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1.19.2007

Ranking Full Stop 

With a slippery slope of a season staring Giants fans in the face, the one main crampon of hope is the Giants young pitching. (If you prefer the ever-popular train wreck metaphor, I won't protest. For crampon, please substitute wrist strap or air bag. You're now on your own.)

For me, anticipation for the '07 campaign is mainly attached to the names Cain, Sanchez, Wilson, Sadler, and Lincecum. I'll include Lowry, too, though one more bad year and he'll have us thinking "one-month wonder" with his ability to pitch well in August and not so much otherwise.

If you want to throw the 28-year-old Barry Zito into the young pitcher bin, OK, fine. But it's really the homegrown guys I'm talking about, the only real success of the farm system in recent years.

Baseball America and others annually rank farm systems; it might surprise you that BA placed the Giants as high as 11th earlier this decade. Generally they're middle-of-the-pack, clocking in at 18 last year.

Just out of curiosity, and because a debate over Ryan Klesko's comeback potential thrills me as much as flossing, I started tallying the top-10 lists of Kevin Goldstein, former BA prospect expert who jumped to Baseball Prospectus last year. To see how the Giants stack up this year, I've assigned a point value to each of his prospect categories: Excellent, Very Good, Good, and Average.

Remember, not every member of a top-ten prospect list will succeed in the majors, let alone receive a call-up. As I wrote about last year, at any given moment a farm system likely contains four valuable major-league players and four semi-fungible bench/bullpen types. That means the top of the top-10 list is far more valuable than the bottom. So I've assigned these point values:

Excellent = 6 pts
Very Good = 4 pts
Good = 2 pts
Average = 1 pt

With that, I'm tallying scores for each team as Goldstein publishes his lists. Three of the top four systems are in the NL West, and sad to say none are the San Francisco Giants. Colorado gets 36 points, the Dodgers 31 (tied with the Mets), and Arizona has 30. Of 21 teams, the Giants tie for 10th with 22 points, still solidly middle-of-the-pack. The score was mainly hurt by their double-A hitters. After breakouts in San Jose, Ishikawa, Schierholtz and Martinez-Esteve did a faceplant in Connecticut (EME because of injury.) EME and Schierholtz are now listed as average prospects, Ishikawa not at all.

Goldstein still has nine teams to go. His Giants' list is here.

[Sorry -- I just realized the list is subscriber-only. In condensed form: Excellent: Lincecum; Very good: Villalona, Sanchez; Good: Burriss; Average: EME, Schoop, Lewis, Schierholtz, Sadler, McBryde.]

This little system I've devised is arbitrary layered atop arbitrary. Call it a lasagna of arbitrariness, if you must. But is it a good thumbnail gauge of where the Giants stand prospect-wise? Are the numerical values I've assigned reasonable? Perhaps "excellent" prospects are so valuable they should get 8 points, double that of a "very good."

Or perhaps you think Goldstein is a quack. He's taken (and like a gentleman, answered) criticism lately that he gives too much favor to raw, young, high-ceiling guys. Here's his explanation:

Let’s assume that an Excellent rating also means "potential impact player." While it’s certainly true that more AAA players at any point in time will MAKE the majors than Low A players, I would argue that true impact players are far more evenly distributed, if not even more so at the lower levels.

Cream rises to the crop quickly, maybe even more so these days, which is why many top prospects have come from the last two draft years. They seem almost too young to rank so high at times, but I bet a good number of them lose their eligibility for the lists next year with significant stints in the big leagues.


Any and all feedback on this back-of-the-napkin rating system is much appreciated. Fire away.

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