Yep – pitcher aging curves are actually pretty flat. Velocity declines almost as soon as a pitcher appears in the big league (for most, not all, but it’s true for the population as a whole), and it seems like the things that can be learned about pitching just offset the loss of pure stuff.
Comment by Barkey Walker — April 28, 2011 @ 12:45 pm
excepting the introduction of the cutter?
Comment by Barkey Walker — April 28, 2011 @ 12:47 pm
Not necessarily. The moral of the story can’t be, “don’t waste draft picks on pitchers, and don’t waste free agency money on pitchers.” A team still needs to get pitchers from *somewhere*, and the draft is more cost effective and less risky than free agency.
It takes hindsight to tell the difference, though. The point of the article is that all of these young pitchers looked good initially. Immediately following their full rookie campaigns, how would we have known to consider Niemann a regular young pitcher and Verlander a *good* young pitcher?
Player’s performances ebb and flow, period. Just off the top of my head I can think of several position players who after their rookie year people thought they would be good, and turned out not to be (Jeff Francouer, Terrance Long, Angel Berroa,Bobby Crosby).
Austin Kearns actually continued to be a productive player: in his highest season he had 4.2 WAR compared to his rookie 5.0 and in his three best years after his rookie year, he accumulated 9.8 WAR. So even though he’s barely making it now, he also had years that could be predicted from his great rookie year. It looks like injuries took him down.
“The old adage is that there’s no more valuable property in baseball than good young pitching, but really, the evidence suggests that there’s no more fickle a property in baseball.”
That’s why the adage is true. If you find a great young position player he’s going to be there for six years, and if you sign him to an extension it’s likely he can man that spot into his 30’s. No pressing need to develop a new one. But because teams constantly need to recycle pitchers, pitching prospects become more valuable. Free agency is expensive and risky, trading for proven starting pitchers usually mortgages your teams future. So the best, most cost affective way to get good pitchers is by having a lot of young talent from the draft and amateur signings. Although easier said than done (unless you’re the Rays).
Since WAR is dependent upon playing time and many rookie pitchers (for example Felix) get called up later in the year, I found it interesting to sort the list by FIP rather than WAR, with a reasonable minimum number of innings piched, say 50.
There’s also a difference between wasting a draft pick and using a draft pick. I’d say in the Rendon/Cole situation, the players’ upside is so similar that the security of Rendon makes him a better choice, but sometimes the best pick left is a pitcher. And that leaves out what I would do, which is go for position players early and take a bunch of fliers on pitchers in the middle rounds. Grab a bunch of arms in rounds 4-10 and see what sticks.
When I see that statement “the evidence suggests that there’s no more fickle a property in baseball [than good young pitching],” I read that to mean young pitching that is good at the time, not young pitching that would be looked upon as good in retrospect. So if we’re going to disagree and attempt to say that young pitching is fickle, but *good* young pitching is not, it seems like we can only come to that conclusion relying on hindsight.
Obviously looking at a sample of only pitchers who had sustained good careers is not going to yield any pitchers who flamed out after their rookie seasons – only people who were good as rookies or potentially less than stellar and improved. The same selection bias would of course exist for position players if you only take successful players are your baseline.
I think there’s a key point you’re missing in this analysis, which is that, if WAR is your measuring stick, the top rookie pitchers aren’t nearly as good as the top rookie hitters, even as rookies.
That star-studded cast of rookie hitters all had WARs of at least 4, and the few pitchers in that area look pretty good as well (Webb, Oswalt, Liriano).
The pitchers you’re bringing up as examples of rookie pitchers being fickle are all in the 3-4 WAR range. Here are the hitters in the same range:
Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Dustin Pedroia, Austin Jackson, Lew Ford, Rafael Furcal, Scott Podsednik, Marlon Byrd, Joe Mauer, Ike Davis, Jody Geirut, Andrew McCutchen, Kenji Johjima, Freddy Sanchez, Tadahito Iguchi, Elvis Andrus, Khalil Green, Jeff Francoeur.
There are handful of stars in that group, along with a few players who are too young to judge yet and a bunch of guys who had fairly little success afterward. That’s pretty similar to what you see with the pitchers in the same range.