“Panic move”

If you’ll pardon the big graphic spread, the following is a simple bar graph showing the career WAR for every #25, #26, and #27 pick taken in the MLB amateur draft to date, sorted best (Alan Trammel, 70.3) to worst (Jeff Liefer, -.2.8); although you could make an argument that the giant list of NULL values tacked on after Liefer are “worse” than him considering that they never made it to the Majors to record a career WAR at all.

Note that only 24 of the 147 players listed here (I intentionally expanded the list to include #25s and #27s in order to have a better sample size) break the magic “3.5 WAR” that Dan Szymborski(*) says is “the pre-free-agency value for the typical 26th pick.”

25-27th Picks by Career WAR

What Dan wants to claim is that the aggregate value of the #26 pick is roughly 3.5 WAR. (We will bite our tongue and not take up the snake-eating-its-tail-logic wherein Syzm generates that 3.5 WAR number by aggregate not merely actual WAR a of Major League players, but also adding in the WAR that players who were not “properly” advanced by their teams would have contributed based on their Minor League Equivalencies, had they actually been in the Majors instead.) But that’s not the case. This is one of those times where “statistics” is properly listed as the third portion of “lies” and “damned lies.” Only one player on the list actually generated 3.5 WAR for his career; Sergio Santos. The rest either generated far more, or far less. This is one of those times where aggregate reductionism just breaks rational thinking altogether.

The #26 pick in the MLB draft is not “worth” 3.5 WAR. It’s worth a 16% chance of getting a guy that might generate or exceed 3.5 WAR. It’s worth a 15% chance of getting a guy that comes in between 0.1 and 3.2 WAR. And it’s worth a 69% chance of getting a guy that either contributes zero or less than zero WAR to your ML club. Rational GM’s would trade a 70/30 split on “nothing” for one year of Ervin Santana and a competitive rotation in the Bigs, every single time. That’s not a “panic move.” That’s thinking clearly about the purpose of running a Major League Baseball team — winning Major League baseball games.

(While we’re here, we might as well note that taking that absolutely made up out of thin air 3.5 WAR and then multiplying it back by the “cost per win” on the free agent market manages to shove the snakes tail back down it’s throat a second loop. But again, even if we accept this absurd loop-de-loop logic on its face and take Szym’s calculations as a given, the +/- $20 million “extra dollars” the Braves are “paying” for Santana is itself so much misdirection and smoke. The number is presented as if it’s rational to add that extra 20m back onto the 14 mil of the actual contract, thus making Ervin Santana “a de facto $33.7 million” one-year contract. The big gotcha there is supposed to be something like “ERMAHGAH, $33.7 mil for one year of Ervin Santana!!!” in comparison to the Braves limited 100 mil per year payroll. This, of course, fails to account for the fact that even if we assume a very fast track for the magic draft pick — say 2 years in the minor leagues — his 3.5 WAR won’t accrue until something like 2022. That’s 8 years. Over that time, the Braves will have invested $800 million or more in player payrolls, which significantly downgrades the BOOM from “losing” that made up from the ether $20 mil.)

(*)For the sake of disclosure, Dan and I were friends for many, many years, and I still consider him as such, though I’m pretty sure he’s ignored me for a year or so over at the Factory. Such is the way of the world.)

88 thoughts on ““Panic move””

  1. It’s worth mentioning that one thing that Dan apparently accounted for in his model is the chance that IF a prospect makes the majors and performs well, THEN the team will sign him to a team-friendly below-market contract. Obviously, judging by the $100 million difference between McCann’s first long-term contract and Freddie Freeman’s first long-term contract, these team-friendly contracts have been getting a lot more expensive, and presumably a lot less team-friendly. But that’s yet another reason that Dan’s $20 million number is so high. If you draft Evan Longoria and then get his first decade for about $50 million, you get an almost unimaginable quantity of surplus value.

  2. That graph is great.

    I still scanned it, saw Robert Stephenson in there, momentarily salivated a bit, but then remembered the whole point and came to my senses :)

  3. Man. You could probably build a model where you treat Potential Future Wins as a sort of time-valued option on top of the intrinsic value of the player. That would be a really hard model to write in a short period of time. But I’m thinking about it at least.

  4. But seriously, could this rationale lead you into a direction that valuing any specific pick is unnecessary considering the volatility of every particular pick?

  5. #5
    Dion had a freaky year, Murph had his last huge season, but that was a bad club. The Braves, at that time, were smack in the middle of the Andres Thomas Era.

    The best thing that happened for the Braves in 1987 was the Doyle Alexander trade.

  6. I don’t think it would lead you to saying that valuing any specific pick is unnecessary, but I do think the current methodology the stat community uses to establish the “value” of any given pick is fundamentally flawed. I’m nerding out on this a little more tonight, now that I’ve replenished the beer stash…

  7. Hey, Alex? Just curious, how badly do you want to jinx us and have that pick turn out to be a hall-of-famer? Notoriously superstitious Mac would not have been pleased right now.

    (Seriously, though, great post)

  8. Claiming Ervin’s signing as a panic move is simply arguing for the sake of arguing.

    I love roger but should we seriously look at our pitching program to see if there is anything wrong? Are we way above average in terms of TJ casualties in recent years?

  9. Recent years would make for a small sample, but it would behoove the Braves to figure this shit out before other teams do.

  10. Right, even if the Royals pick a future star, doesn’t mean the Braves would have had they kept that pick; the Braves probably would have just drafted a Georgia high school pitcher.

  11. We also took Lucas Sims with the #21 pick. There are tons of variables at play here, including the depth of the draft, other teams’ strategies and needs ahead of us, and what the Braves think they need internally as an organization. Granted, if there’s a big armed high school pitcher, a polished college pitcher, or a catcher, they’re likely to take him, because that’s what they draft and develop well.

  12. If there’s not a lot of pushback, I’m probably going to edit some of the paragraphs above for clarity and concision. I banged this out pretty fast and I think I can make some of the points clearer. I may add another graph at the bottom. If there is pushback, I will leave it “as is.”

  13. Up to you Sam. Just want to say I like this piece a lot, especially the lie and damned lie part about the usage of stats for this case.

  14. Updated list (original here) of how many major league pitchers per team have needed elbow ligament surgery since 2007 (should it turn out that Beachy needs a second surgery):

    0 – none
    1 – TBR
    2 – COL, LAA, MIL, PIT
    3 – CHW, CIN, MIA, MIN, NYY, WAS
    6 – KCR, LAD, TOR
    7 – none
    8 – OAK
    9 – none
    10 – none
    11 – ATL

  15. The last time we picked around there, we took Gilmartin.

    Having said that, having a Gilmartin around here would be a very handy thing just now.

  16. Don’t forget David Hale. He will actually turn into something. He is actually more dependable than Gilmartin right now.

  17. Nice work, Sam. I choose to ignore the old saw about lies and simply remind everyone of a somewhat older piece of wisdom: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” What you’ve demonstrated is that “A major league pitcher in hand is worth about 5 pretty good bush leaguers.”

  18. Another thing that occurs to me is that the HOF caliber players like Trammel and Vida Blue are probably skewing the top of this graph even more than we are accounting for. The “value” of a draft pick can only extend through the first six years of his ML career. So I think a true accounting of the player values here, in the context of the *draft pick*, probably has to be “the total WAR accumulated within their first six years of playing time.”

    A quick scan of that reduces Alan Trammel’s WAR from 70+ to 21. Vida Blue drops from 45 to 13. Chuck Knoblauch, who was fantastic from his 22 year old debut (as a Twin in 1991, grumble grumble Kent Hrbek must die grumble) vaults ahead of both of them with 31 WAR in his first six ML seasons.

    On the other side of the equation, a player like Rico Brogna improves with this method, going from -1.1 to 1.0 WAR. A marginal talent like Brogna benefits from dropping his hanging-on-while-sucking-ass decline phase from the calculus.

    I may go through and update the graph with 6-year WAR at some point. If so, that would be a new post, not an update here.

  19. Is the point of the article that averages are not useful with highly skewed distributions?

  20. Sansho, does your counts of TJs by franchise account for Beachy and Medlen’s second (likely) surgeries? Or will the Braves kick up to 13 if/when those happen?

  21. How easy is it to make a list of pitcher arm injuries by franchise as well?

    Because if the Braves are outliers there as well… it just seems like non-TJ arm injuries should count for something in this inquiry.

  22. @20

    Wow, that is very telling. I am confident that we the Braves are aware of this reality, and are wondering how this has happened. We seem to be good at solving problems, and I’m sure that with the increase the past 2 seasons that we’re going to find out what in our approach is causing this.

    However, that freaking sucks in the interim.

  23. Santana put up a almost 3 WAR season last year (and has done so several times). The chances of us drafting someone better than him are really low. The chances of us drafting someone better than him that will pitch for the MLB team in 2014 are ZERO.

  24. I seem to recall Venters teaching many players his sinker and those pitchers finding success with it. If the pitch is that good, it can’t be good on the elbow. Id be interested in knowing how many of our pitchers use that pitch and it’s relevance to our TJ sufferers.

  25. I think it’s more due to our throwing program than a certain type of pitch, but the trend is very alarming.

    Don’t forget about Hanson either. He’s never had TJ but he’s got some arm issue with his loss of velocity.

  26. @39. I agree. Besides, Medlen and Beachy are not sinkerball pitchers and are not big with sliders. Neither of them is particularly hard throwing….one can argue that Medlen MAY be better suit to move back to the bullpen afterall as he is not built to handle 200 innings year after year, but Beachy’s case really bothers me.

  27. The sinker is generally taught to guys who have lost velocity on their 4-seamer, sometimes because of injury.

  28. I can’t think of a good explanation for the rash of surgeries outside the throwing program. The Braves’ injury bug seems to target relief and starting pitchers equally and it doesn’t seem to target a particular body type (Beachy is 6’3″, Medlen is 5’10”). Throwing speed/ repertoire also doesn’t seem to matter too much. Even the number of innings and pitch count doesn’t seem to make a huge difference.

    Mazzone was reported to have a tough pre-season regimen and it seemed to be successful. Even though Glavine and Maddux could have probably gotten ready by tossing underhanded, I don’t remember an inordinate number of TJ surgeries under Mazzone – it may just be selecitve memory. I would like to see how Braves pitchers fared under Mazzone compared to post Mazzone.

  29. Looking at the list, there were a lot of Mazzone era TJ injuries. It is hard to believe that 2014 will be McDowell’s 9th with the Braves.

  30. @44

    It should be noted that I purposely began the study one year after McDowell became pitching coach, so as to eliminate as best I could any effects from the Mazzone era. That said, any throwing program traditions brought forward from Mazzone’s tenure would certainly have to be considered as a possible contributing factor.

  31. Nice post, Sam. Fundamentally, if you believe Szymborski’s logic, then a team should almost never sign a free agent. I understand that the current system does place penalties on signing free agents, yet also note that teams with key free agent signings keep winning World Series titles.

    Certainty carries a price tag in any field, and hence teams will still pay for players with experience and an established track record.

  32. Braves @ Yankees on mlb.tv right now. BJ singles off Tanaka. McCann in the Yankees lineup. Teheran on for the Braves.

  33. Ouch. Looks like Doumit just got hurt by a pitch on the right hand. He’s out of the game.

  34. Dangit, should have driven up to Tampa for the game today. Bad on me.

    Do you guys know how to find out which players travel where for split squads, or is it pretty much determined the day of? I see DOB tweets who travels on the day of the game, but I’m hoping to know for Friday’s game against the O’s.

    Spring Training in Florida. Gotta love it.

  35. Freeman says he just came out for precautionary reasons and should be fine after a few days.

  36. Ryan C: the Incan gods will punish you for misspelling Atahualpa. And the Cosa Nostra will chop off your hands for misspelling Severino. That said, he was not impressive.

  37. Puig just made a heck of a throw from the centerfield right into the chest of the catcher. I know he’s a headcase, but that was an incredible throw. Also got a chance to see the new replay rules in effect as the umps missed the phantom tag, the rockies challenged and won.

  38. Well looks like we are dropping like flies now .. maybe one of those years … oh well .. take me out to the ballgame !!

  39. It seems to me no one really knows how to prevent TJ injuries. IF they did, everyone would avoid them. It’s possible the Braves staff could be doing something wrong but it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have figured it out. I think it’s mostly bad luck; there are always going to be outliers, right? In this case, it just happens to be the Braves. In relative terms, the Braves have had a lot more TJ surgeries than other teams, but in absolute terms, it’s not that many more. My layman’s guess is that it’s just a statistical anomaly rather than something the Braves are doing. Maybe they are just drafting guys who are susceptible to these types of injuries.

  40. What year was it that the Yankees were having a bunch of injuries, and fired their conditioning coach during the season?

  41. Lot of action over at the bravesjournal fantasy league draft:

    One of the returning managers used up a keeper pick on Hunter Pence.

    Someone reached on Heyward even before I got a chance to reach for him.

    I have four pitchers and zero position players so far.

  42. faster team?

    Billy Hamilton, Jose Altuve, and Starling Marte


    Leonys Martin, Desmond Jennings, Everth Cabrera, and Daniel Murphy

  43. Round 22: Dope Boy Fresh, Dan Uggla hisself.
    Round 23: Tommy La Stella, the Hair o’Parent

    It’s good to be the king.

  44. @ 63
    If it makes you feel any better, I failed to protect Mike Trout because I was late realizing we were doing the keeper thing this year.

  45. In a final fantasy baseball update:

    -I’ve already completed one trade, pending league approval. Banking on Prince Plantar Fascitis making a comeback.

    -And Ryan is dastardly. He’s hoarding closers and Jason Heyward and he’s holding them all for a king’s ransom.

  46. I didn’t get any emails! Shared calendar entries, text message, nothing! And now I had to dump Kris Medlen for David Hale. David Hale!

  47. Is there a public page where non-owners can follow the fantasy league shenanigans? It might provide good material for slow news weeks…

  48. I swear, Ryan hoards closers every year. I’m basically punting the save stat this year with only one closer.

  49. @78
    I do hoard closers every year. It’s a preference. And if I recall correctly (of which I do), I finished 5th and did make the playoffs. And my rankings since beginning to hoard closers: 3rd, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 7th, 5th.

    Suck on that! :)

  50. 14 managers, my roster…
    Position Players: Lucroy, Gattis, Profar, Boaegarts, Heyward, C. Gomez, Puig, Teixeira, Nava, Brad Miller

    Starting Pitchers: CJ Wilson, Tyson Ross, Josh Johnson, Bartolo Colon, Kyle Lohse, Erik Johnson, Alexi Ogando, Wade Miley

    Closers: Joe Nathan, Kenley Jansen, Jim Johnson, Bobby Parnell, Papelboner.

    I’ll take my roster and be done with ye ne’er do well.

  51. Stealing from MLBTR: One of the game’s top southpaws has changed representation. Braves lefty Mike Minor has joined Jet Sports Management, MLBTR has learned. Minor was previously with Bo McKinnis. Jet Sports has strong Braves ties, representing Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, and Jonny Venters.

    B.B. Abbott…sounds good to me.

  52. Last year I punted on saves and damn near won the league. Guess I’m trying something different this year since auto draft gave me Kimbrel and Chapman. Also seven outfielders.

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