Friday, January 23, 2009

Ask Sports Sturm: Baseball America Rankings

I am very interested in the Baseball America rankings that have just been released that show that the Texas Rangers have the #1 ranked farm system in all of baseball. This would seem to indicate that the following 10 players will soon be the framework of a very powerful, young baseball team for years to come:

1.Neftali FelizRHP
2.Derek HollandLHP
3.Justin Smoak1B
4.Elvis AndrusSS
5.Martin PerezLHP
6.Taylor TeagardenC
7.Engle BeltreOF
8.Michael MainRHP
9.Julio BorbonOF
10.Max RamirezC/1B

Table Tutorial

We can only hope that this is the long-term case. Baseball excellence is on the horizon. For a franchise that boasts just 1 finish higher than 3rd in a 4 team division in the last 9 years, and just 1 season of over 80 wins in the last 9 years, it is badly needed.

The Rangers were last ranked #1 in 1990. Here is what that group looked like:

1.Juan GonzalezOF
2.Rob NenRHP
3.Donald HarrisOF
4.Dean Palmer3B
5.Brian BohanonLHP
6.Kevin BelcherOF
7.Dan PeltierOF
8.Scott Coolbaugh3B
9.Monty FarissSS
10.Eric McCrayLHP

Table Tutorial

That team did not win in the next 5 years, but in year 6, Juan and Dean Palmer were pretty large parts of the first Rangers team to ever win a division. 6 years from today is January 2015.

Which leads us to this episode of Ask Sports Sturm:

I am a big Rangers fan, and a bigger fan of the truth. Is this ranking a big deal? Is this the equivalent of national signing day in college football? Is there a strict correlation between being ranked highly here and performing well on the diamond? I know this is a lot of questions, Bob, but the bottom line is: Can the Rangers screw this up?

Brent, Ft Worth

Well, Brent. There is only one way to figure this out, and that is to spend days, weeks, and months tracing every ranking Baseball America has ever done, and seeing if we can find any correlation between ranking and winning in the big scheme of things.

Sadly, I don’t have that much time. I have a few hours on this Thursday night to see if I can see any connections.

At the outset, I see some initial issues to sort through. For instance, Is there any accepted time span between the time the list comes out, and the time we expect the big league performance to be affected? I would suggest 3 years is about right, but that is hardly an exact science. For instance, in the 2006 rankings, the Atlanta Braves were ranked #7 – partly because this young kid that was ranked #3 on their list. His name? Elvis Andrus. 36 months later, we are still wondering if the Rangers might be rushing him to the big leagues. In fact, the Braves list in the 2006 list is very interesting. Ranked #7 in baseball, here is their top 7 prospects:

1.Andy Marte3B
2.Jarrod SaltalamacchiaC
3.Elvis AndrusSS
4.Yunel EscobarSS
5.Anthony LerewRHP
6.Joey DevineRHP
7.Chuck JamesLHP

Table Tutorial

Now, here are the 2006 Rangers, ranked #16:

1.Edison VolquezRHP
2.John DanksLHP
3.Thomas DiamondRHP
4.Joaquin AriasSS
5.Eric HurleyRHP
6.Ian Kinsler2B
7.Armando GalarragaRHP

Table Tutorial

And then, ranked #1 36 months ago, here are the Arizona Diamondbacks:

1.Stephen DrewSS
2.Conor Jackson1B
3.Carlos QuentinOF
4.Carlos GonzalesOF
5.Dustin NippertRHP
6.Miguel MonteroC
7.Garrett MockRHP

Table Tutorial

Interesting, eh? 36 months later, which of these 3 lists would you rather have? #7 Atlanta looks the weakest of the 3, and the #16 Rangers are somewhat comparable to the #1 Diamondbacks. Arizona with the bats, the Rangers with 3/5ths of a rotation. So, if 3 years isn’t enough to judge these lists, is it 4 years? Should the ’04 list have told us who the best teams in 2008 would be?

2008 Final Four teams? Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, Boston

2004 Baseball America Rankings for these teams?

Philadelphia 21st (Howard, Hamels)
Los Angeles 2nd (Martin, Loney, Billingsley)
Tampa Bay 9th (Delmon Young, Kazmir)
Boston 23rd (Hanley Ramirez, Papelbon, Pedroia)

Is there a correlation? I know it is fun to put payroll rankings and show no connection between success and money. Isn’t it fairly easy to do the same thing here?

Here is another way I tried to look at it; the final column takes the team’s ability to make the playoffs in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th year after the #1 ranking. So, in 2003, if Cleveland was ranked #1, we check to see if they made the playoffs in 2006, 2007, and 2008. No-Yes-No. Of course, the "*" means the World Series Title was won - which appears twice, for the 2003 Florida Marlins, and the 2005 Chicago White Sox.

Year RankedTeam #1Playoffs 3-5 years
1996LA DodgersN-N-N
2000NY YankeesY-Y-Y
2001Chi SoxN-Y*-N
2002Chi CubsN-N-Y

Table Tutorial

So, you see we have 10 teams and 3 years for each teams. In the 3rd year after being ranked #1 by Baseball America, these teams made the playoffs 4 times (40%). In the 4th year, they made the playoffs 6 times (60%) and 1 World Series Title, and in the 5th year, they made the playoffs 6 times (60%). The overall playoff rate was 16 for 30 or 53%. But, in fact, if you take Atlanta out of the mix, the mark drops to 7 for 21 or 33%.

For grins, I thought I would cross reference those numbers against the teams that are ranked dead last each year in Baseball America (and yes, I realize that until 1998, last meant #28):

Year RankedTeam #30Playoffs 3-5 years
2002St LouisY-Y*-N

Table Tutorial

The Good News: The teams ranked last only made it to the playoffs 6 out of 30 times (20%). In the 3rd year, 4 times (40%). In the 4th year, twice (20%). and then maybe the best piece of evidence, in the 5th year after being ranked last, the ten teams in our sample size made it to the playoffs 0 times (0%).

The Bad News: The teams ranked 30th have JUST as many World Series Championships as the teams ranked #1 in the focus years. The 2002 Angels and the 2005 Cardinals were both teams overcoming the last place spot.

And what role does money play? What does it profit a team to grow a bunch of prospects but not keep them around when they become stars? Should the Rangers have either a) avoided Mark Teixeira on draft day or b) paid to make him a career Ranger? Or did they flip him perfectly?

The Yankees raised Jeter, Bernie, Mariano, and Posada - and then paid hundreds of millions to keep them. Over $440 million to be exact to just those 4 players.

Those Braves were also a team that grew their own, and then paid to keep them until they deemed them no longer useful. The two consistent winners in the sample appear to be the Yankees and Braves. Two teams that over the last 15 years have drafted very well, and paid very well. Perhaps we should note both as traits of winners, rather than which ever one supports our agenda.

To answer the questions of Brent, It is hard to say I see a direct correlation between the ranking and a World Title. But, it surely is a significant note. There is no doubt the Rangers are now stocked with quality. Baseball America is not a Rangers publication, nor does it have any reason in my estimation to do the Rangers a P.R. favor.

To many of us, including me, the proof will always have to be found in the major league pudding. For some of these teams, I feel that the rankings were reflected on the field. The Atlanta Braves are a top notch organization that did it all. They grew talent, they acquired talent, and they paid talent. I think you must do all 3.

In a short answer, "yes" it means plenty. But, "no" it does not mean everything. I certainly hope to have a more definitive answer for questions like these, but honestly, too much goes into building a franchise to just fall back on a list in a magazine.

Building a winner requires plenty of things; Smarts, Luck, and Health are all on that list. I think JD and the cast of the Rangers are on the right track, but I believe evidence shows that Baseball America and the Rangers did not realize what the Rangers had in 2006.

Time will tell if they have learned from their experience.


MK said...

I think a good analogy here is building a baseball champion is like making good bbq, there are a lot of steps. Right now they have some good meat but they have to season and cook it right if they're going to take home the blue ribbon. (Bob, sub above analogy with making sausage or cheese or whatever applies in 'sconsin)

SBSnell said...

Evan Grant just joined the D Magazine team and started a new blog where he will be covering the Texas Rangers spring training, spending the next 30 days in Arizona writing daily reports and blog items on the team, including audio and video clips and Internet chats. During the regular season, Grant will travel to more than 50 percent of Rangers away games and as many home games as possible.

Check it out at

Tim said...

In other words: It's a crapshoot.

Sweet research though.

Nip Nip.