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June 7, 2005

Premium Article Draft Preview: Digging Deep

by Boyd Nation

Justn Upton or Alex Gordon? Craig Hansen or Mike Pelfrey? Easy decisions compared to finding the right guy on Day Two.

June 5, 2005

Premium Article Draft Preview: College Pitchers to Watch

by Boyd Nation

College pitchers are the best bets to provide quick help to the teams that draft them. This year lacks a Mark Prior shooting star, but has some interesting talent nonetheless.

June 3, 2005

Premium Article Draft Preview: College Hitters to Watch

by Boyd Nation

Which hitters should you be hoping your favorite team snags in Tuesday's draft? Boyd runs down the biggest boppers available on the board.

May 23, 2005

Premium Article 2005 Amateur Draft Preview: But First...A Look Back

by Boyd Nation

Before kicking off his look at '05's draft class, Boyd Nation reviews his analyses from the past two seasons.

June 17, 2004

Premium Article College World Series: A Viewer's Guide

by Boyd Nation

It's been an unusual postseason in NCAA baseball this year. Until 1998, the postseason tournament began with 48 teams playing in six-team, double-elimination brackets which were played over four days. This created a lot of drama, but it didn't create great baseball, as you frequently ended up with a freshman waterboy pitching on Sunday afternoon. Under this format, upsets were the norm, and the field that reached the College World Series in Omaha was usually a rather motley crew of survivors. In 1999, though, the NCAA moved to a 64-team field, adding a week to the postseason and switching from six-team regionals to four-team events in the first round. Under this format, the favorites flourished. Although upsets happened often enough to keep everyone on their toes, the fields in Omaha have been stronger from 1999 to 2003. This year, however, the apple cart has been overturned.

June 8, 2004

Premium Article 2004 Amateur Draft Review: A Look at the Top College Picks

by Boyd Nation

"Guerra, which is Spanish for war." Before I get to talking about the actual players or any of that stuff that you're actually here for, I want to thank someone. Tommy Lasorda, thank you. I agree with Rob Neyer that the MLB draft just doesn't have the sort of short-term impact on the game that would justify making a big NBA-style production number out of the first few rounds. As it turns out, though, the teams seem to go out of their way to make the event as dull as possible, with a host of mid-level functionaries, some with decent TV and/or radio (OK, Internet audio, but you know what I mean) presence, and some decidedly without, all opening their statements with a nondescript five-digit accounting number. Then there's Tommy, whose announcements, even for a seventh-rounder who's going to be out of the system in four years, have the character and enthusiasm of a state delegate to a national political convention. He, along with the occasional oops moment with a mike left open, provided all the entertainment of the day. Anyway, on to the players. Here are the season numbers with a few comments for all of the senior college players drafted in the first two rounds. The first thing you'll notice about these lists compared to last year's is that they're longer; the trend toward drafting college guys has definitely snowballed.

June 7, 2004

Premium Article 2004 Amateur Draft Preview: A Look at the Overlooked

by Boyd Nation

One of my all-time favorite college players was a Mississippi State pitcher from the early '90s named Jon Harden. I'm sure he was bigger than I remember him, but I'm guessing that he was somewhere around 5'9" and 165 pounds, though he played a bit smaller than that. On his best day with a full windup, his fastball touched 80 m.p.h., and he didn't really have much in the way of great breaking stuff as we usually think of it. What he did have, however, was three different, dancing changeups--he could throw, with the same identical motion, at 50, 60, 70, or 80 m.p.h., basically. Armed with that, he set a school record for appearances, serving quite successfully as the team's closer for the 1990 College World Series squad and then as the setup man when Jay Powell took over as closer in 1991. That combination in particular was absolutely deadly--you'd go from a starter with good heat, to a couple of innings of Harden's swooping changeups, to Powell, who could throw through the backstop at that point in his career. One of my favorite memories is of watching Harden throw to LSU's Lyle Mouton, who was already huge, and simply screw him into the ground in frustration as he guessed, flailed, and missed. Harden never really got any attention from organized baseball because of his size and his unusual approach. He was undrafted, and he was a bit too early for the independent leagues. At that time, there was an independent team in one of the Western minor leagues, and he pitched with them for a couple of seasons before giving it up. The last time I heard, he was pitching semipro ball and getting on with his life. I doubt that he would have done that much in the pros, but he would have been worth a low-A roster slot to find out.

June 4, 2004

2004 Amateur Draft Preview: Looking at the Relievers

by Boyd Nation

On Wednesday I dicussed the prospects of some future stars. I also, inadvertedly, spent some time discussing the answers to some future trivia questions. I have no idea which ones are which, and--to be honest--neither does anyone else. One way or the other, though, it's highly unlikely that any of them will have an effect on any of the 2004, 2005, or 2006 major league seasons. For the slightly shorter of attention out there, we'll look at some guys today who are more likely to be in the majors in the near future. It used to be that college relievers were valued on approximately the same level as minor league relievers, which is to say that they weren't valued at all. Somewhere along the way, though, it was decided that it should be possible to take a good college reliever and go to the extreme end of the Earl Weaver Pitcher Development Method with him, tossing him into the big league bullpen after only a very short time in the minors. The three players from the 2003 draft who have seen action in the majors so far--Chad Cordero of the Expos, Ryan Wagner of the Reds, and David Aardsma of the Giants--have all been college-turned-pro closers. It's worth noting that none of these clubs are particularly analytically-minded, and the results have been mixed, so it'll be interesting to see how this trend plays out. Where on Wednesday I tried to stick to guys likely to be drafted early, this is just a list of the best relievers available (with one or two oddball possibilities thrown in); with the possible exception of Huston Street, none of these guys are likely to pull in huge signing bonuses, so they may be signability picks at any point in the draft, or may fall to a later round. The odds are good that only one or two of these guys will see significant time in the next year with the big club, but the odds are also pretty good that the first guy to make it to the Show from the 2004 draft will be on this list.

June 2, 2004

2004 Amateur Draft Preview: A Look at the 1A Prospects

by Boyd Nation

One of the things I've always meant to learn but never quite cared enough about to actually do the research on is to find out what the other draft ratings were. I mean, everyone knows about 4F and 1A, but what was in between? Was there something like 2C--OK, but left-handed and prone to excessive flatulence? 3B--healthy but a little too fond of bad political discussions? I suppose I should ask someone from an earlier generation for some insight into that one of these days. Anyway, this is the first of a series of three pieces I'll be doing for Baseball Prospectus about college prospects who could draw varying levels of interest in the draft next week. Today, you get the 1A's--the guys that every club knows about and would love to have if they'd play for free. This isn't an encyclopedic listing, since the best pro player to come out of this draft will probably end up being someone neither you nor I have ever heard of, but it should give you a good feel for what's out there this year. There's no one in this year's crop who makes scouts' eyes light up the way Mark Prior or Rickie Weeks did when they were drafted, but there's still some solid talent available.

April 20, 2004

Premium Article Looking Ahead: Translating College Performance

by Boyd Nation

You know that insurance commercial where the guy sleepily mumbles that he's going to skip class before his roommate reminds him that college is over, and he's going to be late for work? Now, imagine that, instead of facing some mild-mannered office manager, your boss is a graduate of the Larry Bowa School of Ballpark Dialectics who's never actually held an indoor job. I'm not sure that you can classify minor league baseball as The Real World, but it's at least a paying job of sorts, and it's hard to imagine a tougher college-to-job transition than going from college athlete to minor league bus jockey without, say, taking a Wellesley grad and plunking her into the Peace Corps. In college, while nominally an adult, you have a coaching staff that knows that a behavioral meltdown by a player will negatively affect their job status. In the low minors, on the other hand, the coaching staff is charged with weeding out the players, especially those near the talent margins, who won't be able to handle the travel and celebrity scene if they advance. You go from living in a nice, structured dorm, usually with a bed check, to the standard short-season living arrangement--except for a few of the instant millionaires in the first dozen draft picks, that's eight guys, one house, one car, one XBox, and a lot of pizza. You go from four games a week, mostly on the weekends, to six games a week with extensive late-night bus travel between.

July 28, 2003

Premium Article Competitive Imbalance: How the College Game Can Offer Lessons to MLB

by Boyd Nation

The sky is falling! The Huns are at the gates! Dogs and cats have been eyeing each other lustily! There's a competitive imbalance problem, where 28 teams entered the season with no chance of finishing within 40 games of .500! OK, enough of that. The notion that Major League Baseball has a competitive imbalance problem has been so thoroughly discredited in these and other forums that I'm not going to waste too much time on it here, although some of the supporting data below touch on it tangentially. It's actually a worthwhile question to note that the extended playoffs might have pushed things to the point where MLB has a competitive balance problem, which in the NFL is known as the parody of parity. It's possible that it's currently too difficult for a well-run club to sustain prolonged excellence, not because of some silliness about market resources, but because the playoff marathon frequently randomly robs the best teams of chances at deserved high-revenue World Series shots. I think we're in the range where this is a matter of individual aesthetic choice, though, so we'll leave that discussion for after the incoming (duck) round of playoff expansion. In the meantime, I want to show you what actual competitive imbalance actually looks like on a large scale, identify some of the causes, and discuss just how big a problem competitive imbalance actually is. College baseball has a considerable amount of competitive imbalance. There are factors that have nothing to do with baseball that have a great effect on the quality of team that a school is likely to field, variables like weather (which, due to the early schedule, influence the amount and type of practice a team can get), enrollment, tuition, and how many games the football and basketball teams have won lately. With my External Factors Index, I've done some analysis on this stuff; you can create a single number which has a .82 correlation with results in my rating system (which only considers on-field results). It's certainly possible to overcome these factors--which Rice was nice enough to demonstrate by winning this year's College World Series--but the issues do exist.

June 20, 2003

College World Series: Stanford vs. Rice: A Viewer's Guide

by Boyd Nation

If you're following the College World Series for the first time, you've picked a really great year to do it. The format has changed this year so that the TV-inspired one-game crapshoot final of the past fifteen years has been replaced with a best-of-three round between the winners of the two half-brackets. Given that most college teams are built around the idea of winning a three-game series, this should show the teams at their best. On top of that, there have already been some great games this week, and the final comes down to two of the three best teams in the country, so I'm really excited about this weekend. So you can share that excitement, I want to give you a viewer's guide to this weekend's series.

June 17, 2003

Premium Article Rockies' #634: Park Factors and OBP

by Boyd Nation

Sometimes a big epiphany just leads you back to a better understanding of a mundane truth. Let me walk you through one of mine. A few months back, I finally hit upon a useful algorithm for determining reasonably accurate park factors for all 287 NCAA Division I baseball programs. Given that, in any given year, a given team will only play 25-30 of the other teams, and that over half of those matchups will not be home-and-home contracts but will involve a smaller program playing only at a larger one (which is of no benefit in determining park factors), I was quite pleased with this discovery. Current major league park factors, relatively speaking, are a little dull. Sure, you have Coors Field, which routinely comes in around 160. The rest of them, though, hover within about 20% of each other from top to bottom. It matters if you're picking at the fine details of performance analysis, but for a lot of fans it causes the issue to just resolve down to "the Rockies and everyone else." College park factors, on the other hand, have a good bit more range in them, from the lows down in the 60s up to New Mexico, at an astounding 211. In other words, a theoretical game played at New Mexico will produce more than twice as many runs as the same game played at a neutral park like Fresno State. I then set about finding practical applications for these park factors. The most common use for park factors is to take performance metrics, both team and individual, and place them in a neutral context. So I began thinking of ways to park-adjust statistics and look for players and teams who were actually better or worse than they appeared at face value. Suddenly, it occurred to me that the park factor for runs scored was not the same as the park factor for OBP, and that the relationship between the two was not linear; it was exponential. In other words, if the park factor for OBP increased from 130 to 140, that would result in a greater increase in runs scored than 100 to 110.

June 13, 2003

The Draft: A Closer Look at Some College Picks

by Boyd Nation

The odds are very good that you've read too many analyses of last week's draft already. The odds are also very good that you have no idea that Jamie D'Antona's OBP was .450 this year. I'd like to take a look at the season numbers for the Division I college players taken in the first two rounds last week, not as part of the questionable sport of prospect-watching, but as an exercise in learning how to interpret college numbers--putting them in context and separating the wheat from the chaff. For the last hundred years or so, the professional thinking on how to evaluate players at the high school or college level was that it was a purely observational task. There was no real understanding of what college numbers meant, so deciding how good a player was needed to be done purely by sending a scout down to watch him and record his observations in the few games he saw. There's still a lot of that in play, as the crowds of guys with clipboards and radar guns at any major conference game will attest, but major league clubs are starting to try to learn how to interpret college numbers and, as John Cougar once sang, "collate them all in their proper places." Given that the notion that minor league numbers might actually mean something if discounted properly is only about 20 years old in most corners, the fact that the same transformation is only now taking place in the college scouting ranks is not surprising. The scouts aren't going away, of course, and they shouldn't, but most organizations are trying to add another set of tools to their preparation techniques (and quite a few of them seem to be trying to go back to gather old data for analysis as well).

June 5, 2003

College World Series: Evaluating College (and Major League) Pitchers

by Boyd Nation

Boyd Nation serves up the second installment in his series on college baseball and the College World Series with a guide to evaluating college pitchers (aka why Mark Prior is better than Todd Pennington).

May 30, 2003

College World Series: A Guide to College Baseball

by Boyd Nation

I'm Boyd Nation, the chief cook and bottle-washer over at Boyd's World, a site devoted to rankings, analysis, and the occasional opinion about college baseball. I've been asked by the Baseball Prospectus editors to write a series of pieces on the college game in time for this year's College World Series. For the most part, I'm going to be trying to pull together analysis of the college game with, hopefully, some pointers on lessons that can be learned about the game in general. This week, though, I'm going to start off with an introduction to the college game, go to an admission of the two most common objections major league fans tend to have to the college game, and finish with an explanation of why there are reasons to love the college game both as a pastime in itself and as part of a broader context of baseball appreciation.

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