Sunday, August 27, 2006

Who's #1?

As the Yankees pile on the suck along the Pacific, we're better served taking some optimism out of the weekend. Namely, the fact that the Yankees have the best pitching prospect in baseball.

Or do they? Homer Bailey has taken a huge step forward in 2006, establishing himself--along with Philip Hughes--at the top of pitching prospect lists. Identified by Bryan Smith in the spring as a breakout candidate, Bailey has gone from "a riddle wrapped in an enigma and covered with chocolate icing" to potential pennant race booster shot.

So who's better? Onto the tale of the tape...

Homer Bailey is a 20-year-old Texan, born May 3, 1986. 6'3", 190 lbs. He was taken in the first round, 7th overall, in the 2004 draft, and was widely regarded as the top high school righthanded pitcher. Though he himself has said he plays baseball because he's good at it, not because he likes it, Bailey is regarded as a hard worker with a successful attitude.

Bailey throws 92-94 and can touch 97. He has an outstanding curve, unhittable when it's working, and a developing changeup. Bailey doesn't like using his offspeed stuff, preferring to blow his fastball by hitters all the time. The Reds are working hard with him to mix his pitches better.

Philip Hughes is a 20-year-old Californian, born June 24, 1986. 6'5", 220 lbs. He was taken in the first round, 23rd overall, in the 2004 draft. Some clubs considered him the top high school pitcher that year due to his maturity and polish. He's considered very advanced for his age with phenomenal makeup.

Hughes throws 91-93 and can touch 96 (though John Sickels has said that his velocity has improved a bit this season). Both his curve and slider are considered plus pitches, and his change is effective. He has tremendous command, reflecting how polished he is for a 20-year-old.

Same age, same draft year, similar promotion patterns...tracking their performances will be interesting.

Bailey: GCL (Rk); 12.1 IP, 4.38 ERA, 14 H, 9 K, 3 BB, 0 HR
Hughes: GCL (Rk); 5 IP, 0.00 ERA, 4 H, 8 K, 0 BB, 0 HR

Not very telling, but Hughes obviously had the more successful introduction to pro ball.

Bailey: Mdw (A-); 103.2 IP, 4.43 ERA, 7.7 H/9, 10.9 K/9, 5.4 BB/9, 0.4 HR/9
Hughes: SAL (A-); 68.2 IP, 1.97 ERA, 6.0 H/9, 9.4 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 0.1 HR/9
Hughes: FSL (A+); 17.2 IP, 3.06 ERA, 4.1 H/9, 10.7 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 0.0 HR/9

Hughes distanced himself from Bailey statistically by a wide margin. His control was far, far, FAR better, and he improved all of his peripherals upon being promoted to High-A.

At this point, PECOTA fell in love with Hughes, not only tabbing him the third best pitching prospect in baseball, but also marking him with the highest upside (yes, even higher than Francisco Liriano's). Bailey rated a humble 44th, though PECOTA regognized the potential--his top two comparables were Rich Harden and Francisco Rodriguez. (Hughes's top comparable was Jake Peavy).

Still, scouts loved Bailey. Baseball America rated Bailey the 38th best prospect this year, just one slot ahead of Hughes.

Bailey: FSL (A+); 70.2 IP, 3.31 ERA, 6.2 H/9, 10.1 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9
Bailey: SOU (AA); 62 IP, 1.16 ERA, 6.5 H/9, 10.0 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 0.1 HR/9
Hughes: FSL (A+); 30 IP, 1.80 ERA, 5.7 H/9, 9.0 K/9, 0.6 BB/9, 0.0 HR/9
Hughes: EAS (AA); 111 IP, 2.35 ERA, 5.8 H/9, 10.8 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 0.4 HR/9

Hughes trumped Bailey in the Florida State League, making his promotion a no-brainer. Bailey, though, was inconsistent and made many people question the move to the Southern League. 62 innings later and those same doubters are now questioning whether or not he should be in the majors. A 1.16 ERA will do that for ya.

While Bailey has the big advantage in ERA, Hughes's peripherals are quite superior. Let's break it down further with batted ball data.

FSL: 18.8 % K, 9.4% BB, 47.9% GB, 3.77 FIP (3.82 ERA)
Bailey: 27.4% K, 9.0% BB, 44.2% GB, 3.21 FIP, 2.95 xFIP
Hughes: 27.3% K, 2.7% BB, 51.4% GB, 1.52 FIP, 2.34 xFIP

The strikeout rates are interesting, as Bailey's K/9 was comfortably ahead. Hughes simply got through innings faster, so faced fewer batters. They're even in Ks, but Hughes walked significantly fewer betters (note: I'm using a modified walk rate of [BB-IBB+HBP]/PA) and induced many more grounders. On the whole, Hughes's command again wins out.

SL: 19.9% K, 9.3% BB, 47.2% GB, 3.71 FIP (3.45 ERA)
Bailey: 27.7% K, 10.4% BB, 48.3% GB, 2.44 FIP, 2.90 xFIP
EL: 19.2% K, 9.3% BB, 46.8% GB, 3.90 FIP (3.81 ERA)
Hughes: 30.8% K, 7.9% BB, 51.6% GB, 2.31 FIP, 2.49 xFIP

How do you like them apples? Hughes has significant advantages in every major peripheral: strikeouts, walks and groundballs. His Fielding Independent ERAs are better, and he's accomplished this while playing in the tougher league. Bailey's FIP+ is 128. Hughes's is 157.

Color me surprised. From all the talk, Bailey and Hughes appeared to be very even. But statistically, Hughes flat-out outclasses Bailey. From a scouting perspective, Hughes's command, makeup and poise are second to none. At this point, the only plusses I can see for Bailey are the drop dead curve, higher draft position and shiny Double-A ERA. And while the former is for real, the latter two are gilded advantages.

Bailey is obviously a great prospect--a FIP 28% better than average for a 20-year-old in Double-A is mighty impressive--but by any objective measure, Hughes is top of the heap.

All hail the new king. Philip Hughes has earned the crown.


74 said...

Besides...who wants a pitcher named "Homer." :P

Anonymous said...

wow, I've been looking for a comparison, good job, thanks...