For today's Minor League Monday I wanted to look at a very interesting story by Ben Lindbergh over at Baseball Prospectus (don't worry, it's free) regarding the topic of prospect promotion. He looks at the relationship between promotion strategy and production around the majors as a whole but for our purposes I want to single out the Mets.
Obviously prospect promotion has been something of a lightning rod for the Mets throughout the Omar Minaya era. It's no secret that Minaya and embattled former assistant GM Tony Bernazard were partial to the idea of aggressive promotion. Especially for (but not limited to) talented young Latin players, the two liked to challenge minor leaguers with assignments to age-inappropriate contexts which often resulted in 'sink or swim'-type results (see, Jenrry Mejia, Ruben Tejada, FMart, Juan Lagares, Francisco Pena and the list goes on).
And now thanks to Linderbergh's research -- which conveniently lines up pretty nicely with the Omar Era -- we are able see on a macro level exactly the scope of those results:
First, we'll look at the system's average amount of plate appearances for position players before making their major league debuts:
No big surprise here; the Mets typically allow their minor leaguers the fewest amount of appearances in all of baseball before hitting the show. So basically if you thought maybe they saved the rush jobs for only top-tier prospects like FMart or Tejada, well you were wrong. But hey, maybe they limit this behavior to just the hitters...
...Nope. In fact, the Mets rushed pitchers even more aggressively, in comparison to the next worst offenders, than they did with the position players. Not only that but the Mets also represented the largest variance from the next-most aggressive club in the entire league. And remember, this was before 2010 and Jenrry Mejia. Pretty shocking results; not innately bad on their own, but shocking.
This is when they become innately bad. Obviously this is a pretty damning visual, lumping the Mets in with the lowly Mariners at the very bottom of the barrel in terms of production of minor league call-ups in their first two seasons as measured by WARP, the BP version of WAR.
Now we've got to keep in mind that obviously there are other factors that affect overall production of first and second year players beyond just minor league assignment strategy:
- One of those is just plain necessity. Obviously it's bad to rush a prospect but take 2009 for example and the legendary amount of injuries the Mets suffered, forcing the club to use nine first or second year players that season. Many of those players were clearly not ready but the front office had little choice as they were often down to their third or fourth-string option
- Another factor is playing time. WARP -- like WAR -- is in essence a counting stat, not a ratio, thus it is at the mercy of a player's total amount of appearances. For the Mets, the Omar Era represented a shift towards acquiring established, usually big-name veterans which obviously cuts into the playing time of anyone eligible for this list.
- But perhaps the most significant factor is talent level. As the old saying goes, crap in, crap out. And the #1 way an org. stocks up on talent is through the June draft, another dubious subject for the Omar regime. Considering the fact that Omar's Mets consistently ranked in the bottom tier in draft spending -- including dead last in '09 -- an argument can be made that the very low avg. WARP could just be a result of bad talent, not bad assignments. Not that that is much better...
Obviously this is quite an indictment of Omar and co.'s ability to effectively run a productive farm system. Along with the fact that general wisdom typically warns against such aggressive assignments, it is not just a coincidence that these figures correspond so well with the low WARP's. Many Mets players have just not been ready. Obviously that goes for Tejada and Mejia last season but you can also point to guys like Fernando Martinez, Carlos Gomez and even Mike Pelfrey.
Now a similar graph measuring amateur spending would likely place the Mets near the bottom as well so I'm sure that too plays a hand in all this, but that only further damns Minaya and his lieutenants. Regardless of why, the fact that a large market team like the Mets has been so unsuccessful at producing young, cheap talent is pretty much inexcusable. The only reprieve would be if the Mets operated like the Yankees, doling out playing time mainly to high-priced veterans but actually winning as a result. And obviously we all know that has not been the case.