Risky and Rosy

Today I want to continue with the work in thinking about prospects in accordance with the WAR they might produce in the Major Leagues. With your help, the flaws of the analysis we’ve done so far have been recognized. In some cases, we’re at work behind the scenes. But I also want to flesh out this new thought process in the open. Today, I want to go through the four components of WAR, and talk about how we might treat each when projecting a prospect.

Runs Above Replacement

To keep things simple, this is computed in WAR as just 20 runs per 600 plate appearances. In my first two forays into this brand of analysis, I was after the question of what these players might look like given six full Major League seasons. It allowed for me to keep the math simple, but many of you correctly pointed out that I was overlooking the likelihood that these players fail. This, “Bust Potential,” is one of the white rabbits of minor league sabermetric analysis, but I think we can account for it in these quick-and-dirty projections in this quadrant of WAR calculation. Given that runs above replacement is only concerned with playing time, we can properly account for varying outcomes of each player’s career: a regular player, a bench player, a complete bust.

Today, I’ll be using Philadelphia Phillies top prospect Domonic Brown as my guinea pig. Brown is a consensus top 25 prospect, and the one player the Phillies would not let into trade discussions this winter. I wanted to see how rare he was, so I went to see who else Baseball America has ranked as a top 30 prospect as a “tall” (above 6-foot-2) outielder. In their first 15 years of top 100’s (1990-2004), BA ranked 25 players in that demographic. I’ll make the full list available in the comments. But the cross-section gives a really nice break down of the different possibilities for Brown’s career: 10 players became full-time regulars in the bigs, 8 players were never given a full-time shot, and the rest only got a few seasons.

So, while I’ve been giving guys +20 runs above replacement because it’s more fun to acknowledge a perfect world outcome, even for the top prospects it’s an up-hill climb. I think we can actually do better by saying that Brown’s peak is +20, but also acknowledge all outcomes and conservatively project +10 runs above replacement.

Positional Adjustment

When projecting what a player’s positional adjustment will be, there are two factors to consider: playing time and position. We have taken care of playing time in the runs above replacement adjustment — so like I did with Jesus Montero, this section allows us to look at a player’s specific situation and project a likely position. We look at the Philadelphia Phillies, and we see their outfielders contract situation: Jayson Werth is a free agent after 2010, Raul Ibanez after 2011, and Shane Victorino after 2012. While some scouts have said that Brown would work in center field, his size plus the long-term presence of Shane Victorino allows for confidence in seeing Brown in LF/RF. This means Brown would receive a -7.5 position adjustment in a full season, or -3.7 if we correspond with his conservative +10 runs above replacement projection.

UZR/Fielding

Presently, there are both quantitative and anecdotal offerings available, thanks to Sean Smith’s TotalZone play by play metric (offered at MinorLeagueSplits), or any of the great scouting reports you’ll find at Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, ESPN and more. Domonic Brown, by TotalZone, was a -6 defender in 106 games. Meanwhile, we have Keith Law’s scouting report which reads, “His biggest deficiency is in the outfield, where his reads are poor and he doesn’t set his feet to throw, but he has the speed and arm strength to become plus at the position and already runs down many balls he misreads.” Given the two, which say roughly the same thing, I’m fine with projecting Brown to be -5 UZR/150 as a Major League corner outfielder — and can accept improvement up to +0. These aren’t scientific, but it’s using an acknowledgment of everything available to us in determining a usable round number.

wRAA/Batting

Continuing today’s theme, I think we can look at batting runs in two ways: a median performance that acknowledges many of the guys that have tried and failed; and a rosier projection that comps the player to more success stories. So, I’m concerned with two things: how a player might hit if he lives up to that +10 runs above replacement number, and how he might hit if he gets to +20. However, one note that I’d like feedback on: I don’t think we should assume a lower number of plate appearances in our projection for the former. Since we are discounting a player in the first two columns for the likelihood of not reaching the Majors, I don’t think we need to double-dip when calculating wRAA. It’s essentially what a one-season snapshot in two different paths would look like.

I’m getting predictably long-winded, so I’m going to save you from the specific wOBA-generating math and use some round numbers. It’s essentially: does Brown’s power develop, or doesn’t it?

Paths   BR  UZR  Rep  PAdj    WAR   
Rosy   +25   +0  +20  -7.5    3.8
Mean   +10   -5  +10  -3.7    1.1

One day, I want to get to this point more scientifically, but I think you get the point. I think prospect analysis has a lot of value when we can call Domonic Brown a 1.1/3.8 WAR talent and understand what that means relative to other prospects. Hopefully we aren’t far away.



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JoshEngleman
Member
6 years 4 months ago

I’m really interested in seeing how this plays out. I do have one question. Should there be some type of discount factor for when a prospect is expected to come up? Should someone who we assume is a 2-WAR player in 2010 be valued differently than someone who would be a 2-WAR player in 2011. Could it be something like 2 / (1 + r)^x, with r being the discount rate and x being # of years away?

Barry Reed
Guest
Barry Reed
6 years 4 months ago

Why does the “rosy” prediction include the “risky” UZR value?

Nny
Guest
6 years 4 months ago

Wouldn’t statistical analysis of top prospects be better than physical?

i.e. Dominic Brown had a 12% walk rate last year in A+ ball. How many top-100 prospects have had a rate around that as a 21 year old in A+, and how does that rate move as the player moves up through levels (Make sure to park/league adjust as well, obviously)?

Do that for BB%, K%, BABIP, HR, 2B/3B and you can then project wOBA.

Seems to me that that would be better than physical. Physical doesn’t show what kind of batter that’ll actually be.

Michael
Member
6 years 4 months ago

I’ve been hearing that the MLE’s done by Brian Cartwright for his Oliver projection system work in a similar way. We can break down a player into certain category types, find how players of that age/level progress through the minors and translate at big league levels, and estimate an approximate number for that characteristic. It still probably involves some fudging with scouting analysis, but it’s definitely in the cards.

Can’t wait to see more, Bryan.

Nny
Guest
6 years 4 months ago

Yeah, that’s definitely more towards the field of what I am interested in. I think that that would be for better use than what MLEs are (Which are “This is how he would have done if he was in the majors last year”).

Also, I don’t think I’ve read anything on this but I’m sure you’ve thought about it, injury would play a huge role in WAR those first 6-7 years. I imagine that’d make position prospects a lot more valuable. There’s obviously Will Carroll’s work with BP that could help figuring that out.

Mike Green
Guest
Mike Green
6 years 4 months ago

I like the concept of calling Brown a 1.1/3.8 prospect, with 1.1 being a rough estimate of the weighted mean and 3.8 being the reasonable projection as a regular.

To be clear, if you looked at Chase Utley after his age 24 season in 2003, I am guessing that he would have been something like 2.0/4.0, and that in essence the rosy peak is really a 75th percentile rather than a 90th percentile estimate. Have I got this right?

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