Pick One: Dillon Gee or Jeurys Familia?

Here’s the question: If you’re the Mets and you can have just one, Dillon Gee or Jeurys Familia, which pitcher do you take?

I posed the same question on Twitter yesterday, and as expected, a majority picked Jeurys Familia. It seemed to be an obvious choice for many: Familia is a top pitching prospect, ranked in the top 100 on most prospect lists this winter. Familia throws hard, he’s young (22), exciting, and coming off an impressive season in the minor leagues. Dillon Gee, on the other hand, is going to be 26 in April, looks to be in his mid-30s, lacks a blow-away fastball, has inexplicably decided to spout awful facial hair, and is coming off an unimpressive season as a fifth starter on a poor major league team. It seems that the live-armed prospect, Familia, should be taken over the known mediocrity, Gee, and the choice should be instantaneous. And this is exactly what my gut is telling me when I think about it.

I also think my gut is wrong — or at least hungry – as it so often is, and Dillon Gee is the better pick. It’s not anything against Familia in particular, who is and remains an excellent pitching prospect. I’m just starting to suspect that baseball fans, particularly myself, have begun to overestimate the value and potential of all pitching prospects, even the excellent ones.

Let’s get this out of the way first: Familia is a good pitching prospect – through four seasons in the minor leagues, Familia owns the following statistics:

Year Age Tm Lev ▾ W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP
2008 18 Mets Rk 2 2 2.79 11 11 51.2 46 20 16 2 13 38 3
2009 19 Savannah A 10 6 2.69 24 23 134.0 109 49 40 3 46 109 12
2010 20 St. Lucie A+ 6 9 5.58 24 24 121.0 117 87 75 7 74 137 15
2011 21 2 Teams AA-A+ 5 5 2.90 23 23 124.0 106 50 40 11 43 132 9
4 Seasons 23 22 3.57 82 81 430.2 378 206 171 23 176 416 39
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/17/2012.

Those numbers are good — three good seasons, one bad one — and the scouting reports back them up. He’s a good pitcher.

But Dillon Gee is a better pitcher, at least right now. Familia remains a prospect – a potential major leaguer — while Gee already is a major leaguer. Gee is already doing what fans hope Familia will someday be able to do, and if one of the two had to pitch a game for my soul, today I’d take Gee.

So if we’re picking between the two, we really want to know the chances that Familia becomes better at getting out major league hitters than Dillon Gee in the near future. And the short answer, based on comparable pitchers, does not favor Familia.

Let’s deal with Familia’s comparable pitchers first – and some of this originally appeared on Tuesday. Familia has been consistently ranked among the top 100 prospects in baseball this winter: Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com ranked him #90, Kevin Goldstein ranked Familia at #89, and Keith Law ranked him just outside the Top 100, mentioning Familia as a near miss. Familia is a top prospect, but appearing near the lower end of top 100 lists.

Between 1997-2008, Baseball America listed 51 pitchers between #85-95 on their top prospect list – pitchers who, at the time, were valued similar to how Familia is valued today. Those players are with whom we’ll be comparing Familia. We want to know how those pitching prospects ultimately fared, in order to get an idea about Familia’s chances at success. And of those 51 pitchers similar to Familia . . .

  • 10 never pitched in the majors
  • 14 pitched in the majors, but finished below-replacement level
  • Seven were middling relievers (fewer than 1.0 career WAR)
  • Seven became useful relievers (more than 1.0 WAR: Danys Baez, Guillermo Mota)
  • Nine became Pelfreys (Jason Marquis, Tom Gorzelanny)
  • One became a top reliever (Jonathan Papelbon)
  • One became a quality starting pitcher (Ricky Romero)
  • One became a good starting pitcher (Erik Bedard)
  • One became an ace starting pitcher (Matt Cain)

And then lumping those smaller groups into bigger groups:

  • 61% are disappointments: sub-replacement level, poor relievers, and the pitchers who never make it to the majors
  • 31% become useful pitchers: decent relievers and Pelfreys
  • 8% become good pitchers: top relievers or good starting pitchers

Maybe those odds are fair to put on Jeurys Familia, and maybe they’re not. I’m sure there are plenty of people who have higher expectations for Familia right now, but I’m also sure that 12 years ago fans had higher expectations for Grant Roberts (#84 prospect in 2000). Whether you think Familia should be ranked higher or lower, that’s how the pitching prospects ranked similarly to Familia ultimately fared.

The 8% chance for Familia to become a good pitcher — a “good” pitcher being one with more than 10 wins above replacement for his career — may sound low. But consider that there are exactly 100 active pitchers in baseball who would fit that criteria. (And all 100 do not peak at once: Five pitched for the Mets last season – Chris Capuano, Chris Young, Miguel Batista, Francisco Rodriguez, and Jason Isringhausen – while a sixth, Johan Santana, missed the season on the disabled list.) There are around 110-130 pitchers each decade who meet that criteria, so about four per team per decade. They’re rare. Good pitchers are rare. Between Familia, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Jennry Mejia, the Mets have a good shot at hitting on at least one.

But the odds of any particular pitching prospect hitting are low, and that’s the important point here.

How about a pitcher like Dillon Gee? How do pitchers who begin their major league careers in a fashion similar to Dillon Gee ultimately progress? And are those pitchers more valuable than prospects like Familia?

As with Familia, we can look up a group of pitchers similar to Dillon Gee. We’re looking for starting pitchers similar to Gee in age and experience, and with ERAs and strikeout-to-walk ratios similar to Gee’s rates:

Year Age Tm W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP ERA+
2007 21 Brooklyn 3 1 2.47 14 11 62.0 57 17 17 1 9 56 6
2008 22 AA/A+ 10 6 2.92 25 25 154.1 135 53 50 7 24 114 10
2009 23 Buffalo 1 3 4.10 9 9 48.1 47 22 22 5 16 42 5
2010 24 Buffalo 13 8 4.96 28 28 161.1 174 96 89 23 41 165 13
2010 24 NYM 2 2 2.18 5 5 33.0 25 10 8 2 15 17 0 181
2011 25 Buffalo 1 1 4.63 2 2 11.2 7 8 6 1 5 8 1
2011 25 NYM 13 6 4.43 30 27 160.2 150 85 79 18 71 114 14 84
2 Seasons 15 8 4.04 35 32 193.2 175 95 87 20 86 131 14 93
162 Game Avg. 15 8 4.04 36 32 197 178 96 88 20 87 133 14 93
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/17/2012.

I don’t know why this table included Gee’s minor league statistics, but it did for some reason. I think I like it better this way; we’ll keep it.

Gee was 24 years old in 2010 and 25 in 2011, has a career 93 ERA+ in the majors, and three strikeouts for every two walks. For his comparable pitchers I choose to look up starting pitchers

  • between the ages of 23-26
  • in their first and second major league season
  • pitching in at least 30 games
  • with an ERA+ between 83-103
  • and a strikeout-to-walk ratio between 1.25-1.75.

That search brings up a list of 65 pitchers comparable to Dillon Gee. (It actually brings up 70 pitchers, but one is Gee and the other four are contemporaries.) Of those 65 pitchers . . .

  • 21 pitchers were at or below replacement level over the next five seasons
  • Five were replacement-level starters or middling relievers (less than 1.0 WAR: e.g., Bobby M. Jones)
  • 14 became useful relievers or sixth starters (less than 5.0 WAR: Zach Duke, Daniel Cabrera)
  • 12 became Pelfreys (less than 10.0 WAR: Esteban Loaiza, Matt Clement)
  • Seven became quality starting pitchers (less than 15.0 WAR: Ron Darling, Russ Ortiz)
  • Six became good starting pitchers (less than 20.0 WAR: Aaron Harang, Charles Nagy)

Lumping Gee’s comparable players into the same three groups as Familia’s comparable players, Gee’s friends look like this:

  • 40% disappointed: sub-replacement level, replacement level, or middling relievers
  • 40% became useful pitchers: swingmen, good relievers, Pelfreys
  • 20% became good pitchers: innings eaters, all-stars, and Randy Johnson

The average career wins above replacement for Familia’s comparisons was 2.5 wins; the average wins above replacement (over just the next five seasons) for Gee’s comparisons is 4.7 wins.

This is not to overstate Gee’s case: Dillon Gee is not a great major league pitcher, and a high percentage of comparable pitchers, about two in every five, ultimately wash out. But about one in every five takes a big step forward – though most appear to do so in their late 20s or early 30s — and about two in every five remain useful major league pitchers. Compare those results to Familia’s comparable pitchers, where three in every five wash out, only three in ten become useful pitchers, and one in ten becomes a star. The pitchers comparable to Gee found major league success at a rate 50% higher than the pitchers comparable to Familia, became stars at a rate over 100% higher, and were more valuable on average.

Pitchers comparable to Dillon Gee, at this point in his career, outperform pitchers comparable to Jeurys Familia, at this point in his career, in just about every way.

Now it’s certainly possible that all this is wrong, and given the choice of just one, Jeurys Familia is a better pick than Dillon Gee. But for that to be true, either Familia must be significantly better than all the other pitching prospects ranked similarly to him in the past, or Gee must be significantly worse than all the pitchers with similar careers (or some combination of both). Maybe there is an argument for both cases, but I don’t see it.

I think, what it comes down to, is that it’s easy to overestimate the value of prospects. Top prospects, both pitchers and hitters, are generally the best players in the minor leagues. They’re above-average for their levels, and because they’re more skilled than their competition, it’s easy to focus on their possibilities, to talk about what they can do and what they could be. Familia can throw a live fastball. He could be a #3 starter or an ace relief pitcher. He has potential, and it’s easy to imagine the possibilities as he beats up on his present minor league competition.

Meanwhile, it’s equally easy to focus on the shortcomings of major league players who are good enough to become major league players, but not quite good enough to become above-average major league players. Dillon Gee doesn’t have a great fastball. He doesn’t have enough quality pitches. He gets hit too hard. He is a less skilled baseball player than a majority of his competition, and it’s easy to think about what Gee cannot do as he struggles through a four run, six innings performance.

But the major leagues are much harder than the minor leagues. The best players in the world play in the majors, and a player performing poorly in the major leagues is generally better than a player performing well in the minor leagues. Familia had his success last season pitching at levels two and three steps below the major leagues. He still needs to prove that he can be above-average in Double-A, and then above-average in Triple-A, before he even gets a shot to prove he’s a better player than Gee at the major league level. And a whopping 61% of the pitchers ranked as highly as Familia ultimately fall short of that goal.

Again, maybe I’m wrong here. But it seems to me that given the fictitious choice between Dillon Gee and Jeurys Familia, the Mets should at least pause and give Gee serious consideration. Known mediocrity, as unexciting as it may be, is sometimes the better choice over unknown potential.

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “Pick One: Dillon Gee or Jeurys Familia?

  1. I think something that gets lost with prospects in Mets-land is that prospects equal value because you can trade them for something else of value. Trading prospects at this point is not what Mets fans want to hear, but if Familia continues to pitch well in the high minors and the Mets magically found themselves in a playoff race, Familia could be flipped for something of use to the Major League Mets. Dillion Gee almost certainly cannot be flipped for something of substantial worth unless he drastically outperforms his career numbers. At which point the Mets would not be likely to deal him (and if they were magically in the playoff hunt Gee would almost certainly be a big reason why). Point is Familia has more value than Gee because he is worth more to other teams than Gee in a trade. Thus, I would rather have Familia than Gee if I had to choose right now, one or the other.

  2. Patrick,

    I understand your point about the volatility of pitching prospects, but I think your parameters on back end top 100 guys is too broad. How many of those guys were even further away from the majors than Familia? And how many posted similiar numbers while having a young age relative to league?

    The thing is, every farm system (including the Mets) have a few arms comparable to a Dillon Gee. That’s inherent in the definition of replacement level. If you take Familia over Gee, you still have Chris Schwinden, Jeremy Hefner and Colin McHugh. Greg Peavey profiles like a Dillon Gee type as well. Gorski and Goeddel could very well end up at the level as well. Yes, Gee has actually made the majors, but he’s been well below average there, and even at pre-arb prices, doesn’t give you all that much surplus value.

    Familia on the other hand, looks to be a Parnell type at worst, and his ceiling is comparable to Harvey’s (though he is more likely a 3 than a 2) if he stays a starter. That kind of pitcher on the open market gets something like 3 years at 10-15 million a year. Now, Familia might not turn into that, but the whole point of having a farm system is to develop three or four Familias, not three or four Dillon Gee’s.

    Also, your Gee comps are unfair. I just don’t think you should be setting it at 23-26, that skews your candidates too young. Pitchers that come up at 23-24, are much more likely to be above average starters than pitchers that come up at 25-26.

    The larger point is that pitching prospects are so volatile, you almost have to take them on a case by case basis. In this specific case, I would take Familia over Gee without even thinking too hard about it.

    The caveat is, of course, young pitchers get injured. But we have so little hard information about why they get injured that while I would say Familia’s age makes him *more* likely to get injured in the next three years, I’d be hard pressed to bet any large sum of money on it.

    • I agree with most of this, especially Mr. P’s point about Gee being a replacement level player. There are tons of these guys around so the team would basically be no worse if you got rid of him and Familia didn’t pan out. With the prospect, on the other hand, even if there’s a 61% chance he won’t be as good as Gee, you still have the chance for something better than replacement level.

    • Patrick Flood

      The prospect guy likes prospects! I agree with some things here, disagree with some others.

      – For the Familia comparisons, it’s just pitchers ranked #85-#95, so some are going to be closer to the majors but with less upside, some are going to be farther away with more upside as compared with Familia now. I guess the other way to make the comparison would be to look at minor league pitchers with similar statistics at similar levels at the same age. But I don’t know how to do that. Maybe the second way would be more favorable to Familia, maybe not.

      – I agree, every system has a bunch of dudes who could become Dillon Gee. But not all those dudes become Gees or OGs.

      – Disagree big time with Familia being a Parnell type at worst. At worst, Familia burns out in Double-A this season or is eaten by cannibals or something. The floor isn’t Parnell, the floor is never making it to the majors. He was awesome in High-A, but it’s not like Familia *dominated* Double-A last year with a 3.96 FIP. Dillon Gee has a 4.0something FIP in Triple-A, though he was older.

      – If you only look at the 25-26 year old comparisons for Gee:

      Average career WAR: 3.8
      50% bust
      34% turn into useful pitchers
      15% turn into good pitchers

      So slightly worse than the younger or equally old comparison guys, but still better than the Familia comps.

      – In terms of injuries, I don’t think that gets weighted enough: If Familia suffers a career ending/altering arm injury next season, he gives the Mets no value. If Gee suffers a career ending/altering arm injury next season, the Mets still got another year of value out of him.

      – This is purely an objective, no-scouting-or-other-information argument I’m trying to make. So if you think Familia underrated by prospect lists and should be closer to Harvey or Wheeler, that would make a big difference. Harvey and Wheelers comparisons are better than both Familia’s and Gee’s comparisons. So I’d take either of those two over Gee or Familia.

  3. Good stuff. I still take Familia over Gee, in a heartbeat. Why? You’re not including Gee’s 0.5 WAR in your analysis.

    Of the guys you mentioned, here are their fWAR through ~200 MLB IP.

    * Zach Duke: 5.6 in 300 IP, so let’s say 3.5.
    * Daniel Cabrera: 1.2 in 145 IP, 4.1 in about 310 IP. Let’s say 1.8.
    * Esteban Loaiza: 1.4 in about 220 IP. This is probably low, because he had 1.5 as a rookie and the strike and an apparent injury was mixed in there.
    * Matt Clement: 2.2 in 192.2 IP. He matches Gee very well in year one — both saw very limited work and put up 0.3 fWAR in their first year. But Clement surged to 1.9 the next year.
    * Ron Darling: 2.0 in 240 IP, again over two seasons (cup of coffee year one, full time rotation job year two).
    * Russ Ortiz: 1.8 in 283 IP, so call it 1.2?
    * Aaron Harang: 1.9 in about 150 IP. Add his third year and it’s 3.5 in about 310 IP. Say 2.2 in 200 IP.
    * Charles Nagy: 3.7 in 250 IP, but all of that (3.6) was in his first full year as a SP (211 IP).
    * Randy Johnson: 2.3 fWAR in 187 IP.

    Gee and his half a win above replacement just doesn’t fit in. And I think it’d be hard to find comps, given this, which give him a significant chance of long-term success. I’ve been poking around FanGraphs for a while and I can’t find a one.

    • Patrick Flood

      Yeah, this is kind of a Baseball-Reference vs. Fangraphs question: Is Gee a 2.4 win player like baseball-reference has him, or a 0.5 win player like Fangraphs has him? Because that changes the answer a lot.

      Dan makes a good point. I tend to go with Fangraphs in smaller sample sizes, stuff less than 200-300 innings, where Gee is now. But if you trust Fangraph’s WAR for pitchers past a certain number of innings, you end up arguing weird stuff like Ricky Nolasco (4.50 ERA in 900 innings now) being a really good pitcher.

      • I think the entire question of Familia v. Gee could be boiled down to “bWAR or fWAR?”

        If you go with bWAR, then yeah, of course you’re taking a guy with 2.4 WAR over 200 IP and 1.6 last year. That latter number was third on the team behind Dickey (4.9) and Capuano (1.7) and better than Pelfrey (1.4) and Niese (1.3).

        If you go with fWAR, you take Familia in a heartbeat. Gee’s 0.2 last year was 7th on the team of pitchers with 4+ starts, behind Batista (0.4) and Schwindin (0.4).

  4. AV

    In the paragraph that starts with the sentence “This is not to overstate Gee’s case…”, you write “Compare those results to Mejia’s comparable pitchers, where three in every five wash out, only three in ten become useful pitchers, and one in ten becomes a star.”

    Did you mean Familia? I think this is a typo, unless your article started about Jenrry Mejia and became about Jeurys Familia (in which case it’s still a typo, I suppose.)

  5. Interesting stuff. I think the statistical comparison over-rates Gee. After all, the main reason people aren’t high on him is that he doesn’t have the stuff to have a ceiling as the top 20% in that comparison. He’s not going to turn into Randy Johnson.

    I also think Familia may be a bit under-rated on some of these lists; I liked him as much as Harvey in A+ ball.

    On the other hand, I think guys like Gee can get under-rated as well. I’m not sure we really have more people with the potential to be Gee than we do with the potential to be Familia. I don’t think guys like Hafner and Peavey are that close.

    Really, I think it comes down to guys with velocity, who need to improve command and secondaries, vs. a guy with command and secondaries, who has little hope of improving his velocity.

    If you look at Gee’s minor league career, he had a BB/9 of 2.0, and regularly had 19%+ of PA end in strikeouts, had 16%+ of PA result in swinging strikeouts at higher levels. He was limiting walks and missing bats.

    I would say maybe Schwinden, Gorski, and McHugh have a combination of “good enough” fastballs, relatively low walk BB/9 (2.0, 2.8, 2.9), and strong enough swing and miss rates to have a chance to be a Dillon Gee. But not every guy throwing 90 mph is a “potential” Dillon Gee.

    None of Harvey, Familia, Mejia, and Wheeler meanwhile have really yet demonstrated a good BB/9 (3.1, 3.7. 3.9, 4.7). Harvey’s was just OK, but even there it was bad enough in college to not be too encouraged yet by that. If Wheeler can maintain the control he showed after the trade (BB/9 of 1.7) he’d jump to the next tier of truly elite prospect, the guy with both ceiling AND polish.

    So if you are looking for a “potential” Harvey, Mejia, or Familia, you might look at guys like Fulmer, Montero, Tapia or Morris who could start the year as hard throwers in low-A ball. That’s as far from AA as a guy starting the year in AA is from MLB.

    So in general I buy that the young guy with the velocity can improve his command, and the older guy throwing 90 mph isn’t going to improve his velocity. And I think I’d take Familia here. But I think it’s close. And I think some of those guys with “good enough” stuff already showing strong command do sometimes get under-rated. An awful lot of these hard throwers will never develop the command and feel they need to reach those theoretical ceilings.

  6. i would feel much more comfortable answering the question at the all star break. the jury is clearly still out on gee but there were times, and not just in the first half, when he showed he might have enough smarts and a dominating changeup to be a really good pitcher. gee had two exceptionally poor starts last year (one against phillies and one against the nats) which really skewed his seasonal numbers. as i recall he later beat both teams in subsequent starts demonstrating it wasnt a case of teams figuring him out. if gee can get command of his curve this season i think he can easily win 16 games even without any increase in velocity

  7. This was a cool article and interesting food for thought, but I’m just here to add that Dillon Gee’s new facial hair is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.

  8. Patrick, interesting study. However, please be aware that “we” (i.e. common Baseball knowledge) are a lot smarter today and for the past 5 or 6 years than “we” used to be in the late 1990s or early 2000s (pre-Moneyball era so to speak).

    Also, keep in mind that the difference between # 75 overall and # 100 overall is generally a lot less on these lists than, say, between # 20 and # 30. The BA Top 100 is usually created by mixing 5 Top 100s of their individual writers.

    So, how about we just look at those prospects who made a BA Top 100 list in the # 76 to # 100 range (Familia probably is more in the 100 to 125 range, though, as they had Nimmo ahead of him in the top 10)between 2006 and 2011, i.e. 6 lists featuring 150 prospects, of which 79 were pitchers (though some made it multiple times, so it´s really closer to 70).
    Here are some of the names:

    RH Josh Johnson
    LH Ricky Romero
    RH Brandon Morrow
    LH Gio Gonzalez
    RH Ubaldo Jimenez
    LH Matt Harrison
    RH Wade Davis
    LH Jon Niese
    RH Jeff Niemann
    RH Jordan Lyles
    RH Tyler Chatwood
    RH Jason Hammel

    So, already we can come up with two pretty strong major league rotations from the # 76 through 100 range on the 2006 through 2011 BA backends, loosely about 6 frontline SP, 3 mid-rotation types and 3 back-end rotation types.

    Also, how about late inning relief ?
    Well, how about these:
    RH Neftali Feliz
    RH Craig Kimbrel
    RH Jordan Walden
    RH Drew Storen
    RH Andrew Cashner
    RH Daniel Bard
    RH Chris Perez

    Feliz & Bard may get rotation gigs this year and even in middle relief we have a bunch of names for you who have already had some success in the majors:

    RH Pedro Beato
    LH Glenn Perkins
    RH Matt Albers
    RH Jeff Samardzija
    LH Tom Gorzelanny
    RH Anthony Swarzak
    RH Jeremy Jeffress

    Want to add some current top 100 prospects for your farm as potential trade bait ?
    LH Tyler Skaggs
    LH Martin Perez
    RH Zach Lee
    RH Arodys Vizcaino
    all figure to be in most top 75s. There is still hope for several others who haven´t progressed as gradually but may still have a shot at a decent career

    So, while there are some true busts in this list – RH Andrew Brackman or RH Brad Holt are two prominent examples from the two NY teams – though there´s even an outside chance for them having a brief major league career – the success rate is a lot higher if you´re using a somewhat broader sample size but in a more modern time frame.

    Looking at those lists, Familia does seem to have some similarities to the likes of RH Jordan Walden and RH Ubaldo Jimenez among pitchers on this list. Both made it having had some success at the mid to upper levels but question marks regarding their stuff holding.

    So, to answer, I´d clearly prefer the lottery ticket Familia to the known commodity backend SP Dillon Gee. Though I like Gee. Yet, give me 4 million $ and I can get you a Jason Marquis, Paul Maholm or even Livan Hernandez every year to fill the # 5 spot in the rotation. Or, I can hope that one of Schwinden, McHugh, Hefner or Gorski makes it.

    • Patrick Flood

      Good point all over here, but again, agree and disagree with various parts. Instead of addressing it piece by piece, I’ll just say this (and this “this” may turn into it’s own blog post):

      How many good (front of the rotation, ace relievers) pitchers are there in baseball at any one time?

      I’ve looked this up, and it’s up above in the post somewhere, but I’ll repeat it here: If you say a good pitcher needs to get to 10 WAR, then there are about 100 active at any one time (and then about 120 good pitchers per a given decade). Let’s stick with 100. There are 100 good pitchers at any time, and they arrive, peak, and retire in waves.

      Basically, the idea is that 5-10 good pitchers debut in a given season, as another 5-10 peak, and as another 5-10 see their careers wind down.

      Baseball America lists about 40-50 pitchers in their top 100 prospects every season. And because we already know the number of good pitchers coming into the league isn’t 40-50 per season, but more like 5-10, only a small fraction of those pitching prospects will actually become good pitchers.

      The point being: While, as you said, we probably are better at identifying talent in the minor leagues than we were ten years ago, and the pitchers #75-100 on Baseball America’s list may be better than their counterparts 10 years ago . . . it’s still a small difference.

      The shift is tiny, because the number of “good” pitchers isn’t increasing. It’s not like the Top 100 used to correctly identify 10 good pitchers and now it identifies 20 good pitchers. It’s more like it used to identify eight good pitchers and now it gets nine. Familia may be a better prospect than his counterparts in the high-80s from ten years ago, but it’s probably the difference between an 8% chance at becoming a good pitcher and a 13% chance.

      • Another question is whether WAR really is an accurate statistic to measure quality late-inning relievers. It seems odd to me that the general perception among informed “fans” is that the better late inning relievers / closers are well overpaid & overrated because they are rarely better than 2.0 WAR players – or about the value Andres Torres had in his poor 2011 season. Yet, a lot of the smarter front offices spend a lot of assets – be it $$ or young talent – on late inning relievers.

        For example, RH Mike Adams who may have been the best setup reliever in Baseball last season splitting time between SD & TEX merely had a 1.8 WAR.

        So, could it be that WAR – as nice as having a universal stat may be – does not measure the true value of good relievers. And I´m not talking the easy 3-out, 3 runs up SV but rather the close & late situation. Ask the 2008 Mets on the effects of a terrible bullpen on the entire team btw.

        So, to summarize, if you´re looking for a career 10 WAR P, odds are, even top relievers often won´t make that list.

        Finally, here´s a look at a 32 player sample from the BA Top 50 3 & 6 years ago, showing that the success rate has also improved at the front end:

        2009:

        # 2 LH David Price – ace
        # 4 RH Tommy Hanson – borderline ace who looks like a coming injury risk
        # 7 LH Brett Anderson – good # 2 type SP for a couple of seasons, expected back in July after TJ surgery
        # 9 LH Madison Bumgarner – good # 2 type SP who may become more
        # 10 RH Neftali Feliz – top closer now being switched to rotation
        # 11 RH Trevor Cahill – good # 2 type SP
        # 21 RH Rick Porcello – decent backend SP for now after being rushed, still hopes he becomes # 2 type
        # 22 RH Chris Tillman – has struggled so far, could be first bust on list
        # 25 RH Brian Matusz – lost velocity in 2011, may be injured
        # 29 RH Jarrod Parker – still a top 30 overall SP prospect after misssing 2010 with TJ surgery
        # 31 LH Derek Holland – emerged in 2nd half of 2011 as another possible frontline SP
        # 32 RH Wade Davis – basically a Pelfrey type innings gobbling # 3/4 SP with room for more
        # 41 RH Jordan Zimmerman – also missed a year with TJ Surgery but now looks like Nats # 2 or # 3
        # 45 RH Tim Alderson – bust, projected velocity never came, similar to Yusmeiro Petit, finesse stuff didn´t play
        # 46 RH Jhoulys Chacin – frontline SP for COL in 2011

        So, of those 15, we have a total of 3 “busts”, a couple of more who have been pedestrian and a bunch of quality # 3, # 2 or even # 1 SP types.

        And before you say that was a fluke, how about the top SP prospects prior to 2006 ?

        # 6 LH Francisco Liriano – somewhat inconsistent frontline SP, has been an ace and a # 5
        # 7 RH Chad Billingsley – quality # 2 SP
        # 8 RH Justin Verlander – ace
        # 10 RH Matt Cain – either a great workhorse # 2 or a borderline ace
        # 22 LH Jon Lester – a borderline ace
        # 24 RH Bobby Jenks – quality closer now turned setup reliever
        # 34 LH Scott Olsen – was a solid mid-rotation type for a couple of years before flaming out
        # 35 RH Joel Zumaya – elite setup reliever for a couple of years before arm blew up
        # 36 RH Mike Pelfrey – solid workhorse # 4 SP, sometimes # 3 if he´s stable mentally
        # 37 RH Jonathan Papelbon – elite closer
        # 38 RH Homer Bailey – has developed slowly, 2011 was his first solid season as a backend SP
        # 39 RH Phillip Hughes – has been anywhere from a mid-rotation SP to good setup reliever
        # 40 RH Anibal Sanchez – quality # 3 SP
        # 44 RH Mark Rogers – generally a bust, though he has reappeared as a possible bullpen arm for MIL
        # 45 LH Adam Loewen – competing for a job on the Mets bench, bust as a P
        # 47 RH Adam Miller – mysterious finger injury derailed his career, bust
        # 48 RH Dustin McGowan – showed promise as a SP for a couple of seasons, then blew out his arm

        So, using this 32 player sample size, if you have three top SP prospects, odds are, one becomes a stud frontline SP anywhere from ace to borderline # 2; one becomes a solid back-end SP (aka a Pelfrey) or quality late-inning reliever and one flames out early or is a bust entirely, mostly due to major injuries.

  9. You’ve put way too much thought into this. Gee won 13 games for a “poor ML team.” The Mts have a recent history of rushing prospects, especially pitching ones. Let Familia develpo at a normal pace and don’t bring up any prospect until he forces your hand (see Gooden, Lynchburg, 1983). Since this team probably isn’t going anywhere there’s no reason why Gee can’t fill the 3 or 4 spot as a servicable starter; his greatest value, like Pelfrey, in the innings he eats.

  10. Thanks for adding a sensible and well reasoned reply in there Gregg. The question “If you’re the Mets and you can have just one, Gee or Familia, which pitcher do you take”; can be interpreted two ways. Who is the better option for 2012? or who has the greater chance of long term dominant success? Pitching is not strictly about throwing 95(+). That kind of ability will help but there have been plenty of guys throwing close to 100 mph who were not able to stick around long enough to win 13 games in the ML. One poster commented that Gee will never be a Randy Johnson; no kidding.. RJ was probably a 1 in 10,000 or 1 in 100,000 type of player. There are usually only 4-5 pitchers like that every 20 years. Currently the team has only 1 star pitcher and odds are, he wont be approaching 300 career wins and joining RJ in the HOF. In the last 25 years the team has developed only 1 pitcher who appeared ready to have a career like RJ. Dwight hit some tough periods and didnt reach the HOF although he was undoubtedly top notch for 4-5 years. The fastball obsession is overrated. Most people consider RJDickey a great story – he has had success without the fastball. He was likely regarded as AAA material for the first 5 years of his MLB career. Why write Gee off immediately just b/c of his fastball. He got the job done… If he can do the job for several more years, win many more games than he loses, and do that a relatively low salary, whats wrong with that. He’s not going to strike out 300 or 200 per year… so what. Since Gooden had his all time rookie season, has any Met rookie pitcher done better than a 13-6 1st year season ?

  11. I think it’s a question of needs. If you have a good team that missed the playoffs because your #4-5 starters sucked, and you lack cash, then Gee is the answer to your prayers.

    If your entire rotation sucks, and your only hope is to develop an ace, then Gee is irrelevant, and you want a dozen or so Familias.

    I would definitely take a dozen unpolished hard throwers over Gee. ONE of them, though? Sorry, I’m gonna play the odds Patrick cited. Gee can get out MLB hitters, there’s nothing wrong with his fastball, and he may yet improve. I’ll take that over “60% chance to never contribute” (plus Keith Law’s “no chance as a starting pitcher”) any day.

    If you think guys who throw 89 with a great change-up and good control are a dime a dozen, all I can say is that guys who throw 96 with no breaking stuff or control are MUCH more common.

    • Patrick Flood

      I’ve read somewhere that people grossly overestimate the importance of mile-per-gallon when buying cars. The idea being that MPG has a number attached, while other factors more important to a car owner’s satisfaction — such “comfort” and “safety” — do not. So it’s easier to say “Car A gets 35 mpg, and Car B gets 30, so I’ll probably be happier with Car A,” even if Car B is more comfortable, safer, and more reliable.

      Basically, I’d argue the same thing with pitchers. Fastball velocity is probably overvalued, because we can measure it accurately and compare it easily, whereas a more abstract talent like “control” can not be pinned down in quite the same way.

  12. So there is a 50% chance that in three years or so we will have completely forgotten that both of these guys even existed? Awesome!

    Great analysis on the overvaluing of prospects and relative success. A lot of my choice here is based on thinking that Gee will not be the same pitcher he was in 2011 going forward and will likely end up with a negative WAR. Given that and the Mets situation as it is, I’ll take Familia. If I was many other teams though Gee would be the answer. Although if you are a team like the Phillies you can also take the luxury of choosing the riskier guy because you have stability and depth. Would be interesting to see what others teams bloggers think on this subject.

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