Home > Uncategorized > The importance of being lucky

The importance of being lucky

There has been much speculation over draft picks and their values in the past. More recently, there have been more quantitative studies on this issue with actual stats being used to compute the values of draft picks- of course, if you don’t put your stock in stats like Wins Above Replacement (WAR), you might not agree with or believe the results entirely. See here for a recent such study by the Baseball Analysts; other studies including those at Beyond The Boxscore and The Hardball Times have found that picks 1-20 tend to be the most valuable in a draft, and that high school pitchers are not a good early investment and that college hitters tend to do better than pitchers.

No one, of course, is suggesting that later draft picks won’t have success- we all know Albert Pujols was drafted in the 13th round, and Tommy Hanson in the 22nd round. However, the further into the draft you go, the harder it becomes to find quality players who will make an impact in the big leagues. That theory should be acceptable to all readers, as should be the value of the 1st round draft pick. In this post, however, I want to take a quick, qualitative look at a small part of the draft. To begin, let’s ask the following question:

Q: What is common to Jason Taylor, David Christensen, Michael Felix, Chris Tillman, Jeff Locke, Brett Anderson and Justin Masterson?

A: They were all 2nd round picks in the 2006 amateur draft.

So, after the first round, the second round should be where you would expect most talent, since most of these would have been on the edge of being a first round pick, perhaps dropping due to other concerns, or just simply being liked less than the first 40 or so picks. With the drafting of Dave Littlefield and Ed Creech for a few years in the 2000s, it is no secret that the farm suffered greatly. We all know of the bad first round picks in Bryan Bullington, Johnny Benschoten and Daniel Moskos. However, what did we do in the 2nd round? Note here that the 1999, 2000 and 2001 drafts were with Cam Bonifay as GM, while the ones from 2002 till 2007 were Dave Littlefield picks, and 2008 had Neal Huntington in charge. I won’t look at 2009 now, because it’s too early to say anything at all.

Here are the picks in order from 1999-2008: Ryan Doumit, David Beigh, Blair Johnson, Tom Gorzelanny, Brian Bixler, William Corley, Michael Felix, Duke Welker and Tanner Scheppers. The 2001 pick went to the Braves for Terry Mulholland. Tanner Scheppers went unsigned in 2008, which might turn out to be a bad miss on the Pirates’ part, but given Scheppers injury and contract demands, it’s not terribly hard to understand.

The best pick right now appears to be Ryan Doumit in 1999, although it would have looked like Tom Gorzelanny if you’d asked the question in 2007. Unfortunately, Doumit has trouble staying healthy, and was passed over for Ronny Paulino by the Littlefield FO, till 2008, when he first received extended playing time thanks to Littlefield’s dismissal. None of the other picks produced much, except Bixler who knocked on the door of the big leagues for a while, but never managed to force his way in, and was recently traded to the Indians for minor league prospect Jesus Brito. Johnson and Beigh disappeared, Corley is in AA, but not a prospect anymore, and neither Duke Welker nor Mike Felix appear on any prospect lists. So that’s it, 10 years- and only Doumit and Gorzelanny with any big league presence.

Gorzelanny had a phenomenal 2007, and since then, has seen his star plummet. He will be a candidate for a rotation spot with the Cubs in 2010, and might make it back. Jim Tracy’s overuse of Gorzelanny might well be a reason his arm fell off the way it did in 2008, and it remains to be seen if he can bring it all the way back. Still, it remains to be seen if he can control the strike zone better.Ryan Doumit will be the Pirates opening day catcher in 2010, and trade bait through the rest of the season, and it’s fair to say injuries have stopped him from being the best he could be.

But how have other teams done in Round 2? Here are the picks from the Oakland Athletics- Ryan Ludwick, Freddy Bynum, Neal Cotts, Steve Stanley, Andre Ethier, Kurt Suzuki, Michael Rogers, Jared Lansford, Thomas Italiano, Trevor Cahill, Josh Horton, Grant Desme, Tyson Ross. Trevor Cahill was Oakland’s top prospect in 2008 and spent all 2009 in the starting rotation. Tyson Ross is in the Oakland A’s top 10 prospects for 2010, as was Desme before he quit unexpectedly. Kurt Suzuki and Andre Ethier need no introduction, Ryan Ludwick has been a solid producer with the Cardinals. Cotts hasn’t been anything special but he’s made the big leagues and been average. They might have struck out with Italiano, Lansford and Horton, but that’s acceptable, and at least Italiano and Horton still have a shot, however unlikely.

The Astros found Hunter Pence, Mitch Talbot and Jason Hirsh in Round 2, and Tanner Bushue and Jay Austin are in their top 10 prospects. The Marlins found Robert Andino, Logan Kensing, Jason Vargas in their 2nd round pick lists, as well as top prospect Mike Stanton and top 20 prospect Brad Hand. The RedSox drafted Justin Masterson, Kelly Shoppach, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Manny Delcarmen, and have Derrik Gibson as a top prospect. Thanks to Baseball-Reference for their tools that help get the picks from each year for easy reference.

Make no mistake though- plenty of teams have struck out like the Pirates- the Giants will, if Schierholtz or Fred Lewis don’t turn out to be able to contribute, the Tigers, Cubs and Mariners also don’t appear to be faring better.

The Baseball Analysts found that the quality of draft picks degrades exponentially with the pick number. However, for low-payroll teams to do well, staying above that curve will be essential. Brooks Pounders, taken in the 2nd round in 2009, might be the first step in that second round roulette that the Pirates will play. He rates as the 20th prospect on Sickels’ list, and I like his projectability. It’s too early to say anything about him, given he’s a high school pitcher starting out. He doesn’t have velocity to match his size, but he might well add some velocity as he grows. He has the potential to be a solid middle of the rotation pitcher. Here’s hoping the Pirates will get lucky in this game moving forward. The key ingredient, of course, will be scouting, and there’s little doubt that it will be better than what we had in the last 5 years before Huntington took over. That is done pretty easily. Then, they have to get lucky- as someone said, though, it often turns out that the harder you work, the luckier you get!

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