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  • 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. Jeremy Nygaard's Avatar
      Jeremy Nygaard -
      The newest ESPN Insider draft article suggests that Appel is back in the #1 conversation. Expect this to change a few dozen more times before the draft.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by jnygaard View Post
      The newest ESPN Insider draft article suggests that Appel is back in the #1 conversation. Expect this to change a few dozen more times before the draft.
      That's why it's best for us not to pay too much attention... It's easy for me to say "I'd lean toward Zimmer." But I don't know. Ha!
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