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  1. This is a very interesting idea, but my biggest complaint is basically what you outlined in problem #3. Let’s say a hitter is an extreme flyball hitter and the major league team doesn’t care about his defense. Wouldn’t the ML team send him to Team 1 in the minors to exploit his ability to hit flyballs, thus making him seem better than he actually is?

    I changed my mind, I have a new biggest complaint. This would be like hitters playing in a hitter’s park; teams would be wary of what that hitter’s true ability actually was, because he was likely hitting better than he would in a context neutral park.

    Comment by Bryz — January 29, 2010 @ 11:21 am

  2. “Wouldn’t the ML team send him to Team 1 in the minors to exploit his ability to hit flyballs, thus making him seem better than he actually is?”

    I don’t see why they would do this. I don’t want to be pushing for exploitation, or making players seem better than they are. I want to create a system that is built for players to succeed, and then for the teams to evaluate within that framework of success. It seems to me this is the best thing for the player.

    “teams would be wary of what that hitter’s true ability actually was, because he was likely hitting better than he would in a context neutral park.”

    Right, and I say as much in the article I hope. But for pitchers, all I think we’re doing is giving them as close to a Major League atmosphere as they’ll get. Hopefully, your best team of minor league fielders will be about equal to your Major League squad. So all I’m doing is saying, here’s how the pitcher would fare with a Major League defense behind them, given this caliber of opponents. I think. (But yeah, no one is saying this isn’t flawed as hell.)

    Comment by Bryan Smith — January 29, 2010 @ 11:28 am

  3. I guess I’m not sure why you’d do this. You don’t want “success” per se in the Minors–at least not the same sort of success you want at the major league level. For example, let’s say a FB pitcher plays in a cavernous minor league park with a great OF, and puts up wonderful (ly distorted) numbers. How exactly would that make him a better pitcher in the Majors? Or would that just allow the team to evaluate him more properly? (If so, Why would a cavernous park allow more accurate evaluations?)

    Are you saying that your change would provide a better evaluation tool (perhaps, but I’m skeptical), or a better development tool (I can’t see why it would; in fact, it might retard development)? Which of these tasks is more important, in your opinion?

    Comment by Jon — January 29, 2010 @ 11:44 am

  4. Jon: I think it would have a chance at being a better development tool, particularly for the second reason I list: coaches. As it stands, coaches are assigned to levels arbitrarily, and they come to a team that has players that have radically different skillsets and experience. In this scenario, you have players that are inherently similar. So you evaluate which coaches are best at teaching what, and you send them to the level that needs those skills the most. You could accomplish so much more, no?

    To answer your first question, I don’t think it makes him a better pitcher in the Majors. I think it gives him more confidence, which I can’t see as a bad thing. The numbers aren’t important, because everything becomes relative.

    Comment by Bryan Smith — January 29, 2010 @ 11:52 am

  5. I would assume this replaces Low-A, High-A, AA, and AAA. Then would any “new” (no MiLB experience) player automatically go to a Rookie League team for a year to determine their attributes before being placed on the appropriate pitcher-type team?

    Anyway, I see this as a boon for evaluating true potential for pitchers, but it is terrible for hitters. I play good infield defense, so I’m stuck hitting against sinkerballers for my entire MiLB career, while the guy with no glove gets fastballs and hanging curves to mash?

    Comment by huskyskins — January 29, 2010 @ 11:53 am

  6. Yes, it would replace those full season levels, and a new player would deal with the short-season leagues for evaluating.

    And yes, it is problematic when it comes to hitters. But you’re thinking about it in terms of EVERY major league team doing this. I was thinking about it in terms of ONE major league team doing this. So the good infield defender isn’t facing all sinkerballers, he’s just facing either “Triple-A” or “Low-A” pitchers, depending on where the smallest park is located.

    And to quote from a tweet just left by JE Skeets: “This might be the most ridiculous thing I ever posted.”

    Comment by Bryan Smith — January 29, 2010 @ 11:59 am

  7. This would be my main problem with it. I love the idea for pitchers, but having hitters bouncing between leagues that are entirely made up of either ground ball or fly ball pitchers would seem detrimental.

    Comment by TCQ — January 29, 2010 @ 12:00 pm

  8. Whoops, disregard. Started writing mine before you posted that last comment.

    Comment by TCQ — January 29, 2010 @ 12:02 pm

  9. It would be really interesting to see this done especially with pitchers who an organization feels probably won’t make it to the major league level. Putting these pitchers in the best environment to succeed in terms of numbers and subsequently seeing how their trade value changes. Finding a place for all your extreme flyball pitchers that you don’t consider prospects in the Southern League and watching their numbers drop and then trying to ship them to an unwitting organization.

    Comment by dan woytek — January 29, 2010 @ 12:50 pm

  10. Good point. I recently heard an executive talking about the importance of not just proper evaluation, but almost more importantly is properly gauging the market value of your prospects. This could really boost market value if done quietly enough.

    Comment by Bryan Smith — January 29, 2010 @ 12:52 pm

  11. I’ll give you that it might work for a few years, but as soon as some of the savvier front offices start to catch on, it devolves into my scenario – except for the few unbelievers (KC, NYN, etc.).

    Comment by huskyskins — January 29, 2010 @ 12:54 pm

  12. I think the underlying problem is that teams simply don’t have enough minor league affiliates for this to work, nor enough players. There needs to be some system of leveling. Having a player suddenly come in at AAA because he’s good at infield defence, and that’s the team that has sinkerballers would be very bad for him. Reading your post again, this is mainly what you have said, but it would not only impact performance but growth. Whilst you would be having the best pitching coaches for the players involved, the hitting coaches would not be so nicely distributed either.

    This problem could be solved by different clubs teaming up and having a system of say 24 minor league teams between them. They could perhaps share 4 or 8 teams in each level from Rookie to AA and then go with one AAA team each. This doesn’t seem all too practical though, even if it might lead to better results overall.

    Of course, taking this whole idea further, hitters could then be categorised and split up too.

    My other, possibly weaker, thought is experience. For pitchers and hitters alike, is it really a good thing for them to succeed? For both, isn’t part of the experience seeing how they deal with adversity? If you put them ideal situations, the step up for the minors to the majors is going to be huge. For the majority of players, I would imagine that it would be useful for them to fail at times. I would have thought it would be a good experience to play in different sized parks, because that’s the reality of what will happen in the majors. Or perhaps it might be better to size the minor league parks like the major league park of the team… My point is, is playing to the players’ strengths really going to be what improves them the most? I get what you are saying about coaches, but surely the players need new challenges also?

    I did enjoy the article though, it was certainly thought-provoking.

    Comment by TsB — January 29, 2010 @ 2:07 pm

  13. Glad you enjoyed it. There’s no question it is a fun topic, and I’m glad you picked it up and ran with it — the combining organizations thing is a really interesting idea. It works in the Arizona Fall League!

    I wanted the idea of success vs. adversity to get brought up (I’m still learning to write in FanGraphs-sized blog posts, so I had a whole ‘nother piece of the article I edited out on this topic). Dave will tell you that Bill Bavasi used to be a big believer in the importance of adversity in the minors leading to Major League success.

    Here’s what I don’t get. One of the great things about baseball, at the very base level, is that it is a humbling game. I won’t say the adage about failing 7 in 10 times and making the Hall of Fame … oops. So, I don’t see the problem of creating a system that gets people to succeed by our standards, since succeeding in baseball in any capacity is a relative term.

    And I stress again that I would never have a player stay at one spot for a whole minor league career, or even a minor league season. You would throw him to different places, give him different looks and different challenges. But his home base would always be with the same team.

    Comment by Bryan Smith — January 29, 2010 @ 2:42 pm

  14. I think this is good start, but it would be tough on defensive development. I’m putting my worst outfielders (many of whom are good hitting prospects, or they wouldn’t be in pro ball) in an environment that gives them the fewest possible defensive chances? How do you improve or evaluate the defensive ability of all those guys about whom GM’s say, “Well, his bat’s ready, but he needs at least another half-season in AAA to work on his glove”?

    Comment by ralf — January 29, 2010 @ 4:49 pm

  15. That’s a fair point on development, but those GM’s are basically always lying anyway…

    Comment by TCQ — January 29, 2010 @ 7:04 pm

  16. It works in the Arizona Fall League, but that doesn’t have players competing for spots on each roster. I just don’t see it working for an extended period of time. Linking into your last point somewhat, having a player settle in for a year or so to one team is probably good for them – being able to work for an extended period of time with one coach. I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be possible, but combining teams and shuffling players around both seem logistically complex.

    I’m not sure if Bavasi thinking that is good or not!
    Suceeding in baseball is relative, but that either doesn’t matter… or is perhaps my point. If a .300 hitter hits .250 then he’s going to be demorolised, but if a .250 hitter hits .250 then he’s not. Of course, if that .300 hitter hits .290 then he shouldn’t be. What I am saying is that players become used to the level of success that they have. Failing 7 out of 10 times is the norm, so it seems less like failure. A player’s success is measured based on how other players do. I would imagine that larger dropoffs between levels would be more harmful than small ones. Having a peer group that is doing substantially better than you would seem counterproductive. I suppose this is the crux of the issue. Being able to adjust your game a small bit multiple times would seem more productive overall than being thrown in at the deep end. The latter might suit some players, but I would have thought that you would see a higher proportion of success with players who have to make small adjustments.

    Thinking about it, this could make for an interesting study – seeing how players adjust based on their past success. I don’t know, perhaps there has already have been work done on this. It would require a huge amount of data either way.

    Comment by TsB — January 29, 2010 @ 7:16 pm

  17. The one point I don’t think anybody has brought up yet is age. The graduated minor league system keeps guys playing against other players roughly their own age.

    Do you really want to take an 18 year old HS draft/international player and put him up against 25+ year old AAA pitchers because he’s a good outfielder or infielder or whatever it is that you pick for your AAA team? Unless we’re talking about an elite prospect I don’t think you’ll get a good read of his true talent or good development having him get overmatched by guys who have almost a decade more experience and development, and who have shown enough skill to get promoted that far. And of course the opposite is also true, what is gained by having a ML-ready prospect waiting for an opportunity hit against A+ pitchers?

    Obviously these are the extremes, but even if you move guys around the leagues a lot as you suggest, it seems to me you’ll still have these scenarios come up more than would be desirable.

    Comment by Benjamin — January 29, 2010 @ 8:01 pm

  18. I think this post is interesting but if you take a second look it falls apart. My biggest concern are the hitters. It was said in the post, that you have to proove yourself in challanges to get promoted to the next level. but promotions are only due to defensive ability. Imagina a player-type like Adam Dunn. His bat would be strong enough to make up for bad defense and he would be a good contributor to a ML team. In your Minors-System he would have no chance.
    Please correct me if I got sth. mixed up or wrong.

    Best wishes from Germany

    Comment by AC_Butcha_AC — January 30, 2010 @ 6:29 am

  19. Bryan, how thought provoking. How about this:

    Split the six affiliates into two tracks with three levels each, one for your best hitting prospects and the other for pitching prospects.

    For pitching prospects, provide them with your best approximation of MLB-caliber defense at all levels. The position players may or may not be good offensive players, but that doesn’t matter. The exception might be putting catching prospects with the better pitchers. Not sure abut that.

    For hitting prospects, likely their defense is behind their bat, making defensive growth as important as offensive. A consequence of the pitcher track above would be that lesser pitchers are relegated to this team. These pitchers likely give the defense more chances all over the field.

    At first an individual club would have an advantage, but if all clubs made such changes, you might end up with the all-pitch clubs facing each other and all-hit clubs matched. That’s ineffective–better to have the better pitching matched against better hitting. To resolve this outcome, each pair of corresponding affiliates would function like split squads. With both clubs coordinating split clubs, Team A’s AAA Pitchclub would face Team B’s AAA Hitclub and vice versa.

    Comment by DJacobs — January 30, 2010 @ 10:16 am

  20. Perhaps this could be done as a type of Winter Ball league, where you could combine players from different teams like the AFL as TsB stated, but it would be an opt in choice for guys to play in. Most of the games could be played in AZ or FL after the regular season is over and before spring training starts and teams could opt to participate and so could their players.

    Personally, that’s how I see it working out the best, and you could even have teams that are sinkerball / IF defense oriented vs teams that are power pitching / power hitting go after each other which could lead to some really interesting results.

    I actually want to see something like this now!

    Comment by Chris — January 30, 2010 @ 6:34 pm

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