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March 12, 2012

The Process

How Much Do Early Pitcher Promotions Matter?

by Bradley Ankrom

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As part of last week’s Prospects on the Bubble series, we looked at hitters who had played full seasons at advanced Class-A as 17- or 18-year-olds. A number of readers asked about pitchers who have done the same thing, and the results (using a minimum of 100 innings pitched) are significantly less impressive in terms of both quantity and quality.

The hitters group was headlined by Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Roberto Alomar and featured three others—Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez, and Gary Sheffield—who posted career WARPs over 50 and had legitimate Cooperstown cases themselves. The amount of major-league success achieved by the precocious pitchers pales in comparison, as only Dwight Gooden was able to earn more than 50 career WARP.

Pitchers <= Age 18 with >= 100 IP in Advanced Class A Since 1979

Pitcher

Yr

Age

Org

League

Results

Mike Witt

1979

18

LAA

CAL

8-10, 5.11 ERA, 94/70 SO/BB, 141 IP

Storm Davis

1980

18

BAL

FSL

9-12, 3.52 ERA, 90/55 SO/BB, 151 IP

Roy Smith

1980

18

PHI

CAR

17-8, 2.60 ERA, 134/63 SO/BB, 163 IP

Francisco Oliveras

1981

18

BAL

FSL

6-5, 3.83 ERA, 80/48 SO/BB, 108 IP

Jose Rijo

1983

18

NYA

FSL

15-5, 1.68 ERA, 152/43 SO/BB, 160.1 IP

Dwight Gooden

1983

18

NYN

CAR

19-4, 2.50 ERA, 300/112 SO/BB, 191 IP

John Mitchell

1984

18

BOS

FSL

16-9, 3.14 ERA, 109/66 SO/BB, 183.2 IP

Candy Sierra

1984

17

SDN

CAL

11-4, 3.73 ERA, 106/57 SO/BB, 135.1 IP

Ramon Martinez

1986

18

LAN

CAL

4-8, 4.75 ERA, 78/63 SO/BB, 106 IP

Brent Knackert

1988

18

LAN

FSL

10-8, 3.17 ERA, 78/46 SO/BB, 142 IP

Rick Gorecki

1992

18

LAN

CAL

11-7, 4.05 ERA, 115/90 SO/BB, 129 IP

Kym Ashworth

1994

17

LAN

CAL

6-7, 3.95 ERA, 109/69 SO/BB, 127.2 IP

Kym Ashworth

1995

18

LAN

CAL

7-4, 3.53 ERA, 97/64 SO/BB, 120 IP

Hugo Pivaral

1995

18

LAN

CAL

6-4, 4.63 ERA, 89/43 SO/BB, 103 IP

Rick Ankiel

1998

18

SLN

CAR

9-6, 2.79 ERA, 181/38 SO/BB, 126 IP

Jerome Williams

2000

18

SFN

CAL

7-6, 2.94 ERA, 115/48 SO/BB, 125.2 IP

Jacobo Sequea

2000

18

BAL

CAR

9-11, 5.09 ERA, 94/58 SO/BB, 123.2 IP

Greg Miller

2003

18

LAN

FSL

11-4, 2.49 ERA, 111/41 SO/BB, 115.2 IP

CAL = California League; CAR = Carolina League; FSL = Florida State League.

Miller and Pivaral succumbed to shoulder injuries, while Ashworth and Sequea simply didn’t develop, but the other 13 pitchers all reached the major leagues. Not surprisingly, that 23.5 percent attrition rate is significantly higher than that of the position players (4.5 percent) examined in last week’s article.

Pitcher

Yrs

Results

WARP

Gooden

16

194-112, 3.51 ERA, 2293/954 SO/BB, 2800.2 IP

52.0

Rijo

14

116-91, 3.24 ERA, 1606/663 SO/BB, 1880 IP

38.6

Martinez

14

135-88, 3.67 ERA, 1427/795 SO/BB, 1895.2 IP

20.8

Davis

13

113-96, 4.02 ERA, 1048/687 SO/BB, 1780.2 IP

15.7

Witt

12

117-116, 3.83 ERA, 1373/713 SO/BB, 2108.1 IP

10.9

Ankiel

3

13-10, 3.90 ERA, 269/130 SO/BB, 242 IP

5.3

Smith

8

30-31, 4.60 ERA, 320/202 SO/BB, 618.1 IP

3.9

Oliveras

4

11-15, 3.71 ERA, 130/68 SO/BB, 235 IP

0.6

Williams

6

27-29, 4.20 ERA, 286/186 SO/BB, 469.1 IP

0.2

Mitchell

5

9-14, 4.35 ERA, 107/93 SO/BB, 240 IP

0.2

Sierra

1

0-1, 5.53 ERA, 24/12 SO/BB, 27.2 IP

0.1

Knackert

2

1-2, 7.04 ERA, 33/28 SO/BB, 47.1 IP

-0.1

Gorecki

2

2-2, 7.54 ERA, 13/16 SO/BB, 22.2 IP

-0.2

For the pitchers whose ascensions were not ended prematurely by injuries, were there any indicators in their age-18 seasons that foretold their future success?

Gooden (2.68), Rijo (3.53), and Ankiel (4.76) posted the top three strikeout-to-walk ratios in the group, but two pitchers who ranked among the top five in career WARP, Martinez (1.24) and Witt (1.34), ranked last and third-from-last, respectively. Martinez and Witt both pitched in the high-offense California League, a much less forgiving environment than the Carolina and Florida State Leagues. Given the disparities between the leagues, perhaps it’s better to look at each pitcher’s performance relative to league average:

 

 

 

Statistics Relative to League Average

Pitcher

Yr

League

ERA

RA

WHIP

H/9

HR/9

BR/9

SO/9

BB/9

SO/BB

Witt

1979

CAL

-23%

-20%

-9%

-13%

-43%

-9%

-21%

-1%

-22%

Davis

1980

FSL

-17%

-25%

0%

-13%

+36%

0%

-9%

+24%

+20%

Smith

1980

CAR

+20%

+20%

+25%

+30%

+5%

+25%

+11%

+16%

+33%

Oliveras

1981

FSL

-19%

-13%

-4%

-2%

-36%

-4%

+5%

-7%

-2%

Rijo

1983

FSL

+46%

+47%

+22%

+13%

-10%

+22%

+20%

+40%

+98%

Gooden

1983

CAR

+35%

+42%

+13%

+33%

+27%

+13%

+85%

-25%

+48%

Sierra

1984

CAL

-18%

-8%

-2%

-11%

-21%

-3%

-4%

+13%

+10%

Mitchell

1984

FSL

+8%

+7%

+15%

+8%

-58%

+15%

-12%

+28%

+23%

Martinez

1986

CAL

-18%

-24%

-16%

-12%

+55%

-16%

-2%

-25%

-21%

Knackert

1988

FSL

-11%

-1%

-3%

-8%

+7%

-4%

-23%

+9%

+15%

Gorecki

1992

CAL

-1%

+4%

-12%

+7%

-48%

-12%

+20%

-56%

-23%

Ashworth

1994

CAL

-2%

+6%

+4%

+10%

+14%

-5%

+3%

-41%

-27%

Ashworth

1995

CAL

+14%

+14%

-4%

-9%

+14%

-3%

-1%

-35%

-25%

Ankiel

1998

CAR

+23%

+25%

+21%

+23%

+14%

+21%

+66%

+13%

+90%

Williams

2000

CAL

+33%

+29%

+25%

+30%

+38%

+25%

+8%

+16%

+29%

Sequea

2000

CAR

-31%

-25%

-6%

-2%

-27%

-2%

-9%

-15%

-21%

So much for that. Even when compared to league averages, Witt and Martinez rank toward the bottom in nearly every category, while pitchers who experienced less major-league success (Smith, Williams, etc.) are found near the top.

* * *

As pitchers get closer to the major leagues, one would expect the predictive value of their performances to become more reliable. With that in mind, let’s look at players who threw at least 100 innings as either 19-year-olds in Double-A or 20-year-olds in Triple-A, a group that consists of 35 distinct pitchers and 43 seasons:

Pitchers Who Have Accumulated >= 100 IP in Double-A at Age 19 or Triple-A at Age 20

Pitcher

Yr

Age

Org

League

Results

Marty Bystrom

1979

20

PHI

AA

9-5, 4.08 ERA, 108/69 SO/BB, 172 IP

Bob James

1979

20

MON

AA

8-13, 6.68 ERA, 122/123 SO/BB, 132 IP

Scott Holman

1979

20

NYN

IL

13-7, 1.99 ERA, 62/51 SO/BB, 149 IP

Mike Morgan

1979

19

OAK

PCL

5-5, 3.48 ERA, 42/49 SO/BB, 101 IP

Tim Conroy

1979

19

OAK

EL

7-14, 5.22 ERA, 106/119 SO/BB, 138 IP

Dave Beard

1979

19

OAK

EL

10-14, 3.02 ERA, 111/63 SO/BB, 191 IP

Rich Barnes

1979

19

CHA

SL

8-8, 4.19 ERA, 91/86 SO/BB, 131 IP

Mike Jones

1979

19

KCA

SL

9-13, 4.10 ERA, 116/100 SO/BB, 167 IP

Rich Barnes

1980

20

CHA

AA

3-9, 4.61 ERA, 59/93 SO/BB, 123 IP

Mike Morgan

1980

20

OAK

PCL

4-9, 6.97 ERA, 46/77 SO/BB, 115 IP

Mark Davis

1980

19

PHI

EL

19-6, 2.47 ERA, 185/75 SO/BB, 193 IP

Roy Smith

1981

19

PHI

EL

11-8, 4.42 ERA, 117/97 SO/BB, 161 IP

Storm Davis

1981

19

BAL

SL

14-10, 3.47 ERA, 119/65 SO/BB, 187 IP

Francisco Oliveras

1982

19

BAL

SL

10-9, 3.55 ERA, 97/64 SO/BB, 162.1 IP

Don Schulze

1983

20

CHN

AA

11-9, 4.27 ERA, 103/63 SO/BB, 168.2 IP

Mark Grant

1983

19

SFN

TL

10-8, 3.66 ERA, 159/71 SO/BB, 186.2 IP

Mark Grant

1984

20

SFN

PCL

5-7, 3.96 ERA, 78/61 SO/BB, 111.1 IP

Jose Rijo

1985

20

OAK

PCL

7-10, 2.90 ERA, 179/108 SO/BB, 149 IP

John Mitchell

1985

19

BOS

EL

12-8, 2.70 ERA, 108/61 SO/BB, 190.1 IP

Greg Maddux

1986

20

CHN

AA

10-1, 3.02 ERA, 65/30 SO/BB, 128.1 IP

John Mitchell

1986

20

NYN

IL

12-9, 3.40 ERA, 83/59 SO/BB, 172.1 IP

Johnny Guzman

1990

19

OAK

SL

5-6, 3.58 ERA, 63/54 SO/BB, 105.2 IP

Pedro Martinez

1992

20

LAN

PCL

7-6, 3.81 ERA, 124/57 SO/BB, 125.1 IP

Rick Gorecki

1993

19

LAN

TL

6-9, 3.35 ERA, 118/62 SO/BB, 156 IP

Rick Gorecki

1994

20

LAN

PCL

8-6, 5.07 ERA, 73/60 SO/BB, 103 IP

Jose Pett

1995

19

TOR

SL

8-9, 4.26 ERA, 89/48 SO/BB, 141.2 IP

Jose Pett

1996

20

TOR

IL

2-9, 5.82 ERA, 50/42 SO/BB, 109.2 IP

Roy Halladay

1997

20

TOR

IL

7-10, 4.58 ERA, 64/53 SO/BB, 125.2 IP

Ruben Quevedo

1999

20

ATL

IL

6-5, 5.36 ERA, 98/34 SO/BB, 105.2 IP

Matt Riley

1999

19

BAL

EL

10-6, 3.22 ERA, 131/42 SO/BB, 125.2 IP

Ryan Anderson

1999

19

SEA

EL

9-13, 4.50 ERA, 162/86 SO/BB, 134 IP

Alan Webb

1999

19

DET

SL

9-9, 4.95 ERA, 88/64 SO/BB, 140 IP

Jon Garland

2000

20

CHN

IL

9-2, 2.26 ERA, 63/32 SO/BB, 103.2 IP

Ryan Anderson

2000

20

SEA

PCL

5-8, 3.98 ERA, 146/55 SO/BB, 104 IP

Carlos Zambrano

2001

20

CHN

PCL

10-5, 3.88 ERA, 155/68 SO/BB, 150.2 IP

Jerome Williams

2001

19

SFN

TL

9-7, 3.95 ERA, 84/34 SO/BB, 130 IP

Jerome Williams

2002

20

SFN

PCL

6-11, 3.58 ERA, 130/50 SO/BB, 160.2 IP

Edgar Gonzalez

2003

20

ARI

PCL

8-7, 3.75 ERA, 69/28 SO/BB, 129.2 IP

Edwin Jackson

2003

19

LAN

SL

7-7, 3.70 ERA, 157/53 SO/BB, 148.1 IP

Matt Cain

2005

20

SFN

PCL

10-5, 4.39 ERA, 176/73 SO/BB, 145.2 IP

Jordan Lyles

2010

19

HOU

TL

7-9, 3.12 ERA, 93/27 SO/BB, 127 IP

Julio Teheran

2011

20

ATL

IL

15-3, 2.55 ERA, 119/46 SO/BB, 144.2 IP

AA = American Association (AAA); IL = International League (AAA); PCL = Pacific Coast League (AAA); EL = Eastern League (AA); SL = Southern League (AA); TL = Texas League (AA).

Not surprisingly, the majority (91 percent) of the players to perform as 19-year-olds in Double-A or 20-year-olds in Triple-A reached the major leagues. Ryan Anderson and Jose Pett fell victim to chronic injuries, while Alan Webb found himself pitching in the independent Northern League by the time he was 21.

This group produced two sure-fire Hall of Famers in Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez, as well as Roy Halladay, who could find himself enshrined in Cooperstown with a few more Cy Young-caliber seasons. Several pitchers are still active, but as things currently stand:

Career WARP for Pitchers Who Have Accumulated >= 100 IP in Double-A at Age 19 or Triple-A at Age 20

Group

Ct

Pct

Notables

>= 50 Career WARP

2

6%

Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez

10-49 Career WARP

6

17%

Jose Rijo, Roy Halladay, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Cain, Jon Garland

0-9.9 Career WARP

20

57%

Mark Davis, Mike Morgan, Edwin Jackson, Jerome Williams, Jordan Lyles

< 0 Career WARP

4

11%

Julio Teheran, Rick Gorecki, Ruben Quevedo, Matt Riley

DNP Major Leagues

3

9%

Ryan Anderson, Jose Pett, Alan Webb

The statistics produced by the pitchers in this group were largely irrelevant, not unlike those found in the advanced Class-A hurlers studied earlier. Six of the seven pitchers who struck out more than 8.5 batters per nine innings earned a WARP of at least 7.5, a group consisting of Pedro Martinez (67.8 WARP), Rijo (38.6), Zambrano (27.7), Cain (18.8), Davis (9.3), and Jackson (7.5). You can download a spreadsheet (.xls) that details each player’s performance here (.csv).

* * *

What can pitcher performance relative to league and age tell us? As it turns out, very little. Pitchers who get promoted early have a reasonable chance of reaching the major leagues, as their youth will afford them plenty of opportunities assuming their arms don’t fall off, but the predictive value of the numbers they produce is close to null. Every now and then, a Matt Riley will strike out more than a batter per inning with a shiny ERA and won-lost record as a 19-year-old in Double-A, while a Roy Halladay will struggle with his command as a 20-year-old in Triple-A.

Development is about making adjustments and responding to the adjustments made to you, and every player has his own developmental schedule. Carlos Zambrano was a valuable major-league contributor by the time he was 21, but Halladay wasn’t worth more than a single win above replacement until he was a 24-year-old in his fourth big-league season. At age 23, Zambrano spun a 4.9 WARP season, while Halladay went 4-7 with a 10.64 ERA in 67.2 major-league innings and wasn’t much better in Triple-A. Whose career would you prefer?

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