Revisiting the Claussen Pickle

Just over a year ago, I examined the track record of the Yankees’ front office when it came to dealing unproven talent. That Baseball Prospectus piece, “The Claussen Pickle: An Analysis of Traded Yankee Prospects 1994-2004,” remains a personal favorite, not only because it represented a huge amount of research and a novel approach to a familiar question, but also because just a few hours after it was published, I got engaged.

Now a happily married man, I’ve had a hard time pulling off major research pieces during the season, a situation owing more to my regular gig writing the Prospectus Hit List every week than to my marital obligations. Thanks in part to the help of my research assistant, Peter Quadrino, I’ve finally finished a piece that’s been on the back burner for awhile. It’s a look at the Atlanta Braves’ track record in trading prospects during GM John Schuerholz’s tenure (since October 1990), using the same methodology as the Yankee piece.

The surprise, to me, is that the Braves have been even more successful at such deals than the Yanks, and over a longer period of time. Of the 70 qualifying players the Yanks dealt — players who had fewer than 502 career major-league plate appearances or 162 career major-league innings pitched, arbitrary cutoffs representing a single-season of qualifying for the batting or ERA crowns — only 10 had reached 10.0 WARP3, a level I called a “career of consequence.” At best, another seven from that group had legitimate shots to reach that level, for a ceiling of about 24 percent of those prospects panning out.

From the Braves pool of 80 players, just six have reached the “career of consequence” level, with Jason Schmidt (40.4 WARP3) and Jermaine Dye (34.2) far ahead of the pack. At best, that number might double, a 15 percent ceiling. Even that number is dependent on several pitchers making good, and as it’s been said before, There’s No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect. As I wrote in the article, John Schuerholz should sleep well at night knowing he hasn’t let too many useful prospects get away.

Late note: reader Mac Thomason, who runs the venerable Braves Journal site (which dates back to 1998!), pointed out that I made one omission. I left off Merkin Valdez, who was traded by the Braves to the Giants along with Damian Moss for Russ Ortiz in December 2002. Valdez has put up a 3.57 ERA, 8.0 K/9, 2.2 K/BB, 0.5 HR/9, .315 BABIP in Norwich, the Giants’ Double-A affiliate. He definitely fits among the more legitimate prospects they’ve given up, but even with that “Giant” error, that does little to change the conclusion of the article.

Late note #2: in the article I wrote that the Brewers are working on converting Jose Cappelan to the bullpen, having moved him there in June. Reader N.J. was kind enoough to obtain some splits regarding the move. He writes, “Posting a 4-2 record with a 5.16 ERA in 12 starts, Capellan went into relief during mid-June and has responded with 27 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings. He has five saves, a 1-1 record, and a 1.32 ERA in 19 appearances.” Thanks, N.J.!

Late note #3: it looks as though I also missed Chris Spurling, who qualified for both the Yankee and Brave version of the articles, traded by the former for Luis Sojo in 2000 and by the latter in 2003 after being chosen in the Rule Five draft earier in the winter. Spurling now pitches for the Tigers, with a 3.76 ERA in 40.2 innings this year, and a career WARP3 of 2.9 over his two years.

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