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Justin Nicolino and the Value of Upside, or An Hour We're Never Getting Back

Bret Sayre and Craig Goldstein started with a simple question and it turned into an hour long conversation about Justin Nicolino, prospect upside and valuations.

Greg Fiume

It all started with a fairly innocuous question over G-chat this afternoon between myself and Craig Goldstein:

Bret: Are you high on (Justin) Nicolino?

What happened next was a free flowing conversation between two Fake Teams writers over the course of an hour about how to value prospects with higher probability than upside. The unabridged conversation is shared below for your reading enjoyment:

Craig: I'm not big on him
Bret: i'm jumping nicolino way up in my ranks. i was not very high on him before the trade - love his value potential after it.
Craig: does it change that much?
Bret: i figured you weren't too big on him, after all, you are an upside whore
Craig: just going to the NL I guess. yeah I mean it's not to say that his upside is bad - he throws 93 from the left side
Bret: easier league, much more favorable park
Craig: but right now he seems all polish and it seems like the results are just going to get worse at every level
albeit probably not much worse
Bret: i agree with all of that
Craig: Those guys don't appeal to me
Bret: but with that said, i could easily see him putting up a low-to-mid 3's ERA and 7 K/9 in miami
Craig: I need something sexier. well sure but what are you paying for that and how much will that cost you once he reaches the majors? let someone else "develop" him and then pay for him later
Bret: i don't care about that for my rankings
Craig: he won't cost as much as he does now. but it matters for rankings doesn't it? honest question. i guess not. I guess it's a managerial approach more than it is a rankings one
Bret: it shouldn't if you're approaching it from a value perspective. if you're approaching it from a strategy perspective, you'd deal away all your prospects when they were hyped and then buy them back once they fail at the major league level
Craig: well right except the issue with that is the ones that don't fail are impossible to get back. well, not impossible but you get my point
Bret: 99% of them fail at some point
Craig: well right but the ones that don't are the ones that make seasons, like mike trout
Bret: mike trout failed in 2011
Craig: if you let him go, you can't get him back. bryce harper then
Bret: harper failed for two months of the season this year, it was just masked by his may and september. but he's very close to the exception
Craig: I mean 2 months. if you want to define failure in such limited terms...I guess
Bret: that's all it takes
Craig: Ryan Braun
Bret: that's all it took for me to deal for trout in a keeper last year
Bret: braun is THE exception. best example of it, but it's very very rare
Craig: and I agree with your overall point but I still think mine stands - in this respect: yes there is failure but the price can still be exceedingly high, as I'm guessing it was still high for Trout. so my point is as a manager, I like to draft the ones that could explode after several years rather than a guy like Nicolino who has probability, but really, you can get him back for mostly the same price later. what are you spending your roster spot on, y'know? I have better explanations in my brain, but it's not coming out well
Bret: it also greatly depends on the type of league you're in. if it's a 10 or 12 team league, i'm going all upside all the time. if it's a 20 team league, like the one we're in, i want the odds. and nicolino has the odds, but it's not like i'm comparing him to high-upside arms anyway
Craig: I mean I guess. I just don't know what the real value is in keeping the probable lower ceiling guys on your roster when you can go get them from other people at the time. there are a lot of "guys" out there
Bret: true, but just look at nicolino and syndergaard. i like syndergaard better as a pitcher. i liked syndergaard better as a fantasy pitcher when both were on toronto. but, i think i like nicolino better for fantasy after the trade. syndergaard would have to pitch significantly better than nicolino in order for their fantasy values to be equal based on their leagues/parks. so even though I think he will be the better pitcher, i think that nicolino in miami may have the better fantasy numbers. it's the same logic that ties into why i'm so high on casey kelly
Craig: yeah I guess
Bret: he doesn't need to pitch all that well to have serious fantasy value in san diego
Craig: I struggle with valuing park factors THAT much unless it's somewhere crazy like Petco. we don't know all that much about the Miami park right now
Bret: with miami it's less about the fact that it is miami and more about the fact that it's not toronto
Craig: and I'm going to gamble on talent more than I am situation
Bret: toronto is a tough place to pitch, filled with other tough places to pitch in that division. even if miami's ballpark plays neutral, the point still holds
Craig: I agree, that all matters. But when discussing prospects (which I view mostly as stocks), I'll take the more talented one
Bret: and i'll take the more valuable one :)
Craig: which is more to my point. Nicolino is 2 years away. Why sit and wait on the midrotation guy when you can go get him later?
Bret: who says you can get him later?
Craig: Because he's Nicolino! he's not David Price
Bret: what type of league are we talking about? he's owned in every dynasty league i'm in and has been for a while
Craig: yeah, and you can trade for him relatively cheaply I would bet. this is my point - why, for lack of a better word, develop a mid-to-back of the rotation starter? they're available and traded all the time
Bret: because a mid-rotation starter in a pitchers' park in the NL can put up stats similar to a top of the rotation starter in the AL. plain and simple
Craig: well, I think that's a bit of an exaggeration, especially including K's and things like that
Bret: it's a bit of an exaggeration, but it's still a valid point
nicolino doesn't have to be as good in miami as he would have to have been in toronto
Craig: I agree, but I guess my point is that there are a lot of mid-rotation starters in the NL AND if a higher ceiling prospect fails some but not a lot, he can still be what Nicolino is at the high end of his spectrum
Bret: i agree
Craig: like you said - I'm an upside whore which I guess is all I'm saying
Bret: it's not like i'm bumping nicolino up to a top-50 prospect
Craig: no no, I understand: a) I love to argue, b) I love prospects and c) a+b
Bret: haha, he was outside my top 100 to start, and i think hes likely moved up into the 70's
Craig: that's a huge jump
Bret: it is a huge jump, but it's warranted (plus, he was like 101 or 102)
Craig: I guess I just struggle to move anyone that much due to situation unless it's going from Petco to Wrigley like with Rizzo. it's kind of like people who take matchups too far in fantasy football. sometimes you just play your most talented people because no matter how good the defense they're playing is...they're your best option
Bret: that's very true, but if it was syndergaard and not nicolino who was dealt, i wouldn't move him up nearly as much.
it's because his new team/ballpark situation now fits his profile much better. syndergaard is the type of guy who, if he hits, can be really good anywhere. if nicolino hit, he would still be a middling option in toronto. but now if nicolino hits, he can be really good from a fantasy perspective. his fantasy ceiling has gone up, no question about it
Craig: I mean I guess it depends. Mid 3s ain't what it used to be
Bret: still important, but that's not his ceiling
Craig: well again it depends. i only bring up that number because you threw it out there early (I'm not holding you to it, just using as an example). if that's his probability (not saying it is, but if it is) then you're not looking at anything really valuable
Bret: yea, i threw it out as a realistic outcome for him, not his ceiling
Craig: understood, but his ceiling isn't THAT far from his realistic outcome
Bret: as much as i love syndergaard, his realistic outcome is bullpen arm
Craig: agreed, but here's my original thought: we agree that Nicolino has the potential to be significantly better in the NL - no doubt. but his perceived value. augh I'm trying to word this..
Bret: i don't care about his perceived value, that's not what i'm trying to measure. i'm trying to measure actual value
Craig: he might be a sneaky acquisition, whose numbers are better than he is. right well I guess why this discussion is repetitive
Bret: the point of the ranks is to give basis for other people's perceived values
Craig: I understand that's not your point, but my point was that prospects are valuable not necessarily for what they're going to do in the majors. so again, if Nicolino is a sneaky good value in the majors and I pass on him now and let someone else have him on their roster for two years and then go trade for him back - I'm likely able to do that at a very small price and have been able to use the roster spot for a higher upside guy. again-this isn't rankings oriented
Bret: i doubt you'd be able to do that
Craig: it's management oriented
Bret: think about a guy like odorizzi
Craig: oh I definitely think I could. but Odorizzi was supposed to be better, so that's different. he had more hooplah to him
Bret: maybe a little better - but people still think he could be a 3. some people, that is. he was never a projected frontline guy, and yet odorizzi is still a valuable prospect
Craig: I bet I could find a report on BA that says 2
Bret: more valuable than he was when he was in A-ball. maybe, but that's not all that relevant to the point
Craig: well it is and it isn't, what you have to trade for someone is based on perceived value and anchoring plays a big part in that. if he was a 2 at one point, maybe he could be again? (I don't think so, just what some people say, or think rather)
Bret: odorizzi is more valuable now than he was before because he's closer to the majors, even with a slightly reduced ceiling
Craig: guarantee it cost more to trade for Odorizzi right after he was drafted than it did 4 months ago
Bret: i don't think so - he wasn't even a top-100 prospect back then
Craig: Ok, sorry, timeline is different - but at the time of the trade rather than 4 months ago
Bret: he wasn't even a top-100 prospect when he was dealt to KC
Craig: uh, that doesn't sound right to me, but I trust your memory over mine
Bret: i think he's more expensive now than at the time of the greinke deal. odorizzi was not on the 2010 BA top 100. he was #70 on the 2011 list, which came out a few months after the trade
Craig: Ok, I guess I meant his first season in Wilmington. well right
Bret: so it's a matter of timing
Craig: but that's more what I meant
Bret: i bet he's higher than 70 this year though
Craig: he had made his name. I'm not sure I disagree, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's more valuable to the fantasy owner. that was a lot of negatives
Bret: haha, it depends where you think he falls on the risk/probability chart. there is a point where the probability of a prospect outweighs the upside
Craig: I think his ceiling ain't that high and he's not a great lock to reach it frankly
Bret: i think our points are just in slightly different places
Craig: but I know that's not your point
well I think we've been arguing two separate things most of this time
Bret: nope, not my point. i'm not a big odorizzi guy
Craig: I know! I said I knew. haha
Craig: All I can tell you is that if I have the opportunity to draft someone like Yordano Ventura vs someone like Nicolino
Bret: btw, this is totally not helping me finish my post or get any work done
Craig: I take Ventura every time. I know. I bailed on working on my post 2 minutes ago. I'm terrible I'm sorry
Bret: haha. i will have nicolino higher than ventura in my dynasty ranks. that i can tell you with near certainty
Craig: cause here's the other part - I know you don't believe me that Nicolino's grow on trees. But I can't tell you how many guys I've picked up in TCK and moved that were kinda like him. Luebke. hell, I had Lohse 2 years ago. Guys like Capuano sit in FA
Bret: yea, but the deeper your league is, the more you're playing with fire by picking from the scrap heap. you can hit on a capuano or a dickey occasionally, but most of the time it gets ugly
Craig: I suppose. I grabbed Robbie Ross off of FA in strikezone this year. He could be Nicolino if given a starting gig
and I got Dickey! thanks for the reminder
Bret: not in texas he can't
Craig: Bet he could post a mid 3s with a 7 k/9
Bret: in texas?
Craig: Yeah I think it's doable
Bret: that would be his absolute ceiling. if you want to get crazy, nicolino could be cliff lee. so let's get crazy!
Craig: aw come on, I didn't go that far. a 3.5-7 isn't that big a leap. he could be pre cliff lee cliff lee
Bret: i think nicolino has a better chance of becoming cliff lee than ross does of putting up a sub 3.5 ERA and striking out 7 per 9. i've seen the movie face/off, it's possible
Craig: now you've gone too far. Nicolino in no way has a better chance of becoming Lee than Ross posting a 3.5 and striking out 7/9 IP.
Bret: did i throw that out to get you to freak out a little? yes. was it worth it? yes
Craig: hahahaha. you troll me better than anyone I've never met personally before
Bret: i should post this whole conversation up on FT. well, just from the point we started talking about nicolino
Craig: hahahaha. I was thinking there's a decent idea behind this back and forth, though this isn't the cleanest format for it. I wouldn't care. again, I think my overall point is - what it costs to get a lower ceiling guy once they reach the majors isn't what it costs to get the higher ceiling guys. so while you're right - Nicolino SHOULD be above Yordano
Bret: and i still think you're wrong about that
Craig: in a ranking - I'll take Yordano every time, because if he hits it I could get 2 Nicolinos
Bret: is ventura an amoeba?
Craig: and even if he fails some, he's a closer. hahaha, he's not of this world
Bret: if he fails some more, he's jeremy jeffress
Craig: he doesn't smoke pot! how dare you!: well, if he fails some more and gets really into weed. we can get into another problem with that line of thinking if you want
Craig: obviously risk is part of it, but if you can spot downward trend you can move while there's still upside
Bret: but i don't know if you want to
Craig: oh no. I have a feeling I'm about to get told
Bret: i know ventura has the potential to be a closer and he has the stuff, but it's not in his control
Craig: He's got the potential to be a starter also. well, right. I never invest in potential closers except as fliers. this is not an argument we need to have
Bret: yes, but i get caught up in that as well - the "oh, if he fails as a starter, he could be a closer"
Craig: well it's an OPTION
Bret: starters control their own destiny, closers don't
Craig: what happens if Nicolino fails as a starter?
Bret: true, but it gets downgraded because of the factors out of his control. if nicolino fails as a starter, he's working at a burger king drive-thru
Craig: but downgraded doesn't mean irrelevant. think about how you talk about Carlos Martinez? WHO WILL START DAD GUMMIT, but you continue to insist he won't
Bret: yes he will
Craig: haha
Bret: wait a second. i think martinez WILL work as a starter
Craig: I thought on your rankings you mentioned him as a closer? I swear I read this
Bret: i did
Craig: AHA, wait..
Bret: i don't trust the cardinals
Craig: what am I aha-ing?
Bret: i think aroldis chapman can start, but i don't trust the reds
Craig: agreed, but then why value Rosenthal so highly? Isn't he more likely to close in 2 years than Martinez. since he's had success at the ML level as a reliever?
Bret: they can't make everyone a closer
Craig: oh, they can try
Bret: matheny would do that, wouldn't he
Craig: I put nothing past Matheny
Bret: i think rosenthal can start as well
Craig: oh he can. not as good as Martinez, but he can. god the cardinals are so effing good
Bret: but the difference between rosenthal and a guy like syndergaard, is that rosenthal has shown he can be a dominant bullpen arm at the major league level, so there's less risk. AND you could argue that rosenthal has as much upside in the rotation as syndergaard does
Craig: I'm in agreement there. I don't like Syndergaard frankly
Bret: i don't love him either
Craig: I DO love Ventura
Bret: i know you do
Craig: haha, so you'd pick Nicolino over Ventura every time?
Bret: not every time. if my league counted holds, i'd take ventura
Bret: :)

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