Because the post referenced Moneyball and Beane, it was re-posted in a couple places and created a little mini furor. I saw a link over at Tangoís The Book blog and my first reaction Ė an unusually parochial one for me Ė was to note that they werenít the only top flight HS lefties taken in that draft. Jon Lester was taken in the 2nd rd, but given a 1st rd bonus, in 2002 as well. Thinking about it for a bit longer, it dawned on me that this has been a really good year for 1st rd HS lefties. John Danks (1st, 2003) who had a breakout year and was arguably the best pitcher on the White Sox playoff team, and CC Sabathia (1st, 1998), the most talked about pitcher of the year, were both HS lefties taken in the 1st rd.
As I was trying to think about whether or not the other playoff teams had high round HS lefties it dawned on me that there were a lot of high rd HS pitchers in the rotations for the 8 playoff teams. The following table lists the twenty-nine pitchers who started this year in the playoffs with the school, rd and year they were drafted.
|Bos||Tim Wakefield||C||8||1988||drafted as 1B|
|Bos||Daisuke Matsuzaka||Japanese FA|
|LA||Hiroki Kuroda||Japanese FA|
|LAA||Ervin Santana||expensive intl FA|
|Chi-NL||Carlos Zambrano||cheap intl FA|
These playoffs were very heavy on HS pitchers in general. Out of the 25 pitchers who entered professional baseball via the draft, fifteen were from HS, including eight 1st rd picks. Only seven entered pro ball from C and one of those was a C 1B. The two groups of pitchers also generally fit the (often wrong) stereotype that HS players have higher ceilings than college players who may more often make the majors but tend to top out as merely average players. The group of HS pitchers includes most of the pitchers who pitched in games 1 and 2 for their teams and are generally considered top of the rotation starters. Every one of the college pitchers slotted into the 3rd or 4th slots and define mid-rotation inning eater. The exception is Matt Garza who clearly has frontline starter stuff, but is slotted behind two better pitchers in the Tampa rotation. You can maybe make a case that Saunders is an exception too.
Itís also true that most of these draft eligible pitchers (17 out of 25) and most of the elite top of the rotation starters, were drafted in the first 3 rounds. Itís great to turn a mid or late round pick into a quality pitcher, but the chances of finding one are much greater early in the draft.
This isnít to say that HS pitchers are less risky than C pitchers, although I do believe that they are less risky than they used to be. It may very well be that the teams that made the playoffs this year happened to have HS heavy staffs and if you looked at all teams the pattern would be somewhat different.
A lot of these pitchers, certainly many of the HS ones, came from the 2001-2004 drafts. We would expect C pitchers from those drafts to be in their primes and HS pitchers to be just breaking out. Letís take a closer look at the pitchers drafted at the top of those drafts. The following tables include all pitchers drafted in the 1st rd and at least the top ten C and HS pitchers by signing bonus. These were the elite amateur pitchers from both school types in this period.
|1||8||Pitt||John Van Benschoten||RHP||C||OH||2,400,000|
Prior is a difficult pitcher to characterize. He certainly was great for a time. If you believe his injuries are mostly attributable to abuse by Dusty Baker, then you can make the argument that had he been drafted by a different team his career would have been much more impressive. Of course, if you make that case for him how many pitchers could you do the same for? Either way, Iíll consider him a success. Heilman was lousy this year, but had a few very good years out of the pen as a setup man. Itís not exactly what you want from a 1st rd pitcher, but Iíll call him a success too. I originally did not have Lowery as a success, but heís been useful enough.
Still, there are a number of highly ranked and highly compensated C pitchers who flamed out pretty quickly. The two that I want to point out are Josh Karp and Kenny Baugh. Karp came into the draft with some questionable medical issues and there were pre-draft concerns that Baugh had been abused at Rice. Both broke down very quickly as pros. One of the patterns amongst the failed college pitchers is significant medical problems either shortly after entering pro ball or at least in ďwhisper formĒ sometimes even before the draft. Thatís probably an important thing to keep in mind when you think about Chamberlain dropping in his draft year because of whispered medical concerns. How many teams who took him off their draft board had already been burned?
The second thing to note about the college pitchers is the increasing presence of college relievers in the 1st rd. Heilman was drafted as a starter, but the fact that he ended up a reliever is an omen of things to come.
On the HS side Floyd and Bonderman have been successful although in very different ways. Floyd started on the top prospect track, struggled mightily transitioning to the majors, and was given up on by the team that drafted him only to bounce back and have a good year with his second organization. Bonderman is also with his second organization, but he was promoted up to the majors quickly and given a rotation spot despite some early struggles. He has not really lived up to expectations and is now hurt, but overall he was a successful pick. The HS failures include a number of quick injury related flameouts, of course, and Colt Griffin is a notorious example of drafting a radar gun reading over actual performance.
Neither group of pitchers has been especially successful. If Floydís 2008 season is for real, you might give the HS group a slight edge.
I did a quick scan of the rest of the draft. It looks like the best pitcher from this draft class will be Dan Haren who went in the 2nd rd out of college. HS pitchers of note are Ricky Nolasco (4th), Edwin Jackson (6th) and Zach Duke (20th). Manny Parra received a seven figure bonus as DFE out of JC.
|1[td=*]15 [/td][td=*]NYM [/td][td=*]Scott Kazmir [/td][td=*]LHP [/td][td=*]HS [/td][td=*]TX [/td][td=*]2,150,000 [/td]|
This will turn out to be a very good pitching draft. The college ranks produced four successes out of ten, which is pretty good. Iím not sure youíd consider any of them ďacesĒ , but Guthrie, Francis and Saunders are all at least quality #2/3 starters. Blanton has been durable and valuable as a mid-rotation pitcher. Guthrieís success came after being placed on waivers and moving to a second organization, one that spent 25k on waiver claim as opposed to 3M on a signing bonus. Like Floyd and so many others, heís a good reminder that the path from drafting a pitcher to producing a quality major leaguer is rarely a straight line.
We again see some notable injuries amongst the college misses. Brownlie was considered a strong candidate to go #1 overall at the start of his junior season. He ended the year with some ďminorĒ arm issues. That and Boras pushed him down the draft, but he still received a very large bonus. His college fastball never really made it into the pros. Bullington shouldnít have gone #1 over BJ Upton, but he was still very highly regarded. He entered the pros missing a couple mph on his fastball too and has suffered some arm problems. Fritz, Hagerty and Meyers have also been hurt. Royce Ring has had a couple cups of coffee in the majors, but mostly hasnít worked out. If you go back to Moneyball just about everything Lewis wrote about specific players in the 2002 draft has been wrong (making fun of the Rays for taking ďMelvinĒ Upton, Prince Fielder is too fat even for the Aís, HS pitchers are all worthless lottery tickets, etc), but the one exception was goofing on the White Sox for changing their minds at the last minute and moving from Blanton, a starter, to Ring, a reliever. Other college relievers have been taken in the 1st rd prior to Ring, but he does seem to have kicked off a trend that has seen it become quite common, but not especially fruitful.
Thatís a solid group of college pitchers. However, it pales in comparison to the ones from HS. Greinke, Kazmir, Hamels, Cain and Lester have already been or project to be elite front of the rotation starters. A couple torn labrums may thin the group so that it doesnít look as impressive 5 years from now, but for now this is a tremendous haul from the HS pitching ranks. Of course, those five pitchers were all drafted after three kids who got hurt and never amounted to anything.
This was definitely a high ceiling HS oriented draft class. Looking further in the draft the college ranks also produced Dave Bush (2nd), Rich Hill (4th) and John Maine (6th). The HS ranks produced Jon Broxton (2nd), Scott Olson (6th) and Joel Zumaya (11th).
You can see from the draft slots that this wasnít considered to be a strong pitching class. While seven college pitchers were taken in the 1st rd, the next three were all the way down in the 40s. And as I recall one or both of Moore and Finch were considered significant overdrafts. On the HS side only 3 pitchers were taken in the 1st rd Ė with an impressive 2 hits and major heroin fueled miss Ė and the 10th pitcher went all the way down at #60.
The college ranks were decimated by injuries to the top two pitchers. Sleeth blew out his elbow in the minors and is one of the forgotten TJS ďsurvivorsĒ who never bounced back. Stauffer owned up to some shoulder weakness before he signed and received a dramatically reduced bonus. Maholm has been up and down, but up enough to be a weak success for now. Cordero was a solid second tier closer for four years before blowing out his shoulder. In a weak class, Iíll call that another weak success. That closers Wagner, Cordero, and Aardsma were the 4th-6th drafted college pitchers is another sign that this wasnít a well regarded group. Brad Sullivan had a terrific collegiate performance record. He slipped in the draft due to a late season velocity dip and questions about his workload. I remember thinking the Sox should have ignored those whispers and taken a shot at a top near ready talent that could have fallen into their laps. His pro stuff never matched his college stuff. Iím not sure if he ever had a significant diagnosed injury and subsequent surgery, but he was just never the same.
Danks and Billingsley had very good breakout years. As long as they can stay healthy, they should be very good pitchers. I noted Adam Miller in red as a still highly regarded prospect, but injuries have dimmed his star to be sure. James Houser and Jo Jo Reyes have made the majors. I donít expect either to be impact players.
We donít know if Danks and Billingsley will stay healthy the next few years. As of now, though, Iíd take the HS ranks of this weak top of the draft. A little further down the college ranks do make up some ground Ė Scott Baker (2nd), Shaun Marcum (3rd) and Jonathan Papelbon (4th). I donít see any later round HS pitchers of note. Obviously, thereís plenty of time for late bloomers. If Danks and Billingsley are the only significant HS pitchers from this draft, then itís pretty impressive that they went first and third.
Now this was considered to be an incredible collegiate college class with Weaver putting up numbers comparable to Mark Prior (and therefore generating stats based claims he was one of the best pitchers in college history) and the big three Rice starters amongst others. Six of the top ten picks were college pitchers and thatís not even counting Weaver who slipped to #12 and received the largest bonus. Three pitchers, again not including Weaver, received MLB deals worth at least 3M in bonus money and a few million more in salaries. As of now I only consider Weaver and Verlander to be successes and Iíd argue that even as successes theyíve been a bit disappointing. Weaverís tremendous college performance did no translate into front of a MLB rotation stuff. Verlanderís 2008 follow up to his 2007 breakout was a let down. Again, injuries were a significant factor as all 3 Rice pitchers and Thomas Diamond suffered significant injuries.
These HS pitchers are just completing their age 22 seasons so there arenít too many firm conclusions to make. It does look like Gallardo is going to be a very good pitcher. Iím still high on Hughes so I noted him red. I didnít do the same with Homer Bailey, but he may certainly turn it around.
Oh, here is one firm conclusion. Mike Rozier is a bust and I bet 29 other teams laughed at the notion that he deserved the third highest signing bonus of any HS pitcher in the draft. And thatís a good reminder that while we have to look at where players were taken (or the bonuses they received) as proxies for MLB scouting consensus, it only takes one team to wildly over rate a player.
Iíll take the Weaver and Verlander bird in hand and say that the college class will end up better, but not to the extent that draft slots and bonuses suggested. Further down the draft Huston Street (1st supp) and Andy Sonnanstine (13th) are notable college picks and Wade Davis (3rd) and Sean Gallagher (12th) are notable HS picks.
Iíll briefly summarize this early look at the HS and C pitchers from 2001-2004 (btw, are you, like me, already getting nostalgic for Wís first term? No?)
The following table compares the number of pitchers in each group, their collective signing bonus, average draft slot and the key successes that I previously noted.
The number of pitchers is roughly the same. If I had just looked at 1st rd picks there would have been a college advantage, but by at least going down to 10 pitchers from each school type that evened out the group sizes. The college pitchers received much more bonus money in aggregate. And that 20M edge is a bit deceiving as a handful of college pitchers received MLB salary money as part of their MLB deals. If I added in that guaranteed money minus their minimum salaries for when they were in the majors, then the edge would likely increase to over 30M. Thatís reflected in the fact that the college pitcher on average were drafted a half dozen slots earlier.
Coincidentally, I noted 12 pitchers from each group as early successes. Thatís about a 1 in 4 success rate. My expectation was that amongst the non-successes there would be significantly more low level production from the college pitchers who are much more likely to make the majors and have fringy careers. Someone like Aardsma is a good example of that. Perhaps due to the significant number of injuries from the college ranks that small advantage, while evident, isnít all that large.
I roughly ranked the successes from best to least. From the college ranks Verlander is the only real candidate for top of the rotation ace status. The next five pitchers from Weaver down to Guthrie are all good pitchers (I didnít know what to do with Prior so I stuck him in the middle there). The next four pitchers are solid, average types and then there are a couple of relievers bringing up the bottom.
Most of the HS pitchers have 2-3 years at the very most, so a lot can still go wrong, but I see a lot more true top of the rotation starters. I think you can make a strong case for the top 7 from Hamels down to Gallardo. And maybe even flip Danks and/or Floyd above Bonderman if their 2008 seasons are for real to extend that group down a little further.
The success rate for highly HS pitchers seems to be pretty comparable to that of highly rated C pitchers. Within those small groups of successes, the HS pitchers seem to have much higher ceilings. Those are tentative conclusions based on what we know now about these still young (not yet) injured pitchers. It may be that with another 5-10 years of injury related attrition weíll have to make different conclusions about this period.
If this holds up though, itíll be a dramatic change from the not so distant past. The following table is based on draft data that I have from the 1987-1996 drafts. Iím just looking at 1st round pitchers and it includes the total number picked, the number and percent that Did Not Play in the majors, the number and percent who had at least a 20 WARP career and the number and percent that had at least a 40 WARP career.
In those 10 years there were many more C pitchers selected in the first round, HS pitchers were almost twice as likely to never pitch in the majors, C pitchers were twice as likely to at least have a useful 20 WARP career and over five times as likely to have a good 40+ WARP career (although thatís misleading because just one HS player reached that threshold).
Based on what we know of the pitchers drafted in 2001-2004 we should expect a much narrower gap in the 20+ range and a significant reversal in the 40+ range. And yet, just eyeballing the two groups, I would expect the DNP% to be fairly similar, maybe the C number a bit higher.
So in terms of simply making the majors there might not be much difference Ė still ~60% for HS and ~80% for C. However, the 60% of HS pitchers that do make the majors may now be much more successful at reaching 20 and 40 WARP thresholds than they used to be and in turn the C pitchers who make the majors may have a little lower chance to reach 20 WARP, but a lot lower chance to reach 40 WARP.
I think itís potentially more exciting to speculate about why these highly rated amateur HS pitchers from 2001-2004 have been more likely to reach their professional ceilings. If that is the case, then the best explanation is that the industry is doing a better job of identifying and developing these young pitchers. Whether that means keeping them healthy through pitch counts and innings limits or something else, I donít know. But if top HS pitching talent is being more efficiently turned into quality major league pitchers, then that suggests that overall level of pitching talent should be increasing. Unless you just plain dig offense, that kind of raising of the talent bar should be good for the game.
It should also suggest that a lot of the old things people think they know about drafting HS pitchers is dated, but I think that should have already been evident.