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March 7, 2013

Overthinking It

The All-Rookie Roster

by Ben Lindbergh

One of the chapters I wrote for Extra Innings was about the ways that perennial losers like the Pirates and Royals get broken, and how they might eventually go about getting fixed. “Getting younger” is sometimes seen as a solution, and often it’s at least a step along the way. But early on in the chapter, I noted that youth isn’t always an immediate answer, writing, “All else being equal, a younger team is preferable to an older one, since younger players generally cost less and offer more room for improvement, but a roster composed of players who haven’t yet hit their primes is at least as unlikely to succeed as a team of players who’ve left their primes behind.” Comparing the average ages of teams that finished above or below .500, or that won or lost over 100 games, I concluded, “Too little inexperience can be even more toxic to a team than too much experience.”

It’s easy to explain why many young teams lose a lot of games: they’re learning on the job, with few players in their prime and a limited supply of highly touted and/or major-league-ready rookies. But for a few minutes, let’s ignore the way the real world works and imagine a young team too talented to occur in nature. If we could form an entire team for 2013 out of rookie-eligible players from any organization, which rookies would we pick? And armed with only the best young players in baseball, how many games would our all-rookie roster win?

Time for a few notes: first, we’re not taking expected career value into consideration. All we care about is projected production this season, which means we’ll end up with a mix of top prospects who are years away from their peaks and low-ceiling guys who are ready right now. Nor is lack of opportunity an obstacle: Mike Olt might be blocked by older players on the Rangers, but on the all-rookie roster, Adrian Beltre isn’t in the way. Also, there’s no DH, since I’ve arbitrarily made it an NL team.

So let’s take a tour of the 2013 all-rookie team, listing the top option for each role as projected by PECOTA, with each player’s production prorated over the same number of innings or plate appearances. At the end, I’ll parcel out the playing time to create some semblance of a real roster, and we’ll see how many wins we end up with.

The Lineup (by position)

C: Robinson Chirinos, Rays, 28 (2.6 WARP/600 PA)
Our first rookie, and our first example of a player who’s not going to get any better but might be of use at the moment. Chirinos didn’t hit in limited action in 2011, his only exposure to the majors, but he’s reached base at roughly a .360 clip between Double-A and Triple-A. PECOTA thinks he can post a league-average OBP in the AL, which would be quite a coup for a catcher who plays half his games in a pitcher’s park.

1B: Darin Ruf, Phillies, 26 (0.3 WARP/600 PA)
It’s really hard to find a rookie who can clear the offensive bar at first base, which won’t come as a shock if you’ve seen how scarce  first-base prospects are on the top 101. In the wake of his monstrous 2012 season in Double-A, Ruf has the highest projected TAv of any rookie-eligible player, .279. In most years, .279 is a below-average TAv at first base. Couple that with below-average defense and baserunning, and Ruf ends up looking less like an asset than the best of bad options.

2B: Jedd Gyorko, 2.3 WARP/600 PA (2.3 WARP/600 PA)
Gyorko slugged .588 with 24 homers in 408 PA for Tucson last season. Standard PCL caveats apply, but PECOTA thinks he’d hit 20 in a full major-league season, no small feat for a second baseman at Petco Park. He’s hit three in his first 22 at-bats in the Cactus League.

SS: Hiroyuki Nakajima, Athletics, 30 (3.2 WARP/600 PA)
Three-plus wins seems like a lot for Nakajima, but PECOTA projects a .271 TAv and average defense at shortstop (which might be a stretch, given the defensive struggles of previous Japanese middle infielders who’ve made the majors). If you rule out Nakajima because of his NPB experience, the starting shortstop job passes to Jurickson Profar.

3B: Mike Olt, 3.2 WARP/600 PA
Given the aforementioned offensive bar at first base, it’s no surprise that Olt projects to be more valuable as a third baseman than he would be at the cold corner.

LF: Corey Brown, Nationals, 27 (2.1 WARP/600 PA)
Brown had a big 2012 season for Syracuse, hitting 25 homers in 126 games, but he was 26 and spending his second full season in Triple-A. He went 5-for-25 with a homer for the Nats, but PECOTA thinks he could hold his own in extended playing time.

CF: Adam Eaton, Diamondbacks, 24 (2.2 WARP/600 PA)
PECOTA isn’t optimistic about Eaton’s defense in center, but the system thinks he’ll more than make up for it with his bat and his baserunning.

RF: Wil Myers, Rays, 22 (2.5 WARP/600 PA)
Myers’ bat is big-league-ready: only Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, and Matt Joyce have rosier offensive projections on the Rays. But we probably won’t see him soon, since Tampa Bay is determined to make him a more complete player (and keep his service clock stopped in the process). Myers is projected for a below-average BRR and a barely above-average FRAA, so he does have room to improve outside the batter’s box, but we don’t have to worry about his future development and earnings on our 2013-only team.

The Bench

C: Mike Zunino, Mariners, 21 (1.8 WARP/600 PA)
The second-string catcher has a much higher ceiling than the starter, but the third overall pick from 2012 is too young to project to be the best backstop.

IF: Jurickson Profar, Rangers, 20 (2.4 WARP/600 PA)
PECOTA thinks the top prospect in baseball’s bat has a ways to go, but he’s still capable of contributing.

IF: Junior Lake, Cubs, 22 (1.9 WARP/600 PA)
Lake hasn’t yet made it to Triple-A, and his projected line (.232/.297/.393) looks ugly, but FRAA loves his fielding, something scouts seem split on. If his glove is as good as the stats say, he’d make a good utility man.

IF/OF: Alex Castellanos, Dodgers, 26 (1.9 WARP/600 PA)
Castellanos might be as productive in left as Corey Brown, but his versatility makes him a better fit for the bench. He played only in the outfield corners for Los Angeles last season, but he’s spent time at five other positions in the minors.

OF: Leonys Martin, Rangers, 25 (1.8 WARP/600 PA)
Eaton beat out Martin for the starting job in center, but Martin’s speed and ability to play all over the outfield make him an ideal fourth outfielder (except for his sub-60 percent stolen-base success rate).

The Starting Rotation

RHP Trevor Bauer, Indians, 22 (2.3 WARP/200 IP)
PECOTA projects Bauer to walk more than four batters per nine innings but compensate by striking out almost 10. The Indians would have to be happy with that.

LHP Tyler Skaggs, Diamondbacks, 21 (1.8 WARP/200 IP)
Skaggs’ command looked iffy in his late-season audition with Arizona, but the Diamondbacks’ top prospect will likely break camp with the big club.

RHP Gerrit Cole, Pirates, 22 (1.8 WARP/200 IP)
According to Jason Parks’ report on Cole in the Pirates Top 10, “His arsenal is more than robust enough for success right out of the gate.” That makes him a perfect fit for this rotation, since the 2013 all-rookie team has no place for projects.

LHP Danny Hultzen, Mariners, 23 (1.8 WARP/200 IP)
Hultzen was a control artist in college, but he struggled with his control after a promotion to the PCL last season, walking 43 batters in 48 2/3 innings. He missed plenty of bats and allowed only four home runs in 124 across two minor-league levels, and PECOTA believes his control will return to a more acceptable level in 2013.

RHP Zack Wheeler, Mets, 22 (1.5 WARP/200 IP)
The Mets’ top prospect didn’t miss a beat after a late-season promotion to Triple-A. The question he’ll have to answer this season is whether he can make the majors before he attends his first concert.

Spot starters: LHP Robbie Erlin, Padres, 22 (1.3 WARP/200 IP), LHP James Paxton, Mariners, 24 (1.1 WARP/200 IP), LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers, 25 (1.0 WARP/200 IP)

The Bullpen

RHP Kyuji Fujikawa, Cubs, 32 (1.6 WARP/60 IP)
Late last year, shortly before Fujikawa signed with the Cubs, Dan Evans told me he thought the righty would be “a standout reliever immediately.” PECOTA agrees. The only concern is his durability: Fujikawa has averaged less than 50 innings over his past two seasons with Hanshin.

LHP Sean Doolittle, Athletics, 26 (1.5 WARP/60 IP)
Doolittle was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball after his June call-up last season, despite throwing fastballs almost exclusively and having only 26 minor-league innings under his belt.

RHP Carter Capps, Mariners, 22 (1.1 WARP/60 IP)
The fourth and final Mariner on the all-rookie roster, Capps throws 100 miles per hour with a funky motion and an unexpectedly low release point. He or Doolittle could close if Fujikawa proved fragile.

RHP Mark Montgomery, Yankees, 22 (1.0 WARP/60 IP)
Think David Robertson, with a slider instead of a curve. Montgomery’s going to be a good setup guy, possibly as soon as this season.

RHP Cory Burns, Rangers, 25 (0.8 WARP/60 IP)
Burns is the classic reliever whose stuff doesn’t really match his minor-league stats, so PECOTA might be a little too optimistic here. He throws a high-80s sinker and gets groundballs, but his deceptive delivery probably won’t fool big-league batters for long. Burns has 91 minor-league saves, but he won’t get many in the majors, though he’s better than he showed in a cameo with San Diego last season.

RHP A.J. Ramos, Marlins, 26 (0.8 WARP/60 IP)
Ramos might start the season with the Marlins. The compact righty struck out 89 in 68 2/3 innings with Jacksonville last season before fanning 13 in his first 9 1/3 frames for Miami.

RHP Cody Allen, Indians, 24 (0.7 WARP/60 IP)
Yet another member of the all-rookie relief corps with late-inning potential, Allen rose from High-A to the Indians last season. The flyballer’s four-seamer averaged 95.5 mph, and his 84.5 mph curveball was one of the hardest in baseball.

LHP Donnie Joseph, Royals, 25 (0.6 WARP/60 IP)
Our token second southpaw, Joseph has yet to make his major-league debut, and mechanics that we call “questionable” and “violent” in this year’s Annual hamper his control. On the other hand, he throws in the mid-90s, strikes out well over a batter per inning, and gets lots of grounders. Lefties have hit .181/.233/.268 against him in his minor-league career.

RHP Shawn Tolleson, Dodgers, 25 (0.7 WARP/60 IP)
Tolleson rose through the Los Angeles system quickly after being drafted in the 30th round of the 2010 draft, making it to the majors last June and doing decent low-leverage work. With the Dodgers, Tolleson dominated right-handers and was smoked by southpaws, but he held his own against lefties in 120 minor-league innings.

Name

POS

PA

IP

WARP

Adam Eaton

CF

600

 

2.2

Jedd Gyorko

2B

580

 

2.2

Wil Myers

RF

560

 

2.3

Darin Ruf

1B

540

 

0.3

Mike Olt

3B

520

 

2.8

Corey Brown

LF

500

 

1.8

Hiroyuki Nakajima

SS

480

 

2.5

Robinson Chirinos

C

380

 

1.7

Pitchers

P

350

 

0.0

Replacements

All

300

 

0.0

Jurickson Profar

IF

380

 

1.5

Leonys Martin

OF

260

 

0.8

Junior Lake

IF

250

 

0.6

Alex Castellanos

IF/OF

200

 

0.6

Mike Zunino

C

190

 

0.6

Trevor Bauer

RHP

 

190

2.2

Tyler Skaggs

LHP

 

180

1.6

Gerrit Cole

RHP

 

170

1.5

Danny Hultzen

LHP

 

160

1.4

Zack Wheeler

RHP

 

145

1.1

Robbie Erlin

LHP

 

45

0.3

James Paxton

LHP

 

35

0.2

Hyun-Jin Ryu

LHP

 

20

0.1

Kyuji Fujikawa

RHP

 

60

1.6

Sean Doolittle

LHP

 

65

1.6

Carter Capps

RHP

 

60

1.1

Mark Montgomery

RHP

 

55

0.9

Cory Burns

RHP

 

55

0.7

A.J. Ramos

RHP

 

50

0.7

Cody Allen

RHP

 

45

0.5

Donnie Joseph

LHP

 

45

0.4

Shawn Tolleson

RHP

 

30

0.3

Replacements

 

 

30

0.0

Total

 

6110

1440

36.1

The names I listed above came to 13 position players and 17 pitchers, and it would take an improbably lucky team to get through a season with only 30 players. So I took away 300 plate appearances and 30 innings from those 30 players and gave them to generic replacement players to make the roster more realistic. I also added 350 PA for pitchers, roughly a league-average amount last year. NL teams in 2012 averaged 6129 plate appearances and 1442 innings, so our team playing time totals are right on the mark.

We’re left looking at a team with a lineup that lacks star power but has few glaring holes, a somewhat suspect rotation, and a strong bullpen. Add it all up, and the total comes to roughly 36 WARP. So where does that get us, wins-wise? It depends on the quality of our all-rookie club’s competition, but to ballpark it based on the projected WARP and win totals on the Team Audit pages, this team would be projected to win something in the neighborhood of 85 games for the collective league-minimum—maybe 84 games, if you disqualify the NPB players. Assuming, of course, that the team wouldn’t suffer from its complete lack of veteran leadership. The rookies would have to haze themselves!

So now we know that. If 85 wins strikes you as high—after all, it’s the same total we project for the Giants and Blue Jays—well, maybe it is, though PECOTA is typically conservative. Or maybe it’s just a useful reminder that the best rookies in baseball can be trustworthy too, even if they’re unproven.

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

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