The 50th Anniversary of Vin Scully's Greatest Call Ever
"It's a fight, a blow-by-blow verbal battle."
- Vin Scully, June 30, 1959
One of the greatest baseball rhubarbs in my lifetime took place 50 years ago today. The "blow-by-blow verbal battle" occurred between two of the biggest rivals in all sports: the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers, in just their second year on the west coast.
The game was played on Tuesday, June 30, 1959 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The paid attendance of 59,312 was the largest Coliseum crowd since Opening Night when 61,552 fans were on hand to watch the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Dodgers, 6-2, while setting a new attendance record for a National League night game. (Interestingly, the Cardinals and Dodgers had set the previous league record on April 25, 1958 when Stan Musial's first Coliseum appearance attracted 60,635.)
The Giants and Dodgers were in a virtual tie for second place in the National League, 1.5 games behind the Milwaukee Braves. Milwaukee had beaten the New York Yankees, winners of eight of the prior ten World Series, in seven games to win the championship in 1957, then lost the title in seven games to the same Yankees in 1958. San Francisco had snapped the Dodgers' seven-game winning streak the night before when Jim Davenport and Willie Mays led off the 13th inning with back-to-back home runs en route to a 6-4 victory in what my Dad called "the most thrilling game ever played in the Coliseum" to that point.
Mays was to be heard from in more ways than one the following night. Batting second in the lineup, the "Say Hey Kid" slugged his 13th homer of the year (and fifth against the Dodgers) in the third inning to give the Giants a 2-0 lead and, according to Dad's game report in the Press-Telegram the following morning, "almost clouted another in the sixth inning, touching off a 10-minute rhubarb. While the fans hooted and hollered, the umpires changed their ruling twice and finally awarded Mays a ground-rule double. Rigney lodged a protest, but withdrew it after the game."
The batted ball was first ruled foul, then a home run and, finally, a double. I'll let Vin Scully, in what I believe is not only his most descriptive call ever but one of the greatest in the history of the game, take over from here.
Scully details the ensuing rhubarb, mentioning, in order, Drysdale, Mays, Giants manager Bill Rigney, third base coach Salty Parker, third base umpire Dusty Boggess, Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges, shortstop Don Zimmer, first base umpire and crew chief Tom Gorman, Dodgers manager Walter Alston, left fielder Wally Moon, home plate umpire Ed Sudol, and Dodgers Vice President Buzzie Bavasi. (The fourth umpire was Stan Landes. He was stationed at second base and was never mentioned in Scully's call of the rhubarb.)
Although narrator Steve Bailey says the date was May 30, 1959, the incident actually took place on June 30, 1959. Bailey eloquently introduces the nine-minute clip, "Orchids to Vin Scully for a magnificent description of one of the wildest rhubarbs baseball has ever known."
After John Ramsey, the public address announcer, informed the crowd, amidst boos, of the protest, Bailey concluded the segment, "San Francisco manager Bill Rigney quickly forgot his protest because Sad Sam Jones pitched a one-hit, 2-0 shutout."
Jim Gilliam had the only hit, a disputed infield single in the eighth inning. According to Dad, "Gilliam's high chop behind the mound was the cheapest of hits, but a hit it was in the opinion of official scorekeeper Charlie Park. 'I hated to call it,' Park told Jones after the game. But Jones, brushing by and refusing to shake hands with Park, answered, 'I don't think it was a hit, whatever you call it.'
"Gilliam's hit bounced over Jones' head and was charged by shortstop Andre Rodgers, who over-ran and fumbled the ball. Park ruled that Gilliam would have beaten the play even if Rodgers had handled the ball cleanly.
"Rodgers and Giants manager Bill Rigney said it should have been called an error. 'I thought he called it too soon,' said Rigney with Park a listener in the clubhouse. 'If he had thought about it, he couldn't have called it that way. We'll never know if Rodgers could have thrown him out, but the way Rodgers throws, I think we had a chance.'
"Jones, who was aware of his no-hitter all the way, said, 'I thought sure the shortstop would get it. Had he caught the ball, he would have got Gilliam.' Then, turning to a group of questioning reporters, Jones said, 'Why don't you buy yourself another scorekeeper.'"
My father was one of the rotating official scorekeepers during his tenure covering the Dodgers and, in fact, was the official scorer during Koufax's perfect game. In an attached piece that accompanied his article, entitled "As Lederer Saw It," he wrote, "It was a hit. Had it happened in the first inning, there would have been no question. It was unfortunate that Jones lost the no-hitter, but it was the right call. I'm happy that I didn't have to make it, but I would have done the same."
Gilliam's high chopper was indeed a hit as was Scully's "blow-by-blow verbal battle" of one of the greatest baseball rhubarbs and calls of the past 50 years.
The Week That Was
News and notes from around the college, minor league, and mysterious world of baseball cards:
Anthony Ranaudo, Chad Jones, and Louis Coleman combined to hold the powerful Texas offense to nine hits and four runs while Jared Mitchell, the CWS Most Outstanding Player, slugged a three-run home run in the first inning and worked an eight-pitch, lead-off walk in the sixth to spark a five-run rally after the Longhorns had tied the score 4-4 in the fifth. Mitchell, a first-round draft choice of the Chicago White Sox, hit .348 with two homers and seven RBI in Omaha. He and Jones also starred on the LSU football team coached by Les Miles.
Although LSU will lose Mitchell, Coleman (5th round, KC), D.J. LeMahieu (2nd, CHC), Ryan Schimpf (5th, TOR), Blake Dean (10th, MIN), and Sean Ochinko (11th, TOR), the Tigers will return Ranaudo, who enters his junior season as perhaps the most highly regarded college pitcher in the nation; plus closer Matty Ott, a first-team All-Freshman; Austin Ross, the No. 3 starter as a sophomore; infielders Tyler Hanover and Austin Nola, a defensive whiz at shortstop; athletic outfielders Leon Landry and Mikie Mahtook; one of the top catchers in Micah Gibbs; and perhaps Jones, who could double as a pitcher/outfielder, if he decides to play baseball next spring.
I'm looking forward to seeing Josh Vitters, whom I interviewed two years ago as part of our 2007 draft coverage. Vitters (.316/.351/.535) has cooled down considerably after going on a tear for a couple of weeks last month. Vitters will turn 20 in August and is toiling at Low-A Peoria in the Midwest League, which is one of the toughest minor leagues for hitters. However, Mike Stanton, another Futures Game participant from Southern California, won't turn 20 until November, yet is playing Double-A for Jacksonville in the Southern League. A former tight end who turned down a football scholarship to USC, the young Marlins outfielder is off to a less than auspicious start competing mainly against players 2-4 years older than him but is on the short list of who just may be the best prospect in baseball on the heels of David Price, Matt Wieters, and Tommy Hanson ascending to the big leagues.
In an excellent piece on whether pitch recognition and plate discipline can be taught in the minor leagues, ESPN's Peter Gammons wrote the following glowing report on Stanton earlier this month:
A great case study is that of 19-year-old Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton, one of the most physically gifted prospects in the game. He is a 6-foot-6, 235-pound speedster who was a second-round pick in 2007, turned his back on a tight end scholarship to USC and hit 39 homers in Single-A last season at the age of 18.
There are a number of other top prospects that will be performing in the Futures Game. Be sure to set your DVR if you are unable to watch it live.
Update: Tom Meagher in the comments section is correct. Shysterball's Craig Calcaterra has resolved the mystery, confirming via email that Josh Wilker's publisher sent the baseball cards. Wilker is the founder and operator of Cardboard Gods, a fantastic blog focused on none other than baseball cards, complete with photos and stories but lacking the bubble gum sticks that were such a part of the world of collecting cards before the advent of price guides and plastic protectors.
Do the Red Sox Get More Hits than Visitors Off the Green Monster?
Two months ago when Sky was looking at predicting home field advantage based on ballpark qualities he determined that a 'quirky' ballpark generally had a larger home field advantage than a non-quirky one. I thought that was a very interesting result and wanted to try to see it for a specific example. Obvisouly the most famous quirky feature in any ball park is the Green Monster at Fenway Park.
Maybe Red Sox hitters are better able to take advantage of the Green Monster, thereby giving Fenway a larger home field advantage because of its quirky dimensions. Like much of my work this is heavily indebted to earlier work on the subject by John Walsh. In early 2007 he looked at which Red Sox hitters take the most advantage of the Green Monster and also which non-Red Sox would benefit most by hitting at Fenway.
Percent of balls in air towards Green Monster
If Red Sox do take advantage of the green monster than you would expect them to hit more balls in its direction, with RHBs trying to pull more balls and LHBs trying to go the other away with more when they are home than when they are away.
Here is the frequency distribution of the angle of fly balls and line dives to the outfield by RHBs . The plot on the left is for Red Sox hitters when home and away, and on the right for all visitors at Fenway and all non-Red Sox teams when they are at home. I use the same -45 (3B line), 0 (2nd base), 45 (1st base) orientation for my last post. The Green Monster is indicated in green.
It looks like visitors at Fenway change their approach much more than Red Sox hitters. Red Sox hitters' home and away spray patterns are virtually indistinguishable, but for visitors the spray pattern is shifted a degree or two toward third base when batting at Fenway. I assume this is caused by these hitters trying to pull the ball more, but it could also be a result of Red Sox pitching (maybe they pound the inside of the zone more than the average pitcher).
Here is the same figure for left handed batters.
Both Red Sox and visiting lefties hit slightly more balls in play down the left field line at Fenway than elsewhere. Going along with that is a slight drop in the number of pulled balls in play at Fenway for both groups. The effect is subtle, but it looks like lefties might make some effort to go the other way more often at Fenway.
Here is an overview.
Proportion of outfield fly balls and line drives in direction of the Monster +---------------------+--------+--------+ | | RHB | LHB | +---------------------+--------+--------+ | Red Sox at Fenway | 0.503 | 0.266 | | Red Sox Away | 0.511 | 0.257 | | Visitors at Fenway | 0.507 | 0.287 | | Non-Red Sox at Home | 0.477 | 0.278 | +---------------------+--------+--------+
Here you can see that Red Sox righties actually hit fewer balls in play in the direction of the Monster at Fenway than on the road. That is very surprising. Visiting RHBs see a big jump in their balls in play to that direction. For both Red Sox and visiting lefties there is a small increase in balls in play to that direction at Fenway compared to elsewhere.
Percent that actually hit monster
Ok so visiting hitters are hitting more balls in play towards the Green Monster, but are they actually getting more hits off it? I used the same technique as John Walsh and classified a ball in play as one off the monster if it was a fly ball or line drive that was a hit and fielded within 25 feet of the Monster (I am using the gameday batted ball locations with Peter Jensen's translation factors). When John went back and checked this he found that about 60% of the 'hits off the monster' were really that, so these numbers will be over estimates. But I don't think they will systematically over or under estimate Red Sox compared visitors.
Using such a definition here are the percentage of batted balls that I classified as 'hits off the monster.'
Proportion of balls in play that are hits fielded within 25 ft of the Monster +---------------------+--------+--------+--------+ | | RHB | LHB | All | +---------------------+--------+--------+--------+ | Red Sox at Fenway | 0.054 | 0.037 | 0.046 | | Visitors at Fenway | 0.060 | 0.041 | 0.052 | +---------------------+--------+--------+--------+
These numbers seem very high, so I am sure that I am overestimating the number of Monster hits by quite a bit. Still it seems that visitors, both lefties and righties, get more hits off the Green Monster than Red Sox hitters. This seems very counter intuitive. If these hits would have been outs elsewhere the Green Monster is giving visitors an advantage. On the other hand if visitors are changing their approach at the plate to get more hits off the Monster maybe their contact to other areas is weaker.
Home Runs Over the Monster
The other thing the Green Monster offers is a short, but high, porch to hit HRs over. If Red Sox hitters can adapt their swings to hit more HRs over it, that could be where the advantage shows up. Here is the HR rate per ball in the air by angle, just in Fenway.
Now here is a big advantage to Red Sox hitters. Over the length of the Green Monster Red Sox righties have a big HR/BIA advantage over visitors. In the rest of the field, expect for just along the right-foul line, there is little difference in HR-rate. Does it look to you like Red Sox righties tailor their swings to getting HRs over the Green Monster?
The next step would be to put it all together. How much do the additional HRs by Red Sox hitters weigh against the additional hits off the Monster by visitors? Could we calculate the value of the Monster to the Red Sox in such a calculation? Maybe another day.
A Future Hall of Fame Candidate
Aside from not gambling on baseball, about the only hard and fast rule for Hall of Fame eligibility is for a player to have racked up a minimum of 10 full or partial seasons in the majors.
That led to a four-inning shutout stint against the White Sox during last game of the season (September 28). The starting appearance may have earned the 37-year old Dean a nice chunk of cash, as he supposedly received a percentage of the gate. Nearly 16,000 paid to see Dean's junkball display in a game that would have normally drawn 3000 to 4000 diehards. Despite Dean's gutsy effort, the Browns lost 5-2 to finish the season in last place with a 55-99 (.357) record.
With injury-shortened seasons of 10, 13 and 19 games, Dean's career boils down to six full seasons and 45 additional appearances. A 30-7 effort with the Cardinals in 1934 plus a 1952 movie (The Dizzy Dean Story) on his life combined with Dizzy's colorful personality and popularity as a pioneering TV baseball announcer provided enough momentum for Cooperstown enshrinement in 1953.
Raul Chavez will never be ranked among baseball's greats, but he has qualified for an appearance on a future Hall of Fame ballot. The Blue Jays backup catcher is now in his 11th big league campaign. As of June 22, Chavez has played just 230 games in the Show.
The Venezuelan-born Chavez is now in his 19th professional season, and the bulk of his 1383 minor league games have come at the AAA level. Chavez saw his first AAA action with Tuscon of the Pacific Coast League in 1995, and he has played 915 games with eight AAA teams in 12 seasons (1995-2003, 2005, 2007-09).
It was on to Ottawa of the International League in 1996, and Chavez made his major league debut with the Expos as a late season call-up. That four-game cup of coffee led to 13 more appearances with Montreal in 1997.
1998 was split between Ottawa, Tacoma and a single game with the Mariners. Chavez spent all of 1999 in Tacoma before signing with the Astros in the offseason. 2000 was the first of Chavez's four consecutive seasons with the New Orleans Zephyrs. He played 14 games with Houston in 2000 and made a pair of big league appearances in 2002 before playing 19 games with the Astros in 2003.
Even AAA would have looked good to Chavez in 2006, as he spent most of the year riding buses with Bowie of the Class AA Eastern League. That's quite a show of perseverance for a 33-year old player, and it was rewarded with a promotion to the Orioles.
Around the Majors - June 23
This seems like as good a morning as any to go Shyster-style around a night in the Big Leagues. I had a chance to log a decent amount of Extra Innings time, watching parts of six or seven games and came away with a few impressions that I thought I would share.
Two counts of bullpen malpractice. Count I: against Danys Baez for allowing five runs on four hits in the seventh. Count II: against a quartet of Fish relievers that immediately turned around and blew that lead in the eighth and ninth. Jorge Cantu singled in the winning run in the twelfth, but that can be blamed on the pen too, as Brian Bass walked Emilio Bonafacio for some strange reason, then uncorked a wild pitch to allow him to get to second before Cantu did his thing. Pfun Pfact: by the year 2017, use of the term "uncorked" in the wild pitch context will exceed its use in the wine context for the first time in recorded history. If you don't believe me, you can look it up.
I would add to that a couple of counts of managerial malpractice by O's skipper Dave Trembley. First, as Craig notes above, Danys Baez pitched the seventh inning and did so rather poorly. The bigger issue in my mind is the mere fact that he found himself on the hill to start the 7th. Koji Uehara had thrown 76 pitches, 59 of them strikes, and allowed just one earned run on seven hits. He didn't walk anybody. Uehara now has a 4.05 ERA, a 1.25 WHIP and perhaps most impressively, a 48/12 K/BB ratio. In other words, Uehara's good and not the type of guy you yank after he has tossed just 76 pitches.
The second count of managerial malpractice has to do with Trembley's bullpen mismanagement. This one is pretty simple, and it's something that a number of Managers can be accused of regularly; managing around the "Save". Since May 1st, George Sherrill has allowed two earned runs in 19 appearances, good for a 0.95 ERA. His OPS-allowed is somewhere around .480. He has been just about as lights-out as you could hope any reliever would be. In last night's 12-inning affair in Miami, Sherrill didn't pitch. He had thrown three consecutive games in Philadelphia over the weekend but Baltimore had an off-day Monday. He should have been available.
The Draft and Wins Above Replacement (Part 2)
Last week I provided a model for the expected value of Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for a particular draft pick in the MLB amateur draft. The model showed the top pick having an expected lifetime WAR of about 20, dropping quickly to about 6 WAR for the number 10 overall pick, and leveling to about 2 WAR for the #100 pick. The model also backed the conclusion that college players and hitters had higher expected WAR than other types of players.
Some readers suggested looking only at players' pre-free agency WAR to make the model more useful to major league teams. Others suggested that the advantage of college players over high schoolers has decreased over time. Still others wanted to see not only the expected value of a player's WAR, but the distribution of WAR's surrounding each pick. In this article, I intend to examine these suggestions and ideas to help provide a better understanding of the value of these draft picks.
Before I get started, I should say that I improved the quality of the data I was working with. I now have picks 1-50, every 5th pick until #100, every 10th pick until #500, and every 25th pick up to #1000 in my database. I also now have Sean Smith's full WAR database used to calculate WAR.
A Player's First 6 Years
First, as Tom Tango suggested, it's more useful to major league teams to have data on a player's first 6 years of WAR, rather than their career WAR, since the benefit of selecting a good player in the draft only lasts until they reach free-agency, after which a team must pay market value like everybody else. Here I fit the model using only the first 6 year WAR as the dependent variable (a year of service was defined as 130 AB, 20 games pitched, or 50 innings pitched in a season). As you might suspect, the data follows the same form and shape of the career WAR data. As it turns out, a player's pre-free agency WAR is almost exactly half of their career WAR. Both models are listed below:
Expected Career WAR = (21.67 + (-11.7 * pitcher) + (6.1 * college)) * selection ^ (-.54)
Expected First 6 Year WAR = (10.9 + (-5.1 * pitcher) + (3.1 * college)) * selection ^ (-.52)
where pitcher is equal to 1 if a player is a pitcher, college is equal to 1 if he is a college player, and selection is equal to the # overall selection in the draft.
As you can see, the shape, determined by the exponent, is nearly the same in both models. Additionally, the scale parameter is about half of what it was in the career model, as are the bonuses and penalties for college players and pitchers respectively. While a player earns only a small percentage of his total earnings in his first 6 years, he earns half of his career value. Because the shape of the models are the same, this seems to be true for players on all levels of the draft spectrum.
Changes Over Time
Over time, the draft has evolved, along with teams' scouting methods and drafting strategies. One interesting thing to examine is whether the parameters in the model would change over time. Have teams started drafting more efficiently as time goes on? Have pitchers been better draft selections over time? How about college players?
I adjusted my model to include a parameter for year. Since the overall WAR for a draft must necessarily stay relatively constant throughout time, I also needed to add a year parameter in the exponent. The new model was of the form:
Expected WAR = (a + (p * pitcher) + (c * college) + (y1*year)) * selection ^ (b + y2*year)
The result of the model was a significant positive parameter for the y1 variable, but a corresponding negative y2 value (y2 was not significant in a test, but as I mentioned, if we include y1, y2 must also be included to maintain the proper balance). This indicates that teams are now drafting more efficiently - high picks have a higher WAR than in years past, while low picks have a lower WAR than in years past.
According to the model, #1 selections in the year 2000 expect to have a career WAR of 26.1 , while #1 selections in the year 1970 were expected to have a career WAR of 19.4. However, as the rounds go on, this advantage decreases until after approximately pick #200, after which the old picks are expected to do better than recent picks. Overall, the result is approximately the same total WAR for both modern and old drafts, but the early picks are more valuable in recent drafts than in years past.
This makes sense because scouting methods and statistical analysis have given teams more accurate prognosticating abilities about a player's future major league potential. With this increase in information, the better players are drafted sooner, clustering the WAR distribution more heavily in the early part of the draft. Below, is a zoomed in graph of 1970 vs. 2000 WAR by draft picks where you can see the lines cross.
It's also been hypothesized that the value of pitchers and college players has changed over time. To test whether this is true, I added interaction terms to account for this possibility. The model now takes the following form:
Expected WAR = (a + (p * pitcher) + (c * college) + (y1*year) + (py*year*pitcher) + (cy*year*college)) * selection ^ (b + y2*year + p2*pitcher + c2*college)
A reader had suggested that college players were more valuable in the past, but that this advantage no longer existed. The model finds some evidence of this claim - the cy variable is negative, indicating a decrease in the relative value of college players over the years. Another way of looking at this is that highly drafted high school players have increased their value more rapidly than college players over the years. For #1 selections, high school hitters are expected to gain 20 more WAR now than in 1970, while this advantage decreases to only 10 WAR for college hitters. This result is not significant for the first-six-year WAR model, but it is significant for the career WAR model.
The value of pitchers over time however, has decreased strongly. Despite the fact that #1 picks as a whole have much a much higher expected WAR now than in prior years, the expected WAR of a pitcher drafted overall #1 is actually less than it was in the early years of the draft. The is in stark contrast to the strong increases over time for #1 hitters. Whether this is the result of teams trying extra hard to build "pitching organizations" or is due to other reasons, it appears highly drafting pitchers is an even riskier proposition today than when the draft began.
Below is a table of the two full models in determining the expected WAR by draft position.
Distribution of WAR by Pick
Also interesting is not only the expected WAR for each pick, but the probability of becoming a certain caliber player. Using a model of the logistic form, I estimated the probabilities of gaining a certain level of WAR. The model was of the form:
P(WAR) = exp((a+p1*pitcher+c1*college)*selection^(b)+int)/(exp((a+p1*pitcher+c1*college)*selection^(b) + int) + 1)
The models often had troubled converging, so the year terms and the exponential terms for pitchers and hitters were left out of the model. However, you can expect that they would have the same pattern as the models based on the expected value of WAR. Below you can see a graph of the probabilities of hitting various career WAR cutoff values, based on the above model. The graphs are for high school hitters.
As you can see the #1 overall selection has about a 2 in 3 chance of making a positive impact on a major league club. The probability for a decent impact of 10 WAR is 54%. The probability of a 30 WAR career, which is a career which probably includes a couple of All-Star appearances and several solid seasons is 29%. The probability of a 50 WAR career, which is close to that of a borderline Hall of Famer, is about 16%. Overall, there is a fair chance that a number one selection will never make an impact, but also a non-trivial probability that he will end up in the Hall of Fame. This indicates the obvious large variability in a player's potential career.
The chart above shows the model outcomes broken down by type of player and pick. One interesting finding is that pitchers are about as likely as hitters to make a positive impact on the major leagues with WAR>1. However, they start to slip when measuring the probability of having a great career. A college pitcher actually has a greater chance than a high school hitter of having a WAR>1 (71% vs. 68% for the #1 pick). However, the odds of having a WAR>30 are very much in the hitter's favor (9% vs. 29% for the #1 pick). While teams appear just as likely to get their pitching prospects to the majors, the probability of having a great career is quite small, even for top picks. This is the driving force behind the reasoning that teams should take hitters over pitchers in the draft.
For those more interested in players' pre-free agency WAR, below is a graph of this result, which largely follows the same shape as well as the same college/pitcher tendencies.
In conclusion, the following things can be said:
1) The first few draft picks are worth vastly more than later picks - a fact that is becoming more and more true as time goes by.
I hope this study brings a greater understanding and insight into the value of draft picks and what type of player is likely to contribute at the major league level.
K/100P Leaders and Laggards
There are a number of preferred statistics when it comes to analyzing the performance of pitchers. Over the years, Cy Young voters have weighed wins and winning percentage more heavily than any other stat. ERA gained popularity among the masses throughout the last century, then adjusted ERA (aka ERA+) gained traction after Baseball-Reference rolled out its site and made this stat easily accessible online.
With the advent of Defense Independent Pitching Statistics (and DIPS 2.0) earlier this decade, analysts began to pay more attention to strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed. As a result, Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is now recognized as a better measurement of value than wins, winning percentage, ERA, and ERA+. Some even prefer xFIP, Luck Independent Pitching Statistics (LIPS), or tRA, which, at a minimum, normalize HR/FB rates or break down the types of batted balls.
One can also value pitchers based on counting stats, such as Pitching Runs or Runs Saved Against Average. Runs can be converted into wins, giving us Win Shares, Win Shares Above Bench (WSAB), Wins Above Replacement (WAR), and Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP). The main differences generally involve the use of run estimators and definition of replacement levels.
I like looking at K, BB, and GB rates. Strikeouts exert a greater influence over pitching performance than walks and groundball rates, such that K > BB > GB. Within strikeouts, one can use K/9 (good), K/BF (better), or K/100 pitches (best). K/100P has a higher correlation to runs allowed than strikeouts per batter faced or strikeouts per inning. Granted, K/100P has vestiges of BB and BABIP mixed into the formula, but there are arguments against K/9 and K/BF as well.
Strikeouts. Pitch totals. Putting strikeouts in the numerator and pitch totals in the denominator allows us to measure dominance and efficiency or what I have referred to it as "strikeout proficiency." As a standalone stat, I believe it tells us more than K/9 or K/BF.
With the foregoing as a backdrop, let's take a look at the K/100P results for 2009. The stats are courtesy of ESPN and the list includes all qualified pitchers. (I discuss some of the leaders and laggards below the table.)
Has Javier Vazquez been the best pitcher in baseball this year? One could certainly make a strong argument on his behalf. The 32-year-old righthander leads the majors in not only K/100P by a fairly wide margin but also in total strikeouts and K/9 and is second in WHIP and third in K/BB. His 4-6 W-L record belies just how well he has pitched this season. His FIP, in fact, is three-quarters of a run below his ERA.
If Vazquez hasn't been the top pitcher this year, then how about Dan Haren, who is eighth in K/100P but first in WHIP and K/BB? While the 28-year-old righty may be in the midst of a career year, there are a couple of stats (notably, a BABIP of .238 and a strand rate of 86.0%) that suggest his ERA may be unsustainably low. I picked Haren to win the Cy Young this year so I'm not overly surprised by his stellar season.
Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay are building on their great seasons last year, while Zack Greinke (April and May) and Justin Verlander (late April to the middle of June) have been the most dominant pitchers in the game at various times over the first three months of the season.
Among the top dozen (or those with K/100P rates over 6.00), Jorge de la Rosa is probably the one pitcher who looks like he doesn't belong. While I would take the other 11 pitchers over him, I believe the 28-year-old southpaw is much better than his 3-7 W-L record and 5.85 ERA would indicate. He pitches in a tough ballpark and has been victimized by a high BABIP and a low strand rate. The young fireballer is not all that different from teammate Ubaldo Jimenez even though the latter has posted a 6-6 record with a 3.73 ERA thus far. If de la Rosa can improve his command and control (far from a given), he could eventually reach his vast potential.
At the other end of the spectrum, Jon Garland and Shairon Martis are pitching about as poorly as any regular starter in the big leagues. Both righthanders have not only struck out fewer batters per 100 pitches and inning than any other qualifier but they have allowed more walks than strikeouts, a recipe for disaster no matter what one's BB rate may be.
The "Lost" Tapes
My mother gave me a shoebox with a number of old cassette and reel-to-reel audio tapes for Christmas last year. Some items were marked and many others were not. Anxious to find out just what was in the box, I asked our local full-service editing and production storefront to transfer the tapes to compact discs. As things turned out, it was the best money I have ever spent for CDs.
No Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Led Zeppelin IV, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Saturday Night Fever, or Phantom of the Opera. But, my, what a Thriller it was to find out what I now owned. Included in the tapes (and now CDs) were two interviews of Don Drysdale and my father on the Angels Warm-Up Radio Show in 1974.
While Dad had interviewed the "Big D" dozens of times over the years as a beat reporter covering the Dodgers for the Long Beach Press-Telegram, the roles had been reversed and it was Drysdale, the play-by-play broadcaster for the California Angels, interviewing Dad, the team's Director of Public Relations and Promotions. Their careers had overlapped with the Dodgers and Angels like no others from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Drysdale made his MLB debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 and was a budding star when Dad began to cover the club after owner Walter O'Malley had relocated the franchise to L.A. in 1958. The two of them stayed with the Dodgers throughout most of the 1960s with Dad and Drysdale both retiring from the Dodgers in 1969. Dad joined the Angels before that season started and worked for the organization for the next ten years. Drysdale hooked up with the Halos in 1973 through 1979 and returned for one year in 1981. (Interestingly, Drysdale's sidekick, Dick Enberg, broadcast Angels games from 1969-1978, matching Dad's tenure with the team exactly.)
The following Warm-Up shows took place 35 years ago. Nineteen years later to the day of the second interview, Drysdale died of a heart attack in his hotel room in Montreal during a Dodgers road trip. He began his career as a Dodger and died a Dodger. He was 56. Like Drysdale, my father passed away at a young age. Dad was 50 when he died of melanoma in 1978.
While I know these "lost" tapes mean more to my family and me than to the baseball public at large, I wanted to share them on the day after what would have been Dad's 81st birthday and the one before Father's Day. Oh, and isn't it fitting that the Dodgers and Angels are playing each other this weekend? My older brother Tom, in fact, went to the game last night.
Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there. Be sure to give your loved ones a kiss and a big hug on this special day. None of us know what tomorrow brings.
"Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why it is called the present."
Thanks, Dad. And thanks, Mom, for the special Christmas gift. It's nice to have you in the present.
How Strong is the Tendency to Pull the Ball?
Last week I took my first look at the HITf/x data examining how the location of a pitch influences the speed of the ball off the bat and vertical angle of a resulting hit. In this post I am going to do the same for the horizontal (or spray) angle of the resulting hit. This is the angle of a batted ball into the field. Sportsvision reports this angle with 45° corresponding to the 1st base line, 90° straight up the middle (2nd base and center field) and 135° the 3rd baseline. Based on the discussion here it seems others find a -45/0/45 orientation more intuitive. So here I shifted to that orientation so 45° is the first base line, 0° straight up the middle and -45° the third baseline.
Max Marchi already looked at this topic using the GameDay hit location to determine the horizontal angle of the ball in play. He examined the tendency of hitters to pull inside pitches and go the other way with outside pitches. He also looked at the possibility of defensive realignment based on a given hitter's spray chart. Here I am going to look at the first topic and ignore the second which led to an, at times, heated discussion over at the Inside the Book blog.
In Max's work he looked at how much individual hitters pulled the ball based on the pitch location. Here I am going to average over all hitters to find a baseline. Below I show the horizontal angle of a batted ball based on the location of the pitch. Remember that negative angles correspond to to the left side of the field and positive to the right. In this case I chose a red-to-blue color scheme to high-light the difference between pulled and opposite field balls in play. I also flip the colors between RHBs and LHBs so that red is always pulled and blue opposite field. Like always the images are from the catcher's perspective.
Horizontal angle by pitch location
As expected inside pitches result in the furthest pulled balls and it is not until you get to the outside edge of the strike zone that the average ball in play is to the opposite field. So batters have a tendency to pull the ball, with a pitch down the middle on average being hit to about 5° to the pull side. In addition there is a slight trend for pitches low in the zone to be pulled more. It looks like RHBs pull the ball more than LHBs.
Horizontal angle by pitch location for ground balls versus balls in air
I was also interested in how strongly ground balls are pulled compared to balls in the air (fly balls, pop ups and line drives). Conventional wisdom is that ground balls are pulled more, as evidenced by the infield shifts that hitters like David Ortiz experience. In addition, Matt Lentzner set up a simple bat-ball collision model that predicted most ground balls go to the pull side and more balls in the air to the opposite field side.
So we have conventional wisdom and theory telling us what to expect, let's see what the data say. I redid the above analysis first with ground balls and then balls in the air. Instead of using the GameDay classification for GB versus LD or FB, I used the HITf/x vertical angle. Based on Harry Pavlidis' work here it looks like 7° is a rough cutoff between a ground ball and a ball in the air. So that is how I separated the batted balls.
Just as expected ground balls go to the pull side much more often than balls in the air. For about the inside two thirds of the plate the average ground balls goes at least 10° to the pull side. Again RHBs show a stronger tendency to hit to the pull field. This could be because infield hits are more likely to the left side of the infield than to the right, so RHBs have an incentive to pull ground balls while LHBs have an incentive to go the other way with ground balls.
Fly balls, pop ups, and line drives have a much smaller tendency to be pulled and again it is weaker in LHBs. In fact there is almost no pull trend for LHBs on balls in the air; they tend to pull inside pitches and go the other way with outside ones.
Speed of ball off bat by horizontal angle
Finally I was interested in how much additional power a pulled ball has than one hit the other way. Mike Fast showed that pulled balls are more likely to be home runes, more likely to be line drives and have higher BABIP than opposite field balls in play. In fact, Mike showed, a pulled fly ball is ten times more likely to a home rune than an opposite field fly ball. I wanted to see the difference in speed off the bat responsible for this huge effect. Here is the horizontal speed of the ball off the bat by horizontal angle for LHBs and RHBs.
Batted ball horizontal speed reaches a maximum roughly between 5 and 25 degrees to the pull direction. Pulled balls are roughly 10 to 20 mph faster than those hit in the same angle to the opposite field.
Of course all of this analysis averages over all hitters. We know there are hitters who are assumed to be 'dead-pull' hitters or those with power to all fields. The data are now there, in a small sample with more coming, to examine these classifications. Do such hitting syndromes exist? How consistent are they for an individual hitter year to year? How does it impact a hitter's performance? It will be very interesting when enough HITf/x data become available to look at individual hitters at this level.
Q&A: Paul DePodesta
I first met Paul DePodesta on May 13, 2005 at a Cal Poly-Long Beach State game at Blair Field in Long Beach. Paul, who was in his second year as the General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, joined area scout Bobby Darwin in the row directly in front of me. I recognized him, introduced myself, shook his hand, and we chatted about baseball between innings throughout the game while he was scouting college prospects a month before the draft and staying abreast of the Dodgers 7-4 victory over the Braves that evening.
Paul and I have remained friendly over the past four years. The Harvard two-sport athlete and cum laude graduate is as nice as he is competitive and smart. He is also a fellow blogger and perhaps the only senior member of a front office to operate a baseball-related website.
Now an Executive Vice President for the San Diego Padres, DePodesta has spent the past 13 years working with, for, and hiring some of the brightest minds in the game, including, among others, John Hart, Dan O’Dowd, Mark Shapiro, Josh Byrnes, Neal Huntington, Chris Antonetti, and Ben Cherington with the Cleveland Indians (1996-1998), Billy Beane, J.P. Ricciardi, and David Forst with the Oakland A's (1999-2003), Logan White, Kim Ng, and Dan Feinstein with the Dodgers (2004-2005), and Sandy Alderson, Kevin Towers, Grady Fuson, and Bill Gayton with the Padres (2006-2009).
DePodesta and winning are synonymous with one another. The Indians won the American League Central all three years, the A's won the AL West three times and finished second the other two seasons, the Dodgers captured the franchise's first division title since 1995 and first postseason berth since 1996, and the Padres won the NL West and missed tying for the division title and wild card spot by one game the following season. All in all, the clubs DePodesta has worked for have won eight division crowns and accumulated a won-lost record of 1,137-943 for a winning percentage of .547.
At 31, DePodesta was the third-youngest to become a big-league GM when Dodgers owner Frank McCourt made him his first hire on February 16, 2004. (Theo Epstein was 28 when named GM of the Red Sox in 2002 and Randy Smith was 29 when the Padres hired him in 1993. Jon Daniels subsequently became the youngest GM in baseball history when he ascended to the top spot with the Rangers in 2005 at the age of 28 years and 41 days.)
Paul is married and has two sons and a daughter. His wife Karen is a La Jolla High alum. He has enjoyed his tenure with the Padres for professional and personal reasons. Paul has also served as a keynote speaker at business conventions and his work was featured in Michael Lewis' best-selling book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, and recognized by Fortune, which named him one of the Top 10 innovators under the age of 40.
I had the opportunity to chat with Paul shortly after the MLB Draft was completed last week. Pull up a chair and enjoy.
Rich: On your blog, It Might Be Dangerous... You Go First, you have a poll up, asking "How do you feel about the Padres draft?" The majority of the respondents have voted "Happy." How do you feel about it?
Paul: I'd say "ecstatic," but that's probably how most club officials feel right after their draft.
Rich: The Padres had not taken an outfielder with its first pick since 1999, yet drafted center fielders Donavan Tate (Cartersville HS, GA) and Everett Williams (McCallum HS, TX) in the first and second rounds, respectively. Both players are the sons of former NFL players. Did San Diego make a conscious effort to get more athletic in this year's draft?
Paul: It's the first time since I've been here that we drafted anywhere in the top 20, so we had a different type of player available to us this year and we wanted to take advantage of that opportunity. We've taken some other high school outfielders within the top 50 picks in recent drafts (Kyler Burke, Jaff Decker), so it wasn't necessarily a total departure for us. Due to the work of Grady Fuson and Bill Gayton over the last few years, we feel good about our farm system as a whole, so we really focused on the best player available in each round rather than worrying about organizational need.
Rich: Let's talk about Tate for a minute. Which players, past or present, serve as good comps?
Paul: A lot of different names have been thrown around. I know Donavan admires Grady Sizemore, and there are some similarities there. Some others would include a young Andruw Jones, Mike Cameron, or even Adam Jones.
Rich: Tate has signed a letter of intent to play baseball and football at the University of North Carolina. He is also represented by Scott Boras. Do you not feel as if he is going to be a difficult or costly sign?
Paul: Donavan has had a lot of options presented to him recently, including USC and Michigan football, UNC baseball and football, and now the Padres. Our feeling is that despite his impressive talents on the football field, Donavan's first love is baseball.
Rich: I remember Tate in the Aflac Classic last August quite well. He had a couple of memorable at-bats. In the sixth inning, after being behind in the count 0-and-1 and 1-and-2, he worked the count to 3-and-2 before flying out to left on the eighth pitch of his at-bat. Tate had an even better at-bat in the ninth inning when he fell behind 0-and-2 and fouled off five pitches on his way to working the count to 3-and-2, then got on base via an infield single to shortstop. He also scored the East's first run that inning on a wild pitch. I wrote down on my scoresheet, "tall, strong, fast, runs well" but was most impressed with his approach in those two at-bats.
Paul: It's interesting that you mention those ab's, because we heard some rumbings during the spring that Donavan's bat was "raw," and yet we had a representative at nearly all of his games and just didn't see it. I guess it all depends on the perspective: the bat may be "raw" as compared to his other tools or as compared to the top college bats, but as compared with the other high school bats... we felt comfortable with the risk.
Rich: Between Tate and Williams, which one do you see sticking in center field?
Paul: We think they're both good enough to play there. We hope to have that problem someday.
Rich: I saw Williams play in the Area Code Games last summer. After a terrific BP session, he went 0-for-5, striking out three times. It looked to me like he was having trouble handling breaking balls and lefthanders. Has he improved in these areas?
Paul: We see Everett as a pretty polished HS bat. That doesn't mean he won't need to make some adjustments - even the best big leaguers have to - but he has a natural feel for the barrel that is difficult to teach.
Rich: In the third round, you drafted Jerry Sullivan, a 6-4, 200-pound righthander out of Oral Roberts University. What do you see in him?
Paul: Jerry was a top prospect coming out of HS before having Tommy John surgery. Nevertheless, he came back strong from the procedure and had a stellar career at Oral Roberts. In addition to being an excellent athlete in a 6'4", 200 lb body, he has always thrown strikes with a fastball that ranges from 90-94 as well as a tough slider and solid change.
Rich: As you mentioned, Sullivan had Tommy John surgery while in high school. Do you believe that pitchers who have undergone elbow reconstruction surgery in the past pose lower injury risks than those who have not?
Paul: Not neccesarily. In fact, pitchers with prior arm injuries can be at greater risk going forward. However, we've learned by painful first-hand experience that every pitcher comes with significant risk.
Rich: I was surprised that Keyvius Sampson (Forest HS, FL) was still available in the fourth round. A three-sport star in high school, he was 93-94 and struck out the first two batters he faced (both of whom went in the top 35 in the draft) in his only inning of work in the Aflac Classic last year. At 6-foot-1, he is not as tall as some of the prep power pitchers who went in the first round, but it still seems like he was a steal as the 114th overall pick in the draft.
Rich: How do you, Kevin Towers (EVP/GM), Grady Fuson (VP, Scouting & Player Development), and Bill Gayton (Director of Scouting) work together when it comes to the draft?
Paul: The four of us in addition to our cross-checkers, Scott Littlefield and Bob Filotei, discuss all of the top picks, and there's generally a consensus. At the end of the day, it's up to Grady and Chief to make the final call.
Rich: How much of your time do you spend on scouting?
Paul: I start entering draft mode around the end of February/beginning of March. Once the ML season begins, though, I spend probably 90% of my time on the draft until we announce that last pick.
Rich: Do you think the standard five tools (hitting for average, power, arm strength, fielding, and speed) are still the most important attributes of a player? Or would you insert plate discipline/pitch recognition skills into the mix?
Paul: Both tools and skills are important, as they often depend on one another in order to play. For instance, the combination of all tools and no skills is usually a promise unfulfilled, and all skills with no tools often results in a short career. We'd all prefer a plethora of both, but in the absence of that it's a constant effort to figure out if the shortcomings in one area will inhibit the positives in the other.
Rich: While I understand "we're not selling jeans here," what roles do height, weight, and body type play in assessing current and projectable talent?
Paul: You may be asking this because our draft class looks as much like a football or basketball team as it does a baseball team. Malcolm Gladwell once wrote that 3.9% of all adult males are 6'2" or taller, and yet 30% of Fortune 500 CEO's are 6'2" or taller. The fact is that people, in general, maintain an inherent physical appearance bias, and in sports we tend to gravitate toward big, strong guys. Therefore, nature pushes us to overvalue size at times, but things like strength, leverage, and angle can make a difference as long as there are underlying skills.
Rich: How do rank attitude, hustle, and leadership when scouting players? And how do you go about valuing those characteristics?
Paul: It can be really difficult for me to warm up to a player who has a low motor, but that's just my personal take and one that I often have to guard against when writing reports. I prefer guys who play with energy and appear to really enjoy being out there. The minor leagues can be a real grind - I can't imagine enduring that playing schedule - so I worry about guys who don't seem to have that passion. That said, that passion isn't always illuminated by a player bouncing around the diamond, which is why I have to be careful.
Rich: Is "feel for the game" something that is at all quantifiable? Is it inherent in most players or can it be taught or gained over time?
Paul: I don't have a good answer for that. Every player is unique, and sometimes we'll find a player who has terrific instincts for one part of the game while really struggling with other aspects of the game. Some of that "feel" though can come from experience.
Rich: How does ability vs. signability come into play when lining up your draft board?
Paul: We try to line up our board without accounting for signability. When it comes time to make a decision, we have to factor in everything we know, but we don't want signability to cloud our evaluations of a player's ability.
Rich: The Padres were just swept by the Angels over the weekend and are now 9-23 on the road this season. Small sample size, tough schedule, or is there something else at work here?
Rich: I understand that you have a little bit of professional acting experience, having appeared in a few episodes of the TV show “Homicide, Life on the Street” back in the mid-1990s. As such, how do you feel about the casting choice of comedian Demetri Martin to play you in director Steven Soderbergh's adaptation of "Moneyball," which is scheduled for release in 2011?
Paul: He's a lot funnier than I am, but he definitely needs a haircut.
Rich: Good one, Paul. And with that, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to discuss the Padres, both present and future, with me today.
October Baseball in Chicago?
On the plane from New York to Chicago yesterday, I had every intention of making my way over to Wrigley for last night's game between the Cubbies and Sox. I would find a single one way or another. After circling over Lake Michigan for a half hour and then touching down to pouring rain, I realized that there might be no game at all.
To see if these showers were just passing - maybe there was some way they would get it in - I went to the Chicago Tribune's mobile sports page to try and get some news on the game, the weather and what the chances the game would take place looked like. When I got there, I stumbled across this piece by Dan McGrath titled One opinion: Sox have better shot at playoffs than Cubs.
McGrath does not take a very analytical approach to the piece. Much of it is off the cuff and its intro makes light of how very underwhelming Chicago baseball has been this season. But nonetheless he does try and mount a case by breaking both teams down, comparing their competition and draws the conclusion that the Pale Hose look like a better bet for October than the Cubs. I disagree pretty strongly with McGrath's position on this one.
Let's just start with some facts. The Cubs are 30-30 and have scored 8 runs more than their opponents thus far in 2009. The White Sox are 30-34 and their opponents have outscored them by 27 runs. The Cubs are 2.5 games behind the San Francisco Giants in the NL Wild Card race and just 3 back of the Milwaukee Brewers for the NL Central. The White Sox are currently 4.5 out in the AL Central and trail the New York Yankees by 6.5 games for the AL Wild Card. While neither team has played the heavyweights from their respective leagues' East divisions (Red Sox and Yanks in Sox case, Phils and Mets for the Cubs), the Cubs have already played four games against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the class of the National League thus far. By a narrow margin, it would seem the White Sox have had the easier schedule to date and therefore figure to face a tougher slate down the stretch.
So the White Sox have a worse record, worse run differential, larger deficits to make up and need to do so against a tougher schedule. In and of themselves, these factors do not make conclusive the case that the Cubs are the more likely playoff bet but if you are going to say you like the White Sox' chances better, the onus falls on you to argue the position that much more persuasively. McGrath's defense in this respect falls way, way short.
Here is my favorite sentence, symptomatic of the rigor with which McGrath makes his case:
Even with Carlos Quentin ailing, the White Sox have enough guys having decent years that they've been impervious to teamwide slumps despite being shut out nine times.
Did you get that? They're impervious to slumps, but have been shut out nine times this season! Pick your garden variety crappy Major League Baseball offense. The A's? They've been shut out five times. Seattle can't hit, what about them? Again, five times. Sure the Giants must have been shut out a whole bunch? Three times. You get the point. It's hard to gloss over the fact that the Sox have been shut out nine times.
What's interesting is that the two teams have had a similar look thus far in 2009. They both pitch it very well while their respective offenses have slumped badly. This is in part thanks to injuries to star performers. Just as the White Sox badly miss slugger Carlos Quentin, the Cubbies can't get Aramis Ramirez back quickly enough. Did you know that with Mike Fontenot now playing mostly at third with Ramirez out, Aaron Miles is playing second and hitting .200/.240/.252! Maybe he remains on the Cardinals payroll?
The key difference between the Cubs and the Sox is that the former has a much better chance of seeing its offense improve dramatically. Geovany Soto, Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley all figure to hit much better the rest of the way than they have to date. Whatever the heck the Cubs decide to do at second base is going to be a lot better from here on out, too. Meanwhile, the Cubs do not have any clear regression candidates. Maybe Ryan Theriot just a bit? For the White Sox to improve on the offensive side, they first need Quentin back and a performing a lot closer to the way he did in 2008 than he was before he went down. Second, you need to place a lot of faith in guys like Chris Getz and Josh Fields and Brian Anderson, something that I find hard to do.
So to sum, the Cubs have a big leg up in the standings, have performed better to date and have better prospects to improve. It's why the various Baseball Prospectus playoff odds reports put their chances of making the playoffs anywhere between 25% and 35% or so. They're far from a slam dunk but they have a real shot. Those same measures have the White Sox around 5% to 10%, far worse than the Cubs' chances for all of the reasons I have described above.
Draft Picks and Expected Wins Above Replacement
Last week here at Baseball Analysts, we covered the baseball draft in detail with player interviews, scouting reports, and a live blog of the draft. Each team of course has high hopes for the players they draft - hopes that often go unrealized. Of course, a great deal of the expectations heaped upon a player are determined by the pick which he was drafted. Teams understandably expect more out of the #1 overall pick than they do with a 30th round choice. But how much contribution can a team really expect out of each pick?
This is a subject which has been covered before, over at Beyond the Boxscore, by Hardball Times' Victor Wang, and by other places. Here I intend to add to the discussion by adding a theoretical model to the mix to predict the lifetime win contributions from a particular draft pick. Obviously, it's no secret that the higher the pick is, the more production we can expect from a player, but just what is the difference between, say, the #1 and the #500 pick?
Baseball Reference recently has listed all draft picks in the history of the draft, which provides a handy reference from which to start this research. I collected all picks from #1 to #50 and then the picks from every 25th pick after that. This gave me a database of over 2,500 picks to analyze. I then matched this data with Sean Smith's lifetime Wins Above Replacement (WAR) values (due to data issues I actually used a home-brewed method of calculating WAR for very low achieving players - however the vast majority of WAR are from Sean's actual data).
WAR is probably the best metric out there for assessing a player's total value to major league teams, and so I use this as my statistic of interest. I use career WAR rather than WAR over the first six years (pre-free agency), although I think both are probably useful. Since I used career WAR, I had to either make some assumptions about the rest of recent players' careers or throw out a lot of data. I chose to impute the rest of recently drafted players' careers. I assumed that players drafted in 2001 had by now accumulated 50% of their lifetime win shares, gradually going back and increasing that amount to assume that the 1996 draft class had already earned 100% of their win shares. Draft classes 2002 and after were thrown out since it is too soon to predict a player's career win shares.
Fitting A Model
Looking at all data gives quite a messy picture. Of course there are many, many players at every pick clustered at the point where WAR equals zero. These players either succumbed to injury, flamed out, or otherwise never made it to the big show. A few players have slightly below zero values, meaning that they made it to the majors but performed so poorly that they played worse than a replacement player could. Then of course, there are the players with positive contributions, ranging from Barry Bonds' 174 Wins Above Replacement to Harold Baines' 40 WAR, down to the many, many Dave Clark's and Franklin Stubbs' who made a positive, but quite small contribution to their teams.
We can clean this data picture up, by plotting the average WAR at each draft pick, rather than plotting all possible data points. What we see is below:
As you can see, there is a lot of variability even when looking at the average WAR of each pick. However, you can also see that the data follows a definite curve. There is a major advantage to having the very first pick in the first round vs. having the last pick in the first round (#30 overall). The point where the expected WAR tends to level off also seems to be around the end of the first round of the draft. Mathematically we'd like to fit this curve to a model to get a theoretical valuation of each pick. The data certainly isn't linear, but instead seems to follow a definite power law and can be explained by the following formula:
WAR= a * (selection#)^ b, where a and b are the parameters of the model.
Running a non-linear regression, we find those parameters equal to a=19.8 and b=-.50. The model fits very well as you can see from the graph above.
What can we learn from it? Plugging the picks into the formula, we see that the #1 overall selection will accumulate an average of about 19.8 WAR over the course of his career. Meanwhile, it drops significantly to 14.0 WAR for the #2 pick. From there it drops rapidly to an expected 6.2 WAR for pick #10 before leveling off at 3.6 WAR for #30, 2.0 WAR for #100, and 0.9 WAR for #500. The model-based approach makes sense because it uses a relationship which both fits the data and matches our preconceived notions that the #1 pick is likely to become an excellent player, followed by a sharp drop-off in value with each successive pick until leveling off.
Other Factors Affecting Expected WAR
The beauty of a model is that we can also add other variables to the data to determine if other factors affect the curve. Going back to the full dataset (which gives the same parameter estimates as using the average by pick data), we can add terms to our model to differentiate between college players and high school players as well as between pitchers and hitters. The model was defined as the following:
WAR= (a + college*c + pitcher*p)* (selection#)^ b, where a and b are the usual parameters and c adds or subtracts to the scale parameter if the player is in college and p adjusts the scale parameter if the player is a pitcher.
We get the following results from our model. Others have talked about the wisdom of choosing hitters as well as college players and here we have a model that backs up this assertion. The results are below:
In formula form we get:
where pitcher is equal to 1 if a player is a pitcher, college is equal to 1 if he is a college player, and selection is equal to the # overall selection in the draft.
Here we see a major penalty in WAR for teams choosing a pitcher. If the player is a #1 selection, we would expect a difference of 8.5 WAR between a hitter and a pitcher. Meanwhile choosing a college player is indeed a benefit. The benefit of choosing a college player as the #1 pick amounts to about 4.6 WAR. Both of these numbers of course decrease in proportion to the power law as the draft goes on, so the difference between choosing a high school pitcher and a college pitcher is quite small in absolute terms by the time you get down to the 100th selection in the draft. Below is a pair of charts showing the expected WAR for each type of player at both the 1st and the 100th overall selection.
You can also take a look at a graph of each of the 4 types of players according to the model. As you can see, the shapes remain the same, with the hitters and college players having a higher expected WAR.
The model given above is just the final model with significant terms. I also tried using parameters for college players and pitchers in the exponent to see if the overall shape of the WAR curve changes depending on the type of player. However, this gave a null result, indicating that the pitchers, hitters, college players, and high schoolers all follow the same basic curve - just that hitters and college players start with a higher win expectation. An interaction term between the pitcher and college parameters also came up null, as did parameters distinguishing between various types of position players.
Overall, this analysis backs up the assertion made by others that college hitters have historically been best type of player to draft on draft day, meaning that sabermetrically minded teams can take advantage of this information (and some have been!). Of course, the more teams that catch on to this trend, the less advantageous taking hitters and college players will be. If all teams were drafting with an eye for maximum value with this information, all types of players would eventually have the same Expected WAR. However, I don't believe we are at that point yet.
Aside from measuring the effects of drafting pitchers and college players, this study is useful because it fits a nice smooth curve to easily quantify the expected WAR of each pick, allowing teams and fans to know what type of player to expect with each pick using a simple formula. Armed with this information, we can know what to realistically expect from the players recently selected on June 9th.
Revisiting Bryce Harper (Again)
Last August, I wrote the following opening to Remember This Name:
Let me introduce you to the No. 1 pick in the 2011 amateur draft . . . Bryce Harper. I know, that particular draft won't take place for three more years. As such, how in the world could I make this type of a prediction now? Well, if you watched the 15-year-old, lefthanded-hitting catcher take batting practice, infield, and two plate appearances on Tuesday at the Area Code Games, as I did, then I have no doubt that you would be as enthusiastic about this phenom as I am.
Well, ten months later, I need to change the year in that first sentence. You see, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Bryce Harper has registered at the College of Southern Nevada and will be eligible for the MLB Draft in 2010 if he earns his General Educational Development credential this fall.
Harper, a 16-year-old who just completed his sophomore year, has registered at the College of Southern Nevada, where he plans to attend classes in August and play for the Coyotes next season.
The Harper family first hinted at Bryce earning his GED in the cover article of the June 8, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.
So good is Harper, and so bleak the prospect of his spending two more years with high school pitchers who can't (and won't) throw their sloppy 80-mph fastballs over the plate to him, that his parents—Ron, a steelworker, and Sheri, a paralegal—are looking for ways to make their son eligible for the draft next year rather than in 2011. One of their advisers is agent Scott Boras, who has a well-earned reputation for maximizing dollars and exploiting loopholes. "I heard one of the things they're considering is taking him to the Dominican Republic to make him a free agent," says one AL executive.
For the Washington Nationals (16-45), possessors of the worst record in baseball this year, it now means having the opportunity to draft the top two amateur prospects in the first 11 years of the 21st century. The franchise won the Stephen Strasburg lottery this year and appears destined to win the Bryce Harper lottery next year. Strasburg and Harper could be the most hyped pitcher-catcher duo in decades, if not ever, should they wind up playing for the Nats. If nothing else, the two Scott Boras-advised players will be the richest signees in the history of the game.
While Strasburg was the 15th pitcher to be drafted No. 1 overall, Harper could become the seventh catcher to go first in the MLB draft. As with pitchers, the history of these catchers — Steve Chilcott *cough* ... Danny Goodwin twice *cough, cough* — would suggest that Harper is not a slam dunk to go from Las Vegas HS to College of Southern Nevada to the minors for a couple of years to the Nationals to the Yankees (after six years) and, finally, to Cooperstown. That said, I wouldn't want to bet against this timeline either.
In the meantime, the former high school phenom, who won't turn 17 until two months after he starts classes at CSN, will be paired with his older brother Bryan, a 6-foot-5 lefthanded pitcher who is transferring from Cal State Northridge, for the 2010 season. The Harpers will be coached by Tim Chambers, a longtime friend of the family.
Ron Harper told the LVRJ that Las Vegas High administrators and baseball coach Sam Thomas are "all supportive" of the move but recognizes that others may criticize this decision.
"There are going to be critics. I can't worry about what people think. People are going to see what they want to see and say what they want to say," Ron Harper said. "I think this prepares him for life, playing the game of baseball.
Harper is expected to perform at USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars next week. However, it is unknown at this time whether the youngster will play on the 16U, 18U, or the National Team (Collegiate) as he could technically qualify for all three.
I say skip the Tournament of Stars and CSN's baseball season and fast forward to June 2010... "Washington, you're now on the clock."
Chasing Baseball's Milestones: How Tough Is Winning 300 Games?
Last week I was lucky enough to be one of the 2,500 or so people to witness Randy Johnson win his 300th game against the Washington Nationals. In the days surrounding the victory, there were a host of articles wondering whether Johnson would be the last 300 game winner, as well as a host of other articles refuting the notion. So how hard is it to win 300 nowadays anyway?
The game certainly changed a lot since Cy Young was hurling, and that certainly has changed pitchers abilities to win 300 games. While a statistician would know better than to say anything will never happen, consensus seems to indicate it is indeed harder to win 300 games than it used to be. What I set out to do here is create an index which indicates how many wins a great pitcher can expect to earn over the course of a great career. Do the statistics back up the notion that a great pitcher will rack up fewer wins in his career today than in the 1960's or the deadball era?
Usually when comparing statistics across eras, using league averages are useful in normalizing player statistics, however, this isn't much use when it comes to wins - after all, the total number of league wins is constant. A better way of examining this is to look at the MLB leaderboard in each season to determine the amount of wins earned by a high performing player. For the years up through the expansion era, I looked at the majors’ #5 win leader and took his win total as a benchmark for a high performing player. I adjusted accordingly using percentiles as expansion added more teams, so that currently I was looking at approximately the #9 ranked win leader. Looking at the leaders is useful because it measures high-performing pitchers only, which is what we are interested in. It also automatically takes into account usage patterns, strike-shortened seasons, changes to the schedule, and other changes to the game throughout the years.
Of course, a player looking to join a milestone club such as 300 wins will have to repeat this high-level benchmark performance over many years of his career. To create our index, I had our hypothetical great hurler pitch 15 years at the benchmark level of wins stated above to calculate a career win total.
So how many wins will he achieve in his career during each era of baseball history? The graph below shows the number of expected career wins with each year on the x-axis being the peak year of the player's career.
As you can see, this formulation is indexed at exactly 300 wins at several points throughout history: 1952, 1966, and 1973. This means our hypothetical pitcher would be expected to earn 300 wins whether his peak was in any of those three years. Glancing at the graph we see that it was much easier for a great pitcher to rack up wins in the early days of baseball. Our pitcher with a peak in 1908 would expect to win 366 games. From there the expected win total drops off gradually until it plateaus in the 1930's around 300 wins. After that we see that the amount of wins expected by a great pitcher remains remarkably constant for a long stretch of baseball history, never straying outside of a 10 win radius between the years 1934 and 1977.
After 1977 however, we see a steep drop in the number of expected wins, with the total dropping from 299 in 1975 to 271 in 1986. This almost certainly reflects the switch to a 5-man rotation, which dramatically decreased the number starts, and thus the opportunities for wins for hall-of-fame caliber pitchers. After 1986, the expected number of wins has stayed relatively constant, although it has dropped slightly to its current (peak year=2001) level of 263 wins.
This analysis provides an index for us. It appears that winning 262 games in the modern era is equivalent to winning 300 games in 1966, which is in turn equivalent to winning 347 games in 1917. Based on this, it appears that indeed the modern pitcher has a major disadvantage compared to hurlers of old. In order to get to 300 wins, he has to win approximately 37 more games than if he had been pitching in the golden era of baseball history.
But does this tell the whole story? The above assumes that a pitcher pitches at an outstanding level for 15 years, but modern conditioning and the 5-man rotation may help a modern hurler pitch longer than his old-school counterpart. This should be reflected in the methodology as well.
How to measure longevity? Since we are interested in looking only at high performing pitchers, I simply looked at the number of years pitched (with over 100 IP) by the top ranked win leaders in each year. While I wasn't able to compile this for all years, I did so surrounding three main points in baseball history. In the years between 1905-1915, top 5 win leaders averaged 12.5 years of service. I then looked at the years surrounding 1960. From 1955-1965, top 5 win leaders averaged 12.3 years of service, very similar to the longevity of the deadball era hurlers. I then looked at top 8 win leaders in the years surrounding 1990. From 1987-1993, the leaders increased their longevity to 13.8 years of service. While the standard errors on these estimates were rather high at around .6, this preliminary investigation indicates that indeed top-flight pitchers are pitching longer in today's game, increasing their longevity by about 10% since the 1960's.
So, how does one adjust for this increased longevity when estimating a player's lifetime wins? An increase of 10% in longevity indicates a corresponding 10% increase in the number of wins - simple enough. But when did this shift occur? Here I'll make a major assumption. The number of starts and innings dropped dramatically in the period from 1975 to 1985, causing the aformentioned steep drop in wins during this period. I'd be willing to say that it was during this period that the increase in longevity occurred. After all, the 5-man rotation was created in large part to protect a pitcher's health and longevity, so it would make sense that longevity would increase during this period. Portioning out the increase gradually in 1% increments between these 10 years, we can create a new index of expected wins. Below is a new graph reflecting the increase in longevity.
Looking at the latter end of the new graph, we see that the effects of increased longevity largely cancel out the decreased number of wins per season. The expected number of wins remains above 300 well into the 1980's and rests today (with a peak year=2001) at 289. This generally refutes the notion that getting to 300 wins is much harder today than it used to be. What's remarkable is that throughout the last 70 years of baseball history, the milestone has remained a consistent standard of excellence. It's probably one of the truest milestone clubs in any sport, and it's largely as reachable for Tim Lincecum or Carlos Zambrano as it was for Whitey Ford or Early Wynn. The only blemish on the 300 club is the fact that several "undeserving" pitchers from the early days were able to reach 300 when it truly was an easier feat to accomplish. The era-neutral 300 win club according to this methodology consists of the following 16 pitchers (wins are indexed to 1952/1966/1973 levels):
Looking at this list, Cy Young is still at the top followed by Spahn, Maddux, Clemens, and Walter Johnson. The rest of the list skews modern, which could convince me that the effects of modern longevity are even greater than I previously estimated. My methodology was certainly not air-tight on determining longevity, and more research could verify whether my assumptions were valid. Nevertheless, it appears the 300-club is alive and well. If the modern pitcher is at a disadvantage, it is a small one on the order of 10 wins or so. While it's true there are no 300-game winners on the immediate horizon, it's a fair bet that another one will come soon enough.
The 500-HR Club
While I had this system in place, I thought I would also apply it to the 500-Home Run club. Since hitters generally play longer than pitchers, I increased the number of years at peak performance to 16 instead of 15 years. This sets the 500 HR index points at 1934, 1949, and 1977. The following graph shows the expected number of home runs by players performing at peak level for 16 years.
As you can see, the 500-HR club is not nearly as true of a milestone club as the 300-win club. As can be expected, in the early days of baseball the HR bar was set very low. It then rises to a peak of 500 in 1934 before going into a trough through the 1940's. It reaches another peak point of 594 homers in 1958 before dipping back down to around 500 in the late 70's. From the late eighties to today, the expected number of home runs has risen dramatically to its peak level today (peak year=2001) of 634 HR's. This means that a player with a peak year in 2001 has a 134 HR advantage over players who played just 20 years earlier.
I didn't adjust for longevity here, since the usage of hitters has not changed throughout baseball history (although one could argue that the DH has enabled players to hit more lifetime HR's). A list of the "era-neutral" 500-HR club is below and consists of 11 members from a well-balanced smattering of eras (HR’s are indexed to their 1934/1949/1977 levels).
As if you needed more proof of Ruth's dominance, here it is. He's at the top by a wide margin. Aaron and Bonds follow, and there's a large dropoff after that. The list is devoid of the plethora of modern sluggers who have recently joined the ranks, although Griffey is about 13 HR's away from joining. It also leaves off a number of 50's and 60's players. The era correction makes the feats of Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt look even more impressive as well as adds Lou Gehrig to the club. Of course, if you wanted to index to a different year, you could make the club either more or less exclusive.
While 300-wins remains a good marker for a ticket to Cooperstown, the 500 HR club is far more volatile and if Hall voters haven't figured it out already, they will be writing a lot of unwarranted tickets if they use that as their standard with modern players. The 300-club however, remains a gold standard which is both reachable, but difficult to achieve.
Familiar Names in the 2009 College World Series
It should be an entertaining College World Series this year when things get underway this weekend (June 13-23/24). Both Virginia and Southern Mississippi are making their first-time ever appearances in the series. The University of Texas, on the other hand, has played in the series 32 (going on 33) times and has five titles. Only two teams from the 2008 series - Louisiana State and North Carolina - return in 2009.
In the first round you have: Cal State Fullerton vs Arkansas; Virginia vs Louisiana State; Arizona State vs North Carolina; and Southern Mississippi vs Texas.
There are not quite as many big-time prospects in this year's College World Series. Last year, the series featured seven first-round draft picks, while this year there are just four, including CF/1B Dustin Ackley, who went second overall to the Seattle Mariners. In total, 43 players were drafted from the eight teams in the series, down from 58 in 2008.
It's also interesting to note that a number of MLB teams drafted multiple players from the eight teams playing in the series, whether by design or coincidence: Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox, Colorado Rockies, and the Seattle Mariners.
First Round (8th overall)
Leake had an impressive statistical season, but his pitchability far outweighs his stuff (which is still pretty good). As such, many people were surprised to see Cincinnati tab Leake with the 8th overall selection. He is the undisputed ace of the staff after winning 15 games and posting a 1.23 ERA... The Reds organization will just hope he does not get too overworked in the series.
Other Names to Know: Jason Kipnis, OF, Cleveland (2nd round); Josh Spence, LHP, Los Angeles AL (3rd); Carlos Ramirez, C, Los Angeles AL (8th); Jared McDonald, SS, Chicago AL (21st); Raoul Torrez, 2B, Los Angeles AL (32nd).
Fifth Round (150th overall)
Wood made headlines, but not for the right reasons. The senior closer was forced to work 13 innings in relief during a playoff game against Boston College that went into extra innings. On the plus side, he was dominating through the first 10 innings as he did not allow a hit during that span. He's probably not a closer in the Majors, though as he relies mainly on a low-90s fastball and good changeup.
Other Names to Know: Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco (5th round)
Names to Know: Andrew Carraway, RHP, Seattle (12th round); Jeff Lorick, LHP, Atlanta (20th); Robert Poutier, RHP, San Diego (29th); Matt Packer, LHP, Cleveland (32nd); Tyler Cannon, SS, Pittsburgh (41st).
Names to Know: Josh Fellhauer, OF, Cincinnati (7th round); Khristopher Davis, OF, Milwaukee (7th); Jared Clark, 1B, Colorado (12th); Dustin Garneau, C, Colorado (19th); Michael Morrison, RHP, Detroit (29th); Kyle Witten, RHP, Seattle (41st); Joseph Scott, 2B, Colorado (42nd).
First Round (2nd overall)
Obviously this Ackley kid is pretty good. Dave Cameron at Fangraphs.com even made an interesting argument for the gifted hitter to go first overall in this week's 2009 MLB Amateur Draft. He's certainly the key cog in North Carolina's offense. He led the team in average, home runs, RBI, walks, and was tied for first in stolen bases. Ackley also has the flexibility to play both first base and center field.
First Round (15th overall)
White has had an up-and-down junior season, but he's made big pitches when needed in the playoffs. The right-hander held opposing batters to a .230 average and he struck out 97 hitters in 90 innings of work.
Other Names to Know: Kyle Seager, 2B, Seattle (3rd round); Mark Fleury, C, Cincinnati (4th); Adam Warren, RHP, New York AL (4th); Brian Moran, LHP, Seattle (7th); Colin Bates, RHP, Oakland (37th).
First Round (23rd overall)
Mitchell has the ability to completely dominate a game if he can get on base. The athletic outfielder stole 33 bases in 65 college games this season. He also has some pop and he slugged nine home runs, good for third on the team. Although he strikes out a lot (58 times), he also took his fair share of walks (50), which means he doesn't have to be swinging well to make an impact.
Other Names to Know: D.J. LeMahieu, 2B, Chicago NL (2nd round); Louis Coleman, RHP, Kansas City (5th); Ryan Schimpf, 2B, Toronto (5th); Blake Dean, OF, Minnesota (10th); Sean Ochinko, C, Toronto (11th).
Names to Know: Dallas Keuchel, LHP, Houston (7th round); Stephen Richards, LHP, Florida (8th); Scott Lyons, SS, Kansas City (15th); Ben Tschepikow, 2B, Kansas City (17th); Michael Bolsinger, RHP, Oakland (33rd); Ryan Cisterna, RHP, Los Angeles AL (34th).
Names to Know: Brian Dozier, SS, Minnesota (8th); Jimmy Ballinger, RHP, Chicago AL (11th); James Ewing, 2B, New York NL (12th); Ben Davis, OF, San Diego (24th).
Bat Meets Ball: Checking in on the HitF/X data
To begin with I want to say great work to all my colleagues here on their draft coverage. The interviews they all posted were first rate, Marc's coverage has been exhaustive and Marc and Rich's liveblog was a perfect way for me to follow along with the first round. So great work team.
The draft was probably the most exciting baseball event of the past week, but a not too distant second, for some of us, was the release of the first batch of hitf/x data. This is the analogous data for batted balls that pitfchf/x gave us for pitches. Like pitchf/x it is captured by two high speed cameras at each stadium. Based on pictures of the ball just as it is struck by the bat and fractions of a second afterwards the batted ball's initial speed and trajectory are estimated. For a technical discussion about how this is done and the accuracy of the method check out this post at Tango's and MGL's Inside the Book blog.
This first release of hitf/x data covers all batted balls from this past April and gives the speed of the ball just it leaves the bat and its vertical angle (or launch angle) and horizontal angle (or spray angle). Analysis of this week-and-a-half old data has already poured in. Ryan Howard crushes the ball. The optimal vertical angle to hit the ball at is around 11 degrees (with 0 degrees being parallel to the ground). David Ortiz is in trouble, balls came off his bat at the same speed as balls of the bat's of Alexi Casilla and Endy Chavez.
It has been a little while since I have had a really nice heat-map heavy visualization post and I thought this data would be a great opportunity to rectify the situation. Since there is only one month of data available the heat-maps presented here are more 'smoothed' than ones I have presented previously. For this reason I am not 100% comfortable about the conclusions at the outer edges of the images. But in and around the strike zone, where there have been lots of hits, I think the results are good.
Vertical angle of a hit based on pitch location
First off let's look at the average vertical angle of a batted ball based the location in the strike zone where it was hit. We know that hit balls with a low vertical angle tend to be ground balls and pitches lower in the zone are hit more often for ground balls. Thus, we should expect that pitches down in the zone are hit for a low vertical angle. Is that the case?
The vertical angle ranges from 90 degrees (popped straight up), to -90 degrees (driven straight into the ground), with a zero degree hit being parallel to the ground. Also remember that the images are from the catcher's perspective, so negative x-values are inside to RHBs and positive x-values inside the LHBs.
As expected the lower in the zone the lower the vertical angle of the average hit ball. In opposite-handed at-bats there is an additional trend for away pitches to have a lower vertical angle off the bat. So pitches down-and-away are the most likely to be groundballs and pitches up-and-in are the most likely to be fly balls and pop ups. In same-handed at-bats this inside-outside trend is much weaker and the gradient is largely just based on vertical location of the pitch.
Horizontal speed off bat based on pitch location
The initial speed of the ball off the bat is not as important in determining the success of a hit as the initial horizontal speed. A hit popped straight up very fast is just as bad a hit popped straight that is a little slower off the bat. On the other hand, the horizontal speed (the speed of the hit in the horizontal plane) is important in determining how hard a ball is to field and how far it goes. So below I plot the average speed of a hit ball in the horizontal plane (in mph) versus pitch location. Based on my HR heat maps I expect the highest speed hits to be slightly up-and-in.
Wow, that is the opposite of my assumption. The peak speed is up-and-away, and far up-and-away. There is a large peak speed out of the strike zone. The area of high speed hits extends from up-and-away to down-and-in through the strike zone. This is actually the same trend we previously saw with the highest run value of contacted pitches. Remember this is just based on batted balls, so there could be something of a selection bias. Maybe the only pitches up-and-away that are swung at and hit get crushed. Still this result is very surprising to me.
Peter Jensen made the following comment:
Here is the total speed off the bat by pitch location.
Just as Peter suggests this pulls the location of fastest balls off the bat closer to the batter and up. It is still slightly outside, but not far outside like before. The area of high horizontal speed hits down in the zone were, not surprisingly, slowish in total speed.
End of Edit
The next couple of weeks will be very exciting as this new wealth of data is examined. It affords a novel way to examine questions about baseball, and a potentially valuable tool to evaluate batters. If you have any general questions about the hitf/x data or any specific questions you think the data could answer feel free to post them in the comments. Also, make sure to check out Mike Fast's and Harry Pavlidis' early work with the data that I linked above.
Winners and Losers on Draft Day 1
Well, there were a lot of good things and a few bad things from Draft Day 1, when looking at the prospect hauls that teams pulled in. Let's have a look at a few of them.
The Pirates' supplemental first round pick, Victor Black of Dallas Baptist, has a big fastball (up to 96 mph) but he's been good for only one season (2008-09) and he struggled as recently as last summer's Cape Cod League. It's a pretty risky pick with some safer picks still on the board. But I do agree that the club should have been looking for some advanced arms that could get to the Majors rather quickly.
Prep pitchers Brooks Pounders (2nd round) and Zack Dodson (4th round) will be tough signings as they are both committed to good schools: USC and Baylor. Dodson specifically has a seven-figure asking price but the Pirates organization made him its first pick on Day 2, so you have to hope that the club got a good read on his signability. Both pitchers will probably command above-slot deals to sign away from college so it's a head-scratcher when you consider the organization went cheap with its first-round pick.
Kyle Gibson was obviously a big gamble with the 22nd overall pick, but if he had been healthy he would have been a Top 5 selection. And his forearm stress fracture is not a long-term-injury concern. The club then took a college lefty (Matt Bashore) with a good fastball in the supplemental round a potential future closer (Billy Bullock) in the second round. Third-round pick Ben Tootle can hit the upper 90s with his fastball but his other pitches need a lot of work. Well, he's headed to the right organization to learn how to pitch.
OK, let's cheat a bit a talk a bit about Day 2, since I just mentioned it above...
So, what do you think? Are you happy with what your team did?
Looking Back at Day One of the Draft
Yesterday was a bit of a blur as the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft flew through the first three rounds. The first round of the draft was also aired on TV at the MLB Network, which was fun to watch even if we had to put up with MLB commissioner Bud Selig as the talking head announcing the picks.
There were some forgone conclusions (Stephen Strasburg first overall to the Nationals), as well as some surprises (like prep catcher Max Stassi slipping to Oakland on the second day in the fourth round or Baltimore going cheap at No. 5 with prep pitcher Matt Hobgood).
As you probably know (and can see below), Rich and I live blogged the first round of the draft and each player had a unique scouting report written by one of the many talented Baseball Analysts scribes. I'd also like to share with you some of the scouting reports for players who slide out of the first round and into the supplemental first round.
37th overall | Toronto Blue Jays
James Paxton, LHP, Kentucky
39th overall | Milwaukee Brewers
Kentrail Davis, OF, Tennessee
40th overall | Los Angeles Angels
Tyler Skaggs, LHP, Santa Monica HS (CA)
44th overall | Texas Rangers
Tanner Scheppers, RHP, St. Paul Saints
47th overall | Milwaukee Brewers
Kyle Heckathorn, RHP, Kennesaw State
There were also some other players we thought would go a little sooner in the draft but they slid past the first and supplemental first rounds... including:
51st overall | Seattle Mariners
Rich Poythress, 1B, Georgia
54th overall | Baltimore Orioles
Mychal Givens, SS/RHP, Plant HS (FL)
55th overall | San Francisco Giants
Tommy Joseph, C, Horizon HS (AZ)
58th overall | Detroit Tigers
Andrew Oliver, LHP, Oklahoma State University
65th overall | Los Angeles Dodgers
Garrett Gould, RHP, Maize HS (KN)
70th overall | Minnesota Twins
Billy Bullock, RHP, University of Florida
91st overall | Kansas City Royals
Wil Myers, C, Wesleyan Christian Academy, North Carolina
At the end of the first day of drafting (the conclusion of the third round), Baseball America - the leading draft experts - stated that a number of key draft prospects were still available in the coming day, beginning in round four. Here are the names that BA identified (The number represents the player's ranking amongst BA's Top 100 draft prospects list):
30. Max Stassi, c, Yuba City (Calif.) HS
Of those players, we here at Baseball Analysts wanted to share a few more scouting reports, as well as the team that drafted them on Day 2.
4th round | San Diego Padres
Keyvius Sampson, RHP, Forest HS, Florida
4th round | Oakland Athletics
Max Stassi, C, Yuba City (Calif.) HS
5th round | St. Louis Cardinals
Ryan Jackson, SS, University of Miami
I was a guest last night on 590 KFNS, a St. Louis radio station known as The Fan. The show, which runs weeknights from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. CT, was hosted by The Benchwarmers, Brendan Wiese and Nick Barrale. We discussed the first day of the MLB Draft. You can access it on the radio station's rewind today or directly below.
Baseball Junkies Rejoice
It's a great time to be a baseball fan. The Draft has historically been something of a mystery because there was very little readily available information on potential draftees. That's just not the case anymore. A lot happened yesterday and chances are, you might be scrambling to figure out just what your favorite team did to beef up its farm system. So today, you're going to want to take in what happened during the first three rounds of the draft, and also follow how the remainder of the day plays out. To that end Marc Hulet, doing yeoman's work as usual on the draft, will be getting readers here up to speed with a fresh post in a little bit but there are plenty of other outlets, too.
MLB.com had a great live draft tracker. They also broadcast the first round from MLB Network's Studio 42. Rich Lederer and Marc Hulet had you soup-to-nuts here at Baseball Analysts last night. Keith Law was all over this thing. So was John Sickels. So were Kevin Goldstein and Baseball Analysts co-founder Bryan Smith. Obviously Baseball America was chiming in with the goods.
Following on Twitter was great fun, too (I am a newbie, still trying to figure things out but having a blast so far - @PatrickSull). With pick number 12, Rany Jazayerli (@Jazayerli) wanted USC shortstop and Scott Boras client Grant Green badly for the Royals. Before they picked, he tweeted the following:
We're going to learn an awful lot about the Kansas City Royals as an organization in the next four minutes.
After they took Aaron Crow, Keith Law (@keithlaw) talked Rany off the ledge, assuring him that Crow was in fact a good selection. Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) was just happy to have so many outlets to follow online so that he could take in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. I was in Jonah's camp - following intently with my laptop open while watching one of the more exciting hockey games I have seen in a while.
Tonight's baseball for me will be a little more old-fashioned. I will be sitting in the grandstand at the game's oldest ballpark watching the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox go head-to-head live. You can't beat a night out at the ballpark but with the amount of quality baseball content out there these days, following the game in 2009 from right in front of your computer is a close second.
Live Blogging the 2009 MLB Draft
For the third straight year (Click here for 2008), Baseball Analysts scribes Rich Lederer and Marc Hulet will be live blogging during the first round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. We'll have minute-by-minute updates and detailed scouting reports (by ourselves and the rest of the talented staff) on every player selected in the first round. We will also be providing commentary on subsequent rounds until the draft concludes after the third round.
The 2009 MLB Amateur Draft will begin with the Washington Nationals on the clock at 6 p.m. Eastern Time. There should be no surprises with the first-overall pick, as the organization is expected to take right-hander Stephen Strasburg out of San Diego State University. Many expect CF/1B Dustin Ackley, of the University of North Carolina, to go second overall to the Seattle Mariners. After the first two picks, though, it's anybody's best guess.
Be sure to refresh your browser or check back throughout the day to stay abreast of the latest news as we live blog the draft.
1. Nationals: San Diego State righthander Stephen Strasburg.
At No. 9, Tigers are deciding whether to spend big (California HS lefthander Tyler Matzek, Missouri HS righty Jacob Turner), smaller (Texas HS righty Shelby Miller) or a little smaller (Arizona State RHP Mike Leake).
10. Nationals: Stanford righthander Drew Storen.
1. Washington Nationals
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Right-handed pitching, third base, second base
Stephen Strasburg, RHP, San Diego State University
Rich: Let the negotiations begin, which, of course, won't get serious for another two months. I think it would be more fun if he signed and went directly into the big leagues. But it's probably not the right thing to do nor what is likely to happen.
Marc: I really hope Strasburg turns out to be as good as advertised - and for a long time... There have been too many Priors and McDonalds.
2. Seattle Mariners
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Starting pitching, Left-handed pitching, First base, Second base
Dustin Ackley, CF/1B, North Carolina
Rich: Seattle didn't back away from the rumors that Ackley wants Mark Teixeira money plus inflation, which would mean more than $10 million. The second pick slots at about $3M-$3.5M. Pedro Alvarez, who like Ackley is a SBC client, extracted $6M out of the Pirates last year. Look for Ackley to get closer to $6 mil than $10 mil. But, rest assured, he will be a last-minute signee.
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Catcher, Shortstop, Left-handed pitching
Donovan Tate, OF, Cartersville HS, Georgia
Rich: By taking Tate, the Padres are breaking with past history and taking an athletic high school player rather than a more proven college pitcher or bat. Good for them.
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Right-handed pitching, Left-handed pitching, Left field, First base
Tony Sanchez, C, Boston College
RL: Sully interviewed Sanchez for Baseball Analysts last week.
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Outfielders, Shortstop, Third base, First base, Left-handed pitching
Matt Hobgood, RHP, Norco (Calif.) HS
Rich: Hopgood was named the 2009 Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year yesterday. He is a big bodied pitcher who can also hit. Baltimore clearly liked him better than any other team. He is committed to Cal State Fullerton but is likely to be a fairly easy sign at this spot.
Marc: It's the first of the really surprising picks... but BA (Jim Callis) nailed it within an hour of the draft. A surprise that BAL went with signability this year after taking prospects like Wieters and Matusz in recent years.
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Depth just about everywhere on the diamond
Zack Wheeler, RHP, East Pauling (Ga.) HS
Marc: The sound you hear is the Braves organization weeping after losing out on its fav player... and Georgia native. Will Atlanta nab Alex White now?
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Third base, Shortstop, Second base
Mike Minor, LHP, Vanderbilt
Rich: Wow. Another signability choice. And a southerner to boot. A solid pick but one that lacks a high ceiling.
Marc: I love this pick because it means the Jays cannot take him. Seriously, though, the Braves have to hope that this guy is not Jeremy Sowers.
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Left-handed pitching, Right field, Left field, Second base
Mike Leake, RHP, Arizona State
Marc: So much for Alex White here. I like Leake a lot. He has good numbers and good stuff... A great pick by the Reds.
Rich: I like him, too. Xlnt athlete. Great makeup. Big-time competitor. Outstanding numbers in a tough conference. Only concern is his size. But I wouldn't want to bet against him. Thought he might go to the A's at No. 14. Oakland drafted him in the seventh round in 2006 but Leake chose to go to ASU instead.
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Depth everywhere...Shortstop, Left field, Starting Pitching...
Jacob Turner, RHP, Westminster Christian HS (MO)
Rich: Finally. A team stepped up on one of the best high school pitchers. The Tigers have not been afraid to draft and sign the best of the best the past few years (see Justin Verlander, Andrew Miller, and Rick Porcello).
Marc: I agree with Rich... great choice by Detroit. Not quite the present talented that Porcello (whom people are comparing him to) had but there are some similarities, as well.
Drew Storen, RHP, Stanford University
Marc: A college pitcher who should move quickly like Strasburg... Many expect him to move from the bullpen, where he pitched in college, to the starting rotation in pro ball.
Rich: A good, solid pick, as much for need and signability as anything else. The Nats can't take any chances here because the club will not receive a compensation pick if it doesn't sign Storen.
Jeremy interviewed Storen for Baseball Analysts last week.
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Right field, First base, Left-handed pitching
Tyler Matzek, LHP, Capistrano Valley HS (CA)
Rich: Matzek may now wish that he hadn't asked for the moon when approached by MLB teams this week. As a reward for wanting "unprecedented" money, he gets to pitch his first six years in Colorado. What a shame. But, hey, somebody has to pitch there.
Marc: Colorado got arguably the best prep arm with the 11th pick. Nice.
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Corner outfield, Shortstop, Left-handed pitching
Aaron Crow, RHP, Fort Worth Cats
Marc: Oh. My. God. What a GREAT pick for KC and it came out of no where... I love what KC has done in the last two drafts. Did I mention this is a great pick?
Rich: This is the second time Kansas City has taken this route (drafting a player who re-entered the draft) in the past few years. However, this time they may have gotten at least as good of a righthander as Luke Hochevar without
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Center field, Third base, Left-handed pitching
Grant Green, SS, University of Southern California
Rich: This is exactly where I had Green going if KC passed on him. A good fit for Oakland.
Marc: For the second straight year, Oakland goes up the middle with its first pick (Jemile Weeks at 2B last season).
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Catcher, Second base, Third base
Matthew Purke, LHP, Klein HS (TX)
Marc: Wow, everyone thought Texas would take Texas prep pitcher Shelby Miller. But the club took a different Texas pitcher in Purke.
Rich: I'm not overly surprised by this pick. It was either going to be Miller or Purke. The latter may have a higher ceiling. A tall, projectable lefty with an electric arm right now. He will cost a bunch of money but maybe Texas will get a home state discount (not from slot but from the lofty bonus demands that were floating around this week).
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Center field, Right field, Left-handed pitching, Right-handed pitching
Alex White, RHP, University of North Carolina
Rich: Call me skeptical. A very good college pitcher. But I'm not sold on taking a pitcher who relies so heavily on a splitter for his success at this point in the draft. A high risk, high reward starter or perhaps a reliever if things don't quite work out as planned.
Marc: Definitely a typical Cleveland pick...
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: First base, Second base, Third base, Left-handed pitching
Bobby Borchering, 3B, Bishop Verot HS, (FLA)
Marc: The first pick on back-to-back choices... The best prep bat, in my mind. A great pick by a very cautious, money conscious organization.
Rich: Let's see if Arizona backs this pick up with a pitcher. A signable pitcher.
A.J. Pollock, OF, Notre Dame
Rich: I'm not jumping up and down on this one.
Marc: Pollock has been linked to Arizona all along, though. He's one of those guys who could end up as a tweener and a fourth outfielder.
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Right-handed pitchers, Left-handed pitchers, Left field, Shortstop
Chad James, LHP, Yukon HS (OK)
Marc: The Marlins take a high school hurler... surprise, surprise. Florida could really use some depth in the upper minors in terms of pitching, but they go for ceiling instead.
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Left field, Right field, Second base, Left-handed pitching
Shelby Miller, RHP, Brownwood HS (TX)
Rich: Kudos to the Cardinals for taking the best available position player or pitcher rather than focusing on a more proven college prospect.
Marc: Nicely done. I agree with Rich... the Cards went with the best player available even though the organization typically takes college players.
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Third base, Shortstop, Right-handed pitching, Outfield
Chad Jenkins, RHP, Kennesaw State
Marc: (Shrugs) Meh.
Rich: Can you say Brad Penny? Just remember, Marc, "we're not selling jeans here."
Marc: Yeah, but this is the third straight year that I've been left thinking... Really, that's the best they could do with that pick?! A No. 3 starter at best... and one with a pretty soft body.
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Right field, Shortstop, Second base, First base, Pitching
Jiovanni Mier, SS, Bonita HS (CA)
Rich: Hey, the Astros didn't take a catcher! Mier can pick it. I think the Angels might have been on him had he floated to them.
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: First base, Second base, Shortstop
Kyle Gibson, RHP, University of Missouri
Marc: A stress fracture in the arm had Gibson fall all the way to the 22nd pick after being considered as a Top 5 pick.
Rich: I like it. Not as risky as it may seem at first blush. First of all, the injury is a stress fracture as Marc pointed out (and not an elbow or shoulder). He is supposed to be out no more than six weeks, which gives Minnesota the opportunity to work him out prior to the signing deadline. If he is fully healthy, the Twins just stole him. If not, they either take a chance and sign him at a big discount or they don't sign him and get the 23rd pick in next year's draft instead.
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Outfield, First base, Second base, Left-handed pitching
Jared Mitchell, OF, Louisana State
Rich: This pick shouldn't surprise anybody. Kenny Williams likes his athletes and got a big-time one in Mitchell.
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Outfield, Second base, Left-handed pitching
Randal Grichuk, OF, Lamar HS (TX)
Marc: Another set of back-to-back picks... A name that was not being talked about before... today, yesterday? What do you think, Rich?
Rich: I love it, Marc. A high school kid who plays outfield and hits for power. Just what the Angels need more than anything else. The numbers are there and, more importantly, he reportedly had some big BP sessions with more than one team during the past week. Although he didn't stand out when I saw him play at the Area Code Games last August, I'm very pleased with this pick, even if some view it as an overdraft.
Mike Trout, OF, Millville HS, New Jersey
Rich: Yay! The Angels have really filled a huge need by drafting Grichuk and Trout. I had highlighted Trout's name in my Area Code Games program last year.
Marc: That is some serious outfield depth. I'll trade you Jenks... sorry Jenkins (body confused me) for Trout?
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Right field, Second base, First base, Left-handed pitching
Eric Arnett, RHP, Indiana University
Marc: He's a rising name, so it will be interesting to see if he continues to step up in pro ball. He's got some big-time stuff.
Rich: This was a big favorite of Harold Reynolds. Based on video, said he liked Arnett as much or more than any other pitcher not named Strasburg. A big, power arm. Has been likened to Josh Johnson.
27. Seattle Mariners (Compensation)
Nick Franklin, SS, Lake Brantley HS (FL)
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Left-handed pitching, Second base, Left field
Reymond Fuentes, OF, Fernando Callejo HS (Puerto Rico)
Marc: Another fast-rising player and a GREAT athlete. Will the Yanks go with the big arm at 29 and nab Scheppers? I would.
29. New York Yankees (Compensation)
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Infielders, Outfielders, Left-handed pitchers
Slade Heathcott, OF, Texas HS
Rich: Heathcott wouldn't have been available had he not been injured or had personal issues. He might ask for more than slot but the Yankees can afford to give it to him. Don't see New York losing its first-round pick two years in a row.
Marc: Nice, nice pick by the Yankees. Definitely fell because of makeup issues and he has the talent to be a monster.
Rich: I saw Heathcott hit and pitch at the Area Code Games last August. I also watched how he carried himself after the game. The kid seemed a little cocky to me and has enough hot dog in him that he did a cartwheel and back flip before the Aflac Classic in honor of Ozzie Smith, who was the honorary chairman. But there is no doubting his talent. Hit 91 on the gun and struck out the side (although not in order). He hit a groundball single up the middle in one of the two ABs I witnessed. Grounded out to shortstop in the other. In the Aflac game, he went with a pitch on the outside corner and singled in a run against Zack Wheeler in the first inning that gave the West an early 1-0 lead. He also pitched the ninth inning and was saddled with the loss after giving up four runs. I wrote down "most athletic player" next to his name on my scoresheet even though I didn't care for his attitude.
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: First, second and third basemen, Left-handed pitching
LeVon Washington, 2B/OF, Buchholz HS, Florida
Marc: A good athlete, regardless of where he ends up on the diamond.
Rich: R.J. Harrison likes high school athletes and Washington fits the bill. If he can stick at 2B, Tampa Bay may be looking at Tim Beckham and LeVon Washington as the club's keystone combo down the road.
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Left-handed pitching, Left field, Right field, First base
Brett Jackson, CF, California
Tim Wheeler, OF, Sacramento State
Marc: And with the final pick of the first round... Tim Wheeler. Solid athlete.
Marc: Some big names and arms still on the board... Tanner Scheppers, Rex Brothers, James Paxton, Everett Williams...
Rich: With the 35th overall pick, the Arizona Diamondbacks just popped Matt Davidson, who worked out for the team at Chase Field a week ago today as we discussed in an interview that was published on Baseball Analysts yesterday. Look for Matt to sign for close to a million dollars within the next two weeks and get on with his professional baseball career. It will be interesting to see if Davidson or Borchering (Arizona's first selection and 16th overall) plays third base should they be assigned to the same rookie league team.
Matt Davidson, 3B, Yucaipa HS (CA)
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Left-handed pitching, Left field, Second base, First base
Aaron Miller, LHP/OF, Baylor
Brad Boxberger, RHP, University of Southern California
Rich: With the 52nd overall pick, the San Diego Padres selected Everett Williams. Paul DePodesta says, "This is another highly athletic HS outfielder who we think can really hit. He's about 5'10" and 200 lbs and is another potential 5-tool guy." I saw Williams at the Area Code Games last August. He had a great BP session but struggled mightily in the game I attended, going 0-for-5 and striking out three times.
Everett Williams, OF, McCallum HS (TX)
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Outfield, Second base, Left-handed pitching
Steve Matz, LHP, Melville HS (NY)
FanGraphs' Top 5 Prospects:
Organizational Needs: Left field, First base, Second base, Shortstop
Kelly Dugan, OF, Notre Dame HS (CA)
Be sure to refresh your browser or check back throughout the day to stay abreast of the latest news as we live blog the draft.
The 2009 MLB Draft is (Finally) Upon Us
The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft begins today at 6 p.m. ET. The MLB Network will broadcast the first round from its Studio 42 in Secaucus, N.J. with MLB.com providing on-air coverage of the remainder of the draft, including the supplemental through fourth round action this evening.
Baseball Analysts will be live blogging the first and supplemental rounds today for the fifth consecutive year. You can access the previous coverage by clicking on the links to the years: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005. We will be on hand to bring you all the picks in real time, including player profiles complete with name, position, school, height, weight, date of birth, stats, and comments from our staff of writers/analysts. Be sure to refresh your browser or check back throughout the opening two rounds to stay abreast of the latest news as we live blog the draft later today.
In the meantime, we would like to preview the draft in a quick-hitting, back-and-forth discussion between the two of us.
Rich: Well, Marc, today's the big day. Or, with the draft being moved to the evening, should I say tonight's the big night?
Marc: I am so excited. I look forward to this day all year... It's kind of cool that they're "dragging it out" over three days this year.
Rich: There's really no question as to what the Washington Nationals are going to do with the first overall pick in the draft. The only intrigue is how much the ownership is willing to offer Mr. Strasburg. Given his status as perhaps the greatest college pitcher ever and arguably the most obvious No. 1 since the inception of the draft in 1965, the San Diego State junior deserves to be well compensated for what he brings to the table. I would offer him $15 million, a nearly 50 percent premium to the previous high bestowed upon Mark Prior in 2001. What say you?
Marc: I am definitely concerned because Mr. Boras has his hands all over this... It's probably going to get a little ugly between the two sides - and in the media. From the sounds of it, players in MLB baseball (and the Washington Nationals) aren't really fond of the idea of Strasburg getting a huge contract having never proven himself in The Show. I read an interesting article with Ben McDonald - one of the best college pitchers of all time - recently and he said he received a lot of hostility in the Baltimore clubhouse over his ground-breaking contract (Boras was also his advisor at the time). Regardless of how it plays out, Strasburg is going to have a lot of pressure to be the player who turns the franchise around. Going back to the original question, though, I agree that $15 million would be more than fair.
Rich: Once Strasburg is off the board, Seattle is expected to draft North Carolina first baseman Dustin Ackley with the No. 2 selection. Ackley is undoubtedly the best bat among the college class of prospects and should return to center field after his arm has fully bounced back from Tommy John surgery last summer. Like Strasburg, the only concern is whether the Scott Boras client's asking price (rumored to approach eight figures) is unrealistically high.
Marc: I like Ackley a lot, although I was concerned earlier in the season that he would be stuck at first base. For me, that swing is not going to produce power at the MLB level. I think a lot of people are overrating his power. He's going to be an excellent average hitter and he's going to steal some bases and possibly play Gold Glove defense in center during his career. For me, he's not a $10 million player.
Rich: Switching gears here, the Diamondbacks and Angels each have five of the first 48 picks in this year's draft (see the adjoining Picks By Team, courtesy of Baseball America). Due to big league promotions and trades in the case of Arizona, each club's once highly regarded farm system has been depleted of late. How do you see the D-Backs and Angels handling the multitude of draft choices today?
Marc: I wanted to love the Diamondbacks organization because I love the state so much. But, I just don't have a lot of faith in the organization as a whole. I have a strong feeling that they're going to "go cheap" with their picks. If they take the best available player at 16 and 17 then I'll eat my words. Unfortunately, with so much up in the air with the draft, I can't even fathom who might be there... Bobby Borchering, Matt Purke? I could see them being one of the teams on Mike Minor, if he "slips." As for the Angels, you pretty much know the organization is going to go heavy on the prep players. I keep hearing that the club is big on Puerto Rican outfielder Reymond Fuentes. The organization needs some pitching depth too, though.
Rich: I don't see the D-Backs popping for Purke, especially if you're concerned that the organization is going to go cheap. Signability and injuries always play a factor in each year's draft. Kyle Gibson (stress fracture in his right forearm) and Baseball Analysts Draft Spotlight Tanner Scheppers (recovering from a shoulder injury last year) are the biggest risks health-wise this year. As to signability, Strasburg and Ackley pose some risk but are likely to sign right before the deadline. However, I'm not so sure you can count on a handful of high schoolers rumored to be seeking out-of-the-box signing bonuses, such as Purke, Donavan Tate, and Jacob Turner, to sign unless they get exactly what they want. It says here that if you draft any of these players, you had better be willing to pay (close to) the anticipated freight.
Marc: I agree, but I like to think that pretty much any player drafted in the first round is going to sign... There are not that many Gerrit Coles in the world, who would turn down millions of dollars to play college baseball. With that kind of money, you can set yourself up for life and go to college later, if that's really what you want to do. It also sounds like a lot of teams are saying to heck with the slot so I think we're going to see everyone sign, despite some long drawn-out negotiations. Teams have really shifted to emphasizing in-house development. It's still far cheaper to give $3 million to an amateur as a signing bonus than $50M to a 30-year-old free agent coming out of his prime.
Rich: Last year's draft was dominated by college prospects, particularly position players. Aside from Strasburg and Ackley, this year's draft seems more geared to high school arms. There's Purke and Turner, as well as Tyler Matzek, who just may be the best prep pitcher of them all, Baseball Analysts Draft Spotlight Zack Wheeler, Shelby Miller, Tyler Skaggs, and Matt Hopgood, who was named the 2009 Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year on Monday. That's seven right there as compared to just three last year (Ethan Martin, Casey Kelly, and Gerrit Cole). In this regard, the draft feels a lot more to me like 2007 than 2008.
Marc: Last year, though, you have too keep in mind that signability played into things as well as possible first-round talents like prep pitchers Tim Melville and Ross Seaton slid past the third round but still signed for first-round money.
Rich: Well, that could always happen again this year, but I think most, if not all, of those high school arms will be drafted in the first round.
Marc: One thing I am curious about, though, is if teams are going to start straying from the all-college approach that teams like St. Louis, Toronto, and San Diego have been using for a few years now... Those teams really haven't had great drafts as of late, although Toronto has scored a few good players by looking to the prep ranks a little more often.
Rich: I've always been attracted to taking the best player available, irrespective of his status as a high school or college prospect. If you end up with a good mix of both, all the better, as it helps balance out the age of players in your farm system (and eventually at the major league level as well).
Marc: Rich, I know you've seen Grant Green play a fair bit... Where do you think he ends up when all is said and done. And what kind of impact do you see him having? Is his 2009 season the real Grant Green?
Rich: Although Green didn't live up to expectations as a junior, he is still a first-round talent. Heck, he's the best shortstop in the entire draft. Premium up-the-middle players are still hard to find so I'm confident that he won't slide much beyond the middle of the first round unless teams get spooked by his above-slot asking price. Kansas City could be the best fit. The Royals haven't backed away from Boras clients in the recent past (Luke Hochevar in 2006, Mike Moustakas in 2007, and Eric Hosmer in 2008). If KC passes at No. 12, then I would look for Oakland (13th) or St. Louis (19th) to step up and take Green. As to impact, I can see him hitting between .270 and .300 with 15-20 HR during his age 25-30 seasons. Those numbers will work just fine as long as he sticks at shortstop.
OK, Marc. Washington is on the clock...
* * *
Update: Jim Callis, in his Mock Draft 4.0 posted this morning, says bonus demands are adding more confusion to a wide-open draft.
According to multiple team sources, several of the draft's best high school players blew them away when they revealed their price tags. California lefthander Tyler Matzek, the best prep prospect in the draft, wants "precedent-setting money," which is interpreted to mean that he wants to surpass the record $7 million guarantee for a high schooler given to Josh Beckett and Rick Porcello. Texas righthander Shelby Miller, previously believed to be signable for around MLB's bonus recommendations, is asking for $4 million.
2009 Draft Day Spotlight: Matt Davidson
Matt Davidson is one of the top high school bats in tomorrow's MLB Draft. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound third baseman is projected to go in the bottom half of the first round or early in the supplemental round.
A righthanded power hitter, Davidson hit .553/.685/1.153 with 18 doubles and 11 home runs during his senior year. He cranked eight homers in his final dozen games, going yard twice in three separate contests down the stretch.
Using a wood bat, Davidson put on a power display at the National Classic in the spring of 2008 and won the home run derby prior to the Aflac All-American Game at Dodger Stadium last summer. He went 1-for-4 with a run-scoring double down the left-field line in his second at-bat during the game.
Matt was born in Redlands, California on March 26, 1991. The Davidson family moved to nearby Yucaipa when he was a toddler. Davidson has wanted to play professional baseball since he was a young kid. He played four years of varsity and led Yucaipa HS (27-3 overall, 13-1 in the Citrus Belt League) to a national ranking this past season, bowing to Huntington Beach HS in the quarterfinals of the CIF, Southern Section Division II playoffs two weeks ago.
Davidson committed to the University of Southern California last year but appears to be leaning toward turning pro if everything goes as planned.
I spoke to Matt on the telephone for half an hour last Wednesday night. He had just returned from Phoenix after working out with the Arizona Diamondbacks the previous day.
Rich: I understand you not only played varsity baseball all four years at Yucaipa High School but you were the MVP of the league your freshman year.
Matt: Yes. I was mostly a pitcher my freshman and sophomore seasons, then I pretty much quit throwing my junior year and moved to third base to concentrate more on my hitting and fielding.
Rich: How did you do as a pitcher?
Matt: I was 10-1 with a 0.80 ERA in my freshman year. I was 9-2 with like a point 8 ERA as a sophomore. I think I was 4-2 as a junior and 5-0 this year as a relief pitcher.
Rich: Wow. You were quite the pitcher.
Matt: Thanks. I always hit when I pitched. As a freshman, I pitched and DH'd. In my sophomore year, I pitched and played first base.
Rich: What would you say to the cynics who question your ability to stick at third base longer term.
Matt: This is just my second year at third base. I've had absolutely no coaching there. I will be able to work with an infield coach in college or in the pros. I've only been able to take about 20 grounders a day at practice. I'm really raw right now. I'll be able to spend more time on my fielding in the future.
Rich: You signed a letter of intent to play baseball at USC, my alma mater.
Matt: Oh, that's good to know. My hitting coach, Danny Davidsmeier, was an All-American at USC in 1981.
Rich: I remember him.
Matt: I've been taking personal, private lessons from him since I was 10. He was drafted by Milwaukee in the third round. He didn't play in the majors but made it to Triple-A and also played overseas.
Rich: Can either one of us convince you to become a Trojan or are you set on turning pro?
Matt: I'm totally fine with both. Either one would be a great opportunity.
Rich: Do you have a preference?
Matt: I want to go out and play. My dream is to play pro baseball. But you have to make a smart decision. I just hope everything works out well so I can go out and play.
Rich: You sound like you're anxious to start your professional baseball career.
Matt: Yeah, definitely. I'm not looking for a ridiculous amount of money. I just want a fair amount for where I'm drafted. The big money will be there later.
Rich: That's what I like to hear, Matt.
Matt: Being drafted in the first round is a special thing. Not many people get to do that.
Rich: Who is your adviser?
Matt: Ryan Hamill of CAA.
Rich: How did you go about selecting an adviser and what made you choose Ryan?
Matt: You need to talk to your agent a lot. He works for us. He's young and relates well. It just felt comfortable. Everything clicked. I hope to work with him for a long time.
Rich: Coach Stout told me that you worked out with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday. How did that go?
Matt: It went really well. They have a beautiful stadium. I took BP and infield, and then I played in a simulated game with high school and college players.
Rich: Did the team interview you?
Matt: Not really. But the area scouts and I know each other well.
Rich: Arizona has the 16th and 17th picks plus three more in the sandwich round. Any idea where the D-Backs might draft you, if at all?
Matt: The Diamondbacks definitely have an interest but they can't tell you where they might take you. We'll be talking. We'll just have to see how it goes.
Rich: Have you worked out for any other teams?
Matt: San Francisco and St. Louis. I had a couple of professional team workouts as a group on Saturday and Sunday.
Rich: Do you have any others scheduled between now and the draft?
Matt: I'm going to Milwaukee on Friday.
Rich: From a scout's point of view, how would you rank your five tools (hitting for average, power, fielding, arm strength, and speed) in order from best to worst?
Matt: Hitting for power would be my best. Hitting for average second. My arm third. Then fielding and speed. But I want to make them all even.
Rich: Plate discipline and pitch recognition skills play important roles when it comes to hitting. How would you rate this area of your game?
Matt: I really improved on that this year from last year. Dr. Harrison and his son Ryan of Slow the Game Down helped me out a lot. They work with a lot of major leaguers. Dr. Harrison is an optometrist who works on eye training. I've learned to pick up pitches well and now see the spin of the ball better. I'm laying off pitches and waiting to get my pitch.
Rich: I noticed that you had 27 walks and only struck out seven times this year.
Matt: Yeah, and I was also hit by a pitch like 14 times.
Rich: Yikes. Were they throwing at you intentionally?
Matt: Sometimes. But it might also be because I get on the plate a little bit. That probably helps.
Rich: Do you tend to guess type of pitch and/or location when even or ahead in the count?
Matt: Umm... Sometimes I do. But Danny has taught me to be more of a react hitter. I don't really like to sit on pitches. I just like to react. I don't do as well when I get away from that.
Rich: Do you change your approach when behind in the count?
Matt: Not necessarily. I like to have a game plan of what I'm going to do. With two strikes, I want to put the ball in play. Hit it hard somewhere. I don't like to change my swing at all. Just keep it the same.
Rich: What is the biggest difference between hitting with a wood bat vs. an aluminum bat?
Matt: Bat speed. You need to have strong hands and arms. The sweet spot is smaller. You can't hit the ball off the handle like with an aluminum bat.
Rich: Do you like using wood bats?
Matt: I love hitting with wood bats more than aluminum.
Rich: You won the home run derby at the Aflac All-American Classic last summer using a wood bat.
Matt: I did. I hit six at USC and three or four at Dodger Stadium before the game.
Rich: Do you prefer facing lefthanders more than righthanders?
Matt: No, not at all. It doesn't matter to me. The ball still is coming out pretty much the same.
Rich: Who's the most difficult pitcher you've faced thus far?
Matt: I would say John Meyer, a righthander from Cathedral High School in San Diego. He is going to Clemson.
Rich: Have you patterned your game after another player?
Matt: Definitely. Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, and Cal Ripken Jr. I like to pick a little from each one. But you have to be your own player.
Rich: Who is your favorite player?
Matt: Cal Ripken or David Wright.
Rich: What is your attraction to them?
Matt: They play the game the right way. They play hard. They play every night. They present a good image, always working, showing how it's done. They're good role models.
Rich: Speaking of which, you were a member of Best Buddies, a non-profit organization founded in 1989 that is dedicated to enhancing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.
Matt: I was heavily into it last year but haven't been as involved this year with all that has been going on. I've always had a soft spot for the less fortunate.
Rich: You have also given hitting and pitching lessons throughout your community.
Matt: I continue to do that. I enjoy helping kids. There were people who helped me when I was a kid. I like giving back.
Rich: It sounds like you've got your act together, Matt. Where will you be on draft night?
Matt: I'll be at home. It's the night before grad night. The team baseball banquet is that evening.
Rich: Good luck on Tuesday. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me tonight.
Matt: I enjoyed it. Thank you very much.
Rich: Thank you, Matt. I look forward to staying in touch with you.
Rich: OK. Take care.
Thanks to Jeff Stout for coordinating the interview and to Aflac All-American and Max Preps for the photos.
2009 Draft Day Spotlight: Tony Sanchez
The powerhouse programs in college athletics were not always so. For many years the Florida Gators were the third best football program in their state much like in basketball, the Duke Blue Devils took a back seat to Dean Smith's North Carolina Tar Heels. But one recruit, one coach, one season can help a program turn the corner.
Thanks to the climate in which they find themselves situated, I am pretty sure that the Boston College baseball program will never enter such college athletics rarefied air but that's ok. For now, after a strong showing in 2009, the program is at least on the map and they have Tony Sanchez to thank. The nation's top ranked amateur catcher has helped give BC baseball unprecedented visibility. They compete in the ACC and given the urban, first-rate education they can offer recruits in a northeast corridor city, maybe they are here to stay.
Sanchez hit .346/.443/.614 this season and watched his professional stock skyrocket. A Miami product who was overlooked as a high school player, he proved the top southeast programs that would not give him a look wrong throughout his collegiate athletic career. On the cusp of professional baseball riches, he set aside a little time on Tuesday night to speak with me about his time at BC, playing 25 innings of baseball and his general outlook as he sets his sites on the next phase of his baseball life.
Patrick: What are you up to these days?
Tony: Well a lot of guys are taking time off but I am not. I need to get prepared. I just got back from a workout with one of my summer ball teammates - took a BP with the wood bat. I fly to Kansas City tomorrow to work out for the Royals. After that I come back to Miami to hang out with family and friends and wait for next Tuesday.
Patrick: What do you like most and what do you like least about this time in your life? I imagine it's a period of great excitement and anticipation but at the same time great uncertainty. How are you feeling?
Tony: Everything is so surreal right now. I am on cloud 9 coming off a good showing for BC baseball in Texas, playing in a game like that in that environment and now with the draft right around the corner...it's surreal. For much of the year my advisers would not tell me what they were hearing from teams around the league - they didn't want me to get a case of draftitis. But now that the season is over and they are opening up and filling me in on what they're hearing and I have to say, it's exciting.
As for the downside, I will miss my BC baseball teammates. I don't like being away from them and I don't like that I won't have the chance to play with them any longer as I head into the Minor Leagues.
Patrick: What made you choose Boston College?
Tony: They were the only school that gave me a shot. Playing in Florida, there is just so much talent down there that it is easy to be overlooked. But when BC called, the opportunity to play in that conference and make an impact immediately. When I visited the school, I fell in love with it.
Patrick: 25 Innings - what was that like?
Tony: First of all, playing in that atmosphere against the #1 team in the country...with a crowd of 7,000 genuine college baseball fans who know the game, it was unbelievable. They were obviously pulling for their hometown team but as the game wore on, they seemed to fall in love with us, too. It was just unbelievable to be a part of.
Patrick: I read your interview with David Laurila at Baseball Prospectus and what struck me is that you definitely are saying all the right things. "My defense comes first, offense is a bonus." Yadier Molina being your favorite player, etc. But you have to know somewhere in the back of your mind that, as long as your defense is steady, pounding the baseball is your ticket to the Big Leagues.
Tony: Definitely. Being a catcher, hitting is your ticket. That's how you skyrocket through the Minors. I will still say that hitting takes a backseat to my defense but I know what I have to do in order to advance.
Patrick: Speaking of hitting, when you look at your college numbers what clearly stands out is that your power numbers have improved dramatically each year. You slugged .425 freshman year, then .517 and finally .614 this past season. What do you attribute that to?
Tony: Hard work. I'm a grinder, man. I have worked out really hard in the Bubble in the off-season, with my coaches and trainers at BC and with the wood bat in the summertime. It has all added up over time to help me become the hitter I now am.
Patrick: What's your biggest developmental opportunity. In what area of the game will you need to improve quickly in order to succeed at the next level?
Tony: Pitch calling. I am looking forward to showing up for Rookie ball and getting in the bullpen with my pitchers, learning their pitches and what their comfortable with, reviewing film with coaches and learning players' patterns.
Patrick: Another level of baseball sophistication?
Tony: That's right, and I am going to have to learn quickly how to mentally adapt my game.
Patrick: Keith Law of ESPN.com has you going 4th overall to the Pittsburgh Pirates in light of a recent visit Pirates management made to Boston. Care to talk about that at all?
Tony: Pittsburgh did come meet. We had a great dinner, they were easy guys to talk to and I really felt that there was a strong connection. I would love to be a Pirate. But as you well know, nobody knows what's going to happen on Draft Day.
Patrick: Ok, let me ask you about some of the guys you've played with and against. Let me start with two guys that graduated from my alma mater, The Roxbury Latin School. Tell me about Chris Kowalski and John Spatola.
Tony: I have lived with Chris for three years and he is one of my best friends in the world. We will be together until we die. We have spent the very best times in our lives together.
John is one of the smartest kids I know. He's got a quick wit, he's a great teammate and he's just an all-around great guy.
Patrick: Ok, now for some other guys around the ACC. I have to start with Dustin Ackley.
Tony: He's a freak. Here is how I explain it. You are better off pitching to him 0-0 than you are 0-2. Because at 0-2 it seems like he's still gonna crush it while 0-0 at least there's a chance he will take the pitch.
Patrick: That's funny, I know there's a little hyperbole in there but point taken. I have never heard that description.
Tony: He's lethal, and the thing is you can't really pitch around him because Kyle Seager is up next. It's "pick your poison" with those guys.
Patrick: How about another Tar Heel, Alex White?
Tony: You're talking about one of the best pitchers in college baseball. He kept it down almost all game against us but elevated when he wanted to, he moved the ball around and kept us off balance. He's just a great pitcher.
Patrick: What are your impressions of Miami shortstop Ryan Jackson?
Tony: I have been watching him since we were 12 and I always knew he was going to be special. Guys like us don't necessarily impress everyone - like me, he has his critics. But he has that intangible that I think will help him become a Big League shortstop. Travel ball, high school ball and most recently in college I have watched him and he has it. His glove alone could probably make him a Big Leaguers and if he hits, sky's the limit.
Tony: Catching Mike is probably one of the easier jobs I had to do at BC. He's one of those guys that you know he's gonna put the ball whereever you want it and it's going to be firm but easy to receive. He has such good composure on the mound that even if he's got men on base, you know he's going to get out of the inning unscathed because he just has that confidence that it takes to be a dominant pitcher. I really enjoyed catching Belf but he and I are still hoping that we might have a chance to work together again. Right now, we're banking on getting drafted by the same team, which would be unbelievable.
Patrick: Ok thanks a lot, Tony, and best of luck to you on draft day and beyond.
Tony: You got it, man. Thank you.
I asked another standout Boston College athlete, my friend Brooks Orpik's younger brother Andrew Orpik, whether or not he had seen Sanchez around the weight room and if he could observe anything about his work ethic. Andrew just finished up his college hockey career and is now a member of the Buffalo Sabres organization. Here he is on Sanchez:
All sports share a weight room at BC except football, so I saw (Tony) in there a lot. He was always noticeable because for one he was one of the stronger kids in the weight room and he would be in there more than just when he had to be, which doesn't surprise me when seeing how good of a player he is.
If teams think that Sanchez has the skill to make it as a big league catcher, they should enter draft day knowing that the kid will do everything he can to maximize his abilities. His work ethic has been his meal ticket to date, and I don't see any reason why that should change when he becomes a professional ballplayer. He's talented and hungry, and about to make one organization's farm system a whole lot stronger.
Sports Illustrated Jumps on the Bryce Harper Bandwagon
The magazine calls Harper "The Most Exciting Prodigy Since LeBron."
His name is Bryce Harper. You don't know him, but every big league scouting director does. He hits the ball a desert mile, clocks 96 on the gun, and he's only 16, more advanced than A-Rod and Junior were at the same age. And his ambition is as great as his talent.
Readers of Baseball Analysts know "Baseball's Chosen One." We were one of the first to introduce him to the baseball world in an article last summer, entitled Remember This Name. We followed up that piece with Revisting Bryce Harper in January, including a photo and a YouTube video of his exploits at the third annual International Power Showcase High School Home Run Derby at St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field. Most recently, we detailed the stats from his sophomore season (.626/.723/1.339 with 14 HR in 115 AB and 36 SB in 39 attempts) in our High School, College, and Minor League Notes.
Owing to our past coverage, our site has been overwhelmed today by Google searches looking to learn more about Harper, causing occasional load issues.
In the meantime, the Las Vegas Review Journal wonders about Harper as it relates to the SI jinx, "which sometimes haunts athletes and teams that appear on the magazine's cover."
Hijinks (by the team lucky enough to draft and sign Harper in 2011 — or 2010 if he can get a "GED credential this summer and enroll in a junior college this fall" as Verducci mentions in his excellent article), yes. Jinx, no.
Remember this name.
2009 Draft Day Spotlight: Zack Wheeler
Continuing with our series of Draft Day Spotlights, I recently caught up with Zack Wheeler, a high school pitcher out of Georgia. Wheeler finished his high school season impressively, taking the East Paulding Raiders deep into the Georgia state playoffs. Recently he has been climbing the draft boards, drawing the most interest from teams selecting #4 through #8. The right-hander, long and lanky at 6'4'' and 170 pounds, has a tremendous arm and can throw up to 95 mph with good movement on his fastball and breaking pitch.
Scouting reports have described him as having a "projectable body", and cite his poise and make-up under pressure in addition to his obvious arm strength. From talking to him, Wheeler has a low-key and easy going manner about him, which likely helps keep his cool on the mound.
Zack was kind enough to answer a few questions for Baseball Analysts before the June 9th draft.
BA: Thanks a lot for taking the time to talking us today. You’re obviously one of the top prep pitchers eligible for the draft, and it’s been said you’re a lock to be a first round pick. Where will you be on draft day and who will you be watching with?
Wheeler: I’m going to be up at a place called Stars and Stripes. They’ve got bowling and everything, some big screen TV’s, it’s like a family hangout. That’s where I’ll be watching it. I’m going to have friends, old coaches, current coaches, family…that’s about it.
BA: What’s your favorite ballclub? Are there any teams you’re particularly hoping to be drafted by?
Wheeler: I really don’t have one. There’s really none….I don’t really don’t care who picks me, I just want to go out and play.
BA: I’m sure you’ve had a lot of scouts come watch you, including from what I understand, some general managers. How does it feel to be pitching in front of those guys? Any added pressure?
Wheeler: Ah, no, I don’t think so. I’ve been playing over at East Cobb, on the number one team, the past two summers. Playing over there on the number one team, you get that all the time. I think I’m pretty used to it. The Aflac All-American game, Under-Armor All-American game, those really helped a lot – all the people watching you all the time and stuff. I don’t think there’s really any more pressure than usual.
BA: Have any teams taken a particular interest in you?
Wheeler: Teams…the Pirates, the Orioles, the Giants, and Braves. Those are the main four.
BA: Speaking of pressure, you recently threw a no-hitter in the state playoffs. Describe what was going through your mind when you were on the mound?
Wheeler: I really didn’t know about it until the seventh inning, when I had three outs to go. My second baseman came up to me and told me I had a no hitter. He jokes around with people all the time, he’s like the jokester on the team – so he just let me know about it. I just tried to go up there and get three more outs. I really didn’t know about it until the 7th so, there was really no pressure until the end.
BA: Well congratulations, that must have been really exciting.
Wheeler: I appreciate it.
BA: Are there any pitchers that you really model yourself after?
Wheeler: No, not really, I don’t think so. I mean, I like Carlos Zambrano, but it’s kind of hard to model yourself after him. I just like how he loves the game and how he plays it.
BA: There’s definitely a lot of intensity with him.
BA: What’s your greatest strength as a pitcher? Something you’re really proud about?
Wheeler: I think my mound mentality. If something goes wrong behind me I just keep on pitching, you know, try to get more outs – don’t try let anything get to me really. I think that’s a good strong key to have.
BA: That’s definitely important. Can you describe the pitches in your arsenal and maybe your approach to facing hitters in terms of pitch selection?
Wheeler: I’ve got my 4-seam fastball, my 2-seam fastball. Then I’ve got my slurve, and I’ve got a change-up. When I get two strikes on somebody, I want to make them chase an 0-2 curve ball. I usually try to throw a swoopy curveball that just dives out of the zone. If I have a 3-2 count and I want to throw a curveball to strike them out, I’ll throw more of a harder curveball that has a bit more bite downward.
BA: You feel confident throwing that curve ball with a 3-2 count?
Wheeler: Yes sir.
BA: Have you given much consideration to pitching in college or are you pretty much set on going straight to the pros?
Wheeler: I mean, if it doesn’t work out when the draft comes around, I’d definitely consider pitching in college. But, you know, I want to go play, so I hope it works out.
BA: Your older brother Adam also played professional ball from what I understand. What lessons have you learned from watching him?
Wheeler: You know, just keep your poise on the mound. Don’t let anything bother you and just have command. Be strong every time out.
BA: What kind of personality do you have in the clubhouse? Are you a vocal leader? A lead by example guy? A prankster? What’s your personality?
Wheeler: I lead more by example. I’m not quite a vocal leader. But, you know I like to play jokes on some people too sometimes, just to keep things live in the locker room.
BA: First round draft picks can command a lot of money. Are you nervous at all about the contract negotiations? Do you have a plan for that?
Wheeler: I don’t know, me and my agent haven’t talked about it very much. We’re just gonna let it flow and everything. When the time comes around I’m sure we’ll figure it out.
BA: I'm sure you will. One more kind of fun question. You mention you like Carlos Zambrano, and I notice that you’re a switch hitter yourself, which is unusual for a pitcher. Do you think you’ll keep that up or do you think you’ll settle into one side of the plate?
Wheeler: I think I’ll keep it up – I still hit both ways right now. I mean, I hit better lefty, but I can hit righty too.
BA: Big Z certainly seems to handle it perfectly well himself.
Wheeler: Oh yeah.
BA: Well that’s all the questions we have for you today. I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to Baseball Analysts.
Wheeler: No problem.
BA: Thanks again and good luck on June 9th.
Wheeler: Alright – appreciate it.
2009 Draft Day Spotlight: Tanner Scheppers
In a draft that has very little debate over who is going first overall, there are still many interesting stories to be found. One of the most intriguing story lines revolves around pitchers Tanner Scheppers and Aaron Crow, two first-round talents from the 2008 MLB amateur draft that failed to come to terms with the clubs that selected them.
Scheppers, who suffered a stress fracture in his pitching shoulder before last year's draft, slid to the second round where he was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Crow, despite being selected ninth overall, could not agree on a contract with the Washington Nationals. Both pitchers chose not to return to their respective colleges for their senior seasons. Instead, they each headed off to play professional baseball in independent baseball leagues in hopes of improving their situations in the 2009 MLB amateur draft.
After making his second start of the year for the St. Paul Saints, of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, Scheppers was kind enough to speak with Baseball Analysts before taking to the field for a workout with The Saints. The night before his interview with us, Scheppers pitched four innings of two-hit ball. He did, though, struggle with his control. The right-handed starter walked five batters, although he also struck out six.
Fast-forwarding just over a week, Scheppers' statistics are still not matching the potential that he's shown. Despite some obvious signs of rust - which should be expected after such a lengthy layoff - the right-hander has wowed scouts and there is talk that on a pure talent level, he should go second overall. Some teams, though, will inevitably shy away from the Dana Hills High School alum because of the shoulder injury.
The Laguna Niguel, California native was born on January 17, 1987 to David (an accountant) and Ann (an interior designer) Scheppers. The younger Scheppers' hobbies include body-boarding and playing video games. He spent most of his prep career as a shortstop, but took to pitching in his senior year of high school. The Orioles drafted him as a pitcher in the 29th round of the 2005 draft, but he elected to play for Fresno State University.
In his freshman year, Scheppers appeared in just 12 games as a reliever and posted a 9.00 ERA. He eventually worked his way into the starting rotation in his sophomore year when he made 25 appearances and 15 starts. His ERA improved to 4.74 and he struck out 94 batters in 93 innings of work. Scheppers' game, though, really took off during his junior year before his shoulder problems, when he posted a 2.93 ERA and allowed just 54 hits in 70.2 innings of work. He walked 34 (4.3 BB/9) and struck out 109 (13.9 K/9).
Marc: So, how do you feel the game went last night?
Tanner: Ah, I've definitely had better days... that's for sure.
Marc: You did, though, allow just two hits over four innings, so that must be a positive.
Tanner: Yeah, there were definitely some positives. I mean, obviously when you have outings like that you learn a lot more than, say, if you go out there and do really well.
Marc: Can you put your finger on one thing that you learned last night?
Tanner: Yeah. Last night when things started to get a little out of control and things started hitting the fan, I really sped things up instead of going the opposite direction. I talked to Kerry Ligtenberg and sat down with him to just pick his brain and see what he had to say about the whole situation. He just said I was rushing things and falling forward a little bit. Those were all really good things to learn.
Marc: Have you had more than one opportunity to pick the brains of players like Ligtenberg and Mitch Wylie - guys that have played at a really high level?
Tanner: I actually room with Wylie so I can talk with him every day, which is really good. And Craig Brazell has taught me a lot about the hitter's aspect and what they're thinking up there and stuff.
Marc: And it must be nice not to have to face him. (Laughs)
Tanner: (Laughs) I'd love to face him. That'd be awesome.
Marc: What's the biggest difference between NCAA hitters and the professional hitters that you've been facing recently?
Tanner: So far what I seem to be noticing is that they're a lot more disciplined. They don't chase, really, anything. They have a lot better eyes. The wood-bat thing is a little bit different. You can pitch inside a little bit more. It takes some time to get used to that. Really, they're just more disciplined and developed hitters.
Marc: How else have you adjusted your game plan while pitching to batters now that they're using wood bats?
Tanner: Just pitching a lot more inside. I'm still learning. I've only had a few starts now and every start I'm learning something new. I'm starting to work in the changeup a lot more to keep the hitters off-balance a little bit.
Marc: How did it feel watching how your teammates were doing at Fresno State during the College World Series?
Tanner: It was good to watch; I was part of the team. We had a great run and I couldn't be more proud for them.
Marc: You made a lot of improvement between your sophomore and junior years at Fresno State. What do you attribute that improvement to? Was it just being able to pitch more and getting used to pitching full-time? I know you were recruited by Fresno as a shortstop out of high school.
Tanner: I think a lot of it had to do with repetition. I was getting out there consistently and feeling the game out. I was talking with my pitching coach and he really took me under his wing and helped me out there.
Marc: Do you ever miss playing everyday at shortstop?
Tanner: (Laughs) It's been so long... I love pitching.
Tanner: Oh, no. I was so young then. I didn't know anything about pitching. I only pitched like 30 innings my senior year. And that was all the pitching time I got. No real coaching at all. If I had signed, I would have been lost out there, I think. College was a good experience. I learned a lot from it.
Marc: Would you recommend, then, for kids - who are drafted out of high school - go and spend some time in college? Or do you think it depends on the kid and the situation?
Tanner: I think it definitely depends on the situation. I'm definitely more on the college side. You definitely don't often see high school players make it (to the Majors) in the first couple of years. To go straight to the big leagues is pretty rare for them. I think you gain a lot more experience by going to college and you get your education out of the way. You never know what can happen. An injury could end your career and then you don't really have any schooling. I have a back-up plan and I think it's a really good thing to have.
Marc: How's the shoulder doing?
Tanner: The shoulder's doing great.
Marc: Have you had any problems with it at all this year?
Tanner: Zero. All the hard work is paying off.
Marc: What sort of rehab did you do to get that shoulder back to where you're throwing like you were before getting hurt?
Tanner: I was at [the Athletes Performance Institute in Los Angeles]... and I worked out there for four months, strictly doing shoulder exercises to really build up the muscle around the [rotator] cuff. It was also about the arm, stretching it out. Ever since, it's been great.
Marc: Do you think the shoulder is stronger now than before the injury?
Tanner: Definitely. It's definitely stronger.
Marc: Did they pinpoint what caused the injury? Was it a pitching injury or was it from lifting weights or doing something else?
Tanner: Ah, no it was pitching. It was over-work. I've seen Dr. [Lewis] Yocum and he said it was normal wear-and-tear on an over-worked arm. I threw a lot of pitches and a lot of games.
Marc: Have you gained any other valuable experiences from spending time with the club in St. Paul, aside from the in-game pitching?
Tanner: Overall, I've just learned more about the game.
Marc: And does that come from just being at the ballpark everyday and being around professional ball players?
Tanner: Yeah, exactly - seeing a ball game everyday. Different stuff happens every game. You can see the different things that happen and how to handle it. With all the different situations you're always learning.
Marc: Obviously this time last year, injury aside, you were a really highly-regarded pitcher. You were expected to go very high in the draft and you still went in the second round to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Are you a better pitcher now than you were then?
Tanner: Definitely. I'm still working off a little bit of the rust, and I'm kind of getting my feet underneath me, feeling the field out there with the crowd. I'm just feeling the baseball game, really. I was a little more in control last year when I was in my prime. But I'm starting to come under my feet and get back into it. I'm starting to feel how I was last year and with the control part, which is nice. Once I get there, everything should fall into place.
Marc: Do you find the game is going really quickly when you're out on the mound right now?
Tanner: No, just in that last inning yesterday. Things sped up more for me a little bit. Other than that, not really.
Marc: What's been the most frustrating or challenging part of the last year?
Tanner: I dunno. It's just been a long period. It was just long.
Marc: What about the rehab? Was that challenging?
Tanner: No. The rehab was the easy part. Doing the work is the easy part... It was people not being able to see me.
Marc: What was the most rewarding part of the last year for you? Has anything positive come out of the injury?
Tanner: You know, I've learned a lot. I've learned a lot from the experience.
Marc: When you're on the mound, do you have a specific game plan, or approach when you're working? Do you try to pitch to contact or do you like to go for the strikeouts?
Tanner: I just try to fill up the strike zone. If they hit it, they hit it. If they don't then you just keep pounding the strike zone. That's what I just keep trying to tell myself.
Marc: Do you put much stock in statistics and in-depth analysis?
Tanner: Oh no, not at all.
Marc: Do you study a lot of scouting reports before your games?
Tanner: I just go over scouting reports on the hitters to see what tendencies they have and if they chase a lot of stuff or if they're a first-pitch hitter or do they hit the fastball... That sort of stuff. But I don't look at batting averages and that sort of stuff.
Marc: When you're facing a hitter for the first time, how do you attack them? Do you go away from their strengths or do you pitch to your strengths?
Tanner: I go with my strengths, because you want to be beat with your best stuff. You don't want to get beat by your second-best pitch. So definitely just attack it... If I get beat with my best, then I just tip my cap to them.
Marc: Then if you get beat with your best against a hitter, what approach do you take the second time that you face that same hitter?
Tanner: It's definitely a feel thing. You go with whatever approach feels right and what's going good for you that day. Every day is different. Some days the curveball is great. Some days it's just not doing that well.
Marc: You've mentioned the curveball. What other pitches do you throw?
Tanner: Fastball, curveball, slider, changeup.
Marc: And what do you feel is your best pitch?
Tanner: The fastball.
Marc: What has the heater been clocked at recently?
Tanner: Mid-to-high (90s) is what I've been clocked at. I've been 94-98 mph
Marc: Now, do you like to just go out and throw as hard as you can or do you try and take a little off to gain more command and control of the pitch?
Tanner: You know, I'm still learning. There are times when I think I'm over-throwing a bit and it causes me to be up in the zone. It's a feel thing and I am still learning a lot.
Marc: It's just two weeks before the 2009 MLB amateur draft. Can you give me a scouting report on Tanner Scheppers the pitcher? What is your biggest strength?
Tanner: I guess that I'm still young and I'm still learning. I have a pretty good fastball. The off-speed stuff is there... And I'm willing to get better, to work my ass off. (Laughs)
Marc: And if you were to highlight one thing that you need to work on to take your game to that next level, what would it be?
Tanner: Command. Command and consistency.
Marc: And what do you think can help you achieve improvements in those areas?
Tanner: Just more pitching.
Marc: Do you have any specific goals after signing. Do you think that far ahead or are you just taking things one day at a time?
Tanner: One day at a time, definitely... Pitch by pitch.
Marc: How close were you to signing with Pittsburgh last year?
Tanner: You know, I'm still confused by the situation. (Laughs) I don't really know exactly what happened there.
Marc: Did you think you were going to sign with them?
Tanner: Oh yeah, I thought I totally made it. But they told me it wasn't going to happen.
Marc: That must have been frustrating.
Tanner: It was definitely a big surprise.
Marc: So then what made you choose to go the independent league route, rather than return to Fresno State for your senior season?
Tanner: I'd rather not comment on that, if possible.
Marc: OK, not a problem.
Marc: So, the last mock draft I saw had you going fifth overall to the Orioles. Do you pay attention to that kind of lead-up to the draft, and the speculation?
Tanner: My teammates joke around about it and stuff but I really don't pay that much attention to it. You can't, really. I got caught up in it a little bit last year, you know, in the heat of everything. Being hurt and everything you realize that you just need to go and pitch and everything will sort itself out.
Marc: Are there specific teams showing more interest in you than others at this point, or are you getting interest from everybody?
Tanner: I think it's just in general.
Marc: Do you have a favorite team or a preference?
Tanner: Oh no, not at all. I'd be lucky to play for any one of them.
Marc: I take it, then, considering that you thought you'd signed last year, that you're looking forward to signing quickly and starting your career?
Tanner: I would love to sign as quickly as possible, get into the system and start off. Hopefully improve out there and just move up as quickly as I possibly can. I'm going to work as hard as I possibly can to make sure that happens.
Marc: Well, that's all my questions. I really do appreciate you taking the time, Tanner.
Tanner: Yeah, no problem.
Marc: And I wish you the best of luck for the season leading up to the draft.
Tanner: Thank you, I appreciate it.
Baseball Analysts would again like to thank Tanner Scheppers for speaking with us. As well, we'd like to thank the St. Paul Saints (and Sean Aronson) for accommodating the interview.
Credit to Keith Kountz for Fresno State photos of Scheppers in action.
Runs Allowed vs. ERA
I picked up a copy of Baseball Between the Numbers, the Baseball Prospectus tome which debunks conventional baseball wisdom, and I couldn't help but be struck by the chapter in which it damned baseball's Earned Run Average as an archaic statistic. While of course, ERA has its problems, I was surprised that its prescription for ERA's shortcomings was to user the simpler Run Average (RA), which is calculated the same way as ERA except using total runs instead of earned runs. This idea was also championed by Michael Wolverton among others at BP. Disputing the notion was Kevin Shearer on Rob Neyer's blog site.
While the arguments are convincing on both sides, neither side convinced me to my satisfaction. I decided to examine things statistically via simulation. The key questions regarding ERA vs. RA concern the concepts of variance and bias. ERA was created for a reason - to remove the effects of defense from a pitcher's record. The creators knew that defense could be a source of bias in a pitchers record - a defense which makes a lot of errors will artificially inflate a pitcher's runs allowed, while a good defense will artificially deflate a pitchers runs allowed.
ERA does remove the bias - by reconstructing the inning without the error it indeed removes the effects of defense. Over the long run, ERA will be neither helped nor hindered by good or bad defense. While it does remove bias, the problem with ERA is that it is not very efficient in doing so. By removing the effect of defense, ERA also throws out a great deal of information - namely everything that happens after the third out of the inning should have been made. After a two out error, it matters not whether the pitcher strikes out the next batter or gives up 5 runs, all of this information is lost by ERA (the fact that ERA fails to capture additional outs as well as additional runs seems to be lost on those who simply claim ERA is too lenient and bails out pitchers with poor defenses). Simple RA captures this information (and thus reduces variance by effectively increasing sample size), but of course is subject to bias due to good or bad defense.
What's more interesting is to look at the standard deviation of these numbers. The better statistic will have a smaller SD. Of course, this is not quite a fair comparison because the SD of RA will be larger than the SD of ERA because RA is inflated by the errors. We can deal with this by deflating the RA back to an ERA scale by multiplying RA by a factor of 4.24/4.59. Now that we have this fair comparison we can take a look at the SD of these averages. The statistic which has the smaller SD will more closely adhere to the true ERA of 4.24, and thus be a more precise statistic. The results? The SD of ERA was .625 runs per 9 IP. The SD of the adjusted RA was slightly smaller at .608 runs per 9 IP. This indicates that indeed RA is superior in this situation - RA was more closely clustered around the true value of 4.24, whereas ERA was slightly more spread out.
In the ERA vs. RA comparison there are two competing forms of variability. With RA, variability increases due to the presence of errors which create random noise. However, as we've just shown, this is more than counteracted by the fact that the RA effectively has a larger sample size to work with than ERA, since it throws out no data.
To account for this, I reran the simulation, this time making the error rate vary randomly in order to match the rough error rate distribution among major league teams. This change is likely to favor ERA over RA, since extra variability is now be added to RA, while no extra variability will be added to ERA. What were the results? In the end, this extra variability did very little to change the results. The SD of ERA was .628 runs per 9 IP while the SD of RA was .610 runs per 9 IP. The change in the SD of RA is almost negligible and is not significant. The end result is that adding this slight amount of variability into the simulation does virtually nothing to change the argument of ERA vs. RA. This indicates to me that indeed the people at Baseball Prospectus are correct and that RA is a better measure of a pitcher's run prevention skills than ERA.
As you can see, RA gets the bulk of the weight, but ERA has usefulness as well. Nevertheless, the regression indicates again that RA is a better indicator than ERA. About 90% of the weight should be given to RA and only 10% should be given to ERA. The standard error on the regression indicates that the standard error of this combined average is .604 points of ERA - down from .610 when using RA alone. However, obviously this distinction is very slight, so using this combined measure is of questionable value, especially since if you are going to go with an advanced statistic, there are many other measures better than either RA or ERA.
How about environments where the variability of error rate is high between pitchers? The variability in error rate among MLB teams is very narrow and we saw that factoring this in had little effect. However, if we increase this variation in error rate significantly to range from 0% to 2%, what happens? In this situation, indeed ERA does become a better statistic, with the standard deviations comparable and the importance of ERA nearly matching the importance of RA in a regression. Of course, this is not a realistic situation which occurs in baseball.