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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. scottz's Avatar
      scottz -
      All I know is, other than a very few of the names mentioned (eg., Dan Reichert, Sean Lowe), just about anybody on that list could have stepped onto this roster and make an improvement to our rotation. Even if we ended up with a Charles Nagy or Rick Helling as a starter in 2 years, it would be an improvement over what we see here currently. If 78% of college pitchers taken in the top 25 picks over the last 31 years have made the bigs [(222-49)/222], and presumably made it fairly quickly, then that sounds like a pretty solid risk to me.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      btw, I meant to, once again, thank Seth for his time and effort. Your contribution to the Twins' community is amazing.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      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.
      It's all we can do. I'm not even going to pretend to know how to rank Buxton vs Zunino, much less Appel vs Zimmer vs Gausman. My point would be that whoever the Twins have at the top of their list when it's their turn to pick, that's who they should pick.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      btw, I meant to, once again, thank Seth for his time and effort. Your contribution to the Twins' community is amazing.
      I appreciate that! Thank you!
    1. twinsfanstreif's Avatar
      twinsfanstreif -
      Quote Originally Posted by scottz View Post
      All I know is, other than a very few of the names mentioned (eg., Dan Reichert, Sean Lowe), just about anybody on that list could have stepped onto this roster and make an improvement to our rotation. Even if we ended up with a Charles Nagy or Rick Helling as a starter in 2 years, it would be an improvement over what we see here currently. If 78% of college pitchers taken in the top 25 picks over the last 31 years have made the bigs [(222-49)/222], and presumably made it fairly quickly, then that sounds like a pretty solid risk to me.
      You have to take into account that guys like Adam Johnson technically made it to the majors. It's about the amount of guys that were affective. 50 of the 222 had a career WAR of 10 or more(keep in mind that Jason Marqis has a Career WAR of 12) that makes 22% were affective. Keep in mind that many people would be very upset if our #2 pick turned out to be like Jason Marquis. So really the 25 that had a WAR over 20 have been very good to elite and that's only 11% of college pitchers taken in the first round. Those numbers look much less promising.
    1. shs_59's Avatar
      shs_59 -
      GREAT ARTICLE SETH!!!

      I'm all about the Twins taking Pitchers (mainly college arms) in picks 32-72 Right now.

      With pick #2 overall in my mind, there should be no doubt on Byron Buxton, and if he's gone, then Either Zunino or Maybe Albert Almora, Devin Marrero, Lucas Gioloto, Carlos Correa.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Just read an insider article espousing Almora over Buxton, making Buxton not a no-brainer...
    1. twinsfanstreif's Avatar
      twinsfanstreif -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Just read an insider article espousing Almora over Buxton, making Buxton not a no-brainer...
      Also on a draft chat done by perfectgame.com a scout was writing about how he is much higher on Correa than Buxton, he said Buxton is not a "5 tool" guy like everyone is saying but more like a 3 tool.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsfanstreif View Post
      You have to take into account that guys like Adam Johnson technically made it to the majors. It's about the amount of guys that were affective. 50 of the 222 had a career WAR of 10 or more(keep in mind that Jason Marqis has a Career WAR of 12) that makes 22% were affective. Keep in mind that many people would be very upset if our #2 pick turned out to be like Jason Marquis. So really the 25 that had a WAR over 20 have been very good to elite and that's only 11% of college pitchers taken in the first round. Those numbers look much less promising.
      Exactly this!! That was my point. The percent is likely a little better for a #2 pick, but even there, not a given.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by shs_59 View Post
      I'm all about the Twins taking Pitchers (mainly college arms) in picks 32-72 Right now.
      I'm in favor of this too. However, if we think it will result in a true ace pitcher, the 2011 Cy Young voting stacks the odds against. I took a quick look at the top 4 or 5 Cy vote getters (much below that and the ranking is skewed by individual voters), and typically these pitchers are taken midway through the first round, like pick 17 (Hamels and Halladay both, as it happens). Verlander is an outlier up at #2. A couple of guys like Lee and Shields went in later rounds and presumably could have been picked in the range you're talking about.

      So to address to your point, in Halladay's year, there was Washburn available for the #31 pick, then Tomko, Dempster and Arroyo further down, sprinkled among the wreckage of washed-out picks 32-72. In Hamels's year, there was Jon Lester at #57, Broxton and Crain soon after. If you had ALL the picks 32-72, you'd scoop up some good ones; with a few picks, you're fighting less than 50/50 odds, unless your scouts happen to be godly.

      Though, even #2 is still a crapshoot. The year Hamels went #17, the Rays got Upton at #2, so they can't second guess themselves too much. But when Halladay went #17, the Padres took catcher Ben Davis at #2 - hardly a bust but not what they probably were hoping for.

      Again, I hope someone with teh mad database skillz has figured out a better methodology than my cherry-picker approach.
    1. twinsfanstreif's Avatar
      twinsfanstreif -
      If anyone wants to do their own research you can go here and do your own math. I did SS(hs and college), out of 214 drafted in the first round 40 had a WAR over 10, that's 18%, granted 10 of those were in the top 5 for a 30% rate. A little worse than college pitchers but I wonder what pitchers would be if you calculated in HS players.
    1. twinsfanstreif's Avatar
      twinsfanstreif -
      On my calculations pitchers have a 26% rate in the first 5 picks. Worse than SS and not much better than pitching over all
    1. minn55441's Avatar
      minn55441 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      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.
      Mike, The differance was that after the 2011 season Ryan was named GM midstream. Billy was still running the show up until after the organizational meetings. Also we had all of these starting pitchers under contract. In my mind his hands were tied. He couldn't trade them. I don't think he was prepared to eat the salary when they had a chance to preform at a higher level.

      When this season ends, Ryan will have a clean slate, with only Blackburn under contract. How he fills out our starting rotation will determine our course over the next several seasons. If he tries to fill all of the starting pitcher spots through the draft we are in for 5 or 6 years of losing baseball. If he can sign one of two quality starters as FA's and then work out a trade or two to fill the remaining spots we could quickly return to a competitive team again. We need to take pitchers in the draft, I just feel the odds are pretty low that we can pick up a pitcher that will make an impact within a year or two.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      minn55441, fair enough. I'm certainly not going to say Ryan is a failure on his return after 1 year, any more than I REALLY wanted to after Smith's first year.

      And, agreed, if they try to only fix this problem through the draft, there won't be 20K fans in the stands in 2013, 14...
    1. Loosey's Avatar
      Loosey -
      For comparisons sake and to see where the Twins could also find talent. I would like to see an analysis of where the some of the top aces in baseball today and some in the recent past were drafted. For example Johan Santana was discovered and signed out of Venezuela and eventually drafted by the Twins in the Rule 5 draft. I would like to see other examples such as this.
    1. scottz's Avatar
      scottz -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsfanstreif View Post
      You have to take into account that guys like Adam Johnson technically made it to the majors. It's about the amount of guys that were affective. 50 of the 222 had a career WAR of 10 or more(keep in mind that Jason Marqis has a Career WAR of 12) that makes 22% were affective. Keep in mind that many people would be very upset if our #2 pick turned out to be like Jason Marquis. So really the 25 that had a WAR over 20 have been very good to elite and that's only 11% of college pitchers taken in the first round. Those numbers look much less promising.
      Yeah, I hear what you're saying. However, I think the Twins pitching is in such rough shape right now, that they are going to have to be aggressive with their selections. If there's an obvious best player on the board, yes, I agree, go ahead and take that guy. But if it is a toss-up between a power arm who might join the MLB team in 2 years and a position player who might join the team in 4-5 years, I think you have to go with the arm. If we're being honest with ourselves, there are very few "sure things" in baseball anyway, and so the numbers we're talking about (11% elite in the first round) is probably within the error bars of a "good draft" anyway. Why not take a shot? If not, the reality is that we're punting on making a run in the Joe Mauer era, unless they are crazy aggressive in free agency with pitchers. I expect them to pick up 1 FA starter, and I hope they pick up 2, but I don't think they will. And if you aren't going to do that, you need a starter to come from somewhere.

      Thoughts?
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      A pitcher taken this high always could be a bust. Someone mentioned we would not be happy if he turned out to be Jason Marquis, another mentioned Adam Johnson. Any of these pitchers could bust out, but these guys are all fireballers. This year and last have seen a large increase in velocity in the top pitchers in the draft. There normally aren't this many guys who regularly hit 95-97, Jason Marquis never had that kind of heat, nor does Wimmers, Gibson, or likely Adam Johnson. I think the bust rate with most of these pitchers is being widely overblown. Even if they do bust, a high velocity starter who can't cut it, usually turns into an even harder throwing bullpen arm.

      Either way, I don't see how Zunino or Buxton are any safer. One plays a position that limits offensive production and he has a high strikeout rate for a top of the draft college player. The other is playing very weak compition. Does Buxton remind no one of Donavan Tate? I haven't heard anyone compare the two despite the fact that they are both 5 tool, 6' 2", 200 lb rural Georgia, top 5 pick and best OF in their drafts? Tate went #3 3 years ago and is looking like a huge disappointment.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Latest ESPN insider states that Appel is moving back up the draft boards again....and is looking like he has a shot to be the first pick again. I bet Buxton drops, given the competition level, just my current guess, in April...
    1. CDog's Avatar
      CDog -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      I think the bust rate with most of these pitchers is being widely overblown. Even if they do bust, a high velocity starter who can't cut it, usually turns into an even harder throwing bullpen arm.
      I'm pretty sure the original post went into pretty much every detail of the calculations done, so I'm not sure exactly what could be being "overblown." If I count the men and women in a room and report the ratio is 7:5, is that overblowing the results?

      And pitchers can also accumulate value as a reliever, so I would think that's cooked into the analysis that was done, too.

      Perhaps a different way of looking at things would put a different set of shadows on it, but then someone could always do that if they wanted...
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      If you remove the obvious outliers like Clemons and Mussina, you can see the correlation between draft positon and value. Another factor you might want to control for is "signing bonus" because historically in the MLB draft some of the higher end prospects were pushed down the draft list because of signability.

      For the Twins, it is obvious at #2 that they should take the best college pitcher.
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