By: Jack Boulia
A few weeks ago, during a Fangraphs chat, somebody asked the question “do the Mariners have a player development problem?”. I can’t remember who the author was that answered and I’m too lazy to look, however I was curious, so I investigated this question and have come to a fairly worrisome conclusion.
Here is a Google doc I comprised of former (and current) Baseball America Top-100 prospects with their respective rankings as well as career fWAR. As you can see, the list is pretty putrid except for standouts Felix Hernandez, Adam Jones, Shin-Soo Choo, and Brandon Morrow. What is a standout, you ask? To me it’s any player on this list with 10+ career fWAR. However. Despite these four standouts, only one has really given the Mariners themselves any value, and that’s Felix Hernandez. Adam Jones has contributed a robust 0.2 fWAR to the Mariners. Shin-Soo Choo somewhere around 0.9 fWAR. And Brandon Morrow with an impressive 0.8. All the players on the Google doc added up to a number of about 138.8 fWAR. Not bad. That’s about fourteen wins a year from your homegrown players. But something doesn’t add up. The average career fWAR player for every player on this list would be about six. Divide that by ten since that’s the year range we are looking at (2005-2015), and all of a sudden a mere 0.6 fWAR per season per player doesn’t look that great. If the players they had stayed at a 0.6 fWAR pace every year, let’s say 25% of the team is homegrown, we’ll say roughly six players, that adds up to 3.6 fWAR. That’s nearly replacement level at every position. Let’s go a step further and say every single player on the Mariners roster is homegrown, and they all average 0.6 fWAR a season. That’s fifteen wins a year. Yikes. Wow, that actually looks an awful lot like the fourteen number we got a while ago. It adds up, and it works.
You can play around with the calculations a bit on the doc, you can take away Felix Hernandez, Adam Jones, Brandon Morrow, and Shin-Soo Choo and see what you get it, etc. But any way you slice it, Mariners prospects have been bad. Three of those four guys, as mentioned before, accumulated nearly all their fWAR on different teams, and probably wouldn’t be the same players they have been today if they stuck with the Mariners. But any way you play around with the calculations, it’s bad.
A common question people tend to ask is “if a player is good enough, he shouldn’t need coaching to reach his potential, right?”. While it sounds like a stupid question, and it is, it’s one of the most commonly asked questions in the sabermetric community. Unfortunately, the community is still so “by-the-numbers” that it forgets the scouting aspect of the game and the psychological part. A lack of coaching and proper preparation for the higher levels is absolutely a factor, even if you can’t quantify it. There are two types of data; qualitative and quantitative. Quantitative data can be measured, while qualitative is seen, or experienced. You can’t tell me if the same prospect were to go through the St. Louis Cardinals organization he wouldn’t be more successful. He absolutely would. I won’t use Cardinals prospects in particular here, but they turn guys like Matt Carpenter into superstars. The Cardinals are perennially stacked in Top-100 lists, but all the players on there don’t flop. In fact many succeed in some capacity. But some teams, specifically the Mariners, are completely and utterly hopeless when it comes to developing players.