A couple weeks ago, the illustrious Twins blogger Seth Stohs delved into the success rates of college pitchers taken in the draft. Combine the awful state of Twins pitching and the fact that they hold the second overall pick this June, and many may say it’s obvious that the Twins should draft one of the many talented college arms out there, like Kyle Zimmer or Mark Appel. But Stohs found that drafting a college pitcher is by no means a guaranteed way to add a superstar to the team. Using data from 1985 through 2010, Stohs calculated just a 10% to end up with a 20+ WAR player.
The success rate seemed depressing, but it got me wondering: how do those number compare to other players, like college hitters, high school hitters, and high school pitchers? Selecting a college pitcher may be risky, but is it any riskier than taking a different type of player? To answer these questions, I conducted my own research, using data from Baseball Reference as a guide.
My data set consisted of all first round selections (not counting supplemental round picks) from 1995 through 2008. I chose 1995 as a starting point because that was the year after the big strike, and thus a sort of beginning point for modern baseball. I ended in 2008 because that is the last year in which most of the first round draft picks have appeared in the Major Leagues (the Twins’ Aaron Hicks notwithstanding). The data are current as of May 1, 2012, which was the day I compiled all of this information. Players who did not sign and later re-entered the draft (such as J.D. Drew and Aaron Crow) were only counted the second time they were drafted.
Let’s start with the most basic measure of a succesful draft pick. We can’t have the same expectations for every player, but we can probably agree that a pick is a failure if the player never makes it to the Major Leagues. Here are the rates of success for each type of player drafted:
|Big League Success Rate||Number Drafted||Number to reach||Percent to Reach|
If you judge only by the percentage of players who reach the Big Leagues, it seems a college hitter is the way to go. The worst type of player to pick is a high school pitcher; those players have about even odds of never making it to the Show at all.
Another variable to consider is the amount of time it takes a player to make it to the Majors. A team like the Twins is in need of help ASAP. They will not want to wait four or five seasons for their top pick to help.
|Years needed to get to Majors||0||1||2||3||4||5||6+||Did Not Make it (yet)|
This chart shows that the largest number of college hitters and pitchers can expect to make it to the Majors in the second season after they are drafted (for example, a player drafted in 2006 might have debuted in 2008). If they don’t make it by year four, they are probably not going to make it at all. High school players are more variable. The largest number is in the Big Leagues by the fourth season after the draft, but some take six seasons or more to make it (think about Trevor Plouffe, who was drafted out of high school in 2004 and did not play in MLB at all before 2010). Thus, if you want a player to make a quick impact, a college hitter is again the best route to go. It makes sense that college players make it to the Majors about two years quicker than high school players, since college guys have essentially received two to three extra years of minor league experience at the expense of their schools.
But just making it to the Major Leagues is not enough. After all, Adam Johnson was the number two overall pick for the Twins back in 2000, and after he made it to MLB he contributed just 26 (awful) innings. How many of these draftees actually become succesful?
|All Stars and High WAR players||Number of All Stars||Percent||Number of 20+ WAR players||Percent|
Again, college hitters lead the pack. If you want a player who is eventually going to become an All Star or a guy who will bring a lot of Wins Above Replacement over time, pick a college hitter. One in every five college hitters drafted in the first round gets selected to an All Star team at some point in his career. Interestingly, though, high school pitchers make up some ground here. They take a long time to get to the Majors, if they make it at all, but the ones that do have a good chance of becoming stars. If you draft a high school pitcher, there’s about a one in six chance he’ll be an All Star.
One more note on succesful players. I won’t include a table here, since the numbers are so low, but if you count players winning a Cy Young and/or MVP award, high school pitchers again take the prize. Roy Halladay, Zach Greinke, CC Sabathia, and Clayton Kershaw all won the Cy, compared to three college pitchers: Justin Verlander, Tim Lincecum, and Barry Zito. Two high school hitters have won an MVP (Joe Mauer and Josh Hamilton). Despite all the success that first round college hitters have had in every other aspect of this study, only one of them – Ryan Braun – has won an MVP.
Drafting a baseball player is like betting on a horse. Even if you do your research and make an intelligent choice, there is still a very good chance that you’ll end up with a loser. Most picks, even high ones, do not go on to grace the covers of sports magazines and video games.
That said, the safest pick in the first round is a college hitter. If you draft a college hitter in the first round, that player will almost certainly reach the Big Leagues, and he’ll probably do it relatively quickly. Once he does, there’s a good chance that he will become a strong contributor to the team. The next safest choice is a college pitcher, though the flame-out rate for these players is a lot higher than their offensively-gifted counterparts.
College players in general are much safer bets than high school players, probably because they’ve had two or three extra years of vetting. High school pitchers, who are still young and untested, are the worst overall. But if a team is willing to invest a lot of time (and money) to coach the right high school pitcher along, there is a small chance they might end up with a superstar.
Time would seem to be a luxury the Twins do not have. Back when they were drafting at the end of the first round, they might have done well to nab a few high school pitchers and turn them into projects. But now there is a sense of urgency as the team faces a second consecutive awful season. If Minnesota wants to avoid a 90’s style descent into irrelevance, they need to start rebuilding this team immediately. Given the fact that the current hitters and pitchers are both terrible, they probably cannot go wrong taking either one. But a college player would probably provide a more immediate boost to team morale and performance.