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Tom Boswell on Using Top 5 Draft Picks on Pitchers


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I thought JTreas81 would enjoy this:

The history of baseball's draft since it began in 1965 is unmistakable. You can project exceptional hitters with about a 50 percent success rate. You can't project No. 1 overall pitchers at all.

Nobody -- n-o-b-o-d-y -- has used a No. 1 overall pick on a pitcher and been glad they did it. Thirteen teams have tried it since the draft began in 1965. Nine have gotten egg on their faces. The lucky four got Andy Benes (155-139), Tim Belcher (146-140), Mike Moore (161-176) and Floyd Bannister (134-143). No Hall of Famers. Just a bunch of guys who could throw a ball through a wall when they were young but never became great.

If you take a larger sample size, the evidence is even more conclusive. Since '65, 102 pitchers have been taken within the first five picks. Not one is going to the Hall of Fame. None is close. Only one won more than 200 games (Kevin Brown). Rounding out the top five -- Dwight Gooden (194 wins), Bill Gullickson, Moore and Benes. The only reliever of note: ex-Oriole Gregg Olson. Josh Beckett (89-62) may end up high on the list eventually.

More than 75 percent of those 102 were wasted picks. Yet absolutely every one was hailed as a future star.

However, if the Nats use their No. 1 overall pick for a hitter, whom might they get? Perhaps a future Hall of Famer like Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones or Alex Rodriguez. Or Harold Baines or Darryl Strawberry. Or a batting champ like Joe Mauer, an MVP like Jeff Burroughs or a young thumper like Adrian Gonzalez (36 homers, 119 RBI in '08). Or they might get a hitter with more than 200 homers like Pat Burrell, Phil Nevin, Bob Horner or Rick Monday. Or they might get a useful B.J. Surhoff or Darin Erstad.

You get it. Hitters pan out -- almost half the time. Pitchers flop or at best disappoint given their hype.

To compare apples-to-apples, look at the hitters picked in the top five overall since '65: Reggie Jackson, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, Thurman Munson, Joe Carter, Mark Teixeira, Barry Larkin, Dale Murphy, Matt Williams, Troy Glaus, Evan Longoria, Ryan Braun, Ryan Zimmerman and many a Will Clark or B.J. Upton.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/23/AR2009032301414.html

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I think a lot of the poor history with pitchers has to do with them being overworked in HS and college. I feel that is happening less and less, so pitchers are becoming safer bets.

Or maybe I'm completely wrong and they are as risky as ever, who knows.

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A lot of it is also a generic review of pitching. Hitting is easier to project, so if you think that pitching is impossible to project or that the Orioles do not know how to do it . . . then getting a pitcher would be a mistake. With respect to Matusz, he was so fully baked . . . there is not much to project.

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I think this piece begs for a deeper question, as Boswell notes that Strasburgh's "adviser" (Boras, of course) is seeking a 50 million dollar deal to screw up the slotting system in baseball. Mind you, I haaaaaaate these questions -- but if Strasburgh were to fall to 5, I'd have a hard time saying no thanks.

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http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/23/AR2009032301414.html

Is this what Jtrea was thinking when the Orioles drafted Matusz over Smoak?

Yeah, basically he's saying it makes a lot more sense to draft position players high - and avoid pitchers. But while Bos said he thought Strassburg looked tired last year in the Olympics, he failed to mention that he struck out 62 batters in 41 innings for Team USA - at 19 years old. http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=sh-strasburg032409&prov=yhoo&type=lgns The kid throws over 100 MPH's and isn't just a fastball pitcher. He gets over 2 SO's an inning for San Diego State and doesn't allow baserunners. Put it this way - If you had the Lincicum draft to do over, where would you pick him?

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I think this piece begs for a deeper question, as Boswell notes that Strasburgh's "adviser" (Boras, of course) is seeking a 50 million dollar deal to screw up the slotting system in baseball. Mind you, I haaaaaaate these questions -- but if Strasburgh were to fall to 5, I'd have a hard time saying no thanks.

If, and its a big if, the scouts are correct then paying 6/$50M for Strasburg is a steal. Some have said he is already better than Burnett, who just signed a contract for 5/$85M. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

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If, and its a big if, the scouts are correct then paying 6/$50M for Strasburg is a steal. Some have said he is already better than Burnett, who just signed a contract for 5/$85M. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Also, the best prospect ever:

As reported by Buster Olney on ESPN.com, a "long time" scout quoted to Buster that Strasburg is, "The best I've ever seen," and also said, "And it's not even close."

Link to the entire excellent article "Stephen Strasburg, The Greatest Baseball Prospect of All Time": http://blogcritics.org/archives/2009/03/12/0005182.php

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Frankly, I think the Nats are in the unenviable position of having a guy who they kind-of have-to draft who's a pretty good bet to suffer some kind of catastrophic breakdown in the not-so-distant future. Keith Law on Strasburg:

He has a wiry-strong build with barely any fat on him, which is a major improvement over where he was in high school, when excess weight was a major reason he was bypassed entirely in the 2006 Rule 4 Draft. (He wasn't throwing 97-99 then, either.)

He takes an enormous stride toward the plate and generates absurd arm speed as his arm catches up to the rest of his body (that is, his arm is slightly "late" relative to his front side), which is a double-edged sword since it gives him great velocity but the lag puts some extra stress on his shoulder. He has no problems repeating his delivery, which is a good sign for future command.

If there's a concern on Strasburg, it's that a handful of guys who saw sudden spikes in their velocities have broken down soon afterward -- Boston prospect Nick Hagadone blew out his elbow inside of a year, while Joel Zumaya got about four years in before his arm went haywire -- the theory being that their arms weren't physically able to handle the increases in arm speed.

Strasburg has gone from 88-89 as a high school senior in 2006 to 94-97 in the summers of 2007 and 2008 to 96-100 now, and there is no good comparable that might give us guidance on how he'll hold up or even what his early career might look like. If you're in the Nationals' shoes, you need to just draft him and hope for the best...

...If I'm Washington, I would give Strasburg that deal and bring him directly to the big leagues. I'm not sure what Strasburg could possibly have to learn in the minors, and if there really is a finite number of pitches in that arm, you might as well get the most out of them.

This isn't a Lincecum issue, where folks just didn't understand (and still don't) the mechanics that allow such a little guy to throw so hard, with high (but efficient) effort. It's hard to know if Lincecum will break down.

But the timing issues with Strasburg, along with the stride/arm-lag issues.

Good luck, Nats. I think they're destined for disappointment (and a hefty tab).

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Frankly, I think the Nats are in the unenviable position of having a guy who they kind-of have-to draft who's a pretty good bet to suffer some kind of catastrophic breakdown in the not-so-distant future. Keith Law on Strasburg:

This isn't a Lincecum issue, where folks just didn't understand (and still don't) the mechanics that allow such a little guy to throw so hard, with high (but efficient) effort. It's hard to know if Lincecum will break down.

But the timing issues with Strasburg, along with the stride/arm-lag issues.

Good luck, Nats. I think they're destined for disappointment (and a hefty tab).

It depends on how long Strasburg goes before breaking down. It seems inevitable that he will break down. The big question is when. If he signs a 6/$50M deal and pitches like a #1 starter for four seasons before breaking down, I'd say you got your money's worth.

Not to mention the fact that insurance will cover most of Strasburg's contract if he gets injured.

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So do I appear less "insane" now that a newspaper writer has the same theory?

Perhaps Mr. Boswell was surfing the Hangout when he decided to write this column...

If you take a larger sample size, the evidence is even more conclusive. Since '65, 102 pitchers have been taken within the first five picks. Not one is going to the Hall of Fame. None is close. Only one won more than 200 games (Kevin Brown). Rounding out the top five -- Dwight Gooden (194 wins), Bill Gullickson, Moore and Benes. The only reliever of note: ex-Oriole Gregg Olson. Josh Beckett (89-62) may end up high on the list eventually.

More than 75 percent of those 102 were wasted picks. Yet absolutely every one was hailed as a future star.

We took Matusz with the 4th pick last year. Here's to hoping he's in the 25% bracket...

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No, the only "insane" drafting strategy is completely eschewing an entire sub-group of players without prejudice.

How many top-5 draft picks who's last names started in vowels have made the HOF? How many who's last names started in consonants?

Should we always forego drafting vowel-starting last named players because none of them have made the HOF?

And why is he only looking at top-5 picks? What makes a guy drafted 5th different from 9th, or 21st? Why is one group so much more unlikely to succeed than another?

The answer is they aren't. Pitchers are risky, but a pitcher drafted 3rd isn't inherently any more risky than a pitcher drafted 17th.

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Frankly, I think the Nats are in the unenviable position of having a guy who they kind-of have-to draft who's a pretty good bet to suffer some kind of catastrophic breakdown in the not-so-distant future. Keith Law on Strasburg:

This isn't a Lincecum issue, where folks just didn't understand (and still don't) the mechanics that allow such a little guy to throw so hard, with high (but efficient) effort. It's hard to know if Lincecum will break down.

But the timing issues with Strasburg, along with the stride/arm-lag issues.

Good luck, Nats. I think they're destined for disappointment (and a hefty tab).

Here's Jim Callis' take in an ESPN chat on 3/25/09:

Jonathan (Atlanta): Seems like there is alot of attention on the internet about Strasburg and the "invereted W". Is it a big deal? If it was such a big deal, why would we not hear more about it from scouts?

SportsNation Jim Callis: (2:47 PM ET ) I actually wrote a column about this that should be posted on baseballamerica.com today or tomorrow. One internet site came up with the inverted W and a lot of bloggers seem to have run with it. We've talked to 10-20 scouts about Strasburg, and none of them is worried about his mechanics. I joked with Keith Law that he didn't mention the inverted W (isn't that an M?) in his Strasburg blog on ESPN.com, and Keith's reply was that it didn't exist when he saw him. Could Strasburg get hurt? Sure, but that's true of any pitcher. Scouts don't think his delivery puts him at risk, and yes, that's still no guarantee he'll stay healthy.

Joe (San Diego): Any chance people are NOT worrying Stasburg's mechanics only because of Tim Lincecum's delivery and success (to date) with it?

SportsNation Jim Callis: (2:50 PM ET ) No, that's apples and oranges. Scouts don't see anything that indicates undue stress or future problems in Strasburg's delivery. Of course, that doesn't mean he won't get hurt—pitching is unnatural and most pitchers do get hurt.

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So do I appear less "insane" now that a newspaper writer has the same theory?

Perhaps Mr. Boswell was surfing the Hangout when he decided to write this column...

We took Matusz with the 4th pick last year. Here's to hoping he's in the 25% bracket...

No, actually I think you are either related to him, or he has gone completely off his rocker. I have never been impressed with his baseball knowledge, and this just kinda sealed it for me.

Drafting prospects is no exact science, and you can manipulate the statistics done after the fact to show whatever you want. But having a bias one way or the other towards pitchers or hitters is the surest way to reduce your odds even more and end up a perpetual cellar dweller.

We should start a new game this year. People get to represent each team in the draft for 3 rounds and make whatever picks they want. We could even do last year's draft over again in retrospect because most of them haven't succeeded or failed yet. Then we compare after 3 years and see who has had the most success with their picks. Maybe I will start this one up closer to the draft. JTrea, you have to play ;)

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