Mike Ferrin talks with Brian Cartwright in this special edition of Baseball Prospectus Radio. Click to download the mp3.
Mike Ferrin: It’s our weekly chat on “On Deck” with Brian Cartwright from Baseball Prospectus, and I’d like to be able to chat with him a little bit about our prospects, and I know Brian, you’ve done a lot of research on on trying to, I guess, find a way to evaluate what a player’s minor league numbers will do in in the major leagues. It’s not easy! I know that nobody’s had a whole ton of success with it to this point. But what are some of the key things that you look for when you’re trying to evaluate a minor league player and whether or not they’re gonna have success at the major league level?
Brian Cartwright: Well, basically the process I don’t think is that complicated but you’re looking at all the players who have, say gone before and have been in the same situations. So, you know, you have a big bucket of players who have been, you know, with this minor league team and then have also later played in the major leagues and seen how have their statistics have changed from one situation to another. And then you try to apply those same changes to the guys who are in the minor leagues now. And that should give you a pretty good picture of where they are going to be when they get to the majors. Now the biggest difference is going to be in the pitching and the walks for the batters. The walks are going to go down, the strikeouts are going to go up so there are fewer balls put in play and the fielding is generally a little bit better, so on those balls put in play, fewer of them are going to be hits.
MF: Alright well let’s talk, instead of in generalities, let’s talk in specifics about a guy who has really captivated a lot of fans and specifically Pirates fans. Andrew McCutchen. Their center fielder gets the path cleared by them trading an All-Star in Nate McLouth. Is McCutchen as good as he’s been over the last two weeks, or are we just seeing him hit a hot stretch right now?
BC: Well, I do think he is on a little bit of a hot stretch. He has been a pretty consistent performer since he was drafted out of high school four years ago, and at each step of the minor leagues when I have projected what he would be in the majors, it’s been pretty much, I’ll say a .280/.290 hitter. A fair amount of walks, not too many home runs. And, overall, he’s a pretty much average hitter for a center, major league center fielder. But also though what he brings to his game is the defense and the speed. It does look like he is going to be one of the best-fielding center fielders in range and has a pretty good arm and he’s already got 13 triples this year.
MF: (laughs) But you’re starting to hear Pirates fans already compare him to Roberto Clemente. They might be uh getting out over their skis a little bit on that, right?
BC: Eh, yeah, I think so. It’s, you know, and the Pirates are trying to rebuild their farm system and they had drafted McCutchen in 2005, and Neil Walker was also drafted outta high school, and these two guys were held up as, you know, gonna be the saviors of the Pirates’ franchise. And Neil Walker has pretty much stalled out at Triple-A and I really have any doubts whether he’s gonna see any serious playing time with the Pirates. But, you know, McCutchen like I said has been a pretty steady performer and but there’s been the high expectations, and when he finally got up here, yes, he started hitting out of the box. But, you know, over the past weekend he had a couple hitless games and slowed down, but I do think he is going to keep the job. He is going to be a solid performer. But it’s the… like I said, the speed and the defense that will make him an above-average major leaguer.
MF: Talking to Brian Cartwright from Baseball Prospectus doing a little analysis of some prospects. You know, at the same time McCutchen came up, there was a guy who was far more hyped that came to the major league level in Matt Wieters. Now, Wieters hasn’t had that same level of success that McCutchen had, so should Orioles fans be wringing their hands at this point, or do you still see Wieters as a guy who projects into a multiple-time All-Star?
BC: Oh no, no. I think he’s the All-Star. It’s the Pirate fans who should be wringing their hands about not drafting him a couple years ago.
BC: But, even when I looked at Wieters’ college statistics, which are a little more iffy on translating because there’s a lot of differences in quality from one conference to another… but college, he looked like a .270 hitter with walks and with power. And then he spent his first year in the minor leagues last year and hit .345 in A-ball and .365 in Double-A with a lot of power. Now that raised some expectations, and some projections that were based only on the minor leagues and had that single season were way up there which, you know, hopefully wasn’t, you know, gonna have too high of expectations. Then this year, he went to Norfolk in the International League which is like the toughest pitcher’s park in all of Triple-A and he still hit .305. And he still drew some walks and the power was down, a little bit. And then once he came up to the Orioles, and yeah it’s a slow start, but it’s twenty games.
MF: Right, but…
BC: And, so, you know… He’s crawling back up there. And he only had a couple walks his first few games, and now that’s coming around. So it’s, you know, be wary of the small sample size and just let the guy play and give him some time. And I can very confidently say, I think Wieters will be… hit .290, .300, maybe .310 in a good year, you know. Probably 25 homers, draw 80 walks.
BC: And I think he will be one of the top five, at least, offensive catchers in the major leagues.
MF: One of the things that we see though with Wieters and just looking, you know, I have the benefit of having his splits in front of me and you may not, and that is he has hit 100 points better for for average at home and he’s and he’s piled on more than 300 points of OPS at that point. And and you look at that, compared that to what he has done on the road which has been… and he’s struggled like a rookie. I mean, quite frankly, he’s struggled like a rookie. So how much of that is Matt Wieters getting adjusted, and how much of it is played in the fact that he plays in an excellent hitter’s park in in Baltimore?
BC: Well, and I think some of that might be small sample size too. But yes, there is going to be an adjustment period. And even though he did so great out of the box against the minor league pitching last year, yeah, the major league pitchers are going to be much better at getting you to chase the borderline pitches and… you know… and… but yeah, yeah, I think he’s going to be OK. I don’t know there’s that much of a difference right now between the home and the road that you can read into the stats because it is so few of games, so it’s quite likely that it’s coincidence but you know he could be more comfortable at home to playing in front of, you know, the home crowd.
MF: We’re with a Brian Cartwright from Baseball Prospectus for a couple more minutes here. And I, like you, love the sample-size argument because, I mean, it plays out. Baseball’s one of those great things where where water’s gonna end up seeking out its its own level at some point in the game. And one of the things I’ve watched over the last couple weeks, and I’d love to get your take on this, is the talk about Homer Bailey with the Reds. Just gets called up again. Got a win in his last start although he didn’t pitch great. And there’s been plenty of talk about whether or not he has what it takes to be a successful major league pitcher, despite what scouts will tell you is incredible stuff and a pretty good minor league track record now. Yet people are writing him off despite the fact that he’s played, pitched half as many innings at the major league level as Luke Hochevar, who was four years older when he was drafed, who has struggled for the most part in his major league career. And yet, yet, Bailey is seen as a guy who has the potential to be a Four-A player whereas Hochevar is still considered a mid-rotation starter in the major leagues. So why is it that people are not willing to give Homer Bailey an opportunity to fail?
BC: Well, I do think and that and maybe moreso for pitchers, yes, I do believe that there is an adjustment period. And, you know, maybe you get nerves or something here some. I’m a I’m looking at Bailey’s numbers, and he’s got, you know, pretty good control in the minor leagues. Even this year in the minors, you know, he’s got a lot more strikeouts than than walks. And then you look at his major league record and nineteen starts isn’t a terribly small sample, it’s a half a season of major league play spread over three years. But it’s fifty-eight walks and fifty-one strikouts. So, you’re thinking, you know, something, maybe, isn’t going right. He needs to relax or or you know, you get your management might be putting pressure on. And some managers are willing to put a rookie out there and let them go, and there’s other guys who well, if you don’t, you know, hit after three games, or you know, you have one or two bad starts, you’re back to the bullpen or back to the minors.
MF: Brian, really quick, I want to ask you about something else that that you wrote about talking about being concerned with a player’s age as to determining whether or not it’s a breakout season or an outlier. And you said that twenty-nine is a pretty good age to determine whether or not a player that’s older than that is is really improving or as to whether or not one who is younger than that can recover from a bad season. Look at a guy like Scott Richmond with the Jays who’s kinda come out of nowhere but is twenty-nine, who’s right on the cusp. What do you see as the future for a guy like that, an organizational soldier, so to speak, who’s kind of found a niche as a back-of-the-rotation starter. Is is he a guy that can continue to to do this, or is he a guy that probably falls back to the pack?
BC: Well, the the twenty-nine cutoff that I mention in the article just fits in real well, with just your general aging patterns. And it’s players might age differently on different components of the game. For example, speed probably peaks around age twenty or twenty one. And from then on, guys are hitting fewer triples, fewer stolen bases, taking extra bases. But where, you know, power gets in to twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty, and strike-zone judgment may be a little later. It’s just that, you know, if you’re a younger player and still on your upswing, then you know, if you’ve got a good year, then it’s a better chance that it’s true. And if it’s a bad year, you know, you probably get it, but, you know, when you’re on that general downward trend, that’s still, you know, the trend that you are following on. So one season isn’t really that big, sometimes you need two or three seasons to really get a look at it. You know, but there’s some guys who can defy that, and if I look at Richmond, he’s done a pretty good job so far with the Jays. And uh… you know, I don’t see any reason that he can’t be, oh, maybe an average major league pitcher. You know, the minor league numbers are ok and the major league, so far in, you know, about one-hundred innings are a little better than average but he’s probably good. I would expect a regress back to basically about an average pitcher.
MF: It’s Brian Cartwright from Baseball Prospectus. You can read his fine work at BaseballProspectus.com. Brian, thanks.
Mike speaks with Brian in this edition of BP Radio:
Click to download mp3