On the Differences Between Pitching Prospects and Hitting Prospects

December 12, 2012


                In regard to the Wil Myers trade, a local sports columnist wrote these words:

 

In time, Wil Myers might develop into one of the top power hitters in the game. At 21, he hit .314 with 37 home runs and 109 RBIs in 134 games of a season split between Double A (35) and Triple A (99). His pitch recognition might develop to the point he can strike out at a less disturbing rate than 140 times in 522 at bats. He’s an excellent prospect, all right.

The word "might" and "prospect" need not enter discussions about James Shields, the main player acquired by the Royals in the deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.

 

                Oh, I can give you a long list of mights that enter into the James Shields evalaution, but let’s fast forward.    In time, Wil Myers might be something; he isn’t anything yet, but later on, down the road, he might become something.   Not trying to parody the sportswriters words or to state them unfairly; I think that’s an accurate summation of his point; Wil Myers isn’t anything yet, but later on he might be something. 

          Most of us guys, I suspect, see the situation a little differently:   that Wil Myers is a very good baseball player, right now.   He was a very good baseball player in 2012; there is every reason to believe that he will be the same player in 2013, although his statistics will not be the same because the players he will be playing against are better.    Later on, he may develop to an even higher level, true, but he is the same thing now that he will be in a year, and therefore the distinction between "prospect" and "player" is, on some level, a silly distinction.   It relies on doubt that exists only because of ignorance, and thus exists only for the ignorant.

          We cannot make absolutely accurate projections as to what any player will hit next season, whether he is a rookie or whether he has been in the league for ten years.  But we can project what Wil Myers will hit in 2012 as accurately as we could project the same if he had been in the league for ten years, and this is a fairly high level of accuracy.   The sportswriter thinks of Wil Myers as he does because he fails to understand this.    He believes that there is an element of doubt in the equation that is not really there, or does not need to be there.   Thus, he is basing his analysis of the trade on a categorization of the players, and basing the categorization of the players on his own ignorance, his own lack of sophistication.    It’s an analysis that is based, at the deepest level, on the ignorance of the writer.

          But wait a minute; I’m not here to castigate the sportswriter in question; rather, I wanted to point out that I do the same thing.   Within the last two months, a trade was offered to the Red Sox that would have involved our trading a major league pitcher—let’s call him Camilo Pascual--for three excellent pitching prospects.   A group of us were discussing the trade, and in that context I said "Most pitching prospects are going to fail, 60% of them are.  If we trade Camilo Pascual for three pitching prospects, two of them will fail, we’ll wind up trading Camilo Pascual for somebody who will be Camilo Pascual in three years.   I don’t see the point in it."  In other words, I was analyzing that trade exactly the same way the local guy was analyzing the Myers trade:   A pitcher is one thing; a prospect is something else, a different animal.  

                Now, it may be that I am just wrong, and it may be that I am operating out of my own ignorance.    What people often don’t understand, when I "accuse" them of ignorance, is that in my view, we’re all ignorant.  None of us really understand the world or the game of baseball.   We’re all just projecting outward from small islands of understanding into a limitless ocean of ignorance, like a tiny island nation claiming the sea as its lawful territory.   The question I am trying to get to is, why is there this distinction?   Why is it that minor league hitters can be projected into the major leagues accurately and reliably, but minor league pitchers cannot?    I am trying to a) think that question through, and b) outline some research that could help us understand it better.

                We could, as a starting point, determine whether it is actually true that 60% of pitching prospects fail.   I believe this to be true; it has been my experience that this is true.   If you go back to, let us say, 2008, you can see that the baseball world was very excited about Joba Chamberlain, and Phil Coke, and Zack Kroenke, and Michael Bowden, and Hunter Jones, and Craig Hanson, and Francisco Liriano, and Kevin Slowey, and David Purcey, and David Huff, and Aaron Laffey, and Zach Jackson, and 40 or 50 other guys who didn’t turn out to be anything special, either.  . .and no, I’m not exaggerating when I say "40 or 50"; there actually are 40 or 50 other guys who were top-of-the-line pitching prospects four years ago who are middle relievers and ex-major league players now; don’t make me name them, because I will.

                But it could be that this is a fault of my perception, in that—in my ignorance—I failed to distinguish between those who were legitimate top-of-the-line pitching prospects, and those who merely seemed to be that to those of us who don’t know any better.   It would be a worthwhile project, as a starting point, to pull out an old John Sickels Prospect book or Baseball America prospect book, used that as a fixed frame of reference to determine who was a legitimate project and who was a pretender, and then figure out what percentage of pitching prospects from five years ago have since failed.   But not having done that, I’m saying it is 60%, or higher—if by "failed" you include those who are still in the majors but in a very limited role, like Aaron Laffey, and those who pitched brilliantly in the major leagues for three months and then disintegrated, like Dallas Braden, Matt Palmer, Brett Cecil and Jeremy Sowers.    And also, some guys who were not prized prospect then are good pitchers now, but that’s not relevant to this discussion, because what we’re talking about here is failure rates among prized prospects.

                OK, since we haven’t done that, let’s assume for the sake of argument that it is true that most pitching prospects are going to fail, whereas virtually 100% of position prospects who are of the stature of Wil Myers are going to succeed.    The question is, then, why?   What are the differences between pitching prospects and positional prospects which make it so much more difficult to identify the pitchers who will succeed?

                Theorizing:

                a)  Pitchers get hurt more, particularly at those moments when they are first exposed to heavier workloads than they have experienced in the past.

                I think this is true, and I think it is a very important part of why pitchers are so hard to figure.   I would also point out that there is a non-obvious "workload" problem here, which is that making 20 starts and pitching 140 innings in the major leagues is vastly more difficult than making 20 starts and pitching 140 innings in the minors.   If you pitch 140 innings in the minors—let us say that you face 600 batters—you might face really tough hitters, guys like Wil Myers, in 20 of those confrontations.    In the majors, you’re going to face high-quality hitters in 150 or 200 of those plate appearances, guys like Ryan Howard and Mark Teixeira and Jason Heyward.     The major league pitcher is under vastly more pressure to make good pitches, thus is working much harder, even if his innings pitched are the same.

                But while I do think the injury risk is an important part of this dichotomy, I don’t by any means think this is the whole enchilada.   There is something else going on here.

 

                b)  Despite the gains we have made in better understanding pitchers’ records, it is still true to some extent that pitchers’ records reflect and embody the performance of the team, thus are not true indicators of a pitcher’s ability.

                In 2010 Mike Pelfrey went 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA for the Mets.   If he had done that in 1975, it would have been universally assumed and accepted that Pelfrey had turned the corner.   In the modern world, most of us kind of understood right away that that was more mirrors than smoke, and we weren’t really that surprised when his career went south in 2011, because his strikeout/walk ratio wasn’t all that impressive to begin with.

                But while we have made progress in this area, it is still somewhat difficult to distinguish between what is done by a pitcher and what has been done by his teammates and stored in the pitcher’s record.    If a pitcher goes 11-3 with a 2.06 ERA in Double-A, we tend to assume that he pitched really well.   Sometimes he didn’t actually pitch all that well; he was just pitching for a good team in a pitcher’s park.    We are still misled by pitching records to a certain extent.

                c)  A pitcher faces batters in clusters.   A batter faces pitchers in discrete events, separated from one another in time and place.   This also causes the pitcher’s record to be misleading.

                Because the pitcher faces batters in clusters, small advantages can multiply, and give the impression that they are much greater than they are.    If a pitcher has a 5% advantage over the level of the competition, let us say, that becomes 5% times 5% times 5% in each inning, because the events are interacting with one another—and there can be nine innings a start (more likely seven.)  A small advantage compounds rapidly.   If you’re 5% better than the league, you might have a .700 winning percentage and a tremendous ERA, particularly in a run of 12 or 15 starts.  A pitcher who is in fact 5% better than the league can easily appear to be dominating the competition—whereas a batter who is 5% better than the league, because his at bats do not interact with one another, merely appears to be 5% better than the league.   

                What I am really talking about here is precise calibration of a player’s skills.   Wil Myers, you can argue about whether he is 30% better than the league or 40%, but it’s not 5%.    But with pitchers, the "clustering" effect makes pitchers who are 5% better-than-league look very much the same as pitchers who are 20% or 25% better than the league.    It’s difficult to say exactly how good a pitcher has been, if he is good enough to win 70% of his decisions.  This makes pitchers more difficult to evaluate.

 

                d)   There is a second and perhaps more important effect from this clusters/isolated events distinction.    The pitcher, in coming to the major leagues, has to make adjustments many times more rapidly than a hitter. 

                A hitter might get 25 at bats a week.   He has time, between games and on days that he isn’t playing, to work on his adjustments.   Wil Myers, I will let you know, has a lot of trouble with a pitch away from him, particularly a slider going away from him or a hard fastball low and outside.    That’s why he struck out 140 times; it’s that pitch.

                In the majors, that’s going to cause him more trouble than it has in the minors, because in the majors everybody will know that, and the ability of the pitchers to hit that spot will be significantly greater.   But Myers will adjust.   He’ll figure it out.   He’ll watch video before every game—and I absolutely guarantee you that he will, whether he likes to watch video or not.   A veteran hitter can say, "I don’t need to watch video; I know how this guy pitches me."  A veteran hitter can make that call.   A rookie, no way; he’s watching video before every game.

                For a pitcher, those adjustments have to take place within the game, within the inning.   Wil Myers’ 25th at bat will be a week into the season.    Tyler Skaggs’ 25th batter will be in the sixth inning—if he’s lucky.  

                Further, again because of the clustering of his plate appearances, the short-term tolerance for failure in a pitcher is much less.   The Red Sox have this shortstop prospect, Jose Iglesias.   We don’t know whether he is going to be our shortstop in 2013 or not.   But we all understand that, if he is our shortstop, he’s probably not going to hit .280—and we’re fine with that, even if he’s 30 or 40 or 50% less-than-league as a hitter.

                A pitcher who is 30% worse-than-league. ..there is no way in hell.   Because the at-bats form clusters, you can’t live with a pitcher who is 10% worse than the league, much less 30% worse.   If he’s 5% better-than-league, a pitcher might go 10-2 in a stretch of 15 starts—which means that if he is 5% worse-than-league, he might go 2-10.   A small disadvantage catches up with the pitcher much more rapidly.

                And, for that reason (primarily) the pitcher must make adjustments at a dramatically higher rate of speed.   A batter who has five straight bad games. ..that’s nothing.   Ted Williams had five straight bad games at least a few times.   A rookie pitcher who has five straight bad games is out of the league.    The team simply can’t live with a pitcher who gets beat up while he is trying to figure it out.

                Players fail in the major leagues essentially for two reasons:

                1)  They fail to make adjustments, and

                2)  They make bad adjustments.

                I would argue that it is 90% the latter.   The real risk isn’t that Wil Myers will fail to adjust to pitchers pounding the outside corner; the real risk is that he’ll over-react and over-adjust, and fall into a frustration cycle in which he is lunging at outside pitches and getting beat inside, or vice versa.    Other people don’t necessarily agree with me here.   Other people, and people whose opinions I respect, will say that players fail because they fail to make adjustments. 

                But either way, whether players fail because they don’t adjust or because they make bad adjustments, the adjustment cycle is much more difficult for a pitcher than it is for a position player—and this causes pitchers to fail when they try to make the minors-to-majors transition.

 

                e)  The constant demand for pitching in the major leagues, combined with the somewhat indiscriminate nature of the pitching position, tends to cause pitchers to vault to the major leagues as soon as they are perceived as ready to play—whereas position players normally have to wait their turn.

                I did a study in the 1970s, again in the 1980s, again in the 1990s, comparing the average number of minor league games and at bats for position players over time. ..that is, if you look at the players of the 1930s, look at the position players of the 1940s, etc., you will find that the number of games they have played in the minor leagues has not changed essentially at all over time.    Those studies are a little out of date, and I should re-run them, but I would bet that that is still true.   Position players, on average, play about 450, 470 games in the minor leagues before they come to the majors.    This number dropped slightly after each expansion, but then quickly returned to its historic norm—and the shocking thing is that the historic norm hasn’t moved at all, over many decades.  

                For position players.   But for pitchers, I would bet that it has moved, and I would bet that it has moved dramatically, particularly in terms of innings pitched.   I am not suggesting that you should take my word for it; I am suggesting this as an area of study.  There are a lot of guys who come to the majors now who haven’t pitched 250 innings in the minor leagues.   I don’t think that was true, in 1955, or even so much in 1975.

                Minor league systems are a lot more fluid now than they were years ago.    In 1955 if you were assigned to Danville, you were going to play for Danville.   If you hit 51 homers and drove in 166 runs for Danville, you were still going to finish the season at Danville.

                Now, if a player hits 20 homers the first two months, he moves up a level.   The systems are more fluid.

                However, the fluidity doesn’t substantially impact the length of the training period for a position player, because the player still has to wait his turn.    Will Middlebrooks is an exciting young player, but he put in his 416 games in the minor leagues anyway, because that was how long it took until a) his position opened up, and b) he was the top dog in the organization at that position.   When Kevin Youkilis got hurt, Middlebrooks got his shot—but not before then.   If Youkilis didn’t get hurt, Middlebrooks would have put in a full season at Pawtucket.  

                But with pitchers. ..well, everybody always needs pitching.   Some pitcher will get hurt, sometime during the season.   If you’re the top dog in the organization, your time is going to come very quickly.

                Some of you who are older will remember that in the 1980s, when you went to the airport, there would be four ticket counters with four separate lines.   If you got into line behind some guy who was going to Kuala Lumpur, you would stand in line for 20 minutes waiting for a ticket agent.    At some point it occurred to everybody that this would work better if you had one line feeding all four agents; that way the line would keep moving.    In the space of a year, everybody switched to the system in which all the lines fed one agent.

                There is the same distinction between pitchers and hitters.   Hitters very often find themselves in a line that isn’t moving—whereas the line for pitchers almost always moves.  This distinction has greased the rails for pitchers—plus, many pitchers now are relievers in the minor leagues.   They might face 180 batters a season.    In 1952 Larry Jackson was 28-4 at Fresno.   He probably faced 1,300 batters that season.   A whole lot of pitchers come to the majors now having faced less than a thousand batters in the minor leagues.    Craig Kimbrel faced 627.    Aaron Crow faced 791.   Aaron Loup de Loup faced 864.

                Pitchers have to make adjustments many times faster when they get to the majors—and, as a group, they have much less experience to fall back on in making those adjustments.

                Plus, to be honest, we’re all afraid of leaving a guy’s best years in the minor leagues.    Larry Jackson went 28-4 at Fresno in 1952—yet he pitched 14 years in the majors, pitched 244 innings at the age of 37 and retired.   In the modern world we don’t have the stones to let that happen.   A guy goes 7-1 at Fresno, we don’t want him leaving his career year in Fresno.   We rush pitchers to the majors before they get hurt—and sometimes before they are ready—because we’re afraid they will get hurt before we get major league value from them. 

                This is my thinking about this issue; not absolutely claiming that any of this is correct, but this is what I think.

 
 

COMMENTS (19 Comments, most recent shown first)

KaiserD2
This is an extremely interesting article, and while I have not done research to test my points, I have a few things to say.

I have thought for a long time, to begin with, that pitching ability is MUCH more evenly distributed than most people believe. At any given moment there are a few--very few--dominant pitchers. Beyond that, who we think is a good pitcher is a matter, of park effects, who pitches for a good team, and durability, which is awfully hard to predict in advance. Let me give two examples from another era: Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette. I would suggest that Milwaukee County Stadium, Henry Aaron, Eddie Matthews and Joe Adcock are more than 50% of the reason that they became known as great pitchers. One of the problems, of course, is that even though we've known for decades that won-loss is a terrible measurement, we can't stop using it. Bill uses it repeatedly in this article.

Now the post pointing out the relative rarity of homers in the minors (except for the high-alititude PCL) was very important too, because it suggests that a pitcher could get used to the idea that a certain outcome was a good one--a fly ball out--but have to adjust rather massively when he reached the majors. I was really rocked, however, by Bill's implication that people have to actually throw harder in the majors because the hitters are better. (He said work harder, I think, but he was relating this to injuries, so I assume he means throw harder.) I am quite convinced that in any sport except perhaps weight lifting, there's an optimal level of effort to put into what you are doing, one which will keep you on balance and not tear your body apart. A young pitcher coming into the majors should have it drummed into him again and again that putting more effort into it is not going to help his career.

Thinking out loud here, I remember reading, some years ago, that the Mets had given all their minor league parks the same dimensions as Shea Stadium. Every team, it seems to me, should do that. It would have to make their evaluations of their minor league talent much more accurate.

Anyway--if in fact pitching ability is relatively evenly distributed and success in your first ten games as a starter, say, is largely random, then that would explain why teams keep chasing their tails in search of good pitching, and why, in my opinion, they waste fantastic amounts of money on pitchers for very little net gain.

And I can't finish this without mentioning Dr. Mike Marshall's presentation at SABR some years ago, I think in St. Louis, in which he demonstrated different pitching mechanics that he claimed would vastly increase durability. No one in MLB would give him the time of day. Somehow, I'm not surprised.

DK
8:24 AM Feb 9th
 
shthar
I'm not saying a decent pitcher couldn't have 500 inning in the minors.

Just that I'm not checking him too close till I go through everyone who made it to the bigs in less than 500 innings.​
11:18 PM Dec 21st
 
MWeddell
No more than 500 minor league innings pitched for a pitching prospect sounds too strict to me for a player signed out of high school.

For example, Ferguson Jenkins was signed out of high school, pitched 546 minor league innings from ages 19-22, made his MLB debut at age 22, and was a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher right from the get go.
9:49 AM Dec 19th
 
shthar
My general rule is if a guy has over 500 innings in the minors, pass.
1:48 AM Dec 18th
 
davidharris
In thinking about the moderate correlation between minor league pitching performance and major league performance, I tried to approach an explanation in terms of a pitcher's main skills (in the popular current sabermetric thinking) of home runs, walks, and strike outs. I didn't get anywhere with walks, so will focus on home runs and strike outs.

There are more home runs in the majors than the minors (2012 rates per 600 ABs: 19.4 in AL, 16.6 in NL, 13.9 in International League, 16.1 in Pacific Coast League, 13.2 in Eastern League, 11.8 in Southern League, 14.6 in Texas League). Therefore, with more home runs in the majors, home runs are more important. This isn't a big enough difference statisticallly that a very good minor league pitcher is going to a below-average minor league pitcher. The more intriguing possibility is that the greater threat of home runs in the majors produces a significant change in how pitchers pitch. Strategies in pursuit of the strike out or in avoidance of the walk that are wise at the minor league level might not be at the major league level. So minor league pitching might not translate to major league pitching.

My hypothesis about the difference in strike outs at the minor league level is tied to my hypothesis about the effect of more major league home runs. I remember Bill's "strike out push effect" article. If strike out-prone hitters are better hitters overall at the major league level, we can rest assured they are vastly better home run hitters than less strike out-prone hitters. In the minors, I wonder if the inverse correlation is as high, particularly at the AA level? In the major leagues, strike outs come from guys trying to hit the ball out of the park; in the minors, you might have quite a few hiitters who fare more like pitchers trying to hit major league pitching: they don't hit home runs, and strike out just because they are overmatched. So this idea fits with a key tenet of why minor league hitting stats were supposed to not matter much, when of course they do. But yes, I am wondering if there are key differences in the population of minor league batters which mean that slaying them is largely different than slaying major league batters?

In summary, I think the key to improving major league pitcher projections from minor league statistics lies in looking at the data more closely on the minor league level. Which batters was the pitcher striking out? How did he go about doing it? By getting ahead in the count from the start? Etc, etc.

I also think particular attention should be paid to players whose major league performance did not follow their minor league data. If you looked at their minor league performance on a more detailed basis, was there anything they did well, that gave a hint at their ability? I'd love to know if David Cone's major league stardom could be found anywhere in his minor league results, despite their mediocre apperance.

I'm digressing badly now, but take a guy like Justin Verlander. His rookie year his fast ball and curve ball were every bit as good as they are now. He didn't use a slider, which he does occasionally now. I remember that his change up was very good when he used it, but I could be mistaken. In any event, his stuff was far above 6k per 9 IP for 186 IP, which is what he produced. There is a lot of subtle development that goes on with pitchers, while with hitters, raw material seems to take them farther. I'm not sure there is solid common understanding of how Verlander was able to improve his strike out rate so much, but without understanding that, one can't really claim to understand pitching.
1:19 PM Dec 15th
 
MWeddell
Seems like we are talking past each other in this article's comments. No one is saying that one can't project future performance based on minor league batting statistics. The debate is whether, if everything else is the same, are past minor league batting statistics just as useful at projecting future performance as past MLB statistics are?

Since reading www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/article/minor_to_major_correlations/ a few years ago, I have considered that minor league batting statistics are less useful than MLB batting statistics are at predicting future performance. If there is evidence to the contrary, it'd be great to know.

A fuzzier data point in this debate is that the folks who used to run Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections used to first convert batting lines to MLEs and then search for comparable players. One year, they discovered that searching for comparable players batting at the same level of the minor leagues improved their prediction model. That suggests that there is some additional noise when converting minor league batting lines to MLEs. This is less helpful as evidence because no study was published on it but instead just an article reporting on what they believed was happening.
12:19 AM Dec 15th
 
bjames
Harris' second comment is correct, but his first is a misinterpretation of what was written before. The "clustering" effect I was talking about has nothing at all to do with a pitcher being more effective in one inning than in another.
10:47 AM Dec 14th
 
davidharris
If the cluster idea is a starting point, then the results a pitcher gets batter-by-batter in one outing should correlate more than the results between those batters and the next or previous outing. I've always wondered about that -- the assumption that a pitcher really has good stuff or good command on a certain day, and doesn't just put up a good or bad line because of the residual luck from his starting ability. This is easy enough to study, and I would imagine has been.

To take a very small point, you wrote that 2013 projections for Wil Meyers are as sound as 2013 projections for a 10-year veteran. Maybe if there are several years of back data for Wil Meyers, that is true. But a projection from a player who just has [i]one[i] year of data cannot be as reliable as a projection for a player who has many years of data. Then, too, the one-time 37-home run hitter is likely to regress, while the habitual 37-home run hitter is not (over and above any age effects). The regression for a player with one year's of data can be factored in, however, so the reliability of the projection for this player probably doesn't suffer as a result, even if the ensuing projection is not as gaudy as for the player with the track record.
5:28 PM Dec 13th
 
abywaters
I would wonder, then, whether bad teams who recognize they are in a rebuilding cycle have a better track record in developing pitching prospects. For instance, in May of 1988Tom Glavine get knocked out before the end of 4th inning in 4 consecutive starts; if he had been a Yankee I have no doubt he would have been sent down to the minors for the rest of the season. He might have gotten another shot in the rotation, he might have eventually figured things out - or he might have ended up a middle reliever. The Braves were bad, they knew they were bad, and they could afford the time to let Glavine make adjustments.
9:53 AM Dec 13th
 
raincheck
Understanding grows over time, but remains a drop in the bucket compared to the complexity of the real world. I remember when the Dodgers had a AAA team in Al-BQ and therefore had their top prospects in a very high run environment and their major league team at Chavez Ravine. And yet they often seemed surprised when their prospects with shiny numbers had a big falloff in the majors (yes, Greg Brock, you are the poster boy).

Today there is probably not one organization that would fall for such fool's gold. There has been a huge move forward in understanding. Yet even the smartest organizations make decisions that turn out horribly. So we know a hell of a lot less than we smug modern fans think.

Bill's observation about clustering for pitchers is one of those obvious-when-he-says-it things that changes the way I look at pitching. It explains why a small fall off in a pitcher's effectiveness may lead to to a bigger fall off in his results, for example. I have always thought that the worst part of being a GM was having to sign long term contracts with pitchers. It may just be perception, but they always seemed a riskier prospect than pitchers. Now I understand why a little better.
8:05 AM Dec 13th
 
bjames
Responding to Ventboys “If read properly, and understanding that not all successful pitchers are slated to be rotation stalwarts, these prospects probably succeed as often as similar hitting prospects succeed.” That is definitely and absolutely not true. Focusing on the components, rather than the results, helps a LITTLE bit, but just a little bit.

Responding to Myachimantis. . .you can give many reasons why it SHOULD be easier to project major leaguers than minor leaguers—but the fact is that it isn’t. Minor league hitters can be projected as major league hitters as accurately as major league hitters can be projected as major league hitters. This is probably the most valuable insight of sabermetrics—and has yet to be fully digested or accepted by the sabermetric community, thus remains as an advantage to be exploited by major league teams who do understand this.

7:59 AM Dec 13th
 
myachimantis
I'd like to just mention that it may be easier to project major leaguers simply because there is more information. Perhaps teams collect batted ball data for their minor league systems, but it isn't publicly available. With batted ball data, one can take a look at a hitter and say whether they had a season that was largely the result of a BABIP that was too high given their batted ball profile or that their season was a true measure of their talent and their BABIP accurately reflected their batted ball data. Same goes for pitchers, especially when looking at HR/FB%. We have more information about major league players, making it easier to subtract out the luck from their performance, and make projections going forward.
1:09 AM Dec 13th
 
ventboys
This is all personal opinion, not epiphaneus (spellchecker didn’t claim this word for Microsoft, so Ventboys’ planted flag is implied) results based on exhaustive research, so take it with the usual grain of salt. For some reason this discussion got me thinking about the difference between results and components; wins and losses (old school, so to speak) versus the building blocks that create wins and losses (Bill’s school, so to speak). With Bob’s GOR exercise being undertaken on Bill’s own site, quite a few of the voters tend to focus so much on the components that they occasionally forget that the pennants and awards were based on results, not by the components. If the Cardinals win the World Series, it doesn’t matter whether they were the best team, the third best, or the twelfth best. They win, they get the hardware. If Ron Bryant wins 24, Randy Jones wins 22 and Wilbur Wood wins 20 every year, it doesn’t matter that neither one of them could break a pane of glass with their out pitch. A win is a win. No beat writer is going to write “White Sox fail to throw a fastball; Wood embarrassed over failure to impress flag drill squad”. Looking back, results matter more than the components do. It’s like the Oscars. No, it isn’t like the Oscars. Forget I said that.

Going forward, it’s the opposite. If I’m hitching my wagon to a pitcher; whether he’s 19, 29 or 39 (with months, years or decades of experience), I would much rather know his component numbers (batters faced, strikeouts, walks, homers, gb, fb) than his results (wins, losses, era). Based on results, it’s possible that two thirds of all pitching prospects fail. Based on components, though…. If read properly, and understanding that not all successful pitchers are slated to be rotation stalwarts, these prospects probably succeed as often as similar hitting prospects succeed. This assumes that Aaron Laffey isn’t a median example of a “prospect”, not that Aaron Laffey has any reason to apologize for his career.

12:22 AM Dec 13th
 
wovenstrap
Very enlightening article -- thanks. I don't know if this adds to the discussion or not, but I kept thinking of it while reading this. (I think I've written it in a comment on the site somewhere too.) When I explain baseball to people who are unfamiliar with the game, I sometimes say that the hitters are the company men, the reliable conservatives who do their job every day, unglamorously, workmanlike. The pitchers are the flighty artists, the creatives, the liberals, the neurotics. Reading Ball Four really drives this home, I think. Bouton pitches 3 times a week, to 3 batters at a time if he's very lucky, and he spends all of his time obsessing over whether or not those couple at-bats in his last appearance went well or not. A regular player, in the major leagues, is getting 4 at-bats every day, and usually at least 1 or 2 of them works out okay. That guy knows that he can return tomorrow and take his hacks. A starter gets shelled in the 2nd inning, he has 4 solid days to think about that. Anyway, I think this stuff (insofar as it's true) partly results from the things you're discussing here, the speed needed to make adjustments and so on.
4:32 PM Dec 12th
 
bjames
Congratulations to Brewcrew for finding the example to set up responses. Gamel's basic problem is that he is a DH in a non-DH league, and not a good ENOUGH hitter (at least yet) to overcome that.

Gamel had an .826 fielding percentage at Brevard County in 2007 (53 errors in 113 games), then .918 at Huntsville in 2008, .910 at Nashville in 2009, and .885 with Milwaukee in 2009. That's just an unacceptible defensive performance, and this put pressure on him to hit a very high level to stay in the lineup. Consequently, as noted by another, he's never gotten more than 128 at bats in a major league season, 240 at bats altogether.

He's a good hitter--not at the level of Wil Myers, but good. But given that level of defense, he's going to have to a REALLY good hitter. His career high in home runs in the minors, until this season, was 20--20 homers in 595 plate appearances in 2008.
3:02 PM Dec 12th
 
Rwclayton7
brewcrew: don't know if this fully answers your question, but Gamel's minor league experience is mostly in the PCL, which has a lot of hitters parks. Last year, the PCL as a whole hit .286/.359/.448, as compared to .260/.329/.400 for the International League, and .253/.319/.391 for the NL. So, over and above the higher quality of play in the NL vs. the PCL, Gamel's performance would look worse just becuase the parks provide a lower offensive context. I don't really know anything about him, but it seem like the Brewers have not been especially patient with him ... he's only had one seaon (2010) with 100 or more plate appearances in the majors, that year he hit ok (101 OPS+).
1:28 PM Dec 12th
 
GOODFRIEND
Poor Matt Gamel.
Never hit well enough to be a MLB regular? He never had more than 148 plate appearances in a season and that season (at age 23) his OPS was a respectable .760.
Other than that season the most plate appearances he had in a season was 75. How the hell are you going to know if someone can hit in that size sample?
Dustin Pedroia enjoyed a .456 OPS after his first 166 plate appearances.
1:22 PM Dec 12th
 
brewcrew
Great article. My question probably shows my lack of knowledge more than anything else, but what about a hitter that tears it up at triple A but never hits well enough in the majors to be a regular? They used to say it was a case of not being able to hit a major league curve ball, that that was the primary difference between the minors and the majors. Is there any truth to that? I don't know if this is a good example but I'm thinking of Matt Gamel. He killed the ball in the minors, was briefly in the majors and did little so was sent back down...and hit a ton again. Can we project his major league career based on his apparent long success in the minors or his briefer lack of success in the majors? Or is there something that shows up in his minor league statistics that makes him iffy as a major leaguer?
12:15 PM Dec 12th
 
3for3
I thought the Rays acquired Myers
10:32 AM Dec 12th
 
 
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