29 April 2009

Phil Hughes Vying for Joba's Job-a?

The Good News: Phil Hughes pitched well last night against the Tigers. He used 99 pitches to shut them out for six innings, allowing only two hits and two walks while fanning six.

The Bad News: People are starting to talk about putting Joba Chamberlain back in the bullpen.

The New York Daily News' John Harper makes some good points, but may be reaching a bit here:

For now, at least, they seem firmly committed to keeping Chamberlain in the rotation. But part of the equation here is that he shows no signs of being a dominating starter.
Well, he was pretty dominant against the Royals two weeks ago, but admittedly he had a tough time with Cleveland and Boston, two of the better offensive teams in baseball. It seems to me that three starts are not much of a barometer for whether he's going to be dominant.

For example, Mike Pelfrey and Scott Baker are both young pitchers, struggling more than Joba in their three 2009 starts. But they both pitched well in 2008, and nobody is talking about replacing Pelfrey's starts in the Twins' or the New York Mets schedule. Admittedly, neither of their teams has the potential glut of capable starting pitching the Yankees seem to have, but still, the analogy is worth considering.

One of the reasons Harper suggests changing Joba's role is that he would be able to throw harder and emote more freely in short stints out of the bullpen, rather than having to pace himself as a starter does, and therefore be more effective.

Since spring training the fastball velocity has been an issue, as he throws mostly around 92-93 mph now as opposed to 96-97 when he was relieving.

And while his celebrations as a reliever may have been a bit over the top, he seemed fueled by the emotion and let-it-go fire he could pour into a one-inning stint, as opposed to pacing himself as a starter.

The combination of lower velocity and a mostly placid demeanor have baseball people wondering what's wrong with Joba.

"There shouldn't be that kind of difference in velocity between starting and relieving," one AL scout said Monday. "When (Josh) Beckett is right, he's topping out at 96-97 from start to finish.

Well, not quite that high, and not all the time, but sure, let's say he's right about Beckett. So what?

Beckett has made exactly three regular season relief appearances in his major league career, and those were six and seven years ago. We have no way to compare whether the 4-5 mph drop from starting to relieving is appropriate or normal, at least not from Beckett. Maybe Beckett would be able to throw 102 mph if he only had to pitch one inning a night. Maybe 96 mph IS "pacing himself" in Beckett's case, a scary thought indeed.

One of the few examples we can use of a starting pitcher being used for short stints is at the All Star game. Though they usually work at more modest velocities, pitchers who know they'll only be throwing one inning tend to dial it up a bit more when they get called in to pitch. Brad Penny, who typically works in the 90-91 mph range, threw 95-96 mph when he started the 2006 All Star game, knowing that he wouldn't go more than two innings.

The fact of the matter is that anybody with any sense who discussed this issue last year knew that Joba would likely not throw as hard as a starter, would not dominate the way he did out of the pen in 2007-08. Nobody compiles a 1.53 ERA and strikes out almost 12 batters per game as a starter, at least not for very long, not in this era. If you were expecting that, you were mistaken.

But Joba can still be a good or even great starter, given the chance, without registering a "99" on the stadium gun every time he releases the pill. And perhaps if Pettitte and Sabathia and Burnett and Hughes and Wang are all pitching well, and taking up every start in the New York Yankees schedule, Joba would be the logical choice to relieve. But at this point Wang is a question mark at best, and Hughes has made exactly one good start.


Why would it be so bad to put Joba back in the bullpen?

Rob Neyer answers that question:
I've always come down squarely on the side of Chamberlain starting, for the simple reason that a good starting pitcher is more valuable than a great relief pitcher. Or rather, that a great starting pitcher is more valuable than a great reliever, and there were (and still are, presumably) some observers who believe that Chamberlain can become a great starter.
Chamberlain doesn't even need to become a great starter, though obviously that is still the hope. Neyer said it right the first time: A good starter is more valuable than a great reliever.

Last year, Jamie Moyer and Gil Meche and Kyle Lohse and Paul Maholm were all good, but not great starters. Each pitched around 200 innings with an ERA just under 4.00. Each had a VORP of about 40 (i.e. they were worth about 40 runs more than a replacement level starting pitcher over the same number of innings.)

By comparison, the best relievers (Scott Downs, the Mexicutioner, Brad Ziegler, Joe Nathan) were all around 30. Mariano Rivera was almost 35, but he's the exception to several rules, the one about the value of relief pitchers notwithstanding. So if Joba is healthy enough to pitch close to 200 innings, and good enough to compile an ERA under 4.00, he'll be worth about ten runs more than he would if he were to pitch only 70 innings with an ERA around 2.00. Got it?

Ten runs isn't an enormous amount, but it's probably about one win, and in what is shaping up to be a tightly contested AL East, one win might make all the difference. But, as Billy Mays says, wait, there's more.

You see, 70 innings with a 2.00-ish ERA is about the maximum that we can hope for from Joba as a reliever. Sure, he could post a 1.50 ERA. He could pitch 80 or 90 innings. But the Yankees would either have to use him more often or for longer stints, and given their history of handling the kid with, well, kid gloves, that's not likely.

As a starter, however, Joba could still thrive. It will be enough if he gives us 180 innings with a 3.75 ERA, but he could still find a groove and rack up 210 innings with a 2.99 ERA (his career mark as a starter) which would make him,

A) Worth about 60 VORP, i.e. twice as valuable as a very good reliever, and

2) One of the best starters in MLB.

Putting him back in the bullpen effectively eliminates this possibility.

Are we really ready to throw Joba's career under the bus after three starts in April? Give the man a chance to build up some stamina. Give him a chance to prove himself against some other teams. Give him a chance to throw more than 93 pitches.

He doesn't have to be great to be worthwhile as a starter. He just has to be good.

But he still might be great. Don't take that away from us.

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24 April 2009

Giants Free Passes Just Around the Corner

MLB.com's Chris Haft writes that the San Francisco Giants are issuing fewer walks this year, and their pitchers are therefore having more success at preventing runs.

Besides yielding five runs while finishing 4-1 with three shutout victories
on their recently completed homestand, the Giants issued just 10 walks. This
went a long way toward limiting their season total through 14 games to 53.

That ranked only 10th in the National League entering Thursday, but it's a considerable improvement over last year, when San Francisco's 652 walks were third-most in the league. If pitching and defense were the chapter headings to the Giants' outline of success as the season began, reducing walks was a critical subcategory. Too many free passes would devalue the talent of their pitching staff.

"The more it's talked about, it actually makes it all worse," pitching coach Dave Righetti said. "But you know what? You have to face it. It's not going away."

The subject of walks may linger, but the walks themselves have been dwindling. In the past four games, Giants pitchers have walked one batter in three games and two batters in the other. Opponents worked for the few runs they mustered.

Is this really such a big deal?

The Giants did walk 652 batters last year, which was second most in the NL, not third, and their rate per nine innings of 4.067 just slightly edged out the Pirates at 4.06 per nine innings for worst in the NL. In the majors, only Baltimore walked more batters per game than the Giants in 2008.

This year, as Haft says, the walks are down.

To three-point-nine.

Right now they're 7th instead of 16th in the NL in walk rate, but the rate itself is not much better than it was last year, and frankly, it's still pretty early in the season. Matt Cain (career walk rate of 3.8/9IP) and Jonathan Sanchez (4.6) and Barry Zito (4.4 walks/9IP since joining the Giants) and Tim Lincecum (3.6) are still on the team, and are not likely to suddenly stop walking batters.

The one bright spot is that this year Randy Johnson takes the starts that last year were given to Kevin Correia and Brad Hennesey and Matt Palmer, who all walked quite a few batters last season. Johnson, though not the dominant ace he once was, only walked 44 in 184 innings last year, and can probably teach yougsters like Lincecum, Sanchez and Cain a thing or two about throwing strikes.

More likely, though, everyone will continue to pitch largely as they have always done, with perhaps a few slight improvements due to age and experience. Other personnel changes that may help, according to Haft:
The Giants don't want an excess of walks from their relievers, either. That's largely why they signed free agents Jeremy Affeldt and Bob Howry, who maintained excellent control in 2008, and gave chances to non-roster right-handers Brandon
Medders and Justin Miller. Medders issued five unintentional walks in 15 exhibition innings; Miller was even more precise, walking one in 12 1/3 spring innings.

Those four relievers have combined to walk 3.9 batters per nine innings, same as the team average, and as I mentioned, only marginally better than last year's staff.

And as for saving runs? Well, certainly they did OK in the last few games, though it should be noted that these were against the Diamondbacks, who finished 10th in the NL in Runs Scored last season, and the Padres, who finished dead last. Most likely the Giants' pitchers experienced a brief respite from their usual complacency about free passes when faced with a couple of teams that both struggle to score runs anyway.

Just like all the hype about the homer binge at Yankee Stadium last week, it's still pretty early in the season, and any assessment about the nature of either a team or a building is generally pretty premature.

Articles like this get written all the time, especially early in the season. Six years go I wrote something calling Peter Gammons out when he wrote about how the 2003 Baltimore Orioles hitters were suddenly walking a lot more often than their 2002 selves had, describing a change in philosophy that supposedly the whole team had bought into. The 2002 O's had walked only 452 times, second worst in the AL that year, and their team OBP of .309 was also second worst.
Well, in the end the 2003 Orioles actually walked less, only 431 times, and while they did improve two spote in the OBP ranking, it was because they got more hits, raising the team batting average from a dismal .246 up to a semi-respectable .268. But in the meantime, it looked like a good story to Gammons.

Baseball writers are always looking for a reason for a change or improvement, and are quick to lend credence to changes in approach and philosophy for any perceived improvement, especially if they happen to be the beat writer for a particular team. But more often than not, these things are just flukes, and they are frequently magnified by the fact that so few games have been played, so the numbers can be more easily skewed.

And just like that, they can be skewed back. Over the next month, the Giants will be playing the DOdgers six times, the Mets three, the Rockies five times, and the Cubs twice, in addition to the Nationals and the Diamondbacks. Let's see if the walk rate improves any fiurther.

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20 April 2009

Analyzing the New Homer Happy Ballpark

There is a new ballpark from which balls are flying out at a record pace. Home runs are jumping off the bats of both the home team and its opponents, much more so than in the team's road games, begging the question of whether this new park is going to play like Coors Field. Or at least, like Coors Field used to play.

I'm talking, of course, about Chase Field in Arizona.

Granted, it's not that new. But the Diamondbacks and their opponents have hit 23 homers in their nine home games, but only one homer in their three road games, to date. This gives Chase Field a Home Run Park Factor of 7.667 right now, meaning that it is more than six and a half times easier to hit a home run in Phoenix than it is in a neutral MLB park.

That number is asinine, and is obviously a result of the fact that the Diamondbacks have played only a handful of games. Chase Field has always been a hitter's park, as we know, but nothing has appreciably changed about it from the last several years. Since 2001, the home run park factor in Arizona has averaged about 1.07, meaning that it's about seven percent easier to homer there than at a neutral park. Seven percent, not seven hundred percent, mind you.

This year, the D-Backs have hosted the Rockies, the Dodgers and the Cardinals, three teams that can hit pretty well. The Dodgers were a little below average last year in run scoring, but they've largely revamped their lineup. At bats that last year were mostly handled by an aging Jeff Kent and the three punchless musketeers of Angel Berroa, Blake Dewitt and Juan Pierre are now largely taken by Orlando Hudson, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake and Manny Ramirez.

The Rockies and Cards were both in the top half of the NL in run scoring last year, and in similar, though somewhat muted fashion, some of their offseason moves represent "addition by subtraction" as well. Willy Taveras, Cesar Izturis, and Adam Kennedy, are gone, and their replacements have helped to shore up the offenses of each team. Admittedly, there are some holes in this theory, as some of their hitters haven't really hit their stride and others are overperforming at the moment, but generally I think this makes sense.

Nevertheless, we can see why the Diamondbacks' pitchers have had a hard time at home. And similarly, we can see why the Arizonas have themselves hit so many homers at Chase Field, facing the likes of Aaron Cook, Glendon Rusch, Joel Piniero and some inexperienced relievers. their three road games, against a rebuilding Giants team in the pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, have helped to skew the sample.

No doubt, as the season plays out and the D-backs both face and provide better pitching, the homers will slow their torrid pace and we'll return to our regularly scheduled season of only moderately crazy home run rates, instead of the ridiculous ones we have now.

In a related story: The New Yankee Stadium.

There are probably a few sillier notions going around than the one that says the Yankees' new digs are a homer haven, but offhand, I can't think of any right now.

After this weekend's opening series against the Cleveland Indians, as you've no doubt heard by now, the New Yankee Stadium is being hailed as "Coors Field East". The Yankees have hit nine homers in their four home games, to go with the 11 hit by the tribe. That's 20 bombs in just four games, and if you want to be thorough about it, you can add in the seven homers hit in the two exhibition games against the Cubs earlier this month.

At the pace suggested by these first four regular season games, you'd expect 405(!) homers to be hit over the course of the year, a ridiculous number. For comparison's sake, the most homers ever hit in a ballpark in one season is (I believe) 303, set by the Colorado Rockies in 1999, who hit 144 homers in their 81 home games, but also allowed 159.

At this rate, then, the Yankees' sea-level ballpark, with dimensions almost exactly the same as their previous home, located literally right across the street from this one and facing in generally the same direction, would have to allow about 1/3 more homers than the homer-happiest ballpark in history at the peak of the steroid era. Which, as I said, is ridiculous.

There have been suggestions that while the official dimensions are the same, the walls themselves are a little bit closer in some areas, especially the right field short porch, though these differences make up less than 10 feet in any one location, and usually more like four or five feet. Similarly, the outfield walls are shorter in a few places, though not very much shorter, and anyway, if you watched Chien-Ming Wang and rookie Anthony Clagett (ahem...) pitch on Saturday, you'd know that few of these homers are just barely clearing the fences. Most are no-doubters, and so we're left to wonder what other forces are at play here.

The elevation and direction are the same. The dimensions are the same, mostly. One suggestion deals with the new, big scoreboards in centerfield, perhaps blocking the wind that used to keep some fly balls in the park, but this too is an insufficient explanation. The old park had a big scoreboard and billboards all the way across the outfield, more than 100 feet high probably, and so while the big, new video board might be bigger than the old one was, it should not make this much of a difference.

The problem in both cases (that is, Chase Field and new Yankee Stadium) is that so little of the season has been played. The Yankees have played just 5% of their 2009 home schedule. Drawing any conclusions from these four games, with no apparent reason for the high incidence of homers to be blamed on the ballpark, is foolishness at best, yellow journalism at worst.

Isn't it just possible that, say, the baseballs themselves are juicier or that the Yankees' pitching staff still has some kinks to work out? or that, you know, it's a statistical fluke? It would be like assuming that all of the 2,900 miles of Interstate 80 are straight and flat and largely devoid of traffic after having driven only the portion that goes through the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

I think I'll drive a bit further before making my decision, thanks.

UPDATE: In light of the fact that Accu-Weather has weighed in on this issue, and thinks it may be new wind patterns due to the slightly different profiles of the former and current stadia's grandstands, I decided to posit my own theory on how the wind and weather may be affecting the baseballs hit at the new Yankee Stadium.

Possible Old Yankee Stadium Wind:

Possible New Yankees Stadium Wind:

Hey, my approach is about as scientific as theirs is.

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09 April 2009

Carl Pavano Makes History Again, Sort of

Carl Pavano made his (not) much anticipated return to a major league mound this afternoon, toeing the rubber for the Clevelands against the Texas Rangers in Arlington.

Pavano gave up nine runs, all earned, in only one inning of official work, striking out one and walking three. He allowed two homers, a double and three singles, and faced three batters in the second inning before being sent to the showers. He left two runners on base, both of whom scored eventually, one on a sacrifice fly, the other on a fielder's choice.

This should be no real surprise, as Pavano has been neither healthy nor effective for half a decade, and his spring training stats (5.70 ERA in 23 IP) did not exactly inspire confidence. But still, an ERA of 81.00?

It's not often you see a pitcher give up at least nine runs without getting more than three outs. Since 1993, this has only happened 15 times, which is more than I would have guessed. The last occurred in August 2008, when Brian Bannister let the Yankees have a 10-spot en route to a 15-6 drubbing. An interesting point of note: Kansas City has doled out four of those 15 games, while nobody else has more than two (Arizona).

Bronson Arroyo also did it last year, in June, giving up 10 of the Blue Jays' 14 runs in an embarrassing loss. Such a game occurred only once in 2007, but it was perhaps the worst start in history: 11 earned runs, two outs by Houston's Jason Jennings against the Padres. Someone should have told him he wasn't pitching in Colorado anymore.

The most this has happened in a single year was the four times it occurred in 2006, twice due to the Royals' horrendous pitching. One of those, Mark Redman's 9-earned run, one out start against the Tigers in late September, might be even worse than Jennings', if we use ERA as the barometer. Redman's ERA for that game was (I kid you not...) 243.00!

Then it only happened about once per year, going back to 1993. Interestingly, some of the pitchers who did this weren't really all that bad. Arroyo last year was already mentioned, but Orlando Hernandez did it in Y2K, Tom Gordon in 1995, and Ben Rivera in 1993, each of whom won 12 games in the year this happened, though Rivera had an ERA over 5.00 for the year, and only won the games he did because he was pitching for the eventual NL champion Phillies.

Rookie Jason Simontacchi did it in 2002, when he won 11 games for the Cardinals. Ryan Madson did it in 2006, when he won 11 for the Phillies, though admittedly, he was much better in relief than starting that year, and hasn't started since that year. Redman also had 11 wins in the year he did it, albeit with an ERA of almost 6.00.

But before that? Wow, this almost never happened. Going back to 1954, which is as far as Baseball-reference.com's searchable gme database goes, there are only three more games ivolving at least nine earned runs and three outs or fewer, less than one per decade.

Before 1993, you have to go back to 1987, when Houston's Bob Knepper surrendered nine earned runs to the Cubs in just one official inning, during a season in which he led the NL with 17 losses. Houston stuck with him, though, and he went 14-5 the next year, but then he went 7-12 for two teams the following year and was done. (Interestingly, Rick Sutcliffe gave up seven runs and six walks in five innings in that game, but got the Win!)

The last one before that was in 1976, when journeyman Joe Decker of the Minnesota Twins gave up 10 runs to the Royals (remember when the Royals used to be able to score 10 runs?) in one of the last starts of his career. He lasted about another month, and then disappeared from the majors for three years, before attempting a brief comeback with the recently formed Mariners in 1979.

And finally, lest you think that such things only happen to lousy pitchers, the first such start belonged to none other than Bob Gibson. Excuse me: Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, in 1967. This was a down year for him, only 13-7, 2.98 ERA in 175 IP, but still, nine runs in one inning? Actually, two thirds of an inning? The Cardinals would eventually win the World Series that year, with Gibson finishing 22nd in the MVP voting, but that day the Giants had their way with him. I guess the wind was blowing out at Candlestick Park.

This really doesn't mean much, except that Pavano is likely on his way out, which we all knew anyway. Unfortunately for Cleveland, they're counting on him as their #3 starter.

In case you had any doubts about how the game has changed in the last decade and a half, think about how these out of control pitching performance used to happen about once every 10 or 12 years, and now they happen about once a year.

Good thing we got this year's out of the way quickly!

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08 April 2009

Using Draft Signing Bonuses to Predict MLB Performance?

From an interview with Baseball Prospectus' Nate Silver in the Baltimore Sun's blogging branch:

TD: I did want to ask you about [Orioles catching prospect Matt] Wieters, because PECOTA seems to have an almost unprecedented crush on him. I was wondering what you made of that?
Nate Silver: [...] The Double-A team Wieters was playing for, when you look at park effects and league difficulty, it was a really tough year for hitters in Double-A. And so that gets ratcheted up quite a bit. The Eastern League was very competitive. He did about as well as any player can do down at that level. He's a big guy. That translates pretty well. And we look at the size of a guy's signing bonus because that has some predictive value. The fact that he has a very big pedigree in college and that more often than not, guys who are drafted that high tend to pan out. That combination of things led to a really aggressive forecast where, if he played for a whole year at that level, he could be an MVP contender.
The bold emphasis is mine.

For the record, Wieters is projected to hit .311/.395/.546 with 31 homers and 100 RBI this year, despite the facts that he has only one year of pro experience and it's all been at Single and Double-A. For reference, that's about as well as Kevin Youkilis or Mark Teixeira did last year, and is easily the most optimistic projection for a rookie player that Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system has ever made.

I saw this over at Rob Neyer's newly-formatted blog on ESPN.com, and I thought that rather than waste all my thoughts commenting over there, where someone might actually see them, I would lay something out here. This way nobody will ever read it, and it can't fall into the wrong hands, er... eyes. Whatever.

Anyway, I understood some of why PECOTA would suggest that a young player with so little pro experience would play at such a high level in his rookie year. After all, such a feat is not unprecedented. Mike Piazza hit the cover off the ball at AA and AAA in 1992, and then easily won the NL Rookie of the Year in 1993 at age 24, hitting .318/35/112 for the Dodgers.

He was, it should be noted, a year older, and put up his gaudy minor league minor league numbers at a higher level than Wieters did last year, but the analogy is there. Also, as Neyer pointed out, Johnny Bench won an MVP award at age 22, though he did so after having already played a few seasons in the majors, not as a rookie. Joe Torre, Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk, Ted Simmons, Gary Carter and other catchers have hit very well at age 23 or so, but most of those had some seasoning in MLB before that.

And of course those were all before PECOTA. Back in the day, we used to have to rely on scouts and guesswork to figure out how well someone would perform, but today there is an array of different methods, all scientific in some form or another, to do this job. Bill James, ZiPS, PECOTA, and a half dozen others all have some proprietary methods for guessing at how well players will do in the future, with varying degrees of success.

Once in a while you get to peek inside a little, as when Baseball Prospectus introduced and explained PECOTA a decade ago. For the most part, though, these systems remain hidden, and the specific formulae are always closely guarded secrets. But Silver let the cat out of the bag in this interview, and I can't believe nobody has yet picked up on it:

Signing bonuses??!?

I can understand using players with comparable stats, comparable positions, comparable body types, ages, and etc. to try to figure out what someone might do, but signing bonuses? That essentially means that PECOTA is putting some semblance of trust in what the drafting teams think of their draftees' worth, right?

I'm not saying the teams don't know what they're doing, but there is an inherent danger in this approach. Talent and potential aren't the only thing to go into this process. Teams who have more money to spend can afford to give bigger signing bonuses, though I doubt a structured settlement company would figure their payouts like this.

The Yankees, for example, routinely give their picks more than "slot money" because, well, they're the Yankees. Or because they're trying to convince a player to sign with them instead of going to college, or playing another sport. Similarly, Scott Boras clients get more than anybody else because he's the best agent in the business.

Theoretically then, a Yankees' draftee, who wanted to go to college, affiliated with Scott Boras could easily get a bigger bonus than someone drafted 10-15 spots ahead of him. This, despite the fact that he's presumably not as talented, and yet, somehow, PECOTA would increase his projection because of it.

How far down the draft order does this consideration go? Just the first round? the first two, or five? The whole draft? Probably not. And for how long is this a factor? Just with rookies, or after a year or two of minor league experience?

In any case, most of the time, this is probably irrelevant, as I doubt that PECOTA makes a distinction between a bonus of $220,000 and $250,000, or between $19,000 and $30,000, or whatever. But when you start getting into the millions, well, I have to wonder.

Wieters got $6 million from the Orioles, almost as much as 2005 #1 pick Justin Upton got from the Diamondbacks. These are Upton's PECOTA projections for 2007 and 2008 as well as the performances on which those were based and the actual performances in the following years, for comparison:

2006 Performance: .263/.343/.413 in 501 PA in Class A, at age 18
2007 PECOTA: .255/.318/.413 (12HR, 10 SB, 62 Runs and 53 RBI in 529 PA in MLB)
2007 Actual: .221/.283/.364 in 152 PA in MLB, after hitting .319/.410/.551 in 100+ games at High A and AA

Looks like PECOTA missed high and wide with this one. Upton was only 19 in 2007, but BP thought he would be just a hair below the average NL hitter that year (which was .266/.334/.423, according to Baseball-reference.com). Instead, he hit more like the average NL pinch hitter (.228/.311/.358) which is to say, like a guy who does not deserve to play regularly.

2007 Performance: .319/.410/.551 in 456 PA in A and AA, at age 19
2008 PECOTA: .271/.349/.471 (20 HR, 92 Runs, 78 RBIs, 18 SB in 642 PA in MLB)
2008 Actual: .250/.353/.463 (15 HR, 42 RBIs, 52 Runs, 1 SB in 417 PA in MLB, after 15 decent games in AAA)

PECOTA got pretty close to the mark here, though. Despite the 21-point gap in batting average and the lack of steals, Upton's actual OPS was within 0.004 of his projection, albeit in a lot less playing time, which is difficult to project. So perhaps the signing bonus thing doesn't factor in once they've got a couple of years' experience to use for evaluation purposes.

Other 2007 draftees who got several million in signing bonuses either don't have a PECOTA projection for this year (Andrew Brackman) or have projections that seem pretty reasonable (Mike Moustakas, David Price, Josh Vitters) given what we have seen of them in the minors.

I also checked Jeff Samardzija, the Cubs' pick in 2005 who got a record $7.25 million so that he would pitch instead of playing football. His projection for last year indicated that he would stink very much bad in the majors, which he surprisingly did not, though their projection for him in 2008 says much the same (6.60 ERA).

I can't check everyone, of course, but my suspicion is that the signing bonus thing doesn't play a very big role. I'm just not sure I get why it should play any role at all. Silver's explanation for using the signing bonus is that "it has some predictive value" but of course, generally, the guys who get more money in the draft are the ones the teams think will be good major leaguers anyway, so there ought to be some correlation there.

This winds up as a self-fulfilling prophecy, where the the players who are expected to be good are given a lot of money, and then the players given a lot of money are expected to be good. Seems to me there must be a better way.

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