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SoxProspects News

March 19, 2007 at 4:48 PM

Deric McKamey Q&A

Deric McKamey recently took time out of his busy schedule to answer several questions from the SoxProspects community. Deric has been writing about the minor leagues since 1994 for Major and Minor League Analyst and BaseballHQ.com. His new book, Minor League Baseball Analyst, is the first book to fully integrate sabermetrics and scouting. A long-term Bill James disciple and graduate of Major League Baseball's scout school, Deric provides his unique brand of analysis for over 1000 minor leaguers.

Red Sox Specific Questions:

1. Can you give your thoughts on Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden?
Two excellent pitchers and ones that I ranked #3 and #4 on the Red Sox prospect list. I don’t think they are as close as other analysts make them out to be, as I ranked Buchholz #36 and Bowden #57 on my top 100. Buchholz is more advanced developmentally, knows how to use his repertoire, and has exceptional arm action. He has more consistent velocity and can throw three pitches for strikes. Bowden has that powerful build and a lot of arm strength and may eventually show better velocity and be able to hold it longer once his mechanics become more consistent. Bowden really needs to develop his change-up further and establish better fastball command, and will have to prove his mediocre arm action will not be a factor. Both have upsides as #2 starters, but I feel Bowden will always be in Buchholz’ shadow.

2. What kind of pitcher could you see the Red Sox getting in a trade for David Murphy?
Likely not much more than a #5 starter or a matchup reliever. Murphy doesn’t do a whole lot exceptionally well and I believe that is the consensus of most baseball people. A good defensive outfielder and he can put the bat on the ball, but overall, his offense isn’t going to be good enough to start on a championship caliber team.

3. What Red Sox prospect has the highest ceiling? What prospects in the Red Sox organization do you see primed to have a breakout year?
I rated seven of the Red Sox’ top 10 prospects (Matsuzaka, Ellsbury, Buchholz, Bowden, Bard, Anderson, and Place) with a “9”, which in my rating system that I began using this year, states that I feel they can be elite players. Ignoring Matsuzaka for his previous experience in Japan, I would say Buchholz and Bard have the most pure upside of the Red Sox’ minor leaguers. Both of them can reach the mid-upper 90’s relatively easy, have good arm action, and have the durability and complementary pitches to be starting pitchers.

4. Thanks for taking the time Deric, loved the book. Two questions - (1) Craig Hansen: what happened/when does he turn it around/what can we expect when he does? (2) Who's your pick to win the Red Sox 2007 closer derby? Last man standing?
Hansen is still a fine pitcher, but I think a couple of things happened that has caused him to stall. He has deviated from being strictly a fastball/slider pitcher, which came at the Red Sox bequest from my understanding. He began tinkering with a change-up and was extended past two innings on a few occasions. His arm slot became much lower which flattened out all of his pitches. There was also some undue pressure put upon him from both the organization and the fans, as most thought he would be the closer by now, and I think he suffers from a lack of confidence. I think he’ll turn things around this season, but has to be put into a situation that he’s comfortable in. Without a third pitch, it is hard for me to predict he’ll be a dominating closer, but I think he can be an outstanding 7th/8th inning pitcher if he can get his pitches back on track.
You could see four or five pitchers get saves this season, but I don’t think any of them can get the job done consistently, so I think Papelbon will be the last man standing. The two youngsters (Hansen and Delcamern) have the best combination of base skills (H/IP, K/IP, BB/IP, and HR/9), but don’t have a lot of experience in the Majors. Mike Timlin would seem to be the favorite to start the season assuming he’s healthy, but I think you’ll see Piniero, Donnelly, and Okajima get some opportunities as well. If the front four starters get the job done, and I believe they will, or someone like Kyle Snyder pitches well enough to be the fifth starter, it will make it much easier to slide Papelbon back into the closer role, despite his early success in spring training as a starter.

5. What’s your opinion of Bryce Cox and his short term success with his reworked delivery?
I haven’t had the opportunity to see his new delivery yet, so I won’t pass judgment on that. I really like Cox and think he has the chance to be a very solid reliever. His slider is incredible and throws hard enough to keep hitters’ honest. He has been able to limit the home run, but I’d like to see him establish better fastball command. At worst, he’s a quality setup man, but I think he has the stuff to eventually close if he can develop something to get LH batters out.

6. Who are the most overrated/underrated Red Sox prospects in your opinion? Which players could you see taking a large step forward in 2007?
Overrated- George Kottaras. He swings the bat well enough, at least from an AVG/OBP perspective, but don’t think he’ll hit for much power. Defensively, his receiving skills are marginal and he has a slow release, which doesn’t help his average arm strength. To me, he’s a reserve catcher.

Underrated- Justin Masterson. He has a really fresh arm and the determination to succeed. His stuff is just a notch below Bryce Cox and I think he could be a solid reliever if placed in that role. He’ll need to develop his circle-change and be more consistent with his mechanics if he is to succeed as a starting pitcher.Large step forward- Kris Johnson. Even though he has already tasted success, posting an incredible 0.88 ERA in 30.2 IP at Lowell in 2006, I think he has the ability to take the biggest step forward. I’m not sure he was still 100% from his elbow surgery and should be able to maintain his velocity better than he did last season. I like his polish and ability to throw three pitches for strikes, and though his arm action is not as pretty as you’d like to see, he does have repeatable mechanics and some projection to his frame.

7. First, thanks for taking the time to do this. I am personally not familiar with your work but soon will be. The write-up on your book looks interesting enough to have ordered it. Nice approach. Here's my question, another publication projects the Sox 2010 pitching staff as follows:S#1 Matsuzuka; S#2 Papelbon; S#3 Beckett; S#4 Lester; S#5 Buchholz; Closer: Bryce Cox. Do you agree with the selections and projected firing order ?
Yes, I agree with the selections, if you’re going by who is currently inside the Red Sox organization. I still think Papelbon returns to the closer role at some point. If those were indeed the five starters, I’d probably move everyone up and put Papelbon in the #5 spot. He can be a good starter, but has already proven that he is a great closer. I just don’t think he’s going to be one that shows a lot of stamina and I don’t buy the decision that the move to the rotation will lessen the stress on his arm. Lester and Buchholz both project to #2 starters, so that would be an impressive starting staff. 8. Some baseball enthusiasts are placing Bard ahead of Bowden in their rankings. Bowden is younger and performed very well in low A last year, but has questions about his delivery. Bard last year performed nearly as well but against college competition, but has more velocity and is said to have one of the smoothest deliveries in the game. How would you compare the two and how much value do you place on stuff/mechanics vs. results? Bowden was #57 and Bard #91 on my top 100, so obviously, I do like Bowden a bit better for the same reasons you stated. Bard has tremendous upside, that is no secret, but his role is still undefined and he still has a lot of work to do to polish up his game. I’m a big believer in stuff/mechanics, especially at the amateur level and lower levels of the minors, but at some point, it becomes a matter of results. Both of these players are solid and young, but I’m ranking Bowden slightly ahead of Bard based on his developmental level and performance to date.

9. What do you think of the Red Sox's apparent strategy of taking mainly pitching prospects in the early rounds of the draft in recent years? How would you compare that strategy with those who select mostly position players, such as the Devil Rays?
I’m not so sure that is the case, at least from a strategy standpoint. I think most teams try to take the best available talent and factor the depth of the organization as well. That being said, there is such a premium on young pitching in this day and age, and I think the Red Sox realize that. I know if I were running a team, I would probably lean towards pitching early, as I believe the difference between pitching prospects is much greater than hitting prospects in the early stages of the Draft.

General Baseball Questions:

10. Who do your rankings feel is the most overrated prospect in baseball? Underrated?
Adam Jones (OF, SEA) is going to be a solid player, but I don’t feel he will be the All-Star caliber outfielder that some are projecting. He is an incredible athlete with plus arm strength, but his speed is just average and there are still a lot of exploitable holes in his swing. His value took a real hit when he was moved off of shortstop, which I thought he could play reasonably well.Brian Barton (OF, CLE) quietly put together one of the more impressive performances in 2006. Not only did he show power, the ability to hit for average, and speed, but he is an incredible athlete and highly intelligent. He can play anywhere in the outfield and can beat you in a number of ways.

11. What present or past MLB player would you give as a comparison for Alex Gordon? Phil Hughes?
Gordon (Chipper Jones)- I see him being a player that will hit .300 consistently, along with above average power and the ability to steal bases. His defense at 3B will be much better.Hughes (Curt Schilling)- I love his ability to mix above average velocity and pitch movement. Also, like a young Schilling, he hasn’t proved he can pitch a ton of innings, and until last season, had a tough time keeping his arm fresh.

12. Who has the "prettiest" swing in the minor leagues? Any way to define that?
Colby Rasmus (OF, STL) and James Loney (1B, LAD) have the prettiest swings amongst minor league players. To me, pretty means a fluid stroke in appearance, with the ball jumping off the bat and the batter appearing to not have exceptional bat speed. These players do have good bat speed, but have such perfect hitting mechanics (short to baseball, proper hip rotation, good extension) that bat speed can be deceiving.

Scouting v. Sabermaetrics

13. Describe your experience at MLB Scout School. How was the school organized? How were your days spent? What the greatest thing you learned? In what ways does that experience help you in your current role? What things do you look for in a prospect now that you might not have thought to look for before you went?
The Scouting Development Program was an outstanding experience. It is organized by the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau and utilizes their scouts as instructors. Students participated as a whole for all of the lectures/lessons, but were broken down in groups of four with an instructor for a more individualized approach. The program lasted 12 days with no allowances for “free time”.A typical day would entail a two-three hour interactive lecture/lesson (hitting mechanics, pitching mechanics, identifying tools, body types, etc…), followed by a ballgame, and then another lecture/lesson after dinner. Our evenings were spent writing-up a couple of scouting reports on players that we had seen that day. Students were encouraged to work together. The following morning, our head instructor would go over their interpretation of the players we were to report on. All of our reports were graded, just like we were in school.Most of the games we saw were instructional league games, but we also got to see some Arizona Fall League games, college games, and high school games.The greatest thing I learned was indentifying proper pitching mechanics and to a lesser degree, projecting amateur players from a body type standpoint. Those two things, along with hitting mechanics help me indentify the better players sooner and help in projecting players because of their good or bad mechanics.I can’t really say that there was any one thing that I look for now that I didn’t before the experience, but I believe I improved in all areas of evaluation. Scouting is a constant learning experience. None of us have all the right answers, but you have to be strong in your convictions and continue to want to learn.

14. BP has included a new "upside" feature with PECOTA. Can you explain your "Upside" rating, how it differs from BP's version, and what is seeks to achieve? If you had to identify the one difference between your other rankings and most mainstream scouting services, what would it be?
I’m not that familiar with the new upside feature of BP’s PECOTA. I am familiar with how PECOTA works, so I will assume their upside feature is computer generated and based mainly on statistics, and that’s where there is a likely divergence. My Potential Ratings are a two-part system in which a player is assigned a grade based on his upside potential and a second grade rating the probability of that player achieving his upside potential.

PLAYER POTENTIAL RATING Scale of (1-10) representing a player’s upside potential
10 – Hall of Fame-type player
9 – Elite player
8 – Solid regular
7 – Average regular
6 – Platoon player
5 – Major League reserve player
4 - Top minor league player
3 - Average minor league player
2 - Minor league reserve player
1 - Minor league roster filler

Scale of (A-E) representing the player’s realistic chances of achieving their potential
A - 90% probability of reaching potential
B - 70% probability of reaching potential
C - 50% probability of reaching potential
D - 30% probability of reaching potential
E - 10% probability of reaching potential

The main difference between my rankings and most others is in the way the information is generated. I try to see as many players as possible, attending minor league, college, and games, as well as going to Spring Training and instructional league, and watching video. The opinions are my own, for better or worse. Obviously, it is impossible to see every player, as I’m just one individual, so I do have to rely on sources within the game to fill-in the cracks. When I do solicit information from clubs, I ask just for the facts, not opinions. Information gathered from different sources can provide different takes, but I’m the one on the field three hours prior to the first pitch taking in batting/fielding practice and making face-to-face contacts, and I’m the one out there with the radar gun and stopwatch. I’d much rather be at the ballpark than talking on a cell phone.

15. Can you briefly tell us how you are able to combine statistical analysis and traditional scouting methods and what fans should look for when evaluating minor league talent?
There is no magic formula of fusing those two, but I feel I have a good deal of experience in both areas. For each player I evaluate, I look at his physical abilities, body type, mechanics, and makeup, and project what type of player he can become from that perspective. I then apply statistical analysis to each player, knowledge that I’ve gained from working for Baseball HQ for 12 years and absorbing most of Bill James’ work. I really don’t think I lean heavily to any one side, but try to look at each player subjectively, to come-up with a confident projection. Bottom line, I want to know why. Why does a player succeed? Why does a player fail?

16. In evaluating prospects, what problems arise by purely using scouting methods, or from purely using sabermetrics? How exactly do you correct any issues that arise from either in your work? (NOTE: this is your chance to sell books.)
By judging players purely on their scouting information, you get a sense of what their upside could be, if things break their way, but unless you judge their performance on the field, you can’t really tell if their physical skills translate to baseball skills. Oftentimes a player will have a full slate of tools, but lack the learned skills like plate discipline, baserunning instincts, and proper defensive techniques. Pitchers that possess a lot of velocity and movement may lack command or the ability to setup their pitches.Players who may lack above average tools yet continue to get it done on the field aren’t quite as problematic, though oftentimes these players are continually forced to prove themselves. These players, for the most part, lack the upside potential (offensively and/or defensively) of their tool-laden counterparts, and are at best, solid regulars. Neither approach is ideal by itself, which is why I, and most every team, evaluate players using both systems. At the amateur level and lower levels of the minors, you’ll see a focus on athleticism, projectability, and tools, as these are the players that were likely drafted higher and that teams really want to develop. Athletic players have that upside and are better equipped to make physical/mechanical changes to their game. The further you move up the minor league ladder, the more consistency and statistics are emphasized. The success/failure rate of both probably aren’t too different, but I think you get a better quality player if he has more tools. Bottom line, teams need players that produce.Corrections come about by taking each player individually, assessing all aspects of his game, and using every bit of your knowledge to figure-out what plays at the Major League level and what might come up short. This game is full of judgments, at all levels of development. You have to trust your beliefs and go with the best information that you have.

17. As someone with a background in both scouting and sabermetrics, how do you compare prospects with less than stellar scouting reports but great sabermetric stats to those with phenominal scouting reports but troubling sabermetrics? example: Pedroia/ Brandon Wood
The comparison is really done at the end, after I’ve gone over the scouting reports and statistics. You weigh upside potential, which usually favors the scout-type player, against performance, which is present in the stat-oriented player. As I mentioned above, I favor the athletic, tool-laden type player at the lower levels. At the upper levels, a player needs to be producing, and at that point, it matters little how he’s getting the job done. In comparing players like a Brandon Wood versus a Dustin Pedroia, Wood has the potential to be a great player, but there is also a higher risk of failure. Pedroia, on the other hand, is pretty much what he is already, but I feel more confident that he’ll reach his ceiling.

18. I'd like to know how you project positions for players, and how difficult that task might be. Since the value of a player's offensive contribution can vary drastically depending on the position they play, how do you incorporate that into your thinking as you look at young players, who they are, and who they might become?
I project players’ position based on physical skills initially, and then judge performance. I don’t find it that difficult when you understand the physical skills. Obviously, players have to have certain skills to handle certain positions, such as speed, arm strength, proper footwork, and hands. Players that lack speed (range) are going to find it tough to play the middle spots on the diamond, just as it is tough to play on the left side of the diamond and in rightfield without adequate arm strength. It doesn’t mean that they can’t play those spots, but to maximize defense, it is better that they possess those skills.One of the exercises that I do, especially at the lower levels, is to predict a player’s future position. Staying as high on the defensive spectrum is extremely important and I believe a player should stay at the highest possible position unless a situation at the Major League level dictates otherwise.

19. What are your favorite statistics to use to evaluate hitters and pitchers? Are there any differences based on level?
Hitters- RC/G would be my stat of choice if limited to one stat, but I use a combination of stats, which I’m sure most teams and analysts do. I utilize OBP for all players and use a mix of power stats (SLG, ISO, and extra-base hit percentage) to gauge power potential. Plate discipline (BB/K) and contact rate (AB-K/AB) are good markers for batting average and OBP.
Pitchers- I am a believer in analyzing the stats that the pitcher has control of (K/BB, K/9, BB/9, and HR/9), though I use expected ERA (xERA), hit rate (H-HR/AB-HR-K), and strand rate (H+BB-ER/H+BB-HR) to supplement the primary base skills.
There is no difference based on level for pitchers, though I’m not so concerned with the power numbers at lower levels for the hitters.

20. Is there any way to quantify bat speed, pitch quality, etc.?
As far as quantifying bat speed and pitch quality, yes, that can be accomplished. Through video and high-tech equipment, I suppose it is possible to get highly accurate if someone were to put in the requisite time. In my work, I grade each player that I see on his tools/abilities, in the same vein to the 20-80 scouting scale. That forms the basis of my evaluation. As mentioned above, I then apply any appropriate statistical measures to get the final projection. As we know, having great bat speed doesn’t always ensure success. You have to factor pitch recognition, plate discipline, and contact ability. Same for pitchers. A pitcher can have all the velocity and pitch movement in the world, but without command, the ability to set-up his pitches, and poise he isn’t going to maximize his potential.