Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Few Words on "Ceiling"

There seems to be a strong sentiment among fans to draft players with a high "ceiling" - players who can impact the Major Leagues with exciting tools.

First, some perspective: fewer than 10% of all the drafted players become solid Major League players (not stars, simply solid). Therefore, if a player reaches the Major Leagues, even as an extra player, that is a HIGH ceiling. Do we want to draft players who will not only make the big leagues but also have a chance to be a cornerstone player? Absolutely. However, that level of "ceiling" or "upside" is rarified air. Furthermore, it's not always so obvious during the draft process.

When most people talk about ceiling or upside what they're really talking about is the gap between the player's current ability, call it his polish, and his ultimate ability. A bigger gap indicates bigger upside. Let's think about that for a second - is that such a good thing? The answer is that it all depends on the ultimate ability as well as the likelihood that the player will reach that level. That ultimate ability, though, can be very difficult to measure.

Here are a few examples from Oakland, where Grady Fuson was the Scouting Director. Tim Hudson was drafted by the A's as a senior out of Auburn where he was the SEC player of the year (making the SEC All-Star team as a pitcher and an outfielder). However, Tim was 6'0" and about 160 pounds. Most people viewed him as a very good college player. Did anyone envision 142 Major League wins and counting? No chance. The A's liked him enough to draft him and believed he had big league potential, but Tim's "upside" wasn't evident.

Another example was Barry Zito. Forget about Barry's recent struggles and go back to 1999 when he was pitching for USC. When the A's drafted Barry with the #9 overall pick in the draft, it was viewed as the biggest overdraft in the first round. How could the A's take a guy with a below average fastball with one of the top ten picks in the country? Sure, Zito was "safe", because he would likely pitch in the big leagues, but there wasn't any upside! Now Zito is a 3-time All-Star and a Cy Young Award winner with more than 100 Major League wins under his belt. Did we expect that type of success when we drafted him? Very simply... no. Before anyone dwells on this one because of Barry's current stats, there are dozens of other examples.

The point is that players will often surprise you (in these cases positively, but it more often goes the other way), and if we take players who we believe have Major League potential, there is plenty of upside.

As far as drafting polished players versus unpolished players, which is the more relevant question, we've done both at the Padres. Remember, just because a player is from the college ranks, that does not make him polished. One comment referred to our selection last year of Brad Chalk and said we paid too much for a low ceiling player. Chalk is actually an example of the opposite. Though a successful college player at Clemson with above average speed and defense in CF, Chalk was a guy who hadn't done the offensive damage in college that we believe is in there. If he hits like we believe he can, his upside is huge. Chalk, Andrew Cumberland, Matt Latos, Cedric Hunter... we've taken plenty of players in the past few years with high picks that weren't considered polished products, but who also have exciting skills. There is nobody in our draft room selling a player by saying, "This guy is going to be a really good minor league player and should help our A-ball team win games."

Just like everyone else, we want upside, which is to say that we want big leaguers.

10 comments:

zino said...

Hi Paul

There is a lot missing from this discussion on "Ceiling"; I think...
Other potentially huge variables, is the ability of an organization to develop its drafted players. Who is to say why a player didn't reach his potential, would he have reached it in another organization with different coaches, methods or philosophy? Also missing in this discussion is the misses, if you tell me that 10% reach their potential and the ML, I am certain that there are another 10% that could have but were simply missed... Anyway not sure were I was going with all this but those are my few words on "Ceiling"…

Zino
http://zinostop10.blogspot.com

Tom said...

When I say "upside," I don't mean a gap between what is and what could be. It means the player's likely potential impact on the field. A pretty good college player is going to have lower upside because he's closer to his physical peak, therefore it's more true that what you see is what you get, and what you see is only pretty good.

As for "plenty...," well, let's see. Add Geoff Vandel and Burke to the list. For the purposes of discussion we'll put Brad Chalk, the "Hidden Toolshed," on there, along with Cedric Hunter, who was called "mature with little room for projection" when he was drafted. It's better to have some toolsy kids than not; it would be better still to have Green, Colon, and Toledo. Those are just the kids who didn't sign with the Padres, not the ones who weren't drafted.

I'd never suggest that what a player is on draft day defines what he could become. But putting almost all your eggs in the college basket and holding firm to the slot system has already limited the Padre farm system. It will be very hard to build a great farm system without changing both the mix and the commitment to slots. Good, yes. Great, no.

Paul DePodesta said...

Tom,

Please don't misunderstand me - I wasn't getting on you for mentioning Chalk. I was just using him as an example of a college player who may still have significant upside.

We would all agree that you shouldn't go with all college players. That is why all of those players you mentioned were taken. It's also why we spent millions in Latin America last year on players and also invested in a state-of-the-art facility there.

Wynn Pelzer is another college guy who has big ceiling whom we took later last year but then signed for well over "slot" money. He was a reliever in college, but we're starting him in the minors, and he's been consistently 90-94 mph with a good slider.

The point is that we're actually doing exactly as you suggest we do. Our reputation (or the external look) may be otherwise, but the reality is that we've had a good mix of now skills with potential and I expect that will continue.

Tom said...

I'd disagree with "exactly," but I'm genetically disposed to disagreeing. With 134 picks the last 3 years, we're counting these athletic / high ceiling / overslot players on two hands....one hand if we tighten the definitions. Not such a problem if there were more opportunities in free agency or trading was more reliable, but amateur talent is going to be the largest pillar of the team's success.

It's like locking an artist in a studio with construction paper and half a box of crayons. Sure, an artist can make something of that, but the end product would be better if the supplies included parchment, a full complement of paint, brushes, coffee, cigarettes with which to strike affected poses by the window.......

All that said, I'm sure all true Padre fans wish you success tomorrow. My prediction: Havens at 23. The supplementals are too hard.

Paul DePodesta said...

Tom,

Don't forget about all the Latin players signed and even some of our trades. We acquired guys like Will Inman and Steve Garrison who were high school signs and are still just 21 years old.

In general, more college players will be signed over the next few days. A significant percentage of the high school players would prefer to go to college if they're not taken in the top few rounds.

Cpt Top Off said...

Paul,

First of all, many thanks for this blog. We are very lucky to have access to this kind of insight that no other MLB team has.

It is interesting to hear your take on upside - I have to admit it changes my view on the subject a little. But still, especially with college pitchers, there are many cases when you KNOW a player will never be an impact guy. Point in case, Cesar Ramos. Everyone knew he would be a good organizational guy and could maybe develop into a fringy #5 at the big league level. But did the organization truly believe there was a chance for him to be better than that? We're talking about a 1st-round pick here. It just seems like that kind of player will always be available with picks in rounds 5-10. Am I totally offbase?

Also, please don't draft Dykstra in the 1st Round. He reeks like the kind of guy we'd overdraft.

Thanks.

Tom said...

I will never forget about Will Inman. Just don't promote him this year. He's a relatively high upside player hiding in a long reliever's body, sort of Chris Young-like.

Unfortunately, trading requires both a target and a resource that the other team desires. There are going to be seasons when the Padres supply of fungible players isn't big, or when your competitive position makes it harder to move attractive players. By contrast, every year the draft is a chance to bring in the 35-40 best amateur talents of those available when you picked. No question, Towers has been very successful in most of his trades. Still, with our justifiably cautious approach to free agency, we need to be hitting on as many other cylinders as possible. I guess what I'm getting at is that the Padres amateur strategy looks like a fairly well-tuned V-6, whereas teams like Arizona, LA, and Detroit are rumbling along behind big-bore V-8s.

If I'm a talented HS player, you KNOW I'm waiting until August 15th to sign.

Paul DePodesta said...

I wasn't here when we drafted Ramos (in the compensation round), so I can't provide more color on that one. Sorry.

Pelican Throat said...

First off Paul, many thanks for this gift, I can tell you that there is quite a buzz among die-hard Padre fans and baseball readers in general. Don't know how you manage the time but we are grateful.
That being said, I have to think that you know what some of us are getting at when we refer to past draft results in a disparaging manner. You may wish to champion our current minor leaguers (as all organizational men are wont to do), but the lack of athleticism throughout the system cannot be denied. As fans we cannot help but be frustrated when other squads are reaping the fruits of drafts that, for us, produced Bush, Carrillo, Stauffer, etc. It is understood that you were not on board at that time, but forgive us for being skeptical relative to the current crop. We hope you're right, that Headley, Antonelli, LeBlanc, Huffman, Inman, Latos, Miller and the rest of the gang can make an impact, but the jury is decidedly out.
During the winter the organization defends its reticence toward free agency by stating that the money is better spent in player development, but when the draft rolls around, the tragic slotting system is adhered to while others flaunt their wealth. International signings of note have been few and far between.
How can the front office, let alone ownership, abide by slotting recommendations when those who disregard the system gain competitive advantages with no penalties? On this point, no amount of public reassurance can change the perception that dollar signs are preventing the club from selecting the "best talent available".

Jason said...

cpt top off,

Looks like the Padres didn't listen to you. Still, I'd rather have Dykstra at #23 than Jason Castro at #10!