I’m sure most of you have heard the word “PECOTA” at some point when reading about baseball analysis and statistics. Basically, PECOTA was developed/created by Nate Silver at Baseball Prospectus. It’s basically a really complex algorithm that analyzes players in a number of advanced metrics, and the power of the system is basically that it takes just about anyone that has ever played the game and puts their data along side the players it is comparing them to, and then tries to figure out which direction the current player’s career will go, based on what has happened to similar players in the past. The system is incredibly complex, and if you haven’t ever read up on it, I’d suggest reading the wikipedia entry here before you dig into this post. While PECOTA is useful for projecting major league statistics for the upcoming season, it’s also useful to get a snapshot of which prospects the system seems to like, and which prospects the system isn’t as high on.
To do this, I’ll just use the core statistic, Upside. Here is the definition of “Upside” from BaseballProspectus.com
UPSIDE is determined by evaluating the performance of a player’s PECOTA comparables. If a comparable player turned in a performance better than league average, including both his batting and fielding performance, then twice the number of runs he contributed above average is counted toward his UPSIDE. If the player was worse than league average, or he dropped out of the database, the performance is counted as zero.
Basically, the higher the “Upside” the better the future outlook is for a player. There is no scale, it’s purely based on raw score. For example, Hanley Ramirez has the highest UPSIDE score in baseball, at 414.2, and you’ll then go to the other end of the spectrum and find a guy like Alex Cintron with an UPSIDE of 1.7. And remember, UPSIDE is tracking the general quality of a player based on what his comparable players did. So if a player is a very unique player, it will be reflected in his BETA score, and the UPSIDE won’t be as reliable. A player with a BETA of 1.0 is average in terms of the riskiness of his forecast, while players with a BETA over 1.0 are more risky, and players with a BETA of less than 1.0 are less risky. Ok, got all of that? Now, before we get into the actual nitty gritty of Phillies prospects, I wanted to post this extract from Nate Silver’s article last year, which explained how he went about analysing prospects. Basically, he made it clear that these rankings are not to take the place of scouting reports, but simply be used as another tool. That should be common sense. Just use this as another piece of information. Anyway, here is Silver’s basic explanation of how to use UPSIDE to look at prospects. Please read this before continuing.
Upside gives credit only for performance above league average at the player’s position, and zero credit for everything else. If a player winds up being a bench guy in the majors, or gets stuck at Double-A, or quits baseball to work in a lumber yard–none of these outcomes is desirable. On the other hand, the cost of employing a prospect is relatively low, both in terms of financial outlay and opportunity cost (a player can simply be left in the minors if he’s not good enough for MLB), so assigning negative points for a below-average or below-replacement level performance isn’t quite fair. Upside works around this negative value problem by giving credit for the good, while treating all different types of bad performance as having zero (but not negative) value. The version of Upside that we’re using here is the peak-adjusted variant, which measures a player’s most valuable five-year window up through and including his age 28 season (or simply his next five years of performance if he’s already age 25 or older).
I realize that all of this is a bit complicated, and I encourage you to explore the PECOTA glossary if you’re the type that likes the dirty details. But the intuition behind our methodology is fairly simple: we’re attempting to measure the degree and probability of above-average performance while the player is under the control of his parent club. This is the real fruit of the unforgiving labor of scouting and development: getting impact performances from players who are still cheap under the reserve clause, or in arbitration.
This definition is very important to keep in mind when we tell you, for example, that Dustin Pedroia is at least as valuable as Delmon Young. Young is two years younger than Pedroia, and has a more athletic profile that will likely age better into his thirties. He is probably at least a 2:1 favorite to produce more value over the course of his entire major league career. But he is not such a favorite to produce more value in the years during which he’s under club control. You can only get six years and change out of a prospect before his arbitration clock runs out, and they won’t necessarily be his best years, especially if he reaches the major leagues very young. That Delmon Young is likely to be more valuable than Dustin Pedroia when he’s 32 doesn’t matter one whit to the Red Sox or Devil Rays. Both players will be long gone from their parent systems by then, or will have had the chance to negotiate deals at market price. This is very important to understand, and it’s a point that I didn’t emphasize enough last year. I do happen to think that it’s the “right” way to value prospects, but we’ll save that discussion for another time.
Alright. So now you basically understand. And one final piece of info. This was the grouping that Silver gave to kind of put prospects into tiers
Upside Score Definition
100+ Excellent Prospect. One of the better prospects in baseball. Strong chance of long major league career, perhaps with several All-Star appearances. May have Hall of Fame potential, especially if prospect is young or has a rating of 150 or higher.
50-100 Very Good Prospect. Strong chance of a meaningful major league career, with some legitimate chance at stardom. Best-case outcomes may involve some Hall of Fame potential.
25-50 Good Prospect. Reasonable chance of a meaningful major league career, but only an outside chance at stardom.
10-25 Average Prospect. Some chance of a meaningful major league career, but more likely to end up on the major league fringe. Highly unlikely to make two or more All-Star appearances.
0-10 Marginal Prospect. Very little chance of becoming a major league regular, excluding extreme mitigating circumstances affecting the player’s statistical record.
Ok good, now that I’ve thoroughly explained Upside and you understand it, lets look at Phillies prospects. I’m going to basically stick to legit prospects, and then the guys mentioned by Upside. Not every single minor leaguer will show up, and remember, guys with less experience will tend to have lower scores, because they will have fewer comparables. I’ll give the player’s upside score, then his BETA. Remember, 1.0 is average, above 1.0 is more volatile, less than 1.0 is less volatile.
Lou Marson; 31.6 Upside, 1.05 BETA [comparables = Pat Cline, Pee-Wee Lopez, Alberto Castillo, John Roskos]
Marson’s Upside of 31.6 ranks him 10th among all catching prospects. 2 of the catchers above him, Geo Soto of the Cubs and JR Towles of the Astros will both exhaust their minor league eligibility this season. All of the catchers above Marson are older, and two of them (Jose Morales and Landon Powell) are basically bordering on non-prospect status. Jeff Clement, ranked #3 behind Soto and Towles, has an Upside score of 98.7, while Josh Donaldson, #4 on the list, is only at 52.0, so you can see the sharp dropoff. Marson’s bat really only started to shine in 2007, so another solid season should improve his standing here and raise his upside score. His list of comparables isn’t very impressive, to say the least.
Jason Jaramillo; 19.0 Upside, 0.96 BETA [comparables = Josh Bard, Koyie Hill, Buck Rodgers, Sean Mulligan]
Jaramillo has a lower upside score, but a safer BETA. He ranks 24th among catching prospects in terms of Upside, but the interesting thing is his top comparable. Bard split time at C for San Diego last season and showed some late developing pop with the bat. He’s not viewed as an upper echelon catcher, but he did manage a .768 OPS last season in spacious PETCO. He didn’t really develop until his age 28 season, kind of scuffling before that while basically bouncing up and down from the minors and serving as a backup. If Jaramillo is good enough for a .760 OPS in the majors as a backup, that’s a valuable commodity to have.
1B and 3B, we have zero representation, unsurprisingly.
Adrian Cardenas; 37.0 Upside, 1.02 BETA [comparables = Hank Blalock, Nate Spears, Paul Kelly, Brent Abernathy]
Cardenas comes in as the 9th highest prospect on the 2B list. A few guys at the top look to drop off this season because of eligibility (Antonelli, Patterson) so he could jump up this list, especially moving to a better hitting environment in Clearwater. The big thing here is his first comparable, Hank Blalock. Blalock’s career has sputtered a bit due to injury, but he burst onto the scene as a 22 year old in 2003, posting an .872 OPS in the big leagues in 567 AB. Cardenas seems to have the pure hitting ability, the power is the only real question mark, in addition to where he settles in defensively.
Brad Harman; 23.1 Upside, 1.08 BETA [comparables = Jose Bautista, Robinson Chirinos, Ramon Castro, Marco Scutaro]
Harman’s Upside score is higher than I expected it to be. His strong finish to 2007 no doubt boosted his numbers, and his strong 2005 still carries some weight. He also has a relatively low BETA, though there is still some risk there. His first comparable is Jose Bautista, who is turning himself into a somewhat useful player for Pittsburgh, although his bat doesn’t really play up as well at 3B. Interestingly, some of us have been wondering if Harman is going to make the move to 3B as well, maybe as early as this season. Should be an interesting one to watch.
Jason Donald; 51.8 Upside, 0.87 BETA [comparables = Mike Edwards, Tony Manahan, Joe Jester, Adam Piatt]
Donald has the highest upside ranking among all Phillies position player prospects. The odd thing is, scouts don’t seem too enamored with him, pegging him as a utility guy. After a modest 2006 debut, Donald tore up two levels in 2007, which is likely the cause of his Upside rise. His low BETA is also promising, but his comparables list looks pretty damn ugly. Donald is a weird case, because as I mentioned, scouts don’t seem to love him, while PECOTA does, whereas scouts seem to like Cardenas a lot more, yet PECOTA isn’t as high on him. Anyway, 2008 should give us a better indication, as Donald prepares to make the big jump to 2A.
Greg Golson; 9.5 Upside, 1.15 BETA [comparables = Dante Powell, Josh Burrus, Jason Repko, Timmie Morrow]
Not a lot to be optimistic about here, but not surprising. Golson has always been a scouts favorite, and the numbers haven’t bee real pretty. He still doesn’t seem to be able to identify breaking balls, and has only a fastball swing. His comparables list doesn’t do a whole lot to inspire confidence, but his very high BETA score indicates that his prediction is risky, and you always hear the cliche about the “light coming on”….well, if the light does come on, Golson could indeed be a special talent. But if I were the Phillies, I’d be stocking the cabinet with lots of other lamps.
Quintin Berry; 4.7 Upside, 0.94 BETA [comparables = Vincent Blue, Mike Curry, Endy Chavez, Joey Gathright]
Berry’s Upside is lower than Golson’s, but his BETA is much lower and is less risky. Also, the thing that probably jumps out at you the most are the two major leaguers of note in his comparable list. We all know and love Endy Chavez, and fellow speed demon Joey Gathright also appears here. Gathright always struggled getting on base to use his ridiculous speed, but seemed to turn it on a bit last season in Kansas City. Unlike Golson, Berry is already somewhat capable of getting on base regularly, and if that continues as he progresses, he could develop into a nice 4th/5th OF in the Endy/Gathright mold.
Matt Spencer; 10.0 Upside, 0.98 BETA [comparables = Mike Butia, Mark Hamilton, Jason Fransz, Dan Johnson]
Spencer doesn’t get a whole lot of love from PECOTA, but his BETA is right near average in terms of it’s riskiness. Spencer of course only has a half season under his belt, and could see his number rise with a good 2008 campaign. Dan Johnson saw some big league time with Oakland at 1B, and Mark Hamilton is a 1B prospect for the Cardinals, so it might see Spencer as following along that path. I think Spencer is a guy who could outperform the expectations set here.
Jeremy Slayden; 2.9 Upside, 0.95 BETA [comparables = Jason Perry, Jon Hamilton, Ryan Church, Chris Ebright]
Slayden doesn’t fare particularly well here, with a very low upside score. What is interesting, however, is the appearance of Ryan Church on his similar players list. Church was a bit of a late bloomer, not really getting a big league shot until the age of 26. The knock against Slayden has always been his age as he’s climbed the ladder. Church has a defensive edge, as he’s able to play a passable center field, and his arm also profiles better than Slayden’s in RF. Again, not a lot to get excited about here with the low Upside score, but the Church similarity is a glimmer of hope I suppose.
Fabio Castro; 33.2 Upside, 1.24 BETA [comparables = Rosario Rodriguez, Onan Masaoka, Arnie Munoz, Felix Heredia]
I’m throwing Fabio on here, he’s not technically a rookie anymore, but after our major leaguers, he scores the highest in the Upside score department. His BETA is very high, which means you need to add an extra grain of salt to this forecast. His comparables list is pretty ugly, though Felix Heredia did manage a 10 year major league career, where he was largely a tick or two below league average. Onan Masaoka is a cool name, no?
Drew Carpenter; 29.3 Upside, 1.47 BETA [comparables = Corey Thurman, John Lackey, Sam Lecure, Brian Sackinsky]
Carpenter is an interesting case. The Upside score isn’t great, but his BETA is very high, and if you look at his comparables, you can probably understand why. Could there be a bigger difference than John Lackey and Brian Sackinsky? Carpenter’s scouting report is basically “modest stuff, good command, battles on the mound”….well, that’s John Lackey, except Lackey’s raw stuff is far from modest. Drew will be in 2A this season, and could be in line for a call up. I guess for now we can dream on him somehow turning into our version of John Lackey….but in the back of our minds knowing he might turn into this guy instead.
Joe Savery; 29.2 Upside, 1.57 BETA [comparables = Corey Lee, Joe Saunders, Michael Pasqualicchio, Wade Leblanc]
Whats with all of our pitching prospects being similar to Angels pitchers? Savery has almost an identical upside to Carpenter, but a higher BETA because of the lack of pro innings. Interestingly, Wade Leblanc is a Padres pitching prospect, and has a very similar arsenal to Savery, with maybe a tick less velocity. Leblanc did well this year in High A and 2A and moved quickly throw the Padres system, so hopefully Savery can follow suit.
JA Happ; 22.3 Upside, 1.24 BETA [comparables = Tim Birtsas, Matt Kinney, Bill Butler, Renie Martin]
Happ, like Carpenter and Savery, has a high BETA factor, which means the system is less sure. His list of comparables is not exactly a “who’s who” of big league all stars. I’m assuming the Bill Butler is this Bill Butler, not Diamondbacks prospect Billy Butler. Happ really had a lost 2007 because of injury and ineffectiveness, but some scouts still remain high on him and think he can make it as a #4 starter. He’ll need to remain healthy and need to sharpen his control and command if he’s going to end up close to that.
Carlos Carrasco; 22.0 Upside, 1.70 BETA [comparables = Rafael Rodriguez, Victor Santos, Calvin Maduro, Tony Armas]
And now the one you were probably scrolling down looking for. PECOTA is not a big fan of Carrasco, and I can guess that is largely due to his poor command and control. His 2006 numbers were impressive, but he still walked his share of batters, and Lakewood’s home park is very pitcher friendly. His 2007 was a mixed bag. After a slow start a Clearwater, he pitched better, but still didn’t ring up the strikeout totals you’d expect from someone with good raw stuff. Of note here is the very high BETA score, the highest of anyone covered so far, so Carrasco could see a big jump, or conversely, could fall off the map in 2008. His comparables list at least includes guys who’ve pitched in the majors. As I’ve said elsewhere, I think the Phillies need to slow down Carrasco and give him time. Scouts still love the stuff (for the most part), and the middle of the rotation potential is there, he just needs to harness his stuff and work on his command.
Antonio Bastardo; 18.8 Upside, 1.50 BETA [comparables = Rafael Quirico, Alberto Bastardo, Jason Dawsey, Cary Ammons]
From complete obscurity to right next to Carlos Carrasco. Bastardo has kind of shot up the boards in Phillies prospectdom, though scouts still see him as a reliever, he does have some upside. His BETA is high, his comparables aren’t impressive, but they do contain another Bastardo. What are the odds? He’ll need to sharpen his secondary stuff as he climbs the ladder, but even if he were able to become a decent middle reliever, that would still be of value to the big club.
Josh Outman; 18.7 Upside, 1.43 BETA [comparables = Josh Kalinowski, Daniel Haigwood, Michael Mimbs, Charlie Manning]
Outman is one of the more interesting guys, not only on this list, but in general. We all know how he greatly altered his mechanics, and how he’s still fairly raw, all things considered. His Upside score isn’t great, his BETA is lower than a bunch of other Phillies guys on this list, but scouts still love the raw velocity and potential. The interesting thing is Dan Haigwood showing up as a similar player. Haigwood was a soft tossing lefty for the most part and lacked Outman’s velocity. His control wasn’t the best though, which is Outman’s biggest fault at this point.
Mike Zagurski; 18.3 Upside, 0.93 BETA [comparables = Neal Cotts, Grant Jackson, Steve Baker, Gerry Arrigo]
Zagurski took the most rapid rise of any Phillies prospect last season, going from Clearwater to the majors in what felt like 2 weeks. When he got to the majors his command deserted him, probably a function of nerves, and he got whacked around a bit. He sustained a hamstring injury which he is still somehow recovering from, but basically is what he is, a lefty reliever who is okay against righties too, thanks to a good changeup. Neal Cotts is a lefthanded reliever for the White Sox, and has similar potential to Zagurski.
Chance Chapman; 11.2 Upside, 1.35 BETA [comparables = Carlos Fisher, Jeff Cosman, Jack Egbert, Jordan Tata]
Chapman had a nice debut at Williamsport last season, and as a two pitch pitcher, could be put on the fast track as a reliever and make it to the majors before many of the guys in his draft class. What’s notable here is that his comparables list contains a similar relief prospect in Carlos Fisher (Reds), and then two starting pitchers in Egbert (White Sox) and Tata (Tigers). Neither Tata nor Egbert really project as more than #4/5 starters, but Tata has already reached the majors, while Egbert saw his prospect status improve after his 2007. If the Phillies move Chapman to the bullpen, he could make it to Philly sometime next season, and he should skip over Lakewood this year before of his age.
Travis Blackley; 10.1 Upside, 1.12 BETA [comparables = Lance Painter, Jorge De Paula, Rigo Beltran, Horacio Estrada]
Blackley, one of our Rule 5 guys who will fight for a spot on the team, doesn’t really have anything of note here to get excited about. Lance Painter had a 10 year big league career with Colorado and St Louis, among others, but wasn’t a very good pitcher. Scouts seem to think some of Blackley’s raw stuff is coming back after labrum surgery, but I’m not overly optimistic, and neither is PECOTA.
Scott Mathieson; 9.8 Upside, 1.18 BETA [comparables = Kyle Wilson, Terric Mcfarlin, Francisco Rosario, Winston Abreu]
PECOTA doesn’t really like Mathieson, but Scott is a weird case, having climbed slowly through the minors, then suddenly adding fastball velocity and improving his K rate, and then jumping to the big leagues, all before having Tommy John surgery. Mathieson’s future role is yet to be determined, though it looks like he might be ticketed as a reliever. Interestingly, Francisco Rosario shows up on his comparables list. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.
Kyle Drabek; 7.9 Upside, 1.51 BETA [comparables = Ricky Stone, Josh Girdley, Steve Karsay, Ryan Tucker]
Drabek’s score is low because he’s struggled so far as a pro, and is coming of Tommy John surgery. The two interesting things here are Steve Karsay and Ryan Tucker showing up in his comparables. Karsay of course had a decent big league career when he wasn’t hurt, but was almost exclusively a reliever after his first few seasons. Tucker is one of the Marlins better prospects, and like Drabek, he throws hard. Tucker lacks a secondary pitch he can rely on, but scouts still love him, much the way they raved about Drabek coming out of high school. If Drabek’s mental approach continues to improve and he comes back healthy, he should steadily move up this list.
Joe Bisenius; 7.9 Upside, 1.32 BETA [comparables = Nick Mattioni, Jared Blasdell, Jonah Bayliss, Adam Peterson]
Bisenius has been on the roller coaster of late. He shot through the system in 2006, posting ridiculous strikeout numbers along the way. He hit a road bump in 2007, which was likely caused by overuse the prior year. He scuffled, but if he comes to camp with a fresh arm, he could push his way into the bullpen mix, certainly at some point in 2008 if not out of spring training. His comparables list isn’t pretty, but there’s always hope.
So, let’s summarize, based on the groupings that Silver uses
100+ (Excellent prospect); None
50-100 (Very good prospect) ; Donald
25-49 (Good prospect); Marson, Cardenas, Castro, Carpenter, Savery)
10-25 (Average prospect) ; Harman, Happ, Carrasco, Bastardo, Outman, Zagurski, Chapman, Blackley)
0-10 (Marginal prospect) ; Mathieson, Drabek, Bisenius
All in all, it’s not a pretty picture, based on PECOTA. Scouts like a bunch of our guys a lot more than the system. The one notable omission that surprised me is Dominic Brown’s exclusion. I’m wondering if it was an oversight, and I may try and get ahold of Nate to do a Q/A on the findings, and at the very least ask him about a few guys who didn’t make the cut here. Again, this is just one tool, one more piece of information to add to the memory bank.
I do want to add, PECOTA loves Cole Hamels, giving him an Upside of 250.8, good for 5th best among all pitchers in baseball, and PECOTA also likes Brett Myers, giving him an Upside score of 133.0, good for 29th among all pitchers. These scores will change over time, and a guy who has a moderate score right now could see a big jump up or a big drop down depending on his 2008. Just thought this would be interesting to look at.