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:
— Richard Skinner (@Local12Skinny) May 23, 2017
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.