Sunday, July 20, 2008

Trevor Cahill vs. Brett Anderson vs. David Price

Besides Clayton Kershaw, there aren't many pitching prospects getting as much attention as David Price, Trevor Cahill, and Brett Anderson. Of those 3, Price is garnering the most hype, but Cahill and Anderson have been putting up some great numbers this year, and they are both beginning to draw some national attention.

With all the attention comes some good natured arguments about which pitching prospect has the most potential. A lot of prospect ranking sites are giving the #1 spot to David Price, but Cahill and Anderson are both very talented and deserve to be in the same sentence as Price.

So, let's play a game. I'm just going to put up each pitcher's minor league numbers from this year all at once, but I'm going to throw in a twist and explain what it all means in a minute.
Here's how the game works. I marked out the player names and ages so that we could first have an unbiased discussion about where each player would rank if they were all at the same level, and the same age. I'm also assuming that none of you have memorized each pitchers' stat lines before reading this (if you look at the stats for just a second you can probably figure out which stat line goes with which pitcher, but that would ruin the fun of this exercise). Take a quick glance at the stats, and then make a mental list ranking Pitchers A, B, and C as either the #1, #2, or #3 pitcher you would want on your team.

Just looking at the A+ ball stats, Pitcher A would be the guy I would want on my team. He has good control, a good K/9 rate, and a very healthy GB%. After that, I would have a hard time choosing between Pitcher B and Pitcher C. If you go with B, you sacrifice control for a higher K/9 rate and GB%, but if you go with C, you get fewer walks at the cost of a significantly lower GB%. I would probably go with Pitcher B simply because BB/9 rates come down easier than K/9 and GB% rates go up.

And now we move on to AA stats. We don't have a great sample size to work with, but I would still go with Pitcher A. His K/9 is much better than the other 2, his GB% is also the highest of the 3, and his control is very close to being the best. After that, I would once again be stuck between Pitcher B and Pitcher C, but I would probably still go with Pitcher B simply due to the high GB%.

You may or may not have a list similar to mine, but let's move on and put some names and ages next to our stat lines.
When I first looked at each player's stats, I thought I was going to go with Cahill as my #1 choice. But I was surprised to learn that I'd actually pick Anderson if I went off of a nameless list of stats. Another interesting point to make is that once you throw in the age factor, the difference between Pitcher B (Cahill) and Pitcher C (Price) is much greater than it was when we were ignoring age in our consideration of the #2 and #3 spots.

While the popular consensus is that Price is the #1 pitching prospect, once you look at the stats, there really is no logical reason to say that Price is better than Cahill or Anderson. In fact, I feel very confident in saying that Anderson and Cahill are considerably more talented than Price, and that Price easily ranks well behind the other 2 pitchers. I'll go so far as to say that Price ranks behind other guys like Madison Bumgarner, Jaime Garcia, Jeremy Jeffress, and Gio Gonzalez.

I don't want anyone to think that I'm down on Price. I think he'll be a very good major league pitcher, but he won't be great. He hasn't dominated hitters at any level, and his numbers are slowly regressing as he moves closer to the majors. Meanwhile, younger pitchers are posting better numbers with much less fanfare.

To conclude, I'd like to give comparable pitchers for Anderson, Cahill, and Price, as well as a score on my "Dirty, Nasty, Filthy" chart and leave it at that.

Brett Anderson
Comparable Pitcher: Brandon Webb
Score: Nasty (85/100)

Trevor Cahill
Comparable Pitcher: Francisco Liriano
Score: Nasty (84/100)

David Price
Comparable Pitcher: Justin Verlander
Score: Dirty (71/100)
...Read more


RedSox04 said...

Interesting post, thanks for the insight.

I'd differ only insofar as I think you're using very small sample sizes (particularly at the AA level). If Anderson maintains a 10.5 K/9 rate while Cahill's 10.6 K/9 rate from A+ continues to translate to a 7.66 K/9 rate, then I'll agree with you. But they don't seem to make much sense given their A+ profiles.

Also, re Price, clearly you've identified that he's a much different type of pitcher than Anderson/Cahill (not a GB monster). That being said, you're using 4 data points here (k/9, bb/9, GB rate, and age) with a limited sample size, particularly for Price, to make your point. Not every great pitcher is a GB pitcher, and not every great strikeout pitcher dominates in their first 60 IP in the pros.

Price's college #s have to be factored into this conversation, and I think they make it considerably harder to declare (let alone feel "very confident" in declaring) that Price is less talented than the other two, or Gio Gonzalez for that matter.

Adam G said...

Hey RedSox04, thanks for comment.

I agree that we're working off of a small sample size for Price, but it's really all we've got. Originally I thought his college stats would carry over better to the minors, but so far he hasn't had a single outing that has been as dominant as his college stats. I realize opinions about Price won't change easily, but the stats simply don't back up the hype.

As for the 4 data points (K/9, BB/9, GB% rate and age), there are no other stats that I know of that predict major league success rates and can be isolated and compared between pitchers better than those 4. If you feel there are other better indicators of future success, please let me know.

Like I said, opinions are going to vary greatly on this one, but I remain confident in my assessment of all 4 pitchers.

Joel L said...

As a diehard A's fan I am very happy that our young pitchers are being recognized by some. You made valid arguments and I too picked Cahill and Anderson over Price based on the stats. I do like Price a lot, but both Cahill and Anderson being only 20 look pretty great so far.

I enjoy reading your stuff, keep up the good work Adam.

Adam G said...

Hey Joel, I think that the A's and Billy Beane leave many baseball fans scratching their heads, but they've done some incredible "outside the box" things that are revolutionizing the game, and they have a very good idea of what they are doing. They aren't perfect of course, but they have some INCREDIBLE young talent right now, and we'll be hearing a lot about their pitching prospects over the next couple of years.

Price is very good, but Cahill and Anderson have been very very good, and you can't ignore their stats.

Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

Hey Adam,

Just found your website...amazing work man...really enjoying it. I am a diehard A's fan, nice to read a lot of posts on A's stuff. Keeps me hopefully about future seasons. Can you analyze the recent trade deadline moves? And how good is Andy LaRoche? Would you rate Oakland farm system #1 right now?

-Matt W., 20

Paul said...

I agree that we're working off of a small sample size for Price, but it's really all we've got.

When recognizing that the samples are far too small to make any sweeping judgments one way or another, the best move would probably be to avoid making such judgments instead of simply saying "we haven't enough data to back up these assertions, but I'll make 'em anyway."

Why use Liriano as your Cahill comp when Cahill isn't left-handed?

My biggest contention with your piece was you saying you weren't down on Price when that's exactly what you are as you suggest you'd rate him below at least six others despite his status as the consensus #1. By definition, you're quite down on him. That's OK in itself, but just own up to it. It plays too much like fence-sitting when you try putting in a qualifier like that.

Hindsight is now 20/20 as Price had his excellent playoff run well after this piece, but even at the time it was a hairsplitting piece that tried to make far too much of some tiny samples.