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When Stars Get Snared (Early 2000s)
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I wish I would absorb what I learned from my own articles. In my periodically updated When Stars Get Snared one of my conclusions was that injury projections may be more important than statistical projections based on playing talent and past peak performance. Living in Toronto, I must have been swept up in Ricciardi’s “Injury prone? Nonsense.” mentality. Looking over the most recent batch of impact players in the American League, my strongest conclusion is that baseball players are less predictable than we imagine. Another conclusion from that study is that you don’t have to nab prospects in the low minors to be successful in this game. However, updating my study as I have here, I see that nabbing players in the low minors is more important than it used to be.

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List of Players for When Stars Get Hitched (Recently) Edit Link

For a player to be a successful enough draft pick to make this list, he must be worth protecting on even an excellent team for a couple years. (Obviously, I am assuming Chien-Ming Wang will not blow out his arm or have a disastrous second-half.) I call this kind of player a gem. If the player has an even larger impact for a longer amount of time, I classify him as a star.

 

Part of the fun of making this list was deciding who to put on and who to leave off. Of course a good researcher has a more concretely stated set of criteria, but I confess I winged it – looking for a meaningful dividing line as I went along, but I do think I found one. It is surprising to see Melvin Mora amongst these names and he is among the players listed with the least impact. However, the infielder posted a .931 O+S in ’04 following it up with .818 in ’05 before declining. Borderline arrivals are Kazmir, Bedard, Wang, Swisher, Rios, Granderson, and Hanley Ramirez. They each look foolproof to me.

 

Some candidates to make this list mid-season next year: King Felix, Jered Weaver, Kinsler, Markakis, Upton, perhaps, even Alex Gordon and Delmon Young if they take off the second half of this season and keep it up next season – or Huston Street if he recovers 100%. We will have to wait for Liriano’s recovery. You can be so sure about a young player that you feel safe to include him even if he hasn’t done quite enough to merit inclusion, but be wrong. I included Bobby Crosby when I revised this study a couple years ago. However, he just hasn’t had much impact – and, now, I have strong doubts he ever will. Matthews and Cuddyer are proving they aren’t one year wonders, but I’ll wait another for another full year of solid playing before counting them as gems. If Beltre has a great second half as he did last year, it would be time to include him. However, he is still a disappointment as the cross-over top overall pick of 2005. Edgar Renteria will soon be 32. Let’s see if he can keep up his resurgence with the Braves before adding him to this list. Raul Ibanez had his one impact season last year at 34. The rest of his seasons are generic for a corner outfielder – very borderline as a protectee. David DeJesus is a reliable generic centerfielder. He hasn’t hurt his owners, but he has to improve some to make a significant impact.

 

Is Bonderman a gem or a star? Although, Bonderman has improved each year he has pitched including so far in 2007, it appears Verlander has zoomed passed him into stardom. During their World Series last year I referred to Bonderman over Verlander or Rogers as the “ace” of their staff, yet, I am not quite ready to bestow upon him the distinction of “star”. Another steady improver Eric Bedard appears be star bound, but it is too early to declare him such.

 

Jermaine Dye and Magglio Ordoņez are two outfield sluggers who have been protected since 1999, but could easily have been dropped and redrafted this decade. After yo-yoing between Kansas City and Omaha, Dye suddenly blossomed to give K.C. two years of significant impact. He steeply declined for his next three seasons. Injuries played some part in this decline. In 2004, then 30 coming off a .514 O+S – yes, .514 – he was faithfully protected. Dye rewarded the Oakland fans and his shockingly faithful Scoresheet fan with a decent-but-still borderline protect-able .793 season. Traded to Chicago’s better hitting environment Dye improved to .845 in 2005. Last year was apparently an extraordinary career year at age 32 when he hit 1.007 – almost double his productiveness at age 29. Ordoņez’s decline was more clearly injury related. Previous to his 2004 knee injury, Ordoņez was consistently one of the top outfielders in the American League. This year at age 33, he is better than ever!

 

I hope you have fun looking over my color-coordinated list. The first thing you might notice is that there are a good smattering of successes from every type of pick. If anything stands out, it is that there are a surprisingly high number of fourth round picks (round 17).

 

R14  10

R15    2

R16    2

R17    6

R18    2

R19    4

R20    1

 

It is inconceivable that a 2nd and/or 3rd round pick is worth less than a single 4th round pick. With so few successes to work with, I chalk that up to normal fluctuation in statistical distribution. However, there also happened to be a large number of fourth round successes in our league during the 90s, so there might be something about our draft patterns that lead us to making a particularly wise choice on the 4th round.

 

R21-29  9 (2 21s, no 25)

R30-35  3 (unlimited rookie protects started in 2002)

R36      0 (first round of May draft)

R37-39  3 (1 each)

R40       4 (July draft)

R41-43  1

 

Can we say R14 = R15,16, & 17 combined?

A pick after the first round in the teens is worth three picks in the 20s combined?

Any other pre-season pick is as good as a May supplementary pick?

First round July picks rock, but the rest are pretty useless?

 

No, no, probably, and no. First, we are looking at too small of a sample. Second, we are only looking at the cream of the crop. Most picks turn out to be useful players helping their teams stay away from ruinous AAA players. However, I think we can see the places where the drops in the level of picks are significant.

 

Keep in mind the usefulness of those picks which do not turn out to be major impact players do vary, however. How much so, should be my next study. Just guessing from experience (I did look into it a little a long time ago), probably not more than three-fourths of non-prospects picked in the first ten rounds are of some help most of the season, while less than a third of the last ten picks are. I think the supplemental picks tend to be more useful – more than half.

 

The value of prospects who do not become gems before they are dropped are typically much less than other supplemental picks. This is why is not prudent to conclude that we undervalue drafting prospects despite the percentage of draftees who turn out to have a large impact is much higher than the percentage of players drafted as prospects. Not only are prospects useless while they are in the minors (except as trade bait), they take an unknown amount of time to reach the majors and often have little or no impact the first year or two they are no longer protectable as prospects. Of course, finding the precise success rates and more quantitatively evaluating how we compare prospects to veterans is worthy of another study.

 

Here is the age distribution excluding the first round cross-overs:

17 1

18 0

19 2

20 5

21 3 or 4

22 4 or 5

23 6

24 4

25 4 or 3

26 3 or 2

27 2

28 4

29 2

30 1

31 0

32 1

over 32 0

 

Now, here the data is skewed against the youngest ages, because many kids drafted might not have matured yet. However, looking at the successes from 90s in AL Robinson, there have been only two other teenage continuously protected draftees who turned into gems – both stars: Alex Rodriguez (18) and Derek Jeter (19).

 

These numbers make sense considering players improve more when they are youngest and first turn professional compared to later in their career. Of course, many players under 22 are still in university.

 

It may be that teams have a better chance of rebuilding by concentrating on players in their early 20s rather than anyone over 28. That seems obvious, but this demonstrates it to some degree.

 

If someone wanted to do a study on the effect of steroids, you could do worse than see how many players were still unprotected in Scoresheet at 28 or older, then went on to have a significant impact during the years before rampant steroid use, vs. during that era, vs. after that era. Separating the eras before and after rampant steroid use helps weed out some of the potential coinciding causes of players succeeding well beyond expectations in normally declining years. As far as this decade goes which includes the tail end of the steroid era, the distribution of successes looks quite normal.

 

What level are the best picks snatched up from? Counting the highest levels where each prospect had graduated from before being drafted, I get a similar conclusion. (For example, in the season before Barry Zito was picked up for good by a Scoresheet team, he had pitched at USC, had 8 starts in Visalia in the California League comprising a 2.45 ERA, had 4 starts of 4.91 at Midland in AA, and one start in Vancouver (AAA), in which he struck out 6 in six innings giving up only a run. Five starts above the A+ level? I would only count him as a graduate only of A+. 2005’s freshly traded pitching prospects Haren and Kazmir, the two Japanese outfield stars, and the three cross-over stars from 2004 were not counted as they might have been already protected if they were AL owned players from the start of their careers.)

 

high school:        1

university:           2

Rookie League:   2

Low A Minors:     2

High A Minors:    7

AA Minors:          4

AAA Minors:       4

Major Leagues: 20

 

Combining amateur and lowest levels of the minors, there were only 7 successes snatched up so early. Once a prospect proved himself to some degree in the high A minors or higher, there were 15 successes. Twenty successes, however, had already locked into jobs in the Major Leagues (but not Scoresheet) only poised to soar to a greater level. The Major Leaguers were the mode of impact successes, but AAA is the median as there were 22 such successes from the Minors since 2000.

 

Does it look any differently for the biggest stars of this survey? The Major League picks are still the mode with 7. The median, however, moves down to AA as there were no AAA great successes. In fact, both university pick-ups and both Rookie League draftees went on to big stardom. (A+ had 3 and AA had 1.)

 

Should we act upon this finding? Draft those top notch prospects in their first year of eligibility, otherwise hold off until they have a job in the Majors? You shouldn’t go by such a strict rule. Afterall, there was a nice chunk of prospects snatched up from A+.

 

Further, this isn’t a large sample. My earlier study of the same league starting in 1991 showed a distribution of gems and stars being locked on to a Scoresheet team coming from all levels of the minors - most frequently from the AAA level, followed by AA, then A+. The Major League numbers were a somewhat smaller percentage when you take away the cross-overs, but still far more than any single minor league level. Yet, times have changed. Our league is far more savvy than it was a decade ago and more. I believe the scouting reports available to us are, too. Not only do we have far more experts giving us advice, but the old stand-by Baseball America has greatly improved. So, this recent study is hopefully more indicative of the your league. Please, share your thoughts on scoresheet-talk or mcscoresheet.

John Carter