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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.