Big Leaguers, Prospects, and Uncertainty

It’s no secret that I don’t think the Kansas City Royals made a very good trade last night. In my view, the price was just too high, and the Royals weren’t in a position where their team needed to give up that kind of future value to improve their chances of winning in 2013. Reasonable folks can disagree, of course. There’s a case to be made that the Royals are closer to contending than I think they are, and if KC can overtake Detroit for the division title, then the reward may justify the cost. Win-now moves can be worth it, and as teams like the Nationals, Orioles, and A’s showed last year, pre-season projections aren’t written on stone tablets and handed down from on high.

But, this morning, I’m not reading many arguments in favor of this trade that come from that angle. Instead, the defense of this trade from the Royals perspective is coming mostly from a different angle. Here’s Jeff Passan’s take, for instance:

While Shields is a known quantity – six straight seasons of 200-plus innings, a strikeout rate that approached one per inning last year and battle scars of the AL East to show for it – there is little allure in the expected. The fetishization of prospects is a baseball-wide malady, and it’s why sentiment skewed decidedly in the Rays’ favor. Granted, it should – Myers has the sort of talent that wins awards, Odorizzi looks like a mid-rotation starter, Montgomery is a high-ceiling left-hander and Leonard comes with the one tool, power, that everybody wants – but not nearly to the degree it did.

There’s a reason Tampa Bay turned down Myers for Shields straight up. There’s a reason Oakland turned down Myers for Brett Anderson straight up. Despite the scouting reports that glow and the awards he won this year, the 22-year-old Myers remains a risk. He is a safer one than most – his .314/.387/.600 line with 37 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A last season portends stardom – but any number of players have aced the minor leagues only to lag behind early in their major league careers.

Shields “is a known quantity”. Myers “remains a risk”. The Royals just traded a grab bag of who-knows-what for an ace, turning potential into performance. Myers might be good, but Shields already is. This argument gets trotted out there every time a team trades young for old. Unfortunately, this argument simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

There is no question that prospects do not always develop into quality Major League players. You can look at any past prospect list and identify dozens of guys who never made any kind of contribution in the big leagues. Remember Joel Guzman? Or Greg Miller? Sean Burroughs? Ruben Mateo? Pablo Ozuna? Roger Salkeld? The list could go on forever. It is easy to rattle off the names of busted prospects who prove that the Royals very well might not have given up any future value in this move. A skeptic could look at the bust rate of even top prospects and determine that projecting guaranteed stardom for any of them was a fool’s errand.

And that skeptic would be correct, to some degree at least. As this terrific analysis of prospect evaluation shows, the overall bust rate of players ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100 from 1990-2003 was 70%. Seventy percent. Most prospects fail, and this is the kind of information that validates Passan’s criticism of the “fetishization of prospects”. Minor league success does not always, or even usually, translate to Major League success.

But it’s lazy to lump every prospect into one barrel and pretend that they all have the same odds of success and failure. Myers may be part of a group that has a 70% failure rate on average, but that does not mean that he personally has a 70% failure rate. From that same study, you’ll note that the type of players who succeed the most often are position players who rated in the top 20 prospects in baseball – guys like Myers, in other words. Those types of prospects succeeded 61% of the time. No other group of prospect made good more often than they busted. In fact, no other type of prospect succeeded even 40% of the time; the top 20 pitching prospect had the next best success rate, coming in at 39%. The top 20 position player had a rate of success that was so far ahead of any other type of prospect than there’s no real reason to lump them together with all of the others.

Of course, even with the kind of prospect that has the best outcomes, we’re still looking at a 60/40 success/bust rate, so it’s still correct to say that Myers is no sure thing. 60/40 isn’t quite a coin flip, but it’s pretty close, and would suggest that there’s about as good of a chance that Myers turns into nothing as he does an impact big league regular. And, of course, if Myers turns into nothing, then the Royals probably come out ahead in this deal. So, if we just stopped there, you could argue that this deal isn’t far off from a coin flip, and hinges entirely on whether or not Myers (and prospects in general) are overhyped and might not turn into anything in the time frame that the Royals needed to upgrade their roster.

But that conclusion requires a false pretense, and one that is implicit in nearly every article about what James Shields brings to the Royals; the idea that his performance is a “known quantity”, and that established big league veterans do not come with uncertainty of their own.

Yes, Shields has shown himself to be a highly durable and effective starting pitcher, and over the last two seasons, he’s been one of the game’s best starting pitchers. But just as we should be aware of the bust rate of prospects, we should also be aware of the bust rate of pitchers who have carried big workloads in the Majors.

For instance, 26 pitchers headed into the 2012 season having thrown 600+ innings from 2009 to 2011, and 22 of them put up similar or better performances over that stretch to what Shields has done from 2010 to 2012. Of that group, a significant portion of them either spent most of the season on the disabled list or struggled with dramatically diminished performance. A year ago, Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren, Jon Lester, Chris Carpenter, Ricky Romero, and Matt Garza would all have been described in similarly glowing terms as Shields is now, and while Ubaldo Jimenez started coming off the rails in 2011, his track record before his collapse was even stronger than Shields. Basically, a third of the pitchers who were Shields-esque (or better) from 2009 to 2011 provided minimal value in 2012.

You can repeat this exercise for pretty much any year you want. Go back and look at the track record of “proven” big league innings eaters, and you’ll find similar results. Pitchers get hurt, even ones who have a long track record of not getting hurt. Big league players perform badly, even ones who have a long track record of performing well. There is no such thing as a “known quantity” in baseball. Every player’s future is uncertain. There are varying degrees of uncertainty, of course, but the idea that a player’s future performance is a complete mystery while in the minors and then fully understood once he has success in the Majors is just completely and entirely wrong.

The best any of us can do is combine all the available information to create a forecast of future performance, then understand the variability around that forecast as well as possible. Certainly, the Royals have more information about Wil Myers than we do, and it’s reasonable to argue that their forecast for his future performance is going to be better than anything in the public domain. If they’re right about Myers being a bit overhyped, maybe his success/bust rate is 40/60 rather than the other way around, and failure is more likely than not.

But let’s not pretend that future performance variance only exists around Myers, or around prospects in general. James Shields comes with a significant amount of bust potential himself, much of it simply due to the fact that he throws a ball with his right arm for a living. Even if he stays healthy, we have to acknowledge that his past problems with the home run might return. That his exodus from a team that shifts on every play might lead to more balls falling in for base hits. That he just might pull a Ricky Romero and fall apart with no real explanation.

Wil Myers is a risk, but so is James Shields. So is Albert Pujols. So is Justin Verlander. So is everyone.

When we start using labels like “prospect” or “proven veteran” to describe players, we lose that reality. Myers and Shields both have the chance to be good, bad, or anything in between. Let’s not let the terms we use to describe player types obscure that fact. The Royals didn’t trade a lottery ticket for a paycheck; they traded a few lottery tickets for a scratch-off card. They probably did reduce their overall performance risk for 2013, but it didn’t go to zero. Let’s not pretend that we know so much about projecting the future of Major League players that we create an artificial divide where one does not exist.

Prospects come with uncertainty, but so do Major League players. Everyone is a risk. You weigh that risk against the potential rewards, and you figure out which trade-offs are worth making. Once you cross over into treating some players as non-risks, though, you’ve stopped evaluating players properly. And then you make trades like the one the Royals just made.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


102 Responses to “Big Leaguers, Prospects, and Uncertainty”

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  1. drewggy says:

    Nice post.

    Having a “proven track record of eating innings” may just mean you’re due for an injury. Pitches get hurt.

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  2. Aaron says:

    Amazing article! I was looking for a little bit of this in last night’s article and I was glad that you revisited the topic for a broader scope.

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  3. Milby says:

    As a Giants fan, I can’t help but feel even more fleeced after soaking up the analysis of this trade. Wheeler is admitedly a lessor prospect than Myers, and it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it’s still hard to justify trading 6 cost-controlled years of a top-tier pitching prospect for a couple months of Beltran.

    I guess the conversation changes when you’re a team on the cusp of making the playoffs, vs. these Royals.

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    • Daniel Stern says:

      I’m a Giants fan too, and still love the trade of Wheeler. The reason: WINNING. The Giants were in, and are in, a position to focus on World Series trophies not years of control. The Royals need to focus on wins at the major league level, and adding proven pitching should generate more victories than adding a talented but unproven potential star outfielder. The Royals need pitching more than another young bat to win.

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      • Anon21 says:

        This is still such a very wrong mindset. The Royals need wins. They should be indifferent between pitching wins and hitting wins. Starting Myers and benching Francoeur would have provided more wins pretty much as certainly as using Shields instead of their current fifth starter. When you fetishize filling particular holes over improving the total quality of your organization, you make bad trades.

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      • frenchy says:

        Why do we assume that Francoeur is bound for -1 WAR this year? He had an xBABIP of .308 last year. Regress him to a luck neutral level and he’s >100 wRC+. Last year also represents his UZR low. Nothing about his UZR profile suggests he’s much worse than a true talent 0 UZR fielder.

        You know what’s a good way to get more WAR from RF? Let Francoeur regress back to being a luck-neutral 2 WAR player. Boom, 3 WAR shift…similar to what happened with the last two years of the ChiSox.

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      • CheeseWhiz says:

        Jeff Francouer is not a 2 win player. He is a replacement level scrub. Yeah, he will almost certainly regress upward next year, but that will likely just make him a liability instead of an abomination.

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  4. The Fallen Phoenix says:

    There’s another element of this trade, too – opportunity cost. Whether Myers busts or not is almost irrelevant when you ultimately evaluate the trade, because you can never truly forecast outcomes. You want to attempt to maximize value from each player with all the information you have presently.

    I’m not convinced the best way to leverage Myers AND Montgomery AND Odorizzi was to acquire two years of Shields plus Wade Davis. Were there other deals (or non-deals) that might have netted comparable present value without ransacking the Royals’ prospect cupboard? I’m inclined to say yea.

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    • suicide squeeze says:

      Exactly. The Royals could “win” this trade, but that still wouldn’t have made it the right decision.

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      • Daniel Stern says:

        Why is no one looking at this trade as to what it means to the team rather than the individual talent? The Royals need major league victories. Adding more proven arms at the major league level could/should/would/etc. lead to more victories than another young stud OF. Sure they gave up more potential talent, but the talent the Royals need is pitching.

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      • The Royals could have improved their pitching in free agency, while replacing the worst player on their team (Frenchy) with one of the best prospects in baseball (Myers).

        That would have likely have netted more major league victories than this trade.

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      • DrEasy says:

        @RationalSportsFan: You’re assuming the Royals are able to attract free agents. They made this move because trades seem to be the only way they can get immediate help for their major league team.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      Why would you assume that they could have netted better players in a trade? Last week there was a report that they were willing to trade Myers. If I knew it, then I’m certain that every GM knew it. If other trades were ready to be offered, then why didn’t teams offer them? It seems to me like people knew he was available and have the opportunity to make an offer, but nobody made an offer on par with Tampa’s.

      I don’t like the deal from KC’s perspective, but I wouldn’t assume they could get more for Myers.

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      • CheeseWhiz says:

        Just because Moore agreed to this deal doesn’t mean there weren’t better deals out there to be made. It’s quite possible that Moore is simply a poor evaluator of talent and/or a poor negotiator.

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  5. Phillies Fan says:

    Dave Cameron is a biased prick!

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  6. Heads Up says:

    “Everyone is a risk.”

    But not everyone has the same risk profile. If you had to bet on which player would put up a 4-win season in the next two years, Shields or Myers, whom would you bet on? Shields, obviously. Now, that may be wrong–Myers might break out huge as a rookie, or Shields might fall apart, or God knows what else. But I don’t think anyone in their right mind would say Myers is as likely as Shields to produce that in the next two seasons.

    Both are risks, but the risk level is not the same, at all. That’s the whole point. I mean, they’re compensated differently for a reason. I don’t think anyone was treating Shields as a non-risk–just as a lot less of a risk than Myers. You may think the trade was pretty dumb from the Royals’ perspective, and I certainly agree for a variety of reasons, but I find it hard to disagree with the idea that Shields presents significantly *less* of a performance-risk than Myers.

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    • chuckb says:

      Why are you using 2 years as the standard here. The Rays got Myers for 6+, not 2. That’s like comparing apples to February. You’re not even in the same ballpark.

      This must be a good deal for the Royals b/c he’s more likely to be worth more WAR in the next 2 years shouldn’t at all be the comparison here. The question is whether the WAR Shields accumulates in the next 2 years is worth the WAR the Royals are giving up over the next 6-7 years by trading away Myers.

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      • Heads Up says:

        No, actually, that’s a completely different question. I agree 6 years of Myers is likely to be worth more than 2 years of Shields, especially to the Royals, who aren’t as close to contending as they’d like to believe–that’s why I said that I think the trade was dumb.

        But the risk profile is about the next two seasons because that’s how long Shields is under contract. Obviously the Royals are trying to win in the next two seasons, or else they wouldn’t have done the deal–it thus matters to them who is more likely to be very good over the next two years.

        Your question goes to whether the trade was good or bad. I agree with you that it was bad. But it doesn’t go to the “risk” question, which is what Dave’s post and my comment addresses. I think Shields is surely less of a risk in the near-term.

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      • jcxy says:

        Well hold on, Chuck B, I disagree with Heads Up’s take, but you’re not right either to suggest that WAR accumulated down the road by Myers (years 3 to 6) has the same present value as the WAR in 2012 (or 2013).

        The concept is simple here–a present value calculation involving the two players. What makes it difficult is that it’s tough to determine, let alone know, the probabilities involved and the level of performance down the road for both. It would be a guess. An informed guess, yes, but still with pretty high variance. (If Myers’ “hits”, for instance…is his peak 4 WAR? 5? 10? I bet we could get scouts to say pretty much anything in between, no?)

        But even if we could work out the probabilities and expected performance levels, we’d still have to discount performance from 2014 onwards much like we would any pmt-making asset.

        Of course, where I think you’re right is that I’d guess that those heavily discounted 2014+ years of Myers add up to yield a greater present value than Shields’ Present Value of 2013 + 2014, all things considered.

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      • Jamie says:

        “The question is whether the WAR Shields accumulates in the next 2 years is worth the WAR the Royals are giving up over the next 6-7 years by trading away Myers.”

        Actually this is not the question. The question is whether the Royals success in the next two years is worth giving up the theoretical value that Myers might give. If the Royals win a division in the next two years, then it will have been worth it. Its a risk, yes, of course it is.

        Myers may have significant potential value, but the bulk of that is years away, while the Royals good young players are good and young now. What the Royals need more than anything else, right now, is good SP. They have a good young core of hitters and a strong bulpen, but weak SP.

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      • chuckb says:

        @ jcxy,

        I never said that Shields’ WAR over the next 2 years and the WAR Myers produces over the next 6 are the same thing. I never made a comment about present/future value. That’s why I said that the question is whether the 2 years worth of WAR gained by acquiring Shields was worth the 6 years worth of WAR the Royals are conceding by trading Myers.

        It seems as though you assumed I was making that connection even though I was quite careful not to suggest that the present value of WAR = the future value of WAR.

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      • @Heads Up

        But there’s no reason, they couldn’t have spent 11 million on Edwin Jackson and put Wil Myers into the lineup right now. Or what might be only slightly more on Ryan Dempster. (Or they could have went after Brandon McCarthy.)

        You keep Wil Myers and all your other prospects. You get rid of Francoeur. You still add 2-4 pitching wins this year and into the future, provided health.

        And if Hosmer and Moustakas meet their potential, your talking about a solid team, which still has the chance to go to the playoffs if everything breaks right.

        It’s not like the Royals had to give up Wil Myers to secure pitching for that price. It’s on the market every year.

        The guys like Grienke or Sabathia always come at a premium, but over and over again, there are lower tier guys who perform way over their contracts. And basically at the level of James Shields. (Who is good and durable, but it’s not like Tampa Bay won’t easily be able to replace him with the stable of young pitchers they have. When David Price gets traded next year, it might be a different story.)

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      • jcxy says:

        @ ChuckB. I never said that you said they were the same. I said you suggested it, which you did implicitly, when you criticized the time frame of looking at only 2 years vs 6 for Myers. Tied into any production viewing windows examination is a necessary discussion of present and future value. Hence the pundits declaration that Tampa won the trade. Tampa got worse in 2013 to attempt to sustain success in 2014+. The only way to say that is to use a present value calc, implicitly if not explicitly.

        But I think I agree with basically everything else you’ve said.

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      • Heads Up says:

        @Crumpled

        You’re confusing the question as well. I never said the trade was smart–frankly, I agree with your plan as a much smarter way to construct the team.

        This post wasn’t about the trade being good or bad. It was about the relative risk profiles of the players. And my comment was meant to say that Dave Cameron was significantly overstating the case for all players being risks. The simple fact is that everyone here would bet on Shields to be a 4-win player before Myers. His risk profile just has substantially less variance than a 22-year old prospect’s does. That isn’t to say he doesn’t have risks too, just that they’re far less than Myers.

        The trade was probably bad for the Royals. But Dave’s point about the relative risk of the players seems wrong, to me.

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    • Anon21 says:

      I mean, they’re compensated differently for a reason.

      And that reason is the CBA. (Well, not entirely, but you get the point: this is a super-weak argument.)

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    • ValueArb says:

      I’d bet on Myers the next 2 years. Because betting on Myers leaves you with $28M more in hard cold cash to spend if Myers busts, while betting on Shields leaves you broke and with no options if he gets hurt.

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  7. Chummy Z says:

    Eh, I feel that your argument is a bit weak. While assuming that Shields is not an injury risk is foolish, he is likely a better bet to return a half season of value now than Myers is to succeed in the long run. If this was a smart move by Moore (if…), then he’d flip Shields at the deadline when demand is higher. If the Royals knew more about their own prospects (information asymmetry) and feel like they got at least a fair deal now, maybe they could get value that they perceive to be better than Myers and co. in July.

    Pitchers are most certainly vulnerable to injury. I’m just wondering if this might have been a good move in disguise based on their own information with the intent of flipping Shields for a better package at the deadline.

    Then again, if they’re just going to keep Shields, your argument holds much more ground and my point is moot.

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    • chuckb says:

      Why does information asymmetry only work one way? Isn’t it possible that the Rays know more about Shields’ durability and the health and strength of his arm than the Royals do? Or that they know more about how the shift they employ benefits Shields more than anyone else does?

      If you’re willing to state that the Royals must feel as though they got a fair deal based on their knowledge of Myers, thus the trade is a good one for them then you have to also be willing to concede that the Rays may know more than the Royals about Shields and that he’s not nearly as much of a sure bet as you seem to imply.

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  8. Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics says:

    I have a hard time taking anything seriously from a guy who wouldn’t trade Andrus for Justin Upton straight up. That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard since #6org

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    • indyralph says:

      Your bar is really high if you don’t take 2 AL championships in 3 years seriously.

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      I wouldn’t trade Andrus for Justin Upton straight up, but then, I’m just a well-beered Dallas resident.

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      • YanksFanInBeantown says:

        Why on Earth not? Andrus might be a 5 win player in his prime. Upton was a 6.5 win player at age 23.

        Upton has been significantly better every year before this one, where he was dealing with a wrist injury, and the Rangers have a replacement SS in the wings in Jurickson Profar.

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    • jim says:

      that’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve heard in, what is it, 3 years now since the #6 org fiasco? do you not interact with humans?

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    • ValueArb says:

      I’d take Justin if he made less than Andrus. But he doesn’t.

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  9. The bottom line is that KC was going to have to overpay, one way or the other, and pretty much had to do something through the trade route to be viable. I think even a .500 season would pull in rave reviews with the Royals recent history. They have to give people the impression they are turning it around. They haven’t developed enough pitching that is ready.

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    • SKob says:

      I think this is the real point that the prospect fanatics don’t give a crap about. They did need to do whatever it took to get the fans excited and to give the team a real chance to care about September baseball!

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      • Daniel Stern says:

        Yep, well said. Shields more important to a winning Royals team than Myers. This shouldn’t just be looked at “who is more talented individually”, needs to also be looked at “will pitching help the Royals win more than adding a young stud OF?”

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      • BVHeck says:

        looks like the trade was a success then.

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    • CheeseWhiz says:

      Why was KC forced to overpay? I keep reading this and I don’t understand it. They certainly DID overpay, but that’s not to say that there weren’t better deals out there to be made.

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  10. chuckb says:

    Well done, Dave. Thanks for posting. I love the irony that the study you used as a reference comes from royalsreview.

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  11. jcxy says:

    I really like this post, but have to ask:

    Why did the A’s turn down Anderson for Myers straight up?

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    • John says:

      Probably a combination of really liking Anderson and being pretty deep in the outfield.

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      • jcxy says:

        No, that’s not an acceptable answer. Myers is BA’s MiLB player of the year. Anderson has made 38 starts in 3 years.

        This is the kind of deal OOTP wouldn’t let me make. Something doesn’t add up here.

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      • suicide squeeze says:

        Anderson is signed to a super cheap deal and already had TJ. He likely has more trade value than Shields.

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      • Heather says:

        Anderson has had one brilliant year and 3 meh years, was on the disabled list last year, and throws a massive amount of sliders. And, despite having outfield “depth” the As have a bunch of serviceable guys but no great players in the OF. That explanation makes no sense to me.

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      • John says:

        I didn’t mean to imply it was a perfect answer it’s just the best I think we can do given current information. Trading Anderson leaves a hole in the A’s rotation, well they already have Reddick, Young, Cespedes, Moss, and Coco Crisp in the outfield. They might not even have a spot to play Myers next season.

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      • jcxy says:

        Sorry John, I didn’t mean to shoot the messenger. I just don’t buy that answer.

        I agree, we don’t have perfect information here…it’s possible that the As are convinced that swallowing the risk/reward of Anderson is the right move…I just don’t buy it. We see again and again the “safer” bet is taking the Lawrie side of the trade, the Montero side of the trade. We can look back at the top half of the first round of the MLB drafts and see that “hit” rate for hitters is better than for pitchers.

        I agree, it’s not a vaccuum and that the As do have a number of OFs ought to be considered. But don’t you make room for (potentially) elite, cost controlled talent?

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      • CliftonshirePennywhistle says:

        IMO the A’s made the right move. Contending in ’13 + what Anderson will return when he’s traded in ’15 > Myers + what they could get for Reddick/Crisp/Young.

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      • Krog says:

        In a vacuum, Myers might be more valuable than Anderson. However, the A’s have a stocked outfield and the free agent market is loaded with outfielders. The A’s simply don’t have a use for Myers this year, would have difficulty getting value via trade for any of their current outfielders. and the loss of Anderson would weaken the team.

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    • joser says:

      Do we have an actual source for this information, beyond trade rumors?

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    • ValueArb says:

      Why do you think the A’s turned down trading Anderson for Myers in this imaginary deal that was likely made up by a bored blogger?

      That trade makes no sense for Dayton Moore. Dayton Moore needs players and pitchers he can count on in 2013 so they can make a playoff run, or Dayton Moore is out of a job. Brett Anderson doesn’t fit the bill, any more than Myers does, because in the mind of Dayton Moore Anderson is just a much injured malingerer. In the mind of Dayton Moore Shields is a proven winner who will never get hurt because he’s never been hurt.

      But if the As did turn down that deal, it might have been they didn’t want to sell low in order to buy high. Anderson is cost controlled and super valuable if he’s healthy. If they are convinced he’s healthy, why trade him before he re-establishes that value?

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  12. Bill says:

    good article, nothing is guaranteed of any player.

    What we can say is that Shields may provide 8-10 WAR over the next two years, Davis 1+ war for a couple of years with some upside, and that those are more sure things.

    Myers is a coin flip, odorizzi is nice but less than a coin flip, montgomery is maybe at this point a future reliever, though I would imagine the Rays would work with his mechanics and try to start him, and who knows what leonard is, just another filler with a 5% chance or less of even seeing the big leagues, let alone making an impace.

    I am ok with the trade as a rays fan, but I also would have liked to see the Rays roll out price, moore, shields, cobb and hellickson and niemann/archer on a regular basis. Those top 3 could have all finished top 10 in cy young awards for the next two years, IMO

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  13. Not a KC fan says:

    Look at how many good position players are on the Royals that came through the system – Gordon, Mous, Hosmer, Butler and trades brought developed guys like Cain and Escobar. Look at how many pitching prospects they have been able to develop – Greinke… Soria, Holland?

    But maybe they still should have overpaid for a free agent pitcher… wait they can’t afford it… and if they could, who the hell wants to go there.

    They essentially got their #1 and maybe their #4 pitchers for this year and next. Maybe now they can sniff the playoffs. Odirizzi was not an ace, Montgomery wasn’t a bust, he’s already a ‘never will be’, and in 5 years, Myers will be Jay Bruce. Who gives a shit? I am so sick of moronic Dave Cameron articles. Dave – were you wronged by someone in KC or you just want to lick Wil Myers sack for another 500 words!

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  14. RMR says:

    Good post. It seems we often fail to account for all of those in-between possibilities. It’s not like Myers will either bust or become an MVP. He could very well just turn in to another solid but unspectacular 3 WAR corner OF, a Josh Willingham or Ryan Ludwick type. And it could take him 2 or 3 years to get there.

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  15. Hurtlockertwo says:

    When you look at all the kids that are drafted each year for the last 20 years, very, very few even make it to the Majors. It always seems to me to be less risky to take a guy who made it to the majors and has had a good deal of success, then count on minor league guys that might be good.

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  16. AK7007 says:

    I feel like a piece needs to be dedicated to the fact that equal value doesn’t matter at all to Dayton Moore, as he pretty much has to have an above .500 season or he loses his job. Currently, writers are focusing on what this means for each franchise as a whole, and mentioning the Moore job situation as an afterthought, when they should be doing things in reverse of that if they want to “understand” why the trade happened.

    Motivations for this trade don’t come from “Big Leaguers, Prospects, and Uncertainty” – they come from a front office sacrificing the future to try and keep their jobs today. They can’t worry about tomorrow, because they won’t be around to see it if they do. Looking at the Meyers trade from this perspective, the blame for all this destructive short-term thinking comes from a combination of David Glass’ desire for a winning team now and his unwillingness to pay for those wins with cash. Now, what he is getting is that precious .500 team, but without sustainability for success going forward.

    As opinionated as this statement is, if you want to see a healthy franchise in KC long-term, a more patient/caring owner might be required. Look at how Tampa is run – they didn’t get where they are by having their owner force ultimatums on them right as they approach sustainable success.

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    • A Capitalist says:

      You’ve hit it on the head, I think. As esteemed Notgraphs contributor Dayn Perry writes in his forthcoming book “Finance and Fucking: Secrets to Crushing The Competition in the Boardroom and the Bedroom”, lack of proper oversight of the GM and a no-account owner are a combustible combination that leads to disaster just, as you so eloquently put it: “as they approach sustainable success”.

      Moore earns his share of scorn today. But the owner shouldn’t escape blame either.

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    • jpg says:

      I was gonna write the same thing. It’s a classic moral dilemma. What’s best for Dayton Moore isn’t necessarily bess for the team’s long term success. In my eyes the blame falls on David Glass. An owner and presumably, good businessman has to account for a potential conflict of interest. Glass should have either extended DM or fired him after the season ended. By allowing DM to continue in the role, essentially, as a lame duck, Glass put the team’s long term health in question.

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  17. sturock says:

    But I think the point being made is that the Royals aren’t yet in the position where trading a couple of unproven-but-clearly-talented prospects for a proven veteran will put them over the top. They need a lot more than Shields and Davis to be truly competitive right now, so maybe hanging onto Myers, Odorizzi, and Montgomery would actually have been the wiser, more prudent move. It would have given them a larger core of young players to build around. Each individual player may have a 70% (or whatever) bust rate, but throw a bunch of them at the wall and one has a chance to stick. This is not a terrible trade for the Royals in the abstract, but it’s not the right time for them to do it. They’re just not “just one pitcher away” at this point.

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  18. DrBGiantsfan says:

    Is Wade Davis the sleeper of this trade? He was once a top 3 Rays prospect in a fairly loaded system. His K/9 jumped to 11+ last year. His contract is controlled out to 2017. Personally, I’d take that over Odirizzi + Montgomery.

    Also, shouldn’t the fact that KC got rejected on two 1 for 1 trades for Myers tell us that just maybe someone is overvaluing him?

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    • AK7007 says:

      Read Jeff Sullivan’s take on Davis – don’t try to think that his reliever numbers mean much about his ability as a starter. Essentially, Davis is another averageish starter – and the Royals already had a bunch of those. You don’t improve your team by replacing a 1.5 win starter with a 2 win starter and then popping champagne. Davis is that 2 win starter.

      As far as Myers is concerned, he would have been at least a full win better than Francoeur just by being replacement level – and likely could have been as much of an improvement in RF as the Royals are getting by inserting Shields in their rotation. The Royals were thinking irrationally, and probably could have improved this much by simply signing a starter (Glass’ unwillingness to spend didn’t help) and putting Myers in RF for 2013.

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      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        I think you have to believe that Davis is still on the upward side of his career trajectory.

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      • frenchy says:

        “he would have been at least a full win better than Francoeur just by being replacement level”

        See, I get that we’re prisoners to 2012 performance, but I don’t think it’s *that* much of a stretch to see Frenchy back in the 1.5-2.5 WAR range. In fact, his 2012 xBABIP was .308–or about 35 points higher than what it was. If you assign him luck neutral babip, he’s basically a 100 wRC+ hitter. 2012 was also his worst rated defensive season by UZR. Given that defense peaks early, it’s surely inadvisable to regress him back to his 05/06 seasons…but is 0 UZR really out of the question as his true talent given his past work?

        Also, I know he’s put up a number of ABs in the majors…but hitters do tend to peak in his age range. I don’t think projecting an ISO pushing .175 or so would be pushing it…

        All of that adds up to a nice little 2 WAR player.

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      • AK7007 says:

        DrBGiantsfan – I don’t have to believe that at all, but you can.

        frenchy – I did that kind of back of the napkin thing for Aaron Rowand before the 2011 season, but no matter how much I’m still relishing the 2010 WS, reality/his own history says Francoeur has the same shot of being a good player in 2013 as Rowand did for 2011. We can like the player, but don’t have to think that frenchy suddenly figured out all things baseball related. Francoeur has a great arm, and thats where his value ends. Sure, he could be replacement level – but that’s not a reason to think that you have enough of an outfield surplus to trade Myers.

        Truth be told, I’m not sure why these complimentary (read:bench) players are generating any support for starting spots. On a good team, Davis should be doing what Mike Leake did for the Reds last year, or exactly what he was doing for the Rays. Francoeur should probably be a role player/”veteran presence”

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      • frenchy says:

        I don’t buy the Aaron Roward comp. Rowand was 35 and Francoeur is 28.

        The fact is, it’s commonplace to lampoon Francoeur because he has a plus skill (arm) but is deficient in the rest. However lots of players can generate value by doing one particular defensive thing really well. Ben Revere, for instance, saved >10 runs last year with his range but not with his arm last. I think we need to be a bit more agnostic about how a defensive player generates his value.

        The other thing that bothers me is that we seemingly can’t separate Francoeur’s stats from his name. Take the name out of it, and I think most people would be persuaded by the non-luck neutral performance last year.

        Honestly, I’m really struck by how selectively we employ stats. The case that Francoeur delivers 2 WAR in 2013 is really not that difficult to assemble and yet we treat him as if it’s a foregone conclusion he’s bound for -1? I don’t get it.

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      • YanksFanInBeantown says:

        Frenchy, he’s been worth more than 1 WAR once in the past 5 years. It’s not a safe bet at all to assume that he rebounds to be a 2 WAR player. He might rebound to being a 1 or .5 WAR player, but that’s about it. Even if his BABIP was .302 he would have been a well below average .260/.310/.400 hitter with limited OF range.

        Or maybe he puts it all together and turns back into 2005 Jeff Francoeur. But it’s a lot more likely that he regresses back to the mean of 2008-2012 Jeff Francoeur.

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  19. Pogue009 says:

    The thing that I don’t get is that the Royals did this at a time when Detroit has thrown their considerably bigger resources at the same time frame as Shields has a Contract. In 2014-15 the Tigers need to extend or replace Cabrera, Verlander, Scherzer, Fister, Hunter, Avila, Jackson, Porcello, Peralta, V-Mart, Infante and don’t have a deep farm system to do it.
    The Royals had to do the same with Butler and Gordon who will be 30 and 32 in 2015. Had the Royals chosen to take say Chris Capuano in a salary dump they could have used this year to allow Myers to join Perez, Mous, Hosmer, and Escobar in building towards that window. If they had been using the Rays blueprint they would have been looking to trade Gordon to say the Giants or Mariners for their top pitching prospects. Of course you can’t ignore that the Royals will pay more money this year to Santana, Guthrie, Francoer, Hochevar and Davis than the Rays will pay their entire roster.

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  20. Beanless says:

    Remember when Dominic Brown was a top two minor league position player? Probably, since it wasn’t very long ago. Guarantee this article would have read the same way if you had inserted his name in Myers’ spot in this scenario a couple years ago. I’m sure Royals folks don’t forget how long it took “can’t miss major league ready prospect” Alex Gordon to become a true major leaguer. This isn’t as black and white as Cameron tries to make it.

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    • Pogue009 says:

      What is black and white is that this is a very risky move in that Myers has Jose Bautista upside for very cheap and his prime would coincide largely with the prime of their core.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • SKob says:

        Pittsburgh Jose Bautista or Toronto Jose Bautista? There were many years between the two versions. Nobody remembers that! What did Toronto trade for Bautista? Anybody remember? Steal of the century right? Not at the time!

        Things aren’t always as they seem!

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    • CheeseWhiz says:

      There is absolutely nothing “black and white” in Dave’s piece. On the contrary he is pointing out that the black and white stuff people throw around about veterans and prospects is misguided and needs a more nuanced analysis. Way to miss the entire point of the article.

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  21. Beanless says:

    If the Royals want to contend over the next few years, what’s more valuable to them during that time? The two arms they got or a well-regarded developing prospect? How many of their prospects have come in and given them two years of value that Shields likely will over the next two years?

    I’m not saying they won the deal; I just don’t think this “Dayton Moore’s an idiot for making this deal, and there’s no argument otherwise” sentiment is fair, at all.

    Everyone’s got (insert favorite player) upside until they don’t. Still waiting on Jose Iglesias to turn into Ozzie Smith over here.

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  22. Tim says:

    While the arguments you mention drive me nuts too, this article is really only a marginally less klugdy attempt to estimate expected value. We have the tools to do a lot better.

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  23. Brian says:

    The bigger problem, from my perspective, with how the trade is generally being discussed is that writers present the prospect scenario as if it’s a dichotomous outcome, boom or bust. Realistically, based on top 20 prospects from the past 20 years, there is a relatively small chance that Myers will be a total bust and also small chance that he will be one of the best OFs in the game and a perrenial All-Star. The greatest likelihood is that he will fall somewhere in between and turn out to be a good player who will be useful to his team(s) over the course of his MLB career, quite possibly making AS appearances along the way. In return for two quality major league arms, the Royals are gambling that he won’t become that perrenial All-Star. On the other hand, even though they gave up two arms (ones that are getting more expensive), Myers is highly likely to be a very useful player to the Rays over the next six years even if he doesn’t become that perrenial All-Star.

    The bottom line is that the Rays bought themselves a lottery ticket, and Americans love playing the lotto even when they know the odds are not in their favor.

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  24. TT says:

    I think you missed the point. Unproven prospects don’t spontaneously morph into successful major leaguers without any further investment. Myers is likely going to require a lot of major league at bats before he proves himself. Or is judged a failure.

    That process can cost a team that is trying to compete a lot of wins, especially if the player is ultimately a failure. The Royals got two already established major league pitchers without giving up a proven major league player. They gave up players whose immediate future was more likely to cost them wins rather than contribute them.

    As for the idea that there is something special about top 20 BBA prospects, I think that is as ridiculous as looking at top 100 prospects. Myer was rated 11 for 2011 and 28 for 2012, but by your logic he remained just as likely to succeed once he hit the magic number in 2011. I don’t think that is true or Sean Burroughs would still be a good investment.

    These kind of probabilities are pretty meaningless. Myer has a lot of tools, but strikes out a lot, even against minor league pitching. He is exactly the kind of player who can struggle when making the jump to the big leagues despite great minor league numbers. Whatever happens, the real issue for the Royals is that they need to win now and decided they would rather not make the investment to find out what Myers can do.

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    • Bbrian P says:

      Looked at a different way: Even if KC decided they were trading a question mark in the prospect that is Myersffor a “proven pitcher,” is this the best they could have done? I’f we’re going to specuate, let’s go crazy. Do the Mets say no to this package for Dickey and Johan, even if they had to sheout money to subsidize the latters contract? There had to be teams who would have at least considered this group of prospects for their “proven starter.”

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      • TT says:

        “Do the Mets say no to this package for Dickey and Johan,”

        Sure they say no. I am also not sure that would be a better deal with Dickey gone after one season.

        I don’t know why you assume there was a better deal out there that KC missed. Its not like Myers’ availability was a secret.

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    • YanksFanInBeantown says:

      And he was ranked No. 3 at midseason 2012.

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  25. DJG says:

    “Remember… Sean Burroughs?”

    Why, yes. The pudgy kid from the ’93 Little League World Series.

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    • frenchy says:

      I’ll always remember they asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up and he sounded it out phonetically…”gynecologist”.

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  26. BRIAN says:

    Some people are just haters.

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  27. MLB Rainmaker says:

    First, your argument that every player has risk based on the statistical analysis, lacks the impact of information bias. For instance, you list Matt Garza in your list of comparable pitchers, he’s certainly is on the market, but hasn’t been traded because he has a known health issue. When you’re selecting ANY pitcher from that class you’re analysis is correct, when select a specific pitcher from that class, your likelihoods are impacted significantly. Leading to….

    Second, and related to information bias, Shields isn’t a typical pitches, he’s a change-up pitcher, throwing 85% non-breaking pitches and having an average fastball velocity of 90.9 mph. This is not a guy that relies on 95+ fastball or 12-6 curve to get outs, he’ relies on a deceptive delivery and difference between speeds. I’m not about to run an analysis of the health of every pitcher with a change-up usage in excess of 25%, but I’d venture to guess they have lower injury rates than those without.

    Finally, unlike 99% of the readers of this site (myself included), the Royals likely don’t view this trade in a pure player for player swap, the way we’d view a fantasy league trade, but rather about managing runs scored and runs scored against. The Royals have a nucleas of developing talent to score runs, however, they have nothing in terms of quality starting pitching. The additional runs gained by Myers bat would not compare to the runs prevented by Shields arm.

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  28. PackBob says:

    I think the pertinent point is that Shields is not a sure thing. Proven MLB players flame out all the time. Pitchers tend to have arm problems. It’s the idea that Shields vs. Myers is sure thing vs. not a sure thing that is the misconception about the trade. It’s not a sure thing on either side.

    Whether Shields actually performs well or doesn’t belongs to hindsight. Either way he goes, or somewhere in the middle, it doesn’t change that he has inherent risk from year to year, as does every proven MLB player.

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  29. bobbsktball says:

    Seems like a pretty lopsided trade given the rising value GMs are placing on prospects. Maximizing low cost high production assets is typically easier done through prospects than shrewd FA signings. So I’d imagine opportunity cost is a pretty big argument. Doesn’t seem like the royals got near the market value for this set of prospects. However, we don’t know if they had other opportunities to improve the staff. If they had the opportunity to spend even close to the same money they’ll be spending on shields and Davis(and guthrie/santana for that matter), then they’ve placed some odd bets given the other FA pitchers available and the cost of some valuable prospect chips. And that’s even if you assume their intention is to “win now” and, on top of that, even if you assume francouer to be more of a +1-2 win player. Just a desperate team Friedman recognized and capitalized on. Kudos. Of course it could wind up lopsided for either side in the future, but that’s why its fun to follow baseball and play mock-GM.

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  30. Jason says:

    While I do strongly agree the Rays got the better of this deal going forward I think it is possible to take a step back and wonder if KC’s internal scouting might know something that other organizations and outsiders might not. They see the kid play everyday and are around him all the time. I remember back when the Rays pulled off the Delmon Young for Matt Garza trade many analytically inclined commentators thought Minnesota got the better of it by receiving the position player. Young was also a former Minor League Player of the Year like Myers, and while I’m not saying he will follow that path a team knows its players better than outsiders. With that being said, I love the cost effectiveness of this trade for Tampa and the potential that one or two of these prospects pan out setting them up for the next 5 years.

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    • MLB Rainmaker says:

      First, no one thought MN got the better of that trade. Bill Smith was an instant sucker for taking that deal.

      But I agree, KC has watched a lot of guys dominate at Omaha and then do nothing when they show up at Kauffman. I mean what is the marked difference between Mike Moustakas 2010 season and Wil Myers 2012? Or how about Alex Gordon’s 2006 season? KC has a roster full of guys that tore apart the minors and league average now.

      On the flip side, they’ve got nobody that can get them past the 5th inning on a regular basis.

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      • YanksFanInBeantown says:

        The difference between Myers 2012 and Moustakas 2010 is that that Myers was significantly better at each level:

        .497 wOBA vs. .473 wOBA at AA (.444 for Gordon in 2006)
        .400 wOBA vs. .368 wOBA at AAA.

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  31. KB says:

    A better method of predicting Myers success is to look at Baseball America’s previous minor league player of the year award winners. Since 1981 none of the award winners have really failed at the major league level. My quick examination shows me only 7 (Ron Kittle, Jon Rauch, Jeff Francis, Delmon Young, Rocco Balldelli, Mike Bielecki, and Rick Ankiel really did not have long or very successful careers. Since two players won the award in consecutive years – this means that 7 out of 29 might be considered failures. Thus, a very high percentage, 76%, have succeeded and all most half have gone on to be all stars. Myers is not merely a top ten prospect – he sits in a group of elite prospects that have been ranked as the very best in the minors.

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  32. KB says:

    The average WAR value of players who have won Baseball America’s minor league player of the year award is 28 – this includes all winners from 1981 to 2011. Quite a sum. The median is 17.6 – still quite a sum. Only six players on the list have less than 10 war for their career and one of these is Hellickson who has really only just begun his.

    So – I think we can say that Myers is not likely to fail. He may not be a superstar – but the average player on the list is a good one and the median shows that half of players will go on to quite productive and solid careers. Two years of Shields is almost definitely not worth the loss of Myers for six.

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  33. Aj Grands says:

    This is along the lines of what I was thinking, but at the same time, look at it from the Royal’s perspective. They had one consensus #1 prospect (Alex Gordon) take 5 years to turn into a good player (claims of being mishandled notwithstanding, as the Royals probably don’t view things that way), two top 10 prospects (Hosmer and Moustakas) crash and burn in their second year, not to mention the former top prospect who can’t seem to figure things out (Montgomrey), and the numerous TJ surgeries on top prospect pitchers (Duffy, Lamb, etc). Even the former top prospect who did become a major star was not without major difficulties (Greinke, with the anxiety problems) The only KCR prospect who seems to have lived up to expectations with no problems at all is Billy Butler. Does it surprise anyone they are somewhat wary of prospects? I’m not saying this attitude is advisable, or even justifiable (the Orioles seem to still value Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado despite the disappointments of Billy Rowell, Chris Tillman, and Matt Weiters, and the delayed emergence of Adam Jones) but perhaps that factored into their decision.

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