August 26, 2014

Grading the Indians Prospects, For Serious

I really wish I could properly evaluate prospects.  It would be so great to have well-informed and cogent opinions on all the players coming up through the Indians’ farm system.  I would be able to provide insight and opinion, critical evaluation, and future projections.  But I can’t.  I don’t have the time to do all the work it requires, and I probably don’t have the expertise either.  Sure, I get to a few Lake County and Akron games each year, and when I wasn’t teaching high school math, I was a pretty good baseball coach.  But it’s hardly the sort of skill-set needed to evaluate players across a wide variety of ages and levels, much less to be able to project the sort of impact that they might eventually have in the majors.

Anyway, there are so many good people already doing prospect-evaluation that I wouldn’t likely be able to offer anything of value even if I possessed the requisite skills and energy.  We already have the guys from Baseball America and Keith Law and Baseball Prospectus to keep us informed nationally.  On top of that, Tony Lastoria does a great job covering the Indians minor league system, with more access and thought than I could ever muster.

So rather than coming up with my own evaluations, I lean on the experts.  In that vein, our own Jacob Rosen pointed us toward John Sickels’ annual prospect grades last week, noting that it

enables some cross-system comparisons as well as more in-depth internal analysis. So what did they find for the Indians? An astonishing lack of high-potential impact players projected to be immediate stars at the MLB level, and an filthy rich concentration of mediocre prospects.

Chisenhall, White, Kipnis and Pomeranz paced the Tribe with B+’s according to the website. From there, three more players finished with a B, six finished with a B- and the rest of the top 26 ranking all settled with a C+. This is similar to the many criticisms that I’ve heard about the Indians system over the past two seasons, and that is potentially too much reliance upon at least one of those top four players to become an All-Star caliber player. And as of right now, it doesn’t really look that way for any of them as Minor League Ball simply projects them to be solid but not spectacular performers eventually in the majors. This could be a major problem for general manager Chris Antonetti down the road, and the need for another superstar should spill over into upcoming draft strategies.

Jacob got me thinking: what exactly do these grades mean?  How do they translate to future impact players?  What can we bring that is quantitative to the inherently qualitative grades handed out by Sickels?  Is it really so bad that we only have “B+” prospects?  How do the other teams grade out in comparison?

Luckily, some really smart people already did something pretty cool with these numbers.  Minor League Ball used some work done by The Hardball Times and Beyond the Boxscore to assign dollar figures to each grade and type of player to rate each teams’ group of prospects.  If you have any interest in all in how prospects are valued, I suggest you click on those handy links—they’re really good. But the takeaway is that the Indians have the third most valuable group of prospects in baseball, valued at $165 million.  Here’s the chart that goes with all their great work: 

But for whatever reason, I went in a slightly different direction.  Bear with me here.  The first thing that “grading” brings to my mind are “report cards,” and as any college kid knows, report cards can typically be summarized with one acronym: GPA.  That’s right, I thought I’d calculate each systems’ GPA using Sickels’ original grades.

As a reminder, here are the total grades for each team; the numbers are how many of those sorts of players the system has:

TEAM

A

A- B+ B B- C+ Total
Royals 3 0 5 3 2 15 28
Rays 2 0 3 5 7 7 24
Indians 0 0 4 3 6 13 26
Braves 1 2 2 3 6 10 24
Blue Jays 0 1 3 3 5 12 24
Yankees 1 0 2 2 7 9 21
Reds 1 0 4 0 4 10 19
Angels 1 0 0 6 3 10 20
Twins 0 0 2 4 4 12 22
Rockies 0 0 1 7 2 11 21
Phillies 1 0 2 3 0 10 16
Rangers 0 0 2 2 8 8 20
Nationals 1 0 1 3 2 10 17
Dodgers 0 0 0 6 3 11 20
Cubs 0 0 2 3 2 12 19
Padres 0 0 0 4 7 12 23
Dbacks 0 0 0 3 8 10 21
Pirates 0 0 1 3 5 6 15
Red Sox 0 0 0 3 8 9 20
Giants 0 1 0 2 4 11 18
Mariners 1 1 0 1 3 14 20
Tigers 0 1 0 2 6 6 15
Cardinals 0 1 0 1 7 10 19
Athletics 0 0 0 3 5 10 18
Mets 0 0 1 2 4 13 20
Orioles 0 2 0 0 2 12 16
White Sox 1 0 0 1 2 9 13
Marlins 0 0 0 1 5 6 12
Brewers 0 0 0 0 7 4 11
Astros 0 0 1 0 4 7 12
TOTAL 13 9 36 79 138 299 574
                 

I’ll get back the “TOTAL” column in a second, but for now, let’s just note a couple things.  First, out of a total of 574 prospects rated, only 13 received an “A” with another nine coming in with “A-“.  As Jacob noted, the Indians had four “B+” prospects with a total of 13 guys rated in the “B range”.  Here’s a quick histogram to give you a feel for the kind of grader Sickels is.  This is all 574 grades handed out:

So it looks to me that it’s pretty easy to rate in the C+ range, and any grade higher than that becomes harder and harder to attain.  Sort of like a bell-curve (considering that I’m leaving off the bottom half of the grading scale) with the extremes being far less common than the middle of the pack.

Anyway, back to the story.  I assigned values to each grade—the sort of values that you’d get in a college course—to come up with each team’s “Prospect GPA”.  Here’s the scale I used:

Grade Value
A 4.0
A- 3.8
B+ 3.5
B 3.0
B- 2.8
C+ 2.5

Then I calculated each team’s GPA by assigning the value to each player and dividing by the total number of players.  Sort of a total evaluation of the talent.  Here’s how that came out:

Team GPA
Rays 2.94
Royals 2.91
Braves 2.89
Reds 2.85
Yankees 2.81
Phillies 2.81
Blue Jays 2.80
Indians 2.78
Tigers 2.77
Nationals 2.77
Angels 2.77
Rangers 2.77
Pirates 2.77
Rockies 2.74
Twins 2.74
Cubs 2.72
Mariners 2.71
Cardinals 2.71
Orioles 2.70
White Sox 2.70
Dodgers 2.70
Red Sox 2.70
Giants 2.69
Brewers 2.69
Dbacks 2.69
Astros 2.68
Padres 2.68
Athletics 2.67
Marlins 2.67
Mets 2.66
MEAN 2.75

And here’s a graph representing the same (click to enlarge):

 

Obviously, the Indians farm system ranks out as above average.  According to these figures, the average team’s “Prospect GPA” was 2.75 and the Indians received a 2.78.  Not dramatically above average, but considering how closely bunched all these systems are, they’re good for eighth overall.

But what gives?  Why is our system valued at 3rd overall by the smart guys above if their “GPA” is only eighth?

Well, everybody who’s ever tried to convince their parents that taking 12 credit hours is the same as taking 16, you might want to stop reading now.  After all, getting a 3.5 GPA when you’re taking one class is a lot easier than getting a 3.5 when you’re taking six classes, right?

And that’s where that “TOTAL” column comes in above.  You would like to believe that the Indians’ system should receive some credit for having so many players rated at a C+ or above.  After all, the Indians have 26 total prospects who were rated highly enough to make this list, second only to the Royals.  The Reds–who rate well above the Indians in GPA due to their “high-end” prospects–only have 19 guys make the cut.  How to account for that difference?

Well, it turns out we can allow for systems to get credit for having more prospects by adding the cumulative grades together and not dividing by the total.  This will give us a weighted GPA, or what I’m calling “wGPA”.  Here’s what that looks like:

Team wGPA
Royals 81.60
Indians 72.30
Rays 70.60
Braves 69.40
Blue Jays 67.30
Padres 61.60
Twins 60.20
Yankees 59.10
Rockies 57.60
Dbacks 56.40
Angels 55.40
Rangers 55.40
Reds 54.20
Mariners 54.20
Dodgers 53.90
Red Sox 53.90
Mets 53.20
Cubs 51.60
Cardinals 51.40
Giants 48.50
Athletics 48.00
Nationals 47.10
Phillies 45.00
Orioles 43.20
Tigers 41.60
Pirates 41.50
White Sox 35.10
Astros 32.20
Marlins 32.00
Brewers 29.60
MEAN 52.77

And here’s the corresponding graph (click on the graph for a full-size image): 

Now we’re getting somewhere.  By these metrics, we come in second behind the Royals.  (I’d keep an eye out for them in a few years; their minor league kids are pretty darn good.)  Here, the Indians’ system is thought of so highly because, while they may not have many future superstars on the farm, they have a great number of good players—players who are likely to become above average regulars in the Majors.  While Alex White and Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis and Drew Pomeranz might not become Hall of Famers, they’re still going to be pretty darn good, and the fact that we have so many of these sorts of guys makes our system second-to-one.

As it should be: the massive talent exodus that took place over the last several years needed to restock a farm system that was left mostly barren from a decade of fruitless drafting.  Luckily, it appears that the front office has done the sort of restocking that was necessary.  Unluckily, no prospects are sure things, and 2011 could be a tough year if none of those guys can help out the big league club in any appreciable way.

Nonetheless, in all the doom and gloom around the Indians’ current straits, I thought it might be worth pointing out that the team appears to be moving in the right direction.  Sure, a good farm system and $2 won’t buy you a $3 cup of coffee, but it’s something.  We appear to have some strong players in the system, and if they’re not quite superstars?  Well, as I said in the comments to Jacob’s piece, good players win games too.

Lord knows we could use them.

  • The Conductor

    Not one of these prospects will be on the Indians in 5 years.

    FORMULA: Play in the minors until service time is up, get called up, play until rookie contract expires, get cut if you suck, get traded if you are good. Rinse. Repeat.

    I need to move.

  • http://www.whitecollarredneck.com Narm

    Awesome post.

    Would also point out that a line-up of 1-9 above average players is probably a better fit for small-markets as it is easier to sign them through their arby years and keep the team together. It allows for a longer window of contention. If we were heavy on all-stars we’d be in same boat of selling off CC and Lee againt.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    This is great, but it almost makes you want to root against superstardom so we don’t lose a guy. Then again, if he doesn’t become a superstar, we might not want to keep him. Being an Indians fan is wholly complex. Maybe even more complex than minor league player analysis. :-)

    Great work on all the Indians stuff by Jon, Jacob and TD.

  • BisonDeleSightings

    The good news about the lower GPA and higher wGPA is that the Tribe might not have any superstar, high-end prospects, but they have a deep farm system full of good players. Isn’t that the Twins’ model for sustained success? Maybe one or two of them will make a big leap like Mauer or Johan Santana.

    (“YEAH BUT DEN THEY’LL BE ON DA YANKEES IN 4 YEARS LOLOLOL”)

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    A bunch of these “guys” just got the nod for major league camp this spring. That’s a plus. Unless one of them blows up like Carlos Santana only to be sent down for arb clock – then it’s not a plus because we have to hear about an underachiever for three months. Wee!

  • C-Bus Kevin

    @ Craig…I agree that with your take on Indians fandome, but your saying it wrong. It’s pronounced “wholly unfulfilling” or perhaps “soul-crushing.”

    On an unrelated note, any word on the Browns? The four letters are saying Shurmur will probably be announced today.

  • dwhit110

    Good stuff, having looked at Sickle’s and Baseball America’s ratings of our system I was feeling pretty good about what this team could look like in 2013. This article has me continuing to feel that way.

    Now if we can just make it through what will probably be two incredibly frustrating seasons :)

  • ben

    if you include Santana in this discussion, we’d probably be even higher. I know he’s not really a “prospect” anymore, but he’s still close enough to one.

  • Gbwoy

    Nice article. To those saying that these guys will be gone 5 years from reaching the bigs, you may be correct. The way to minimize the impact in terms of wins/ losses at the major league level is to continue drafting and developing players every single year. Dump cash into the draft and player development system, and you have new guys to replace those leaving through free agency/trades.

    It won’t be too popular at first probably, because fans get attached to players and those players will be leaving eventually. But if it gets the Indians to the playoffs for a sustained amount of time, I imagine they will come around. This is the smartest way for the Indians to become a contender on a year-in year-out basis.

    On a side note, Jon, you are dead on about the Royals being a team to watch for in the future. I don’t expect them to do anything special next season after trading Greinke this offseason, but those prospects should be hitting KC around 2012-2013. Those three hitters that Sickels graded at A look particularly good. Eric Hosmer in specific. And I have never seen that many high cieling lefty starters in one organization.

  • Matt S

    The Indians’ all-star type of prospects are already up in the majors (Santana, Choo, LaPorta if he figures things out). Remember, the goal is to get production out of every position… as one or two all-stars doesn’t mean jack if the rest of the team is garbage.

    The Indians have a stockpile of arms to sort through, and you’d suspect that enough of them will pan out that you’ll have a pretty good pitching staff in a few years. They have Choo in RF, ACab at SS, Santana at C and LaPorta at 1B pretty much set. At every other position, they have a highly-touted prospect (CF: Washington, LF: Weglarz, 2B: Kipnis, 3B: Chiz). And at each position, they’ve got major-league potential prospects that could step in if the primary options fail.

    So, the Indians have a good blueprint. Now it’s a matter of whether or not the prospects pan out. The big one is LaPorta, because if he fails…. the guys in AAA/AA at 1B aren’t really major league prospects at this point, and it’s unlikely you’ll have a good replacement for him (unless the Indians convert someone like Weglarz or Chun Chen to 1B).

  • dwhit110

    @8

    “The way to minimize the impact in terms of wins/ losses at the major league level is to continue drafting and developing players every single year. Dump cash into the draft and player development system, and you have new guys to replace those leaving through free agency/trades.”

    This is definitely the model that Tampa Bay is using with some of their starting pitching and now Carl Crawford moving on. It means you need to continually draft well, but it’s a much better plan than trading guys like Crawford last July and trying to get whatever prospects you can out of him.

  • Mike

    Am I the only one who feels that the C+ talents should be removed and the whole thing should be recalculated after that?

    It seems the difference between a C+ player and a player who is not even included in the graph is too small to be significant. Eliminating the C+ players would reduce the possibility that an “average” player was included in this list, which would seem to create a more reliable indicator of the quality of the prospects in the system.

  • Tommy

    Can’t wait for the heated Indians – Royals divisional rivalry coming in 2013-2016!

    Just curious, but what were you hoping to add to the analysis of the $ figures for grading scale? Was there something you felt that it missed? It seems to me like we may have just taken a step back in the analysis, particularly by treating pitcher and hitter grades as the same.

    If you were just having some fun, that’s fine by me too. Just curious if you had anything else in mind also.

  • Anthony

    Put as much stock as you want into other peoples ratings of your prospects. I would have given Alex White an A rating myself. Dudes a beast. Then again I’m a huge homer.

  • Harv 21

    Has WFNY decided to specialize in baseball columns that are All Metrics All The Time? Or is just because it’s the specialty of Jon and Jacob?

    Not really a criticism, just getting curious as this seems to be the focus of nearly all your baseball stories since the end of last season.

  • S-Dub

    @Mike: I think C+ players need to be included because those guys might only be AA or A prospects that have a chance to develop into B-A guys. I look at a team like the Rays and wonder if guys like Helickson, whose ready to blow away the majors, is included in their “Prospect” list because he’s an A+ guy, who played a lot last year at the big league level when guys got injured. That sort of skews the numbers a bit. And, I think they have a great OF prospect about to start in place of Carl Crawford on opening day.

    So what I’m saying is, that I’d like to see these numbers recalculated after spring training because I think we’d see the Indians at the top of those rankings.

  • S-Dub

    @Harv: Like it or not, metrics is where baseball is going. I love it. But sometimes I don’t understand it all. I have always been terrible at math though.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    “Has WFNY decided to specialize in baseball columns that are All Metrics All The Time?”

    Not much else to discuss at this point in the season. I guess we could reiterate a lot of the updates on players like Sizemore, Santana et al, but given that the Cavs and Browns are the main focus right now, we try to make sure that if we do provide some Indians updates, that it’s something you’re not going to get anywhere else.

    Once spring training kicks off, I’m sure TD will be back with his not-so-numbers centric Tribe pieces.

  • Harv 21

    Got it. One-two-three: unglaze!

  • Gbwoy

    @16 S-Dub – You might see the Indians jump to 2nd in those rankings if you calculated after spring training, but they wont pass the Royals for 1st if thats what you were thinking. Most of the Royals talent is in AA or lower, and will still be in the minors on opening day. They might graduate one or two, but no more than the Indians might.

    @14 Anthony – Alex White did look damn good this past year. I still wouldnt give him an A though, due to concerns about his stamina. The guy does have to do it for more than one year to convince everyone that he can start consistently and not get hurt, mainly because his pitching mechanics are kind of unorthodox. But I could see him an A type prospect if he repeats his performance from last year. His AA numbers were very impressive, and if he does that again, more people will start to take notice I would think.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Jon

    Ooohhh. Comments to respond to. I like it:

    @ The Conductor: Hey, at least they’ll be here longer than any Browns coach!

    @ Many: Those are good thoughts re: lower ceiling guys being easier to retain. I hadn’t thought of that, and I’m sure the organization would rather have all “A” guys, but still, it’s a good thought.

    @ dwhit: I think that the Rays losing Crawford was largely by design: get as much value for as little money as possible, then try to replace as many of his wins as you can when he gets expensive. When you were a 95 team with him, (if he was worth five wins) then you should be able to be a 92-93 team without him as long as your replacements are reasonable.

    @ Mike: We have to make a cutoff somewhere. In the links, they discuss why C+ prospects have some value, while those below them largely do not. That’s why I made that cutoff. But feel free to do it another way. The barrier to entry is low, as they say.

    @ Harv: Not all my posts are numbers-oriented, but I admit most of them are. It’s sort of my schtick. I hope it’s less annoying than Gilbert Godfried’s.

    @ Anthony: I might be the only one who feels this way–and I will remind everyone once again that I’m not an expert–but I feel like Alex White is going to become a young Jake Westbrook. He doesn’t have the strikeout potential to be a front-end guy IMO, so I’m thinking more like a #2 or #3 guy. I just don’t see a groundball guy being an ace unless he can strike more guys out. In other words, he’s a lot more like Jake Westbrook than Adam Wainwright. I say that having seen him pitch twice, so somebody find a huge grain of salt…

    @ Tommy: Yeah, this was mostly for fun. But it’s also for people who are suspicious of the assumptions that those other guys made. Their logic was that, historically, a B prospect ends up winning a certain amount of games (WAR) and is therefore “worth” a certain amount of money. While I find that reasoning attractive, I know there are some WAR holdouts, so this if for them.

    Thanks for all the good comments, as always.

  • S-Dub

    @Gbwoy: I agree, I don’t think they’ll be able to take over the Royals, and really it’s arbitrary but I was just saying they’ll be near the top. You’re right about the Royals having the best farm system for now. But, as we’ve seen in the past, doesn’t mean anything till they do something with the big boys.

  • VooDoo

    Holy crap, lol, a statistician’s wet dream unfortunately I’m old school for baseball meaning I rely more on what I see as opposed to all numbers. Baseball is littered in statistics. I prefer intangibles such as heart, hustle, tenacity, ability to do the little things, intelligence and the rest. Stats are great don’t misunderstand me they have a use but I think the Indians rely entirely to much on them. And so far all of these stats and formulas haven’t equated to many victories.