"There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect"
This is stolen from Nate Silver's Unfiltered Blog post today on BP, which stole the quote from a chat on the Giants by Gary Huckaby:
Silver goes on to make a very interesting point.When I first wrote that “There’s No Such Thing as a Pitching Prospect,” it meant two things, one of which has kind of become lost over time. Yes, it means that pitchers get hurt at approximately the same rate that methheads swipe identities and lose teeth. That’s what all pitchers do, not just prospects. But it also had another meaning—that guys who are totally blowing people away in the minors like they’re so many hot dog pretenders before Kobayashi are absolutely not pitching prospects—they’re already pitchers, and more time in the minors only means time off the living, pulsating clocks that are their labrums, rotator cuffs, and elbows.
Like everybody else, we, on this board, tend to forget this VERY important aspect of the claim. The basic inference here is that don't waste a guy's innings pitching in the minors when he's clearly ready for the majors. By and large, pitchers are either capable of pitching in the major leagues or they aren't. For the most part, that middling AA prospect isn't going to learn 5 MPH on his fastball, gain extra break on his hook, or suddenly discover how to keep his stuff down in the zone. Is this true universally? Of course not. But it's definitely moreso the case than with hitters. Whereas you can expect certain hitting skills to develop at some predictable pace, pitchers often make large, and unpredictable jumps.One thing that distinguishes young hitters from young pitchers is that young hitters can pretty much count on making steady improvements from the time they start playing professional ball until the time they’re 26 or 27....
...The same is not the case with pitching prospects. Although there are a few categories of pitching prospects — particularly guys with good stuff, high strikeout rates and highish walk rates (think Homer Bailey) — that tend to improve more often than not, in general there is no systematic pattern of improvement after the age of 21 or so. Sometimes guys get better, of course, and sometimes they do so in a hurry — but you can’t take a young pitcher in a vacuum and expect him to improve the same way that you can for a hitting prospect.
What's just as important is the other side of this coin. You put that 20 year old guy who just dominated A ball with the bat and he's still gonna get dominated in the majors. You take that pitcher who just dominated the low minors and you have a chance to get Justin Verlander, Josh Johnson, Jered Weaver, Jon Papelbon, or Anibal Sanchez.
When you look at that confluence between the differences in skill set development and the role of injury, and you start making a compelling case for the rapid advancement of pitching prospects. Certainly it's not a "rule" whereby you rush every promising young arm. However, I think it does suggest that, in general, a team should be aggressive about moving successful pitchers up the line.
Maybe they do get lit up. If that happens, get them out of there soon and get them back on track ASAP. You might argue that that leads to guys getting their confidence destroyed (e.g. Brian Reith). The other argument is that you get a chance to see a guy's real potential before it's destroyed by a blown out elbow or torn labrum. Letting him dominate AAA instead of contributing at the major league level is a waste of useful innings.
Homer Bailey anyone?