TCB Top 30 Prospect List wrapup: Discussing Josh Hader and list bias

Discussing Josh Hader and how we evaluated prospects for the Top 30 list.

Wrapping up TCB's Prospect week has been a blast. I didn't think we'd get through all 30 names on our list, but our writers are champs and came through big time.

In finishing up the list, there was one nagging question I wanted to drop on the group. So, we did a big email chain on it and had a really interesting discussion about prospect evaluation when it comes to Mr. Josh Hader. As a refresher, here's what his profile looked like:

26. Josh Hader, LHP, Quad Cities

Last year's rank: N/A

2013 stats: 22 games, 107 innings, 2.77 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 95 Ks, 54 BBs, 6.8 hits per nine allowed

Average grade: 3.69

TCB Reader grade: 5.14

Notes: Acquired as part of the Bud Norris trade with Baltimore, the 19-year old Hader is a young, highly regarded arm. Hader left his hometown club, as he's from Millersville, Maryland, but the left-hander has potential to make Houston is new home soon. Hader still has some room to fill out, as he's only listed as 160 pounds at 6-foot-3, but he already hits the mid-90's with his fastball from a three-quarters angle. Hader only threw 22 innings in five starts with Quad Cities after the trade, striking out 16 and walking 12. Hader was pitching in his first full season in the pros and made it to Low A, so he's made good progress. How he handles the jump to Lancaster next season will be telling for his development.

Dissenting opinion from David - Only three of us hung a "C" grade on Hader. Most went with at least a "C+," which doesn't seem like a big difference, but to me is all about the production/upside debate. Hader may have all the upside in the world, but it hasn't translated to production yet. His ERA was low, but his peripherals suggested a more average season. There's plenty of promise here, but to me, he's behind quite a few pitchers on the org chart, including a guy lower on this list in Kyle Smith.

The prompt

I was wondering if anyone wanted to do a quick email discussion on a topic from the list.

Specifically, Josh Hader.

He's the guy who had the most difference between reader grades and our grades. Only one person gave him over a 4, while the reader comfortably came in at 5.

I guess the discussion would be why are we so low? Should we be higher on him? Is it just a lack of seeing him perform last season, since he wasn't in the system? Or, since I was initially low on him, hanging him with a 3, did that unfairly adjust everyone else's rankings?

I feel like we've got enough people doing this that bias shouldn't creep in. We know what we know and the ones of us who saw guys in person or talked to people who do weren't far off on their rankings from those of us who didn't follow as closely.

But, when a guy like Hader is lower than maybe those in the "know" would expect, should we re-evaluate our positions?

Ashitaka

I don't think so. Hader has a good deal of upside, but he has practically nothing in the way of floor. He's extremely risky; good, but not great fastball, below-average curve, below-average change, shaky command of all of it, and some people question future health because he's kind of lanky (I don't know if I buy into that so much, but I'd defer to Brooks on that).

The readers giving him a five, frankly, is homerism and belief that anyone Luhnow gets must, by default almost, be awesome. A five (B-) means that he's one of the 150 best prospects in the country, and that's insane right now. Insane. The scouting reports are basically "well he doesn't really do much of anything really well right now, but he does have the raw ability to maybe change that in the future." When you combine that with weak statistical performance, in my eyese it would be ludicrous to rank him any higher than a four. He either needs to improve his stuff and thus boost the scouting profile (I.E. stronger hope for future success) or start really posting some numbers. You can't be a Top 150 if you lack both.

CRPerry

Hader is incredibly young. My "low" ranking of Pi has to do with several things. First, Pi is still a C prospect, and I consider anybody who is C- or better to have a possible major league future. Maybe I'm getting a reputation for being "risk-averse" (which really doesn't bother me), but I refuse to elevate a player on ceiling alone. His career K-rate (9.6 SO/9) is misleading based on a ridiculous 15.1 SO/9 last year in Rookie and A- ball. His strikeouts dropped to 8.0 SO/9 in 2013 at a more advanced level, which still isn't bad, but certainly does not validate what he did in his first year.

I find his walk rate even more bothersome, as it has steadily gotten worse as he advanced. He walked one batter every two innings last year, and that won't play at any level. Additionally, scouting reports say that he's living on his fastball, and that his breaking pitches have a long way to go.

So that I don't sound like I'm totally knocking him, MLBFarm.com shows that he has a GB/FB rate of 1.6, which is pretty good. To sum up, it sounds like the sky is the limit for his ceiling. But his floor...his floor is "never getting out of AAA." Because of that, I just can't call Hader a Top-200 type prospect.

Tim

I guess we're just a bunch of Haders.

CRPerry

One last thing I forgot to add...I'm really uncomfortable with high-ranking a guy who has pitched so little and is so far away from the major leagues unless they are universally adored by scouts (like Lance McCullers, for example). I also don't like giving a high grade to a guy who has pitched only 136 innings over two seasons if he hasn't absolutely dominated every stop. This is the exact reason why I have Foltynewicz, West, Tropeano, and Wojciechowski ahead of Hader, Feliz, Musgrove, and Houser. That foursome has some of the highest ceilings in the system, but they just haven't proven enough to be named among guys who have a really good shot at the majors.

Tim

I'm with Brian and Chris and this really isn't anything new to how I rank prospects. I like his potential, but I'm not going to give him a ton of credit for his ceiling when his strikeout rate drops and his walk rate increases between levels.

Kyuss94

Brooks and I talked about Hader a good amount on the podcast, and we both agreed that we like him a lot. My main reservation with him is that his arsenal hasn't really developed yet. His secondaries are still very much in development, he's without a go to out pitch at this point. But I see significant ground ball potential, and if the slider comes along he could get his fair share of Ks as well. He's raw in some regards but shows a good feel for pitching, too. Kind of tough to get a hold on, but when I was reviewing Baltimore's prospects last year I saw him as a sleeper, and I'm glad he's aboard now.

David

I guess the thing I'm most concerned with is confirmation bias. Did we all rate him lower because one or two of us did?

Subber10

I gave him a C+ grade which I'm extremely comfortable with. He's a high risk prospect with good middle of the rotation upside. I don't think a B- grade is outlandish, but it's a bit heavy for me right now. I could probably be convinced to go to a 4.5, but it'd take someone a good bit of work. And, I wouldn't go below a 4.

Tim

I didn't look at anyone else's grades when I filled out my sheet. My grade was based on my own opinion.

Anthony

I didn't look at anyone else's rankings when I made mine.

Hader's just got too much work to do before he can challenge for Top 150-level.

Ashitaka

I looked at other people's grades, but I ended up going "what, seriously? He's lost his mind" on most of them instead of agreeing, because I'm opinionated and kind of an ass...

Brooks

The arm slot is unusual for a starter. Not for a major league pitcher. Plenty of teams have side-arm pitchers, they just usually don't get the opportunity to start because of "old school mentality" that thinks they can't. He's not the long armed rotational type side-arm guy that gets tons of valgus force on the medial elbow, he gets better elbow roll in than that.

I copied the list into a separate document and put my grades and transferred them over. I didn't look at the rest of the rankings.

CRPerry

Lest we repeat the Ariel Ovando kool-aid ranking from the last couple seasons.

Ashitaka

What are you talking about? He's the next Darryl Strawberry!

Conroestro

Is it fair to say that Hader's stats have declined as he's moved up levels? We're talking 28 innings in rookie ball prior to this year. I would think that the 2012 numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, and this season's stats are his foundation in my opinion, and it's a solid foundation for a guy who came out of nowhere.

CRPerry

That's a better way to put what I was trying to say. I think Hader's hype is derived from his gaudy strikeout numbers in 2012, while 2013 is a closer representation to where he's at. But if I'm going to put a starting pitcher in a Top-150 discussion, he better be better than 8.0 K/9 OR 4.5 BB/9 at Low-A.

Tim

I thought Ovando was the next Fred McGriff.

David

One last tack with this:

Are we underrating Hader because of his stats? Are his physical tools that great that we're overlooking them? A lefty with a mid 90's fastball is pretty great normally. Should we be adjusting our outlook for more than just results?

Anthony

No.

That might have some validity if he had pedigree, but he's a 19th-rounder out of a Maryland high school. It's not like Carlos Rodon after a shaky debut.

Tim

If it's his foundation, that still leads me to a C or C+ grade not a B-. I can't think of another prospect with those peripherals that would get a higher grade than that.

CRPerry

It's possible. On the other hand, while Feliz and McCullers have a similar dearth of innings pitched as professionals, scouts have little to say about those guys except praise. And the negatives against them sound correctable with incremental improvements. What I've read about Hader (being no scout myself) is more along the lines of, "He has elite fastball velocity, but his command isn't very good and his breaking pitches just aren't there." So I think even his scouting reports alone justify no better than a "C" grade.

To sum up, if he stays on his current path, he could be a good 7th or 8th inning reliever, like Veras, for example. But a guy who doesn't project to be an elite reliever or a starting pitcher of any mold really doesn't warrant a grade higher than "C".

Tim

It's his combination of numbers and the scouting reports. I read people gushing about his potential, but also about his shaky command and low ceiling as a prospect.

This feels a lot like when we were getting crap for Musgrove being low last year. I don't see people complaining about his ranking this year.

Ashitaka

No. What physical tools? He's a lefty and he can hit 93 MPH occasionally. That's nice, but when discussing pitcher tools, unlike hitter tools, a lot of it doesn't seem to be athleticism-related. Breaking balls, change ups, location, sequencing, intelligence. As far as we know, he's below-average in all those respects, and he looks like someone needs to feed him more. If not for him being able to hit low-to-mid 90's with his fastball, we would consider him a non-prospect, wouldn't we? So a few extra MPH is supposed to take him from non-prospect to Top 150 or so in the nation? No.

Tim

ceiling = floor

170871776

This is not Josh Hader. But, it was the most minor league-y photo we could find. (Scott Halleran)

Conroestro

For me I just don't think there's enough information out there on him. All I've been able to find is very limited reports. That may be why I underrated him.

With that said two things that I've read that have me hopeful on him is the velocity and the fact that it comes from an abnormal arm slot which likely leads to deception. Health permitting with his delivery, he could be a guy that could lean heavily on that fastball. I would say that alone (fastball velocity and arm slot should raise his floor to a LOOGY even if the other pitches don't develop. He's also got plenty of time to develop the rest of his repertoire, and therefore is still worthy of a C or C+ grade.

Subber10

I think his scouting report needs clarifying.

Yes, he's primarily a low 90's guy, but he did hit 94-95 several times this season. From the left side, that's easily plus. The secondaries are inconsistent, but has shown flashes, primarily with the slider.

The arm slot is unusual for a starter. Not for a major league pitcher. Plenty of teams have side-arm pitchers, they just usually don't get the opportunity to start because of "old school mentality" that thinks they can't. He's not the long armed rotational type side-arm guy that gets tons of valgus force on the medial elbow, he gets better elbow roll in than that.

CRPerry

"tons of valgus force on the medial elbow"

Something about that just sounds terrible.

Ashitaka

Sounds medieval high fantasy.

Subber10

It is. That's the actual force that translates into a UCL tear. Because of Hader's elbow roll in, he doesn't have as much as most side-arm pitchers.

Valgus force at the knees is the same thing that results in ACL tears.

Clack

I went back and looked at my grade on Hader again. I rated him 3.5. The decimal indicates that I gave serious consideration to rating him a 4, and Brooks might be able to talk me into rating him 4. My rating isn't based on anything negative about Hader---actually, I like him quite a bit as a prospect. I gave consideration to the fact that both the Astros and Orioles are high on him. But it's just too early to put him in the B category, in my view. Right now, he is a very promising prospect. "Promising" is a good characteristic; but promise, alone, isn't sufficient to rank as a B or B-, in my opinion. If he progresses next year, I can see Hader vaulting into the higher level.

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