Review of Hitting Prospects, James Player Rater 1993

As noted towards the end of last week over at NotGraphs, I’ve recently acquired the Bill James Player Ratings Books from 1993 to 1995.

One thing about the Player Raters that, so far as I know, is distinct from James’ earlier Baseball Books or Baseball Abstracts, is the introduction of grades for prospects. This is notable for at least four reasons, as follow:

1. Prospect rating, generally speaking, is exciting.

2. Prospect rating is more exciting when Bill James (plus Rob Neyer and John Sickels, his assistants over that span) is the one doing it.

3. The prospect rankings in these Player Raters very likely represent the earliest attempt by a sabermetrically oriented writer to rank and discuss prospects.

4. Almost all of the prospects discussed in these books are done with their careers, thus giving us a chance to see what a Grade A or B or whatever prospect looks like over the course of his career.

Please note that it is not my intention here to comment upon the “validity” or “accuracy” of James’ assessments at the time. Whether correct or not, I’m taking for granted that his assessments were as accurate as possible given the available information. Rather, the intention here is, as I say, to see what we might mean — or, at least, what James meant — by a Grade A or B or whatever prospect.

For this post, I’ve recorded data for the 104* graded hitting prospects from the 1993 edition of the Player Ratings Book.

*So far as I know, it’s 104. This project requires a lot of manual data entry, so I might’ve missed one or two. The idea, though, was to be exhaustive.

In the introduction to the book, James defines the prospect grades as follows:

Grade A
“The term Grade A prospect means that all of the information about a young player is positive, or that the positive information about the player is overwhelmingly greater than the negative information… What the term Grade prospect does not mean is tthat the guy is going to be a star… What we’re saying with the term is that there is no apparent reason that this player cannon be a star.”

Grade B
“The term Grade B prospect is a term of praise, not of information. The term Grade B prospect means that the information about the player is essentially positive, but with some significant limitation… [T]he term is not meant at all to say that the player won’t be a major league star — only that there is something here to worry about.”

Grade C
“The term Grade C prospect means that there is a more or less even mix of information which makes you think that the player will be a good major league player, and information which makes you think he won’t… Can a Grade C prospect go on to become a star? Sure, it happens. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it happens. For every one who becomes a star, there’s going to be 30 or 50 or 100 who fall by the wayside quickly.”

Grade D
“[T]he term Grade D prospect means, of course, that the information about the player is predominantly, but not overwhelmingly, negative. The term Grade D prospect means that there is something here that you have to like.”

Below is the data. Note that, for the sake of this study, the term “per season” means “per 650 plate appearances.” In other words, the average Grade A prospect, didn’t necessarily play for 9.4 seasons, but rather 9.4 “sets” of 650 PAs.

There were 11 Grade A prospects (10.6%). The Grade A prospects averaged 36.0 WAR over the course of their respective careers — or, 3.8 WAR per season over 9.4 seasons. All 11 of these prospects played in the Majors. Two of them (Chipper Jones and Jim Thome) played in 2010.

There were 15 Grade B prospects (14.4%). The Grade B prospects averaged 10.9 WAR over the course of their respective careers — or, 2.2 WAR per season over 5.0 seasons. All 15 of these prospects played in the Majors (although one of them, Steve Gibralter, recorded only five career plate appearances). None of them played in 2010.

There were 44 Grade C prospects (42.3%). The Grade C prospects averaged 1.6 WAR over the course of their respective careers — or, 1.0 WAR per season over 1.6 seasons. Of these 44 prospects, all but two played (Tracy Sanders, Juan Delarosa) played i the Majors. Six others recorded 100 or fewer career plate appearances. One of them (Matt Stairs) played in 2010.

There were 34 Grade D prospects (32.7%). The Grade D prospects averaged 2.2 WAR over the course of their respective careers — or, 1.5 WAR per season over 1.5 seasons. Of these 34 prospects, all but three (Doug Robbins, Rex de la Nuez, and John Finn) played in the Majors. Nine other recorded 100 or fewer career plate appearances. None of them played in 2010.

Three notes:

• Almost half of the total WAR (75.4) from the Grade D prospects comes from Brian Jordan, who recorded 33.3 career WAR — or, 3.8 per season (i.e. exactly average for the Grade A prospects). Jordan, of course, played defensive back for the Atlanta Falcons from 1989 to 1991, which almost definitely made it difficult to assess his prospect status.

• Here are the Grade A prospects, in order of career WAR (Baseball America ranking for 1993 in parentheses): Chipper Jones (1), Jim Thome (N/A, although was rated #51 in 1992), Mike Piazza (38), Carlos Delgado (4), Tim Salmon (5), Javy Lopez (20), Mike Lieberthal (67), Dmitri Young (12), Wil Cordero (6), Willie Greene (24), and Melvin Nieves (39).

• You can view a spreadsheet of all 104 prospects by clicking here.

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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.

24 Responses to “Review of Hitting Prospects, James Player Rater 1993”

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  1. John says:

    That was pretty great. Anything with a Chuck Carr reference. Anything with a Chuck Carr reference.

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    • Jason B says:

      It’s Jimmy Two-Times!

      “I’ll get the papers, get the papers.”

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    • Brian says:

      Chuck Carr is the ace of diamonds in a deck of 1993 MLB rookie playing cards that I have.

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      • Jason B says:

        Sweet merciful god. If he’s an ace, I don’t wanna know who’s a six.

        (Seriously though, I love products like that; great way to look back and see who was thought of as a can’t miss prospect; at least by some guy in charge of player distribution through the deck.)

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      • Brian says:

        A – Chuck Carr, Mike Piazza, Kevin Stocker, Greg McMichael
        K – Mike Piazza (2), Tim Salmon, Jason Bere, David Hulse
        Q – Troy Neel, Armando Reynoso, Mike Lansing, Jeff Conine
        J – Rich Amaral, Troy Neel (2), Al Martin, Pedro
        10 – Carlos Garcia, David Hulse (2), Rene Arocha, J.T. Snow
        9 – Brent Gates, Kirk Rueter, Jeromy Burnitz, Lou Frazier
        8 – Rich Amaral (2), Bret Boone, Wayne Kirby, Aaron Sele
        7 – Steve Cooke, Jeff Conine (2), Al Martin (2), Mike Lansing (2)
        6 – Wil Cordero, Tim Salmon (2), Angel Miranda, Carlos Garcia (2)
        5 – Al Martin (3), Craig Paquette, Tim Pugh, Carlos Garcia (3)
        4 – Phil Hiatt, Ryan Thompson, Erik Pappas, Trevor Hoffman
        3 – Steve Reed, Carlos Garcia (4), Wil Cordero (2), Joe Kmak
        2 – Jeff McNeely, Paul Quantrill, Vinny Castilla, Alex Arias
        Joker (ROY) – Piazza (3) and Salmon (3)

        I have no idea how Carlos Garcia ended up with more cards than anyone.

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  2. I had forgotten that John Jaha was fast — 10 SB against 0 CS in his first season (152 PA).

    Sadly, Braulio Castillo was not able to live up to the considerable pressure that accompanied being labeled the “Poor man’s Glenallen Hill”.

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  3. Marver says:

    Interesting article, but next time use ‘probably’ instead of ‘almost definitely’.

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    • And I thought *I* was picky says:

      Really? Jesus damn.

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    • Joe D. says:

      “Almost definitely” is almost definitely closer to “definitely” than “probably” is.

      “Probably” just means “very likely.”
      “Almost definitely” means “very, very, very likely.”

      There is almost definitely a difference, and so I can only hope that you were joking as much as I am.

      If, on the other hand, you were indeed serious in your criticism, than I certainly hope that you definitely do not breed.

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      • Marver says:

        “Probably: (adverb) Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.”

        Probably is ‘almost definitely’ the exact word he should have used.

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      • Jason B says:

        Luckily, the odds of him reproducing (given all available evidence) is almost definitely nil.

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      • Marver says:

        Oh, the breeding insult; how creative. Besides the absurd notion that actually knowing more — like the definition of a word — would imply reduced odds of breeding, using two posts on a website to conclude “almost definitely nil” would flunk you from the most elementary of statistics classes. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go continue breeding such that my genes sufficiently drown yours from the overall population.

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      • erich says:

        you guys realize that “probably” adv and “probable” adj aren’t the same thing, right? “probable” is both less accurate and precise than “probably”.

        ah, the parlance of our times…and what a perfect place to discuss it…a forum inimical to calm debates.

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    • Patrick says:

      I thought Carson was being SILLY with his choice of words. I found “Almost definitely” to be superfluous and amusing.

      Correct? No, I guess not. Probably or “almost certainly” would be better. But it was funny!

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  4. mother says:

    Pretty impressive, even for Bill James. What’s the best minor league grading publication out there today?

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  5. eric says:

    Thanks for the work.

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  6. eric says:

    Also, I was curious do you still post weekly at USS Mariner?

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  7. jj3bagger says:

    What’s also interesting to note is Chipper Jones’ listed position when this list was produced in ’93, SS. Many people forget that after this write up was done that Chipper tore his ACL during Spring Training of ’94. After missing the entire strike shortened season, he never regularly returned to SS again. He has only ended up playing 49 games over 5 different seasons at SS. It’s scary to think what his WAR totals might be if he played at least a couple of years at SS before moving over to the hot corner.

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  8. Joel says:

    Total number of Cubs (2) total WAR -1.9……….sort of sums it up.

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  9. DonM says:

    A sobering list worth taking into consideration as we get excited about our teams’ up-and-coming sluggers. James worked for years on predicting player performance (and probably still does, only he now only shares his findings with Theo Epstein) in the majors, from minors to majors and in the draft. Are there players who did not make the top 50 but who succeeded in the majors?

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  10. I love how the “note” for Raul Mondesi is “…he’s thin.” What happened there? Filled out quite well I’d say. Too well?

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  11. Cuban X Senators says:

    What’s truly remarkable is how well James scouted players for the likelihood of joining the coming PED revolution. No one rose from C prospect to HoF through the miracle of modern pharmacy? Stop messing with my mirage!

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  12. MiltonsBAILmoney says:

    All this breeding talk is making me hungry. Long live Ozzie and the D prospects!

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