Young Pitchers'll Break Your Heart (Part Three)

November 11, 2016

I’ve set up only two tables this time, like a busboy getting weary at the end of a shift, one of pitchers and the other of batters, no ages listed, though if you really care about their precise ages, you can easily figure that out.  The tables below are copied from Bbref, which can be reordered (as I’ve done here)   to yield players in groups of age, but within each age-group, the players are arranged alphabetically, not chronologically.  So if you start with the final alphabetical grouping (for pitchers, that would be Adrian Devine through Pat Zachry), that will be all the 24-year olds. The previous alphabetical grouping will be the 23-year-olds, and so on. Each list below is, again, of all the players in MLB under 25 years old who got 1.0 WAR or more, this time in 1976.

I don’t see any reason to expect that there would be a significant distinction between leagues, or see any pattern other than random fluctuations between the league totals, but if you want to make the case that such a pattern exists, it’s not difficult to sort them back into AL and NL.  Go at it, and argue that the differences are important, and why you think those differences would show up.  Pitching is pitching, and hitting is hitting, and those are two categories I’m contrasting here. It’s especially insignificant in the career WAR numbers, of course, because you’ve got players like Dave Winfield and Goose Gossage spending large chunks of their careers in each league.

If you feel that I’ve been arbitrary in establishing a 1.0 WAR minimum for inclusion, you’re correct. I’ve been arbitrary, and I’ve been lazy: mostly I set it up that way to limit the amount of work I’d need to do and still arrive at a meaningful number of players to study.  I’ll defend my laziness, however, by repeating my original rationale: I wanted to study players who had put up MLB stats that approach significance, which will not be accomplished if we count every rookie who plays in three games. Below a certain point, I’d be sorting through a lot of noise rather than signal, but you’re right, 1.0 WAR is a totally arbitrary cutoff. I’d consider it a service if someone would repeat each of these studies with all of the under-25 players who earned, say, 0.7-0.9 WAR,  or any positive WAR, or any WAR at all, and let us know if that study contradicts my conclusions.  I think you’ll just be dealing with loads more of raw data, and less meaningful data, but if you think that would be the way to go, have at it.  Or, for that matter, do a study limiting the WAR to 5.0 or more, information you can get from my tables. I don’t think the cutoff point should change the overall conclusion, but if you think so, gopher it.

Another possibility is that I’ve made a mistake by setting a minimum WAR for inclusion in this study but no maximum: maybe if a young player, at whatever age, performs above a certain level of skill, as measured by a certain WAR, 4.0 WAR or 6.0 WAR or WARever, his team should consider him like an established veteran, and he should be excluded from this study. Maybe. But it should be easy enough to segregate young players above and below that WAR-point, if we think later that the distinction is valid. For now, I’ll just keep my mind open to that possibility. For every Roger Clemens here with an MVP-type WAR, there’s a Mark Fidrych with an MVP-type WAR—I don’t think there’s much to be gained by putting a cap on WAR here.

Same with age. I’m using players under 25 because that was where I got this idea, all the TV commentators telling us over and over how the Cubs have achieved greatness by playing six regulars under the age of 25.  If you think that 28 would be a more significant age cutoff, do a study of players 25 to 27 in these years, and I’ll be glad to fold your study into mine. I don’t expect it will change the conclusions very much, if at all, but let’s see. If you raise it too much, of course, you’re no longer studying young promising players with great potential, you’re simply studying players.  The idea here is that by studying young players who have shown some signs, but not overwhelming signs, of MLB talent,  you’ve got a body of players whose teams could A) decide to commit seriously to that player (signing him to a long-term, big-bucks deal extending into his first year or two of Free Agency, or just by clearing out a position for him), or B) decide to gamble that the best use of him is to swap him out for someone else.

The Mets, to pick an example offhand from a roster I’m familiar with, have a young outfielder right now, Michael Conforto, age 23, who has played parts of the last two seasons, and has looked good at times, not so good at other times.  I don’t believe the Mets feel with any sense of certainty that Conforto is a future star or that they feel he is a future washout. They just don’t know—he could go either way.  I pick Conforto because the airwaves are featuring a lively argument just now about whether Conforto’s a keeper or not. Likewise with a slightly older pitcher named Steven Matz, who turned 25 years old last season, also has played parts of 2015 and 2016, also has looked great at times, not so great other times. Matz also is the subject of discussions right this second about keeping him or trading him (some talking head on TV last night was talking-heading about including him a package for Chris Sale). Again, the Mets haven’t seen quite enough of Matz or of Conforto to have any sense of certainty if they’re sitting on a gold mine or a land mine here. 

What my thesis-in-progress argues is not that the Mets need to hang onto Conforto for dear life or to dump Matz asap for whatever they can get for him, but simply that there (may be?) is a sound basis to keep young batters longer and trade young pitchers sooner than they’d normally be inclined to. Specifically, to trade a young pitcher at his height of peak performance, if you can find a trading partner in desperate need of pitching who is less scared than you are of the dangers of young pitchers, might be smart. And certainly if someone approaches me with a good young pitcher, seeking a position player from me, maybe I need to be skeptical as hell about pulling the trigger.

The exciting part of this thesis-in-progress, for me, doesn’t even involve this thesis specifically. The exciting part is the concept that there are undiscovered market inequities out there.  I’m sure there are, and I’m equally sure that some team will discover one, and use it to their advantage until every other team has glommed onto it, putting it into practice all through MLB.

It’s pretty unlikely that I’ve glommed onto a major undiscovered market inequity in the past few days. It would be very cool, but I doubt it’s true.  More likely, some team (or all teams) have worked out a formula like mine years ago, and this whole idea has been factored into every MLB trade and contract and personnel decision since 1978. Having zero access to the thinking of MLB GMs, I can’t say.  I can tell you that I do have access, here on BJOL and listening to talk-radio and sports shows on TV and chatting with fans IRL (are these abbreviations bugging you, btw? They seem fine to me), and they’re all violently divided on the issue of trading, or hanging onto, young players of both types, about equally. There’s a lot of shouting, and has always been a lot of shouting, about the wisdom or the stupidity of trading young pitching. Certainly no non-professional is including in his argument for keeping or trading some young player the "fact" that pitchers are quantitatively and clearly more likely than position players are to break down physically.

Whether that "fact" is true, or just BSing on my part, whether Young Pitchers’ll Really Break Your Heart or if that’s just fans whining, is what I’m trying to find out here, so let us move on to the content section of this article, and see if we get any closer to an answer:

 

 

 

 

Pitchers under 25 in `1976

WAR /average WAR

Career WAR /Average WAR

Dennis Eckersley

  2.9

 62.5

Mark Fidrych

  9.6

 11.4

Rick Jones*

  1.1   

   1.1

John Candelaria*

  2.4

 40.1

Pete Falcone*

  3.2

 10.2

Paul Hartzell

  2.3

   5.9

Frank Tanana*

  7.5

 57.5

Tom Underwood*

  1.6

 11.1

Joaquin Andujar

  1.2

 16.8

Jerry Augustine*

  2.8

   4.1

Larry Demery

  1.6

   2.4

John Denny

  4.8

 31.2

Mark Littell

  3.2

   6.8

Rick Rhoden

  2.0

 30.2

Bruce Sutter

  2.5

 24.5

Bill Travers*

  4.5

   7.6

Jim Umbarger*

  2.7

   2.0

Adrian Devine

  1.8

   3.0

Rich Gossage

  2.9

 41.8

Fred Holdsworth

  1.3

   0.3

Frank LaCorte

  1.0

   0.0

Butch Metzger

  1.4

   1.1

Eric Rasmussen

  1.4

   5.8

Pat Zachry

  3.6

 11.8

24 MLB pitchers

69.3   / 2.9

389.2   / 16.2

 

 

 

Batters under 25 in 1976

WAR /average WAR

 Career WAR / average WAR

Butch Wynegar#

   3.3

   26.3

Robin Yount

   1.4

   77.0

Rick Manning*

   3.5

   11.7

Willie Randolph

   5.0

   65.5

Jason Thompson*

   1.5

   24.8

Ellis Valentine

   1.4

   17.0

Gary Carter

   1.3

   69.9

Keith Hernandez*

   3.2

   60.0

Sixto Lezcano

   3.1

   28.1

Jerry Turner*

   2.1

     4.2

Rob Andrews

   1.7

     0.9

Bruce Boisclair*

   1.2

     1.1

George Brett*

   7.5

   88.4

Dave Collins#

   2.3

   15.9

Greg Gross*

   3.0

   12.8

Mike Ivie

   2.0

     7.2

Ron Jackson

   1.8

     7.2

Omar Moreno*

   1.3

     9.4

Jerry Mumphrey#

   1.8

   22.2

Jerry Remy*

   3.2

   14.4

Jim Rice

   2.3

   47.4

Jerry Royster

   1.1

     2.5

Roy Smalley#

   3.0

   27.8

Buddy Bell

   3.8

   66.1

Al Cowens

   1.8

   15.2

Dan Driessen*

   1.1

   20.4

Dwight Evans

   3.8

   66.9

Dan Ford

   2.9

   11.7

Fred Lynn*

   4.5

   50.0

Pepe Mangual

   1.7

     1.4

Tom Poquette*

   1.8

     3.0

John Stearns

   1.3

   19.6

Gary Thomasson*

   1.0

     7.0

Dave Winfield

   5.1

   63.8

34 MLB batters

 86.8  /  2.6

966.8    / 28.4

 

Let’s see if we can get all three seasons, separated by a decade, summarized into a single chart. (This is fun, incidentally, writing the article as I’m doing the research. Normally, a sane person would mine the data first and then present his thought-out conclusions. I’m sort of going the other way around here, and fully prepared to do an Emily Litella on you.)

Year (# of pitchers under 25/

           # of batters under 25)

Pitchers’ single -

season avg.  /career total avg.

Position players’ single -

season avg.  /career total avg.

1976   (24/34)

2.9 / 16.2

2.6 /28.4

1986   (27/30)

2.6 / 19.1

2.4/ 27.2

1996   (21/20)

2.3/ 17.9

2.8/ 37.7

 

Adding and dividing these numbers (not my strongest suit, but I hope I’m doing ok here), the rough collective average of the three single-seasons’ WAR for pitchers is a little under 8  (2.9 + 2.6 + 2.3) and so is the batters’ WAR (2.6 + 2.4 + 2.8). I get 7.8 for each—noting that these figures have been rounded off to one decimal place from ten decimal places several times, so they’re only approximate, plus the year that has 27 pitchers should be weighed more heavily than the years with 21 pitchers, etc., but the differences I’m about to describe are so gross that a decimal error or a weighting error hardly matters here. The career WAR total averages for the pitchers are somewhere in the high teens, 17.5 or so, while the batters’ career WAR totals work out to something around 30. 

Now I’m being a mathematical slob here, a perfect disgrace to the art of sabermetrics, but I doubt all my errors added together amount to more than a single integer: in this study of 72 young pitchers and 84  young batters in 1976, 1986 and 1996, I’m comfortable positing that the pitchers and the batters had very similar WAR totals for the seasons in question, but over the course of their careers, the pitchers had WAR totals no more than two-thirds of the batters’ WAR totals.

If my math is right (which is possible) or even if it’s close (which is probable) AND if these three seasons are not outlying freaks AND if WAR is a valid measurement of players’ abilities AND if there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with my method of testing my premises AND if my premises have been intelligently chosen, THEN we may be onto something here, the approximate measurement of how much more young pitchers will break your heart than young batters will: about 50% more.

 
 

COMMENTS (23 Comments, most recent shown first)

OldBackstop
...what was the money shot here....oh yeah. The fact that many pitchers fail does not make them a less valuable commodity, it makes them a MORE valuable commodity. Once you got out of t-ball, you need somebody to throw, and the quality of that person is the single most important factor that day in whether you win.

As they showed in Moneyball, if you lose Johnny Damon, you can cobble together his production with less expensive pieces. You can't have Hill/Nove/Hellickson and be a .500 team.
7:49 PM Nov 13th
 
OldBackstop
Look, Steves, here are my main questions here. I struggle with an analogy, but it is as if someone figured out that QBs and RBs drafted in the first three rounds only averaged 4 years in the NFL, a lot on the benchm and 1.2 Pro Bowls, but offensive lineman and linebackers average 9 years and 2.9 Pro Bowls and took tons of snaps, so trade your young QBs and RBs, and we’ll figure those positions out later with old guys.
Steve says his plan is to have a “starting rotation that consists of three or four highly paid veteran rotation starters, acquired through Free Agency or otherwise.”
That is said rather breezily, like your centerfielder will have the power of flight.
Firstly, your free agent 30-something starting pitchers like multi-year contracts so you can pay them during their slide from ability to senility, so you aren’t going to have the ability to build that rotation over a period of years. Let’s look at the three guys ESPN identifies as more than back-of-the-rotation right now (minus Bartolo, with his questionable questions)
Pick of the litter: Rich Hill 37 years old, surpassed 100 innings twice in 12 years, 26th best major league pitcher in 2016 based on WAR. Meet your ace. Wants 3/50
Ivan Nova 95th best MLB pitcher by WAR. May stay with Pittsburgh. Looking at 4/52
Jeremy Hellickson: 48th best MLB pitcher in 2016 by WAR. 12-10 in 2016, before that a .500 pitcher with a 4 plus career ERA. 4/60, and will cost a draft pick.
So those are you 1-2-3, assuming you outbid 29 teams, and you have taken care of about 78 starts judging on 2016, (but they were younger then). 84 to go.
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Second, Steve throws around "hot young pitchers" for “trade bait” like they are thick on the ground. How many "hot young pitchers" arise in a major league season? Is the standard anyone who can compile a 1.0 WAR in a season, the Frank Lacourt model in his earlier list? I don't think that is the guy we are talking about getting traded for in a pennant race, right?
So what qualifies (directed at the author). Guys with 2-3 years of service and 5 wins in a month? Well, the assumption is they aren't on a contender so maybe wins isn't the way. WAR? Lugo had 1.8 WAR in 64 innings, that sounds attractive. How many are there of those? Let the author call it, and let’s see how many there are.

4:36 PM Nov 13th
 
OldBackstop
[i] I would suggest that several teams on August 30 are in desperate need of a hot and healthy pitcher, so desperate that they'd eagerly trade their best prospect(s) to Mets for Seth Lugo.[/]

I would suggest that the desperate teams would realize that at midnight they could load their top 15 pitching prospects on to their bench rather than hope nobody scotched the Lugo deal. Maybe you meant August 1?

[i]Let's further posit that it's only one position-playing prospect we're discussing, for simplicity's sake. And let's suppose that it's agreed by both sides that he's a better player by everyone's standards. It's still a good deal for the other team to make, because they're getting what they need, a healthy and hot pitcher down the stretch drive, whereas the better position-playing prospect is at least a year away, and maybe two.[/i]

Now we are positing about prospects, heretofore totally undiscussed or measured. Does this work for minor league numbers?.

And your entire theory here is that young, "healthy and hot" pitchers are a bad bet to stay that way, but you are saying its "a good deal" for the team acquiring the pitcher.

[i]Where my thesis comes in is that that the Mets (in my imagination) would be cleverly understanding that not only is Lugo not as valuable a property as they're getting from the other team, pitchers have only 2/3rds of hitters' career potential EVEN IF THEY WERE EQUAL TALENTS, which in this case they're not.[/i]

You are utterly ignoring the relative supply scarcity of promising pitchers versus promising hitters, utterly ignoring the exorbitant cost of front end starter free agent pitching, utterly ignoring how/when/where to compare the early promise of pitchers, and utterly assuming that you won't be the sucker in the room at the GM meetings because of the above.

Plus, you are hammering some cookie cutter set of trading circumstances onto deald that have all sorts of moving parts, finances, service time, compensation picks, gluts in a system's pipeline, injury emergencies, etc.

You want to discount all of that and say "all things being equal." But it isn't ever going to be that in 2017. They most important thing is to not get yourself in a place where you have NO OPTIONS, where you have to go make trades instead of letting people come to you.

For the same reason young pitching is not easily projectable, it makes sense to have a lot of it. People can squint at a lefty AA pitcher and say, "yeah, throw him into the deal." But a good glove 170 lb Dominican second baseman in AA hitting .265 is pretty much an open book.





1:36 PM Nov 13th
 
steve161
Which, of course, is exactly what the Mets did when they traded Fulmer for Céspedes. Worked out pretty well for both franchises, didn't it?

The problem with that last paragraph is that having 'lots of young pitching' means you spent a bunch of draft picks on them. We seem to have staked out three different strategic positions here. OBS says, Draft young pitchers and keep 'em. Steven says, Draft 'em and trade 'em. I'm saying, Draft position players. (Yes, I'm oversimplifying.)

As Steven noted, I've lived in Europe for the last 40 years and don't recall ever seeing Saturday Night Live. Turns out, there is a Wikipedia entry for Emily Litella, so I now know more or less who she is (or isn't, being a fictional character). Still not quite sure what the point of the reference was, but never mind.
12:54 PM Nov 13th
 
Steven Goldleaf
This isn't only about August 30th, of course, and I don't mean to suggest by my example, that's all it concerns. There are several points that teams need pitching: all through the winter, there are teams greedily eyeing Seth Lugo for their rotations. "Hmmm, the Mets have a lot of good pitchers, maybe they'd part with this kid who seemed pretty good last year." Like Hamlet, I know not "seems"--if any young pitcher seems attractive to you, I'm all ears. Most of them are going to get hurt before they accomplish very much.

Towards the end of Spring Training, when some team's pitching comes up short through injury or otherwise, and they want to enter the season with all their ducks lined up--another key point to deal off your hot young pitchers.

Anytime during the season that a contender bumps up against sudden injuries to their staff.

And most broadly no team ever feels that has enough pitching, so in the broadest sense 365 days a year. But there are specific points within that year that teams with lots of young pitching can piggyback on a partner's need as well. If you're lucky enough to have young pitchers who haven't quite established themselves, there's your chance to build a stronger roster.
7:38 AM Nov 13th
 
Steven Goldleaf
I don't know if you're deliberately pretending to misunderstand my point here, OBS (that would be consistent with your posting pattern), but you're certainly not understanding it at all. You say that I'm all about

trading a 22 year old pitcher who has "a hot month or two" for "one or two potential 10-year All Stars"....well....yeah. Is that your manifesto? I'm all for it.

Let's trade Seth Lugo -- came up down the stretch 5-2, 2.67...not a particularly flashy prospect, but he had that month you wanted, so let's go get those All Stars, swap him ouy.......I'll take two 10-year potential All-Star fielders for him.Hell I'll take one 5 year potential All Star for him. I'll drive him to his new town and buy a case of beer for the clubhouse.


You're not paying attention to a key word there, of course, which you quote but don't seem to understand: the word "potential." Nobody's going to trade Seth Lugo for two actual current All-Stars, now or anytime. What I'm suggesting is that, under certain circumstances, the Mets could get another team's top two prospects for Seth Lugo, who could turn into perennial All-Stars. Or not. Certainly Lugo is very unlikely, even with a 5-2 W-L and a 2.67 ERA in 64 IP, to become a star pitcher, but with that sort of record he would seem to be a very valuable acquisition for some teams.

He put up those numbers by the season's end, when no one's actually making any desperate trades, but if you imagine that he came up a month before he did (in early June, instead of July) and had compiled his 5-2 record in 64 IP by August 30 instead of September 30th, then that would be closer to what I'm trying to describe.

Let's say the Mets had a 5-2 Lugo on August 30, and he's won his last 4 starts, as he did. Instead of deciding that Lugo is the vital key to their franchise's success, let's say the Mets obey my maxim and looked for a trading partner. I would suggest that several teams on August 30 are in desperate need of a hot and healthy pitcher, so desperate that they'd eagerly trade their best prospect(s) to Mets for Seth Lugo.

Let's further posit that it's only one position-playing prospect we're discussing, for simplicity's sake. And let's suppose that it's agreed by both sides that he's a better player by everyone's standards. It's still a good deal for the other team to make, because they're getting what they need, a healthy and hot pitcher down the stretch drive, whereas the better position-playing prospect is at least a year away, and maybe two.

Where my thesis comes in is that that the Mets (in my imagination) would be cleverly understanding that not only is Lugo not as valuable a property as they're getting from the other team, pitchers have only 2/3rds of hitters' career potential EVEN IF THEY WERE EQUAL TALENTS, which in this case they're not.

You're talking about this, with your typical disrespect and snide tone, as if we were discussing certainties. We're not. We're discussing possible future outcomes, and choosing (or not) to be as informed as possible. If my thesis is correct (which I'm not asserting, just suggesting), over the long haul, years and years of roster management, this could represent a market inequity that will allow more informed teams to build their rosters at the expense of less-informed teams. taking advantage of the unpopularity of trading potential pitching All-Stars for much-further-away potential hitting All-Stars. Your vehemence on this subject just reinforces my belief that people feel very passionately about the subject, and that passion can be used against them.
6:48 AM Nov 13th
 
OldBackstop
Steve, addressing your post below about trading a 22 year old pitcher who has "a hot month or two" for "one or two potential 10-year All Stars"....well....yeah. Is that your manifesto? I'm all for it.

Let's trade Seth Lugo -- came up down the stretch 5-2, 2.67...not a particularly flashy prospect, but he had that month you wanted, so let's go get those All Stars, swap him ouy.......I'll take two 10-year potential All-Star fielders for him.Hell I'll take one 5 year potential All Star for him. I'll drive him to his new town and buy a case of beer for the clubhouse.

The problem is not with the Mets overloving young pitching, it's purchasers undervaluing them. Now, if skepticism over the value of flash in the plan young pithers is universal, then...your job is down here.

IRL, the things that drive a trade are not always "value" they are pending free agency and an onerous contract and an emergency need on a pennant contender. Those trades happen. but usually risky minor league pitchers. Syndergaard and Fulmer are two spectacular examples screaming DONT TRADE YOUR YOUNG PITCHING.

So, speak to trades that have happened to make it real.Guys under team control, established studs...Samardjia?



I think your first flaw is trying to put an age on a young pitcher rather than a minimum level of success at the major league level. I've put plenty of numbers up below....
t seems to me that the problem you see on teams not trading young pitchers
11:13 PM Nov 12th
 
grising
Excellent series, Steven! Thanks! Keep up the good work.

Totally off point: Knowing of Emily Litella is an age thing: You'd have to be in your 50s or older (which I am, 51) to remember Emily Litella on SNL. "Oh! Nevermind!"


4:14 PM Nov 12th
 
OldBackstop
Well, given any of that, you still can't assume an age as a similar spot in development between pitchers and players. There are probably twice as many position players under 25 as pitchers in the league (meaning played enough to qualify for batting and ERA.)

Also....the people being counted here as promising young pitchers is silly in some place. I'm not sure how Frank Lacourte crept to an exactly 1.0 WAR in a 3-12 campaign in 1976, but he was a career journeyman signed out of high school, never played a full major league season, so averaging him in against Fred Lynn is going to get you....that.

I would say you take pitchers and players in their third, or at least second year fully qualifying with a 3.0 ERA.

3:27 PM Nov 12th
 
OldBackstop
Well, given any of that, you still can't assume an age as a similar spot in development between pitchers and players. There are probably twice as many position players under 25 as pitchers in the league (meaning played enough to qualify for batting and ERA.)

3:11 PM Nov 12th
 
doncoffin
OBS--If about half your roster positions are pitchers, then a situation in which the number of high-WAR pitchers and high WAR hitters is about the same...if there are 50 high WAR hitters, then 50 high-WAR pitchers. What you've got in the best case--1+ WAR--is 7 high-WAR pitchers for every 10 high-WAR hitters.

So high WAR hitters are easier to find, yes (and presumably easier to project? I dunno).

In one sense, then, trading hitters for pitchers is a good trading strategy...if the WARs are equally projectible. I take Steve's argument to be that hitters are significantly enough more projectible that trading them for pitchers who seem to be as good now, but are significantly less projectible is a bad idea.
2:11 PM Nov 12th
 
OldBackstop
See, what this all breaks down to is the free market seen through a socialist's eyes. Maybe these numbers will change your life, Steve, particularly coming on top of the collapse of the Hillaristas.

Pitcher, to your mind, are overvalued based on a snapshot in their early 20s. Those fool GMs don't get it, right?

The problem is supply and demand.

In 1986 there were:

81 pitchers with a WAR of 2.0 or better
122 position players with a WAR OF 2.0 or better

19 pitchers with a WAR of 4.0 or better
48 position players with a WAR of 3.0 or better

7 pitchers with a WAR of 5.0 or better
18 position players with a WAR of 5.0 or better

Of the 81 pitchers with a WAR over 2.0, 57 had double digit wins and 68 had an ERA under 4.00.

Now, as to your free agent age (8th season or later) starting pitcher (30 GS or more) front of the rotation (2.0 or better) guys were there in the NL in 2016?

Three per team, which your plan might envision? 45? 35? No, six -- Cueto, Lester, Samardzia, Bumgarner, Scherzer, Colon.


1:44 PM Nov 12th
 
Steven Goldleaf
You don't know Emily Litella? What, have you been living in Europe or something for decades?

Drafting pitchers lower is a fine strategy, but most teams are leery of young pitching at that level by now, I think. The market inequity comes in, if it does, at the MLB level--if this precise quantification of young pitching's fragility is unknown, then you might have some teams that will be eager (or at least interested) to acquire a hot, young (cheap) pitcher tearing up the league for the past month or two, or even the past season. A team that has one, and has the discipline to apply this market inequity in the face of fans, sportswriters and their own doubts, could make a massive improvement in their team's overall quality, especially if they can deal off more than just one such pitcher in a short period for some contender's best position-playing prospects. Or so my thesis goes.​
7:44 AM Nov 12th
 
steve161
The abbreviations didn't bother me, but I have no idea who Emily Litella is.

I think there's a very good chance that this is indeed a market imbalance, though I think it impacts drafting strategy more than trade practice. Associated with the latter is a problem of perception: for every two or three Mark Fidryches you trade, you'll also trade a Clayton Kershaw. You may look like a genius when the return for Fidrych is an Anthony Rizzo or two, but who remembers that the Cubs are Rizzo's third organization? Meanwhile, Kershaw is piling up Cy Youngs, and EVERYBODY remembers that you're the GM who traded him, including and especially your owner, who proceeds to can your posterior.

Your odds of both real and perceived success are greater when you concentrate your drafting strategy on position players, and leave the Appel on the tree.
7:20 AM Nov 12th
 
Steven Goldleaf
OBS-- I HAVE traded in my wife at the peak (just past it, actually) of her beauty and charm, and did pretty well by the trade, but that's another matter entirely. The illusion I'm trying to describe here goes like this: imagine you have a young pitcher, 22 year old rookie filling in the 5th slot in your team's rotation, and say he gets off to a hot start, or has a hot month or so, goes 5-2 or 8-3 with an under 3-ERA, strikes out batters more than your average pitcher, and your fans are going crazy about your discovery. Most teams, even the ones who know better, are going to keep pitching the kid, hoping he turns out to be Valenzuela or Jim Palmer or someone. But usually, he comes down to earth, or Fidryches himself into oblivion. The discipline I'm calling for in such a spot, which happens to most teams at some point, is to decide "This is an illusion. The fans will kill me for trading him right now, when he's the savior of the team and the season, but they'll forgive me when he goes south in a few weeks, or in a year, and I can get real value for him if I trade him right this second. I can get a potential 10-year All-Star, maybe two, from a team that needs pitching desperately, but I must do it right now." Most teams (and many BJOL readers) would think "A bird in hand..." but some birds, like Fidrych, just can't fly for that long.
4:00 AM Nov 12th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Don--I'd be very interested in hearing more about how you did your work here. Could you e-mail me at stevengoldleaf@gmail.com? I have some questions about incorporating your work into future installments, but don't want to take up space in the Comments section. Thanks.
3:09 AM Nov 12th
 
doncoffin
I combined the groups in the two most recent pieces, and, being as I am inclined this way, I had Excel calculate a correlation coefficient between first year WAR for pitchers and for hitters. For pitchers, the correlation coefficient was 0.566. For hitters, it was 0.501. The difference in the correlation coefficients is not significant. That in itself is a bit of a shock, but not a real issue. So I did two scatterplots and trendlines, The trendline for hitters indicates that a first year WAR 1 win higher is associated with a career WAR 11 wins higher. For pitchers, 1 more first-year WAR predicts a 7 WAR higher career WAR. In both cases, there's a large "spread" around the trendlines, which is pretty much expected given the correlation coefficients.

But there's a significantly greater "spread" in the career WAR for pitchers--a lower average (17, compared with 29 for hitters) and a higher coefficient of variation (standard deviation divided by the average) for pitchers--CofV = 1.34 for pitchers, and 1.02 for hitters.

So, yeah, young arms do look considerably riskier than young bats.
10:29 PM Nov 11th
 
OldBackstop
""Specifically, to trade a young pitcher at his height of peak performance, if you can find a trading partner in desperate need of pitching who is less scared than you are of the dangers of young pitchers, might be smart.""

If you can get current value at the height of peak performance, you should trade everyone, including your wife.


8:33 PM Nov 11th
 
evanecurb
How do the results change if you throw out the top two from each category? Just glancing, I don't think they change much.
8:07 PM Nov 11th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Thanks for the kind words, guys. I really appreciate the encouragement. I never had very advanced math skills, so I apply my own special brand of stubbornness (you should hear my ex-wife on that subject sometime) and a little high school math, and hope for the best.

rtallia--I suggested doing 1991 but expressed some reservations about 1981, since it's a strike year. Still, the ratios would hold between pitchers and position-players, just not the raw totals. It probably would work fine.

Phil--IRL =In Real Life. I was mostly teasing Bill's denunciations of AM (Abbreviation Madness). When I realized I was using a lot of abbreviations, I was going to spell everything out, but then I had the slightly wickeder idea of using a lot of 'em just for fun. Sorry for any confusion.​
6:06 PM Nov 11th
 
rtallia
Sorry if you've already covered this, Steven, but would doing 1991 and 1981 make sense as well, or am I missing something? This is a great series!
5:05 PM Nov 11th
 
pgaskill
*some of THESE things
4:47 PM Nov 11th
 
pgaskill
Steven, I find your research fascinating—and your math impeccable, as far as I can see. The ONLY thing I couldn't figure out is indeed one of your abbreviations: IRL. I'm sort of stoopid about some of the things; I'm sure it's something so simple that I can't see it. ;-)

Anyway, thanks for doing such a great job on such an important subject!

—Phil Gaskill
4:46 PM Nov 11th
 
 
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