Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Taking a swing at some baseball brainteasers!
The Phillies are hiring! That’s not normally the kind of thing we post here at Beyond the Box Score, but these particular job postings caught my attention. There are three types of positions available: Baseball Operations Analyst, Quantitative Analyst, and Software Engineer. Most pertinently, each type of job requires applicants to answer a unique baseball question.
I’m not actually interested in the jobs— nor do I meet the qualifications— but I do like baseball brainteasers. I’ll do my best to answer each of the three questions, adhering to the stated word limits. Baseball job applications have kind of been my thing lately. (Yes, I’m self-promoting. Deal with it.) You can let me know in the comments or on Twitter if you would hire me!
Suppose you could trade your top pitching prospect (currently in a lower minor league level) for a young, all-star position player currently in the Major Leagues. How would you decide whether to make the trade? (250 word limit)
You might think it depends on the quality of the players, the team’s competition cycle, contracts, and service time, but it actually doesn’t. You should always take the young all-star position player.
On the Baseball Prospectus top 101 prospects list from 2015, there were 17 pitchers in the low minors (below Double-A). Since then, they have averaged 1.2 career WARP and 219 innings with medians of 0.3 WARP and 150 innings for their careers. Even the biggest successes— Lucas Giolito, Sean Manaea, and Vince Velasquez— have had their tribulations. Five have yet to throw 25 MLB innings, and nine have 0.3 WARP or lower.
“Young” is undefined, but there were 34 all-stars position players in 2019 with less than six years of service time (not including 32-year-old José Abreu). They averaged 4.0 WARP just in 2019, with a median of 4.5. Of the 17 aforementioned pitchers, only Manaea (5.4) and Velasquez (4.8) have more career WARP than the average “young” all-star position player had this season alone. No matter how good the pitching prospect may be, you simply must take the current all-star.
Furthermore, the Phillies know this is the right call because they made this exact trade in February! They sent one of baseball’s brightest pitching prospects, Sixto Sanchez, as well as Jorge Alfaro and Will Stewart (also a low minors pitching prospect) to Miami for young all-star catcher J.T. Realmuto. That trade serves as the study guide for this quiz.
Write a brief analysis of the top three starting pitchers expected to be free agents this offseason. How would you advise team decision makers to rank the pitchers for acquisition purposes and why? (max. 300 words)
The top target has to be Gerrit Cole. The 29-year-old has resurrected his ace status in Houston, primarily by striking everyone out. His 39.4 percent strikeout rate leads MLB, as does his 16.7 percent swinging strike rate. According to FanGraphs, his fastball has a weighted pitch value of 31.3, which makes it the second most valuable pitch in baseball behind Justin Verlander’s slider. Furthermore, he’s been durable throughout his career, starting at least 30 games in each of the last three seasons and four of the past five.
Right behind him is Stephen Strasburg, assuming he opts out of his current deal. The 31-year-old is enjoying one of his best seasons yet. For the first time ever, he’s throwing his excellent curveball more than his fastball (30.6 percent vs. 29.2). His changeup usage (20.6 percent) is also a career high. These are good signs; the curveball and changeup are his two best pitches. However, his sinker usage (19.2 percent) is also a career high, despite allowing a .371 xwOBA against. Whoever signs him could reduce his sinker usage and possibly make him even more effective.
In third place is Hyun-Jin Ryu. I just wrote an in-depth profile on him. (Yes, I’m still shamelessly self-promoting. Keep dealing with it.) Essentially, he thrives with a mix of five unique pitches, thrown with similar frequency, all of which he’ll use against any batter in any count. Given that he pounds the strike zone and has the second best walk rate in baseball this year, he’s very successful at keeping hitters off balance. He’s a little behind Cole and Strasburg because he’ll be 33 in March and has a lengthy injury history.
What competitive advantages does having a great software engineering department provide to an MLB team? (250 word limit)
Uh… they can engineer better software? I mean, the software isn’t going to engineer itself, am I right? No seriously, am I right? I really don’t know anything about software engineering, in case that wasn’t clear.
So how did I do? Am I hired?
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. Tweets @depstein1983.