Yesterday, Sean offered some commentary about the success rate of prospects:
Entering 2011, the Yankees farm system is in pretty good shape. With a lot of the consensus top 10 picks in the AA- AAA range, many Yankee fans have high expectations. While I think that optimism is certainly well founded, I also think we should keep things in perspective. Prospects fail. That isn’t a controversial statement or an overly negative platitude recited by baseball fans, it’s just a fact. Over at Royals Review, Scott McKinney put together a fantastic study looking at 14 years of Baseball America’s top prospect lists to determine the relative success and failure rate of prospects. The conclusions are a real splash of cold water:
- About 70% of Baseball America top 100 prospects fail.
- Position player prospects succeed much more often than pitching prospects.
- About 60% of position players ranked in Baseball America’s top 20 succeed in the majors.
- About 40% of pitchers ranked in the top 20 succeed in the majors.
- About 30% of position players ranked 21-100 succeed in the majors (with the success rate declining over that ranking range from about 36% to about 25%)
- About 20% of pitchers ranked 21-100 succeed in the majors (with the success rate declining over that ranking range from about 22% to about 15%)
- Prospect success rates have not improved much over time and there is little data to support the contention that prospects are more likely to succeed now than they have in the past.
It should be noted that success is defined as “averaging over 1.5 fWAR per season, adjusted for a few seasons to ease into the majors”. This is a relatively high bar roughly set to the major league average. Players who are classified as busts may be bench players, or below-average regulars. I think it is a reasonable standard to set when talking about top-100 prospects (we have high expectations for anyone on the list), but puts the 70% failure rate in a little more context.
The number is a little bit jarring at first, but I think it makes a lot of sense. What is the chance that Manuel Banuelos becomes an above average starting pitcher in the major leagues? 30% sounds about right. How about Dellin Betances? 20% sounds about right there too. But take them all together, and you have a pretty good result: according to this study, there is a 60% chance that one of the Killer B’s becomes an average or better starting pitcher, a 12.8% chance that at least two will work out, and a 2% chance that all three will. At least if my math is right.
I’ve been a fan of the minor leagues long enough to know that those aren’t terrible odds. We’ve got a better than odds-even chance that around 2012 or so, one of the Killer B’s will be a successful, average or better contributor in the MLB rotation. And on top of that, we have reason to believe that our guys will defy the odds. BA’s rankings include quite a few players in the low-minor leagues. I have to believe that they have a significantly smaller rate of success than players in the high minors, like most of the top Yankee prospects. Furthermore, other top rankers have put Banuelos in that magical top-20 category, so he may be a better bet than he appears.
Once you throw in Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Hector Noesi, Graham Stoneburner, Adam Warren, et al, the future of the Yankee starting rotation starts to look pretty sound. Odds are, the Yankees have at least 2 or 3, if not more, productive future major league starting pitchers sitting in the high minor leagues right now. To me, that’s pretty good news.
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