Dated Information

In almost every mainstream write-up of a trade involving a minor league prospect that is consummated, the author will reference the prospects off-season ranking by Baseball America, and for good reason – BA is the market leader in prospect analysis. John Manuel, Jim Callis, and the rest of the crew over there do really good work, and have established themselves as the best source of information on prospects around.

However, I’m beginning to feel like the reliance on a ranking compiled months ago is carrying too much weight when discussing current trades. Let’s use last night’s Wilson Ramos/Matt Capps trade, for instance. The normal reaction is that the Twins overpaid, trading a “top catching prospect” for a useful but not elite reliever. Many Twins fans are outraged that they would give up such a valuable trade chip in exchange for a one inning guy, especially after he was rumored to be part of the package that would bring them Cliff Lee a month ago.

A lot of the perception of Ramos’ value comes from the fact that BA rated him #58 on their pre-season Top 100 and #2 overall in the Twins system. However, since those rankings occurred, baseball has been played, and Ramos’ value has diminished. He hasn’t hit at all in Triple-A this year, as more advanced pitchers are taking advantage of his aggressive approach. He also hasn’t shown much in the way of power, as only 19 of his 67 hits have gone for extra bases.

If BA were to do re-do their Top 100 today, I guarantee you that Ramos wouldn’t rank #58. I’m guessing that he wouldn’t even be in the Top 100. He’s has a bad year, and the things that were questions about him last year are problems this year, giving teams reasons to think that his bat might not be enough to make him more than a defensive-minded backup. So, his pre-season ranking does not really reflect his value at the moment. Things have changed.

We saw this last year as well, when Tim Alderson (#45 pre-season prospect) was traded to the Pirates for Freddy Sanchez. The reaction at the time was that the Giants were crazy to give up a top pitching prospect for a decent, but not great, infielder. However, Alderson had spent the previous four months without any velocity, showing almost none of the stuff that made him a first round pick to begin with. The Pirates received a significantly lesser version of Alderson than had been assumed based on his prospect status, and that’s continued to carry over as Alderson has fallen off the prospect map at this point.

In prospect land, things can change a lot in a short period of time. A year ago, Mike Trout went 25th overall in the draft, but if you gave teams a do-over today, he’d go #2, as he’s now the consensus best prospect left in the minors. His stock has risen dramatically in the last four months, and his pre-season Top 100 ranking of #85 is now as outdated as shag carpet.

The guys at BA do great work. You should subscribe to their magazine and follow them all on twitter. But, don’t be slaves to pre-season rankings when trying to determine a player’s value. Things change between the time those lists get made and the time those prospects become trade chips.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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philosofool
Member
Member
philosofool

I’m not disagreeing that we should use up-to-date information, but I feel like prospect evaluation is far to subject to small sample sizes. Is four months of playing at the highest level a player has seen really enough to change an evaluation? If so, I think that we need to downgrade our evaluations of evaluations, because that original evaluation wasn’t very good, was it?

Padman Jones
Member

Spot on, philosofool. And would BA really be so capricious as to drop Ramos 40+ spots based on a few bad months with the bat? Besides sample size, there’s also the fact that he’s a catcher to consider.

baty
Guest
baty

Prospect rankings are more relative than that…

Nothing could change with a player’s scouting report, and he could bump up the charts several slots just because of prospect graduations or poor performances from his peers (and vice-versa).

joser
Guest
joser

Let’s not muddy things by lumping this into Yet Another Small Sample Size argument. The issue isn’t the size of the sample, it’s the nature of it. Things (particularly pitching) can change pretty dramatically from one level of the minors to the next. Prospect evaluations are often loaded with caveats about whether a player can “continue to hit at the next level” — and even when they’re not, it should be implicit. This is a case where more recent information should be given heavier weight despite the smaller sample — just as even more recent information should be if he then demonstrates an ability to hit a higher level of pitching.

There’s definitely a difference between the evaluation of what a prospect has done so far and the projection of what he might do at another level of pro ball in the future.

Mr. Sanchez
Guest
Mr. Sanchez

“I’ve got information man! New shii has come to light!”

philosofool
Member
Member
philosofool

I don’t disagree that some observations are more reliable than others. I only need to taste vinegar in a bottle of wine once to know that the rest of the bottle tastes like vinegar. I need to see a player hit about 1,000 balls before I know whether he’s especially good or bad at reaching base on balls in play. (Obviously, there’s not “bright line” for BABIP, our confidence should be a function of the sample size, and it takes many observations for confidence to be large.) It depends on the nature of what we’re observing. My point is that it’s premature to downgrade Ramos (and, as commenters below point out, he’s now in BA’s top 50.)

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