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
  Age PA BA OBP SLG OPS+
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!