Drafting, Signing, Developing NL Starting Pitchers | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

There’s an old saying that, “There’s No Such Thing as a Pitching Prospect,” but baseball fans certainly hold their front offices to the task of piecing together strong pitching rotations regardless. After all, despite there apparently being no such thing as a pitching prospect, fans typically live by another mantra: “Pitching Wins Championships.” These conflicting sentiments actually capture, quite well, the diverse schemes that different National League teams have used to build their pitching rotations over the last few years. Brewers fans lament their club’s general inability to draft and develop starting pitchers over the last few years, but one can question whether the Brewers actually need to develop pitchers, or can use other means to acquire them. By analyzing how other clubs in the NL use their homegrown pitchers, we can determine different strategies for acquiring pitchers, building rotations, and using draft picks.

Background
First things first, while Brewers fans typically note that General Manager Doug Melvin has been unable to draft and develop starting pitchers, the argument usually stops there, without considering the progression or success of his rotations. Interestingly enough, after the rebuilding gradually shifted to competing around 2006 or so, and players like Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and Corey Hart graduated to big league roles, Melvin generally produced rotations near the league average. Of course, if Brewers fans have the perception that Melvin’s Brewers haven’t had serviceable pitching, they can generally be forgiven for such a sentiment thanks to the 2009-2010 seasons — those years really stick in the memory bank.

2006: 5.07 runs average (4.93 NL / park; 16 R below avg.)
2007: 4.82 runs average (4.80 NL / park; 2 R below avg.)
2008: 4.26 runs average (4.57 NL/park; 34 R above avg.)

2009: 5.74 runs average (4.44 NL/park; 128 R below avg.)
2010: 5.13 runs average (4.40 NL/park; 75 R below avg.)
2011: 4.10 runs average (4.30 NL/park; 22 R above avg.)
2012: 4.23 runs average (4.48 NL/park; 25 R above avg.)

Once the club graduated some of its core bats to the big league team, and began competing in earnest, the Brewers’ best pitching staffs featured the last few injury-riddled years by Ben Sheets, the debut and injury-shortened 2008 campaign of Yovani Gallardo, and cameos from CC Sabathia, Randy Wolf, Zack Greinke, and Shaun Marcum. If fans criticize Melvin for free agency acquisitions such as Jeff Suppan and Braden Looper, his trade performance with Sabathia, Greinke, and Marcum was excellent, yielding aggregate above average campaigns in return for a gang of prospects. Here, Melvin at his best displays the importance of having prospects — not necessarily for employing them, but for trading them (this will be a recurring theme in this analysis). Melvin turned an organizational strength into solid pitching with these moves; that’s the definition of value, outside of any abstract numbers and considerations of production. The club arguably doesn’t have their 2008 or 2011 playoff appearances with Sabathia, Wolf, Greinke, and Marcum.

What went wrong in 2009 and 2010? If anything characterizes these seasons, it’s the opposite of “aggressively trade prospects for pitching.” Here we can see the dearth of the Brewers’ pitching development. Specifically, after some solid 2008 campaigns, Melvin hung onto one of his previously traded arms, Dave Bush, and one of the Brewers’ organizational starters (not drafted by Melvin, but developed), Manny Parra. In contrast to 2008, 2011, and 2012, we can see a strong, conservative attitude about pitching resources. Melvin stayed with a few arms too long, instead of maximizing their value with a trade after 2008, or finding other roles (or other pitchers). His aggressiveness in assessing pitching situations in 2011 and 2012 wasn’t present, and the Brewers waited nearly 100 starts between 2009 and 2010 to make their decisions about the roles of Parra and Bush in their rotation.

In these contrasting seasons, we can see a specific theme that operates completely outside of the issue of whether or not a club develops their own pitchers. This theme is simply a wager between aggressive or conservative roster management; even with homegrown pitchers, a GM can aggressively assess their club’s situation and either deal those pitchers for arms with more upside (or fill other weaknesses on the club), or augment those arms with personnel from other transactions. If you’re in the position of saying, “well, Melvin hasn’t really developed any pitcher except for Gallardo,” that’s quite all right if he augments Gallardo with Wolf, Greinke, and Marcum; really, no one will judge a GM for not drafting pitching if that GM aggressively acquires other pitching. It’s the conservative seasons that are true gambles — and, perhaps we’re seeing this, in part, in 2013. When you stick with your pitchers year after year, or even in two consecutive seasons, you ride that pitcher’s ebb and flow.

Ironically, Melvin’s employment of Mike Fiers, Mark Rogers, Hiram Burgos, Wily Peralta, and Tyler Thornburg at various points between 2012 and 2013 shows quite a depth of organizational starters, contrary to the common line that Melvin doesn’t draft and develop pitchers; the issue with sticking with these arms, even if they eventually prove to stick as MLB starters, is that the club experiences the rough stretches, too. Signing Kyle Lohse at the last minute gave the club extra options in the rotation, and diminished the extent to which youngsters would inhabit the rotation, and yet, that transaction also shows the lack of an aggressive offseason regarding pitching. A conservative offseason could eventually yield great rewards if these pitchers continue to seize their jobs as they did in 2012, but the trouble is, there’s relatively little hedging by Melvin to cover his position.

Aggressive / Passive Development
There’s no such thing as a pitching prospect. As the MLB draft has become more popular, fans have come to understand (somewhat) that the MLB draft is much, much more of a crapshoot than other professional drafts. Whereas fans are used to their NBA and NFL teams drafting talent that can (typically) fill voids in their professional rosters, it wouldn’t be absurd for 1-of-4 baseball first rounders to never make the MLB, depending on the draft pool.

If you’re looking for ways to prove that there’s no such thing as a surefire pitching prospect, there’s some great trivia associated with aces such as Matt Cain and Clayton Kershaw. Thanks to an argument over at Badger State Sports, I learned that the following pitchers were drafted ahead of Kershaw:

Luke Hochevar
Greg Reynolds
Brad Lincoln
Brandon Morrow
Andrew Miller

Now, one might argue that someone such as the Royals selecting Hochevar suggests signability issues with Kershaw, but that’s not necessarily the case. Whereas Hochevar signed a draft-day MLB contract worth at least $5 million, Kershaw asigned a $2.3 million bonus. That five clubs decided to select a pitcher with their first round pick in 2006, and passed on Kershaw, should underscore that there’s no crystal ball with MLB pitching prospects. Obviously, if there was some inkling that Kershaw would be (arguably) the NL’s strongest ace for several consecutive seasons, he would probably have gone first; but, there’s not necessarily a correlation between a pitcher’s draft spot and their chance at success.

We can do the same thing with Cain. Here, an even better piece of trivia emerges. Two clubs, in 2002 and 2006, decided to use their first round picks for pitching and had a chance to draft both Kershaw and Cain. Specifically, the Kansas City Royals had the chance to draft both pitchers; they landed Greinke (not bad!) and Hochevar; the Pirates, on the other hand, drafted Lincoln and Bryan Bullington. There’s a great quote from their GM, David Littlefield, that illustrates just how uncertain the attitude towards pitchers was in 2002, a year after “can’t-miss” Mark Prior was drafted:

“There was quite a bit of discussion on where we were going to go. It wasn’t a situation where we were trying to be crafty. It was more a situation that it wasn’t a year where it was one player standing above anybody else, and we felt we had to consider a lot of different factors. We feel very comfortable and good about drafting Bullington.”

Given the Pirates’ general success at that step in their rebuilding process, one might argue that their organization was simply not suited to make strong draft decisions. Yet, the veracity of Littlefield’s sentiment is documented by the sheer number of teams that usually pass up pitchers that become aces. When judging teams’ draft-and-development processes, we have to keep in mind that (a) teams effectively trading their prospects, rather than employing them, can be a valid strategy, (b) developing pitchers does not always result in success, and (c) it’s really, really difficult to determine a “can’t-miss” ace in the draft.

In this environment, the Diamondbacks’ general approach to pitching over the last decade is rather intriguing. The average NL club drafted-signed-and-developed 13 pitchers from 2006-present. The Diamondbacks, according to that number, are an average club in terms of drafting/signing and developing homegrown pitchers. However, their trading strategy adds another dimension to their ballclub:

DIAMONDBACKS (13 homegrown pitchers)
Brandon Webb (1319.7 IP, 142 ERA+)
Wade Miley (277.7 IP, 119 ERA+)
Josh Collmenter (263.7 IP, 116 ERA+)
Micah Owings (257.3 IP, 95 ERA+)
Max Scherzer (226.3 IP, 117 ERA+)
Edgar Gonzalez (257.7 IP, 79 ERA+)
Barry Enright (136.7 IP, 86 ERA+)
Enrique Gonzalez (108.3 IP, 82 ERA+)
Dustin Nippert (70 IP, 74 ERA+)
Cesar Valdez (20 IP, 56 ERA+)
Bryan Augenstein (17 IP, 57 ERA+)
Trevor Bauer (16.3 IP, 69 ERA+)
Jarrod Parker (5.7 IP, INF ERA+)

Specifically, they have traded top-prospects Trevor Bauer (BA #9), Max Scherzer (BA #66), Jarrod Parker (BA #29-46), and even Micah Owings (BA #98). Notably, their current rotation, and their best pitchers on their 2011 playoff club, are prospects from other organizations. They have built a rather intriguing MLB rotation with trades involving other organization’s pitching prospects.

The Philadelphia Phillies (16 homegrown pitchers) are arguably the best NL club at developing pitchers over the last seven years, specifically due to their potential-ace ceiling (Cole Hamels) and their formidable gang of serviceable MLB arms (anywhere from Randy Wolf to Kyle Kendrick). However, what sets the Phillies apart is that they don’t sit on their pitching prospects. Their trades involving J.A. Happ and Vance Worley prove that even with pitchers that may not have a “true ace ceiling,” clubs can trade those arms at their top value to address other areas of their club. In this regard, the Phillies’ trade involving Happ is especially impressive. Their club is arguably the best hybrid in drafting-developing and trading their own arms. It’s not necessarily a surprise, then, that the Phillies are one of the NL’s “dynasty” clubs in the last decade.

PHILLIES (16 homegrown pitchers):
Cole Hamels (1428.3 IP, 125 ERA+)
Brett Myers (1183.7 IP, 99 ERA+)
Randy Wolf (1175 IP, 103 ERA+)
Kyle Kendrick (812.3 IP, 100 ERA+)
Ryan Madson (630 IP, 122 ERA+)
Vance Worley (277.7 IP, 113 ERA+)
J.A. Happ (217 IP, 136 ERA+)
Antonio Bastardo (164.7 IP, 104 ERA+)
Gavin Floyd (108.7 IP, 66 ERA+)
Scott Mathieson (44 IP, 69 ERA+)
Eude Brito (40.3 IP, 86 ERA+)
Tyler Cloyd (39.3 IP, 90 ERA+)
B.J. Rosenberg (25 IP, 67 ERA+)
Jonathan Pettibone (22.3 IP, 110 ERA+)
Drew Carpenter (19 IP, 51 ERA+)
Zack Segovia (5 IP, 54 ERA+)

Kyle Kendrick shows the difficulty of making decisions about either trading or keeping young pitching prospects. Kendrick has shifted between the rotation and bullpen in Philadelphia, as well as their minor league affiliates over the years. While one could have found reasons to write off any chance of Kendrick succeeding over the years, he has consistently come to the Phillies’ rescue as a depth option, and is now enjoying a regular position in their rotation. Obviously, the balance between aggressive transactions and conservative approaches is extremely difficult in the MLB.

Other notable clubs w/ homegrown pitching trades:

MARLINS (15 homegrown pitchers)
Josh Johnson (916.7 IP, 132 ERA+)
Chris Volstad (584 IP, 90 ERA+)
Scott Olsen (579.3 IP, 94 ERA+)
Rick van den Hurk (155.7 IP, 73 ERA+)
Alex Sanabia (122.3 IP, 100 ERA+)
Jason Vargas (116.7 IP, 79 ERA+)
Sean West (112.7 IP, 85 ERA+)
Brad Hand (65.3 IP, 82 ERA+)
Daniel Barone (41 IP, 77 ERA+)
Jose Fernandez (37 IP, 105 ERA+ thus far)
Ryan Tucker (37 IP, 53 ERA+)
Tom Koehler (29.7 IP, 93 ERA+)
Jay Buente (14 IP, 61 ERA+)
Graham Taylor (11 IP, 54 ERA+)
Elih Villanueva (3 IP, 18 ERA+)

PADRES (15 homegrown pitchers)
Jake Peavy (1342.7 IP, 119 ERA+)
Tim Stauffer (441 IP, 94 ERA+)
Mat Latos (429.7 IP, 108 ERA+)
Wade LeBlanc (293.3 IP, 81 ERA+)
Cory Luebke (188.3 IP, 111 ERA+)
Anthony Bass (170.3 IP, 102 ERA+)
Josh Geer (129.7 IP, 72 ERA+)
Mike Thompson (107.7 IP, 77 ERA+)
Andrew Werner (40.3 IP, 66 ERA+)
Walter Silva (24.7 IP, 44 ERA+)
Cesar Ramos (23 IP, 62 ERA+)
Jack Cassel (22.7 IP, 102 ERA+)
Dirk Hay Hurst (16.7 IP, 40 ERA+)
Cesar Carillo (10.3 IP, 30 ERA+)
Burch Smith (1 IP, 9 ERA+)

ROCKIES (14 homegrown pitchers)
Aaron Cook (1312.3 IP, 106 ERA+)
Jason Jennings (941 IP, 103 ERA+)
Jeff Francis (882.7 IP, 100 ERA+)
Ubaldo Jimenez (851 IP, 128 ERA+)
Jhoulys Chacin (448 IP, 128 ERA+)
Esmil Rogers (184.7 IP, 68 ERA+)
Juan Nicasio (164 IP, 99 ERA+
Franklin Morales (147.3 IP, 98 ERA+)
Greg Reynolds (94 IP, 63 ERA+)
Christian Friendrich (84.7 IP, 77 ERA+)
Justin Hampson (12 IP, 67 ERA+)
Juan Morillo (8.7 IP, 47 ERA+)
Edwar Cabrera (5.7 IP, 45 ERA+)
Alan Johnson (4 IP, 55 ERA+)

Transitioning Clubs
The St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants boast the last two World Series Championships, and both clubs rode below average pitching staffs and excellent batting orders past superior pitching clubs in the playoffs. The Giants and Cardinals are arguably two of the most-toasted teams in the NL, although their developmental strategies are not similar. The Giants have one of the most conservative pitching development strategies in the NL, although one cannot necessarily blame a club for simply hanging onto their pitchers when they draft Cain, Tim Lincecum, and Madison Bumgarner (just to name a few). On the other hand, the Cardinals effectively used trades to build their 2004 and 2006 contending clubs, and their current identity as a homegrown pitching club is a new development in their organization. The Cardinals have adroitly moved from a club that was the exception to all the rules about “Pitching Winning Championships” to a club that now personifies strong scouting, drafting, and development.

GIANTS (13 homegrown pitchers)
Matt Cain (1578.7 IP, 122 ERA+)
Tim Lincecum (1255.7 IP, 118 ERA+)
Jonathan Sanchez (708 IP, 97 ERA+)
Noah Lowry (618.3 IP, 109 ERA+)
Madison Bumgarner (580.7 IP, 115 ERA+)
Kevin Correia (398 IP, 96 ERA+)
Brad Hennessey (360.7 IP, 94 ERA+)
Pat Misch (97 IP, 86 ERA+)
Dan Runzler (72.3 IP, 100 ERA+)
Joe Martinez (41 IP, 62 ERA+)
Ryan Sadowski (28.3 IP, 97 ERA+)
Eric Surkamp (26.7 IP, 62 ERA+)
Matt Palmer (12.7 IP, 53 ERA+)

CARDINALS (14 homegrown pitchers)
Jaime Garcia (539.7 IP, 114 ERA+)
Brad Thomson (385.7 IP, 99 ERA+)
Kyle McClellan (378 IP, 106 ERA+)
Mitchell Boggs (304 IP, 95 ERA+)
Lance Lynn (253.7 IP, 109 ERA+)
Anthony Reyes (220.7 IP, 82 ERA+)
Blake Hawksworth (130.3 IP, 97 ERA+)
Joe Kelly (117.7 IP, 97 ERA+)
Shelby Miller (50.3 IP, 213 ERA+)
P.J. Walters (50 IP, 54 ERA+)
Mike Parisi (23 IP, 52 ERA+)
Adam Ottavino (22.3 IP, 46 ERA+)
Brandon Dickson (14.7 IP, 81 ERA+)
Chris Narveson (9.3 IP, 96 ERA+)

Two other clubs are arguably transitioning to strong pitching-centered cores: the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves. The Nationals have tried building a homegrown rotation for years, which shows that simply focusing on homegrown pitchers can be detrimental to contention (even if the rewards are eventually a potential dynasty-level core). On the other hand, for all the Braves’ iconic pitching names, many of their very best pitchers throughout their glory years were acquired via trade or other transactions. Over the last few years, they have gradually worked some homegrown pitchers into swingmen roles, and limited starting roles. They have also encountered some untimely pitching injuries, leading to expansive rotations (yet, their huge group of starters did not damage their playoff contention last year).

BRAVES (15 homegrown pitchers)
Tommy Hanson (635 IP, 110 ERA+)
Horacio Ramirez (521.3 IP, 104 ERA+)
Kris Medlen (365.3 IP, 113 ERA+)
Mike Minor (348.3 IP, 94 ERA+)
Chuck James (315.7 IP, 98 ERA+)
Kenshin Kawakami (243.7 IP, 94 ERA+)
Brandon Beachy (237.7 IP, 128 ERA+)
Kyle Davies (237 IP, 71 ERA+)
Jo-Jo Reyes (194 IP, 66 ERA+)
Randall Delgado (127.7 IP, 101 ERA+)
Charlie Morton (74.7 IP, 68 ERA+)
Julio Teheran (61.3 IP, 79 ERA+)
James Parr (36.3 IP, 81 ERA+)
Kevin Barry (27.7 IP, 67 ERA+)
Anthony Lerew (21.7 IP, 54 ERA+)

NATIONALS (13 homegrown pitchers):
John Lannan (783.7 IP, 103 ERA+)
Jordan Zimmermann (530.3 IP, 120 ERA+)
Jason Bergmann (389.7 IP, 85 ERA+)
Ross Detwiler (379.3 IP, 110 ERA+)
Craig Stammen (349.3 IP, 97 ERA+)
Stephen Strasburg (300.7 IP, 133 ERA+)
Shawn Hill (206.3 IP, 87 ERA+)
Collin Balester (167 IP, 81 ERA+)
Mike O’Connor (114 IP, 79 ERA+)
Yunesky Maya (58.7 IP, 72 ERA+)
Tommy Milone (26 IP, 102 ERA+)
Marco Estrada (20 IP, 62 ERA+)
Brad Peacock (12 IP, 526 ERA+)

On the other hand, organizations such as the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros have arguably been transitioning away from their previously strong homegrown pitching cores. The Cubs notably experienced injury issues with some of their prospects, and they also aggressively used failed starters to build a strong bullpen. However, they also arguably show a conservative strategy toward their pitchers, too, for the most part simply hanging onto their starting arms (the notable exception is Carlos Zambrano, but he was arguably traded for personal reasons with the organization, rather than as a pure baseball move). For what it’s worth, no one in the NL has employed more drafted, signed, and developed starters than the Cubs in the last seven years, which should show that the correspondence between sheer number of homegrown pitchers and playoff success is not one-to-one:

CUBS (17 homegrown pitchers)
Carlos Zambrano (1826.7 IP, 122 ERA+)
Kerry Wood (1219.3 IP, 119 ERA+)
Mark Prior (657 IP, 124 ERA+)
Sean Marshall (530 IP, 112 ERA+)
Carlos Marmol (528.7 IP, 128 ERA+)
Randy Wells (528 IP, 103 ERA+)
Jeff Samardzija (388 IP, 103 ERA+)
Rich Hill (337.7 IP, 106 ERA+)
James Russell (199.3 IP, 107 ERA+)
Casey Coleman (165.7 IP, 70 ERA+)
Sean Gallagher (73.3 IP, 87 ERA+)
Andrew Cashner (65 IP, 98 ERA+)
Juan Mateo (45.7 IP, 88 ERA+)
Chris Rusin (29.7 IP, 64 ERA+)
Brooks Raley (24.3 IP, 50 ERA+)
Jae Kuk Ryu (15 IP, 56 ERA+)
Ryan O’Malley (12.7 IP, 223 ERA+)

ASTROS (13 homegrown pitchers)
Roy Oswalt (1932.3 IP, 133 ERA+)
Wandy Rodriguez (1306.7 IP, 102 ERA+)
Bud Norris (608.7 IP, 91 ERA+)
Chris Sampson (358.7 IP, 97 ERA+)
Jordan Lyles (245.3 IP, 76 ERA+)
Felipe Paulino (208.3 IP, 70 ERA+)
Matt Albers (125.7 IP, 76 ERA+)
Fernando Nieve (107 IP, 96 ERA
Dallas Keuchel (101.7 IP, 77 ERA+)
Fernando Abad (84.7 IP, 78 ERA+)
Jason Hirsh (44.7 IP, 74 ERA+)
J.C. Gutierrez (21.3 IP, 76 ERA+)
Troy Patton (12.7 IP, 128 ERA+)

Finally, the Cincinnati Reds might be the strangest pitching club in the NL. They went from almost exclusively relying on arms developed outside of their organization, to one of the most balanced homegrown-and-trade rotation cores in 2012. This year, they have added yet another arm to the mix, which means that they now have six homegrown arms in the last seven years, by far the least of any NL club:

REDS (6 homegrown pitchers)
Johnny Cueto (921.3 IP, 117 ERA+)
Homer Bailey (686.3 IP, 93 ERA+)
Mike Leake (526.7 IP, 96 ERA+)
Travis Wood (208.7 IP, 96 ERA+)
Sam LeCure (198.7 IP, 114 ERA+),
Tony Cingrani (29 IP, 168 ERA+)

Neither Here Nor There:
If I asked you, “what do the Dodgers and Brewers have in common?,” you’d probably say nothing, except maybe noting that Mark Attanasio has personal ties in Los Angeles. Otherwise, the franchises could not be more different — one has a legacy of great pitchers, the other built on hitting throughout the ages; one has a legacy of Championships, the other is without a World Series ring; one has a pitcher’s park, the other a hitter’s haven. And so it goes, on and on.

Ironically, the Dodgers and Brewers have developed the fewest homegrown pitchers outside of Cincinnati. Of course, the Dodgers can claim Kershaw and Chad Billinglsey, and they also have been one of the most aggressive clubs in signing free agents from foreign leagues. So, what the Dodgers lack in quantity, they make up for in quality. On the other hand, the Brewers can claim two successful homegrown starters in the last seven years — Sheets and Gallardo — and a group of homegrown pitchers that have yet to make their mark in the NL. Both clubs are relatively conservative with their homegrown arms, keeping them instead of trading them.

DODGERS (11 homegrown pitchers):
Chad Billingsley (1175.3 IP, 110 ERA+)
Clayton Kershaw (999.7 IP, 141 ERA+)
Hiroki Kuroda (699 IP, 113 ERA+)
Hung-Chih Kuo (292.3 IP, 112 ERA+)
Eric Stults (145 IP, 88 ERA+)
John Ely (115.3 IP, 68 ERA+)
Nathan Eovaldi (91 IP, 96 ERA+)
James McDonald (76.7 IP, 99 ERA+)
Rubby de la Rosa (61.3 IP, 94 ERA+)
Hyun-jin Ryu (43.7 IP, 100 ERA+ thus far)
Matt Magill (8 IP, 49 ERA+ thus far)

BREWERS (10 homegrown pitchers):
Ben Sheets (1428 IP, 115 ERA+)
Yovani Gallardo (958.3 IP, 112 ERA+)
Manny Parra (513 IP, 81 ERA+)
Mike Fiers (137 IP, 106 ERA+)
Wily Peralta (68 IP, 97 ERA+)
Dana Eveland (59.3 IP, 64 ERA+)
Ben Hendrickson (58.3 IP, 60 ERA+)
Mark Rogers (49 IP, 120 ERA+)
Tyler Thornburg (22 IP, 94 ERA+)
Hiram Burgos (18 IP, 137 ERA+ thus far)

Rounding out the “neither here nor there” section are the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Mets. While Matt Harvey is causing quite a stir for the 2013 NL, one solid young star does not make a homegrown pitching strategy, and the Mets simply have not had longterm, above average starters from their system over the last seven years. The Pirates are similar in this regard, as they anxiously await their next crop of pitching prospects, anxiously waiting for a sea change in their organizational strategy.

METS (13 homegrown pitchers)
Mike Pelfrey (896.3 IP, 92 ERA+)
Jonathon Niese (602 IP, 91 ERA+)
Dillon Gee (339 IP, 89 ERA+)
Bobby Parnell (272.7 IP, 107 ERA+)
Hisanori Takahashi (122 IP, 108 ERA+)
Matt Harvey (115.7 IP, 179 ERA+)
Jenry Mejia (55 IP, 80 ERA+)
Alay Soler (45 IP, 73 ERA+)
Brian Bannister (38 IP, 103 ERA+)
Chris Schwinden (29.7 IP, 55 ERA+)
Jeurys Familia (22.7 IP, 81 ERA+)
Collin McHugh (21.3 IP, 51 ERA+)

PIRATES (12 homegrown pitchers)
Paul Maholm (1143.7 IP, 95 ERA+)
Zach Duke (964.3 IP, 93 ERA+)
Ian Snell (693 IP, 91 ERA+)
Tom Gorzelanny (383.3 IP, 90 ERA+)
Brad Lincoln (159.7 IP, 83 ERA+)
John Van Benschoten (90 IP, 47 ERA+)
Jeff Locke (84.7 IP, 77 ERA+)
Shane Youman (79 IP, 86 ERA+)
Kyle McPherson (26.3 IP, 138 ERA+)
Bryan Bullington (18.3 IP, 76 ERA+)
Yoslan Herrera (18.3 IP, 43 ERA+)
Phil Irwin (4.7 IP, 50 ERA+ thus far)
Philip Humber (9 IP, 78 ERA+)

Conclusion
Answering the question I posed last week, the Brewers shouldn’t simply stop developing pitchers. Developing pitchers can be useful to round out rotations, and, if lucky, produce controllable, above average starters (like Gallardo). What the Brewers should do is consistently trade their prospects to consistently upgrade their rotation. This might seem counterintuitive for a small market clubs — where contract control is a key component of roster building. However, simply controlling contracts is not worthwhile if a club can find a better option through another transaction or from another organization. One might scoff at the idea of trading someone like Manny Parra, and yet, the Phillies accomplished a similar deal with Happ.

If anything jumps out from these lists of rotations, it should be four key points:

(1) Many of the homegrown pitchers noted in these lists no longer work for their original club, which should underscore the fluid nature of developing and trading pitchers (or, the extent to which arms just don’t work out). There really isn’t such a thing as a pitching prospect, in that regard.

(2) Some of the best homegrown pitchers on these lists accomplished their best seasons after their original organization traded them.

(3) Simply having homegrown pitchers does not equal success.

(4) Having a few homegrown pitchers is not detrimental if they are great (here the Dodgers and Reds might be the best examples).

The Brewers have a good opportunity in 2013 to see if their gang of starters from 2012 can continue to build on their previous performances. In this regard, the club has a cost-effective group of starters with some upside. However, one can ask whether the Brewers should hang onto these arms for an indeterminate number of seasons; these arms should not necessarily be penciled in for 2014, 2015, etc. Here the Brewers need to find the balance between once again trading their prospects to continuously upgrade their roster, and they also need to keep the best arms of their bunch. This is obviously a difficult task, and if Melvin’s tenure has proven anything, it’s that in baseball the margin between aggressive success and conservative failure can be only one season apart.

REFERENCES
Some of these arguments were developed, over time, at Badger State Sports message boards.

Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC. 2000-2013.
Cot’s Baseball Contracts. BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC., 1996-2013.
Disciples of Uecker. “FIPChart” http://disciplesofuecker.com/resource-fipchart/7105

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Bob M says: May 14, 2013

    Signing free agent pitchers is fine, if you can afford it.

    Trading for veteran pitchers is fine, if you have the pipeline of prospects to sustain it.

    I’m not sure the Brewers have the means for either. There are 8 players on the roster that were drafted by the Brewers. The other 17 were acquired by other means, either trade or free agency. Now look at St. Louis – chosen as the example only because they currently have the highest winning percentage in MLB. Their roster has 18 players they drafted and 7 acquired by other means.

    Why is that important? To acquire an MLB player by trade, it takes multiple prospects. Given how uncertain the future is for any prospect, the more you have the more chances you have of finding a good one. A team that makes it common practice to trade away prospects for proven players reduces the potential reinforcements for their team. Look at the trades for Grienke and Marcum. Look at how many of those prospects are playing in MLB right now, making an impact. Yes, those trades were needed to get to the playoffs. Yes, I would do it again for that chance at playoff success. But it is not a sustainable method of team-building.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: May 14, 2013

      I think you raise a good point, Bob. Perhaps your note about the current dearth of prospects also underscores the importance of making quick, accurate decisions about farmhands. Beyond prospects such as Escobar, Cain, etc., that helped the Brewers make the playoffs, one could also argue that they can use decisions about pitchers like Peralta, Parra, Fiers, etc., to potentially address other areas of the club (or land other pitchers).

      I think i was most surprised by the number of trades made involving less-than-great pitchers; perhaps the trouble with the Brewers’ current situation is not only their lack of impact prospects, but their conservative approach with a handful of pitchers at the (arguable) top of their value (Rogers, Peralta, Fiers after 2012). Now we’ll learn who can stick at the big league level, but that also opens the Brewers to face their ups and downs.

      • Bob M says: May 14, 2013

        I fall into that same conservative mindset about the Brewers prospects as well. I thought Fiers was simply worn down at the end of the 2012 season, and would turn in a solid performance this season as a #4 starter.

      • Nicholas Zettel says: May 15, 2013

        I agree; I felt the same way. I think that type of modest argument — not even that Fiers would breakout, but that he would be a serviceable starter — should underscore the difficult decisions a GM has to make.

  2. DC says: May 14, 2013

    Doug Melvin was fired by the Texas Rangers because he could not acquire or develop young pitching. A quote from the Rangers owner. So we shouldn’t be surprised, either Melvin thinks if you hit enough home runs you don’t need good picthing or he just doesn’t know how to scout pitching or find a quality coach.

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  1. Daybreak Doppler: Mark Murphy, Eternal Optimist | PocketDoppler.com
  2. Series Preview: Brewers @ Diamondbacks | Disciples of Uecker

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