Odds Are Against Strasburg….

The 2009 MLB Draft is just 2 and a half months away and the Washington Nationals are on the clock. By all accounts the Nationals will take San Diego State RHP Stephen Strasburg with the first pick. Strasburghas been called by Keith Law and others as the best pitching prospect in the last 10 years and could pitch in the majors today. As Rob Neyer so effectively pointed out, we have heard this before. We heard this about Mark Prior, we heard this about Ben McDonald andwe heard this withDavid Clyde. Trying to figure out if a 18 or 20 year old kid who faces batters not on his level 99% of the time can get out major league batters is the greatest inexact science in sports. That, coupled with the fact that a pitcher’s arm is the most fragile body part in all of sports makes trying to scout an NFL QB look easy. I don’t want to come across as I am wishing bad things on Strasburg, I am not. I hope he does well because young, star pitchers are good for the game. However, as you will see, the odds are not in Strasburg’s favor.

First, let’s look at all the pitchers who were taken with the #1 overall pick in the draft since 1965 and their stats. Please note that I have not counted the stats for David Price (#1 pick in 07) and Luke Hochevar (#1 pick in 06) because it is too early to give them a complete evaluation.

2007 – David Price

2006- Luke Hochevar

2002- Bryan Bullington, 9 G 0-5 5.45 era

1997 - Matt Anderson, 257 G 15-7 51.9 era 26 saves

1996 – Kris Benson, 196 G 68-74 4.37 era

1994 - Paul Wilson, 170 G 40-58 4.86 era

1991 - Brien Taylor, Never Pitched in Majors

1989 – Ben McDonald, 211 G 78-70 3.91 era

1988- Andy Benes, 403 G 155-139 3.97 era 1 save

1983- Tim Belcher, 394 G 146-140 4.16 era 5 saves

1981 – Mike Moore, 450 G 161-176 4.39 era 2 saves

1976 – Floyd Bannister, 431 G 134-143 4.06 era

1973 – David Clyde, 84 G 18-33 4.63 era

All of the above 11 pitchers were can’t miss pitching prospects who were worthy of the #1 pick (Well, maybe not Bryan Bullington but that is for a whole other post). And for all of their talents all these pitchers could do is combine for an average era of 4.63, a lifetime average record of 74-85 and appear in a total of 3 All Star games. The best pitcher on this list was probably Andy Benes. Benes was a solid #2 for most of his career and finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting in 96. If you are a Nationals fan are you happy with an Andy Benes?

Stephen Strasburg

Stephen Strasburg

Ok, you might be saying that some of these pitchers were taken 1st because of maybe the best talent in the draft was not signable or they were the #1 pick because it was a weak draft. That’s fine and I agree that might be a factor. So let’s expand shall we? Let’s take a look at all the pitchers taken in the top 5 from 1995-2005. I think 10 years is a fair sample size.

1995

#4 Kerry Wood, 77-61 3.65 era 34 saves

#5 Ariel Prieto, 15-24 4.85 era

1996

#1 Kris Benson, 68-74 4.37 era

#3 Braden Looper, 58-58 3.92 era 103 saves

#4 Billy Koch, 29-25 3.89 era 163 saves

#5 John Patterson, 18-25 4.32 era 1 saves

1997

#1 Matt Anderson, 15-7 51.9 era 26 saves

#4 Jason Grilli, 16-16 4.64 era 15 saves

1998

#2 Mark Mulder, 103-60 4.18 era

#4 Jeff Austin, 2-3 6.75 era

1999

#2 Josh Beckett, 90-63 3.77 era

2000

#2 Adam Johnson, 1-3 10.25 era

#4 Mike Stodolka, Never Pitched in Majors

#5 Justin Wayne, 5-8 6.13 era

2001

#2 Mark Prior, 42-29 3.51 era

#3 Dewon Brazelton, 8-25 6.38 era

#4 Gavin Floyd, 26-19 5.01 era

2002

#1 Bryan Bullington, 0-5 5.45 era

#3 Chris Gruler, Never Pitched in Majors

#4 Adam Loewen, 8-8 5.38 era

#5 Clint Everts, Never Pitched in Majors

2003

#3 Kyle Sleeth, Never Pitched in Majors

#4 Tim Stauffer, 4-7 6.37

2004

#2 Justin Verlander, 46-35 4.18 era

#3 Phil Humber, 0-0 5.79 era

#4 Jeff Niemann, 2-3 6.33 era

#5 Mark Rogers, Never Pitched in Majors

2005

No Pitchers Taken In Top 5

The outlook for Strasburg looks a little brighter. I think every Nationals fan or any fan would take a Josh Beckett type on their staff right now. However, out of those 27 pitchers only 1 in my mind turned out to be worthy of their #5 pick status. That would be Beckett. Mulder was on his way to being a great one but arm injuries derailed his career, the jury is still out on Verlander and sorry Cubs fans, Wood’s 7.7 wins a year over 10 years really is not that impressive. If you are a Nationals fan would you be happy with just getting 6 years out of Strasburg but was a Mulder like 97-50 in those first 6 years? Or do you believe “the best pitching prospect ever” should give you more than 6 years? Interesting debate.

I always believed that a team should draft the best position player available andthen find pitchers later in the draft because position players are usually easier to predict that pitchers. At least if I am drafting a position player #1, I can reference Alex Rodriguez (#1 in 93), Joe Mauer (#1 in 01), Ken Griffey Jr (#1 in 87) and Chipper Jones (#1 in 90). All of which are superstars. Plus, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that you can find top pitching in later rounds. Let’s take a look at some of the top pitchers from the last 20 years and see where they were drafted….

1. John Smoltz – 22nd Round

2. Tom Glavine – 2nd Round

3. Greg Maddux – 2nd Round

4. Randy Johnson – 2nd Round

5. Roy Halladay – 1st Round #17 overall

6. Andy Pettitte – Amatuer Free Agent

7. David Cone – 3rd Round

8. Curt Schilling – 2nd Round

9. Johan Santana – Amateur Free Agent

10. Mariano Rivera – Amateur Free Agent

11. Mike Mussina- 1st Round #20 overall

12. Pedro Martinez – Amateur Free Agent

13. Roy Oswalt- 23rd Round

14. Jake Peavy – 15th Round

15. Jaime Moyer – 6th Round

16. Orel Hershiser – 17th Round

17. Tim Hudson – 6th Round

18. Dwight Gooden- 1st Round #5 overall

19. Roger Clemens – 1st Round #19 overall

20. Dennis Eckersley – 3rd Round

So as you can see, this is a pretty talented group and only Gooden was picked within the top 5. Again, I hope Strasburg does well, but the odds of him being a great major league pitcher are certainly not in his favor.

On a side note, as I was doing the research for this post I realized that the Royals might be one of the worst drafting franchises ever. Take a look at their 1st round picks fom 1992-2001. Just brutal

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5 Responses to “Odds Are Against Strasburg….”

  1. Real Baseball Intelligence Says:

    Real Baseball Intelligence (RBI), a leading resource in the evaluation of amateur baseball talent and draft coverage, has ranked Stephen Strasburg the #3 prospect in the 2009 MLB Draft. View his free scouting report (with video) at withthefirstpick.net/stephen-strasburg

  2. theraysparty Says:

    Very good post. I think many of those pitchers drafted so high was because they didn’t have that extra quality that those top 20 pitchers had. It must be a lot of pressure on those top pitchers considering how high their signing bonuses are. Pitching is more mental than physical (granted you need to throw at least the upper 80s to get considered by a MLB organization) and this needs to be taken into consideration by scouts and organizations.

    But it is more luck than anything else, with injuries as it is and teams with limited roster spaces.

  3. Just to clarify Says:

    Andy Pettitte was a DFE. He was drafted by the Yankees out of high school, played JuCo ball to keep his eligibility in tact and then signed with the Yankees–the only team that could sign him outright due to owning his draft rights–just before the next year’s draft. Technically, he is the same as Adam Loewen or Andy LaRoche.

    • Adam Bernacchio Says:

      You are correct. I realized this after I posted the article. I was using Baseball-Reference.com’s draft profile for Pettitte and they said he was signed as an Amateur Free Agent.

  4. Alec Says:

    “If you are a Nationals fan would you be happy with just getting 6 years out of Strasburg but was a Mulder like 97-50 in those first 6 years? Or do you believe “the best pitching prospect ever” should give you more than 6 years? Interesting debate.”

    For draft analysis, though, I think one has to focus in on those first 6 years. One of the keys to success for most teams is getting great production from cost-controlled players. That’s the real power of the draft: getting new talent on the cheap. How a player performs in year 7 and beyond is relevant, but definitely of secondary concern as a) your team may not be able to retain the player and b) if you do sign him to an extension, you will be doing so either at, or close to, a market rate. Certainly there are some negotiating benefits that come from holding a player’s contract for his first 6 seasons, but you’re still likely to have to shell out a market rate to keep them past their arbitration years. It may still be a good idea to resign the player, but at that point, you’re not that far from just signing a someone else’s free agent.

    So in the case of Mulder, I’d say he was extremely valuable to the A’s. He was a near-elite pitcher for most of his time in Oakland, didn’t cost much money, and then Beane had the good sense to trade him for a cost-controlled Dan Haren (who has since been turned into more cheap assets). Of course, for Strasburg to even match Mulder’s value would be difficult, given how much more money he is likely to be paid up front.

    I do agree with the overall point, though, that pitchers are a big gamble at the top of a draft. Or they are, at least, a bigger gamble since the early picks of the draft are also littered with Ryan Harveys.

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