history as his contact rate appeared to be barely adequate to maintain his value and his body type looked like one whose athleticism would leave in a hurry.

As you know, fate drifted Davis back to the Orioles on what was considered conventionally a great deal with significant deferred money.  Again, at the Depot and elsewhere there was more concern than celebration.  What then transpired was worse than what we imagined.  Davis, now with four years to go, is seemingly entrenched at first base and utterly terrible.

So what does it look like?

First Base Table
Name Age Lev BA OBP SLG Pos Summary
Davis, Chris*32MAJ.163.241.3061B-102, DH-4
Trey Mancini26MAJ.235.299.386LF-96, DH-3, 1B-26
Rodriguez, Aderlin26AA.280.328.4681B-102, 3B-11, DH-2, LF-2
Garcia, Wilson#24H-A.304.334.5331B-54, DH-46, C-3
Woody, Collin23H-A.226.332.4391B-48, 3B-16, LF-6, DH-2, P-1
Curran, Seamus*20L-A,SS.243.314.4271B-65, DH-25
Escarra, J.C.*23SS,H-A.308.399.4831B-44, DH-4
Zoellner, Jack*23ROK.236.364.4221B-41, DH-6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/23/2018.

Absent from the list above is Mark Trumbo.  We have spoke at length about him here at the Depot, but the organization seems hell bent to provide Trey Mancini experience there when Davis takes a blow.  We think this has been a mistake as Trumbo repeatedly shows that he needs to be in the field to hit and that he is a hard negative in a corner outfield position, but it is what it is.

Mancini looks like a fringe first baseman, a fringe left fielder.  Left field is doubly fringe as his athleticism continues to leave him, making his defense a lingering issue.  Last year, we took a look at what could be expected of Mancini moving forward.  He did not meet expectations this year which does only to decrease expectations moving forward.  Those expectations were that of a fringe second division starter.  Mancini does not look like a true answer to first base if Davis is ever dislodged.

Once you step into the minors, the answers find themselves difficult to find.  On the surface, players like Aderlin Rodriguez, Wilson Garcia, and JC Escarra have performed well, but have done so at an advanced age.  Seamus Curran and Collin Woody have done well to hold their own, but have struggled with contact.  The margin of error for a first basemen is fairly small, so there are certainly doubts at their outcome.  A couple years younger and those performances would look different.

Finally, the newest first baseman in the system is Jack Zoellner.  Zoellner was a 10k senior sign in the ninth round by the Phillies a couple years ago.  Zoellner was an analytics pick, someone who the Phillies developmental staff to play with.  Apparently, the Phillies liked the launch angle and velocity his batted balls produced.  He has yet to escape a rookie league.  The Orioles now are taking on this 23 year old who has plenty of levels to move up.

Five Year Plan
The five year plan for first base appears largely to be crossing your fingers and hoping there is something left for Chris Davis to do.  Mancini could be a fringe solution, but not exactly a player who could overwhelmingly dispatch Chris Davis.  Beyond them, nothing is clear.

29 August 2018

Orioles State of Second Base: 2019-2023

Previous Columns in this Series
Catcher | Centerfield

For the Orioles, second base is very similar to other positions, but not.  Second base is a position where the club had mustered together a stalwart for the position for several years only to deal him away at the deadline.  Somehow, when Jonathan Schoop left, the Orioles managed to acquire not only a good pitching prospect and a promising young shortstop prospect, but also Jonathan Villar.  Villar, once considered a major role player in Milwaukee, frustrated that franchise.  Wanting more power in their lineup, the Brewers acquired Schoop placed him at shortstop and tossed away Villar.  As it stands, Villar has a bWAR of 0.8 for the Orioles and Schoop has scuttled to replacement level for the Brewers.

Let it be said though that Villar is only under contract through the 2020 year, which leaves the long-term future in doubt.  Villar likely will not be a part of any competitive Orioles team.  So what does the franchise depth look like now?

Second Base Table
Name Age Lev BA OBP SLG Pos Summary
Villar, Jonathan#27MAJ,AAA.274.334.4032B-99, SS-3
Beckham, Tim28MAJ,AAA,AA.213.275.3423B-42, SS-39, 2B-3, DH-2
Valera, Breyvic #26AAA,MAJ.258.332.3852B-44, SS-27, 3B-22, LF-9, CF-2, DH-2, RF-1
Sardinas, Luis#25AAA,MAJ.260.296.383SS-36, 2B-20, 3B-8, DH-3, LF-1
Wilkerson, Steve #26AAA,AA,MAJ,ROK.259.315.4312B-14, 3B-11, LF-4, SS-4, RF-1, 1B-1
Bannon, Rylan22H-A,AA.273.381.5123B-56, 2B-47, DH-13
Palmeiro, Preston*23H-A.253.311.4052B-107, 1B-20, DH-3
McCoy, Mason23L-A.265.329.375SS-88, 2B-28, DH-1
Torres, Alexis20SS,L-A,H-A.251.326.3592B-51, DH-4, SS-1
Hall, Adam19SS.304.382.392SS-54, 2B-4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/29/2018.

In the near term, Jonathan Villar is the solution.  He will likely be manning second during some dire days in Baltimore.  Beneath him in the immediate are all fringe players.  Tim Beckham became the guy the Rays said he was.  Valera and Sardinas are short term fill in kind of players.  Steve Wilkerson might be able to give you some Todd Walker style action where he may be a late bloomer, but probably fills more of a corner infield and second base role.

Once you go beyond the MLB and AAA squads, you begin to see some low ceiling though interesting prospects.  Rylan Bannon is a fairly interesting C level prospect.  He is sort of coming in from a Ryan Flaherty direction.  A player who carries some interesting offensive skills, but whose skillset may not be all that playable at the plate once he reaches the Majors.  Instead, he seems to be making great strides with his play at second base and third base.  Some scouts suggest he probably should be given a whirl at shortstop to see if he footwork and positioning holds up there.  However, the optimistic outcome is that he rises to be a solid offensive contributor at second or third.

It will not be an easy path for Bannon.  Undersized, he is not the kind of physical specimen that makes baseball organizations want to give him an abundance of opportunity.  However, if he performs at each level, those opportunities will come.  At the moment, the Orioles decided to challenge him once he came over to Baltimore by elevating him to from HiA ball to AA Bowie.  That has not gone well.  However, that is quite a jump in competition and Bannon is a tad young for the circuit.

Beyond Bannon, there are a couple players who do not seem exciting, but may grow into consideration.  Preston Palmiero is seeing time this year at second base and he genuinely has the ability to provide a passable level of play there if his bat comes forward.  While Palmiero has maintain a league average level of play as he moves up through the levels, the increase in power shown last summer did not take a step forward this year.  There is some hope he can tap further into his swing to see another increase, but that is not a foregone conclusion.

However, the real players to watch are Mason McCoy and Adam Hall.  McCoy is a bit old for Delmarva, but he showed great feel for second base.  He also held his own at the plate, but, again, he is two years older than league average.  The defensive angle is there, so you can envision a utility role.  If his bat can make each step up, he might even be able to eek out a couple years as a second division starter.  But, again, it is a long haul.

Adam Hall is a bit more interesting to watch.  He hails from Canada and is a bit raw.  He shows plus speed and an understanding of how to use it on the basepaths.  Right now, he is logging time at shortstop, but his arm will likely push him over to second base.  He exhibits good contact, can work a walk, and has a swing where doubles in the gap should start appearing more common.

Five Year Planning
The current solution is obvious in Villar and there will likely be little reason to extend him.  Second basemen tend to get beaten up a bit and decline rapidly in their early thirties, which puts Villar in a bad position to be in place for the Orioles next run.  Beyond him, you hope that someone like Bannon or Hall can emerge and take over.  That said, it is far from probable to expect either to be able to perform at the level as neither are prospects that have garnered much attention.  Regardless, there is much more optimism here than, say, catcher.

28 August 2018

Cup of jO's: Jack Zoellner is Not the End of the World

Last night, we remembered a time when the Orioles seem fated to win with the contribution of unlikely players.  It cemented into a 7-0 victory behind a pitcher, David Hess, who in previous seasons would have been a prime arm to have been dealt out in a deadline trade for a half a season of a player to address a positional need for the club.  However, we also were reminded of how the club has repeatedly traded away international signing bonus money when the Orioles sent 750k of their overall 8.25 MM pool to the Phillies for 1B (generously 3B) Jack Zoellner, a 23 year old who passed his time in the Gulf Coast League for the second year in a row.

Jack Zoellner Batting
Year AgeDif Lev BA OBP SLG
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/28/2018.

The minor league season is effectively done and Zoellner plays first base.  What that tells us is that the Orioles do not see Zoellner as a short term need for organizational need.  The clubs simply do not have a drastic short coming and need a player to stabilize a club as we saw with the Milton Ramos deal last year.  Instead, the Orioles saw something of value in Zoellner and I am not sure what.  Whatever they see in him, whether it be upside or makeup, he cost effectively nothing.

Nothing.  That is how this deal impacts the Orioles ability to acquire a talent like Victor Victor Mesa, the top international amateur who has yet to be cleared by Major League Baseball.  Currently, Mesa is tied to three teams: Florida Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, and the Baltimore Orioles.  The Marlins and the Rays are currently sitting around 4 to 4.5 MM in money to spend.  Meanwhile, the Orioles are now down to 6 to 7 MM.  Much of the outcry on Twitter about this deal is based on the idea that by dealing away 750k that the Orioles are shortarming themselves for Mesa.  In other words, a lot of public chatter is imploring the Orioles to bid against themselves when they still have a commanding sum of money to offer Mesa.

As I noted a month ago, that the Orioles holding 8.25 MM was somewhat absurd.  The way the international amateur scene works is that teams break the rules and arrange contracts before the July 2nd signing date.  Once that date arrives, all of the top prospects sign.  What remains are the occasional Cuban immigrant, the rare Asian signing, and then a bevy of overlooked older players inking low money contracts.  By not being players on July 2nd, it was confusing to see how the money could shake out for the Orioles in any way other than securing Mesa.

If you felt confused by all of this, do not worry.  Established writers also lost gravity.  I saw some suggest that the Orioles stored up all this money and then found out that nothing was left in the Dominican Republic.  That is a somewhat shocking level of ignorance for a long-tenured writer to state.  The Orioles have boots on the ground.  They have guys in the Dominican and throughout Latin America.  They have guys in Europe.  They have guys in Asia and the Pacific islands.  You can certainly argue they need more people out there, but international scouting is long past the days of driving eight hours into the mountains and finding some 16 year old hitting homemade balls with a broken broom stick.  Everyone knows everyone.  It is all about how well can you project a player and often how well you have ingratiated yourself to family.  This is known.  Everyone knows this.  In absolutely no way would this be a surprise for the Orioles.  It is only a surprise to those who do not really follow the game (all aspects of the game) closely.

So while it is kind of funny and humorous to note the dread of seasons past, it is not really weird to see the Orioles deal out these allotments.  They have too much.  They see guys they like.  They deal what they have for what they want and still have a commanding sum to offer Mesa.

There is nothing to see here.  Move on.

Keep your powder dry for when they screw up because, you know, the organization is still a mess.  This event though is not indicative of that.

Evaluating the Orioles Player's Weekend Nicknames

Baseball can get dry. By it's nature, it attracts an older audience that can get stuck in the past. Unwritten rules, suppression of individuality, beanball; things are improving in the sport but there remains a large swath of players and fans alike who have no interest in changing their ways.

MLB introduced Player's Weekend in 2017 and continued with it this year. Basically, it's really freakin' cool. The club's wear different uniforms and hats that are meant to reflect a little league look. On the back of those jerseys, rather than a last name, is a nickname. And on the sleeve is a patch dedicated to someone vital to that player's rise to the game's highest level.

On top of that, the guys tend to have customized cleats, that don't necessarily match the team uniform, and other accessories like bats and gloves that are a little more on the "wild side" than you see of typical game days. It's a lot of fun and shines a light onto the person rather than the player. In a sport that often complains about lacking marketable talent, this is an opportunity to show off personalities and connect fans with more than a stat line.

How did the Orioles do as far as showing off their non-baseball side? We talk about it on this week's episode and let's just say that one of us wasn't impressed.

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27 August 2018

Orioles State of Centerfield: 2019-2023

Other columns in this series:

Like so much of the Orioles, the next five years fills the franchise with so many opportunities where previously there were none.  One of those is ceterfield where recently we have seen Adam Jones, the Orioles stalwart in centerfield over the past decade, hand his reign over to a new hope: Cedric Mullins.  Mullins received a warm welcome from the fans and garners great interest.  So far, despite a hip injury slowing him down, Mullins' performance at the plate is exceptional while his defense shows promise of the feats he achieved in the minors.  Never a prominent prospect, though one we have had our eye on since the beginning, Mullins carries some questions about whether he will secure centerfield or find himself a transient talent, like Luis Matos.

Taking a look at the centerfield outlook for the franchise, we see these options:

Centerfield Table
Name Age Lev BA OBP SLG Pos Summary
Jones, Adam32MAJ.278.311.423CF-105, RF-12, DH-3
Gentry, Craig34MAJ,H-A,AA.271.324.324LF-31, RF-26, CF-16, DH-2
Rickard, Joey27AAA,MAJ.255.344.421CF-37, RF-35, LF-30
Mullins, Cedric#23AAA,AA,MAJ.291.351.476CF-118, DH-3, LF-3
Diaz, Yusniel21AA.281.390.438RF-51, CF-35, DH-2, LF-2
Hays, Austin22AA,SS.232.262.386RF-39, LF-13, CF-11, DH-8
McKenna, Ryan21H-A,AA.319.412.463CF-114, LF-3, RF-3, DH-1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/27/2018.

There is a positive and a negative to immediately take away from the list above.  The positive is that the Orioles have four young options at centerfield in Mullins, Diaz, Hays, and McKenna.  The negative is that each of those prospects have significant questions as to whether they truly are options in centerfield.  Another negative that has yet to break the horizon is that there does not appear to be any promising centerfielders below Bowie.

The elder statesmen are two impending free agents: Adam Jones and Craig Gentry.  As we noted in an earlier column, it is difficult to see how Adam Jones continues on this club given the need to provide opportunities for younger players and to feed Jones the playing time he earns.  Gentry, at 34, is a useful outfielder on the bench.  He provides defense at all three outfield positions and has some level of offense adequate for a backup outfielder.  That said, his profile is not a starter's profile and he is well into the time frame where one can expect performance to crash.

Joey Rickard at 27 feels younger than he really is given how he broke into the Baltimore scene a couple years ago in the Rule 5 draft.  While he has the athleticism to play all three outfield positions, his skills have not exactly developed to utilize those skills and he tends to field without caution.  The offensive profile for Rickard could be useful, but over 700 PA into Rickard's career and it appears he is not dependable to play full time.

Further up in this post, I mentioned Cedric Mullins. Back in his Delmarva days in 2016 I summarized him as:
Cedric Mullins is a SWINO (Switch Hitter in Name Only). He rakes right handers and a left handed bat and becomes flummoxed by southpaws (115/90).  He profiles as a backup centerfielder, but does not have the size/strength to be expected to show well in left field.  With decent, speed, contact, and gap strength, we should see him progress steadily through the minors.  I imagine he might be ready for a 4th or 5th outfielder role in 2019 or 2020.
I think he has fit that projection to a T.  He still struggles greatly against left handed pitching.  In 2017, 863 vs 604 and 859 vs 707 this year.  Having a strong bat against right handers makes Mullins a starting option in centerfield as he will be facing a great number of right handed pitchers.  However, it does make him a bit of a liability deeper in games when opposing managers can slip in a favorable matchup.  The defense also still looks great.  Defensive metrics view him as a bit sloppy right now with MLB data, but I think that is more likely do to some situational issues.  He should be fine long term and may even be a legitimate starter if he can maintain his handling of right handers and becomes adequate against lefties.  That said, there is no great, grand ceiling similar to what a young Adam Jones had to offer.  Mullins offers the club the ceiling of a solid starter who might rattle off one season that garners All Star attention.  And, yeah, much of this was said of Luis Matos as well.

Diaz and Hays can be lumped together here.  Both have promising bats (Diaz more so) and both, if you squint, have the potential to pull off a center field (Diaz more so).  The reality though is if either of them are occupying centerfield instead of Mullins that the plan is testing the rails.  While both look to be good right fielders (though some doubt Hays out there), both are seen as fringe defenders in center.  Their bats would need to speak up a bit more to manage lackluster gloves.  All in all, fringe rightfield star profiles drop to decent centerfield role player projection in center.

Ryan McKenna is the last name on this draw.  McKenna is the kind of player who gets an amazing amount of positive coverage because he just went bananas against some fairly poor pitching combined with hitting them where they ain't.

Ryan McKenna
Year Age AgeDif Lev BA OBP SLG OPS
All All All .278.362.397.759
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/27/2018.

What makes his A+ stint in 2018 so amazing, a .436 BABIP that super charged his batted ball production.  What feels more genuine is that his rates returned to expectations in Bowie.  To be clear, none of this is really bad news.  He is a fairly young player for the levels who is holding his own.  A 21 year old providing useful play for  AA Bowie is an achievement.  His struggles there though reinforce some of the issues seen before and reduce the expectations some had for him with his demolishing of Frederick.  Perhaps slightly concerning is the evaporation of his running game, which may point to his physical development impeding upon the average/plus speed he was showing in previous seasons. 

As it stands, he looks like a lesser version of Cedric Mullins, which makes the profile redundant.  However, redundancy is good in the minors because Mullins certainly is not a sure thing.

Five Year Planning
While the catching scenario looks like all the eggs in the basket broke, center field has a clear, though wobbly, answer in Cedric Mullins and a backup answer a couple years off in Ryan McKenna.  Yes, it is more likely that both of them fail, but that is simply what prospects do.  Both though provide great fourth outfielder options and should be able to provide the club with talent similar to Gentry or Rickard.  That might feel like a loss, but that sort of bench depth is valuable and less you focus spending on higher targets.  And, well, the ceiling outcome is that both are viable starting center fielders.

All in all, this is a good state of affairs.

24 August 2018

Orioles State of Catching: 2019-2023

The last two seasons brought about a certain kind of uncertainty that was last familiar in 2009: who exactly is catching for the Orioles.  The stability that Matt Wieters brought to the organization was shouldered last year by Wellington Castillo having a rather remarkable year.  This year, so much hope was placed on Caleb Joseph and his resurgent 2017 as well as the up and coming Chance Sisco, a catching prospect we have written here should be moved off the plate for several years now.

2017 came out as "Nuts!"  Caleb Joseph, now in his age 32 season (yes, 32), did not dream up a 2017, 2015 or 2014 season, but regressed to be more in his 2016 form.  Chance Sisco (again, a player we said was not a catcher) appeared to suggest repeatedly that not only is he not a catcher, but perhaps his contact oriented approach at the plate may not exactly transition well to the Major Leagues.  The conventional wisdom now has gravitated toward our view that Sisco is actually not much of a prospect.

This leaves us to wonder what exactly is the situation to look like at catcher for the next several seasons, which is a bit abstract as the organization lacks a true heir.  Here is a list of the most notable right now in the organization:

Catcher Table
Name Age Lev BA OBP SLG Pos Summary
Joseph, Caleb32MAJ,AAA.232.283.345C-77, DH-9, 1B-1
Sisco, Chance *23MAJ,AAA.208.304.304C-81
Wynns, Austin27AAA,MAJ.241.292.377C-62, DH-2
Cervenka, Martin25AA.256.313.449C-86, DH-3
Cumberland, Brett#23H-A,AA.223.352.382C-67, DH-27
Fajardo, Daniel23H-A.280.315.381C-52, DH-2
Quevedo, Yojhan24H-A.287.312.427C-33, DH-5
Breazeale, Ben*23L-A.238.340.313C-53, DH-13
Carrillo, Jean21L-A.250.322.308C-60, DH-1
Roberts, Cody22SS.272.321.368C-25, DH-9, RF-1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/23/2018.

Caleb Joseph is an interesting question.  The Orioles have two more option years on him and he should come in around 1.5 to 3 MM a season during those two years.  That is a fairly cheap price to pay for a catcher who has a good ability to handle a pitching staff and can have decent runs at the plate.  The negative that has chased Joseph all these years is that he wears down fast.  That was seen as the issue why he looked like a non-prospect bat first catcher in the minors.  When he was forced into a MLB position when Wieters went down several years ago, his workload decreased, and he performed much, much better behind and beside the plate.  As he gets older, he likely will need more and more rest.  Regardless, he is not a starter and he is certainly entering into non-tender territory.

Chance Sisco was originally seen within the organization and among scouting circles as a natural pairing to Joseph.  Sisco, hitting from the left side, could serve as a strong platoon partner to Joseph.  Sisco has had two red flags on him: (1) his bat is heavily dependent on contact and not much else and (2) his defense is not adequate.  If you are a veteran reader of the site, then you know that bad defense amateur catchers turn into bad defense professional catchers.  That is fairly dependable and, unfortunately, Sisco is showing that with him projected to be around a -15 run defensive catcher over 125 games.  It will take a significant leap from his bat to cover that spread or, hopefully, an unexpected improvement behind the plate.  As a scout told me once, "You are right, the Orioles should have traded Sisco when teams were asking for him last year at the deadline."

Behind them is Austin Wynns or "Caleb Joseph, Jr.".  Wynn is a player the Orioles might go with if Joseph at 2 MM is less appealing than Wynns at 0.5 MM.  Neither are particularly remarkable players at this point, but both appear to be solid defense first backups.  A true defensive catcher is hard to find, but that typically requires some measure of offense which is an aspect that Wynns has difficulty with.  He may be more suited to ride the Baltimore to Norfolk shuttle until pressed into a 25 man roster position or moving on when the options run out.

Martin Cervenka looks like "Caleb Joseph, III".  This, of course, makes it look like perhaps Caleb Joseph might be non-tendered.

Brett Cumberland is the last player I will discuss here (feel free to ask me about any of the other catchers in the system if you wish in the comments).  Cumberland was arguably the best player the Orioles got back from the Braves in the Gausman deal (unless you are like me and think the best player is Jean Carlos Encarnacion).  Cumberland was a second round overslot pick of the Braves.  He had a very promising bat and looked nothing like a catcher behind the plate, but the Braves had hope.  Scouting reports on his defense were poor and the bat looked a bit overmatched in his first couple years, but 2018 has some helium attached to him.  He reportedly made major strides in his footwork, which has helped him not only block balls better but also greatly reduce his pop times to second base.

The hope is that Cumberland's bat continues to develop and the improvement seen in his defense carries forward, perhaps even improving.  Within the entire system, Cumberland is the only catcher who looks to have an upside, but again it is attached to aspects that are difficult for a player to typically improve upon.  That outlook looks much better today than it did a year ago, so maybe he is one of the rare ones to make the transition.

Below are five year projections of WAR (set to 120 games):

120g proj Joseph Sisco Wynns Cervenka Cumberland
2019 1.0 0.2 -0.4 -0.5 -0.3
2020 0.9 0.2 -0.3 -0.2 -0.1
2021 0.7 0.3 -0.3 -0.1 0.2
2022 0.5 0.4 -0.3 -0.1 0.4
2023 0.2 0.4 -0.3 -0.1 0.5

Five Year Planning
What the above tells us is that the Orioles have no firm solution for their catching position.  They appear to have a bevy of backup options with different makeups, but no single player who has the characteristics of a full fledged starting catcher.  Two, Sisco and Cumberland, may be able to thread the needle and achieve that starting catcher status, but the club should not feel obligated to depend on that.  The position should be seen as wide open with active processes to find a long term solution.

23 August 2018

A Look At The Distribution Of Prospect Values

Over the past few years, there’s been a movement to grade prospects by not only overall rank and organization rank, but also by future value. Future Value is not very well defined, but per MLB is a 20-80 scale in which a ranking of 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average. A player with a 65 FV is someone who could develop into a future impact Major Leaguer, perhaps an All-Star-caliber standout. Fangraphs defines future value, using a similar grading model and provides a chart showing how future value can be defined using WAR.

In general, I’m not a fan of using such definitions as Top #2-3 player or #2/#3 starter because it’s subjective and can’t be easily determined and prefer using WAR values because that at least is easily definable and somewhat objective. WAR may undervalue a strong player that is hurt for a few years, but any clear definition will have its limitations.

In order to learn about future value, I decided to build a metric called actual value. Future value attempts to predict how much production a prospect will produce using WAR, and actual value attempts to measure how much production a prospect actually did produce. In essence, I defined actual value in such a way that future value attempts to predict actual value. 

To do this, I looked at players from 1990-2016 and measured each prospects’ production while they were under team control or until they had six or more years of service time. Once players have six or more years of service time, they are eligible for free agency. Then, I determined their rookie year and measured their average value per year or actual value using the following scale.

With this distribution of actual value illustrating how prospects performed, we can understand what a reasonable distribution for future value might look like for the future. I looked at the performance of prospects over two time periods, 1990-2016 and 2004-2013 defined by a prospects rookie year. Here were the valuations this process returned from 1990-2016.

Each year from 1990-2016, there were roughly 18.5 prospects that had an actual value per year of 2 WAR or more. This may seem surprising at first glance, but one should consider that from 2000-2017, there were roughly 130 offensive players and 90 pitchers that were worth more than 2 wins or above average. This includes players that were one year wonders like 2009 Jason Kubel (2.5 fWAR) or 2016 Michael A Taylor (3.2 fWAR). They may have been worth 2 fWAR in a single season, but weren’t above average players over an extended period of time. When looking at players that have staying power, there are significantly fewer than 220 at any given time – maybe around 150 total. If there are few average and above average players in the league, then there can be few prospects each year to replace them. If 20 prospects each year are above average, and there are 150 players total above average, then the replacement period would be about 7.5 years. This seems to suggest that 20 average prospects per year is within reason.

There were significantly more prospects each year that ended up being below average and the vast majority were either 25s or 30s. This makes a lot of sense because teams have injuries and need to call up their prospects to make it through the season. In addition, teams would prefer to give their prospects chances to be successful because they’re cheaper than free agents. However, the vast majority of prospects either fail or struggle to be better than replacement level.

The story is reasonably similar when looking at prospects that became rookies from 2004-2013. There were about 20 rookies per year that because average or better players in the majors. Another 22.5 per year were below average, but still worth over 1 WAR per season. The vast majority of rookies, or roughly 184 per year, ended up being worth less than 1 WAR per season or clearly below average. Both sets of data tell the same story: being successful in major league baseball is difficult.

If only twenty players per year have above average actual value, than prospects ranked outside of the top 100 should not be expected to have a high future value. After all, future value is trying to predict and should have similar behavior to actual value. Prospect lists are tricky because they grade all prospects and not just those that should be expected to enter the league each year. So, I would argue that it’s reasonable to presume that all prospects considered to be at least average should be in the top 100, and likely all prospects with a future value of 45. I would say that all prospects with a future value of 40 should be at least in the top 125 prospects and all prospects with a future value of 35 should be in the top 200 prospects. Players ranked worse than 200 should be seen as slightly better than replacement players at best and ideally will be either bench players, middle relief or minor league depth pieces.

Fangraphs provides a board with its top 850 prospects as ranked at the beginning of the season with both future value grades and estimated time of arrival. We can use this board to determine the time period that their prospect list measures as well as see whether their distribution seems reasonable.

If they still use the future value definitions defined by McDaniel, than their distribution is difficult to comprehend. In their defense, it appears that they consider their FV to be their peak level rather than their average level. In addition, they deserve some leeway for injuries. Still, it is highly unlikely that there were will be 54 prospects in the 2018 rookie class that end up being average or better or 110 prospects that are worth 1 fWAR or more. It seems that a 55 in the Fangraphs distribution is the same as a 50-55 in the historical distribution, a 50 in Fangraphs is the same as a 35-45 in the historical distribution, a 45 in Fangraphs is the same as a 30 in the historical distribution and a 40 in Fangraphs matching a 25 in the historical dataset. Perhaps this is why Fangraphs only gives valuations for players that are ranked up to 45?

Even prospects graded as a 30 have a surprisingly high amount of value using a WAR linear model. These players typically produce about .2 fWAR per year and last for about 4.5 years. Using our predicted arbitration rates would suggest that these players produce $9M in value (at $10M per win) and cost $2.5M for a total surplus value of $6.5M. This seems surprising at first glance, but consider that players like Caleb Joseph and Ryan Flaherty rate as having an actual value of 30. These players aren’t great, but Joseph is certainly a decent backup catcher option while Flaherty was a decent utility player. Despite the fact that these players are valuable, it is impossible to build an average team with players just like those two, explaining why teams are willing to trade them away for marginal improvements. Treating WAR as a linear model does have its limitations.

Players ranking 35, 40 and 45 in actual value have a preposterous amount of value using this metric. 35 actual value level players produce roughly 4.2 WAR of production over their six years of team control or produce $42M in value (at $10M per WAR) but only cost about $10.6M putting their value at $30M. 40 level players produce roughly 7.2 WAR of production over their six years of team control or $72M in value but only cost $15.6M putting their value at $56M. 45 level players produce roughly 10 WAR of production over their six years of team control, but cost roughly $24M putting their value at $76M. Presumably, Orioles fans would not have been happy if the Orioles received just one 45 level player (top 60-90 prospect) in return for Machado.

Part of the reason why these players have such high values is that non-arbitration player salaries are unfairly low. If a win is valued at $10M, and the salary for a non-arb player is $550k, then it is relatively easy for a non-arb player to be underpaid. A reasonable minimum salary of $1.5M would rectify the situation where near replacement players have significant value. Part of the reason is that having a slightly above replacement player play instead of a below replacement player can have significant value. The fact is that teams are willing to pay a premium to avoid having to use a player like David Hess for 65 innings.

Future value may be the attempt to determine actual value, but that doesn’t mean they are the same. There’s a significant amount of uncertainty when predicting future value, and the distribution of prospect performances suggest that it is far easier to overestimate a prospect than underestimate a prospect. Most prospects that make it to the majors aren’t successful, and all prospects that don’t make it to the majors aren’t successful by definition. This uncertainty will mean that a player with an actual value of 40 (as determined in hindsight) is far more valuable than a prospect with a future value of 40. In a player with an actual value of 40 is worth $56M, than a prospect with a future value of 40 is worth significantly less. This is one reason why prospects aren’t valued as actual value suggests. In contrast, measuring the value of top 100 prospects take failed prospects into account and therefore provide a reasonable baseline for value.

In addition, a team filled with 35 AV players that are under team control, may be fiscally successful, but will also be terrible. In some roles, a 30 or 35 AV player can be acceptable, but in other roles (starters) they’re not particularly ideal. Obviously, it’s important to be fiscally responsible, but teams are in the business of maximizing their win total and not their excess value total. Others believe that teams would rather win now rather than later, and therefore future wins should be discounted.

Going forward, looking at how many prospects historically fit into each category of actual value should help analysts build future lists using future value. It doesn’t make sense to predict that hundreds of prospects will have a future value of 45 if few players ultimately have an actual value of 45. Using historical data to accurately assess the value of prospects will lower these rankings and make it more difficult to excite casual fans about their teams’ future. Still, even if it’s bad press, it makes sense to admit the reality of prospect value. Having a better idea how prospects historically perform can help teams plan for their future, and ultimately fans don’t really want to see how their prospects develop but rather watch their team be successful at the major league level.