Ask BA

Thanks to the annual magic of Baseball Info Solutions and ACTA Sports, the Bill James Handbook arrived in my mailbox a week after the World Series ended. As always, it’s packed full of statistics from the most recent major league season, in just about every category anyone ever could have dreamed of.

A few highlights:

• The most efficient team at maximizing its offense and defense and turning them into success was . . . surprise, the Pirates. According to Bill, Pittsburgh’s play should have resulted in 63 wins but instead produced 72. On the other end of the spectrum were the Red Sox, who should have won 101 games (and the American League East title) but instead finished with 90 victories and in third place.

• Three players tied for the major league lead by saving their teams 22 runs with their defensive play at a specific position: Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner, Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson and Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval. The worst defender at a single position was Mark Reynolds, who cost the Orioles 29 runs with his work at the hot corner.

• Elvis Andrus was MLB’s best baserunner, gaining an extra 51 bases. (Andrus’ Rangers also had the best baserunning team as a whole, taking 113 more bases than would have been expected.) The worst was Paul Konerko, who took 40 fewer bases than the average big leaguer would have in the same situations.

• You probably already knew that Jose Valverde led the majors with 49 saves. You probably didn’t know that the leader in tough saves (when the reliever enters a game with the tying run already on base) was unheralded Fernando Salas of the Cardinals, with five. Valverde had zero tough saves.

• This year’s Handbook includes a new section that breaks down the repertoire of every big league pitcher. Among those who qualified for the ERA title, Alexi Ogando (95.1 mph) had the hardest average fastball and Livan Hernandez (83.9 mph) had the slowest. In terms of specific pitch percentages, Justin Masterson threw the most fastballs (84.4 percent), Wandy Rodriguez the most curves (37.2 percent), Ervin Santana the most sliders (38.3 percent) and Jeremy Hellickson the most changeups (31.7 percent).

• The Ballpark in Arlington boosted scoring by 41 percent in 2011, making it the hitter-friendliest park in the majors. Pitchers preferred AT&T Park, which ranked as the stingiest stadium after reducing runs by 26 percent. Over the last three years, Coors Fields (+32 percent) and PETCO Park (-19 percent) represent the extremes.

• Bill also gazes into his crystal ball. He believes there are eight active players who already have done enough to lock up a Hall of Fame plaque: Vladimir Guerrero, Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Albert Pujols, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, Pudge Rodriguez and Ichiro Suzuki. He gives Pujols a 20 percent chance to break the career home run record. Clayton Kershaw (20 percent) isn’t a shock as the most likely pitcher to throw a no-hitter, but I don’t think anyone saw No. 2 on that list coming: Brandon Beachy (19 percent).

I could go on, but I have your questions to answer, so let’s get to those . . .

    Can you discuss some recent draft picks who slid because of their asking price and how giving into those demands worked out?

    Danny Black

    Baltimore

Let’s start by looking at players who rated among the first 15 on Baseball America’s annual Top 200 Draft Prospects list and fell the furthest because of signability, going back to 2000:

Year Player Rank Pick (Round, Team) Signed For
2000 Xavier Nady 3 49 (2nd, SD) $2.85 million big league deal
  Jason Stokes 4 46 (2nd, Fla) $2.027 million bonus
2001 Roscoe Crosby 9 53 (2nd, KC) $1.75 million bonus
  Mike Gosling 14 66 (2nd, Ari) $2 million
2002 Scott Kazmir 2 15 (1st, NYM) $2.15 million bonus
  Bobby Brownlie 6 21 (1st, ChC) $2.5 million bonus
  Jeremy Guthrie 11 22 (1st, Cle) $4 million big league deal
  Jeff Baker 14 111 (4th, Col) $2 million big league deal
2003 Vince Sinisi 12 46 (2nd, Tex) $2.07 million bonus
2004 Jered Weaver 1 12 (1st, Ana) $4 million bonus
  Stephen Drew 3 15 (1st, Ari) $5.5 million big league deal
2005 Craig Hansen 10 26 (1st, Bos) $4 million big league deal
2006 Daniel Bard 15 28 (1st, Bos) $1.55 million bonus
2007 Rick Porcello 4 27 (1st, Det) $7 million big league deal
  Andrew Brackman 7 30 (1st, NYY) $4.55 million big league deal
2008 Tim Melville 15 115 (4th, KC) $1.25 million bonus
2009 none
2010 Zack Cox 6 25 (1st, StL) $3.2 million big league deal
  Stetson Allie 8 52 (2nd, Pit) $2.25 million bonus
2011 Josh Bell 15 61 (2nd, Pit) $5 million bonus

That’s far from an inspiring list. Of the 15 players from the 2000-07 drafts, only Kazmir and Weaver became all-stars, and Kazmir didn’t until after the Mets foolishly traded him for Victor Zambrano. Drew and Guthrie have been solid regulars—though Guthrie didn’t find success until after the Indians gave up on him—while Bard has been a quality set-up man who may become a closer. Coincidence or not, none of those five players slid out of the first round.

Baker, Nady and Porcello have made contributions in the majors but not to the extent expected, and it’s hard to call the other seven draftees anything but $19 million worth of draft busts. It’s too early to know what the most recent droppers will turn into, though neither Melville nor Allie made BA’s Top 20 Prospects list in his minor league this year.

There’s a correlation between money spent and talent received in the draft, and generally the amount a player signs for is more telling than where he’s drafted. Yet as the above chart shows, players who drop significantly because of their asking price haven’t been a good investment in the last decade.

    Gerrit Cole (Pirates), Trevor Bauer (Diamondbacks) and Dylan Bundy (Orioles) were the first three righthanders selected in the 2011 draft, going first, second and fourth overall. How big is the difference between them, who has the most upside and who is the most likely to reach said upside?

    Moe Koltun

    New York

There’s very little difference in prospecty goodness between those three righthanders. On our predraft Top 200 Prospects list, we ranked Bundy No. 2 overall, followed by Cole at No. 3 and Bauer at No. 5. They’re so close that you could rank them in any possible order and easily defend your decision.

Cole has the most upside, because he has the best stuff of any draft pitching prospect not named Strasburg in the last decade. Bauer isn’t as overpowering, but he has a deeper repertoire and a better understanding of how to use it. He outperformed Cole in their three years together at UCLA, with Bauer going 34-8, 2.36 with 11.1 K/9 and Cole going 21-20, 3.38 with 10.5 K/9.

In the long run, Bundy might be better than both of them. He has better stuff than Bauer and better feel than Cole, and he’s nearly as advanced despite being two years younger. Bauer should make the quickest impact in the major leagues, with the possibility of cracking Arizona’s Opening Day rotation. Personally, I would rank them in this order: Bundy, Bauer, Cole.

    Which Cubs prospects are going to Boston in exchange for Theo Epstein, and will they be part of the Red Sox Top 10 Prospects list?

    Penny Simone

    Bellwood, Ill.

The Cubs introduced Epstein as their president of baseball operations 13 days ago, and the two teams have yet to decide how the Red Sox will be compensated for their former GM, who had a year remaining on his contract in Boston. Commissioner Bud Selig originally said he would step in if the clubs couldn’t work it out by Nov. 1, then gave them more time. It looks like he’ll ultimately have to decide on the compensation.

There’s no chance the deal falls through, because Epstein already is in Chicago, which makes it hard for the teams to agree. They have differing viewpoints on how executive talent equates to prospect talent, with the Cubs predictably on the low end and the Red Sox not surprisingly on the high side. Baseball sources believe that Selig won’t want to establish a premium value for front-office officials and will side more with Chicago.

It’s uncertain whether the Cubs will give up one or two players, but in any case, I don’t think it will be anyone who will make the Boston Top 10. If the Red Sox have to choose from among second-tier prospects, they should target catcher Steve Clevenger and lefthanded reliever Jeff Beliveau. Clevenger is a lefthanded hitter with solid defensive skills and positional versatility, making him an ideal big league backup. Beliveau works at 88-91 mph with his fastball and doesn’t have a true plus pitch, but the ball seems to come out of his sleeve and hitters just don’t square him up.

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