I'm interested in the opinion of this board on Rob Neyer's column. Since the Reds have been trying to develop their own pitching for the last 2 years this seems like some good articles to discuss.
In response to my last column, about a few well-stocked farm systems, Sam Miller writes in with a comment and a question.
Comment: "Chuck Tiffany's not a Dodger any more. They traded him to the Devil Rays in the Danys Baez deal."
True enough. And I'm grateful to Sam (and a few other readers) for correcting the record on this one. Tiffany gives the D-Rays yet another promising young pitcher. Which leads to Sam's question:
"I have a Risk vs. Reward question: Is it better to be stacked with hitting prospects, like the Snakes, or pitching prospects, like the Fish?"
It's funny, for some reason I was wondering this exact thing. I'd like to report that my question led to an answer, but I'm afraid that -- like most of my questions -- this one simply led to the hope that if I raised the question in my public forum, somebody else would do the heavy thinking. But let's at least try to work through some of the issues involved...
Last season, 27 American League pitchers threw at least 162 innings and posted an ERA of 4.35 -- the league average -- or lower (No. 1 was Kevin Millwood; No. 27 was Jamie Moyer). That's actually more than I expected.
Also last season, 51 American League batters got at least 502 plate appearances and posted an OPS of .754 -- the league average -- or better (No. 1 was Alex Rodriguez; No. 51 was Gary Matthews Jr.). That's actually fewer than I expected.
Of course, a huge caveat applies: Pitchers are selected for the major leagues because they can pitch; hitters are selected because they can hit and/or field.
Another caveat: There's more inherent value in 180 innings than in 500 at-bats. A player who racks up 500 lousy at-bats is doing little but making outs and stealing playing time from some younger (and often cheaper) player. A pitcher who throws 180 innings is, at the very least, probably relieving pressure on young (and perhaps fragile) pitchers and saving the bullpen. There's a reason some hurlers are valued as "innings-eaters" (if little else).
And if Jamie Moyer -- well, a younger Jamie Moyer -- were a free agent today, he would command a significantly higher salary than would Gary Matthews Jr. Other evidence of recent vintage: Esteban Loaiza, Russ Ortiz and Kris Benson. If you can stay healthy and not embarrass yourself, you can make a lot of money in this game.
Right or wrong, there's certainly a general belief that a decent pitcher is more valuable than a decent hitter (at least based on my admittedly questionable definition of "decent"). If you're building a team and you've got a simple choice between the fifth-best hitter and the fifth-best pitcher, you probably take the pitcher ... because tomorrow it'll probably be easier to find a hitter than a pitcher.
But those are major leaguers we're talking about. What about fresh-faced youngsters?
Ten years ago, my friend John Sickels wrote (and I edited) his first annual compendium of minor-league prospects. In that book, John's top 10 hitting prospects were Johnny Damon, Andruw Jones, Derek Jeter, Ruben Rivera, Karim Garcia, Scott Rolen, Bobby Abreu, Jose Valentin, Steve Gibralter and Todd Walker. Five of those players are building Hall of Fame credentials (though only Jeter is most of the way there). John's top 10 pitching prospects were Paul Wilson, Billy Wagner, Jason Schmidt, Jimmy Haynes, Jeff Suppan, Alan Benes, Rocky Coppinger, Ugueth Urbina, Bartolo Colon and Terrell Wade. Wagner later became a fantastic 70-innings pitcher, and Schmidt and Colon have done some nice things. But with the possible exception of Wagner, I don't see any Hall of Famers in that group.
And 1996 was not atypical. Hitters are more predictable than pitchers, mostly because they don't get hurt as often.
In Sickels' new book, the Diamondbacks have three of the top 11 hitters, and the Red Sox have three of the top nine pitchers. So, getting back the original question: Is it better to be the D-Backs or the Red Sox? The D-Backs, I think. Arizona's hitters are more likely to help the big club, and more likely to help soon. Nothing's certain in baseball, but predictability does have a value all its own. The Red Sox are thrilled to have Craig Hansen, Jon Papelbon and Jon Lester ... but are they counting on any of those fragile young hurlers in 2006 -- or at any point in the future?
It's a good thing to have young pitchers who might become something someday. But it's a better thing to have young hitters who probably will be something someday.