A Tangent Born from Bullpen Thoughts

The 4th and final component of the Five Questions from Travis miniseries dealt with the questions surrounding the Twins bullpen. As I was thinking about that topic – and wondering whether or not Pat Neshek can stay healthy and recapture his 2006-2007 form – my mind started to wander.

So many have assumed the Twins bullpen will be a weakness because of the turnover, but well-run organizations always seem to have a way of reinventing their pen from year to year without skipping much of a beat. Pitchers can come from any number of places to turn in a quality season of relief. Some teams draft and promote home-grown options. On the other end of the spectrum we have teams that dip into the free agent market to augment their bullpen. Others look for reclamation projects. Others still rely on cast-off starters under the assumption that they will be more effective if they don’t have to pace themselves, throw as many pitches per outing, and rely on only their best 2 pitches. Naturally most organizations rely on all of these methods to fill out their bullpen from year to year. The results always vary, but one thing is for certain, there is no right way to build a pen.

That’s when Philip Humber entered my internal thought process. In 2008 he gave the Minnesota Twins 11.2 innings of near league average relief and gave the Royals 21.2 innings of ever-so-slightly above average relief pitching in 2010. His brief major league experiences in 2007 with the Mets and 2009 with the Twins – a grand total of 16.0 innings – were both disasters. But this isn’t really about Humber, not completely anyway.

Philip Humber’s brief time with the Twins was already stuck in my head when another name popped up. Enter Matt Anderson, who like Humber was a 1st round pick at the top of the draft. Anderson was the 1st overall pick of the Detroit Tigers in 1997 while our pal Philip was selected 3rd overall by the New York Mets in 2004.

While it’s a bit of an understatement to say that both pitchers have failed to live up to their respective draft day expectations, both pitchers are still pursuing their dreams of finding major league success. This spring, Humber is in camp with the White Sox and Matt Anderson has resurfaced in Phillies camp. When it comes to assembling a bullpen, they represent the “reclamation project” and “cast-off” starter labels quite nicely.

Let’s recap some of the things they have in common:

  • Both were picked at the top of their draft classes
  • Both have dealt with injuries in their careers
  • Both have struggled to stick in the majors let alone find any consistency or success
  • Both have passed through several organizations – for Anderson the Phillies will be #5 and for Humber the White Sox are #4.
  • Both are 6’4″ and both throw right-handed.

Those things are all nice, but my wandering mind settled on one other commonality that they share. Both Matt Anderson and Philip Humber pitched for Rice University. Given their struggles and lack of success, I started to wonder if their cases were representative of other pitchers to be drafted out of Rice or if they were the exceptions. Thankfully with the existence of Baseball Reference, I was able to quickly and easily do some research along these lines.

153 players have been drafted out of Rice since 1966. Of those 153, just 23 have reached the majors but in fairness, 37 of those players are from the 2007-2010 draft classes and many of those still have a chance to break through. Of course, for this tangent, my concern is for the players who were drafted to pitch.

Of those 153, 58 were RHP and 22 were LHP. John Polasek – the 38th round pick of the Montreal Expos in 1990 – was listed as just “P” in the search results but upon further investigation, he was a lefty so that makes 23.

That makes 81 times a player was drafted out of Rice University to pitch. Of course that doesn’t mean we’re talking about 81 individual players since some of them were drafted more than once. Taking out the duplicates leaves us with 63 players (44 RHP and 19 LHP) and just 14 of those have reached the majors to date.

Here is the list sorted by innings pitched (year listed is the year they were drafted):

1984 1s LHP-Norm Charlton 8.1 605 3.71 1.34 899.1 112 13
2004 1 RHP-Jeff Niemann 3.2 66 4.20 1.32 371.0 99 3
1994 5 LHP-Tim Byrdak 0.5 343 4.35 1.56 266.2 100 9
2003 1 RHP-David Aardsma 2.4 254 4.20 1.43 265.2 106 6
1997 1 RHP-Matt Anderson -1.4 257 5.19 1.58 256.2 89 7
2005 3 RHP-Josh Geer -1 24 5.28 1.37 129.2 72 2
1979 5 RHP-Allan Ramirez 1.1 11 3.47 1.33 57.0 116 1
2004 1 RHP-Philip Humber 0 26 5.26 1.62 51.1 83 5
1980 4 RHP-Matt Williams 0.1 10 5.29 1.47 34.0 82 2
1999 6 LHP-Mario Ramos 0.1 3 6.23 1.85 13.0 83 1
1997 6 RHP-Kevin Joseph -0.2 11 4.91 2.00 11.0 84 1
2000 7 RHP-Marcus Gwyn -0.2 3 11.81 2.63 5.1 41 1
2001 4 LHP-Philip Barzilla 0 1 0.00 3.00 0.1 N/A 1

That’s not exactly an impressive group is it?

Underwhelming seems like an appropriate word to sum it up and those were the 14 pitchers that have made it. Niemann and Aardsma appear to have their careers on the right path and have a lot of baseball ahead of them so this list may look a little better five years from now, but of the guys still toiling in the minors there doesn’t appear to be a lot of hope on the horizon.

Is there a point to all of this?

Well I suppose if I ever wind up in the front office of a major league organization, I’d be leery of drafting a pitcher out of Rice University. Then again, you can probably come to the same conclusion looking at pitchers drafted out of pretty much any college or university.

Tags: Matt Anderson Pat Neshek Philip Humber Rice University