Prospect Wars: Top 100 Pitchers Methodology

Prospect Wars Schedule: Methodology Rankings Travis’ Ranking Highlights Adam’s Ranking Highlights On the Farm Podcast
Top 100 Pitchers June 24 June 25 June 26 June 27 June 28
Top 100 Hitters July 1 July 2 July 3 July 4 July 5

Some people are just rankings people.

You know the ones who just rank things all the time. Weird things. Things that are completely off topic and borderline offensive. Like you’ll be surrounded by people as you wait in line to get through security at a game or sitting in your seats waiting for said game to commence, when out of the blue, the ranking person says something like:

“Top 5 serial killers? Go.”

This is where it gets tricky. Because rankings people do not just ask the question to start the conversation. Unbenowst to you, rankings people have already been making their own rankings about this subject for 90 minutes before inviting you into this previously one-person conversation. So whatever answer you give while trying to wrap your head around the completely random request has already been thought of by this rankings person and will completely be shot down with prejudice.

“Stalin?”

“No. Stalin is wrong.”

We are here because this is what happens when two rankings people collide. Both Travis Sherer and Adam Lawler were asked to rank the top 100 pitching prospects without any other direction. The thing about rankings people is that you rarely just get a ranking. Instead, the ranking comes with an excruciatingly long explanation of the factors the rankings person took into account to make said list (the factors are usually also ranked).

That said, before we give you our lists, we are going to give you our methodology for creating the list⁠—which could contain another list:

 

Adam Lawler’s Methodology

 

Player Development/Team Organization

 

Here is my official plug for Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik’s The MVP Machine. Here’s the basic premise: Once, there was Moneyball, an exploitation of a market inefficiency surrounding the ability of a player to get on base by something other than a hit. The new market inefficiency is player development by means of self-motivation and/or team development. In the past, the common thought was that, as a manager, “you got their mules and you got your racehorses.”

Names such as J.D. Martinez, Justin Turner, and Trevor Bauer all initially failed when coming up through their respective systems. It wasn’t until a forward-thinking organization like the Dodgers or Astros and/or a wild card baseball lab like Driveline began to explore the once-defined boundaries of human ability to unlock what was previously thought impossible. In 2019, we can point to any number of names⁠—Lucas Giolito, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Boyd⁠—have redefined themselves after initial failure.

In other words, now more than ever, talent can and will win out. Under the right tutelage a player can be made and remade until he unlocks. He can be taught to elevate the ball or change a swing plane. He can be taught a third pitch such as the Warthen slider. He can be given data to emphasize a curveball and decrease the usage of a changeup.

What do we do with this information? How did I utilize it in my rankings? Well, for starters here are the top 5 organizations from my top 100 and the number of players from each one:

 

Team Number of Players Within Top 100
TB 11
SDP 8
HOU 8
BAL 5
ATL 5

 

In the fifth round of my 20-team dynasty⁠—and I am left deciding between a top pitching prospect within the Texas organization or the fourth-best Tampa prospect⁠—I’m taking the Ray every time. Stay patient. Trust #theprocess.

PS Don’t ask me about Baltimore. I don’t know. Maybe I indulged in one too many adult beverages.

 

K% Improvements + WHIP

 

This is a little less nuanced. Basically, I’m looking for “stuff” here. Do you have velocity and/or a real wipeout pitch? There’s value there. On the flip side, are you a four-pitch pitcher but you hold an incredibly high BABIP? Pass. Do these numbers improve year over year? Did you have a spike in strikeout rate going from High-A to Double-A? You have my interest!

MLB players are too darn good. They will punish you if you live within the zone. They will spit on the 40-grade curveball you fell in love with in high school. Often, I’m seeking out players with a 93-95 mph four-seamer and a 50+ FV slider. A third pitch⁠—especially something like a changeup⁠—can be taught to a live wire arm.

Names such as Tyler Glasnow, A.J. Puk, Triston McKenzie, Blake Snell, and Zac Gallen come to mind as poster children of this model.

 

Age Relative to Class

Look, I still have one year of college eligibility left, but I’m 34 and my body feels like it’s 40. Still, I think I could get by on moxie and wisdom to put up a few strikeouts in Rookie ball. All that to say I am pretty sure there may be one 25-year-old on my list. Anyone older than 24 and still bumping around the minors better have one compelling case to make it on my prospect list.

 

Previous Injury History

 

One of those reasons may be injury history. That said, I’m not kind to fractured flame throwers. The only indication of future injury is previous injury history. This is obviously problematic with arms, but I’m not betting on Alex Reyes or Brent Honeywell to provide substantial help to my roster when I really need them.

 

Make Up

 

Look, I love Deivi Garcia, but I’m worried tiny humans will fall apart. Alternatively, giant humans such as Alec Hansen have no place on the mound. Hey Alec, there’s an old lady at a supermarket who needs something off a top shelf. Something tells me you’ll do better there than as a fifth starter for Chicago next year. You weirdly tall human.

Seriously though, I get worried about those shorter than 6’0″. On the pod Friday, you’ll hear Travis speak eloquently on the reasons why. When it comes to tall players? Well, last year at The Dynasty Guru I wrote this:

“In fact, when reviewing the projected starting rotations around the league, only 11.3% of pitchers (17 of 150) are above 6’5”.  Of those names, there is one legitimate ace who has not had a significant injury (Chris Sale, 6’6”) and one near-ace who has (Noah Syndergaard, 6’6”).  Every other name has been average, too young and with control issues, chronically injured, or not worth rostering in leagues with more than 14 teams.”

 

Travis Sherer’s Methodology

 

To me, ranking pitching prospects comes down to three factors: velocity, the quality and the total number of pitches in his arsenal, and baserunners allowed. It’s a combination of both statistics and scouting that has worked for me for two decades. You’ll notice that the top 10 pitchers I have ranked all fit that profile. Very few prospects have elite velocity, more than two plus pitches, and can limit baserunners, but that is the standard of going from a middling prospect to a top prospect. By elite velocity, I mean the pitcher has to sit 94 mph or higher with his fastball. Anything slower than sitting 94 I consider a negative unless the prospect is a teenager, in which case there is more of a possibility of adding heat.

When it comes to the quality and the total number of pitches, I view them equally. For example, let’s look at Michael Kopech and Jesus Luzardo. Kopech has a plus-plus fastball, a plus slider, and a near nonexistent changeup. Luzardo doesn’t have a plus-plus pitch, instead has a plus fastball, a plus slider, and a plus changeup. It’s easy to fall into the trap of hoping Kopech figures out his changeup and ranking him over Luzardo. This rarely happens. Moreover, when it does, it takes years to happen. When it comes to pitch progression, evaluate a pitcher based on what his arsenal is now, not what it could be if everything goes right.

Finally, there is WHIP. This is the most telling statistic in the minors. How well a pitcher is able to limit baserunners⁠—regardless of how he does it⁠—is one of the most transferable skills from the minor leagues to the major league. It is very rare to see a pitcher who either allows a bunch of hits or walks a bunch of guys⁠—or both⁠—just solve those problems once he gets to the majors. Usually, there is a track record of it.

Let’s look at the top 20 WHIP leaders from this season and their career minor league WHIP:

 

Player (1-10) 2019 MLB WHIP Career MiLB WHIP Player (11-20) 2019 MLB WHIP Career MiLB WHIP
1. Verlander 0.74 0.94 11. Kershaw 1.05 1.09
2. Ryu 0.82 1.09 12. Strasburg 1.06 0.83
3. Buehler 0.92 1.08 13. Scherzer 1.06 1.10
4. Greinke 0.93 1.09 14. Berrios 1.06 1.07
5. Chirinos 0.94 1.08 15. Odorizzi 1.07 1.20
6.  Sale 0.97 1.05 16. deGrom 1.08 1.28
7. Soroka 0.98 1.08 17. Bieber 1.08 0.97
8. Giolito 1.02 1.25 18. Maeda 1.08 2.00
9. Cole 1.02 1.13 19. Boyd 1.08 1.00
10. Morton 1.02 1.43 20. Tanaka 1.10 1.00

 

At least 14 of the top 20 had a career minor league WHIP at or lower than 1.10. Let’s look at this a little closer. Giolito, Odorizzi, and Charlie Morton are all surprises to be on this leaderboard (meaning it’s their first time coming near this mark), which is half of the six players with a less desirable MiLB WHIP. Kenta Maeda only pitched one MiLB game, so it’s hard to say either way. Gerrit Cole is 0.03 away from the mark. That leaves the only name left, Jacob deGrom, who was definitely a late bloomer and considered the exception. Limiting baserunners is a skill, and those who show that skill in the minors are more likely to display it in the majors, period.

There are a few minor things I consider when ranking pitching prospects: proximity to the majors, body size/type, and spin rate. By this I mean that when considering two similar pitching profiles, I will most often side with the pitcher who is bigger, has a higher spin rate, or is closer to the majors. One other tidbit: There have been 25 pitchers selected to the Hall of Fame since 1990 (well, 28, but three were legacy inductions from players almost 100 years ago). Of those 25 Hall of Fame pitchers, only one has been shorter than 6’0″: Pedro Martinez. I know you’re not trying explicitly to pick Hall of Famers from your amateur drafts, but you are indirectly.

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)

Travis Sherer

All Seattle Mariners fans have learned the future is all we have because the present is always too painful. I am Western Washington University alum, a local sportswriter, an official NCAA basketball statistician, a freelance radio and television production statistician, and a minor league standup comedian. Follow me @ShererTravis on Twitter.

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Comments


Adam Lawler

Thanks for the comment. The list comes out tomorrow. This was a primer so when people go to tear apart the rankings, they’ll have some understanding of where we came from!

theKraken

Not too relevant, but that take on Bauer and Driveline is way off base. Bauer couldn’t have had more opportunities than he did. Friday night starter over G Cole at UCLA, top 5 overall pick, etc. I am of the mindset that he nearly squandered all of his opportunities and eventually stumbled into some MLB success. He sure as heck has not repeated it this year which doesn’t exactly mesh with him unlocking his potential and solving anything.

It is not forward-thinking organizations that deserve credit for player accomplishments. It is the players themselves. That is a profitable narrative though! Players have always broken out and developed – it is inevitable. The only thing that has changed is the growing pool of parasites feeding off of player development. Its fun to talk about professionals taking a step into elite territory, but for every one of them there are a thousand kids getting suckered into some expensive training program. It’s not a harmless narrative.

As for pitching prospects – TINSTAPP am I right? I’m pretty good at prospecting and they are all really tough to evaluate. I think build is the most overused and poor indicator of success – you would be better off looking at stuff, health and results. Your Pedro point is well-taken but I feel like a lot of guys get knocked for not being big and a lot of guys get hype for being big. I don’t think spin rate is going to very insightful for prospects. Spin rate is a lot like EV in that it is great in a vacuum, but guys who are more focused on spinning the ball (throwing hard more often times) are possibly poor at real-world pitching. It’s like players doing drills and never pitching to actual hitters.

Adam Lawler

First, thank you for responding. Second, it seems like your opinion conflicts with itself.

Am I to understand that Trevor Bauer did not unlock his potential with the aid of Driveline, but lucked into it? However, the organizations aren’t to take credit because the player themselves should only get credit? Is Bauer the exception to your belief that only players can take credit for improvement?

To me, it seems like it could be one or both of the reasons and we should celebrate any advancement. More importantly, my subheading was to underscore the belief in TINSTAAP sentiment. *If* I’m betting on a pitching prospect, I’m likely to lean towards an organization that knows what they’re doing over simply the #1 pitching prospect in any organization.

Joliet Jake

I have to say, very excited to see the rest of the week posts.

In regards to Andy’s theory regarding organizational development – I think that is one of the most undervalued lines here. Every clubhouse has different specs/values for how a player progresses, so it’s great to see this as a consideration when valuing prospects.

Two of the biggest differences was mentioned in the post with TB & TEX, but wondering if you guys have ever actually listed your most/least favorite organizations when it comes to player development. I would be interested in hearing who some of those were in more detail.

Thanks for the article!

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