Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Thoughts on Age vs League Part 4

Sergio Romo is an interesting story for those of us who like to go rummaging around in the minor leagues for hidden talent.

Romo was drafted in 2005 in the 28'th round out of little known Mesa State College as a senior.  Now, if you are someone who thinks college juniors are already pushing the age curve, college seniors are completely around the bend!  He signed immediately at age 22 and was assigned to Salem-Keizer, an age appropriate level, but even there, he was pushing the upper limits.  He absolutely dominated at S-K as a starter going 7-1, 2.75, 68.2 IP, 9 BB, 65 K's.  Prospect watchers were struck by the sensational K/BB and miniscule BB/9.

Generally a performance like that would earn a promotion the high A ball the next year but Romo was sent to Low A Augusta for his age 23 season, way old for the level.  He split his time starting and relieving and put up similar numbers as he did at S-K:  10-2, 2.53, 103.1 IP, 19 BB, 95 K's.

Moving up one level at a time, Romo spent his age 24 season in San Jose exclusively relieving and again was sensational:  6-2, 1.36, 66.1 IP, 15 BB, 106 K's.  Again, he was on the older side for the league, a full 5 years older, in fact, than Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner at the same level.

He finally made AA in 2008 at age 25.  His ERA was not so good there, but his peripherals were the same as always with 30 K's against 7 BB in 27 IP.  At this point, the Giants decided that he was capable of sustaining it all the way to the top.  He made 3 appearances for Fresno in which he struck out 7 batters while walking 2 in 6 IP.  He got the call to The Show later that year and put up a 3-1, 2.12, 34 IP, 8 BB, 33 K's line, pretty much the same numbers he put up as an old-for-level nobody for Augusta 2 years earlier.

He has maintained those numbers throughout what is now a 6 year MLB career in which he worked his way up from middle reliever to top setup man to closer for a World Series championship team and an All-Star Game berth.

Just a reminder that when you see nice looking numbers from a guy who seems to be too old for his level, don't immediately write if off as being due to inferior competition.


  1. The issue of age/level dwells on numbers, of course. But doesn't one need to distinguish players in terms of how predictive per se his numbers are? That is, I suppose that fielding numbers, insofar as fielding is quantifiable, ought to hold up pretty well at every level, since catching a fly ball, throwing across the diamond, etc. requires the same skills from high school on. Batting numbers, on the other hand, depend completely on the quality of pitching one faces, so they get tested pretty severely as one moves from level to level. The AAAA player, who rakes in AAA but flails in MLB, is common enough; whereas someone who pitches brilliantly in AA and AAA but flops in M

    1. who pitches or fields brilliantly in AA and AAA but flops in MLB is lots rarer. Pitching numbers are context-dependent, but also need lots of supplementation by observers, as to the repertoire of reliable pitches one has, the speed and craft with which one throws them, and so forth, to a great degree. I suggest that each of these number sets has a different predictive force; and that this fact very much complicates trying to establish omnibus paribus conditions for comparing players as to how likely they are to succeed in the majors.

  2. I view pitching and hitting prospecting to be much different. Pitching in the lower levels project better up to higher levels because, as the BP saying goes, TINSTAAPP. Either you have it or you don't. And hitting, while improved with higher levels, it is not like pitching where you have to master so many different pitches in order to make it to the majors. So age vs. level does not matter as much to me with regards to pitchers, though obviously performing well when you are young for the league portends greater things.

    In Romo's case, I wasn't following the lower levels that closely back then and when he was called up, I had never heard of him and was pleasantly surprised. But looking at the storyline that DrB weaved, it is great that he was able to rise like he did, but he's more of an anomaly than a proof point.

    Pitchers with no fastball and only one good pitch usually do not make the majors, no matter what age. He just happened to have one of the best sliders around and he does what a lot of pitchers can't do: stay around the strike zone. He didn't walk very many batters while also striking out a lot. That is a deadly combo.

    Still, hard to translate upward, so I think it would still be valid to note that he needs to prove this at every level he gets put at. It worked for Romo. It eventually worked for Dirty, but he took a couple of years in the majors to figure it out. Aardsma was brilliant in SJ in his first season, but took another 4 years and three teams before he could figure it out in AAA at age 25.

    Let's look at EL in 2009. Top pitchers in K/9, plus all of them had K/BB over 2: Mike Dunn, Anthony Slama, Josh Judy, Dustin Richardson, Jake Arrieta, Mike Zagurski, Dan Griffin (SF, only 24, 10.6 K/9, 3.74 K/BB was high among these, very similar to Romo's stats, never made it to big show). Dunn appears to be doing OK as a reliever, but the rest have mostly struggled in the majors or got a quick call-up.

    How were they different from Romo that made him standout while they failed pretty miserably? They all have very similar stats. Especially Griffin, why did he fail where Romo triumphed? And I'm sure this tale of dashed dreams exists if you go to any other EL season.

    1. That difference between hitters and pitchers is why I do focus more on hitters who are too old for the level who are doing well.

      The level of pitching does improve greatly as the hitter rises, a pitcher can learn to pitch without having a good hitter facing him, if he has a teacher guiding him as to what a good pitcher does.

      A good hitter needs to face good pitching to prove that he can hit at that level. He can't really learn to beat his weakness, whatever it is, in the lower levels, because the pitchers are not that skilled yet. He might learn he can't handle sliders, for example, but unless he faces a lot of sliders and learn to recognize it in order to hold back, he's not going to learn, I don't think.

      That's why I think teams should invest in hiring pitchers as coaches who can throw a certain specialty pitches well enough to go pitch BP against their young hitters, so that they can face certain pitches more often, especially at the lower levels. Kind of like how the Giants have hired a left-handed pitcher to throw to their MLB hitters (started with Bonds), except you need guys with higher skill levels if the batters are to learn anything.

      Pitching down the farm is full of pitchers who are missing key pitches that they need to be successful in the majors. Hitters can feast off of them if they happen to hit that type of pitching, but if they have a weak spot, it won't get exploited as much in the lower minors. But as he rises, he'll face more and more of the pitches that he's weak at, and he'll need to adjust. And as we've seen from prospecting, the vast majority of them do not adjust.

      An experienced hitter will be able to take advantage of the younger pitchers in his league because those pitchers are missing the key pitches that would put them in the majors. But then the balance tips in the direction of the pitchers at some point for most hitters, when the hitters can't handle certain pitches, and can't adjust to how pitchers pitch to him.

      So to me, there is a greater unknown for hitters as they rise. They will face pitchers with a better repertoire at every level. Whereas maybe they face a fastball or fastball/breaking ball combo in the lower minors, as they rise, you get pitchers with 3 or more pitches at their disposal, and varying levels of ability with them, not necessarily all good, until you get to the majors where most pitchers have good command of at least 2-3 pitches and often there is that one great pitch.

      What is his Achillies heel? There is more of a need for them to prove out at any level, before rising, and it is those who are heads and shoulders above the rest who look capable of making the majors. And still we all know of prospect hitters who never meet their hype, who kills the ball in the minors but couldn't do it in the majors. Sean Burroughs, Andy Marte, LaRoche, even Weiters is nowhere near what he was hyped to be, Posey and him seems to have swapped for each other's pre-draft hyped potential.

      Whereas, as TINSTAAPP notes, once a pitcher figures out his MLB pitch, he becomes a pitcher, there is no being a pitching prospect, either you are a pitcher or you are not. And that accounts for the big difference I see in how to view pitchers vs. hitters, age vs. level.

    2. Oh, I should have also noted: those pitchers in the EL were not all old for the league, some were right there, some were slightly young even and Arrieta was 23, 10.7 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 3.0 K/BB and Josh Judy was 23, 11.5 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 3.5 K/BB.

      And the more I think about this, the more I see that I'm really a downer on prospects. I'm not sure what brings out my doom more for certain prospects than others, I guess age is an easy thing to point out.

      With these posts, I think everyone here will form their own opinion and we can move on. I will assume that people here knows and try not to bring out the clouds as often.

    3. Romo is not an anomaly. There are many stories of older prospects who persevered and eventually went on to have solid MLB careers. HOF'ers? No! Solid, productive players, yes!

    4. There are many stories of older prospects who persevered and were solid productive player, I agree.

      My understanding of the age/level issue is that we are trying to discuss whether that is a factor we can rely on in telling whether a prospect has a better chance of doing something productive in the majors or not.

      That there are many stories of success, I acknowledge, but how do you tell a Romo from, say, a Dan Griffin, or, say, a Runzler or Munter or Threets or Todd Ozias, 23, 10.6 K/9, 3.59 K/BB, or Luke Anderson, 23, 10.4 K/9, 5.85 K/BB, both excellent closers for SJ too, and there was the one closer I thought for sure was going to make the majors, Joe Bateman, 9.6 K/9, 25 YO in SJ, 3.64 K/BB (not that I knew that was good back then), yet he never even got a cuppa joe. It is this separation of the wheat from the chaff that I have a problem with, and I find that age relative to level helps me with that determination.

      We all can see the Mike Trout's and understand that he's going to be a superstar. It is swimming among the masses and figuring out the Romo's from the Bateman's that is the hard part for most of us. I enjoy the victories of the Romo's but finding him and being able to judge, yes, we can expect him to contribute to the Giants someday, that is the key to our discussions here.

      It is not that I don't enjoy these stories or following these players over real time. I've enjoyed Romo's ride in the majors since I saw an interview with him soon after he joined the majors, and I loved his attitude and his personality so much that I've been rooting extra for him since.

      But what we are trying to discuss here is how to figure out when a player is worth seriously following. His numbers were pedestrian in Augusta, but anybody putting up 14.4 K/9 over a full season has pretty good stuff that could carry them to the majors. He led the league! He wasn't no F-Mart coming up 89th in the league in OPS. At that point, it didn't matter where he was drafted, he had great numbers.

      But what if he didn't have Romo numbers and didn't lead the league, which is when I bring up age vs. level. An older player doing well against a younger league, well, he should be. And we have no way of adjusting his numbers down to reflect that (well, MLE, but I have no idea how to do that, and it appears only Shandler does that relative to age).

      I understand cheering for the prospects of the team, but I want to be discerning too, I have limited time to spend on my fanaticism, I can't follow all the guys doing well. Is Duffy worth adding to my list? As you and Shankbone have noted, the farm system is deeper than ever, I can't remember everybody interesting that the two of you point out, and frankly, my memory has never been that good, I lose track of people.

      How do I tell when the old prospect is going to succeed while he is still in the minors? Look at the leader list in K/BB for Sally in 2006:

      Romo was the oldest (tied with others) and was only 10th. Lot younger guys did a lot better than he did, whether K/BB or K/9 or both, yet he is the only recognizable name on the Top 10 list there (except of course Osiris, who many of us followed, thinking he was going to make it). How were we suppose to know that he's the one that season?

      I agree that my broad brush misses people like Romo, but at least I'm not following all these other prospects who will never see the light in an MLB clubhouse. Maybe that is OK with you, but this is where I'm coming from.

  3. HEH Doc;

    And so who were / are these many?
    Not being argumentative!
    Examples would be nice with your statement.

    Richard in Winnipeg

    1. OMG! You know, I will research it and write it up, but I thought that ought to be a self-evident enough statement for people who have a cursory knowledge of where major league ballplayers come from.

      Just for starters off the top of my head:

      Andres Torres
      Gregor Blanco
      Brandon Crawford wasn't exactly on the fast track!
      Brian Wilson
      At least half the closers in baseball.

      I will try to do a more complete list when I have time!

    2. Here's 3 more names for you:

      Mark Trumbo
      Mike Napoli
      Josh Willingham

      You can look up both their minor and major league records with their ages at The Baseball Cube linked to the left.

    3. Craw did get aggressively promoted though, from a stellar CA start to the big bad Eastern. And then injuries there. But he was 22 in the big bad Eastern.

      I know Giants prospect hounds are jaded by years of the AAAA hitter (Minor, Linden et al), check out Cody Ross career:

      He hit 280 in AA, that was his best BA ever in the minors. We all want big #s all the time, but sometimes just playing to the level is enough to grind through.

    4. Crawford hit AA at 22 but did not do too well there. Then he sort of stagnated and did not get to the majors until age 24 and didn't stick until age 25.