Thursday, December 17, 2009

This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions

We’ve been getting a lot of similar questions, so I thought I’d use the mailbag to try to clear them up. Essentially, they boil down into three categories…

The first of which is “Why wasn’t Player X on the list?”
We actually like this question--a lot. Mainly because we aren’t infallible. While the overwhelming majority of the time the answer is because we don’t think much of Player X’s prospect potential because of any number of factors (the most frequent one being age vs. level of competition), we do occasionally miss a player because of a minor trade that we just didn’t catch, or because of limited playing time. When we put together these lists, we seriously start with over 5500 names that we go through. Most of these come from 2009 Minor League rosters. But we narrow our search by playing time criteria, and occasionally—especially with relief pitchers, we overlook a player that has minimal playing time at each of a number of different levels. While these won’t usually be significant relief pitcher prospects, occasionally we miss a ‘C+’/’C’ level reliever. So if you feel like we have missed somebody—LET US KNOW…we just may have.

The second most frequently received question usually goes something like “Source XYZ has Player A in the Top 10…How come he is only #30 on your list?”

We call this the Collin Cowgill question. Let me preface this by saying that we have been doing prospect lists for over 10 years. In that time we have had our share of misses, and our share of hits. I will match our record up against any source in the industry, and have stories like Albert Pujols and Pablo Sandoval to prove it (Players that we identified as ‘elite’ level prospects nearly a year ahead of anyone else). We have a methodology that we use—and stick to. It essentially boils down to this…1) We have done the historical analysis and have determined the statistical criteria that highly correlates with Major League success. These aren’t your typical ‘handbook’ stats…in some cases, they are measures that we have derived after extensive regression analysis on one of the most complete Minor League databases in anyone’s possession. From a purely statistical standpoint we know these work—and most importantly to what degree. 2) Once we have a given player’s statistical profile, we compare that to our historical database and research a given player’s odds of future success. These aren’t ABSOLUTE values—these are PROBALISTIC. But once we tell you that a player has a low-ceiling, or a high-floor, these aren’t ‘subjective’ terms for us. They are ‘objective’ measurements of that player’s chance for Major League success. Whereas many ‘sources’ are giving you their ‘opinion’ of a specific player, we are given you our ‘analysis’ of the historical results of many similar players. While often times our analysis may come off as ‘subjective’ biases (i.e. our disdain for most Minor League Relief Pitchers), what this really is, is our expounding upon what the historical data has demonstrated to us.

Sometimes, the results produced by our approach seem ‘unconventional’. We can’t help that, and make no apologies for it. When we state that we have significant concerns about the strikeout rates of J.P Arrencibia or Tyler Flowers, it has nothing to do with whether or not we ‘like’ Arrencibia or Flowers—it has everything to do with the historical records of players similar to Arrencibia and Flowers. If you are looking for an approach that relies on large degrees of ‘subjectivity’, whether or not a particular player’s coach had good things to say about them, whether or not the player gets favorable media coverage because he is a good interview, whether or not they look good in a uniform, etc…this isn’t likely the place for you. We are small, and don’t have tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to invest. All totaled, we may see only 150-200 games live each season, meaning that we are seeing, likely no more than 10% to 20% of the players that we are reviewing—even a single time. We can’t rely on ‘subjectivity’ and therefore have developed a methodology that doesn’t really allow for it. But we can promise that if you stay around long enough, you will find some of the most accurate ‘prospecting’ in the business.

The third most frequent question that we are getting is “Why is Team XYZ rated so low?”

If you think your team is rated too low…take solace in the fact that you are seeing your team’s prospect list earlier than others :). Just a little bit about our team rankings. Every player that we grade is scored on two scales: ‘Certainty’ and ‘Ceiling’. Through this we are able to assign a numerical grade to every player that we look at. Roughly 2,000 of these players are given a grade that identifies them as a potential prospect. We further examine each of the 2,000 for ‘special’ circumstances that wouldn’t normally show up in our analysis. From this list, roughly 1,800 make the cut. We then sort these players by team, and essentially ‘sum’ the expected career values for these players. This Team Total value is used to determine our Organizational rating—once again, subjectivity is removed from the process. While we would be the first to admit, that this system rewards organizational depth more than most (A grade ‘A’ player is worth roughly 4-5 grade ‘C’ players), in the end it is still a statistical calculation as to how much Major League Career Value exists within the given organization. So while once again, we may not produce results that agree with the ‘experts’, we feel very comfortable in living with our results.

Keep the questions coming, and thanks for reading.

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