I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time recently thinking about how prospect evaluators put together their rankings lists. There are several prospect writers I read frequently, and I enjoy their work. Often, their rankings feel like a culmination of what they’ve been working on, and I love to see which guys they are particularly high on and think about who gets left off the list (because you always have to leave guys off a list).
The methodology behind the rankings is often just as interesting to me as the rankings themselves. Fangraphs Kiley McDaniel has put together an excellent explainer on the 20-80 scouting scale which I’ve been referring to recently. Ralph Lifshitz at Razzball as dropped a ton of info around his recent Top-100 and Top-500 prospect lists, including how you should think about ranking pitching prospects and how you should think about the potential value of a fantasy player’s position going forward. Also, Ralph doesn’t finalize his rank on a player until he’s watched at least 10 minutes of video on the guy! And the scouting team at 2080 Baseball have recently released a Top-125 based on the scouting looks they’ve gotten on baseball’s top prospects, giving an excellent look at the idea of projecting the future value of a prospect by scouting his present performances.
I think that every prospector has some kind of informal methodology they use to weigh a player. When I am making a trade for a prospect package and the opposing owner says ‘Ok, pick 2 of A, B, and C’, I definitely have a mental list of things I look at when comparing those 3 players. After thinking about this a bit, I think my list includes these things in approximately this order:
2) Scouting reports
3) Age relative to level (can I cut him some slack or look on his statistical performance in a new light based on who he is playing against?)
4) ‘Intangibles’ (i.e. does he throw 100 mph, have crazy bat speed, does he get hurt all the time, or is he Royce Lewis?)
5) Position (don’t want to load up on pitchers or 1B/DH types)
6) ETA (as he gets closer to the majors, the risk of him never making it goes down)
The priorities and balancing of factors in this list changes. For example, there was a time when I didn’t systematically review scouting reports on a guy simply because I didn’t know enough about scouting and didn’t understand the information coming across in the reports. But I’m a lawyer by training, so the logic of using a balancing test to weigh multiple contributing factors to come to a conclusion is an appealing one to me.
Now I’ve begun the process of formalizing these 6 ideas into a rankings system. I’m using a heuristic approach with the goal of solving a problem (how do I rank a list of guys in a way that helps me make better decisions). The ‘math’ won’t be precise, and it will change when something doesn’t look right. But I think the value of this method is that it will force me to rationalize how I value each player within the same framework as every other player I’m looking at. Consequently, the rankings that come out of applying the same method to every player should at least be rational (even if they aren’t good!).
The problem I’m tinkering with now is how to use scouting reports to value prospects for purposes of fantasy baseball. Prospect evaluators use the 20-80 scale to rate a player’s current and future tools and then translate that to a player’s ‘future value’ (if any) as a future MLB player. The FV grade is a helpful tool, but it’s also not exactly what we are looking for either. We don’t care if Christin Stewart is a trainwreck in LF as long as it doesn’t prevent him from getting at-bats. We don’t care if Luis Urias is a well-rounded, high-makeup player who can handle multiple defensive positions, we care whether he’s going to hit 5 HR or 20 HR a year.
I used the future tool projections from Fangraphs to come up with a model I’m calling ‘Fantasy FV’. I’m just using Fangraph’s scouting grades here because 1) they have a lot of them 2) they are internally consistent and 3) they are usually a little conservative. After goofing around with the numbers a bit, I came up with this table:
|Player||Hit||Game Power||Raw Power||Speed||Field||Throws||FANTASY FV||Fangraphs FV||Raw FV|
|Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||65||70||70||30||50||60||60||65||62.2|
|Fernando Tatis Jr.||55||60||70||45||55||60||60||65||61.1|
Bear in mind that this is a work in progress. Right now, the formula is ((2*Hit)+(2*GamePower)+(2*RawPower)+(2*Speed)+(0.25*Field)+(0.25*Throws))/8. I kept the defensive tools in because I believe that a good fielder is going to get more chances for ABs than a poor one. I’m thinking of pumping up the weight of the hit tool and turning down the weight of the speed tool and see what happens. But the general framework is here. And you can mess with the weights all you want, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do this.
Comparing the Fantasy FV to the Fangraphs FV we can see some players the method is higher and lower on. Vlad Jr. (60 Fantasy FV vs. 65 Fantrax FV) obviously sticks out off the bat. He’s probably getting dinged too much on his speed and not getting enough credit for his hit tool.
Fantasy FV is higher on Taylor Trammell, Jo Adell, Royce Lewis, Keston Hiura, and Nathaniel Lowe. This makes sense to me. Trammell’s arm is rated as being weak, I’ve seen concerns about Adell’s outfield defense, Royce seems to possess some ‘intangible’ that doesn’t show up on traditional scouting, and the primary concern with Hiura is his limitation as a defender. Nate Lowe might just be a passable 1B in the field, but his offensive tools are outstanding. Fantasy FV isn’t going to be as harsh as traditional scouting is on these types of players, and as long as they can find their way to MLB ABs, a fantasy player shouldn’t be harsh on these guys either.
Fantasy FV is lower on Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., Francisco Mejia, Willy Adames and Luis Urias. I think Vlad Jr. is getting pulled down by his speed too much and not getting enough credit for his hit tool. Tatis’s speed is bringing him down a bit as well. You can’t go on Twitter without running into an argument about the many questions surrounding Mejia’s future power and position. And Adames and Urias are great real-life prospects, but both will have to find power they have yet to display to justify a spot on your fantasy team. Fantasy FV is catching all of this, which is a good start.
This is what I have so far. I’m publishing this and sharing it to elicit feedback from the community. I’m really interested in hearing about what I’m missing, what needs to get tweaked, and what I’m looking at wrong. So send me that feedback!