Monday, March 3, 2014

Prospectations - Success, Failure and Looking for the IT Factor

Nance M. is back to share her thoughts about prospects and expectations or, to coin a phrase, prospectations.

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The best thing about baseball is that everybody has their own twist of enjoying the game and participating as a fan.  Ultimately, all that matters is wins and losses and we all want to see our team win. Unfortunately for us Astros fans, the last few seasons have been less than satisfying in that respect so many of us have been actively seeking other ways to enjoy our favorite game. Most of us reading WTHB take great pleasure in following prospects in order to be the first to pick the next greatest player of the generation (or bust for the cynics in the audience). We all want to find our own home grown “Mr. October”. Oh, God, did I really just make a Yankees reference – please forgive that slip.

Some of us focus on “tools”.  But a lot of players with great “tools” have been a bust.  There is a large contingent that I lovingly (or not) refer to as “Stat Rats” that are enamored with the mathematical side of the game using advanced statistics to predict success/failure.  Some fans just want to read and adopt what the professionals think.  Others might use less tangible measures such as how they wear their socks or caps.

I am fascinated with the mental side of the game.  In addition to looking for players with high baseball IQ,   I try to identify prospects that have “IT”.  What is “IT”, you ask? I don’t know if I can define IT, but a player who has IT, is prepared to not get beat.   IT shows in the expression on their face, their demeanor as they walk onto the field, and in the dugout.  IT can overcome a deficiency in tools.  IT sometimes defies statistics. For some reason, I can see IT in pitchers more than position players. It is hard for me to recognize IT from watching TV (especially since – nope, not going to go there) and I don’t get the opportunity to see many minor league games in person.  Ultimately, I think IT is closely correlated with extremely high baseball self-confidence. Former Astros who rated high on my IT meter?  Bagwell, Biggio, Clemens, Pettite, Wagner, Kent.  Oswalt had IT up until his last year in Houston.

I had the pleasure of talking to Quinton McCracken about the pressure that the young players are under when they come up.  I am convinced that mental strength, thus self-confidence, is the most important factor in predicting success or failure of a prospect.  A player must have a very high level of self-confidence to be successful at the major league level.  Baseball is a game of failure.  Players have to be able to fail successfully. If a hitter starts thinking when he is in the batter’s box, he is done and might as well go sit down. A successful hitter doesn’t think – he reacts.  A pitcher can’t get rattled by an error behind him, that first walk or home run allowed, or that blooper that drops in.  He has to trust himself to get out of a jam.

That brings me to a philosophical question.  Do fans play a role in the success or failure of young players?  I would argue yes, because we can contribute to or diminish self-confidence.  What would it do to your confidence if you read and heard every day that you were going to be a bust? Most prospects are 20ish year old kids.  Many have never been to college.  It must be a lot of pressure to know that if you don’t make it as a major leaguer you don’t have any other marketable skills to earn a living.  Most players in the minor leagues did not sign for huge bonuses.  Among those that did, many quickly spent that money helping family members, paying agents, taxes, etc. or simply wasted it on toys.  What about those who have the pressure of supporting a wife and family?  Talk about pressure.  Most prospects have toiled in the minor leagues for several years, living below the poverty line and only getting paid during the season.  I am guessing it is not very easy to find decent off-season jobs since employers know you will be gone as soon as spring training arrives. How many of them have parents that can afford to support them during this long process? Not a lot of confidence building factors here.  I know we tell the players to turn off the noise and not listen/or read what the fans say.  But if you were 20 years old, just becoming famous, how many of you could resist reading what your fans think of you?

I think there is a tendency among fans to treat prospects like toys at Christmas.  We look through the catalogue and find players we just have to have.  But, then we play with them for a little while, get bored (or worse yet, break them) and move on to the next new toy.  If you were that prospect, what would that do for your confidence?  Baseball is a game of patience my friends.  Rare is the player that has immediate success at the MLB level.  

My resolution for the 2014 season and beyond is to exercise patience and see if I can help these kids succeed by giving them the opportunity to learn from failure.  I will remember the role opportunity plays and that 500 ABS in one season is not the same as 500 ABS scattered over 3 seasons for building confidence.  I will remember that power is usually the last tool to develop.  I will remember that control in a pitcher is not solely a function of mechanics.  Some pitchers with extreme self-confidence have a higher walk rate because they will not give in.  Now, the 30+ year old guys with lots of experience? To me, they’re fair game because they should be mature enough to take it and wear it.

And, yes let the cries of “homerism” ring out.  But it seems to me like there are far more articles predicting failure of a prospect than success.  This would be a good exercise for the Stat Rats.  Among the blogs and twitter, what are the overall PA (positive articles) and NA (negative articles) for all top 100 prospects?  Not individually, but collectively.  Ultimately, performance is the true measure of success.  But for me, a prospect’s ability is not usually representative in a players first continuous year at the MLB level. But hopefully, the Baseball Gods will look favorably upon enough of our youngsters that we will have many happy Octobers for the next 10 years or more. 

2 comments:

  1. As the mother of a player, I appreciate your insight and ability to see beyond the player and to the heart of the person. It is a tough road but blessed to do what they love. Thanks for the article!

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    1. Thank you for reading. Good luck to your son!

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