The Perils of Projecting

Five years ago today I was extolling the virtues of one Sean Burroughs, noting the similarities between his second big-league season and that of Derek Jeter. It sounds ridiculous now, but the comparison seemed valid at the time:

Sean Burroughs vs Derek Jeter, Sophomore Season
Statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
Burroughs 22 578 .286 .352 .402 105
Jeter 23 748 .291 .370 .405 103

The key word here is “seemed.” It’s important to remember (and something I have to remind myself of constantly) that no two snowflakes are alike, even though they may look the same. It’s also important to remember that there are no “sure things” when it comes to prospects.

How does this apply to the current rebuilding project? Well, a lot of times — and I’m not pointing fingers because I’m guilty of it myself — we’ll start doing stuff like this:

Padres lineup 2013

C: Mitch Canham
1B: Kyle Blanks
2B: Matt Antonelli
3B: Chase Headley
SS: Drew Cumberland
LF: Jaff Decker
CF: Cedric Hunter
RF: Kellen Kulbacki

This is all well and good, except that only two of these guys (Headley, Antonelli) have big-league experience and only one other (Blanks) has spent material time above A-ball. A more realistic approach might include the likelihood that each of these players will reach their target:

Padres lineup 2013

C: Mitch Canham (15%)
1B: Kyle Blanks (40%)
2B: Matt Antonelli (30%)
3B: Chase Headley (70%)
SS: Drew Cumberland (15%)
LF: Jaff Decker (20%)
CF: Cedric Hunter (30%)
RF: Kellen Kulbacki (30%)

I’m making these numbers up off the top of my head, but the important point is this: It’s not reasonable to think that all these guys will make it to the big leagues and contribute. That just isn’t how the minor leagues work. There is attrition at every level, plain and simple.

Headley’s got a good chance because he’s already here and holding his own so far (of course, the same could be said of Burroughs at one point as well). But what do you do with guys like Cumberland and Decker, who are three or four levels away?

Without getting hung up on the particulars, what we’re trying to do here isn’t so much to figure out which guys will make it as to discern how strong the talent base is. For instance, if you add up all the percentages in the above (which are totally made up, so why would you do that, but humor me), it comes to 250%. So if you figure that 100% means the guy made it as a regular, then that means we get two regulars and maybe a bench guy out of those eight players.

Again, don’t worry about the specific numbers. We’re talking concept here. The main point is that you don’t want to look at those eight players and think that five years from now, all eight are going to be contributing in some meaningful way. More realistically, it’ll be two or three, but we don’t necessarily know which ones. And if you think you do, you’re wrong.

The secondary point is that this crop is much stronger than, say, the one we saw five years ago. Back then it was Khalil Greene, Josh Barfield, and… Freddy Guzman? Jon Knott? There was nobody who dominated Double-A at age 21, like Blanks did this year; there were no guys in the system with the hitting skills of Decker and Kulbacki.

No, they won’t all pan out, but that’s the point of having a broad talent base. When Burroughs failed, it really messed things up because so much was riding on him. Now? Between Blanks, Decker, and Kulbacki, chances are something good is going to come out of that bunch. If any one of them fails, then at least there are two other guys who have a shot.

Eugene Emeralds Finale

Now that I’ve finished talking down our prospects, here’s reader LynchMob with some videos you might enjoy:

LynchMob also provides commentary:

Latos looked very good at times with a fastball that sure seemed to have plenty of extra mustard on it … resulting in 9 Ks in 5 IP … but he did give up a few hits … and threw a few wild pitches (only 2 of which showed up in the box score) … so he’s got some work to do … but he’s still the man …

No, sir — you are the man. Thanks for sharing.

Recent Articles

Finally, here is a recap of recent articles. If you have something to add to the discussion, by all means head on over and feel free to do so.

That’s all for now. Happy, happy!

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24 Responses »

  1. To illustrate your point, one need look no further than the projected rotation from a few years ago: Peavy, Tankersley, Perez, Howard and Cyr.

    Cyr and Howard each had a cup of coffee, Tankersley imploded upon promotion and Ollie has been inconsistent though brilliant at times. Peavy has been a brilliant success, of course, but it the odds of an individual panning out are low.

  2. Another post this time about the Perils of Projecting (not quite as catchy as Pauline, but could be an indie-house hit.)

    I have been a fan of the minors/Baseball America for a long time and I cannot remember a time being this excited about Padres prospects. Kyle Blanks’ year at San Antonio is fantastic by itself, but when you consider his age and that his home park is a pitchers’ park, it really is a great season. And on top of his previous years, I am very confident that he will be a good major leaguer.

    And then there is Kulbacki. This year has been a great start. If he can make a similar contribution next year while moving up a level and into a pitchers’ park, then there is another stud.

    As to the Eugene Ems. They are all young and years away so its just fun to imagine right now. But Decker and Sawyer and the rest look impressive right now.

    Projected 2013 Padres:
    C: Hundley – Even an average catcher is a good thing to have
    1B: Blanks – Gonzalez traded during the ’10 season for a starting pitcher or a shortstop
    2B: Antonelli
    SS: ? (see above)
    3B: Headley
    LF/RF: Huffman/Kulbacki/Decker – put the better arm in RF
    CF: Hunter/Tekotte

    P: Peavy, Inman, Latos, Recycled Vet #1, Young (making his 3rd comeback from a back injury)
    RP: Musgrave, DeMark, Scribner, Scrap Heap Vet #1, Scrap Heap Vet #2, Scrap Heap Lefty #1

  3. Another major article on the Padres cutting payroll for next season:

    The payroll will probably be lower but it won’t be drastic. It will mainly be lower by getting rid of the dead weight. Maddux, Edmonds, Wolf, Iguchi, Barrett, and Prior made about $29m this season. I’m sure that if Hoffman comes back next season it will be for a slight paycut (maybe $2m?) so that’s $31m less for 2009. But Greene, Peavy, Young, and Adrian all go up about $2m next season, plus they need to go to arbitration for Gerut, Bell, and Hairston plus maybe Meredith and Kouz (they both have slightly over 1 year of service time). All those increases will total about $12m so the payroll will be down $20m from last season (if the Padres make zero free agent signings).

    That seems like a lot but most of the cuts are from older players that would have been gone for next season even if this was a successful season. The Padres might not be a “young” team but only three players, Giles, Hoffman and Peavy will have more then 6 years of service time on the 2009 roster. That’s the way you keep payroll down.

  4. Alan,

    Geoff and I were discussing this topic last night on the phone and we talked about that rotation… Good call!

    Let me talk about Geoff’s post in a different fashion.

    Potential 2013 starters:

    C: Nick Hundley, Jose Lobaton, Mitch Canham, Emmanuel Quiles, Robart Lara
    1B: Adrian Gonzalez, Kyle Blanks, Allan Dykstra
    2B: Matt Antonelli, Eric Sogard, Cole Figueroa
    SS: Drew Cumberland, Lance Zawadzki, Jeudy Valdez, Jonathon Galvez, Alvaro Aristy
    3B: Kevin Kouzmanoff, Chase Headley, Logan Forsythe, James Darnell, Edinson Rincon
    LF: Chad Huffman, Yefri Carvajal, Sawyer Carroll, Luis Domoromo,
    CF: Will Venable, Cedric Hunter, Luis Durango, Blake Tekotte, Dan Robertson
    RF: Kellen Kulbacki, Jaff Decker

    Now some of these players probably have less than a 5% chance of becoming big leaguers and some profile more accurately as utility players… But there is so much depth there that they are not all going to “miss” either.

    As Geoff said, the Padres are a far cry from the, “Burroughs and and and… Who else do we have?” days…

  5. Peter,

    It’s a fun list, but for this to be a great system, the list either needs to be more full or have guys at higher levels or both.

    We’ve blown a series of first round picks through poor decision making and bad luck. Our last two Top 5 selections have been a disaster, so next year in June will tell me a lot about whether thei team understands that they need to invest in the draft. Another signability pick over better talent (a la the Bush pick) will severely hurt the team for years.

    Disagree? Just look at last year’s team with Stephen Drew or Jered Weaver or Justin Verlander as an asset.

  6. #5@Alan: Verlander wasn’t being considered for that pick, Jeff Niemann was. Still, Weaver would have helped a lot last year.

  7. I hear Drew Macias is back and Mike Ekstrom also got the call.

  8. #7@Masticore317: According to, they are expected to be recalled on Sunday.

  9. #8@Geoff Young: Gotcha, thanks for the info GY. They also said the reason for these callups were due to both guys potentially being 6 year minor league free agents after the year is out. I imagine they can see what they’ve got to see if it’s worth a spot on the 40-man.

  10. #9@Masticore317: Procedural question. How do the Padres protect Macias or Ekstrom ? Does the September callup mean that they retain their rights ?

    Does Will Venable look like he belongs or what ! Small sample yes, but when you have a young player show great fundamentals by looking to hit the ball “up the box ” or up the middle (that blast he hit was to dead center and he almost took Suppan’s head off with a liner on Thurs. night). He looks like he has the makeup that the Pads were hoping for .

  11. #10@JP: I believe both Macias and Ekstrom have to remain on the 40 man this winter or else they become 6 year minor league FA’s. If they remove them, they can sign with anyone, kinda like Yordany Ramirez last year.

  12. #8@Geoff Young: What do you think about Adrian playing every game? I’m not a fan.

  13. #12@Kevin: If you divide his season into two (roughly) equal halves, here’s what you get:

    Games 1-70: .296/.359/.561
    Games 71-143: .254/.352/.402

    It seems to me that when a guy goes from Albert Belle to a slow version of Gary Redus, maybe a day off is in order.

  14. #13@Geoff Young: I would rather see him play 150 games a season. Black said he’s the kind of guy you have to have in the lineup every day. But if he is less productive because of that …

  15. #14@Kevin: Black also said last year that he should have given Hombre more time off, because in June and July he was hitting like a utility player. Last season in hit him mid-year, but if they keep Kouzmanoff, they need to move him to 1b every once in a while.

    Buster Olney reported in his blog that the Padres were livid when OG used his no-trade clause. If that’s true, which is a big if……it’s their own dang fault. They waited to move him until after the waiver deadline. They gave him the NT clause in the first place. If they really wanted to move him, they had 3 million bucks to kick in so they could avoid the worst-case scenario, which is paying him to go away next year and getting nothing in return.

  16. Agon goes 0-4 with 3 strikeouts against a righty, those 3 k’s representing almost half of Sheets’ total. Is there much question that he’s tired?

  17. #16@Tom Waits: Why even play him at this point. He should be getting a couple day off a week. Kouz should be rotating to 1B and Headley to 3B so we can try out more of these kids in the OF.

  18. Will San Diego fans give Adrian a pass on his conditioning like we gave TG? If he really wants to play every day he needs to perform at a more consistent level week to week. He really would benefit from an off-season program that emphasizes lower body strength and agility. Most of the time he looks like the beer league softball player, great hands and instincts for the game, but he seldom bends at the knees or runs hard on a ground ball. A strong base and core is essential to speed, quickness, and the ability to sustain peak performance levels over time. As great as TG was he hurt himself and SD fans over time by carrying too much weight on his frame. I hope Adrian takes a page from LT’s book and hires an elite trainer to make him even better.

  19. #18@dennis: While I don’t disagree, some of the blame has to be on team management for using him the way they do. Sure, maybe he could be in better shape, but the bottom line is they need to use him properly for the shape that he’s actually in now.

  20. #18@dennis: I don’t know that he “wants to play every day.”

  21. Kouzmanoff’s defensive play over the last week or so has been phenomenal. In almost two full seasons in the bigs, this is the best week that KK has had with the glove.

    Pads win 7 of last 13 against playoff contenders. Nice. Enjoyed the Pads scaring the heck out of the Brewers all weekend.

  22. #11@Masticore317: Ekstrom was drafted in ’04. I don’t quite understand how he could be a 6 year free agent, unless a September call-up makes him that.

  23. #16@Tom Waits: I wonder if there’s a mental component as well. Everyone is different, and I have no way of knowing what’s going on with Adrian, but I’m pretty sure the daily grind would wear on me after a while even if I were feeling physically fit.

    #18@dennis: You raise an interesting point. A stronger core helped prolong Steve Finley’s career.

    #19@Masticore317: Yeah, you’d hope that Black et al. would recognize his need for occasional rest. It’s not like these are critical games at this point.

  24. The not resting Adrian amazes me as well — especially since:

    a. Black mentioned that he screwed up last year
    b. While Adrian hits lefties well, he doesn’t hit the really nasty lefties well, so it is easy to find days to rest him.

    Like others have said, we should have a righty partner for him at 1B. If Kouz is still here next year, that’s great. Frankly, the way a lower payroll team can compete is through strict platooning.

    If we keep Giles around (please), we should look to finish off the roster so that we can go Kouz (1B), Headley (3B), Hairston (CF) and have the other OFs on the roster be Venable, Giles and definite RH to we can platoon the others when needed. (Or you can keep Adrian in if the lefty is “normal” and have an all-RH outfield).

    That said, Adrian does need to get in a bit better shape.