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Ranking the Farm System

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As I've discovered firsthand, it's really tough to compare one farm system to another. There have been a couple of articles this week (including one of mine) trying to do that, so I figured it was worth discussing.

Kevin Goldstein took a crack at it earlier this week at BP (subscription required). For him, the Devil Rays were on top, and the Brewers came in 7th, with strong-but-not-spectacular showings for both hitting and pitching prospects. Here's what he had to say about our boys:

Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo give the Brewers a hitter/pitcher combo that ranks with just about anyone, and while the elite talent ends there, the depth of the system is among the best in the game.
If you expand the rankings to include anybody in the organization under 25 (as Goldstein does in his team-by-team prospect rankings), the Brewers would do much better, as it would include the likes of Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, Jose Capellan, and Carlos Villanueva. (When you put it like!)

(By the way, what you just witnessed in between those last parentheses was Jeff getting an idea for another column.)

In short, it's very impressive (to me, anyway) that our system still ranks so high after graduating so many top-tier prospects. As I wrote somewhere recently (I've lost track), the Brewers don't have as much need for a farm system right now: obviously it's nice to have as many pitching prospects as you can, but with youngsters (I'm counting Hall here) slated for five of the eight starting spots this year, we hardly need guys coming through the system to take over at those positions.

Part Two: Jeff Nerds It Up

Today, I took my own shot at ranking organizations in my Hardball Times column. Mine focused much more on methodology, but I did include my full rankings.

In my system (which isn't biased, really: it's just one giant spreadsheet), the Brewers come in fifth. There are some key ways in which my approach differs from Goldstein's (and frankly, makes mine worse): it is based entirely on '06 stats (so, for instance, Nelson Cruz is included as a Brewer, and Corey Hart's time in the minors helps a bit, too) and it doesn't count anyone below Low-A.

That second consideration is probably favorable toward the Crew--it'd be nice to get Cole Gillespie in there, but if we're counting people by their statistical contribution, Jeremy Jeffress, Rolando Pascual, and Brent Brewer aren't going to be worth much. If you're going by scouting rankings (like Goldstein did), they'll count quite nicely.

The wackiest way in which my rankings differ from Goldstein's is that for me, the Devil Rays come out at #14. There are some reasons for this: as I've mentioned, I count players by where they played the games, and the Rays acquired many prospects during the season. They're getting credit in Goldstein's system for that, but not in mine. Further, the Rays have one of the best hitting prospects in the game in Evan Longoria, but since he was drafted in '06, he doesn't register in my system.

Further still, the Rays have lots of toolsy guys, and while they've put up nice stats, their scouting reputations are stronger than their performances to date. That doesn't make Goldstein's analysis (or mine, I'd argue) wrong, it's just that the Rays' situation brings out all the key differences in these two very different approaches.

At the end of my article (if you get that far, I'm impressed--this is my longest column quite a while, and here I am, still writing about it), I discuss some of the ways I can (and probably will) improve my technique. It'll always be firmly on the "stats" side of the stats/scouts divide, but there are certainly things I can do to evade some of the issues that limited it this time around.

Finally, you'll notice in my article a really slick graphical presentation of the Dodgers system. (I included them because they were #1 by my method.) If you click here, you can see the same thing for the Brewers. I think it's pretty cool--the graphs are beyond my abilities, but on this project, I worked with John Burnson (editor of Graphical Player 2007, in which you'll find graphs for all 30 teams), who's incredible at that sort of thing.