On Tuesday afternoon I was sitting at my desk thinking about what I was going to write about for Redleg Nation this week. A few ideas had been kicking around, but then I saw this tweet roll through my timeline:

For those of you who don’t live in the Cincinnati area, Richard Skinner works for the local CBS station covering sports. The headline, at least from twitter, rubbed me the wrong way for multiple reasons. The question posed is why the Reds pitching staff is in such poor state, then implies it’s because of how they’ve drafted from 2007-2012. My response to why the pitching staff is so poor right now is because they have a legitimate 1-5 worth of big league starters on the disabled list right now with Homer Bailey, Brandon Finnegan, Anthony DeSclafani, Sal Romano and Jon Moscot all out with various injuries. Say what you will about those five pitchers, but if they were all healthy, that’s not close to the worst rotation in baseball right now. That alone is the reason that the Reds pitching is in such poor shape right now.

But, then the second part of it is the belief that the team drafted “badly” from 2007-2012. Now, Skinner is basing this off of the pitching, and not overall. But, you have to field pitchers and position players, so you can’t just ignore that you need guys who can swing the bat and play defense in the draft. And from 2007-2012, the Cincinnati Reds drafted four All-Stars (Devin Mesoraco, Todd Frazier, Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger). They also drafted Zack Cozart, Billy Hamilton, Yonder Alonso and Mike Leake. In 2011 they drafted pitchers Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett and Sal Romano. Their first round pick in 2012 just turned 23-years-old. It’s a big stretch to say that the Reds have drafted poorly in that stretch. The inclusion of the 2011 and 2012 drafts seems strange given that we are basically saying that the Reds did a bad job in drafting Amir Garrett, a 24-year-old Robert Stephenson and two 23-year-olds in Sal Romano and Nick Travieso. If you want to say that we don’t know how those four pitchers will turn out yet, I am fine with that. But you can’t say the Reds drafted poorly by taking them, either. And while Garrett and Romano were 22nd and 23rd round picks, this was before the draft pools existed. Garrett got late 1st round money and Sal Romano got late 2nd round money to sign. They weren’t “draft and hope it works out” types like you will see in those rounds in most cases. They were highly regarded arms that fell down the draft for signability concerns.

As noted, the article itself does have a better headline, which reads: Reds paying dearly for period of bad drafts when it comes to pitchers

The stretch spoken of is from 2007-2012. Within the article, near the top, is this statistic:

In those six drafts they selected 166 pitchers and only 23 ever pitched a game in the Major Leagues

23 out of 166 is 14%. There’s not much context for that, but at face value, that sounds like it sucks, right? Well, it’s probably decent enough. We need to remember that the draft had 50 rounds from 2007-2011 and then had 40 in 2012. But let’s put the draft into context. The average big league player, your “every day” guy, is worth around 2 wins per season (2 WAR). While I believe there are some issues with the whole WAR calculations, it’s a general baseline to work with. Remember that. Now, let’s remember that historically, each pick in the draft represents a worse chance of finding a good player than the spot before it. There are many studies that show this to be true.

Let’s start with the 2007 draft. In the 1st round there were 64 players taken between the 1st round and supplemental 1st round as a part of the free agent compensation system. In terms of CAREER WAR, 16 players are over 2.0. That’s right. Only 16 of the 64 players taken in the 1st round of the 2007 draft have accumulated the amount of WAR for their entire career that an average every day player does in one season. 35 of the 64 players either never made the Major Leagues (22 of them) or provided negative WAR in their careers (13 of them). That same year only five second round picks turned into regular players, and only one pitcher was among that group. The Reds drafted Devin Mesoraco, Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart in the first two rounds that season (they also took RHP Kyle Lotzkar who couldn’t overcome arm injuries and control problems in his career – but man, he had electric stuff when he was healthy). Getting back to the overall draft though, in the first two rounds of the draft, which historically are where you will be drafting and finding almost all of your big leaguers from, there were 44 pitchers selected. Four of them became big league starters of any sort of note. The fifth most valuable pitcher selected in the 1st or 2nd round of that draft: Tommy Hunter. Do you even know who Tommy Hunter plays for? The Reds drafted two All-Stars and Zack Cozart that year in the first two rounds, but it’s considered a bad draft because they didn’t take one of the two pitchers that were even available to them with any of their picks (David Prive and Madison Bumgarner were taken before the Reds had a chance to pick). Oh, and Rick Porcello, who went after the Reds picked, got more money combined to sign than the Reds first four picks combined. Can’t exactly blame them for going with Mesoraco, Frazier, Lotzkar and Cozart instead.

Let’s move on to the 2008 draft. In the 1st two rounds of the draft there were 38 pitchers taken (out of 77 total players). There have been TWO pitchers that have been worth 10 or more career WAR entering the 2017 season out of those 38 players. Lance Lynn leads the way and he’s followed up by Gerrit Cole (who actually didn’t sign and went to college). The 3rd best pitcher from that years first two rounds? Wade Miley. The Reds only had one pick between the 1st two rounds that season and they used it to pick Yonder Alonso. He hasn’t exactly turned out to be great, well, until this year. He’s still been more valuable than all but five of the pitchers taken in the 1st two rounds of that draft, though, and no one has exactly been significantly better for their careers (though I do think Gerrit Cole will be by the time things are said-and-done).

In the 2009 draft there were 40 pitchers taken over the span of the 1st two rounds. The Reds went with pitching in this draft, selecting Mike Leake and Brad Boxberger with their first two picks. They also took Billy Hamilton in the 2nd round this year. Mike Leake trails only Stephen Strasburg in WAR among the pitchers taken from this draft. They are the only two guys who have posted a career WAR of 10.0 or higher. Shelby Miller is the 3rd most valuable pitcher from the 1st two rounds of this draft. Garrett Richards is 4th. Is this a poor draft job by the club?

Moving forward to the 2010 draft there were 45 pitchers taken in the 1st two rounds. Chris Sale is on top of the leaderboard. The next best pitcher on the list? Matt Harvey. The 3rd guy is Drew Smyly. The 4th guy, however, is Noah Syndergaard, who has come on a little later and been one of the better pitchers in baseball the last 18 months. However, the point remains that it’s not as if there is some slew of awesome pitchers that were available here when Drew Smyly has been the 3rd most valuable pitcher from the 1st two rounds of the draft. The Reds went with Yasmani Grandal and Ryan LaMarre with their two picks. Grandal has been the 7th most valuable player to this point from this group, and two of those ahead of him were never options for the Reds to select (Bryce Harper and Manny Machado). Grandal, by the way, was selected 12th overall. Would you call this poor drafting?

Then we come to the 2011 and 2012 draft classes. There have been some good players from these drafts. But this is where we need the ultimate context. The Reds went with high school players these years. They are 23 and 24-years-old this season (and Amir Garrett is 25). The two players selected in 2012 are still younger than Joey Votto, Todd Frazier or Zack Cozart were when they made their big league debuts, much less established themselves as full-time players. In the 2011 draft the Reds took Robert Stephenson with their 1st round pick. Michael Fulmer is the best pitcher taken AFTER the Reds took Stephenson 27th overall that year in the 1st two rounds. Did they really draft poorly? Not to mention that this is also the draft in which they landed both Garrett and Romano.

Then there’s the 2012 draft, where the team took Nick Travieso, Jesse Winker and Tanner Rahier. The latter was just released last week, so that certainly didn’t turn out well. But the first two picks? They are 23-year-old players. We know next to nothing about their careers at this point. You can’t say one way or the other about how good or bad the team did in selecting them. All that you can say is that had they gone with someone else, they may be better off right now. But that’s the thing: You aren’t drafting for how quick they get there. You’re drafting for what they’ll do once they get there. Joey Votto is arguably the best hitter this franchise has ever seen. He wasn’t in the Major Leagues at the age that they two players are right now.

I’m not 1700 words into this article with the idea that I’m trying to rip apart the work of someone else. I generally don’t like doing that. But, what I do like is information. Knowledge is power and knowledge is based around information. Context of that information, though, is also incredibly valuable. And the article that’s been going around is missing a whole heck of a lot of the context needed to accurately judge what happened with the drafting for the Cincinnati Reds from 2007-2012. They always say you can make numbers tell any story that you want. And mostly, that’s right if you don’t present all of the numbers. I don’t believe Richard Skinner was trying to pull one over on anyone. I do believe, however, that he didn’t either have the context, understand the context or look at the overall numbers for what everyone else was doing in the same time frame.

The Major League Baseball Draft is the biggest crapshoot draft in professional sports. By far. We need to understand that more than 50% of the 1st rounders, the supposed cream of the crop, fail to ever become an every day starting position player or starting pitcher. The rate at which every round after that is so much worse. There were a lot of numbers used in the article over there, but the context of it all was missing. Hopefully this fills in the gaps some to give a much clearer picture. It’s worth remembering all of this in three weeks when the draft comes up once again for the organization.

20 Responses

  1. Brad

    THIS. IS. WHY. I. READ. THIS. SITE!!!

    Great work, and great context. Articles like this when you use context and not just hot takes is what separates this site. Great job. You have earned a reader for life!

    Just a side note, where you said you don’t like to rip other people’s work. Why isnt so wrong for media to do that? Most spend time ripping people as “their job” when they write a piece like Skinner did, he deserves to be ripped.

    Again this is perfect writing for people who want proper information.

    Will you be doing a Reds draft preview?

    • Kevin

      I concur Doug, another great article.

      • Gonzo Reds

        Fantastic article. Very well researched and thought out. Kudos!
        Since it’s a 99.9% certainty that we’ll be taking a “hopefully” can’t miss pitcher with our top 2 pick perhaps this topic will take care of itself soon.

    • liptonian

      I see where you’re coming from with not wanting to rip other people work but I feel like if you (in this case Richard Skinner) are going to take the time to blast someone (the Reds) you better have your facts straight. If you don’t have the time/will/expertise to put context to the numbers you are using to bash someone you are worthless. All he is doing there is creating click bait to rile up a bunch of people who know even less than he does about the topic. It is lazy and borderline unethical let alone just flat out wrong based on your (Doug’s) in-depth analysis. His article isn’t a lie per se but it isn’t far off.

  2. Bubba Woo

    I’d say that narrowing it down to drafting pitchers is probably not entirely fair. However, living in Dayton, I can tell you that the Dragons have been TERRIBLE for most of the last 6-7 years, and I think that definitely correlates to the problems of the last 3-4 years. Even looking at the promising young position players they have now (Schebler, Suarez, Peraza, Duvall), they are all players they acquired when they traded off veterans, and aren’t really products of the Reds player development system.

    If there’s a reason to be optimistic about the Reds right now, it’s that the Dragons have the best record in MILB right now (with 4-5 legit MLB prospects), and that with the exception of AAA, all the minor league teams are above .500, which is more the exception than the rule with the Reds.

  3. I-71_Exile

    Fantastic work Doug. I hope Mr. Skinner gets the opportunity to read it and perhaps modify his stance. My quick takeaway from your article is that the Reds’ drafts over this period have been remarkably strong and consistent. Based on players available to them at the time they drafted they have hit time and again with the jury still out on 2011 and 2012.

    Am I overvaluing what they’ve done? If not, it’s a good time to be a Reds fan.

  4. big5ed

    I know it is an inexact science, but they have had some failed drafts.

    The 2014 draft was an epic fail, taking Nick Howard and Alex Blandino in the first round, Taylor Sparks in the second, Wyatt Strahan in the third, and Gavin LaValley in the fourth. There is a chance that nobody from that whole draft makes the majors, although LaValley hasn’t been bad. They would have been better off drafting Al Roker than Nick Howard.

    2012 got Winker and nothing else, unless you are an eternal optimist on Nick Travieso, Jon Moscot or Jackson Stephens. 2010 yielded Yasmani Grandal, but nothing else other than a cup of coffee for Josh Smith. 2008 got Yonder Alonso but nothing else. They, in short, got nothing at any position after the first rounds in 2008, 2010 and 2012.

    Shooting total blanks with pitching every other year is not very good drafting. Couple that with the fact that the Reds haven’t developed a top Latin American hitter since Tony Perez, and you can see why the franchise might struggle more often than not.

    • Jonathan

      from Doug’s article:

      Let’s start with the 2007 draft. In the 1st round there were 64 players taken between the 1st round and supplemental 1st round as a part of the free agent compensation system. In terms of CAREER WAR, 16 players are over 2.0. That’s right. Only 16 of the 64 players taken in the 1st round of the 2007 draft have accumulated the amount of WAR for their entire career that an average every day player does in one season. 35 of the 64 players either never made the Major Leagues (22 of them) or provided negative WAR in their careers (13 of them). That same year only five second round picks turned into regular players, and only one pitcher was among that group.

      16/64 = 25%…..I bet you would see the same thing if you looked at other teams of drafts for the years you are questioning.

      The guys drafted in 2012 that you listed are only 22-24 years old. Hard judge a prospect at that age.

    • big5ed

      I’ll grant you on Encarnacion, although he was signed by Texas, and didn’t really get good until age 29. But one Latin hitter in 55 years is a bad record.

      You know more about Travieso than I do, but I don’t see anything in his stats that suggests to me he will have much of a MLB career. He barely averaged 5 IP/start last year in AA, and with a 7 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9. Plus, he had surgery over the winter and remains disabled. If his name was Ralph Finch, and he was taken in the 13th round, I question whether he would be so high on prospect lists.

      We certainly can’t complain about 2011, which included Stephenson, Garrett, Cingrani and Romano. And any draft that includes a 17-year-old Shed Long (2013) is by definition superb.

  5. Jonathan

    This is a really great article Doug.

  6. Bubba Woo

    I don’t think whether someone makes the majors is a great barometer of whether a draft pick is successful or not. Drafting Amir Garrett in the 22nd round and having him in the majors with a chance to be an above average starter is a huge success. Picking Robert Stephenson in the 1st round and having him on the roster as the mop-up guy in the bullpen because he’s running out of options is not. As for Travieso, I guess he’ll probably make it to the 25-man at some point, but just like Stephenson, he’ll be on it because he throws 100 and was a first round pick. At no time in his five years in the minors has he ever been even an above average pitcher for the league he was in. Why isn’t he a bust?

    • Bubba Woo

      All interesting points, and I agree that “bust” is probably too harsh a term. However, I think after having these guys in your system for 4-5 years, you have a good sense of what you’ve got. Someone brought up Homer Bailey struggling and how the Reds didn’t give up on him and were rewarded. However, Homer was a dominant pitcher in A, AA, and AAA before he got to the Reds. Travieso and Stephenson may only be 22 and 23, but they’ve struggled everywhere, and I just think that at this point they’re getting opportunities based on where they were drafted, not on merit.

      • Bubba Woo

        Good points, I guess you gotta have some more patience with the high schoolers, who most of the time can get away with just blowing the ball by people at that level. Much worse when you miss on a college pitcher. I guess that’s the age old debate. That being said, still hope they draft Hunter Greene (although I’ll probably be on here complaining next year when he has a 3.00 ERA at Dayton!)

  7. FDB

    Doug, who are generally regarded as the top 5 prospects this years draft? (can you list positions?)

    • Brad

      What is your overall feelings on drafting pitchers vs hitters. I was always in the camp to draft a pitcher cause studs are so hard to come by. But the Cubs model of drafting hitters and finding pitchers in trades is the way to go due to the miss rate in general of pitchers.

      If I was drafting I would take the best bat I could regardless of level.

  8. Michael E

    I sometimes disagree with Doug, but here he paints a fairly clear picture. Even though it SEEMS like we don’t draft all that well, it’s just a perception because 30 other teams have a couple of great players and it seems like we’re bringing up the rear. We’re not of course. There are some really bad drafting clubs out there.

    I guess, after reading this, I would say we’re at least an average drafting club (all picks considered, not just first two rounds of course), but we’re still WAY below average in having prospects improve. We seem to be in the bottom 1/3 of the league (perception, i don’t have facts for this) in regards to how many fairly well thought of prospects that never make a real dent at the MLB level. Maybe that too is just lopsided comparisons of 30 clubs v Reds? You go back and look at our top 20 prospects lists and we get about 1.5 per year that make an MLB impact in their careers. Is that in line with the average franchise? Maybe it is, but it sure feels like we’ve got a subpar minor league organization. Maybe just perception.

    At least Dick Williams admitted more needed done and they’d be adding coaches and maybe improving nutrition and facilities. There is at least hope that the top levels of the Reds organization realize a constant stream of players flaming out in A and AA may need a franchise reset.