One thing I try to accomplish with this post is to tie in all the aspects of baseball; scouting, drafting, GM’s responsibilities, and Sabermetrics. No one can really tell if one of these skills plays off the other, but it is a good read nonetheless. One of the things that you have to take into consideration, with respect to drafting and scouting, is pitching.
Pitching is such a valuable commodity in the game of baseball that you have to monitor numerous variables constantly, to not only prepare your draft picks for the minors and the pros, but to not wear out your prospects in the mean time. Numerous studies have been done to carefully evaluate pitching talent. Whether it be pitch counts, 4-man rotations, day-to day throwing, long toss on off days etc… Moreover, once you have some how managed to protect your pitchers, is there a way to recognize the aging habits of pitchers, and can you determine how to maximize the optimum output. To do this, research beyond research has gone into this. One thing I think we can all agree on is that the 200 inning mark is becoming something very rare in the pros these days, and the days of seeing Jack Morris and Frank Tanana throwing 270 plus innings are done, and I’m pretty confident that we will not see that again.
What the baseball minds have come up with are things to save a pitchers arm, by keeping a watchful eye on pitch counts, and monitoring the number of innings that each pitcher in compiling. One interesting piece of research done on this topic, is what is called, “Pitcher Abuse Points”. Rany Jazayerli, made some very strong points in the article. The process of throwing a baseball is completely unnatural, and the more pitches a pitcher makes, the more strain and pressure is placed on the elbow and shoulder. No one knows which is worse, throwing 150 pitches one game or throwing 120 pitches in consecutive starts.
He created a system that systematically tries to pinpoint the pitch count range where a pitcher will start to self-destruct. The main idea of this system is a point system, with a point accumulating at certain intervals over the 100-pitch count.
Pitcher Abuse Points, or “PAP’s” for short – based on the number of pitches they throw in each start. It is not perfect, but it is a start. These points are cumulative: a 115-pitch outing gets you 20 PAP’s – 1 for each pitch from 101-110 (10 total), and 2 for each pitch from 111-115 (10 total). A 120-pitch outing is worth 30 PAP’s, while a 140-pitch outing is worth 100 PAP’s – more than 3 times as much. This seems fair; a pitcher does not get tired all at once, but fatigue sets on gradually, and with each pitch the danger of continuing to pitch grows.
Though the article was done almost 10 year ago, find below a list of the most abused pitchers, most abused young pitchers and least abused pitchers in a average start;
Most Abused Pitchers
Randy Johnson – 38.2 PAP
Roger Clemens – 36.2 PAP
Bartolo Colon – 34.0 PAP
Curt Schilling – 30.0 PAP
Most Abused Young Pitchers
Bartolo Colon – 34.0 PAP
Livan Hernandez – 24.4 PAP
Kerry Wood – 14.2 PAP
Jason Schmidt -12.1 PAP
Least Abused Pitchers
Doug Drabek – .18 PAP
Jeff Suppan – .73 PAP
Greg Maddux – .75 PAP
Kent Mercker – 1.09 PAP
With respect to these numbers, this will lead you into another topic. Since the majority of pitchers are on some sort of pitch count, the quicker he gets to that number, the quicker you get to the bullpen. The pitchers in the bullpen are usually considered less as effective than the starters on the team. They bullpen is made up of a variety of pitchers; middle relief, the set-up-man, and the closer. In an article on Baseball Prospectus called “How to run a Bullpen” by Derek Zumsteg, he examines the intricacies of running a bullpen properly. With data piled up from the past 28 years, there was a study done by Keith Woolner, which shows the average number of runs scored per inning. With a number of variables entered into his formula, you can get a picture of the average number of runs scored in an inning based on teams that score 3.5, 4.5, and 5.5 runs a game. Based in his study from data from the years of 1980-1998, 94.6% of all innings had less than three runs scored, 87.8% had less than two and 73% of all innings played had no runs scored.
With taking this data, we all know that a save situation is an appearance that a pitcher makes to protect a three run lead in the ninth. The save is a statistic for the appearance only. Would you not want your best reliever on the mound in the turning point of the game? The turning point of the game could be a bases loaded jam in the sixth. In 2008, the Texas Rangers scored 901 runs, which translates into.617 runs per inning. To put these numbers into perspective, Josh Rupe of the Texas Rangers; appeared in 46 games and racked up a record of 3-1 with a ERA of 5.14, gave up 51 earned runs in 89.3 innings in 2008, an average of .567 runs a inning. Theoretically, he could enter the game with a three-run lead and give up one run each time and rack up the saves.
Do you save your Mariano Rivera for a three-run lead in the ninth? On the other hand, do you put in Jonathan Papelbon to protect your three run lead in the bottom of the seventh, with runners on second and third? The stats do show that on average you could put nearly anyone on the mound in the ninth inning to protect a three-run lead.
Confusing…yes, but that leads me into another topic, which is “Can you identify talent through Sabermetrics”. Maybe it does, but maybe it identifies how a player would be if all the variables stayed primed for his whole career, and everything played out as “calculated”. Does the player have the heart and drive to be that superstar, or does he take everything for granted?
Anyone involved with drafting and evaluating talent, has to do just that, evaluate the talent. You cannot get caught up in the hype. You have to realize that the player that looks like the athlete that everyone is after might not be the best player for your team. Thirteen percent of first round draftees become the perennial all-star, while it is the guy drafted in round 4-6 that becomes the most productive.
Drafting and scouting reports show that preparation and organization is key. There is only so much time and you can only be at so many places that the finer points are what you should look for. For example batting practice is “not an indication of success” but shows all the abilities of a hitter that you might not see in one game, also batting practice allows you to watch the defensive skills of the players in the field. Communicating, “what you see” is a key for you and the organization, you are the one recommending this player and it is the organization spending their money.
The draft aspect shows how quick on your feet you have to be in the boardroom, which brings me back to the main point of being organized and having everyone work as a “team”. Being unorganized can lead to the wrong player being drafted entirely. Nevertheless, it all comes down to the written reports to the area scouts and anyone else involved. If your pick is taken two spots ahead of you, being calm and relying on your “team” is essential; having mock drafts is also a decent idea showcasing different scenarios. I personally think the job of a cross-checker is a great idea. It is another eye, another point of view, another review of a player that is recommended by a scout. Also the cross-checker, by only seeing the highly and more touted players recommended, gives the team an overall picture of the draft upto the tenth round or so.
Moneyball is a prime example of how a GM shows his responsibility in the Draft Room. The definition of a baseball GM is “an executive of a baseball organization responsible for selecting and signing players for a team”. Billy Beane had specific players that he wanted to draft and he was going to make sure that no one changed his mind during the process. You should go into the draft proceedings with a plan and that is exactly what he did. Everyone threw in their two cents but he had a vision and went for it. This is a team game, a business where success depends on building for the future. Beane was changing the way his team ran their organization and everyone had to be on board. Throughout the whole draft process, the organization of the proceedings was key. For example, disaster loomed when then New York Mets planed to take Nick Swisher, because Denard Span was supposed to be picked by the Colorado Rockies. Obviously, Beane was upset with the circumstances, but he had Paul Depodesta and Eric Kubota with other plans of attack.
With respect to the manager of a team, good managing can be defined as numerous things, knowing baseball, being a good teacher, the ability to get the best out of his players. Not only is he the manager of the team and a can get the best out of his players, but he is a great salesman, a great people person. A successful manager has to be straightforward with his players. He will tell his team “I am playing this guy against this pitcher for this reason, or you are being pinch hit for that reason”. Being honest is the best policy. It is best to tell the players the truth instead of sugar coating it. Being honest with them about mistakes you made as well is needed. A team mad at his manager will get him fired, that has been proven over time. A team willing to walk through a wall for their manager does not have to have the best players or most athletic, but they will find a way to win for a coach willing to lay it on the line, not worried about his job, just worried about winning and losing.
Most people thought Theo Epstein was crazy when he got rid of Nomar Garciaparra. It was time, and everyone knew it, at least in the front office of the Boston Red Sox. The main objective was, Nomar’s defense was declining, the injuries were taking its toll, and costing Boston’s ground ball heavy pitching staff to feel the effects. Nomar was making millions and the odds were, could only play 40 of the last 60 games. In addition, chemistry was also a factor in this decision. Was Boston willing to trade the face of “Red Sox” nation for a guy with a good glove and hoping he hit the way he did in ’03. As well, having Pokey Reese on defense was going to be a constant if they kept Nomar (not good). As it was said “Nomar was an asset yet a liability”. Orlando Cabrera was not the offensive force he used to be, but his fielding was the selling point.
As well look at the Oakland Athletics for example. The A’s had to replace Giambi, who did they get? Scott Hatteberg. No one thought he was capable of what he did, but you put him in the right environment he will succeed. They accentuated the positives and hid the negatives. Small Market teams have to figure this out all the time; the A’s had to do this with their pitching staff, with the departures of Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito.
Scouting, the human element and Sabermetrics should all co-exist in baseball and they are all complementing one another without knowing. The stats can assist the scouts pinpoint who they should key on. The success of that can obviously be overblown because a World Series championship is the pinnacle.
Some teams are still in the old-style of baseball, some teams are straight Sabermetrics, but others are combining the best of both worlds. The New York Yankees and Brian Cashman jumped on the OBP bandwagon, but can get away with having Xavier Nady in the line-up, because if things go wrong, they will spend the necessary funds to get someone else. Oakland does not have that luxury and has to make do with what they have. Nevertheless, Boston, with no ill-will, had the ability to get the guy who has a .390 OPB but costs $65 million.
Seth Livingstone of USA Today writes “Under general manager Theo Epstein, who assumed the role in 2002, the Red Sox have added key components. His most productive trade brought pitcher Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell from the Florida Marlins, even though it cost several prospects, including budding superstar shortstop Hanley Ramirez. But the hallmark of the Red Sox’s recent success has been their ability to draft and develop talented players. Young pitchers Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have already pitched no-hitters, Papelbon has become one of the game’s best closers, and first baseman Kevin Youkilis, second baseman Dustin Pedroia and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury help form the nucleus of the everyday lineup. “We can’t simply develop major league players,” Epstein says. “We challenge our staff to develop major league players who are ready to step into this environment, in Boston, in the middle of a pennant race. That’s the only way they can be useful to us.”
Epstein and his staff pore over statistical information before making decisions and seek opinions from one another at all levels of player selection and development. While Epstein and assistant GM Jed Hoyer constantly exchange thoughts with vice presidents Ben Cherington (player personnel), Craig Shipley (scouting) and assistant to the GM Allard Baird, they also reap the benefits of sabermetric guru Bill James on staff. James was hired by Henry in 2003.
The Red Sox have developed an instructional manual with guidelines for consistency throughout the organization. It covers everything from how uniforms should be worn to controlling the strike zone from both a hitter’s and pitcher’s perspective. The development process continues throughout the offseason with instructional programs, including a two-week finishing school at Fenway for players deemed to be within 18 months of making it to the big leagues. “It’s part of an expanded offseason effort to track and nurture our minor league players,” Cherington says. “The two-week program in January is an opportunity for us to work on physical fundamentals and mental goals. It’s an opportunity to introduce them to the city, the ballpark and faces around the ballpark they might come into contact with.”
Theo Epstein, has the cash and the supporting cast to pull it off. Number crunching has given teams the ability to get the most out of your players even if they are not the superstars they once were. Look at Pedro Martinez. This method gave Boston the ability to see that once Pedro hit the seventh inning or 100 pitches (4th time around the order) he became a mere-shell of his CY Young caliber pitching self. This gives his team the edge. They know when he will get tired; they know when to get the pen ready; it makes life and managing a little easier.
In addition, on the flip side it would give teams facing Pedro, to become more knowledgeable against him. Knowing these stats lets the batters know that if they take a couple more pitches an at bat, foul off a couple waste pitches, will jack up the pitch count, and thus Boston will have to go to the bullpen earlier then usual and the opposing team has a better chance of winning the game.
Traditional scouting gives you in-depth details and evaluation for players in the upcoming draft in college or high school. The Red Sox traditionally draft college players but will go and sign the “high ceiling prep” player if they have to. That gives your team the ability to consistently upgrade and rebuild your minor league system while your team is always informing the people in the front office who they should sign and who they should trade. Sure Nomar was the face of Red Sox nation and trading him for Cabrera didn’t seem like the right move at the time, but having a highly skilled front office with “old-school” guys that think defense wins games. Combine that with a team that will tell you that Cabrera will cost your team one run at bat but will make up 2 runs for that on defense, is a luxury to have.
The future of baseball of baseball is here, but having a high payroll does not hurt. Going against traditional wisdom will tell you that the “law of averages” will kick in. Boston and New York have all the resources to win and they took full advantage of it, but if other teams had the same luxury, could they do the same?
Devon Teeple is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network which includes the Biz of Baseball, the Biz of Football, the Biz of Basketball and the Biz of Hockey. He is also a intern with the Football Outsiders and collaborator with the Plymouth River Eels. Devon is available as a freelance writer and be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com