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Moneyball, the 2014 Draft, and the Future of Twins Pitching

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The Twins need top-notch starting pitchers if they are to compete in the latter half of this decade. Last year, Twins starters paced all starting staffs with a 5.26 ERA, while taking the loss in whopping, major league-topping 74 games. So, something has to change. But how?

The most effective way to bolster starting pitching, long-term, is through the draft. Drafted players have greater longevity, and they come cheaper than buying developed players through free agency. Even Terry Ryan’s dumpster diving moves only netted a two-year Kevin Correia, and a one-year Mike Pelfry. Those are quick fixes, and not the answer when the likes of Byron Buxton, Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia should be patrolling the outfield together, entering the prime of their careers.

The 2014 Draft is a long way away. Amateur prospects will rise and fall based upon their performances next spring, on high school ball diamonds, and college fields. Changes will occur beyond the control of scouts, coaches, prognosticators and the talented ballplayers themselves. Two things will not change: the draft is set for Thursday, June 4th, and the Twins control the fifth pick. Even that fifth spot can change, but that variable is not beyond the team’s control.

One factor is the arrival schedule of a college-level pitcher, as opposed to a high school talent. A college-level player could be groomed for major league competition in a year or two, as opposed to the longer, riskier timetable afforded by a younger, lesser-tested talent.
The other factor is that the 2014 draft appears to be deeper than usual, and especially deep with college-level starting pitchers. Four starters are at the top of Chris Steven’s list, writing for Bleacher Report: Carlos Rodon, a lefthander from N.C. State, Tyler Beede, a righthander from Vanderbilt, Sean Newcomb, a southpaw from Hartford, and Michael Cederoth, a righty from San Diego State. http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1666580-2014-mlb-mock-draft-breaking-down-the-biggest-stars-in-next-years-class/page/4

We have already had an extended conversation on this site regarding the 2014 draft, and the wisdom of picking the proverbial Best Player Available (BPA). http://twinsdaily.com/twins-minor-league-talk/9041-mocks-2014-mlb-draft-twins-pick-5-a-3.html

I would contend that we should pursue, given the nature of the franchise, the best college-level starting pitcher available (BCLSPA!). Reason? The depth of the draft, the Twins need for starting pitching, and finally, this quote from Michael Lewis. I re-read Chapter 5 in “Moneyball”, The Jeremy Brown Blue Plate Special, where Lewis chronicles the Oakland A’s 2002 draft. It’s a delightful read. Here are two quotes: 1) where Lewis sets up the wisdom of drafting college players, and 2) where the draft falls Billy Beane’s way:

(Bill James) looked into the history of the draft and discovered that ‘college players are a better investment than high school players by a huge, huge, laughably huge margin.’ The conventional wisdom of baseball insiders—that high school players were more likely to become superstars—was also demonstrably false... Paul DePodesta, the head of R & D for the Oakland A’s, made his own study of (Bill James’ theory). As a result of that study, the Oakland A’s front office, over the silent shrieks of their own older scouts were about to implement a radical new idea about young men and baseball (pgs. 98-99).

And, the second quote:

The selections made (in the 2002 draft) are, from the A’s point of view, delightfully mad. Eight of the first nine teams select high schoolers. The worst teams in baseball, the teams that can least afford for their draft to go wrong, have walked into the casino, ignored the odds, and made straight for the craps table (pg. 112).

The Twins, with the worst starting pitching staff in baseball, simply can’t afford to throw the dice on high school talent. Not this time, with the Buxton-Rosario-Hicks-Sano-Arcia window opening. There are many changes that will occur between now and Thursday, June 4, 2014. But this should not change—6/4/2014 will be the right time for the Minnesota Twins to draft a top-tier, college pitching talent.
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Updated 10-30-2013 at 05:06 PM by Don't Feed the Greed Guy



  1. Jim H's Avatar
    You are aware that in the last 2 drafts the A's have taken high school players with their first round draft picks? Whatever the A's thought was the correct way to draft in 2002 isn't apparently what they go by now. That isn't to say that the Twins shouldn't take a college pitcher with the first pick in the 2014 draft. But, I don't think your premise that taking a college player is always a better idea than a high school player is something most organizations follow. Including the A's.
  2. Don't Feed the Greed Guy's Avatar
    No, I wasn’t aware of the A’s more recent draft history.Thanks for pointing that out. I took a look, and Oakland has drafted a collegeplayer in the first round with ten of their last twelve picks, since 2002—the lasttwo years being the notable exceptions. In 2013, sixteen of their top twentypicks were college players—fourteen of twenty in 2012, but with five of the topseven picks being high schoolers. Those numbers are pretty close to the Twins,who picked fourteen of twenty college players in 2012, and sixteen of twenty in2013.
    Oakland’s College Draftees by year:
    2011: 19 of 20; 2010; 15 of 20; 2009; 14 of 20; 2008: 16 of20; 2007: 18 of 20; 2006: 15 of 20; 2005: 13 of 20; 2004: 17 of 20; 2003: 20 of20; 2002: 20 of 20.
    It appears that Oakland was more rigorous in their pursuitof college ballplayers in the early 2000’s. But even in 2002, several highschool players were taken in the later rounds.
    Interesting take, Jim. It was fun looking more deeply intothis. Thanks for prompting me to do so. Still, I think the Twins situation, andthe way that the 2014 draft seems to stack up makes it a year for acollege-level pitcher. Thanks for the conversation.
  3. Shane Wahl's Avatar
    I enjoyed this blog post. I agree about drafting a college starting pitcher and will use BCLSPA from now on.
  4. Siehbiscuit's Avatar
    The A's have definitely been picking a lot of college player in the last decade, but so have other organizations. The A's were the first to take this analytical approach to both the field and the draft, but others have followed suit. The A's appear to still favor the odds, but maybe the talent far outweighed the risk the last couple years. The organizations behavior still is strongly in favor of the college guys.
  5. twinsfan34's Avatar
    I have done some preliminary research on this...but since maybe it's already been done.

    So college pitchers are more "successful" as a whole than high school pitchers?

    - By 'successful' - do they mean made it to the pros?
    - What they do when they get there? ERA's under 3.00, WHIP, etc
    - Career numbers?

    Also, does this include only during the Draft ERA? or 1986 on?

    I have done some studies on position players, and it would seem the opposite.

    Are international amateur free agents (ages 16-18) in a separate category than 'high school' kids? Though, most of which are in high school, only in the Dominican, Puerto Rico, Venezeula, etc.
  6. twinsfan34's Avatar
    A quick run through...

    I found it difficult on how to deal with players who were signed out of HS in other countries - since they weren't through the Rule 4 Draft, I kept them separate.

    Breakdown of Pitching Prospects who received at least 1 Cy Young vote in the last 10 years (2003-2012) follows as:

    Type Total Cy Young
    4YR 57 8
    I-FA 6 0
    CC 9 0
    HS 56 8
    I-HS 29 4
    I-FA (HS) 1 0

    I don't see that as really showing one is particularly better than the other.

    Maybe a stat on HS/College picks in the top 10 rounds, top 20 rounds, etc in terms of making it to the majors as well?

    But over the past 10 years, it's 8 CY Young's a piece. If you count International High School players (there are those who went to college as well - mostly in Asian countries) it would definitely say pursue high school athletes.

    All that to say...I'd have no problem if the Twins draft Tyler Kolek next year at #5.
    Updated 10-31-2013 at 01:14 PM by twinsfan34
  7. Jim H's Avatar
    I really don't pay that much attention to what other teams do in the draft. I have no idea who the Twins should/could/might take in the 2014 draft. I do think the breakdown of college kids versus high school kids is interesting. It seems to me that over the years there have been some patterns to how the Twins draft. During the first 3 rounds they seem to employ "the best player available" stragedy. They may draft high school or college players and there doesn't seem to be a particular leaning toward either pitchers or position players.

    After the first 100 players are selected it seems the Twins will still go after the best player available but with a greater focus on college guys, through about round 10. There are guys drafted in this part of the draft every year who turn into very good major league players. This is where the Twins found Kubel, Crain, Valencia and others. Kubel was a high school player but the Twins don't seem to take a lot of high school guys in this area of the draft.

    From about round 10 to about round 20 the focus is still largely on college guys but it seems the Twins focus more on organizational needs. Some years middle infield, maybe catcher some years, or often pitchers though a lot pitchers are taken every year. They might take a shot at a high school player in this range if he has fallen a bit in the draft and the Twins think he might be signable. Some of the new draft money rules may make this tougher.

    The back half in the draft is interesting to me. Often the Twins will draft high school players they don't necessarily expect to sign, but once in a while they will. Like a Brock Peterson or more often some toolsy kid not really interested in college. The rest of the signees can be a mixed bag. Often 4 year college guys from smaller colleges who had nice stats against poorer competition or major college guys who didn't put up great stats but may have some tool that makes them interesting. I think some organizations don't really put much effort into this part of the draft. I think the Twins do, but they still occasionally will draft, oh say the manager's son, or perhaps the nephew of one the coaches who is blind in one eye.

    As far as the 2014 draft goes, I kind of expect that the Twins will draft "the best player available". They might like to get a pitcher at number 5 but I think they will go for another toolsy high school position player if they think he is likely to turn into a superstar and they don't think any of the college pitchers available at that point will. Just a guess.
  8. Don't Feed the Greed Guy's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by twinsfan34
    Type Total Cy Young
    4YR 57 8
    I-FA 6
    CC 9
    HS 56 8
    I-HS 29 4
    I-FA (HS) 1

    I don't see that as really showing one is particularly better than the other.

    Maybe a stat on HS/College picks in the top 10 rounds, top 20 rounds, etc in terms of making it to the majors as well?

    But over the past 10 years, it's 8 CY Young's a piece. If you count International High School players (there are those who went to college as well - mostly in Asian countries) it would definitely say pursue high school athletes.

    All that to say...I'd have no problem if the Twins draft Tyler Kolek next year at #5.
    It would be interesting to see a broader statistical analysis on this, Paul DePodesta's study on Bill James' theory on drafting college players, and subsequent studies since "Moneyball" was published. As for Kolek, you aren't the only one who sees him with the Twins organization. 2014 MLB Mock Draft | 2014 MLB Draft | MLB Draft |

    But, you can't microwave high school pitchers, and the Twins need quality arms now. I think we're headed for a lot of 8-5 and 9-6 losses in 2015 and beyond. The Twins will need pitchers after Mauer retires and Sano, Buxton, and company hit arbitration. Maybe Kolek will be one of them. But that won't likely be until about 2019, give or take a year. Thanks for the discussion.
  9. twinsfan34's Avatar
    I love Joe Mauer. He's 30 and he's going to be 31 starting next season. Catchers who are good receivers can 'hang around' for a number of years. Mauer would be able to DH plenty well. I'm sure he'd hit .300+ every year. I'm not one to say if that's a power number the Twins would want at DH.

    I doubt Mauer would ever like to leave MN. He had a chance to as a High School prospect, but didn't. He had a chance as a pro, but didn't. Yankees would have paid him even more than the generous contract the Twins gave him.

    So I guess my hope is that by the time Mauer is 33 (2016(, the Twins are in the discussion as early season as one of a couple teams to represent the AL in the World Series.

    We'd have to sign 1-2 starting pitchers who are in the mix that year. And the hopefuls of Sano, Buxton, Rosario, Vargas, Harrison, Kepler, Hicks, Arcia, Polanco, Santana, Walker, et al plus a few veteran signings are able to put up 5+ runs a game.

    I did some more queries...going back to 1990 Drafts. It seems that more college players make the pros, but they don't perform as well as the High School players. (Based on WAR)
    It's only preliminary. The likelihood is for college players, you only have to improve a 'small' amount to get a cup of coffee in the pros, whereas a high schooler has much more to do. There's a number of other factors along the way. The other note is that college pitchers are also more often thrown into being a reliever if they don't see them likely to make the pros quickly. And the thought, perhaps, is that 3-4 more years of college didn't develop that 3rd pitch, so bullpen it is as they're inching towards 24-26 years of age before they hit The Show.

    High school athletes, it seems teams are more willing to try to develop that 3rd and/or 4th pitch. So if that goes well for them, they become starters and if that development (professional coaching versus college coaching) goes very well, they also get a greater payback than what seems to be a large amount of college pitchers doing bullpen duty for a various number of seasons. (harder to earn WAR)

    I need to look up that book/study.

    I found Paul DePodesta. He isn't the GM, but since joining the Mets in 2010, they went very 4YR player heavy in 2010, but have deviated greatly in 2011, 2012, and 2013. And in 2013 he drafted (or the Mets) drafted more HS players than college players, including their top 4 picks. He opted for the top high school hitter, Dominic Smith, over the top college hitter ("most polished") in D.J. Peterson. Peterson looks great, btw.

    Thanks for doing this study by the way. Fun stuff to think on.

    This is probably why Terry Ryan isn't 'sold out' on sabermetrics/analytics/etc. Ironically, as much crap as he gets, SABR gave him the Roland Hemond Award, which recognizes the baseball executive who has demonstrated a lifetime commitment to professional baseball scouts and scouting, and player development history.
  10. Jim H's Avatar
    It seems many feel the way this thread is going, the Twins should draft a college pitcher with the no. 5 pick in 2014. I don't feel strongly that way, in part because I think the Twins have a lot of starter type arms in the system right now. Most won't stay as starters, and many will never make the majors, but some have top of the rotation potential. If they stay healthy and develop, they will reach the majors quickly. Pitchers with top of the rotation stuff, get to the majors quickly and they will likely perform at high level pretty quickly as well. They should actually (if they make the majors as starters at all) match up pretty well with when the Twins position player prospects start performing at a high level(if they ever do).

    What I hope happens is this, the sign at least a couple of free agents this winter. I don't mind if they are "make a wish" types, that is guys who are recovering from injuries and are one year contract guys. As far as the draft goes, just find the best players available, some will be pitchers in the early rounds. If any turn out to have top of the rotation potential, they will get to the majors soon enough. When the Twins position player prospects start getting good at the major league level, there should be some starting pitching prospects getting good as well. Who knows how all this will actually work out, but I am not too excited about overpaying guys like Hughes(who was a great deal worse than Corriea this year) or not drafting the highest ceiling prospect in the first round in order get a college pitcher who might contribute sooner.
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