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Just another TINSTAAPP lesson

12/28/2010

We've talked about TINSTAAPP -- TINZ-tap: "There is no such thing as a pitching prospect." -- before, but I find the principle endlessly fascinating, so I was glad to find that some enterprising young fellow has compiled 21 years' worth of Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects lists, from which one might glean all sorts of interesting notions.

I'm going to start with something really simple. Here are the top-rated hitters and pitchers from each year, presented chronologically (in a number of cases, the top-rated guy repeated a year later, and they are noted as such) ...

Hitters: Andujar Cedeno, Chipper Jones (2), Cliff Floyd, Alex Rodriguez, Andruw Jones (2), Ben Grieve, J.D. Drew, Pat Burrell, Josh Hamilton, Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira, Joe Mauer (2), Delmon Young, Alex Gordon, Jay Bruce, Matt Wieters, Jason Heyward.

Pitchers: Todd Van Poppel, Brien Taylor (2), James Baldwin, Armando Benitez, Paul Wilson, Kerry Wood (2), Rick Ankiel (2), Josh Beckett (2), Jesse Foppert, Edwin Jackson, Felix Hernandez, Francisco Liriano, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Joba Chamberlain, David Price, Stephen Strasburg.

I believe that first list accounts for six MVP Awards, and the second for exactly one Cy Young Award.

I believe the first list includes one absolute bust -- arguably Gordon, so far -- while the second includes two absolute busts (Taylor and Foppert) along with a number of pitchers (Van Poppel, Baldwin, Wilson, Wood) who did hang around for a while but never hit the predicted heights.

Ankiel is in a class of his own. The jury is still out on Dice-K and Joba. You really can't say anything negative about Hernandez or Price (except Price is still young and highly susceptible to the same injury woes that have waylaid so many other young pitchers).

None of this means that young pitchers aren't valuable, or shouldn't be considered legitimate prospects. And at least a few teams do seem to have made some real progress toward keeping young pitchers healthy. As Jonah Keri notes in his soon-to-be-published book about the Rays:

    The Rays’ new generation of pitchers wasn’t merely good. It was also extraordinarily healthy. From late 2005 to mid-2009, only one pitcher at any level of the organization, left-hander Jacob McGee, underwent Tommy John surgery; no team saw a lower rate during that stretch. From May 2008 to August 2010, only one Rays starter, Scott Kazmir, spent a single day on the disabled list, making Tampa Bay’s the healthiest pitching staff in baseball by a mile. (Niemann and Davis went on the DL in August 2010 with minor injuries; both returned quickly.)

The point is that unless you're a Rays fan, you might want to make at least some small attempt to avoid getting too excited about young pitchers. Frankly, this is what leaves me most skeptical about the Royals and their (now) Mission 2013 (or '14). Especially considering the departure of Zack Greinke, the Royals' youth movement simply won't work unless at least three of their very talented, but very young, starting pitchers pan out. And history suggests that they will not.