Pitching is something that is pretty clearly a key component of this business plan, of building a championship team. From the studies on success in the playoffs, we find that offense has not influence on the results, on winning World Championships, that it is pitching and fielding that wins World Championships. From the roster structure, we find that building with pitchers reduces the risk of developing good players, only to find that you need to trade to complete your team, because for pitching, the cream rise to the top. If you have 3 good pitchers, you have a great rotation, but if you have 3 good 1B (and only 1B), the team has to trade at least one of them (two for an NL team), which introduces a trade risk.
From the Pythagorean calculations, we find that when you have a great defense, you can actually win 90 games easily even when your offense is very sub-par. Thus a rebuild is faster when a team focuses on pitching first - as cream rises to the top - and supplementing the offense - due to Pythagorean - to complete the team. Now a study shows another positive aspect of developing your own pitching: that's the only sure way of obtaining good to great pitchers.
Trading Prospects is a Sucker's Bet Most Times, so is Signing Other Team's Free Agents
The Hardball Times publishes a Baseball Annual and the 2012 edition had a very interesting study in it, looking at how much of an advantage it is to know your own personnel. The chapter is "Down with Other People's Players" by Matt Swartz, page 207. He noted:
But does this extra information matter? Does another team's extra knowledge about a player affect the market? Should GMs think twice before signing a free agent from another team? Should they wonder why the other team is so willing to trade that highly ranked prospect?
Yes, a thousand times, yes.He calculated the $ per WAR for all types of free agent deals and he found that while the premium for hitters is only 17% when signing other team's players, it is 93% for starting pitchers and 139% for relief pitchers. He found that there were some hometown discounts given, but not enough to explain the premium.
Meanwhile, he examined players' performances after signing or resigning, versus Oliver projections. Re-signed hitters do not beat projections any better than newly signed hitters. More importantly, re-signed pitchers beat their projections, while newly signed free agent pitchers fell very short of their projections. That's a double-whammy right there, not only do you pay a lot more for these free agent pitchers, you also end up with less than projected performances as well, as if the former team knew that they were not going to continue to pitch as well as before.
Trades are no better. He found that "everyday players and starting pitchers both fall short of projections more often after being traded." Given the evidence above, this is not surprising, "we should expect that players who are traded will underperform projections more than players who stay on the same team." "Teams probably were able to detect injury risks that would not be observable to an outside projection system and send those players away in advance."
Strong Evidence That Teams Really Do Know Their Own Players Better Than Other Teams Do
He says that it is very strong evidence that teams know their own players - hitters and pitchers - better than even reasonable forecast systems do. "Caveat emptor." Trading is fraught with risk because other teams do not willingly give up good prospects to you. Signing free agents is particularly fraught with risk, and particularly with pitching, because you need to overpay (roughly 100% premium) for expected performance but meanwhile these free agent pitchers tend to underperform, giving you a double whammy. Again, teams generally know what they got and don't let go of players who they think are worth keeping.
The same goes for prospects. He examined prospects from Baseball America's Top 20 from each offseason from 1990 to 2007, covering 360 prospects, dividing them into those kept and those traded away. He found that "highly ranked prospects who are traded are more likely to be busts than the highly ranked prospects that teams retain." That was true by many angles, for while the average ranking was roughly the same, the average WAR for traded prospects was less than half that of the prospects kept, who on average ended up being good players (average WAR of 17.1). Furthermore, "the biggest difference was the number of elite prospects who managed 15 WAR, which 42 percent of untraded prospects were able to do, but only 18 percent of traded prospects did." "Teams are better able to tell which of their own minor leaguers are going to succeed than other teams' scouts, who see them less frequently."
In conclusion, he noted:
The safest bet is to develop your own players and keep them when they seem likely to maintain or improve their performance. When teams do need external help, they should fill holes with the reservation and suspicion derived from the knowledge that if a player is available, there is probably a reason.Duh: Teams Need to Develop Their Own Good Pitching
Therefore, it behooves teams to develop their own pitching, that is, those who will lead the way to championships, per the latest studies on winning championships. I know that was really obvious before, but this new study makes the imperative that much more greater to follow this rule. It is better to have the pitcher in hand than to rely on the trade or free agent market to acquire them, as the pitching you need in order to win championships most probably is not available in any other way, whether in trade or via free agency, and whatever is out there on the free agent market is way overpriced (100% or more). The exception there, of course, are Boras players, so they might be good, but they most likely will still be overpriced.
On top of that, given that it is so hard to find any prospect in the draft, the most efficient way for a team to rebuild a world championship-caliber contender is to focus first on pitching, for all the reasons outlined in this business plan, the flexibility, the control, the risk mitigation with regards to finding multiples, the ability to win with subpar offenses, all that adds up to a quicker turnaround when a team focuses first on finding and developing good to great pitchers.
Once you get that core group together, it is relatively easier over time to trade for or sign bullpen arms who can round out your group, and once you start winning and start getting back of the first round picks, where it is much harder to find talent (as per my draft research), you can locate useful hitters and pitchers (like the Giants did with Brown, Panik, Stratton), guys who can complement the good players who the team had found and developed previously. Meanwhile, once you got your great rotation, you still need to prime the pump, in case of injury (Lowry), reduced performance (Lincecum?, Sanchez), or free agency (Lincecum?), and still draft and develop pitchers. The Giants appear to be doing that, with Crick, Stratton, and Blackburn in hand.