Thursday, December 6, 2007

Rule 5 Draft and the Danger of Convention

con·ven·tion (kuhn-ven-shuhn) –noun - a rule, method, or practice established by usage; custom: the convention of showing north at the top of a map.


It's difficult at times to determine what exactly is going on inside a front office. We don't have a backstage pass or a behind the scenes show that enables us to see behind the current. Accordingly, we are often left to draw inferences from the decisions that are made. That said, it's difficult to view today's Rule 5 draft machinations by the Reds as anything other than an unwise adherence to convention.

In today's game, there are a number of organizations that embrace unconventional thought,
including Oakland, San Diego, and Boston. Instead of relying on centuries old baseball dogma, they have consistently sought out new and better ways of doing things.

These are the same organizations that have embraced statistical analysis as a way to improve player valuation, a characteristic that has come to define them, but in actuality they are better termed "pragmatists." Or, perhaps the "independent thought" organizations. They are willing to consider new ideas and ways of doing things. They consider old problems in new ways. When the new way works, they keep it. When it fails, they discard it. But, at least, they are willing to question everything in their quest to build a better mousetrap.


That said, today's Rule 5 draft revealed that the Reds don't yet belong in that class. Under
Krivsky, the Reds have made a lot of improvements. They've added value through unconventional means and haven't been afraid to make necessary changes. However, it's clear that there is still room for improvement.

In the Rule 5 draft, the Reds left unprotected and subsequently lost Carlos Guevara. Guevara has been dominant in each season in the Reds organization. However, the Reds could never get past the idea that he doesn't have a good fastball, relying instead on a screwball. Evidently, the Reds viewed him as nothing more than a gimmick pitcher who is unlikely to have success at the big league level. The general convention is that right-handed pitchers cannot be successful without a 90+ mph fastball and, evidently, the Reds bought into it.

However, with the next pick after losing Guevara, the Reds selected Sergio Valenzuela. Valenzuela is a right-handed pitcher out of the Braves organization. His performance in the minor leagues pales in comparison to that of Guevara.

It appears that the Reds downgraded a spot on their 40 man roster because they couldn't see past traditional baseball "wisdom." The Reds chose the unsuccessful conventional pitcher from the organization with a track record of quality pitching over the unconventional pitcher who has had nothing but success.


In 5 minor league seasons, Carlos Guevara posted a 2.91 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 11.6 K/9, and 3.2 BB/9. On the other hand, in 4 minor league seasons, Sergio Valenzuela posted a 5.58 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 3.1 BB/9, and 5.0 K/9.

The "independent thought" organizations recognize the importance of event outcomes in their player valuation, which is the foundation of statistical analysis. The "conventional" organizations focus strictly on the "process" in player valuation, which is the basis for traditional scouting.

Evidently, the Reds felt that Guevara's impressive results were substantially outweighed by the manner in which he went about getting them and that Valenzuela's poor results were substantially outweighed by the manner in which he got those results. Both of those premises strike me as being rather dubious, but, as always, time will reveal the truth of the matter.

Ultimately, the Reds chose to adhere to convention and probably cost themselves a solid reliever in the process. Guevara may turn out to be ineffective at the MLB level, but at the very least he earned a cup of coffee to find out. Not surprisingly, it's the Padre organization that will give Guevara his chance after they traded to obtain his rights from the Marlins. Regardless of whether or not Guevara pans out for the Padres (though I suspect he will), it speaks volumes that the Padres were willing to give him a shot where the Reds were not.

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