At every level of every organization, baseball teams have a group of players they call “organizational players,” or more accurately, “non-prospects.” At best, they exist to provide depth for the team, and at worst, they exist to put a team on the field so the prospects can get plate appearances and innings pitched.
However, when organizational players make the leap to prospect status—or even major league regular—it’s seen as a huge surplus value for the organization. Turning 30th-round draft picks into average major leaguers is something that not only the Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros can get jazzed about. For each cost-controlled player produced in this way, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers can spend that many more millions of dollars on free agents, draft compensation and international pool spending.
Surplus value drives everything that front offices do when it comes to player acquisition and retention. However, while teams continue to pour money and understanding into the scouting and analytical departments, player development continues to lag. As I mentioned in my previous articles about how baseball failed two non-prospects, players who are no longer considered to be part of the pipeline to the big leagues tend to get shoved to the wayside.
Two anecdotes follow about my experiences with training baseball players:
An acquaintance of mine was a top-five-round draft pick as a pitcher out of college, and he earned a significant bonus as a result. However, after a few years of declining velocity, he began to fall out of favor in the organization. Desperate for help, he found out that the organization had a very expensive biomechanics facility where multiple high-speed cameras could film and digitize his pitching motion. Not knowing much about this, he tracked down the pitching coordinator and arranged to go through the lab.
After he did so, the researchers handed him and his coaches a printout with the relevant mechanical data (kinematics, kinetics, joint loads, angular velocities, etc) and he inquired on how this data could be used to improve his pitching performances. The coaches had no idea, and basically trashed the report, leaving him with a stack of paperwork that required an advanced understanding of kinesiology to grasp.
A current client of mine has been in the minor leagues for some time, having already been involved in a trade for another non-prospect. He sought out our program to improve/maintain fastball velocity, and despite having been in two “progressive” organizations, he said that the information I passed on to him was completely lacking at the professional level. He will be attending his first big league camp in an attempt to break into the parent organization’s bullpen, and he felt he needed to look outside the organization for a reasonable fastball development program.
In a blog article I wrote titled Making the Sabermetric Argument for Increasing Fastball Velocity, I discussed what it would be worth to an organization to increase a replacement-level pitcher’s fastball velocity from 86 to 90 mph (a common drop in velocity in journeymen pitchers—a great example being Scott Kazmir). The not-so-surprising answer is that it’s worth a heck of a lot!
And so, I propose a basic risk-free model to adding surplus value: Take the group of pitchers you plan on releasing from baseball due to declining fastball velocity (this is a large group in any organization, I promise you), and offer them the chance to go through an experimental program in extended spring training or another venue to improve their arm strength. If they refuse, release them. If they accept (and many would, knowing the writing was on the wall), test out a six-to-eight-week program designed to improve their velocities. What do you have to lose?