We cast our net wide when building our appraisals of players, and sites like Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Reference, Baseball America, Baseball Cube, 20/80 Baseball, Baseball Savant, FanGraphs, MLB Pipeline, The Athletic, and our fellow SBN sites are just several of the places we’re able to lean on for analysis. Not all interfaces are created equal, however, and truth be told it’s extremely exciting when tools we use for tracking players become more accessible. That happened in a big way today at FanGraphs, as they added an automatically updating “Farm Ranking” tab to their “THE BOARD” tool, which tracks minor league prospects, as well as international free agents and future draft picks.
Farm System Rankings Are Now on THE BOARD!https://t.co/GGAnlmYfb5— FanGraphs Baseball (@fangraphs) July 24, 2019
The way these rankings work relies on three things at its core: the 20-80 scouting scale, which FanGraphs presents as Future Value (FV), a $/Wins Above Replacement equation, which estimates how much teams would be willing to pay for a player per year were they on the open market, and a functioning understanding of the surplus value that players still in their pre-arbitration and arbitration contract years provide by playing at a level vastly exceeding their relative pay rate. You can read the initial breakdown of how the valuations came together here, from friend of the LL pod Craig Edwards.
At this point in time, every MLB club has a system like this, and they lean on these $/WAR (or an internal production metric of their own) values heavily in evaluating a player’s contractual worth from their perspective. There’s undoubtedly variance, but the ubiquitousness of these models is how you end up with stories of players being offered near-identical contracts at around the same exact time in the offseason from a dozen clubs. It’s one of the more calculating aspects of the modern game, but it’s important to grasp if we want a general understanding of how front offices are operating.
These farm rankings, then, are based around the scouting reports compiled by FanGraphs, which assign players a FV. Not every player in every system gets ranked - only players with a 35+ grade or higher make it. For the Mariners, that’s 34 players. For the Mets, that’s just 28, while the Rays have a league-high 65. FV attempts to account for a player’s peak potential, proximity to the majors, and risk of injury and/or flaming out entirely. As with the traditional scouting scale, 50 is league-average, roughly a 2.0 WAR player, or something in that realm with consistency. Not all 50s are made alike, of course. Julio Rodriguez is more likely to eventually make it to a 60 if he continues mashing and stays healthy, whereas Shed Long is essentially MLB-ready, but has a lower ceiling due to age, physical tools, and record of production.
For all that lead-up, let’s get to the punchline: as you can see even just from the thumbnail in the embedded tweet above, the Mariners rank 8th in MLB by this metric, with a total of $239 million in value in their farm system by FanGraphs’ appraisal. Even more excitingly, they’re 4th in average $/prospect in this regard. There are two ways to read this - on the worrisome side Seattle is not as deep in prospects as some systems, which is true and a concern. On the positive end, however, as is noted in the primer for this tool, it is typically slightly more useful to have a few star players emerge from your farm system than a slurry of okay ones. That’s because, simply, you can only use so many players at a time. A team could have an entire farm system of 40 FV players but if there’s no separation between them, they’ll have a tough time winning much. However, if you have a star-level player at one position, you can use the extra cash you’re NOT paying that very good player to sign some decent ones.
This is, at its core, why MLB’s financial system is pretty severely out of whack, and it’s also the model that has driven every championship-caliber team in the past several years. Of course, it’s best to be excellent AND deep, and right now the Mariners are closer to 30th than they are 1st or 2nd. The Rays and Padres are flush with prospect depth and impact unlike anyone else in baseball. This is in no way the end-all-be-all, but a good framework for how far the Mariners have come in essentially six months, as well as how far they still have to go to realize this potential with the big-league club.