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June 7, 2009

Prospectus Idol Entry

The Summer of 1992

by Matthew Knight

There were two hot tickets for central Virginians in the summer of 1992: the new rock band from Charlottesville that featured both a saxophone and a violin, and the AAA All-Star Game hosted by the Richmond Braves. Seventeen years later, Dave Matthews Band have established themselves as one of the biggest touring bands in the world, and three alumni from the AAA All-Star Game (Pedro Martinez, Mike Piazza, Bernie Williams) look like strong candidates to make the Hall of Fame.

Was this a unique collection of talent that made its way to Richmond in 1992, or is it common for multiple Hall of Famers to appear in the AAA All-Star Game?

Are we seeing future major leaguers?

Triple-A is an interesting hodgepodge of talent. Unlike lower minor league levels which are typically comprised entirely of young players, AAA is not the exclusive domain of prospects. Nearly every AAA team has a "quad-A" player or two, players who hit very well in the minors but never seem to stick in the major leagues and often bounce from organization to organization. They likely also have a few former prospects whose stars have dwindled, but still show enough talent to be kept in reserve in case of emergency at the big league level.

Due to the varying types of AAA players and the fact that many top prospects get called up mid-season, it's not necessarily true that the best future big league players are in the AAA All-Star Game. So, what can we expect in the future from the 50 or so players who will represent their organizations in Portland, OR on July 15?

Data for minor league all-star games played prior to 2005 were extremely difficult to come by, but I eventually found a list of all players who have played in the AAA All-Star Game since its inception in 1988. In the 21 games played to date, nearly 900 players have participated, including 86 who played in two, 12 who played in three, and three (Raul Gonzalez, Lee Stevens, and Joe Thurston) who played in four.

The players who played in multiple all-star games were collectively an unimpressive bunch. Sandy Alomar Jr. (1988 and 1989) is the only multiple all-star to ever make a Major League All-Star team, although B.J. Upton (2005 and 2006) and Adam Jones (2006 and 2007) seem like good bets to join him in the near future. Clearly, repeat all-stars are rarely top prospects.

About 90% of the players made the majors at some point, with the percentage likely to increase slightly as some players from recent games may yet get called up. The average player reached the majors 1.3 years BEFORE having played in the AAA All-Star Game, although the median time to reach the majors was the same year as the AAA All-Star selection.

The time to reach the big leagues and weak crop of returning all-stars strongly suggests that a substantial fraction of AAA All-Stars are "quad-A" players rather than top prospects. While AAA All-Stars usually make at least a token appearance in the Major Leagues, how successful are they when they get there?

What about future Major League All-Stars?

To avoid penalizing recent players who haven't had sufficient time to establish themselves in the majors, I restricted the sample to those who played in the AAA All-Star Game between 1988 and 2000. Fifty-three went on to make a Major League All-Star team, about 9% of the sample. Including all players, a total of 70 AAA All-Stars have made a Major League All-Star team to date (about 8%).

The average time between a player's first AAA All-Star Game and his first Major League All-Star Game was 4.5 years with a standard deviation of two years from 1988 to 2000. The average decreases only slightly to 4.2 years if the entire sample is considered. Six players made the Major League All-Star team the very next season (Ramon Martinez, Mike Piazza, Jose Rosado (!), Adam Dunn, Hank Blalock, and Johnny Estrada), while three players (Joey Cora, Steve Finley, and Mark Loretta) took nine years.

History shows that there is a small chance that someone can still make his first Major League All-Star game nine years after his first AAA All-Star Game. Which member of the class of 2000 might make his Major League All-Star debut this year? The pickings are pretty slim, but if I had to put money on it, I'd go with Aubrey Huff.

Huff would have been a reasonable choice in 2008, as he finished 16th in the American League MVP voting with a .304/.360/.552 line. Unfortunately, he is not currently in the top five in the AL first base vote total and his .797 OPS does little to argue for his inclusion as a reserve. His best chance is probably through the mandatory one player per team rule. However, on an Orioles team featuring Nick Markakis and Adam Jones, Huff has little chance of making the team unless he is traded in the next few weeks.

Any Hall of Famers?

Finally, let's take a look at the chances that we will see a future Hall of Famer playing in this year's mid-summer minor league classic. Considering the 500+ players who played in the AAA All-Star Game before 2001, I see only six likely Hall of Famers

Player            Year
Mike Piazza       1992
Pedro Martinez    1992
Bernie Williams   1992
Chipper Jones     1993
Jim Thome         1993
Derek Jeter       1995

with an additional eight players likely to get serious consideration but fall short of election, in my opinion.

Player            Year
Juan Gonzalez     1990
Tino Martinez     1991
Bret Boone        1992
Javier Lopez      1993
Garret Anderson   1994
Todd Helton       1997
Magglio Ordonez   1997
Alfonso Soriano   2000

On average, there is about one all-star per year who will have a career worthy of strong consideration for Cooperstown, and about one player every other year who will likely be elected.

Interestingly, the best Hall of Fame of Fame candidates were clustered in the early 1990s. The low number of Hall of Fame candidates after 1995 does not appear to be biased by shorter careers to date, but is actually indicative of a weaker talent pool. Only 13 players from the 1996-2000 AAA All-Star Games have made the Major League All-Star team, whereas 34 from the 1990-1995 teams did.

I find the lack of pitchers in this list remarkable. Of the 14 players most likely to get Hall of Fame votes, Pedro Martinez is the only pitcher. This trend seems to be continuing, as Dan Haren is the only elite pitcher to have played in the game since 2000. The paucity of top pitchers is not just a small sample size effect - only 12 of the 70 players to make a Major League All-Star team are pitchers. Apparently the best pitchers rarely stay long in AAA, if they stop there at all.


So, what can we expect from the 2009 AAA All-Stars? It may take a few years, but chances are good that nearly every player will get at least a taste of the majors. There will likely be four or five future Major League All-Stars, but we may have to wait until 2018 or so to be sure how many. It's a coin flip as to whether or not we are likely to see a future Hall of Famer on the field, and if you're trying to spot prospective greats, don't bother watching returning all-stars or any pitchers - there is little chance that one of them will become a Major League All-Star.

This brief study raises a number of questions I would like to see explored in more depth: Is there a dichotomy in the ages of AAA All-Stars, such that it is easy to distinguish top prospects from "quad-A" players without need of any other information? How do the rates of AAA All-Stars making the majors and having success there compare to the rates of all-stars at lower levels in the minors? Are there really fewer elite players playing AAA today than 15 years ago, or are these players just not making the AAA All-Star team? Why are there so few pitchers from the AAA All-Star game who go on to stardom in the majors?

And finally, what about that 1992 All-Star Game? It featured the largest number of future Major League All-Stars, ten, of any AAA All-Star Game. Half of the likely Hall of Famers to have played in the AAA All-Star Game were on the field that day, including the only pitcher. It turns out that the 1992 game was pretty special after all.

Too bad I couldn't get tickets.

39 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links


I enjoyed the article. It would have interesting to see the trend by organization, age and other factors.

Jun 07, 2009 09:53 AM
rating: 0

Like Will I was left with wanting more, which I think is a good thing here.

I do think that the Hall of Famers section was a bit TOO much speculation, and wonder if maybe using JAWS scores (or something similar) might not have been better, just to put a bit of weight behind the writer's thoughts.

Jun 07, 2009 10:13 AM
rating: 2

I second the comment by strupp - I thought he could have added to the article by using JAWS scores rather than his unnamed subjective Hall of Fame liklihoods.

Otherwise, I thought it was a fun article to read. I think there's a lot of value in that; it wasn't a hugely important piece of research, but there was some useful information, and it was a fun read.

Jun 07, 2009 10:59 AM
rating: 0
Matthew Knight

I thought about using JAWS or something similar, but I'm not sure how useful they are for players who still have quite a bit of career left (e.g. Soriano). Clearly they are relevant for Pedro, Piazza, Gonzalez, etc., and would be preferable to my subjective Hall of Fame likelihoods.

With no objective method I really struggled about where to put Helton, and I fully expect for people to quibble with a few of the others. But isn't that the beauty of the Hall of Fame? We all have our own opinions!

Jun 07, 2009 13:43 PM
rating: 0

I've been voting for Matt all the way, and I really liked this article after a so-so one last week. I think it's a perfectly digestible look at an interesting concept, and opens the door for a series of follow-ups, like whether the AA ASG is any better, the subjectivity of ASGs in general, etc. I don't think you needed to get into JAWS, etc., it would have been too much of a side-track. I tend to give up when I see a massive article with too many charts, etc. This one was "Just Right" Great job!

Jun 08, 2009 10:49 AM
rating: 0
Scott D. Simon

What does this mean? "The average player reached the majors 1.3 years BEFORE having played in the AAA All-Star Game, although the median time to reach the majors was the same year as the AAA All-Star selection."

The average guy reached the majors and then came *back* to play in the AAA game? Please explain.

Jun 07, 2009 11:03 AM
rating: -2

I'd guess this points to the prevalence of the quadruple-A player, who gets called up only to disappoint at the big league level, and then flourish in extended time at AAA.

Jun 07, 2009 20:54 PM
rating: 0
Doug Thorburn

...or it may indicate that many players earn their September cup of coffee in the Bigs before making an All-Star game in AAA.

Jun 08, 2009 00:24 AM
rating: 0

I like the time frame that was used here. I think anytime you can bring up players and events from 10-20 years ago it is a good idea because it is somewhat nostalgiac and yet recent enough for everyone to remember. The introduction was good, and it set you up for a good piece, but if the point of this is to somehow relate all-star appearances (at any level) to HOF consideration, then I disagree with the entire premise. I agree with Kevin that you should have used stat leaders.

Jun 07, 2009 12:47 PM
rating: 1

I don't know that this article intended to convince us whether any of this year's participants will be the next Bernie Williams, and I don't think I have a problem with that. The prompt was to write about minor league ball, and even though the discussion focused on what will happen in the MAJOR leagues for these guys, it was still a fun read.

Basically, I'd argue that we're all being encouraged to watch more minor league baseball, if only the AAA All-Star Game. We might get to catch a glimpse of the next round of MLB All-Stars, or we might get to enjoy seeing Brad Eldred! Either way, we win!

Any piece that reminds us of readily available options for enjoying off the beaten path baseball gets a win in my book. It was a bit scattered and raises more questions than it answers, but if you opened the PDF of 10 years' worth of AAA All Star Game participants and didn't smile when you read a couple dozen of those names... well, what's the point of the internet, anyway?

This was fun I a highly enjoyed it. Thumbs up.

Jun 07, 2009 21:03 PM
rating: 1
Sky Kalkman

I enjoyed the article and felt the writing flowed nicely. Would have liked to see some deeper analysis of MLB success other than actual All-Star appearances, like career WAR, and perhaps some comparison to top minor league performers who did *not* make a minor league AS game. Still, solid performance, and the data available for such an analysis isn't just lying around.

Jun 07, 2009 13:13 PM
rating: 0

I was left wondering a basic question--how are AAA All-Stars selected? And has it changed over the years? It seems to me that the context of the selection would matter.

Jun 07, 2009 16:41 PM
rating: 4
Dr. Dave

I give big points just for picking a topic I didn't expect. I agree that JAWS (or career WARP, or average annual WARP, or something) would have made the article better -- show the distribution of future WARP among AAA all-stars, and you get 3 thumbs up from me.

Nevertheless, well-written and intriguing. I'm amused that some of the BP staff consider "left me eager to come back and see part 2" as a negative... I'll bet Dave Pease is perfectly happy with that effect. And I respectfully disagree with Kevin -- an article on how minor league *performance* predicts major league success would have a totally different point, and a different feel. This wasn't about improving on DTs; this was about what the AAA all-star game roster means.

Jun 07, 2009 17:06 PM
rating: 0

This article marks the first time that I felt critical of the BP writers' opinions. Assessing the success of a league's All-Star Team, regardless of the details of the selection process, is an excellent way of judging the talent of its best players. The disproportionate success of hitters over pitchers is important information. I'd have guessed that to be true, but I didn't know it 'til now.

Big thumbs up, Matthew.

Jun 07, 2009 17:12 PM
rating: 1
G. Guest

All of the talk of Hall-of-Fame players and 'potential' hall-of-fame players feels out of place to me within the context of the article. Within the context of BP, the discussion of All-Stars is also out of place. MVP, Cy Young, All Start, Gold Glove and all of the other awards are based on so many things other than objective information. I come to BP for objective looks at the game.

It's a neat concept, but the application of the concept is off to me. I don't think that every article on BP has to be laden with stats, tables and graphs. However, the basic premise of this article seems to be outside of the framework of BP.

Jun 07, 2009 18:49 PM
rating: -1
John Carter

Matthew Knight (2nd read) is another Idol entrant steadily improving. This was a fun read. Quirky, but I like quirky.

Where it went overboard, though, was the tangential paragraph and a half on Aubrey Huff. Come on, Matthew, you have to edit some of those thoughts that come into your head.

The first paragraph of the conclusion was a little tedious. The second paragraph was a good list of unanswered questions. That may have been unnecessary, but was somehow satisfying to have them laid out. The last sentence was the perfect ending.

Jun 07, 2009 18:51 PM
rating: 1
Mike Petriello

Unrelated to the main topic here, but I was pretty surprised to see that Knight thinks Bernie Williams is a "likely" HOFer, while Todd Helton isn't.

Jun 07, 2009 20:45 PM
rating: 0
Matthew Knight

Williams: career WARP3 = 78.9/7 best WARP3 = 57.0/JAWS = 68.0
According to Jay Jaffe's most recent look at the Hall of Fame (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=8407), the average HOF CF had 84.2/52.5/68.4
Williams is just a hair below the JAWS score for his position, but I suspect that 4 World Series titles, 4 Gold Gloves, and an .851 OPS in 121 post season games will push him in with the voters. I also think he will fare better than he might have in the past because there have never been any PED rumors (to my knowledge) about him, while so many of his contemporaries have had them.

Helton's career is obviously still ongoing, but his WARP3 scores are 56.1/46/51.1. The average HOF 1B is 75.8/48.4/62.1. Now, I'm not saying Helton can't get there, but I'm not optimistic since he's already 35. He does have 3 Gold Gloves, but a .615 OPS in only 11 career playoff games won't help him. Also, my suspicion is that HOF voters will look at his playing at Coors Field and mentally deflate his stats too much.

Jun 07, 2009 23:02 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom
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Ugh Matt. Thy watchword is sample size. 11 playoff games, four of which were from a sweep courtesy of the Red Sox, should have nothing to do with a Helton HOF discussion.

And Helton's not retired yet so another 5 years can be enough to push up his WARP3 scores.

Anyway, the point is that Williams is not an obvious Hall of Famer, even to BBWAA members who use historic metrics like hits, RBI, etc. Tossing his name distracts the reader from the purpose of your article.

Jun 08, 2009 08:17 AM
rating: -4

But Richard, all he's claiming is that Helton's playoff performance "won't help him". Which is correct.

Jun 08, 2009 08:43 AM
rating: 3
Richard Bergstrom
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I read "won't help him" as "will hurt him". If the playoff performance was irrelevant as opposed to detrimental, I don't think it would've been included in the comment.

Jun 08, 2009 08:55 AM
rating: -6

That could be a whole other article! Gotta love a good marginal HOFer debate

Jun 08, 2009 10:52 AM
rating: 0
Paul Andrew Burnett

I hope that's one of the other topics.

Jun 08, 2009 12:21 PM
rating: -1
John Carter

How do I simply disagree without contributing to closing someone's comment? Please, no Hall of Fame debates.

Jun 08, 2009 14:35 PM
rating: -3

I found this one entertaining and easy to read. Seems like a lot of work went into this, and raised some good questions at the end.

I like the focus on the AAA all star game since it's one of the few minor league events even casual fans get excited about.

Jun 07, 2009 22:10 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

I think Matt has shown potential from the beginning of this contest, which is one reason I've valued his articles perhaps a bit moreso than others. His problem has usually been execution and presentation of that idea.

I love the idea he had for this topic and I like the way he tried to research it, but aspects of the presentation and grammar left me confused at times. I think it would've been better to briefly list and talk about the current status of last year's AAA All-Stars than digress into Huff. The Hall of Famer thing was also a bit distracting since it got me wondering why Bernie Williams was considered a Hall of Famer instead of trying to follow along with Matt's logic.

You're doing a much better job at maintaining focus on the subject you are writing about, you just need to be a bit tighter.

Thumbs up.

Jun 07, 2009 22:14 PM
rating: 0

I like this article, though I'd like to see a bit more meat on the bone in a few places.

One nit I'll definitely pick is the use of the word "average" in the same sentence that the median is discussed. If you mean to refer to the mean, then it would be more meaningful to be specific.

Jun 07, 2009 23:12 PM
rating: 1

Nice article. When I thought about AAA All-stars I thought about a guy like Nelson Cruz. He had 2 great years at AAA one of them punctuated with a horrible call up and one with a great call up. This year he might make the Major League ASG, but even if he keeps doing what he's doing for 10 more years, he's nowhere near the HOF.

The gap between HOFer and All Star is as large as the gap between All Star and AAA All Star. Think about it.

Jun 08, 2009 07:02 AM
rating: 0

Enjoyed the piece, but my main takeaway was "Bernie Williams is a Hall of Famer?" I checked out his career line and find myself coming down on the side of Hall of Very Good. I suppose my advice would be make sure that when you place players into categories that people love to argue over, make sure you place them there according to wide spread consensus.

Jun 08, 2009 07:58 AM
rating: -1
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Didn't really interest me at all. Sorry, no soup for you.

Jun 08, 2009 08:05 AM
rating: -10

Oddly, I thought that each of the BP judges' comments sort of missed the boat on the article. I, too, was left with questions I'd like to see answered in the future--but c'mon, there's a word limit here and he did a good job of focusing on this one point and completing his thoughts on it. No, All-Star game appearances don't necessarily correlate to performance quality, but that wasn't the point here. The point was to say, "hey, if you see the AAA All-Star game, how likely are you to see future MLB stars?" I think that's an interesting question, regardless of the vagaries of the selection process.

Finally, I find Christina's critical comment to be kind of strange. Yes, we've been hearing for years that the makeup of AAA rosters has changed in the last couple of decades, that it's no longer a place for prospects, but I've never seen anybody try and show any evidence for that premise. I found the article all the more interesting because I had been reading that for years, and here I'm finally seeing some (anecdotal) evidence for it.

Matthew also gets major points from me because he's the only writer in the contest whose articles never make me consciously think about their "writing style" as I'm reading the article. His voice is natural and he doesn't generally get tripped up by overly flowery sentences or awkward phrases. Thumbs up.

Jun 08, 2009 11:08 AM
rating: 2

In fact, I'd go so far as to say the question it left me with (and which might bear answering in a future extension) is:

If I'm going to see a AAA game, is it really worth making it the "All-Star" game, or might a regular season game do as well in terms of seeing developing talents?

Jun 09, 2009 12:16 PM
rating: 2

I'd like to second Brian's comments here. Good job Matthew.

Jun 09, 2009 12:49 PM
rating: 0

A control group of non-AAA All-Stars may have been instructive. But overall a good article.

Jun 08, 2009 11:17 AM
rating: 0

I was kind of hoping his article would explore why some AAA all-stars get labeled as quad-A guys, and then have it lead into an analysis of how those all-star "quad-A" guys really fared when given an extended look in the majors. I guess I'm still upset that Calvin Pickering never got a clean look after PECOTA had him poised for a huge breakout a few years back.

Jun 08, 2009 14:48 PM
rating: 0

Good article. Fun is probably the best word for it.

I think someone needs to dive into an article looking into the use of AAA recently. Are the best prospects just not going to AAA anymore? Does seem to be shifting that way. Is it just pitching? I've noticed teams with Pacific Coast League affiliates jumping their pitchers over the hitting havens of AAA. Am I correct in this observation?

Jun 08, 2009 22:03 PM
rating: 0
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2009-06-14 - Prospectus Idol Entry: Vladimir Guerrero
2009-06-07 - Prospectus Idol Entry: The Summer of 1992
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2009-05-23 - Prospectus Idol Entry: Why is On Base Percen...
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2009-06-07 - Prospectus Idol Entry: Everything I Know Abo...
2009-06-07 - Prospectus Idol Entry: Yeah, That Girl Can P...
2009-06-07 - Prospectus Idol Entry: The Summer of 1992
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