Rany Jazayerli is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
Rany Jazayerli: Hey everyone! I'm refreshed and rejuvenated following a trip to the Academy of Dermatology's annual convention this weekend, held this year in lovely New Orleans, where there are hundreds of things to do - unfortunately, every single one of them is forbidden to Muslims. (On the plus side, I almost finished alphabetizing my strat cards.) I know you're all dying to know the answers to burning questions like "why Matt Cain is ranked #28 instead of #29?", so let's get started.
jdelavalle ((Pembroke Pines, FL)): Hey Rany,
I don't know how well you can answer this question, but how does PECOTA like in the long run pitching prospects that rely heavily on groundballs? I am talking specifically about pitchers like Edgar Gonzalez, or Sean Burnett to a lesser extent. Are these guys that get better as they age? Thanks.
Rany Jazayerli: You'll need to ask Nate about the inner workings of PECOTA, but one of the best parts of doing the Prospect list is seeing how PECOTA reacts to different sets of players, so I can answer this to some extent. Groundball/flyball ratio is definitely a significant factor when evaluating pitchers; generally speaking, the higher the better. As Nate found last year, G/F ratio actually predicts next year's HR rate better than this year's HR rate. So this becomes important when a prospect gives up few homers but has a fairly low G/F ratio; his homer rate is likely to increase the next season.
All of this makes Felix Hernandez, who had one of the highest G/F ratios in the minors last year when hitters actually made contact, even more impressive.
Robb Nenn (the high life): Now that I've retired, do I have any sniff of the Hall of Fame? Or did my injuries cost me any chance?
Rany Jazayerli: No and no. Standards for Hall of Fame relievers are still evolving, but if Robb Nen became the standard, we'd have to put something like 20 or 25 relievers in the Hall. The only active reliever who's likely to get in is Mariano Rivera, though Trevor Hoffman might get some darkhorse consideration if he can stay healthy and effective for another 4 or 5 years.
dan11995 (Atlanta, GA): Hey Rany,
How would you rank Jose Capellan, Dan Meyer, and Kyle Davies? Which is the better prospect and did the Braves do themselves a disservice by trading Capellan and Meyer while choosing to keep Davies?
Rany Jazayerli: I like all of them, obviously - they're all on our list. We have Davies ranked lower than both Capellan and Meyer, but it's a marginal difference, and the Braves' track record is such that the mere fact that they kept Davies is a significant point in his favor. In particular, Capellan's future is likely in relief, and Leo Mazzone could turn the pitching staff of the Joliet JackHammers into a quality bullpen, so I don't think they'll miss Capellan all that much.
rudd48 (Lexington, KY): During the prospectus roundtable on pitching, there was some discussion going on comparing the hit rates of Kazmir and Francis. I was under the impression that minor league hit rate was irrelevant (moreso than in the majors) due to a few factors, such as the inferior playing surfaces, and the fact that players are sometimes trying out new defensive positions.
What is your take on the hit rate issue?
Rany Jazayerli: I don't think the hit rates of Kazmir and Francis were under consideration so much as the factors that affect hit rates, like strikeout rate. It is true that, in general, BABIP (which you might call raw hit rate) has little predictive utility - which is why we ignore it for the most part. But PECOTA has shown that, in the aggregate, young pitchers who give up a low BABIP do tend to develop better than their counterparts. It's possible that there is some sort of survivor effect in play, whereby the pitchers who have truly high BABIP rates don't reach the majors in the first place. Consider this a fruitful topic for more research.
denny187 (WI): Was any thought given to Ben Hendrickson? His stats were certainly very good last year. Did his few major league starts hurt him?
Rany Jazayerli: He's a good pitching prospect, a Grade B in my book, but he's not Top Prospect material. His track record before 2004 was a little shady - he had never posted a K/BB ratio higher than 2 to 1 before last year - and even last season, his K rate in Triple-A (93 in 125 IP) was a lot less impressive than his league-leading ERA.
Adam Dunn (Sarasota, FL): Hi Rany,
I was hoping you could tell me when I can expect my 2005 BP to ship?
I can't wait to read my "player comments" following that stellar PECOTA forecast.
Rany Jazayerli: We had our first confirmed sighting of a book landing in a reader's hands today. So that translates to Very Soon Now.
Jeremy Barr (Saint Paul, MN): Rany, I was excited to see that you're on the Ryan Sweeney bandwagon during the roundtable on outfielders. I find Sweeney very interesting as a player so young for his league who merely held his own. What do you expect out of him in AA this season?
Rany Jazayerli: I'm a sucker for players who hold their own as one of the youngest players in their league, but the reality is that Sweeney has a long way to go. The big thing to look for from Sweeney is whether he develops home run power this year. Power develops later into a prospect's career than any other skill, so if he can start with a foundation of double-digit homers as a 20-year-old in Double-A, his chance at stardom goes up considerably.
jdelavalle ((Pembroke Pines, FL)): Hey Rany,
Question on Byung-Hyun Kim. Whatever happened to this guy? Can he still pitch and in what team will he end up?
Rany Jazayerli: Well, his velocity disappeared last season because he couldn't drive off his legs, but to answer the larger question...I think Kim might be that rare species of player who really doesn't do well under the spotlight. I know I'd love to see him in Kansas City, where they don't even put players under the flashlight. His talent will get him picked up by someone with deeper pockets, and if healthy and given a defined role he'll be fine. We're talking about a pitcher with a career 3.37 ERA.
Amos (Madison, Wisconsin): Petit's numbers look pretty enticing for the Mets. What should we look for? He didn't get a lot of discussion even though he's on the list. Great job with the whole thing as always, Dr. J.
Rany Jazayerli: Thanks. The more I think about him, the more I'm convinced that the best way to describe Yusmeiro Petit is this way: he's the right-handed Sid Fernandez. Like Fernandez, he's overweight and doesn't light up the radar guns. But the difference between Petit's apparent velocity and his actual velocity is huge - hitters swear he's throwing in the mid-90s when he's actually in the upper 80s. No pitcher in my lifetime had more deceptive velocity than El Sid. It's quite possible that the extra heft allows each pitcher to hide the ball in their uniform at the last instant. This is pure, rank speculation on my part here, but just as Fernandez maintained his deception at the major league level, so I expect Petit to have little difficulty adjusting to the majors.
Bryan (Maryland): Just from first glance at the top 50 list, I am surprised about how high Jared Weaver is ranked. I've heard that his mechancics are poor. Are his Prior-esque stats too impressive to ignore? Is Boras correct in thinking that he is big league ready?
Rany Jazayerli: Yeah, I know his ranking has gotten a lot of flak, but the bottom line is that Weaver's junior season at Long Beach State was every bit as impressive, statistically speaking, as Prior's junior season at USC. And Weaver's college career as a whole was even better. I'm *not* saying that Weaver is better than Prior was, or even that he's as good. But if Prior was a Top 3 prospect - in retrospect, he clearly was - then how we can say that Weaver isn't a Top 20 prospect? Because the scouts weren't impressed with him? I value the opinions of scouts more than you might think, but I have yet to hear anyone - scout or otherwise - explain to me this: if Weaver's stuff *isn't* that good, then HOW THE HELL WAS HE GETTING PEOPLE OUT? He clearly is doing *something* right. The fact that I don't know exactly how reflects poorly on me; it shouldn't reflect poorly on Weaver.
Andy (Raleigh): Is Chase Utley really a better choice at 2nd than Placido Polanco? If so, why did the Phillies hang on to Polanco? He's an awfully expensive backup.
Rany Jazayerli: For 2005, I think Polanco's defensive edge slightly outweighs Utley's power edge. Long-term, given Utley's age and contract status, it's clear the Phillies chained themselves to the right bandwagon.
The Phillies hung on to Polanco for the same reason the Braves hung on to Maddux a few years ago: because he unexpectedly accepted arbitration and they had no choice. I say "unexpectedly" because no one - Polanco least of all - expected him to get so little attention on the free-agent market. Derek Lowe gets four years, $36 million, but Placido Polanco can't get a decent offer? I'd have fired my agents too.
If the Phillies are creative, they'll make Utley and Polanco the best platoon in baseball this year.
Bryan (College Park): Lastings Milledge seems pretty raw compared to some more polished outfielders ranked behind him on the prospect list (Swisher and Granderson in particular). Is Milledge that good? I know that he has youth on his side.
And, on another note, what distinguishes Swisher from Granderson? The superior walk rate?
Rany Jazayerli: Milledge is raw, but he's one of the youngest players on the list, he has exceptional tools, AND he hit .337/.399/.579 in the SAL last year. His risk/upside profile is along the lines of investing in a Chinese tech stock, but the difference between him and Delmon Young is less than you'd think.
As for Swisher and Granderson...really, when we're talking about a difference of four places on the list, you might as well call that a statistical tie. Especially on this year's list - the players in the 20s and 30s on this list are practically interchangeable.
macthomason (Tuscaloosa, AL): Would Andy Marte still be considered the #1 prospect if (as seems likely) shifted to an outfield corner?
Rany Jazayerli: If Andy Marte played left field last year, then no, he wouldn't rank #1. On the other hand, he would probably rank no lower than #3, and it's quite possible that if he *does* switch to a corner outfield spot, his offense might blossom even faster. Bottom line is he's a monster of a prospect, and gets next to no attention.
collins (greenville nc): Thanks for doing the chat. I wasn't sure, after reading the roundtable, why BP is rather disinclined to rate relief prospects very high. Do they really have a significantly lower success rate than minor league starters do? (I don't mean just any minor league closer, but the guys who impress everyone, like Crain and Street.)
Rany Jazayerli: Or like Ryan Wagner, who we ranked last year.
The reason we have such high standards for relief prospects is pretty simple. You know the best way to develop a dominant major league starter? Start with five great minor league starters.
And you know the best way to develop a dominant major league closer? Start with five great minor league starters.
The fact is that MOST of the very best closers in baseball were predominantly starting pitchers in the minor leagues, and many of them were starters even after they reached the majors, from Mariano Rivera to Eric Gagne to John Smoltz. The big-time minor league reliever who makes it big does exist - Armando Benitez, for instance - but it's a much less common progression than you'd think. Although it's becoming less common as teams get better at pegging which pitchers should pitch in relief, and as more and more pitchers enter pro ball as established collegiate closers.
iggith (Princeton, NJ): I am in a fantasy league that strives for accuracy. Yet I can't convince my co-owners to replace the traditional 3 outfield spots with a LF, CF and RF. What would my best argument to them be to make this switch?
Rany Jazayerli: That the major leagues use the traditional outfield spots when picking All-Star teams and handing out Gold Gloves. No, wait...
Bill (Pecotaville): Why do you guys use PECOTA to judge minor leaguers when it 1) wasn't designed to do that and 2) lacks much minor league data? Your rankings don't make much sense.
Rany Jazayerli: Um, why wasn't it designed to do that? Your argument might hold water if PECOTA didn't compare minor league players to minor leaguers of yore, but it does. We don't have all the historical minor league data we'd like - getting complete stats on the Triple-I league in 1957 is not easy - but at least for the past decade or two, we've got plenty. And it's getting better every year.
noonan (Palo Alto, CA): With LoDuca blocking him at catcher, will Josh Willingham be able to get any at-bats for Florida this year?
Rany Jazayerli: Their two World Championships notwithstanding, the Marlins are not the kind of team that is likely to appreciate Willingham's talents, much less get the most out of them. But I'd rather bet on the player that has the talent but lacks the opportunity than vice versa.
Mike Fast (San Jose, CA): Hi, Rany. What's your take on Jeremy Affeldt? We were all so optimistic after his fingernail surgery last offseason. Then in 2004, he didn't seem to have the same stuff he had in prior years. Any idea what happened or what to expect this year? Thanks.
Rany Jazayerli: Alright, I'll answer a Royals question...I spoke to Guy Hansen, the Royals' new pitching coach, about Affeldt, and his explanation for last year's struggles were simple: the hitters knew every pitch that was coming. I hadn't heard the tipping-his-pitches excuse before, but frankly it fits the evidence. If that's the case, he should bounce back fine.
Jeff (Chicago): Hi Rany, thanks for the chat.
Are we better at choosing top prospects now than 3 or 5 years ago? How might we determine that?
Also, is anybody trying to measure the relative strength of prospect classes from year to year?
Rany Jazayerli: I think we are, if only because we're a lot more certain about dates of birth. Pablo Ozuna, where have you gone?
I'd say the single most important factor in making accurate predictions is finding the right balance between performance analysis and skills analysis, or stats vs. scouting. I'm willing to admit that we might have been a little too skewed towards the former in the early years of our list. But our newer tools, things like PECOTA and DIPS theory, have helped to quantify and justify some of the scouty observations that we used to scoff at, notions like the kid with the .440 OBP but no power "will get that bat knocked out of his hands at higher levels." Thanks to PECOTA - and Jackie Rexrode - we now know that this particular piece of scouting CW is correct. And the more we know, the better our predictions become.
steve S (Davis, CA): Can you explain why Huston Street and not Merkin Valdez receives an honorable mention for your top prospects list? PECOTA projects very similar IP, H, BB, K, HR, ERA numbers for them, although Street's VORP is twice as high as Valdez's, presumably because of league and ballpark factors. Given how equal they otherwise appear to be, shouldn't Valdez get the edge because of his potential as a starter?
Rany Jazayerli: Whatever edge Valdez has for his potential as a starter is more than compensated by the penalty he gets for missing the start of last season with shoulder tendonitis. Never underestimate the importance of health when it comes to evaluating pitching prospects.
Jeff (Houston, TX): Where do you think a couple guys who didn't qualify for the list would have fallen if they had: Joe Mauer and Jose Lopez.
Rany Jazayerli: Joe Mauer has his own special place in the chapter, actually - he's our first Prospect of the Year Emeritus. Seriously.
As for Lopez, if he really is 21, he'd probably be Top 20 material if he were eligible. I seem to recall that his birthdate changed a few years ago, and I seem to recall being awfully pissed about the fact that we over-ranked him based on a false date of birth, but his official birthdate is still 11/24/83. Not that "official" birthdates are always right; there are still sources that list Edgar Renteria's birth year as 1975, not 1976.
Steve (NJ): Chris Nelson and Stephen Drew did not get any mention in the SS roundtable and did not make the top 50. 7 shortstops made your top fifty, so these guys are no better than 8 and 9 on your list of SS. What do you think of them?
Rany Jazayerli: I love Nelson, but we are *very* reluctant to rank a high school guy based purely on his performance in a short-season league. Mitch Einertson is the first high school short-season player we've ever ranked.
As for Drew, he was the last guy cut from the chapter. It may seem incongruous to rank Weaver as high as we did and not rank Drew, but Drew's collegiate performance simply doesn't compare. Drew hit .344/.458/.692 in college last year, which is terrific, but you can find half a dozen players with similar numbers in 2004 alone. You can't find half a dozen pitchers with numbers similar to Weaver's 2004 in the history of college baseball.
Royal Addict (State College, PA): The Royals are slated for the 2nd pick of the draft this year. With the 1st selection almost certainly being Upton, who would you want the Royals to select? The risky Cameron Maybin, or a solid college bat like Alex Gordon?
Rany Jazayerli: If they take Cameron Maybin, I'm going to spend a week's salary on Roscoe Crosby baseball cards and mail them all to Kauffman Stadium, c/o Allard Baird.
I'm hoping that a consensus #2 best player in the draft emerges; for now, Alex Gordon holds the title as the best collegiate hitter *and* he commands the strike zone, so he'll do.
And no, I'm not bitter that *this* is the year MLB finally decides to stop alternating picks by league and just use straight winning percentage, costing the Royals their first-ever #1 overall pick. Not bitter at all.
chunkstyle (Toronto): Base on his previous major/minor league experience, did Oliver Perez pitch over his head last year?
And is he really THAT much of an injury risk?
Rany Jazayerli: It's hard to argue that *any* starting pitcher who whiffs 11 batters per 9 innings is "over his head." 2004 wasn't a fluke, it was a breakout season. There aren't ten pitchers in the world I'd rather have over the next six years than Oliver.
Rany Jazayerli: And with that, I'm afraid I must go. Great fun chatting with everyone tonight, and don't despair: your copy of BP 2005 will be arriving soon!