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Pitching Development and Dayton Moore - The Braves Edition

Dayton Moore, Processor (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Dayton Moore, Processor (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Hot on the heels of Retro's piece yesterday, which if you missed it (and if you did miss it, click on that link) detailed just how little Dayton Moore has gotten in the way of starting pitching through the draft, it seemed appropriate to look at whether or not we should actually have hope in regards to his ability to develop starting pitching. After all, the Royals' starting rotation is the object of scorn (amongst fans) and ridicule (amongst, well, everyone).

Is Dayton Moore actually equipped to develop the starting pitching that the Royals so desperately need to cultivate to compete in the American League Central? Given that his experience in Atlanta was both instrumental in getting hired in the first place and formative in a philosophical sense, it makes sense to learn what exactly happened in Atlanta while Dayton Moore was in the front office.

I inadequately explored this issue in two parts (one and two) in January of 2010 after Clint Scoles posted this FanShot, which included a transcribed portion of a Baseball America podcast in which Jim Callis and especially John Manuel railed against the Royals and their cluelessness as it pertained to developing pitching following their kerfuffle with Mike Montgomery over long-toss. This had marked the second time in as many years that the Royals had come to blows with one of their highly touted prospects over long-toss, as this incident came roughly a year after Danny Gutierrez (a fellow Boras client) and the Royals brass squabbled over off-season training programs. If you don't feel like going back to the FanShot, this is the dialogue that Clint faithfully transcribed:

I don't trust their ability to develop pitchers. I don't think the Royals have a clue about pitching. Guess what between the time the Braves developed Jason Schmidt and Kevin Millwood in the late 90's and the time Dayton Moore left the farm system there is a gap between the late 90's and 2000's when the Braves didn't develop any pitching. Basically those guys get out Tommy Hanson doop Kris Medlen doop, Braves start developing pitching again. I don't think it's a coincidence the guys that were in Atlanta during that time and in Kansas City now don't know how to develop pitching.

Fast-forward 30 months and a crowning of the Royals' farm system as the best in the history of whatever and the dearth of Royals pitching prospects that had prospect hounds drooling in the twelve months to follow this rant have yet to substantiate themselves in any meaningful way. The steps forward that the likes of Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Chris Dwyer, Danny Duffy were to take in 2010 following Manuel's statement have just as quickly been offset by serious control issues and Tommy John surgeries. Aaron Crow has been relegated to the bullpen with any hope for the development of a third pitch to get to left-handed hitters being extinguished with each month that passes in which he is called upon to only throw his fastball and slider.

No one has ever questioned Moore's scouting acumen, but development is a different matter altogether. As Manuel was getting at above, the Atlanta Braves--the organization that Moore came up in and has, by and large, modeled this franchise after--were woefully unable to develop their own starting pitching during Moore's tenure there. While I would not deign to place the blame of the entire Atlanta Braves organization's inability to develop starting pitching solely on Dayton Moore's shoulders, there is very little evidence to support that (judging by his on-the-job training in Atlanta and his six-year tenure in Kansas City) developing quality starting pitching is something of which he is capable.

Retro covered the Royals side of the issue in regards to Moore's ability (or perhaps more appropriately inability) to develop pitching. Now, let's look at what the Braves actually did while Dayton Moore was in prominent player development and scouting positions. In August of 1996, Dayton Moore was promoted from the position of being an area scouting supervisor to being an assistant in baseball operations. In November of the same year, Moore he was named Assistant Scouting Director. In 1999, he added the title of Assistant Director of Player Development. He was promoted to Director of International Scouting in 2000 and in 2002 was again promoted, this time to Director of Player Personnel, a position he held until he was given the Senior Vice President - Baseball Operations / General Manager position in Kansas City on May 30, 2006.

This is about to get a bit unwieldy, so we'll do this in parts.

1. The Draft

While Dayton Moore was still an area scouting supervisor when the draft actually took place in the 1996 season, he was certainly in front office while the development of these players took place, so let's start with 1996 and go through the 2005 draft. From each year's draft class, I'll list the pitchers drafted and signed by the Braves who actually made appearances in the Majors. The pitchers whose names have been struck through (like so) never made a start in the Majors. The pitchers whose names are in bold (like so) produced a zero or negative rWAR in the Majors. Pitchers with nothing done to their name were positively productive starting pitchers at the Major League level.

Player Year Drafted Round Overall Pick
Jason Marquis 1996 1s 35
Joe Nelson 1996 4 122
Aaron Taylor 1996 11 332
Joey Nation 1997 2 80
Horacio Ramirez 1997 5 172
Matt Belisle 1998 2 52
Scott Sobkowiak 1998 7 221
Steve Smyth 1998 13 401
John Ennis 1998 14 431
Tim Spooneybarger 1998 29 881
Brad Voyles 1998 45 1349
Andrew Brown 1999 6 204
Ben Kozlowski 1999 12 384
John Foster 1999 25 774
Adam Wainwright 2000 1 29
Blaine Boyer 2000 3 100
Zach Miner 2000 4 106
Chris Waters 2000 5 160
Trey Hodges 2000 17 520
Macay McBride 2001 1 24
Kyle Davies 2001 4 135
Willie Collazo 2001 10 315
Anthony Lerew 2001 11 345
Kevin Barry 2001 14 435
Dan Meyer 2002 1s 34
Charlie Morton 2002 3 95
Chuck James 2002 20 605
Luis Atilano 2003 1s 35
Jo-Jo Reyes 2003 2 43
Matt Harrison 2003 3 97
Sean White 2003 8 247
Jonny Venters 2003 30 907
Daniel Stange 2003 33 997
James Parr 2004 4 131
Sean Doolittle 2004 39 1181
Joey Devine 2005 1 27
Tommy Hanson 2005 22 677

Joey Nation made two starts, so we'll not talk any further about him. Chris Waters was granted free agency as a minor leaguer and signed with Baltimore, where he made 11 starts in 2008 and 1 in 2009, totaling 0.4 rWAR. It's safe to eliminate him from the list as well.

Tommy Hanson did not sign his name to a contract until May 26, 2006. While Moore could certainly claim some credit for having scouted and drafted Hanson, the four days between when Hanson signed a contract with the Braves and when Dayton Moore took the General Manager position in Kansas City cannot have played a substantial part in Hanson's development.

Having cut the wheat from the chaff, the following pitchers are starting pitchers drafted by the Atlanta Braves who started in the Majors:

Jason Marquis 13 282 13.4 8.8 4.60 4.80 4.59 5.15 4.73 7.7 12.2
Horacio Ramirez 8 105 10.6 8.8 4.65 4.94 3.92 5.69 5.01 1.1 3.8
Matt Belisle 9 43 17.6 5.5 4.29 3.92 3.75 4.65 3.66 5.2 8.3
Adam Wainwright 7 137 20.2 6.9 3.16 3.37 3.58 3.46 3.69 20.3 20.4
Zach Miner 4 35 14.0 9.4 4.24 4.49 4.65 4.78 4.70 2.9 3.5
Chuck James 5 55 17.2 9.4 4.53 5.52 5.05 5.54 4.93 2.1 0.0
Matt Harrison 5 80 14.1 7.9 4.12 4.19 4.30 4.98 4.51 6.4 8.4

Starting at the top of the list, there is Jason Marquis, a back-of-the-rotation starter at best. It should probably be noted that much of Jason Marquis's value is tied into two absurd offensive years. His career rWAR as a pitcher is just 4.1, and was actually -0.2 in the four seasons he logged playing time in Atlanta. His 3.6 Wins with his bat account for 46.75% of his total value. If I'm reading FanGraphs' WAR calculations correctly, 5.1 of his 12.2 Wins are from his bat, good for a slightly lower but still important 41.80% of his value. His time in Atlanta also marked the only time he spent any substantive time in the bullpen. Granted, they were his Age-22-through-25 seasons, but three of his four seasons saw him making more than half of his appearances from the pen.

The Inglewood High School product Horacio Ramirez pitched in the Majors for a total of eight seasons. In that time, he made 105 starts and appeared in relief another 64 times with 89.93% of his innings coming as a starter. His career value: 1.4 rWAR, 3.8 fWAR. While FanGraphs is much kinder to Ramirez, there is little here to suggest that he has been anything other than a bad Major League pitcher, as any Royals fan with a recollection of his 2009 stint in Kansas City can recall with disturbing clarity. He had one season in which he accumulated more than 1.0 WAR (by either measure) and averaged less than half a win per season over his career.

The Braves flipped Matt Belisle to bring Kent Mercker back into the fold, dealing him to the Cincinnati in August of 2003 where he made a total of 43 starts over parts of five seasons, almost all of which (30) came in 2005. Belisle hasn't started a game since 2008 and never started one in as a Brave. As a starter, he had a 5.38 ERA, 4.71 FIP, 4.19 xFIP, 5.98 K/9, and a 2.58 K/BB. Counting his time as both a reliever and starter, Belisle has accumulated 4.9 rWAR and 8.3 fWAR. By the most generous measure, Belisle has still been worth less than a win per season over his career.

Now we come to Adam Wainwright, the belle of the ball. Wainwright was traded to St. Louis along with Jason Marquis and Ray King for J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero. The future Cy Young first- and second-runner-up had advanced to Double-A through the Braves system, with his prospect star shining the brightest after his stint in high-A ball before dimming with a less dominant run in his last year in the Braves system. Then, of course, he went to St. Louis where the Cardinals' pitching coach is a savant named Dave Duncan. The Braves certainly get at least partial credit for developing Wainwright, but they didn't get him all the way there, and he never did anything meaningful in a Braves uniform.

In July of 2005, the Braves packaged Zach Miner and fellow future Royal Roman Colon together to net other future Royal Kyle Farnsworth. He, too, never pitched a game in the Majors for the Braves. Judging by the numbers above, Miner has been a pedestrian starting pitcher at the Major League level and, like everyone but Wainwright above, has been worth less than 1.0 WAR per season.

The most there is to say about Chuck James is that rWAR dislikes him slightly less than fWAR. Simply put, he's not good. And it's starting to feel repetitive, but James has been worth less than 1.0 WAR per season.

And then there's Matt Harrison. Not unlike Adam Wainwright, the Braves traded Harrison away after getting him up to Double-A, this time they sent a slew of players (Harrison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Neftali Feliz, Beau Jones, and Elvis Andrus) to Texas for Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay. Harrison's value to the Braves was essentially limited to his value as a commodity. It also took until 2011 for Harrison to have an year in which he put up a positive rWAR. There was a three-and-a-half season lag between when Harrison was in the Braves system and when he actually contributed in a meaningfull (read: positive rWAR) way. fWAR is slightly more forgiving of Harrison, but it still took him until 2011 to crack the 1.0 barrier.

Of the seven starters that the Braves system produced through the Draft in the ten seasons that Dayton Moore was in the front office and accordingly privy to and to varying extents involved in their development, the Braves got a total of 5.4 rWAR* (-0.2 Marquis, 2.9 Ramirez, 2.7 James) and 4.8 fWAR (1.6 Marquis, 3.1 Ramirez, 0.1 James) from starting pitchers in Braves uniforms.

*Ignoring contributions with the bat, which actually costs the Braves 0.6 rWAR.

2. In-House Talent

Obviously there are limitations in looking solely at the Draft as a means by which the Braves developed starting pitching talent during Dayton Moore's tenure in their front office. There was talent in the lower levels of the organization. While Moore was not necessarily involved in their development or privy to their development plan from the beginning, it does seem slightly unfair given the focus of this piece to not mention these players and give partial experiential credit where partial experiential credit is due.

Kevin Millwood is a prime example. Millwood was a rookie in the 1997 season for Atlanta. Having been drafted in 1993, Millwood had already logged 231.2 professional innings before Moore enters the front office picture, but in 1996 Moore was an area scouting supervisor and would at least likely have had at least second-hand knowledge of what the development plan for Millwood would have been, even if it is unlikely that he was intimately involved in its formulation and/or execution.

Millwood produced 12.2 rWAR and 20.3 fWAR in his six seasons as a Brave and 25.5 rWAR and 49.2 fWAR (and counting) in his career. His is by far the most successful stint of any of the homegrown starting pitchers that actually wore a Braves uniform with whom Moore was in the front office to see their debut.

Like Millwood, Bruce Chen came into the organization in 1993 as an international amateur free agent. In three partial seasons in which he was still often pitching out of the pen, Chen produced 0.5 rWAR and 0.3 fWAR before being packaged with Jimmy Osting to acquire Andy Ashby from Philadelphia.

The Braves system also produced Odalis Perez having gotten him as a Latin American free agent in 1994. Of course, Perez was not particularly good while wearing an emblazoned tomahawk across his chest, managing a -1.1 rWAR and 2.7 fWAR over his three partial seasons in Atlanta before being dealt to the Dodger with Brian Jordan and Anthony Brown to get Gary Sheffield.

Perez and Chen both were somewhere in the close proximity to replacement level while in Atlanta, but both proved more valuable in different environs.

In 2001, Damian Moss came up and finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. The then-25-year-old Aussie produced 2.0 rWAR and 0.9 fWAR in a Braves uniform over just barely more than one season in the Majors before being shipped off to San Francisco along with Merkin Valdez for Russ Ortiz. Moss was an international signing in 1993 and struggled with his control throughout his ascent through the minors--one that was waylaid by Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss the entire 1998 season and halted his progress at Double-A.

3. International Free Agents Signed

Neftali Feliz is the first (and only unless I missed someone scouring their transactions from 1996 to the midway point of the 2006 season) International Amateur Free Agent signing to get to the Majors, average more than 1.0 fWAR per season. Having been signed out of the Dominican on June 6, 2005, Feliz was been sent to Texas in the aforementioned deal that netted Teixeira. Feliz has finally transitioned into a starter at the Major League level, but having pitched fewer than 60 innings with the Braves organization--none of which were above Rookie Ball--makes it hard to credit them with much more than the scouting eye to grab him. His development owes very little to them.

Having scoured the Braves' transaction list from 1996 through 2010 to cover my bases regarding International Amateur Free Agent signings that were dealt later on down the line, that is everyone of note (barring a strange oversight) that this system had a hand in producing.

What should we make of all of this information?

Aside from Millwood's successful development (a good portion of which happened before Moore was in the front office as an assistant in baseball operations in August of 1996), this was not a franchise that experienced an acceptable amount of success in developing starting pitching. The starting pitchers that were dealt away and became successful elsewhere were still few and far between, and one doesn't have to take a great leap to make the assumption that those pitchers--particularly Wainwright, Marquis, Harrison, and Feliz--achieved thanks in part to their development in their new environs. The slew of left-for-dead pitchers who Dave Duncan alone has breathed life into is staggering. That's not to say that Wainwright could not have been successful at the Major League level for the Atlanta Braves, but only so much credit can be given to the Braves for his actual development into a front-line Major League starter.

There is also the matter of where the Braves were as a franchise during this stretch of time. They were in a constant state of trying to reload to sustain success. As such, their need for a starting pitching staff built from within was less pronounced. Unfortunately the fact remains that regardless of their relative lack of need for self-developed starting pitching, the Braves were still unable to develop more than 6.0 WAR of in-house starting pitching that came into the organization over the course of the ten years that Dayton Moore was in their front office.

What we are left with is a significant question: What about Dayton Moore's experience developing starting pitchers, both as he was involved with in the Atlanta Braves organization from whence he came and with the Royals organization he now runs, should give us hope for the future?