We've been talking sleepers recently with the Sleepers Who Woke Up series of articles, listed here in the Prospect Retrospective section of Minor League Ball. Let's summarize the list and look for commonalities.
First, some important caveats.
***This is a list of 13 pitchers, a miniscule sample.
***The very definition of "sleeper" is vague, of course. The general idea is to find pitchers who were not rated as top prospects but who have succeeded, at least to some extent, at the major league level.
***These pitchers are obviously not equivalent to one another. Corey Kluber is one of the best pitchers in baseball; Chase Whitley is certainly not.
***This should not be construed as any sort of conclusive study. In fact, given the vague definitions and small sample, it shouldn't even be seen as a study at all. This is more of a thought experiment, a preliminary pilot examination, looking for ideas worth exploring as part of a much more detailed historical study.
With those caveats in mind, here are the bakers dozen of pitching sleepers we've been looking at over the last several weeks:
Chase Anderson, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
David Buchanan, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
Jacob deGrom, RHP, New York Mets
Shane Greene, RHP, New York Yankees
Mike Fiers, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Kyle Hendricks, RHP, Chicago Cubs
T.J. House, LHP, Cleveland Indians
Corey Kluber, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Collin McHugh, RHP, Houston Astros
Zach Putnam, RHP, Chicago White Sox
Tanner Roark, RHP, Washington Nationals
Matt Shoemaker, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
Chase Whitley, RHP, New York Yankees
What common factors do we see here?
***They are almost all right-handers.
***One, House, (and oddly enough the only lefty) was a high school pitcher. Greene was a junior college guy. Everybody else came from a four-year school.
***Two of them, deGrom and Kluber, came from Stetson University. The other schools represented were Berry College (McHugh), Dartmouth (Hendricks), Eastern Michigan (Shoemaker), Georgia State (Buchanan), Illinois (Roark), Michigan (Putnam), Nova Southeastern (Fiers), Oklahoma (Chase Anderson), and Troy (Whitley).
Do these college programs have anything in common? Several of them have good reputations as baseball schools certainly, but there aren't any LSUs or North Carolinas among this particular sample.
***DeGrom, Putnam, and Whitley were prominent two-way players as amateurs.
***Most of them, notably Kluber, Fiers, and deGrom, were statistically successful as amateurs even if they didn't rank highly on draft day. However, not all of them were. Roark and Shoemaker were quite mediocre for example and would not have stood out as sleepers sabermetrically.
***None of them threw terrifically hard as amateurs, generally low-90s although some were slower. Some have picked up velocity in pro ball, notably deGrom and Roark. Some have not. Most of them have seen improvements with their secondary pitches. The rawest guys when drafted were likely Buchanan and Greene.
***Based on the old scouting reports, the hardest-throwers in college were Buchanan and Putnam. Both of them have seen their fastball velocities decline in pro ball, although improvements with the secondaries and sharper command have made them effective nonetheless.
None of these guys were
throwing 99 MPH before they were drafted.
***Physically, the shortest is Anderson at 6-0, the tallest are deGrom, Greene, and Kluber at 6-4. House is 6-1, Fiers, McHugh, Putnam, Shoemaker, and Roark are all 6-2. Hendricks, Buchanan, and Whitley are all 6-3.
***For weight, the thinnest listing is deGrom at 180. The heaviest is Roark at 230. The average weight is 205.
***In terms of high school background, three of them (deGrom, Fiers, and Greene) pitched high school baseball in Florida. Two (Anderson and Kluber) were Texans. Two (Buchanan and McHugh) came from Georgia. There were one each from Mississippi (House) and Alabama (Whitley). Two (Putnam and Shoemaker) came from Michigan, one (Roark) from Illinois, and just one (Hendricks) from California.
So, can we draw any firm conclusions from all this?
Not really; the sample is too small and the definition of a sleeper too vague. However, it does suggest avenues for further research.
If I were running a team, I would set my analysts to studying the following hypothesis:
If you are looking for a sleeper pitching prospect in the middle or latter rounds, consider college pitchers from well-regarded mid-major or smaller programs, who are statistically successful but who don't necessarily burn radar guns, who are somewhere in the 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 range (but not taller) with a physical build that is neither excessively thin or thick, and who have had success as a two-way player.
The thing is, some teams have obviously made these studies with larger samples and better methodology.
For discussion purposes, which teams do you think have done this, and what do you think their conclusions are?