I wasn't planning on posting this diary now, but all this discussion about Lastings Milledge and player value make me think it's a good time. I'll spare you anymore frivolous introduction and just get to it.
I have a few major questions about the evaluation of player development.
What determines a player's success?
When is a player's success relevant?
When does a player's development end, and where does decline begin?
Here are some of my ideas, recently influenced by these two articles:
What determines a player's success? For the most part, I think young player success coincides with their ability to meet assess their skills, practice well, and (we all hear this a lot) make adjustments. But what does that mean? Would you rather have a player who blows through the minors, or one that takes half a season to adjust at every level? In my estimation, (and all other things being near equal) both players are of the same value, but I don't think most MLB teams see it that way. For some reason, the 20 year old usually gets the tilt over the 24 year old, even though both players have no major league experience. This seems like a questionable philosophy, which brings me to my next question...
When is a player's success relevant? This kid can tear the cover off the ball, light up the bases, and cover the field like a miniature Kotsay with a bionic back. Trouble is, he's 11 years old. Sure, he could be the next elite player, but how relevant will these skills be in 5 years when he meets the age requirement? It baffles me how teams continue to project even high school adolescents, let alone junior high kids overseas. If the very most important time really is Now, then the next most important time is yesterday, and so on. Weighed in this manner, it seems ludicrous to base judgment on anything but the last 3-4 seasons of playing time.
When does a player's development end, and where does decline begin? I think the short answer to the first part is never. Even the best of the best look for ways to improve their game or face certain decline. It sounds obvious, but I often find myself thinking of established players in a static sense, unlike younger players who are more easily viewed as always in phase, but everyone's on a learning curve. As for decline, I believe most of that's up to the player, but it's not written in stone that they're in for physical decline at 35. I don't think everyone will find the Fountain of Julio Franco, but there's no physical reason why a player can't have a career best season at age 37 or 38... Barring major injury of course (not like that would ever happen to one of our players), but that's another diary altogether.