Interesting article regarding pitching prospects

If you aren’t member over at Baseball Prospectus, you really are missing out, but I’m not trying to sell anything here, and in fact, this content is 100% free. Nate Silver, the most prominent figure at BP, wrote an “unfiltered” blog entry today, touching on the popular phrase “TINSTAAPP”, also known as “There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect”, and how relevant it is. This was the most interesting part of the article

One thing that distinguishes young hitters from young pitchers is that young hitters can pretty much count on making steady improvements from the time they start playing professional ball until the time they’re 26 or 27. You might have a guy like Cameron Maybin who would be pretty overwhelmed if he tried to play in the major leagues today — but we can be fairly certain that he’ll be able to handle the big leagues in two or three years time. Cameron Maybin is a prospect.

The same is not the case with pitching prospects. Although there are a few categories of pitching prospects — particularly guys with good stuff, high strikeout rates and highish walk rates (think Homer Bailey) — that tend to improve more often than not, in general there is no systematic pattern of improvement after the age of 21 or so. Sometimes guys get better, of course, and sometimes they do so in a hurry — but you can’t take a young pitcher in a vacuum and expect him to improve the same way that you can for a hitting prospect. Mark Rogers (to pick on some low-hanging fruit) will probably never get his command sorted out, Yusemiro Petit will never add enough ticks to his fastball to become a useful major league starter, Gavin Floyd will never learn how to keep the ball down, and so forth. All of these things are possible — but they’re not very likely.

This strikes me as being a very interesting area of study. Do pitchers really not drastically improve after the age of 21, for the most part? If you disagree with this notion, I’d love to see some data to illustrate the point. I may work on this as a project at some point down the line.

6 thoughts on “Interesting article regarding pitching prospects

  1. I’m not so sure that pitchers don’t gain command. Obviouslyin regards to Petit, I think the old adage “You can’t teach speed” certainly applies, but let me just take a quick look at some radnom guys:

    Scott Kazmir: Has decreased his BB/9 each of his three years in the majors.
    Johan Santana: 4.07 BB/9 in 2002 when he was 23, 2,67 the next year, 2.13 the next, 1.75 in 2005, and 1.81 in 2006.

    I took a look at some more, and basically here’s what I think: Command does improve, it’s just really tough to guage. I mean, a top prospect in low-A ball is going to have great BB/9 numbers because he can usually just blow his fastball by people. Then when he moves up, he’ll have to rely more on his breaking ball, which probably isn’t as accurate at his fastball. Then he moves up to AAA and the majors relying even more on it, and facing better hitters so he can’t just groove fastballs by people. I think that command does improve(nominally, the more you throw a breaking ball or changeup, the better control you’re going to have over it). Are there going to be exceptions? Well, yeah. Am I wrong? Maybe, I’d have to go through and find guys who had a bad BB/9 at the lower levels and examine them, something which I’m not in the mood to do. But I think young pitchers do improve at least somewhat, not as much or as steadily as hitters, but it’s there.

  2. His most interesting supposition is that guys who pitch very well in the minors are already pitchers rather than prospects and might well and more profitably pitch in the majors instead of minors before succumbing to the injuries so many pitchers do in the minors. He lists Hamels as a case in point. I guess we could equally well include Castro. But, Hamels is a great case in point. He never really pitched consistently in the minors for long enough that we should expect he had an opportunity to learn and progress by doing. He may have been as successful right out of HS as he was last season. Castro did well last season, never pitching above A ball.

  3. I think the idea is that while some pitchers do improve– and those are the ones we actually hear of more, because they make the majors– there is not a typical path that they follow. You cannot predict who the top pitchers are going to be; you look at who the top pitchers already are based on their minor league numbers.

  4. could you do an article on all players that still have options and those that do not? it also plays a very important role in trade possibilities (blue jays ,pods ). thanks dcmay

  5. I think Hamels is more the exception than the rule. I do agree that teams keep players down in the minors too long often, but most pitchers would get hammered if promoted too early. What would happen to Carlos Carrasco if he were promoted now? I think it would be a little ugly. Castro was also handled with kid gloves last year. In real situations he was a little less good than in blowout situations. I think he is ready now after the winter ball. Each pitcher’s development is just a little different.

  6. I think Andy hit the nail on the head –Each pitcher’s development is just a little different.

    I don’t think there’s a single method of handling young pitchers. What works for Cole Hamels is a disaster for Gavin Floyd. What worked for Ryan Madson early in his career didn’t work a little later.

    Some young guys get ruined by ealry and swift promotions and others thrive. Some thrive early — then burn out and others struggle a little early on, then develop into very good pitchers.

    And all of them are one bad pitch away from badly injuring their arms. It’s a tough thing.

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