Monday, October 6, 2008

Pitching Prospects

There have been a number of comments over the past few months regarding our pitching philosophy. Generally, there has been some disdain that we tend to focus on command pitchers as opposed to power pitchers with specific mention of Petco Park and guys like Geer, Ramos, and LeBlanc since they are all on the cusp of the big leagues.

First and foremost, as a matter of practice, we do not target command over velocity. Every pitcher is a unique blend of skills - athleticism, delivery, repertoire, command, movement, velocity, durability, etc. Though it may appear that we have a particular preference, it is the balance of all of these factors and more that drives our decisions.

For instance, let's go back to draft day and discuss the trio of "command" pitchers listed above. Cesar Ramos was drafted in the compensation round of 2005 out of Long Beach St (I wasn't here at the time or in 2006, but I had seen all of these guys pitch, so the following perspective is just mine). Ramos is left-handed and he was always a very good strikethrower. The knock was that he didn't strike enough guys out, but it wasn't because of his fastball. Cesar routinely touches 92 mph and regularly pitches at 90-91, which for a left-hander is considered above average (or borderline above average). In this instance, the Padres took a left-hander with average to plus velocity and above average strike throwing ability. If nothing else changes, that's probably good enough to pitch at the back of a rotation or in the pen. If something more clicks, though, there is real upside. In fact, after striking out 4.5 per nine innings in A ball and 4.9 per nine innings in AA, Cesar this year struck out 6.3 per nine innings in AAA. I like the way this trend is going.

Josh Geer is a very different case. At Rice Josh had a fastball that sat at 91 and ranged from 88-93. Fast forward three years and Josh now pitches between 85 and 91 and throws more strikes than he ever did in college (3.2 walks per nine in college and 1.9 walks per nine as a pro). Sometimes this is a matter of becoming more consistent in one's effort level and delivery. Other times it's simply a matter of the pro workload - pitching every fifth day as opposed to once a week like in high school or college.

Wade LeBlanc was a guy in college who had a devastating out-pitch in his changeup, and that continues to be the case. His velocity in college was mainly 86-88, which has been his standard as a pro. He pitched a little below that in the big leagues, but that is likely because it was the first time he had pitched in Major League camp and September, which added two months to his season. With that velocity, however, Wade has struck out 8.8 per nine in A ball, 8.6 per nine in AA, and 9.0 per nine in AAA. The point is that velocity doesn't always equal strikeouts (though there is a correlation - I can't deny that). So basically, Wade continues to be the same successful pitcher that he was at Alabama with very consistent performance and stuff. In fact, Chris Young is another good example of this. Chris doesn't throw particularly hard, but batters have a decidedly difficult time against him, so his velocity alone does not dictate his place in the rotation.

The three examples above simply show that what we get on draft day isn't always what the guys look like three or four years later - one is striking more guys out, one is striking fewer guys out, and one guy is basically the same - so there hasn't necessarily been a focus on guys who don't throw particularly hard. In fact, the Padres took Cesar Carrillo in the first round of 2005 who threw hard with command - the combination that all teams want.

Fortunately, the Padres have a growing stable of these pitchers - guys who throw hard with command. Matt Latos, Wynn Pelzer, Drew Miller, and Jeremy McBryde are just some of the names that fit this mold. All of these guys were signed for above slot money in the draft, but just like the three mentioned above, they don't necesssarily have the same characteristics as on the day they signed. Furthermore, there are also many, many more whom we targeted in the draft but didn't get to select for one reason or another.

We've also been aggressive with our Latin American signings. Long before we signed Adis Portillo out of Venezuela in July, we signed Ernesto Frieri, Wilton Lopez, Simon Castro, Jackson Quezada, Alexis Lara, and Pascual Juan. Both Frieri and Lopez are on the 40-man roster, and all of these pitchers top out at least 94 mph. In fact, in the draft this year we also took a handful of guys, like Bass, Bagley, and Poynter to name a few, with above average fastballs, so our lower levels boast a large group of power arms.

The important takeaway here is that pitching is very difficult to predict and all different types of pitchers have success, so we draft and sign all different types of pitchers.

Back in 2005, the Padres' system was a little thin, so drafting polished college pitchers made sense - there was a need to build some pitching inventory in general - but those guys don't always turn out the way you'd expect. Fortunately, the farm system is much healthier now, and we're hopeful that we have created enough of a foundation across the spectrum of pitching to have a number of Major League contributors with all sorts of different repertoires and abilities.

27 comments:

jeffreylw said...

I hope you guys are willing to pay over slot money for next years #3 pick. Please don't draft for signability.

Alex said...

Two questions,

1) I was looking over McBryde's history a bit and I noticed he was drafted twice by the Padres (38th round in 05 and 26th round in 2006). I guess I'm curious about why McBryde, a guy who posted one of the best K/BB ratios in all of the minors in 2008, would slip so low in the draft, even by the Padres? On paper, there is seemingly nothing not to like about this guy, why did every team, Padres included, pass on him for 25 rounds? Were there injury concerns? Transferring to college concerns? Did you guys just pay him a ton to forgo college?

2) This is probably too early to even speculate, but is Wade LeBlanc in the running for a rotation spot for 2009 or is it a forgone conclusion that he'll start 09 in AAA. LeBlanc seemed prone to surrendering the longball this year (PCL is an offensive league), but the guy really had a strong season in AAA. Over his past 3 months in the minors, LeBlanc threw 94.1 IP and posted a 103-20 K/BB ratio (5.15). He even cut his HR rate and raised his GB rate over that span. Does his poor showing in 20 innings mean that much to his immediate future, or does his impressive minor league track record speaker louder than a small sample size of 21 IP? If LeBlanc did start 09 in AAA, is there really much for him to learn there?

JJT said...

Paul
Thanks for the post.
Given the recent public discussions about team philosophy (the "flex"), I am sure the team has a philosophy about pitching as well as hitting.
What do you do with a top draft choice (like #3 next year), if there is a player with exceptional talent that might not fit the profile of the flex player?

For example, if a player has a higher ceiling (multiple plus pitches, high velocity) but doesn't fit with team philosophy as a player with a lower ceiling, what happens come draft day?

Ryan said...

Paul,
In general, would you say that organizational need or organizational philosophy prevail in signings?

For example, I would classify your comment regarding building pitching inventory in general as an organizational need. Building said inventory by drafting polished college pitchers is an organizational philosophy.

I get the sense that the displeasure being voiced by some is not based on command v. power, per se; but the belief that safe was taken over risky, projectable or predictable was signed over "high ceiling".

The Padres will have the # 3 overall pick in the 2009 MLB first year player draft. Is the club's objective going to be drafting the overall highest rated player on the board? Is it it going to be based on positional need? Is it going to be based on signability?

Yes, it is ridiculously early to even begin mentioning the 2009 draft. And yes, the sheer fact that this blog even exists already places the Padres front office at the front of the class when it comes to office transperancy. So I understand if you cannot fully comment on the subject. Any additional clarifying language you can provide will be helpful.

Thank you.

Paul DePodesta said...

I guess old wounds heal slowly.

The only thing I can say about the 2009 draft is that the most recent history is the most applicable. We have been very aggressive with amateur talent, both domestically and internationally, of late, and I anticipate that will continue. I feel a bit ridiculous "boasting" about paying over slot and how much money we've spent internationally. Nevertheless, we've done plenty of both in the last two years.

Our focus in the 2008 draft was 100% on best player available. I expect that we'll take the same approach in 2009.

Paul DePodesta said...

Alex,

As you pointed out, LeBlanc was outstanding in his final three months in AAA. What you didn't mention (mercifully) is that Leblanc had a 9.27 ERA in his first five starts in AAA and 6.56 over his next five. Basically, he kept getting better and better. The fact that he struggled a bit in his ML debut is neither surprising nor damning. Facing the same team three times didn't help, but part of the reaonsing behind brining Wade to the ML this year was to start that learning curve.

Ace2110 said...

Paul,

Am I correct to assume that the starting rotation is the most glaring weakness on this roster?

mweldon said...

The thing that worries me about Leblanc is that in order to utilize his best pitch, the change, he needs to set up hitters with a Brian Lawrence fastball. It seems to me that he might be more suited as a bullpen guy, where he can come in and fool a couple guys every night. As a starter, I worry that batters will be able to figure him out after getting a few looks at him.

Ramiro said...

In the SDUT
The last couple of years, we haven't bypassed any individuals or Boras clients because of signability,” Towers said. “We've taken the best player available on our board when we picked, and we will take the best player available on our board in 2009.”

So Paul, you are going to tell me In the 2007 Draft Nick Schmidt had better stuff than Rick Porcello.

John said...

I would think the bullpen and lack of offense would be of greater concern than the starting rotation. There's at least workable parts in the rotation.

Paul, I think it's great that you addressed the command versus velocity question. I think many people don't realize that even in high school many players are able to throw near 90 mph, but not able to have command. I've never played a game of baseball in my life in high school and I was able to hit over 80, so velocity is much more common place than command. Age is also a factor many do not consider, as players get older their velocities usually slightly diminish every year and their command and movement on their pitches are more important than velocity. Not to mention a good major league hitter can catch up to any ball no matter how fast it's thrown.

hector said...

I remain a believer in signing high ceiling pitchers only.

What good can a 4A player do for a team?

I think that Geer's success had more to do with lack of scouting reports on him just like Germano last year, just like Thompson the year before.

I do not share your optimism on LeBlanc, Geer or Ramos.

Once Carrillo & Bush (who has a higher approval rating?) bounce back they will have better careers as professionals than Geer, LeBlanc and Ramos.

Tom said...

ace2110: Absolutely, ace. It's amazing how many fans are blaming the offense, not just this year, but since Petco opened. The offense has generally been better than the pitching every year. It was better this year, by a lot. It still wasn't good, but we need 3 starting pitchers for 2009, and neither Geer nor Hensley should be 1 of those 3.

ramiro: The key political phrase there is "on our board." If you construct a draft board that doesn't include several players, then you can say "we took the best player on our board" without fibbing. Any draft board that, for example, had Danny Payne or Brad Chalk above Nevin Griffith or Matt Harvey was clearly constructed with signability in mind. That doesn't make the Padres approach wrong (or right), but it's definitely different than taking the most talented player available.

Tom said...

john:

The bullpen was bad, but the offense was actually much better than the starting rotation. Peavy was the only above-average starter. Maddux and Young were both average. Anyone counting on Geer to be acceptable must be missing that well below-average strikeout rate, eerily reminiscent of Justin Germano before the league caught up to him.

There's not much workable about Josh Banks or Baek.

Tom said...

hector:

Almost totally agree. Lots of people have said something similar before, that when your system is weak you need to draft polished, low-ceiling players to "build inventory" or "build a foundation." I can build an inventory of cubic zirconium, it's not buying me jack squat.

And if Cesar Ramos throws 92 mph with regularity, he's throwing a golf ball. With a wind machine behind him. Off the old skyscraper mound at Dodger Stadium. Measured by a fast gun. That reminds me of the 2001-era scouting reports on Ben Howard "touching" triple digits.

Paul DePodesta said...

ramiro,

You raise a very good point, and tom touches on it later. The short answer is that "best player available" does not equal "most upside". I point you back to one of my posts around draft time for a more thorough discussion on the topic.

As far as the 2007 draft, you must remember that we had five compensation picks between the first and second round, so it wasn't a normal draft. We didn't draft any "signability" picks, but going way above and beyond for one player was going to be more difficult that normal.

Also, there are times when, quite frankly, we're not set up to take a player and overspend dramatically on him. By that I mean that our scouting staff has difficult choices to make every spring in terms of allocating resources. There are only so many games, and our crosscheckers can only see so many players. When we're picking #23 in the first round, a player is rumored all year to go in the top five picks, and our scouts that see him verify that sentiment, we're not going to overextend to scout that player if it costs us more or better looks at the players who will reasonably be in our mix. It certainly doesn't happen often, and it's not ideal, but it is the reality sometimes. That won't happen this year, because we'll be picking #3.

Paul DePodesta said...

hector,

I'm afraid you're missing the point of those examples. The point is that Geer WAS a hard-thrower, and that Ramos currently IS a hard-thrower.

I wasn't making any judgment as to what role I think each pitcher will assume at the Major League level.

Also, there are hundreds of examples of guys who threw really hard but never got anyone out consistently at the ML level. As I mentioned in the post, it's a balance of a number of different factors. We absolutely want guys with big velocity, but turning raw velocity into outs isn't always that easy.

Paul DePodesta said...

ramiro,

The one other point about 2007 was that we had just signed Matt Latos for first round money before the draft. Given the fact that high school pitching is the riskiest pick possible and that we just paid up for Latos, we were looking elsewhere for our first round pick.

walk said...

Hey Paul, are you familiar with the newly found pitching stat tRA?

Jeff said...

Paul: Could you do a post on the ever-increasing issue of pitcher workload? When you see a guy like CC or Halladay go over 200 IP pretty regularly, is that just a physical trait, not unlike a guy who can get up to 99 mph? If there were a case where you could only have a guy pitch 100 innings a year, would you rather have him in the pen or the rotation for half the year?

drymartini said...

Paul - I'm a braves fan, love the blog, and love the sabermeterics future of the sport. I'm curious as to why you don't curve the stats for hitters/pitchers for the ballparks they play in. Each ballpark is different and it matters a great deal to the stats that you are citing in your blog.

hector said...

Paul,

Perhaps compared to you and me a 91-92 mph heater is consider a hard thrower, but for a major leaguer that is an average fastball.

A hard thrower would be 95 and above.

A lot has to do with deceit and movement. Now that the club has a solid foundation, I don't see a reason to waste picks on control guys with limited upside. They are virtually worthless on the roster and even less on the trade front.

A hard thrower always has value because of upside, Andrew Brown is a great example.

You Know Me! said...

Mr. Depodesta

is there any plans or considerations for the fences to be moved in this offseason??

hector said...

Regarding the rule V draft

Can the Padres add Bush and Carrillo and then move them to the 60 day DL so they don't use up space? or is the DL used exclusively during the season.

Alex said...

Hector,

You have a better chance of being taken in the rule V draft than Matt Bush. The guy has 7.2 IP in pro ball, has only pitched 1 outs worth above rookie ball, and is coming off TJ surgery.

As for Carrillo, given how his injury has affected his performance the past two years, I'd say he's a major long shot for the rule V as well. There are probably more risky guys worth protecting than these two, but I guess we'll see

Ace2110 said...

Paul,

Any chance on an update on the budget for next year. I ask for 2 really clear reasons:

-Moores is selling 49% of his share-is it true that he only owns 80% of the club right now?

-Peavy rumors EVERYWHERE.

As good as it would be to deal Peavy you guys better get a deal that convinces everyone it was too good to pass up. The local community ponied up big time for Petco so that guys like Peavy could be kept....not traded away, especially when he is signed for 4 more years.

The EveryServer said...

Paul,
Is there any information you can share with the fans on the Peavy rumors or the possible sale of the Padres?

JC said...

Wow thats really hurtful, here we have a nice long article on the difficulty of finding good young pitching and then hoping it pans out and how far the odds are.

Now we have Jake Peavy, the premier young pitcher in all of MLB, who's signed up for 4 more of his peak years at a reasonable rate and your plan is to trade him?

So basically you're telling us the Padres can't possibly be good for the next 4 years so don't bother coming to the ball park folks. I'd love to see the ad campagin for that one.