• Draft a College Pitcher? Are you sure?

    I can’t imagine that there is a worse starting rotation in Major League Baseball than the Minnesota Twins. It was really bad last year. They added only Jason Marquis in the offseason. Scott Baker had elbow surgery that turned into Tommy John surgery. Francisco Liriano, who teased in spring training, has been so bad that he’s having a skipped start after just four starts. The Twins starting staff has an ERA over seven right now.

    Understandably, the thing we hear from most Twins fans is that the Twins absolutely must use their first draft choice, the #2 overall pick, on a college pitcher. The reason is obvious. The Twins need pitching, and they need it now. The perception is that college pitchers come up quickly and make an impression. Sometimes that is the case, but I wanted to do a little bit of research to show that is the right thing to do.

    I decided to go online and look up all of the college pitchers drafted in the top 25 players each year from 1980 through 2010 (31 years worth of data). I noted their draft slot so that I could compare pitchers drafted in the Top 5 compared to those drafted between 21 and 25. I honestly had no idea what I would fine. I know I many times have a preconceived notion that many high-profile college starting pitchers are often overused. There have been so many top college pitchers who get to the big leagues relatively quickly, have some quick success when they get there, and then their arm (shoulder or elbow) burns out, and they are a shell of their former selves. I know there are also some exceptions to that rule.

    I decided to use Career WAR as the stat of choice. I wanted some sort of comparative statistic that would be semi-constant in meaning. In other words, career ERA isn’t a good stat because it doesn’t provide any context, such as number of innings pitched, or what the league ERA may have been at a given time. Obviously Wins are never a good stat to use for a pitcher. So, you can argue if WAR is the right statistic for this analysis, but I think it is appropriate.

    I’m certain that it will be no surprise to anyone to find out that Roger Clemens, the 19th overall pick in the 1983 draft out of the University of Texas, is the leader in WAR among the 222 college pitchers selected in the top 25 picks over 30 years. His 145.5 WAR is followed most closely by Mike Mussina, the 20th overall pick in the 1990 draft out of Stanford, who had a career WAR of 85.6. Kevin Brown, the 4th overall pick in the 1986 draft from Georgia Tech, posted a career WAR of 77.2. No other college pitcher drafted in baseball’s top 25 picks from 1980 through 2010 has posted a career WAR of 36.

    To be fair, Justin Verlander, the #2 overall pick in the 2004 draft from Old Dominion, has career WAR of 32.5, and presumably, he will continue to pitch well for years and wind up much higher. That said, Mark Prior, the #2 overall pick in the 2001 draft from USC, had a career WAR of 16.0 through his first four big league seasons, and his career WAR was 15.8. So, you just don’t know.

    Here are the Top 25 college pitchers drafted in the Top 25 picks of the first round in the 1980-2010 draft, by WAR:
    Draft Yr
    Overall
    Name College Draft Team
    WAR
    1983
    19
    Roger Clemens Texas Red Sox
    145.5
    1990
    20
    Mike Mussina Stanford Orioles
    85.6
    1986
    4
    Kevin Brown Georgia Tech Rangers
    77.2
    1981
    1
    Mike Moore Oral Roberts Mariners
    35.7
    1988
    1
    Andy Benes Evansville Padres
    35.7
    1987
    5
    Jack McDowell Stanford White Sox
    35.0
    1986
    2
    Greg Swindell Texas Indians
    34.9
    1988
    17
    Charles Nagy Connecticut Indians
    34.4
    1991
    23
    Aaron Sele Washington St Red Sox
    33.6
    2004
    2
    Justin Verlander Old Dominion Tigers
    32.5
    1999
    10
    Ben Sheets NE Louisiana State Brewers
    31.7
    1985
    3
    Bobby Witt Oklahoma Rangers
    31.5
    1983
    1
    Tim Belcher Mt Vernon Nazarene College Twins
    31.4
    1999
    9
    Barry Zito USC A's
    31.3
    1995
    12
    Matt Morris Seton Hall Cardinals
    29.5
    2006
    10
    Tim Lincecum Washington Giants
    27.9
    1984
    24
    Terry Mulholland Marietta College Giants
    26.2
    1993
    12
    Billy Wagner Ferrum College Astros
    24.7
    1984
    2
    Billy Swift Maine Mariners
    24.4
    2004
    12
    Jered Weaver Long Beach State Angels
    24.3
    1988
    8
    Jim Abbott Michigan Angels
    23.4
    1998
    14
    Jeff Weaver Fresno State Tigers
    23.2
    1981
    9
    Ron Darling Yale Rangers
    22.1
    1989
    1
    Ben McDonald LSU Orioles
    21.8
    1998
    2
    Mark Mulder Michigan State A's
    21.1


    Among that list, you can see a few things. There are several pitchers who have high WAR because of longevity (Mulholland, Swindell) and you can see a lot of pitchers who were pretty good but injuries derailed their careers (Sheets, Witt, Morris, McDonald). Will today’s aces like Verlander, Lincecum and Jered Weaver continue to increase their WAR over time, or will they suffer some of the circumstances that so many of these guys (and the guys with career WAR of less than 20) dealt with in their careers?

    Of the 222 pitchers drafted in the Top 25 overall picks from 1980-2010, the 25 shown above are the only ones with a career WAR of 20 or higher. Here is a breakdown:
    Career WAR Pitchers
    >20 25
    10.1 - 20 25
    5.1 - 10 16
    0 – 10 78
    <0 29
    No MLB 49

    Many of you may wonder why I included the Top 25 picks from each of those years, rather than just the Top 2 picks since the Twins have the #2 pick. I did so for a couple of reasons. First, the Twins have more than just two options for the draft this year. When the draft is analyzed in five or ten years, the Twins selection at #2 will be compared against guys drafted at #3, #4, #5 and throughout the first round picks.

    Secondly, I was of the opinion coming into the research that the likelihood of finding an “ace” was just as good at #20 as it is at #2.

    Finally, in 2009 and 2010, the Twins selected college pitchers. In 2009, the Twins took Kyle Gibson with the 22nd overall pick. In 2010, the Twins used the 21st overall pick on Alex Wimmers. I wanted to understand the success rates of guys taken with those picks as well. (NOTE – Gibson and Wimmers are included in the No MLB Experience category up above, and we all hope that at some point, they will get to the big leagues and be successful.)

    (The Twins have had high picks such as Adam Johnson and Ryan Mills that didn't pan out, but they also have found success with the likes of Mark Redman and Matt Garza in the first round.)

    The next thing I did with the data was look at each of the 25 draft slots. I counted how many times in those 31 years of drafts that a college pitcher was chosen with that pick. I showed the average career WAR for those players. I showed how many have No Major League experience because they are included in the ‘average.’ I also showed which pitcher drafted in that slot has the highest career WAR. Here is that chart:
    Draft Slot
    College Pitchers
    Avg Career WAR
    No Maj Lg Experience
    Highest Career WAR
    1
    11
    15.5
    0
    Mike Moore/Andy Benes (35.7)
    2
    9
    16.3
    0
    Greg Swindell (34.9)
    3
    10
    7.5
    2
    Bobby Witt (31.5)
    4
    14
    8
    1
    Kevin Brown (77.2)
    5
    9
    4.7
    1
    Jack McDowell (35.0)
    6
    11
    2.1
    2
    Ricky Romero (9.8)
    7
    10
    0.8
    1
    Dan Reichert (3.7)
    8
    7
    5.7
    4
    Jim Abbott (23.4)
    9
    7
    11.4
    1
    Barry Zito (31.3)
    10
    7
    9.1
    1
    Ben Sheets (31.7)
    11
    8
    1.8
    5
    Max Scherzer (10.9)
    12
    5
    17.6
    1
    Matt Morris (29.5)
    13
    6
    5.6
    1
    Mark Redman (17.3)
    14
    7
    4.3
    2
    Jeff Weaver (23.2)
    15
    6
    0.3
    2
    Sean Lowe (1.8)
    16
    12
    6
    1
    Roberto Hernandez/Jason Jennings (15.2)
    17
    8
    9.3
    1
    Charles Nagy (34.4)
    18
    10
    3
    3
    Joe Magrane (15.0)
    19
    10
    14.8
    1
    Roger Clemens (145.5)
    20
    9
    11.9
    5
    Mike Mussina (85.6)
    21
    12
    2.6
    3
    Ian Kennedy (7.9)
    22
    10
    3.4
    2
    Rick Helling (15.1)
    23
    6
    5.9
    3
    Aaron Sele (33.6)
    24
    10
    4.8
    3
    Terry Mulholland (26.2)
    25
    8
    2.6
    2
    Matt Garza (14.6)


    SUMMARY

    In summary, we could look at this data many different ways to see what it would tell us. Based on this history, the odds of the Twins drafting a college pitcher with the #2 pick and him posting a career WAR of 20 or more are like 10% History tells us that although college pitchers certainly get to the big leagues much quicker, in general, Twins fans may want to temper their enthusiasm for whoever the team takes with the #2 pick.

    What does this mean to the Twins?

    Absolutely nothing. First, as Terry Ryan said on Sunday’s “Inside Pitch” radio show, the team will take the best available player on their draft board. If it is it a position player, like Byron Buxton, Mike Zunino, or Carlos Correa, they will take that player. That is completely the right strategy.

    However, if the Twins’ scouts put together their list of top draft-eligible players and a college pitcher (such as Mark Appel, Kevin Gausman or Kyle Zimmer), this data should not deter them from taking that pitcher. Having the #2 overall pick is a great opportunity for the Twins to acquire a top talent. This historical perspective should provide, just that, perspective on what our expectations should be for any 1st round draft pick. However, that #2 draft slot should also provide a lot of hope that maybe the Twins can get this turned around, and pitching is the team's number one need. Having five picks in the first 72 picks of the draft is an opportunity for the Twins to add some much needed talent and life to the Twins farm system.

    This article was originally published in blog: Draft a College Pitcher? Are you sure? started by Seth Stohs
    Comments 42 Comments
    1. Mr. Ed's Avatar
      Mr. Ed -
      Given the recent washouts of Bashore, Tootle and Hunt, due in part to injury, I'd be very leery of a college pitcher. A shame that some of these guys get over-worked in college. One reason a number of kids by-pass it for a shot in the bigs on draft day.
    1. roger's Avatar
      roger -
      Does this tell us we should trade down to #12? Oh, I forgot, this isn't the NFL and we can't do that! Bah!!!
    1. Han Joelo's Avatar
      Han Joelo -
      Cool research. I think the NFL draft skews the way people look at the baseball draft a tad. Totally different beasts. The risks with pitchers are enormous comparatively, as pointed out above.

      I'm not sure if this is a fair comparison, but compare Zunino and Appel/Zimmer whomever, with Montero and Pineda. Go with the guy who plays every day at a premium position, and then like every other team, hope you can find the next Roger Clemens a bit lower.
    1. ScottyB's Avatar
      ScottyB -
      I'm hoping that the Astros take Buxton, so the Twins aren't tempted to take another 'toolsy' high school outfielder. They already have a glut of outfielders - Benson, Hicks, Morales and others. I could see taking Zunino or Correa, but depending on healing, I'm still intrigued by Giolito. He's a clone of Verlander and the Twins have a desperate need for a true ace. That being said, Appel, Zimmer and Gausman would also be good choices. With next year's projected starting rotation of Blackburn, Hendricks, and at this point I don't know (maybe Swarzak, Diamond and Gibson). They desperately need starters. 2014 looks to be the year the next crop of players comes through. But I do trust the Twins to make the right choice. Despite the busts they have drafted, they have also drafted some nice pieces in the first round - Mauer, Parmalee, Ploufe, Revere, Span, and Perkins on the current team, plus guys like Hunter and Cuddyer. They do need some scouts who can spot pitchers.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Well, I would agree with the conclusion if:

      a. there were more data showing the WAR of others ie. college position players, high school pitchers and high school position players, so we can compare
      b. Career WAR is an interesting metric for thing like HOF. WAR/season is more important and esp since a lot of the players in the list are still active


      So unless I see the comparisons, I cannot really say that the data support the hypothesis
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      Pitchers are half of your team. The Twins shouldn't be afraid to draft a good one.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Correct, to some degree. i agree that it isn't fair to those that are still playing which is why I mentioned the likes of Verlander and Lincecum. The per-year thing is good, but I think you also want at top pitcher to give more than 2-3 years like Prior, great as they were.

      And, I thought about how it would look, relative to high school pitchers or hitters or college hitters, but at the same time, I think this tells the story for college pitchers and says that as optimistic as we want to be about a college pitcher, it may should be tempered. It's not to say that drafting a high school bat is better or worse.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Don't you have to compare that to hitters, to understand which offers more likelihood of success? Half the roster is pitchers, you need 5-7 starters. If you dont' draft pitchers high EVER because they are risky, how do you ever get pitching? That's the part people can't answer...."never draft a pitcher high, because it is risky", then how do you ever get pitching?
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      I probably wouldn't care about not drafting a solid college pitcher with the 2 pick if I could rest assured that the Twins were going to chase a top 50 MLB pitcher on the market in the offseason or make a trade for one.
    1. edavis0308's Avatar
      edavis0308 -
      I feel there should be one more dimension looked at - career WAR of pitchers drafted by team. Example - compare the drafting of pitchers of the Rays over the past few years compared to the Twins.

      EDIT: to build on that, it might show who has superior scouting in the late rounds compared to teams that aren't as good that frequently draft toward the top of the round.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I'm with shanewahl on that, if I thought they'd change their DNA and sign LEGIT MLB starter(s) in FA, or trade prospects for one or more, sure, pass on pitching all you want in the draft....but in year three of their new stadium, they cut their payroll, and didn't sign one.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      I raised a similar question in my inaugural blog entry yesterday, although I came at it from the POV of wondering about all those supplemental draft picks, and took a cherry-picker's approach to demonstrate that if the draft pool is thin one year you can end up with little or nothing even with several picks just after the real first round.

      What you (Seth) have done is a great start, toward the question of what to do with the #2 pick, but surely there exists somewhere a set of data that carries things further: separate the draftees by HS/College and Pitcher/Position-player, and use some metric (WAR as you have done) to assess the empirical record of what has worked the best among these four combinations. Anecdotal evidence (like what I wrote yesterday, or the "for every Justin Verlander at pick #2 I can find an Adam Johnson or even Mark Prior as a cautionary example) only goes so far.

      Indeed probably one or more major league teams already have done exactly this and it will have colored their choices the past decade or so. Focusing on Boston, Tampa, and Oakland's picks might be very instructive - if only to show that the opportunity to set oneself apart is past.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Shane's right, there is just no other way to get a front line starter, and you need two or three of them to compete these days. The Twins will never give a pitcher more than a four year deal, and the top guys ask for double that and usually settle for between 5-7 years. The only hope for the team is to get a stud in the system, then after a season or two offer to buy out a couple arbitration years in exchange for 2 free agent years and have him locked up for the first eight years of his career.
    1. minn55441's Avatar
      minn55441 -
      Is this the era of the new and improved Terry Ryan? Now that he actually has some money to spend will it change his approach to creating a roster?

      2013 we have 1 starting pitcher under contract. I don't see us filling out the rotation from within. How much money will be devoted to FA's? I don't think any pitcher taken in this years draft will be part of the 2013 rotation. It would be nice if we could count of Wimmers and Gibson, but they are both big question marks.

      I would like to see us take Zunino with the #2 overall pick and then start loading up on arms, both College or younger for the seasons 2015 on out. The starting pitchers we need from a competitive 2013 need to come from outside the organization. Whether we aquire them through trade or free agency, it's up to Ryan to find a balance between value and price we have to pay.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Believe me, I'm NOT saying DON'T take a college pitcher with the #2 pick... but like any pick (but particularly college pitchers) there is no such thing as a sure thing. As many before us have said, there is no such thing as a pitching prospect. I think of the 5 picks in the top 72, I'd like to see at least two and probably 3 pitchers taken.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      Believe me, I'm NOT saying DON'T take a college pitcher with the #2 pick...
      I think what's needed is to trust the scouts, and if they can say "this is the guy" you just take him. Some years that's what happens at #1, #2, #3... If it's viewed as close between a couple of guys, then you look at this kind of historical/empircal study to maybe tip the balance.
    1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
      YourHouseIsMyHouse -
      I think we should draft Zunino. The guy in the thumbnail being my second choice (Zimmer).
    1. ssp833's Avatar
      ssp833 -
      Mike wants wins makes the exact same point I would - if you don't take a chance on a strikeout pitcher because it may be risky then you will never have any. Based on where the current strategy for building a pitching staff has gotten them, I so hope that they not only pick a hard throwing starter with number 2 but that they pick several more. And then do the same every year.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      min55441...they had money to do that this year, and didn't. So, I see no evidence Ryan is a changed man. Which makes me sad, because I think they have a nice core with Mauer, Morneau, Span, Willingham...but once again, they've surrounded them with yuckiness.
    1. twinsfanstreif's Avatar
      twinsfanstreif -
      I've heard a lot of people on here say that if we want an ace we have to draft him high in the first. This comment may be totally legit but does anyone know currently of each "ace" or ace caliber player in the majors how we're they aquired or what round were they drafted in? I would be curious to see the result because I feel this is a blanket statement with no research involved.
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