The Prospecting Mission Statement, Part II

Catch part one of this series here. I’ve dragged my feet a bit on getting to part two of the series, but all four of you eagerly awaiting more of the site’s methods on ranking prospects, wait no more!

This section will focus on a interesting philosphical debate including Ben Grieve, financial valuation of prospects, breaking down how we grade each tool, and why Drew Stubbs holds to key to the Adjusted OFP treasure chest. If that doesn’t make you want to read more…then read some of the less geeky stuff on the site, maybe you’ll like that more. For those of you wanting to delve further into prospect geekdom, follow us deeper into the rabbit hole after the jump…

I was having dinner with a friend that works in baseball and we somehow got on the topic of what type of prospect you would pick if given the choice by your GM in a trade. If you knew (how you know or if you could is another question to be answered later) a guy would be a quick impact guy then fizzle (where you could then trade him, since you know everything in this hypothetical) or a later-peaking All-Star type. I illustrated the question with recent players to make the question one based in some reality: Ben Grieve or Aramis Ramirez?

Don’t get too worked up about the players themselves, just the type of players they represent. Grieve is the early-peaking player with old man skills in his early 20’s (power, patience, corner position) that peaks in his age-22 rookie season and is a fringe starter by 25 and out of baseball at 29. Ramirez is a quick-to-the-majors type as well, but doesn’t peak until his age-26 season (still the normal time to peak, just later than Grieve for this example) and has one above-average year in his first 4 seasons, then breaks out in years 5 and 6, at the end of his team’s contract control, then will be paid the market rate (translation: over-paid) the rest of his career. Like I said before, forget the exact players to a degree, focus on the profile: early-peaking fringe All-Star, or normal-peaking perennial All-Star. Now, from a trade standpoint, if you know what their career holds, all things being equal, which do you take?

I argued, in a devil’s advocate sense, given that I knew what the other guy would say, for Ben Grieve. He puts up $10 million or more of productivity while making the minimum, and once he hits arbitration, you trade him to a less-savvy team (preferably run by Chuck LaMar) for another fringe-All Star with a better immediate future. Economically, that’s probably the right answer. The team official argued for Aramis Ramirez due to his job description. He said, regardless of knowing the future or not, his job in a trade is to identify the best player to trade for, and Aramis Ramirez became the best player. Looking back 10 years on a trade for the definitive winner and loser, picking Ramirez is more right. Both answers are right in their own way. There are also many more factors in play than the ones discussed, but this is just a hypothetical.

That was assuming that you know the future, which I’d assume many people do not. Is there a way to know, with some certainty, which players will reach their peaks at what time?

You can make some good guesses, based on how much of their value is in performance versus tools when they reach the majors, and what type of skills they have (old man versus young man). But there isn’t really a way to know with enough certainty for it to seriously impact, for instance, a trade negotiation. But I think there are some players that fall into the extremes that do allow you to take it into consideration for prospect ranking. (Pardon me as I beat a dead horse). Franklin Morales will not reach his peak soon. Most people can agree on this, we definitely think this. If he does what most people think he will, the first sign of doing it won’t come probably until his arbitration years (years 4-6) at best. Should this affect how we rank him? Depends on the criteria you’re using for ranking prospects.

Our criteria will take some of this (but not that much) into consideration. There’s a small population of players we can tell that will be early or normal-peakers, let’s say 10-15 of the top 100 prospects. Our criteria will be who is most valuable to a team, and that takes into account (to a small degree) how much financial gain the team can make as a result of owning this player. Many normal-peakers still have great trade value even if they aren’t performing as expected, and having normal-peakers for their first few free agent years is usually a net financial positive (it’s in their decline that you don’t want to pay the market rate), but normally with a trade, some value is lost in translation and all things being equal, you want the now-performer, not the trading chip.

Again, this won’t make a huge difference in our rankings, I just want to point out yet another facet of prospect evaluation.

So what’s the point of this whole section? Mostly to point out that we think about this stuff in more in-depth ways that it appears, and also that this is the type view an economist would take to ranking prospects, and we’ll consider that some in what we do, because we think like that sometimes (however heartless it is) and that opinion is becoming more and more important each day.

As for the technical way this type of thing would manifest itself, take a few minutes and familiarize yourself with our Scouting Tutorial. As an example for this section we’ll go with Reds prospect Drew Stubbs. Stubbs is regarded to have four of the five tools at least above-average (55 on the 20-80 scale), except the most important one, hitting. So how would having every tool except the most important one affect how the raw OFP goes into an adjusted OFP, the number that drives his grouping and prospect ranking? Stubbs’ raw OFP would be in the neighborhood of 60. That would make him one of the top 10-15 prospects in baseball, and if you think the bat plays, then that’s the place he should be (and could be with a huge season in the Florida State League this year—I’ll be keeping a close watch on this). But we currently don’t think the bat plays and Stubbs’ (if we had to project it now) will hit about .250 in the big leagues at his peak (a 40 or 45 future bat grade). Still a useful and everyday player in the big leagues, but not a 60 adjusted OFP player.

So how would we adjust that OFP? We wouldn’t just say we don’t like him and make him a different OFP, we’d essentially do a weighting of the tools (as many already do for the raw OFP to avoid this problem) and then swing it a few points either way to get him where we think he should be. The raw OFP (once weighted) is a guide for where he should be, the adjusted OFP is making your opinion of him into one number, so adjusting this number from the raw is what you’re supposed to do to be more useful than a robot and get your opinion across—it isn’t cheating—but moving it more than 2-3 points without a good reason is probably too extreme.

For the sake of the exercise, the 60 raw number becomes 54.5 with weighting and I’d actually bump that up a notch to 55 or 56, the B- to C+ area, basically slightly above-average everyday to above-average everday player. As is, we think he’s a .250/.340/.450 type center fielder with great defense and speed, that’s slightly-above average. But I’m also taking into account that he’s got the upside to be more, and we’ll denote these types of players in our team prospect lists. An overachieving college center fielder with a 55 grade that’s in AAA and has no upside and Stubbs’ at 55 with huge upside and some downside are different players and we’ll put a flag, or a different color text or something to indicate that difference, although the 55 number already takes some of that into account.

Another way that we’ll try to avoid huge busts aided by inaccurate raw OFPs leading us down the wrong road is an amateur hitting adjustment, and breaking hitting and power into components to pinpoint the type of tool the player has.

For amateurs, the present hitting grade is usually a throw-away for scouts. Is high school hitter X a current 20, 25, or 30 hitter? It’s impossible to know and makes no difference, the mechanical comments that are next to it are much more valuable. So, taking a cue from a team that uses this approach, we’ll use a peer grade for the current hit grade for amateur hitters. Basically, the 20-80 score the hitter’s bat has against his peers (say players of the same age taken in the same round). And the rule is that the future grade can be anywhere below that present grade, but can’t be more than 10 points above it. That way, players that can’t hit in HS (say, a 40 peer grade) can’t be projected to hit in the big leagues for more than average (in this case, no higher than 50 future grade).

Hitting, as many scouts and analysts already do, will be broken down (even if we don’t spell it out as such in the scouting reports) into plate discipline and hitting ability. Power will be broken down into raw power and power frequency. These distinctions are for how far a player can hit the ball, and how often he taps into that ability. This difference would be evident in players like Juan Uribe that can’t hit the ball especially far, but seem to tap into that ability all the time (almost always to their detriment). Or, with players that have plus power but don’t have an approach that taps into it often, like Matt Murton.

This type of component approach is done for other tools, like breaking a fastball down into velocity, movement, and command, but those types of distinctions are more well-known, so we assumed if you’ve read that far you’re aware of it.

And as a special treat for those of you that read this far, I will be at the Tampa Yankees-Lakeland Flying Tigers FSL opener tomorrow night and you can probably guess who’s pitching for Lakeland. There will be a full scouting report and video up from the first ever Porcello Day (yes, it’s a holiday) in the bay area. Stay tuned, Tiger fans and prospect watchers.

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Posted in Our Opinion, Prospect Lists | 6 Comments
6 Responses to “The Prospecting Mission Statement, Part II”
on April 1, 2008 at 10:21 pm1 Grant
Another thing becoming a little more common, on the economic side, is teams waiting to bring up top prospects to keep from starting their free agent clock. They are, basically, sacrificing a year now, for an extra year later on (when the player will be closer to his peak years).

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