Wednesday, July 14, 2004

J.J. Davis And Player Development

Honest Wagner has a mention of us today in his Pirates blog. Thanks to HW for the link.

I'm getting a little tired of defending J.J. Davis, and I can understand why Pirates fans are fed up with him. I can also see that I'm not convincing anyone. So I won't bother rehashing here.

I would, however, like to make a point about something in the HW post:

But he has to earn PT the way the rest of the guys earn it.

I disagree with the ideas of player development that underpin statements like these. For me, the J.J. Davis issue is about more than just him, it's about impatience with rookies in general and how that can backfire. I certainly don't advocate an indefinite free pass for Davis or anyone else, but... rookies struggle. That's what they do, and we shouldn't be surprised when it happens.

If a player can't "earn PT" by ripping up the minor leagues, how can he earn it? By coming off the bench and hitting a bunch of pinch-hit homers or something? Given Davis' development pattern - he's usually taken some time to adjust to each new level - I don't think he's going to do that, and neither will lots of other guys just after they've hit the majors.

Teams who are patient with young players often reap the benefits of that player's service later. Bobby Crosby was terrible the first six weeks or so of this season, for example, but instead of benching or demoting him, the A's waited through the struggles, and since then he's been every bit as good as everyone thought he would be.

Likewise, in 1998 and 1999 the Twins gave starting jobs and hundreds of trial at-bats to lots of rookies, including many with minor-league pedigrees much worse than Davis'. The Twins didn't even suffer much while they waited for these rookies to come around - they were bad before, when they were playing veterans like Pat Meares, and they weren't much worse with the rookies. Some of them, like Javier Valentin and Chad Allen, didn't work out, and after a while the Twins cut bait and moved on. But many others, such as Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Doug Mientkiewicz and Corey Koskie, DID work out, and those guys eventually formed the core of a perennial contender.

And let's face it, a lot of guys on the Pirates right now aren't earning the playing time they're already getting. That's why the Pirates are bad. If the Pirates were in first place I could understand the argument that "you've got to earn PT." But they're not; they're not even close. If a rookie is embarrassing for a little while, it won't be much worse than it is now. So at this point, when a guy performs well in the minors, I think it behooves the Pirates to give him half a year to show what he can do in the majors. That goes for J.J. Davis, and also for J.R. House and others when they get called up. The Pirates' performance clearly isn't cutting it right now, so I don't see any problem with disrupting the team a little bit to make it happen. And I think the Pirates' future will be brighter because of it - not because Davis or any one particular player will make it - but because the more high-upside guys with good minor league performance records get chances, the more will succeed.

5 Comments:

Blogger Rowdy said...

The time to make this argument was last November. To put J.J. Davis on the Bobby Crosby path, you'd have to stick him there and build around him.

The fact is the team was not impressed by those AAA numbers. Not all good AAA numbers are created equal, I guess. There was something about the kind of pitches he hit that didn't suggest major-league hitter. The minors are full of guys who crush AAA and never do much in the majors. Ruben Mateo and Chris Truby are two other examples. Neither one of us knows exactly why the Pirates studied those same numbers you cite and decided that Davis was not ready to be the opening day right fielder.

Once the season begins and J.J. Davis is promoted to be the fourth or fifth outfielder and scheduled to start against left-handed pitching, then it's too late, I think, to move him onto the Bobby Crosby path. Mac has thirteen guys and they all think they should start every day. There has to be some kind of system that most of them regard as fair which determines who starts when.

The Crosby analogy is a good one because it highlights other facts. Crosby's 24 and he's a shortstop. If he doesn't hit much, the A's aren't hurt so much. Davis is 25 and a right fielder. All teams must get production from right fielders. You can't hide a struggling bat in right field. I also remember the Pirates promoting their own Bobby Crosby, sticking him at SS, and waiting several years for him to develop as a hitter.

The argument that the Pirates are averse to rookies is not supported by analysis of the current roster or even by their recent history. Sure, some guys have been passed over for a Proven Veteran, I can't deny that. But how many rookies are the A's starting this year? How many are the Pirates starting? We can agree to disagree on whether or not the Pirates are trusting enough to rookies. It's clear they came into 2004 planning to start rookies at 2B and LF, and they haven't given up on Redman, who, unlike Davis, did well in the majors last year. Redman also plays at a position where a team can hide a weak stick.

Let's forget about Davis for now.

Who's the next guy you'd like to see the Pirates build around? What rookie or two should the Pirates run out there every day regardless of production in 2005?

5:30 PM  
Blogger Charlie said...

Sorry to reply this way, but it's easier:

"The fact is the team was not impressed by those AAA numbers. Not all good AAA numbers are created equal, I guess. There was something about the kind of pitches he hit that didn't suggest major-league hitter."

Perhaps this is true, and perhaps it isn't. We'll never know until Davis plays more. But I think you have too much faith in the Pirates' ability to evaluate players.

"The minors are full of guys who crush AAA and never do much in the majors. Ruben Mateo and Chris Truby are two other examples."

Those guys are also older than Davis, and Mateo was hitting perfectly well in the majors until the Pirates DFAed him, albeit for a short period of time.

"Neither one of us knows exactly why the Pirates studied those same numbers you cite and decided that Davis was not ready to be the opening day right fielder."

I am mystified by lots of things the Pirates do. But they've done very little to earn the benefit of the doubt.

"Once the season begins and J.J. Davis is promoted to be the fourth or fifth outfielder and scheduled to start against left-handed pitching, then it's too late, I think, to move him onto the Bobby Crosby path. Mac has thirteen guys and they all think they should start every day. There has to be some kind of system that most of them regard as fair which determines who starts when."

But that system can always change, and it often does. Stynes, Simon and Redman are playing less than they did at the start of the season, for example. And I do not see the point in not playing a guy who should play just because it would disrupt the team. A bad team SHOULD be disrupted sometimes.

"The Crosby analogy is a good one because it highlights other facts. Crosby's 24 and he's a shortstop. If he doesn't hit much, the A's aren't hurt so much."

Actually, they're hurt a lot more, because they're a contending team in a tight playoff race. The Pirates would stand to lose very little if they started Davis most of the rest of the season, health permitting. And the potential for long-term gain would be very high.

"Davis is 25 and a right fielder. All teams must get production from right fielders. You can't hide a struggling bat in right field."

Teams should get good production from the corners, yes, if they want to win now. But the Pirates aren't getting anything from Randall Simon at first. If they benched Simon, moved Wilson to first and played Davis in right they'd be at least as good as they are now, and probably better. And the Pirates can afford to take these sorts of risks now, since they're out of the playoff race.

"The argument that the Pirates are averse to rookies is not supported by analysis of the current roster or even by their recent history. Sure, some guys have been passed over for a Proven Veteran, I can't deny that. But how many rookies are the A's starting this year? How many are the Pirates starting?"

The difference lies in the teams' respective positions. The A's have lots of veteran players who are producing, and the team is winning. There's no need to play a rookie just to do it. But for a team that is struggling like the Pirates are, especially a small-market team, it is essential to trust young players, since the cheapest, most efficient talent comes from players with less than three years of big league service.

As for the Pirates not trusting rookies: Craig Wilson.

"We can agree to disagree on whether or not the Pirates are trusting enough to rookies. It's clear they came into 2004 planning to start rookies at 2B and LF, and they haven't given up on Redman, who, unlike Davis, did well in the majors last year. Redman also plays at a position where a team can hide a weak stick."

But not a stick that weak. And Redman has never, ever hit well except for two months in '03. There's no good reason to think he can hit. Davis can. I guess that's a separate argument, though. As for starting rookies at 2B and LF, good for them. They should have started one in rightfield, too, though.

"Who's the next guy you'd like to see the Pirates build around? What rookie or two should the Pirates run out there every day regardless of production in 2005?"

That's a pretty easy one, and we'll probably agree here. J.R. House. And Jon VanBenschoten, if he pitches well the last half of the year.

Thanks,
Charlie

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