The Drew Henson Saga, of course, is more than that; it’s one of the most interesting stories in Prospectdom. He may not be six-year, $17 million interesting though, which is the contract the Yankees gave him to give up football. And now we’re off to the races with what is one of the most-debated topics of prospect analysis: Can plate discipline be taught? Can someone like Henson, who’s extremely strong, shorten his swing, get the bat around faster so he can make more contact? Can he learn to recognize the curve and hit it? And will that help him stop swinging at bad breaking pitches, draw some walks, and get better pitches to drive? Are humans inherently good or evil? I was the lone voice in favor of including Henson in BP’s Top 40 Prospects list, at least in the Honorable Mention section. The only thing that’s changed is that he’s had a repeat year, the highlight of which was that for a brief while we heard he was catching on and had a better approach at the plate. His defense at third is still bad. What kind of improvement would have been required for Henson to be adequate, or even considered a good prospect again?
Due in part to the popularity of Moneyball, Kevin Youkilis has become something of a cult hero. Dubbed “Euclis, The Greek God of Walks,” the Red Sox third-base prospect was made larger than life in Michael Lewis’ best-selling book. His propensity for drawing the base on balls led to on-base percentages usually reserved for Little League, and the fact that he was largely ignored by scouts simply added to his lore. In some circles, Youkilis is viewed as the poster child of statistical analysis, leading the fight against the old guard who were so unimpressed after his junior year at the University of Cincinnati that he went undrafted. However, as Dayn Perry penned last week, the opposing trains of thought on Youkilis are best served when they are brought together. Rather than focusing on what Kevin Youkilis may tell us about the state of evaluation techniques in baseball, let’s actually attempt to quantify what Youkilis is likely to become. After all, basing theories around the development patterns of a man who has yet to don a major league jersey is premature at best.
There’s something about baseball that makes you feel a part of it. Sure, I know football is more popular because it’s easy and it’s marketed well. The thing is, football requires no commitment and just becomes a big party you go to every week, if you’re really into it.
Baseball, on the other hand, requires a certain level of personal investment. “We” is a term I often hear-–and say–when watching baseball. Greg Rakestraw always gets on me when I do SportsDesk because I start saying “We just need to get rid of Antonio Alfonseca” or “Every time Prior’s on the mound, we win.” I yell at the screen, make calls to friends, and generally agonize over a team that I have little to no effect on.
But I’m convinced I have this personal power over the team. I’m sure that you think you have it at times. I sit on the couch in front of the big screen, WGN glaring green and the little box at the top left taunting me with a Cardinals lead. I yell at umpires, scream at players, plead with Dusty, and in the end, begin watching Black Hawk Down because I just can’t take it anymore. Naturally, my powers kick in after a while, and by not watching I help the Cubs make an amazing comeback–just the kind that makes me wish I’d seen it, but like Schroedinger’s cat, it’s dead when you look. I’m sure fans of every team know that psychic surety. Come on, Baseball–market that passion.
I promised a second part to the study in which I would analyze team bullpens in the same manner, and I spent a good chunk of Wednesday doing the research and preparing the data. I used Michael Wolverton’s Adjusted Runs Prevented, and separated team bullpens into current core relievers (five or six per team) and everyone else.
Now, even as I was doing the work I kind of thought ARP might not be the best tool for the job, because it’s not a pure rate stat. It is a value metric that has performance, context and playing time components, the latter two of which make it a poor analogue for Support-Neutral Winning Percentage. Nevertheless, I went ahead with the research because I thought using ARP would still be useful while being a much simpler calculation than Runs Responsible Average, the rate stat from which ARP is derived. (Calculating RRAs for the core relievers and the others is a manual task, and no small one.)
I was wrong. The playing-time effect dominates everything, so much so that using ARP in this manner only really tells you which teams are using pitchers who they haven’t used all season. It’s a worthless data set that clouds, rather than illuminates, the issue of which teams have the best bullpens right now.
The Diamondbacks’ Brandon Webb should be a lock for Roofie of the Year, and a contender for Cy Young. The Royals add Rondell White to their All-Boy Power Lineup. The Phillies have overcome Jose Mesa’s awful season. These and other news and notes out of Arizona, Kansas City, and Philadelphia in today’s edition of Prospectus Triple Play.