Ed. note: Promoted from the FanPosts section. I need some more time to digest this, but it's worth some discussion. -- WholeCamels
Reading Baseball Prospectus the other day, I was struck by something about the difference in the way top prospects are viewed in contrast to other minor leaguers. I was inspired, partly by the sterling example of TGP's own Matt Swartz, to take a stab at a new stat - in this case, one that would express that difference. I present it here as a small token of appreciation for Matt's labors, and a tribute to his BP Idol appearance in two senses: I'm throwing something out there that plays off of BP's efforts in an attempt to say something new (and, in my case, extremely minor), and I'm giving you all the chance to critique my shortcomings and tear me a new one!
The idea here is that many writers (in this case, Christina Kahrl) about this time of year like to recommend that bottom-feeding clubs take the last two or three months of the season to dump their vets and some of their minor leaguers a trial to see if they're worth keeping around, if the club "has anything" in player X. I was struck by the contrast to the oft-expressed view, e.g. in relation to the All-Star game, that two or three months can easily be a fluke and that it's silly to base firm conclusions on such a small sample size. So my quest is for a stat expressing the number of plate appearances that, according to the implied logic at work here, any given prospect ought to be given to demonstrate his ability before the club gives up on him. Obviously, a #1 draft pick who's brought up prematurely at age 21 won't be released just because his first season goes terribly - the club will figure he's got so much promise that they have to give him more time. On the other hand, you have the guys still in AA at 24 who finally get a cup of coffee - they're not long for the Show if they don't produce. So what the dealio? Is half a season enough time to forecast someone's future productivity or not?
For these purposes, I'm not focused on signing bonuses and other amounts invested in the players - obviously that affects clubs' thinking, but what I'm interested in here is the manner in which the way the player is viewed determines people's thinking about how much time he should get to show what he can do in the majors. I'm proceeding on the assumption that this is primarily a function of the consensus view of his ability, not how much money he got when he first signed with the club. Yet, previous investment plays some sort of role here.
So I figure, as a general rule of thumb, if you come out of college at 21, you are at some point ranked as the #1 prospect in America, you spend a reasonable amount of time in the minors, you're brought up at 23, they're gonna give you, what, two solid years to fall flat on your face before they cut bait? So that's, let's say, 1200 plate appearances. Guys who were never ranked higher are gonna get less than that. Also, as I say, if you're a former #1 who's brought up at 21 and you land splat on your noggin, they're not going to give up that easily - you'll get more seasoning and more PAs, while the guy who topped out at #100 on Baseball America or Sickels or BP won't get that leash (and, of course, most likely won't be brought up at 21 in the first place).
[Side note: I've only worked this out for hitters so far; don't have a pitcher formula.]
I'm thinking we should go by the highest prospect ranking achieved, rather than original draft status, for a couple of reasons - one, there's no international draft yet, and two, the prospect rankings are a closer approximation of how they're actually expected to do; I don't think a top ten pick who floundered in A ball would be given a long leash if he ever reached the Show merely because of the team's poor draft day decision.
So, the #1 ranked prospect gets 1200 PAs to show what he can do; if he's brought up earlier than age 23, maybe he gets more time. Also, to a lesser degree, the team will give him a little bit longer tryout the more they invested in him.
Here's what I have: 200 PAs + [1000 - 10x] + 200 [23 - y] + 100 [z/$1 million] = Prospect's Opportunity to Strut Stuff In Big League Endeavors (POSSIBLE)
where x = prospect ranking at time of debut, y = age ( in years) at major league debut, and z = signing bonus.
Thus, a guy who was given a $2 million signing bonus, made it to #20, and then got brought up for whatever reason at age 21, would get 1000 plate appearances based on his high prospect status, plus an extra 400 by virtue of being so young when he started, plus another 200 because, even if he's looking terrible after 1400 PAs, dammit the team sunk $2 million into this guy and they just wanna give him another third of a season to show them something, anything, to make them believe before they waive him. Thus, 1600 POSSIBLE.
Getting back to the idea that last-place clubs should give their minor leaguers a two-month tryout to see if they're worth keeping around, I'm assuming that we're talking about guys who are not considered future stars. They're probably low-ranked or maybe not in the top 100 at all, they're probably 23 or older when they get a shot, they probably didn't get a sizeable signing bonus. Hence, by this formula, they get just the 200 PAs to make an impression. A mere 200 POSSIBLE.
(Hey, I didn't say it was a brilliant insight. Matt did much better than this. There's a reason I didn't try out for BP Idol. It's just something I've been fooling around with. That said, fire away.)