Cubs News and Notes: Baker, Castro, top prospect success rates, Schilling

Happy Friday! Some quick news and notes on Cubs related items…

  • Dave Cameron of Fangraphs lists his top 10 offseason moves and the Cubs signing of Scott Baker for one year at $6M comes in at #7.  While part of the appeal is the low financial risk, he likes the deal for a different reason than you might think.  I think if you ask most Cubs fans, they would guess that if Baker performs well, the front office will flip him for prospects. That makes a lot of sense in that the Cubs main goal is to pick up long term value. Interestingly, Cameron instead believes that a good performance will likely result in another contract with the Cubs.   This makes some sense to me too because Baker, despite being in is 30s fits the profile of the kind of pitcher this front office prefers.  If he signs a 2 or 3 year extension, the Cubs will potentially have a solid trio of Jeff Samardija, Edwin Jackson, and Scott Baker under control when this team is ready to contend. Those 3 by themselves won’t be enough, but it eases the burden of having to continually bring in free agents from the outside — something that is becoming increasingly expensive and inefficient to do.  If the Cubs can fill in one spot from within for the 5th spot, then perhaps it puts them one front line starter away from a playoff worthy rotation.  We also have to count Matt Garza as a potential part of that equation, whether it’s because he re-signs or the Cubs use him to acquire his long-term replacement.
  • The Cubs lineup doesn’t feature a lot of players right now who are among the best at their respective position but, according to MLB Network, Starlin Castro is one of them.  He will be featured in the show “Top 10 Right Now: Shortstops” tonight at 9pm CT.  Castro makes the list for the first time since appearing tenth on the list in 2011.  Te show is hosted by Brian Kenny, MLB Network determined its rankings of the top 10 shortstops using “The Shredder,” which uses statistical analysis to measure performance. In addition, renowned author Bill James and MLB Network analyst and former shortstop Larry Bowa both give their own personal lists of the top 10 shortstops in baseball.
  • We’ve been writing a lot about prospects of late, so reader “Denizen Kane” (gotta like the handle) passes along a great link for readers who are curious about the probability of top 100 prospects succeeding. It’s a 2011 article by Scott McKinney of Royals Review that analyzes the success rates of top 100 prospects based on their WAR from 1990-2003.  It is well organized with charts and graphs and gives you a good idea of how successful these top prospects turn out to be from a variety of perspectives.  The Cubs, predictably, were near the bottom as far as team success.  Thankfully, that is in the past.  Of more relevance to today’s Cubs is how often top 100 prospects succeed at the MLB level in general.  You’ll note there is significant drop-off in success rates after the top 20 and then really start to flatten out toward the bottom half of the list. It’s a little sobering when you consider that as of today’s rankings, the chances that Javier Baez, Albert Almora, and Jorge Soler all becoming “successful” or “superior” is actually pretty low.  Of course, this is just a snapshot of the rankings as they are right now. It will change significantly if they all move into that top 20, and there is plenty of time for that to happen as all are just starting their professional careers.  But even if they all reach the top 20 at some point, the chance that each of them individually will “succeed” is around 60%, meaning that the odds that all 3 will succeed is about 18%.   We do expect the Cubs to experience more success overall as they rebuild the farm system.  Still, even the top organizations had less than half of their top 100 prospects rated as successes over that time frame.  There’s lots of good stuff in here and I can’t possibly cover it all here.  Check it out and give us your own thoughts.
  • Curt Schilling has found his way to the spotlight again.  In an ESPN interview, Schilling talked about how former members of the Red Sox organization approached him about using PEDs to speed up his recovery.  The story in if of itself is unremarkable to me, as I’m sure this sort of thing happens in baseball and other sports much more often than what is publicized.  Meanwhile Schilling tells us a self-serving tale about his moral triumph over steroids.  But the part I really don’t like about all of this is that he didn’t seem to consider that is his cryptic comment that he was approached by  “members of the organization who were no longer there” would implicate a lot of people around baseball, including many members of the Cubs current organization, who worked at Boston at the time.  Jed Hoyer immediately and vehemently denied they were involved and since the initial interview, it’s been learned that it was a medical staffer. Schilling informed then Boston GM Theo Epstein who then reported to MLB as required.  So in the end, much ado about nothing…

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  • There is an awful lot of information in that link from Denizen Kane. I bookmarked it so I can revisit it later. It's kind of a sobering slap in the face, but maybe some years top 100 just have more talent at the top than others.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    It's a great piece. The trend is a bit sobering. A few things give me hope. One is that the trio takes it to the next level and increases their odds. Another is that those are trends over quite a few years, it's probable many teams had greater success rates in short bursts. A third is that this team will acquire more talent, which will give them more margin for error.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It's because of those kind of odds that I perfer we extend Garza as soon as we're comfortable that his elbow problem last year will not be recurring issue. One in the hand is better than two or three in the bush -- especially when those birdies in the bush are at the lower levels and Garza will still be in his prime in two years. No?

    Also, between Baez, Soler and Almora who would you say is our best can't-miss bet for stardom?

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    You always want to get as many prospects as you can but I agree that you also need those known quantities too. Not just with Garza but especially with cost controlled guys like Castro, Rizzo, Shark.

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    Thought exercise: If you are reasonably certain that Garza will be a 2.5 WAR or higher picther over , say, the next four years, what would be the appropriate return in a trade for prospects? You would need to receive 10 top 100 picthing prospects! Now let's handicap Garza with a 50% probability of injury or performance regression. That still means you would need to receive 5 top 100 pitching prospects to make it a "fair" trade. That doesn't take into account the economics, but still pretty crazy to consider. It makes the trade to acquire Garza look pretty good.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    That was the report I mentioned the other day, I'm glad someone looked it up. I found it interesting from a few perspectives. A) it only considers top 100 prospects. B) The relevant info for me was those who acheive a 2.5 WAR or higher (better than average). As SFToby notes, pretty sobering that only 22% of top 100 position prospects and 10% of top 100 pitching prosects ever acheive a "better than average" WAR. Really illustrates prospect uncertainty, and should give us all pause when considering or promoting trading proven talent for prospects.

    It would be interesting to see some regression analysis on all prospects (not just the top 100) and the probability of success based on player position and which round/pick the player was selected. But that would be a full time job.

  • In reply to Cubswin4harry:

    Good points.

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    In reply to SFToby:

    That's gold, Jerry! Gold!

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    If it wasn't pushed by Boston's FO, a steroid clinic, or another player then what was Schilling trying to get at??? He could have kept his mouth closed and delivered the same result. Said it yesterday, say it again, he just wanted to get in the headlines.

    More importantly. I don't usually watch MLBnetwork for team/player analysis for the some of the same reasons I don't watch ESPN anymore. Too much bias and "only big moves matter because it makes good news" mindsets.

    But I will say two shows I like are Clubhouse Confidential and Top 10 right now when Bill James, Kenney and former GM are on the show. James especially, delivers good analysis unlike Harold Reynolds, Larry Bowa, etc and their "I don't care what the numbers are, I played with this guy and he won MVP! that makes him the best DURR!"

    Im going to guess the shredder, James and Kenney will have him near the top(deservedly) and Bowa will say he shouldn't be because he went down to .280 and made alot of errors and bonehead mistakes. LOL do your homework Larry.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Great stuff Marcel!

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    haha completely agree on the Harold Reynolds/Larry Bowa analysis. I love Clubhouse Confidential.

  • John, maybe you've mentioned him in the past but in all the recent articles about prospects I don't recall any discussion of Hunter Cervenka. He's the guy we got from Boston for Marlon Byrd. I don't consider it authoritative, but I was just skimming current edition of Vine Line and it say Cervenka "may have the organization's best pure stuff from the left side" but "falls into ruts," hasn't been able to "put it all together," yet made strides at Peoria after acquired. What do you think of him? LOOGY?

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    I talked about him more during the minor league season in the recaps. 93-94 with tail and sink and a good slider. Probably a reliever.Talked to a scout wbo thoigjt he was a sleeper

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Falls into funks. Isnt this the kind of guy our new Minor League pitching co-ordinator should help?

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Possibly. Cervenka made some great strides last year already. It's just a matter of being consistent, not sure one way or the other if that's something that will involve Johnson.

  • Regarding Cameron's Fangraph's ranking of off season deals_ He's got the signing of Melky Cabrera listed at the 2nd best deal of the off season. Ask any Brave's fan if they agree.

    We'll see if Cameron's opinion holds true by the end of September.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I still think Melkys numbers were likley PED enhanced. Sort of like Brady Andersons sudden power surge in 1997. Im betting Melky becomes the 2009 Melky all over again.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    "Likely PED enhanced" is being kind.

  • I do not want to even entertain the thought that any of Soler, Baez, or Almora will not be successful. All three have high floors and ceilings. I understand that it is a process, but look at Castro. Starlin came up with much holes in his game, but talent trumped deficiencies. I like their chances.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    It's a measure of a broad trend so it's not something that accounts for talent on a case by case basis. There is always the possibility that the Cubs hit on something special wirh all three.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Also the possibility that the rankings are "wrong" and one or more of these players is actually a top 10 prospect, etc. Data is data, it can only really speak to the averages.

  • In reply to Cubswin4harry:

    True. There's a large subjective component here.

  • Curt Schilling can jump off a bridge. Asshole.

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    John. When healthy with a good defense, what is Scott Baker's ceiling? Could he be a fringe 2 or a great 3? I think a lot of us fans are dismissing how important that signing could be. If in the future Edwin Jackson is our fourth or fifth starter, the Cubs will definitely be in good shape.

  • In reply to Demarrer:

    I think he can be a good #3.

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    That's an interesting article (the top 100 prospect analysis), but I wonder what it would look like if you only used each player's top ranking. I suspect the bottom 60% will look much worse if you adjust the data in that way.

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    In reply to Kevin Heckman:

    Another interesting test: if higher ranked players are systematically more likely to be from AA and AAA, where success rates are much higher.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Another good point.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    This makes me want to look at projections of highest rank as of A ball for example. Maybe recompile separately based on rank per level or something, although it might make your data sets too small for decent predictions.

  • In reply to Kevin Heckman:

    Hmmm...interesting. Didn't think of that.

  • How can the Cub's still have 41 men on their roster.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Technically they don't. It's still 40. They haven't officially added Hairston yet.

  • Schilling is a total moron. He has said a number of completely idiotic things over the years. I never believe anything he says. One of the baseball networks has actually hired him as a commentator or he was trying out to be one. I don't remember which one, probably ESPN, but I couldn't belive anyone would fall for his act.

  • In reply to cubman:

    Not a fan either. Seems to crave attention.

  • The only thing that validates any one persons ranking of "prospects" is success at the major league level.

    Until then it is either informed on uninformed opionion.

    Hate to be the curmudgeon, but projecting future success of minor league players is, in my book, mostly an exercise in futility. I did it for years and was repreatedly amazed at how little linearity there is with unproven talent.

    I know we have to have something to do until the season starts, but I have retired from projecting that probability of success.

  • In reply to JK1969:

    Rankings primarily serve to organize information and generate discussion, but there is some correlation, especially at the top of those rankings. I agree that one shouldn't take the rankings too literally, but I disagree that they should just be dismissed.

    If nothing else, perception of prospect ability alone creates value -- and you can use that value in a number of ways, one of which is to acquire established MLB talent.

  • Looking forward to reading McKinney's study in more detail when I get home from work.
    He considers top prospects from 1990-2003. The Cubs had 28 top prospects during that period and 21% of them are classified as successful. That makes about 6 players. Curious who are the 6. Off top of my head: Kerry Wood, Zambrano, Prior, Glanville.....maybe Juan Cruz, Hinske, or Garland?

  • In reply to Rosemary:

    Those seem like good guesses. Maybe add Rick Wilkins?

    What I took out of the Scott McKinney article was that even very highly rated prospects during those years were likely to fail at the major league level. Consequently, it seems to gives one pause before trading proven major league talent for a bunch of unlikelys, even if they are highly rated unlikelys.

  • In reply to Rosemary:

    Definitely Wood, Z, and Prior..and Glanville had some nice years with Philly. It does get pretty foggy after that.

  • In reply to Rosemary:

    He sets a pretty low bar for success. Corey Patterson might be one.

  • John,

    Not dismissed, but taken with huge grain of salt.

    I have about 10 years of projections archived that led me to the conclusion that my time was better spent elsewhere.

    It's a free coutnry and folks will do what interests them most, but to me, it is primarliy an exercise in futility.

    I will wait til they are on the ML roster to get excited about their performance (or lack thereof), cuz, to me, that is where the rubber meets the road.

    All you young whipper snappers can take the bandwidth and fill in the space with ideas and prognstications.

    I gave up trying to be a GM long ago. It was all volunteer work and never led to much of anything but frustration.

    You know, this is the Cubs we are talking about :)

  • In reply to JK1969:

    Haha! It is indeed the Cubs we're talking about. The usual rules of probability do not apply.

    The whippersnapper line cracked me up :)

  • In reply to JK1969:

    JK, as much as I agree with you I am still wildly curious to look at your research. Is it an excercise in futility? Probably. But it is so much fun because of all the variables. Most players don't make it, but which one's do you think will? That is the fun of it. I wouldn't look at those ten years of diving into prospects as worthless either. From where I sit it has made you one of the most well informed sensible commenters on this site.

  • That top prospect success rate article was a great read. With position players having a better chance of being a success than pitchers, wouldn't a good strategy for an organization be to draft position players with their top picks and then use that surplus to trade for pitchers that have proven themselves in the higher minors?

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    I think, unless there is a standout pitcher, they should at least strongly consider drafting position players with their first pick. You can always use surplus to trade for pitching. I like what they did last year in terms of attacking pitching with volume, though. Bring in waves of good arms year after year and then hope you hit on a few.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed. Last year there really was no Strasburg-type guy and you can say the same for this draft as of today with emphasis on today. Sean Manaea could change that quickly depending on his season. Stanek as well. IMO Appel is already of AA level and is more of a sure thing.

    If I were the Cubs unless there's a Harper-level position player(Meadows maybe?) I'm going Appel or Manaea.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    One of the HS outfielders or maybe one of the top 2 catchers (more of a stretch) will have to break through. From what I understand, Meadows and Frazier would both rank below Almora right now, so they'll have to step up. Or it could be somebody we don't expect. I think of Austin Wilson as a sleeper. Great tools and size -- and if he hits for power, he could join that upper level.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It brings into focus what they had to face when they came to the Cubs. They were weak at pitching, the position it takes the most draft picks to find a serviceable major leaguer, and they were light on impact talent elsewhere, which could have helped them trade for pitching.

  • One thing the prospect article shows is that those rating the prospects did so with a degree of success, at least in the top 40. After that, 45 seems to roughly = 100 (=200? Who knows?).

  • Great article to help temper our expectations. I mentioned this in the Keith Law article about his Top 10 Cub prospects. Outside of Vizcaino, all of our Top Prospects will begin the year below AA Ball. That is light years away from making the parent club (forget about making an impact at the Major League LEvel).

    We will finally get a better feel for our system this year as most of these guys will finally get a full season. I am betting that there will be some disappointments and setbacks for many of these kids.

  • I wonder if it would be possible to determine how many prospects failed because of injury. My guess is that it would be extremely high in the case of pitchers, and not so high in the case of position players, but the numbers would be interesting.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    That's another good point. I suppose that's part of the risk but it'd be interesting to know how many didn't make it because of injury vs. those who were errors in the evaluation process

  • In reply to DaveP:

    Remember Ty Griffin? 2nd baseman, great college hitter, came into the Minors system, had to switch from metal to wood bats, and couldnt cut it. This is one of the kind of mistakes Theo/Jed were brought in to correct. Injuries happen(Prior/Wood) , but mistakes like Griffin, Grant Jackson and Mark Pawelek are inexcusable.

  • John,
    I finally got the chance to read the article linked. Absolutely fascinating! Thanks for linking it. It gives me even more perspective on the question I asked the other day about what portion of a team's top 30 ever make it to the big leagues. It clearly seems like teams are WAY overvaluing their prospects these days. Perhaps teams think there new projection techniques are far superior than they were 10 years ago, but no one really knows. I'm a big fan of the FO, but clearly a significant portion of their historical success in this area is linked to greater numbers of prospects signed by manipulating the draft system. The more lottery tickets you buy the better chance you have to win.
    One thing I think this FO really gets is that with the overvaluing that is taking place, prospects are major assets well before they reach the major leagues.
    Another area of analysis that would be really interesting to go along side this data is where the prospects that make the top 100 prospects were drafted. This would perhaps show closer to the real cost of giving up a first or second round pick to sign a free agent. (Although, as I already alluded to, it's not that the value of a prospect can be solely measured on whether or not they actually reach the big leagues.)

  • OK.

    Let me step back for a moment and state for the record that there is one thing that has repeatedly drawn me to hitters.

    Pitchers still flummox me and I have come to think of pitchers like fairies. Impossible, but beautiful creations that, in the end, will break your heart. For every one that makes it, the baseball landscape is littered with hundreds that either do not make it due to injury or inability to make the jump and stick at the big league level, make it and are medicore, mature late, or are relegated to the pen due to stamina or inability to harness their stuff, etc. I think you get the idea.

    Now, back to hitters, there is one attribute that I believe can be a strong marker to predicting success - the ability to control the strike zone, which we would typically look for in their walk to strikeout ratio.

    Scouts can talk about coachability, raw tools, making adjustments, going the other way, gap power, excellent instincts, athleticism and so on.

    However the one thing that cannot be taught is strike zone judgement. Yes orgns can make it a bedrock principle, and inculcate young talent on this point, but I believe that very few can adapt their skill set as a pro player to materially improve in this area.

    Yes, there are exceptions, but again I believe the game is just that hard and to expect systemic changes across an orgn of players is not an achievable goal.

    You have or you don't.

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    Bill James Top 10 SS right now

    1. Jose Reyes
    2. Derek Jeter
    3. Troy Tulowitski
    4.Elvus Andrus
    5.Jimmy Rollins
    6.Asdrubal Cabrera
    7. J.J Hardy
    8. Alcides Escobar
    9. Eric Aybar
    10. Starlin Castro

    Thoughts? I personally don't agree with a few of the guys ahead of Castro. If I was starting a franchise right now and had to pick a SS no way do I choose Aybar, Escobar, Cabrera, or Reyes.

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    In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Over Castro that is.

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    In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Not to mention the shredder(the one analyst with no personal bias) has Castro at 3....And Bowa has Desmond at 1(Castro at 6) "Because i've seen this kid play more than the other SSs and for that reason i'm telling ya he's the best!" LOL

    Couldn't have called it anymore

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Alcides Escobar is a stud in the field and not shabby/much improving at the plate. I'd rank him about even with Castro, except Starlin has and will have more power. I'd put Starlin 5 and Alcides 6.
    The others? Jeter has no range but is Mr. Intangibles. Reyes gets hurt every year. Tulo was hurt most of last year and is no spring chicken. Andrus is about right at 4, but I don't think he'll get much better than he is. Rollins is good one half-year, so-so the other half. Hardy has peaked. A. Cabrera is about right at 6. Aybar? Not my idea of a top 10 SS.
    At least the Cardinals have no one near top 10 at SS.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Doesn't sound like that's the purpose of James' list. He's listing shortstops for 2013 only, and Jose Reyes is definitely better than Castro right now. That said, I don't love this list for 2013 either. I'm seriously bullish on Starlin, and I'm taking him over Jeter, Rollins, Hardy and Aybar. The first two are old and due to decline, the latter aren't as talented as Castro, just more experienced. Starlin's going to lap them both this season on his way to a +4 WAR summer.

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    In reply to Eddie:

    I agree. Even if it was for 2013 only I still don't take Escobar, Rollins, Jeter, Reyes(mostly due to durability) and Aybar over Castro. Can make a case for Reyes if he can give you a full season, Tulo yes as well so IMO the Shredder was dead on. Had Tulo 1 Reyes 2 Castro 3.

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    In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    The likelihood of Tulo staying healthy for a full season is lower than a Top 100 pitching prospect making it. Three letters... first one is P, last one is D.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Would you say the same thing if they were all the same age? All 22? or all 36?

    I believe that James was looking at a one year horizon, 2013 only, not a career

  • The prospect article shows why Dusty Baker calls 'em "suspects" until they aren't.

  • One thing I'd like to see added to that top prospect success rate would be to have it all broken down by team, so you could see which organizations were better at developing their prospects.

  • Carrie Muskat ‏@CarrieMuskat
    Little tweak in #Cubs bunting tourney: someone from front office will get 64th spot. Theo and Jed will square off

  • it would be interesting to see them stats from 2001ish on during the "new era" of sabermetrics.

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