CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

Premium and Super Premium Subscribers Get a 20% Discount at MLB.tv!

<< Previous Article
Fantasy Article Value Picks: Outfield ... (08/24)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Painting the Black: Ho... (08/17)
Next Column >>
Painting the Black: 40... (08/31)
Next Article >>
Fantasy Article The BP Trading Post: T... (08/24)

August 24, 2011

Painting the Black

Jerome Wasn't Built in a Day

by R.J. Anderson

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

When you break it down to the base level, Jerome Williams’ story isn’t unusual. “Former top prospect attempting to return to his peak” is a tried-and-true story that teeters from precocity to failure to redemptive triumph in heart-warming fashion. Maybe that’s why the first step in Williams’ return to a major-league rotation felt scripted and even a little predictable—as if the baseball gods conspired to have him face the less-than-full strength Orioles, whose six-through-nine slots went Andino-Pie-Tatum-Davis. Williams succeeded, of course, going seven innings, striking out six batters, walking none, and allowing just one run (that coming on a Matt Wieters homer).

Prior to that outing, Williams’ most recent major-league start had come in May 2007 with the Nationals. He faced the Braves, who batted Kelly Johnson, Willie Harris, Edgar Renteria, Andruw Jones one-through-four, then Jeff Francoeur, Scott Thorman, and Pete Orr six-through-eight, and left after two innings after allowing five runs. Micah Bowie, Winston Abreu, Ray King, and Chad Cordero appeared in relief for Williams on that day. If the date and those names don’t give you an indication of how long it’s been since Williams last started, consider that Derek Jeter had 2,204 hits, Jim Thome had 477 home runs, and Tim Wakefield had 155 wins. 

In the four-plus years between major-league starts, Williams has pitched in the minors, in the indie leagues, and overseas in hopes of returning to the majors one day. The familiarity of Williams’ story makes it feel like maybe this could—maybe this will—happen. “This” being a permanent spot in some team’s rotation for as long as it takes until we forget that Williams just wasn’t around during a large chunk of his career. Some of the blame for this false sense of optimism falls at the feet of the Prospectus staff. Read Mike Fast’s PITCHf/x onslaught or Sam Miller’s post-game interview with the man of the hour, and try to avoid developing a sense of déjà vu. You can’t, because Williams’ story is the Voltron of rejuvenated pitcher stories. Here are the four branches, by my count:

  • New pitch: Esteban Loaiza learned a cutter and rode that baby all the way to El Dorado.
  • New mechanics: You may have heard of Roy Halladay.
  • New velocity: Jon Lester saw his fastball increase in velocity after the 2008 season, possibly due to his full recovery from cancer. 
  • New mindset: Cliff Lee changed his approach with his fastball and changeup after his 2007 demotion.

Run through the checklist, and you get an improved changeup, a lower arm angle, higher velocity, and a new attack-first mentality. It’s a total makeover for the guy who had enough Greg Maddux comparisons thrown his way as a prospect to warrant a mention in his Baseball Prospectus 2005 player profile. The funny thing about that comparison is that it almost works if you restrict it to their first 78 appearances on a mainstream stat level:

Williams: 24-29 W-L, 4.20 ERA, 433 IP, 5.49 K/9, 3.55 BB/9, 0.98 HR/9
Maddux:  27-31 W-L, 4.16 ERA, 484.3 IP, 5.35 K/9, 3.36 BB/9, 0.69 HR/9

The next Maddux he isn’t, but Williams has shown that the new him is an improvement over the old him during his time in Triple-A this season. On its face, a 3.91 earned run average is unimpressive, but Williams did manage a career-high strikeout-to-walk ratio of four. During the 11 seasons that Williams appeared in the minors, only once did he have a full season strikeout-to-walk ratio over three, and that came during his first exposure to professional baseball. Even in the parts of six major-league seasons he pitched in, he never recorded a strikeout-to-walk ratio better than two.

That factoid may sound unimpressive for a number of reasons—for one thing, there should be a healthy coat of skepticism applied to any 29-year-old pitcher’s performance in Triple-A—but consider that Williams’ helium once lifted him to the 19th position on Baseball America’s 2002 prospect list. It isn’t totally outlandish to suggest that Williams is pitching better now than he did back then, and if his stuff truly is better, then maybe he can retroactively make good on that ranking—a tall order, sure, but not an implausibility.

Back in those days, Williams trailed only Josh Beckett, Mark Prior, Juan Cruz, Ryan Anderson, Dennis Tankersley, and Nick Neugebauer on the list among pitchers. Williams ranked ahead of Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd, Erik Bedard, Carlos Zambrano, Adam Wainwright, Rafael Soriano, and a few others that have had more celebrated major-league careers. Arguing over whether Williams was deserving of his placement back then is futile, but using the wonders of modern analysis, Williams’ major-league accomplishments can be stacked up against the rest of his erstwhile peers to see how well, or poorly, the list has aged.

Some of those pitchers are older and thus stand to have more major-league experience, so comparing counting stats isn’t the most accurate portrayal of their performance, but it works in place of a rate stat when equal opportunity isn’t on the menu. With that in mind, here are the pitchers from the list and their career Wins Above Replacement Player values to date:

Rank

Name

WARP

1

Josh Beckett

33.7

2

Mark Prior

16.8

6

Juan Cruz

6.2

14

Ryan Anderson

No MLB

16

Dennis Tankersley

-0.2

17

Nick Neugebauer

0

19

Jerome Williams

2.6

23

Jon Rauch

5

24

Carlos Hernandez

2.3

25

Ty Howington

No MLB

28

Jake Peavy

31.9

29

Boof Bonser

4.2

30

Rafael Soriano

6.5

32

Corwin Malone

0

33

Brett Myers

18

35

Kazuhisa Ishi

3.1

37

Brandon Claussen

3.8

42

Adam Wainwright

20.2

44

Jimmy Journell

0

49

Mario Ramos

-0.3

50

Jimmy Gobble

1.9

54

Mark Phillips

No MLB

55

Nate Cornejo

1.5

56

Gavin Floyd

12.1

57

Dewon Brazelton

-0.7

58

Kurt Ainsworth

0.9

60

Seung Song

No MLB

61

Chin-hui Tsao

0

66

Brett Evert

No MLB

69

Ricardo Rodriguez

0.8

72

Clint Nageotte

0.2

74

Bobby Jenks

7.9

78

Aaron Heilman

3.1

79

Kenny Baugh

No MLB

80

Carlos Zambrano

36

82

Colby Lewis

6.3

84

Mike Jones

No MLB

85

Adam Johnson

-0.6

86

Chris Narveson

5.4

87

Denny Bautista

1.5

88

J.D. Martin

0.4

89

John VanBenschoten

-1

90

Erik Bedard

19.7

96

Matt Belisle

6.2

98

Dustin McGowan

5.8

99

Ryan Dittfurth

No MLB

Williams, who ranked seventh amongst pitchers on the original list, has the 22nd-best WARP score now. That ranking looks modest when compared only to those 39 pitchers who reached the majors and better when compared to all of the 46 pitchers who made the list. Worth noting is that Williams actually has a higher WARP score than some active positional players (namely Casey Kotchman and Wily Mo Pena), so while he is mostly a bust as a prospect, he did some good in the majors before fizzling out the first time.

And who knows, maybe Williams will do some more good. It wouldn’t even be the most unusual comeback story from that 2002 prospect list: Colby Lewis returned to the majors last season with 1.1 WARP to his name and has compiled 5.2 wins over his last 57 starts. 

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

2 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Fantasy Article Value Picks: Outfield ... (08/24)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Painting the Black: Ho... (08/17)
Next Column >>
Painting the Black: 40... (08/31)
Next Article >>
Fantasy Article The BP Trading Post: T... (08/24)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Wednesday, July 30
Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of Tuesday, July ...
BBQ State of Mind
Eyewitness Accounts: July 30, 2014
Premium Article Scouting the Draft: The Cape League All-Star...
The Lineup Card: Nine Last-Minute Trades
Premium Article Moonshot: Separating the Phenoms Who'll Make...

MORE FROM AUGUST 24, 2011
The Lineup Card: 11 Disastrous Acquisitions
Premium Article Collateral Damage: The Wall Wins Again
Fantasy Article The BP Trading Post: Top Catchers and Resurg...
Fantasy Article Value Picks: Outfield for 8/24/11

MORE BY R.J. ANDERSON
2011-08-31 - Painting the Black: 40-Man Flexibility
2011-08-31 - Transaction Analysis Blog: Comings and Going...
2011-08-30 - Transaction Analysis Blog: Rangers Promote M...
2011-08-24 - Premium Article Painting the Black: Jerome Wasn't Built in a...
2011-08-23 - Premium Article Transaction Analysis: The Challenge Trade
2011-08-20 - Transaction Analysis Blog: Pirates Extend Ta...
2011-08-18 - Transaction Analysis Blog: Royals Extend Fra...
More...

MORE PAINTING THE BLACK
2011-09-13 - Painting the Black: Rays of Hope?
2011-09-07 - Premium Article Painting the Black: More Than a Mirage?
2011-08-31 - Painting the Black: 40-Man Flexibility
2011-08-24 - Premium Article Painting the Black: Jerome Wasn't Built in a...
2011-08-17 - Premium Article Painting the Black: Home-Field Disadvantage?
2011-08-10 - Painting the Black: What to Expect from Stra...
2011-07-19 - Painting the Black: Fragile in Florida?
More...