Two Roads Diverged: Jay Canizaro and Mike Cameron

I think if I were a Macintosh user, I’d be pretty offended by Apple’s current ad campaign that has people who can’t figure out how to use a computer giving testimony about why they switched to Macintosh. Maybe it’s me, but I have a hard time getting excited about a product that tries to appeal to my inner idiot. Then again, Carl’s Jr. is one of my favorite fast food places and their ads ask me to identify with slobs who chew with their mouths open and spill things all over themselves, so maybe there’s method to the madness.


I always like looking at stats to try and evaluate young players. I also like poking holes in the theory that numbers are all that matter. They do matter, no question; but they’re not, in and of themselves, the answer to anything meaningful. Here’s an interesting example of the dangers of relying solely on statistical gauges as a means of predicting future greatness in prospects. The following two players spent the 1995 season in Double-A:

JC  21  2B 440 293 379 464  44 58  98
MC  22  CF 350 249 355 429  36 54 104

John Sickels gave JC a grade of B, and MC a grade of C+. For kicks, here is what they did the previous season, at High-A ball:

JC 464 252 324 392  33 46  98
MC 468 248 343 391  38 60 101

Okay, so here they look to be a little closer in terms of performance. But JC is still a year younger at the same level. Also, it may be helpful to note that JC was taken in the fourth round of the 1993 draft, out of college, while MC was taken in the 18th round in 1990, out of high school.

Who is the better prospect: The 22-year-old center fielder who has hit .243/.330/.361 in 1566 minor-league at-bats, or the 21-year-old second baseman who has hit .270/.349/.428 over 1084 at-bats? Seems to be the latter.

If you’ve been here before, it probably won’t come as a shock to you that MC overwhelmingly has been the better big-leaguer. Here are their career stats through 2002:

JC  596 250 304 369  48  44 119
MC 2449 252 344 433 298 402 833

What happened? One developed, the other didn’t. Why did that happen? As is frequently the case, I have no freakin’ clue. I’m better at asking questions than answering them. My guess is that this is where non-quantifiable factors such as work ethic, attitude, opportunity, and the like come into play. We hate those things because they can’t be measured according to any statistical output. But, like it or not, they do matter.

For the record, JC is Jay Canizaro and MC is Mike Cameron. Of the 515 prospects John Sickels gave letter grades to in his 1996 book, only 10 players had more win shares through 2001 than Cameron: Derek Jeter, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Nomar Garciaparra, Brian Giles, Bob Abreu, Jason Kendall, Johnny Damon, and Rich Aurilia. All but Giles (B) and Aurilia (B-) were given grades of A- or better.

As long as I’m doing this, here are some more tidbits from my look at prospects from John Sickels’ 1996 book and their big-league performance as measured by win shares:

                              Win Shares
Grd       High                    Low                Avg
A    150 (Jeter,De)         7 (Valentin,Ja)   66 (Wagner,Bi: 64)
A-   119 (Garciaparra,No;   0 (Gibralter,St;  46 (Walker,To: 48)
          Guerrero,Vl          Malave,Jo
B+    90 (Lawton,Ma)        0 (6 tied)        30 (Guerrero,Wi: 28)
B    116 (Giles,Br)         0 (19 tied)       16 (Wilson,En: 15)
B-    94 (Aurilia,Ri)       0 (33 tied)       13 (Miller,Tr: 13;
                                                  Smith,Bo: 13)
C+    90 (Cameron,Mi)       0 (49 tied)       10 (Simon,Ra: 10)
C     85 (Nevin,Ph)         0 (74 tied)        9 (Cabrera,Jo: 8 )
C-    80 (Randa,Jo)         0 (65 tied)        7 (Lowery,Te: 7)

Just to clarify, the left column represents the highest win share total among players assigned a particular grade, the middle column represents the lowest, and the right column represents the average (the player coming closest to that average is also listed, along with their total win shares; so we can say, e.g., that the average Grade A rookie from the 1996 book was Billy Wagner, while the average Grade C- rookie from that class was Terrell Lowery).

One more, and then we’ll move onto other things. The best by position from the 1996 book:

    Player     Grd  WS
C   Kendall,Ja  A- 106
1B  Clark,To    C+  88
2B  Vidro,Jo    C+  59
3B  Rolen,Sc    A  123
SS  Jeter,De    A  150
LF *Giles,Br    B  116
CF *Jones,An    A  122
RF *Guerrero,Vl A- 119
SP  Park,Ch     B+  73
SP  Colon,Ba    B+  63
RP  Wagner,Bi   A   64

*Marvin Benard had the highest win share total (65) among prospects actually listed at LF, but I couldn’t bear to include him on this team so I stuck Guerrero (listed at CF) in RF and moved Giles from RF to LF.

FWIW, the best left-handed starter to emerge from this group was Shawn Estes (Grade C, 46 win shares).

By way of comparison, here’s what our All-Star team would have looked like based on grade (with ties being broken by win shares):

    Player      Grd  WS
C   Valentin,Ja  A    7
1B  Lee,De       B+  45
2B  Walker,To    A-  48
3B  Rolen,Sc     A  123
SS  Jeter,De     A  150
LF *Malave,Jo    A-   0
CF *Jones,An     A  122
RF *Abreu,Bo     A  107
SP  Schmidt,Ja   A   44
SP  Haynes,Ji    A   24
RP  Wagner,Bi    A   64

*In this one, I stuck with the positions listed in Sickels’ book. If we went with the highest graded outfielders period, we’d replace Malave with Johnny Damon (Grade A, 98 win shares).

Okay, I lied; we’re not done just yet. Here’s a positional list of overachievers:

    Player      Grd  WS
C   Varitek,Ja   C-  32
1B  Brown,Br     C-  24
2B  Menechino,Fr C-  24
3B  Randa,Jo     C-  80
SS  Counsell,Cr  C-  42
LF *Smith,Ma     C-  18
CF  Glanville,Do C-  72
RF  Wilson,Pr    C-  44
SP  Helling,Ri   C-  58
SP  Dessens,El   C-  23
RP  Holtz,Mi     C-  15

*F.P. Santangelo (47 win shares) also had a grade of C- but wasn’t listed specifically at one outfield position.

And underachievers:

    Player      Grd  WS
C   Valentin,Ja  A    7
1B  Bonnici,Ja   B+   0
2B  Pozo,Ar      B+   0
3B  Arias,Ge     A-   5
SS  Alvarez,Ga   A-   3
LF  Malave,Jo    A-   0
CF  Gibralter,St A-   0
RF  Garcia,Ka    A   12
SP  Wilson,Pa    A   11
SP  Coppinger,Ro A-  11
RP *Wade,Te      B+   0

*Eric Ludwick also had a grade of B+, pitched in the big leagues, and accumulated zero win shares.

If nothing else, it becomes a little more evident why some folks insist that there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect. Chan Ho Park, Bartolo Colon, and Billy Wagner are fine pitchers, but guys like Scott Rolen, Derek Jeter, Brian Giles, Andruw Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, and Bob Abreu are among the best position players of their generation.

In other news, the Phillies overpaid David Bell to become their new third baseman. The decision to throw away Scott Rolen will haunt the organization for years. And the Red Sox have hired former Padre staffer (and USD grad) Theo Epstein as their new GM. The 28-year-old Epstein is a devotee of sabermetrics; this could be interesting.

More as it happens. Meantime, try not to spill food on your computer…

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