Kyle Gibson and the First Pitch Blues

Kyle Gibson struggled in 2016. This is hardly news for Twins fans after a 103 loss season. In the midst of the #DealDozier sweepstakes the Twins have several other areas that will have to improve if they are going to compete with a division which is weakened from 2016, but with an emerging super power in Cleveland. The primary reason the Twins must trade Dozier lies in his value reaching its peak; this fact, combined with the difficulty mid-market teams face in producing enough front-line pitching talent to win a division (never mind the World Series) also bring us back to Gibson. If the Twins are to take a step forward in 2017, Minnesota’s 2009 first rounder will have to rebound to help anchor a rotation made up largely of unreliable pieces outside of Ervin Santana.

In 2015 Gibson appeared to be developing into the number three starter the Twins had hoped for when drafting him as a first round value play in 2009. In 194 plus innings he posted his best ERA 3.84, WHIP 1.28, SO/9 6.7 while posting a 3.96 FIP, all very tidy numbers. By contrast in 2016 his numbers jumped to a career worst ERA 5.07, WHIP 1.56, and FIP 4.70. What’s interesting in Gibson’s case, is some of the numbers which underlie his 2016 struggles.

Anecdotally, Gibson seemed to struggle early in the count in 2016, with hitters being very aggressive at attacking his first pitch. Below is a heat map of Gibson’s pitch percentage on 0-0 counts against lefties with his two seam fastball (the pitch he most typically starts off a hitter with). As you might expect from a ground ball hitter, the majority of Gibson’s pitches were located down and away versus left handed hitters.


Here’s a similar look for right handed hitters in 2016. As you can see, Gibson typically locates down and in or down and away to right handed hitters.


The biggest issue Gibson faced in 2016 was that opposing hitters picked up on this tendency and drilled his two seam fastball. On the first pitch of an AB, opposing hitters crushed Gibson to the tune of a .467 average while slugging .907 off him. Gibson also gave up 17 XBHs including 8 HR on the first pitch of an AB. In 2015, hitters slugged a much more respectable .538 in first pitch situations, giving up 10 less XBHs. Below is a similar heat map for Gibson’s two seam fastball location in 0-0 counts in 2015, his best season as a Twin, where he spread the ball around the strike zone significantly more.


One of the few clues we have been given about the proclivities of Derek Falvey and Thad Lavine came through their signing of Jason Castro, an offensive struggler known for his pitch framing. This is perhaps indicative of a desire of the front office to put a greater emphasis on more detailed statistics and analytics than Terry Ryan. Castro is undeniably a defensive upgrade over Kurt Suzuki, who struggled in various defensive metrics throughout his tenure with the Twins. One attraction of Castro in addition to his pitch framing is his experience and quality in leading a staff and as a signal caller. Gibson struggled significantly with Suzuki in 2016 to the tune of a 6.15 ERA with opposing hitters managing a .359 BaBIP, compared to a 3.72 ERA and .293 BaBIP when caught by Juan Centeno or John Ryan Murphy. This trend is also true of 2015 (Gibson’s best season as a Twin) in which he performed significantly worse when Suzuki was behind the plate compared with Chris Hermann or Eric Fryer.

Whatever the exact reason behind Gibson and Suzuki’s lack of chemistry one would think Castro will be a shot in the arm to a pitcher the Twins desperately need to take a significant step forward in 2017.

Ryan Firing the Result of Twins’ Lack of Identity

The Twins fired Terry Ryan Monday in a move which surprised the Twin Cities sports media in its timing if not its necessity. The hapless Twins sit at 33-58 going into Tuesday’s play, the worst record in the American League. An organization famed for its loyalty, loyalty to a fault, finally made a move separating the Twins from a direction which has seen them in a slow decline from playoff regulars to AL punchline.

Remarkably, in a sporting landscape where the pressure to win is insurmountable, particularly in larger markets, the Twins commitment to loyalty has led to a stagnancy which has mired the organization in mediocrity. This is the same loyalty that kept Ron Gardenhire in a job long after the Twins needed a new direction. This is the same loyalty that led the Twins to build a farm system around ‘pitch to contact’ and a reticence to embrace analytics in ways that have led other mid-market franchises to great success (see 2015 Royals). Make no mistake, the Twins are behind the times and the buck should not stop with just Terry Ryan.

The Twins have long been accused by their fans of espousing a little too Minnesotan of an attitude to a GM who has brought limited success in recent seasons, particularly in his second spell at the helm. While the Twins enjoyed a consistent playoff berth in the early 2000s, their recent direction has been uninspiring, 2015 breaking a run of 4 straight 90+ loss seasons

Remarkably, it seems as if some may reflect on Ryan’s second spell with the Twins as a success, as David St. Peter mentioned his success in rebuilding the farm system since 2011. This is a baffling statement, given the primary means of restocking a farm system is losing a whole bunch of games and having consistently great draft position. Do the Twins have one of the strongest farm systems in baseball? Significantly improved from 2011? Sure, they better.

Rob Anthony has been tabbed with the interim GM title. The Twins would be wise to ensure this tag does not become permanent. The Twins need a clean break from their ‘within organization’ hiring practices. ‘The organization’ has not worked in quite some time. Alarmingly, Dave St. Peter will take on a significant role in the hiring process as Mackay of ESPN 1500 noted after a round table with the media.

It would be wise for St. Peter to stick with his presidential duties and allow baseball minds to take the lead in hiring a GM who will be critical in establishing the Twins direction for the next decade. The Twins recent woes have been indicative of one simple and undeniable fact, the franchise lacks  an identity. They have over-invested in sub-par free agent pitching (Nolasco, Hughes extension, Santana to an extent) whilst simultaneously stocking their farm system. Every mid-market baseball fan knows that free agency isn’t where its team earns its stripes. Look at the outstanding example provided by Rick Spielman down the street. The Twins have the chance for a clean break and a reshaping, rather than reshuffling of the organization after the dismissal of Ryan. The assertion of Pohlad that the new GM is beholden to Paul Molitor for the 2017 season is worrying. Not because Molitor isn’t well suited for the job, it sets a dangerous Jerry Jones-esque meddlesome precedent muddying the waters between organizational and personnel affairs. If the Twins want to start fresh, that begins with empowering their next, out of organization GM.

College Soccer: Caught in No Man’s Land

by JDCam 07.13.15

With football in the United States hitting its zenith in popularity in recent years the debate surrounding the relevance of college football has continued to intensify. While MLS continues to grow its brand and star power, the debate occupying the national scene is focused on how the United States will increase its international success and strengthen its domestic league in the face of the financial and competitive obstacles raised by a saturated US sports scene and the pinnacle of footballing competition continuing to be grounded in European leagues.

Before taking a look at some fundamental flaws of the college system in the United States, let’s start with a little context. The success of the USMNT at the 2014 World Cup has continued to spark interest in an ever-expanding MLS. Currently, Major League Soccer is competing to be the third most attended sport in the United States (behind NFL and MLB), in spite of having clubs whose home stadiums barely meet the league average in attendance. Here are some eye-popping attendance numbers indicative of just how mainstream MLS has become:

MLS: 16,675/game (2010 season)
NHL: 16,985/game (2009-2010 season)
NBA: 17,149/game (2009-2010 season)

The MLS has been unfairly criticized as a feeder league for higher level European competition. While many talented US players play overseas, it could be argued that all European leagues are feeder patterns for the EPL, La Liga and Bundesliga; the only difference being the geographical distance of the United States from Europe, which simply exaggerates the effect.

Few would argue that MLS struggles to attract and sustain the most elite footballing talent. Many however, go too far in their criticism that high profile designated player signings are akin to cushy part-time retirement jobs for the likes of Villa, Kaka and Lampard. Call it what you will, having players of that caliber playing throughout the United States is a huge draw, even if they are not at their prime, and remains a reality that MLS couldn’t have dreamed of 10 years ago.

Still the circular argument asks the question; what will it take for the USMNT to ‘break through’ at the World Cup? Aside from a slightly unrealistic level of expectation, this question needs to be re-framed. What people are really asking is; how and when is the United States going to produce mega-stars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo? (Neither of whom incidentally, has won the World Cup).

This brings us to the college game in the United States. NCAA football is perhaps the most chronically under-resourced men’s sport played at the collegiate level. There are simply not enough scholarships available to maintain a consistently elite level of competition (under 10 per D1 school for the men’s game compared to almost 15 per D1 school in the women’s game). While many have criticized the rules of the college games (greater amount of substitutions) as promoting a more physical game I don’t see that as a problem. Rather, shortened playing time combined with all too brief seasons does not set players up for the rigors of a full European season, or even the MLS workload.

Typically, players who make it to the level of the USMNT have had some college experience. Most who played a full-slate of four years however, are fringe players and several more relevant players at the national level did not play in college at all (Howard, Bradley, Altidore etc.). The missing link in the US evolutionary football chain is a full financial commitment to the academy system that has served European football so well.

The MLS may never attract the biggest names from world soccer at the peak of their playing prowess. Instead, the US system needs to commit itself to player academies. Take the example of EPL club Southampton, a team in the brink of liquidation in 2010. Beginning with Theo Walcott, and continuing with players like Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, and Rickie Lambert, the Saints investment in their youth programming has produced a steady stream of talent that has propelled them back to EPL significance and, through transfer fees, given them long-term financial viability.

Looking at the English national team continues to highlight the success of academy raised players. Despite the fact that the Three Lions are in a transitional period, their dedication to fostering home grown talent will pay dividends long term. If MLS clubs can channel their increasing financial clout into academies that identify and nurture talent from a younger age with a degree of player protection (so the uber-talented cannot be poached by European leagues), the quality of the men’s game in the US can continue to grow. If the MLS continues to be a feeder league to its more prestigious European cousins, at least protect the financial stability of the domestic game in doing so. College offers excellent opportunities to would be student athletes, but the next world super-talent will not be playing at a D1 school near you anytime soon.

TJ, Japan and the Six Man Rotation

by JDCam 05.05.15

The epidemic of Tommy John surgeries sweeping the major leagues shows no signs of abating. Already in 2015, the Mets Zach Wheeler, Rangers ace Yu Darvish and the Royals Tim Collins have undergone the procedure, to name but a few.

While the long term effects of procedure do not compare, the prevalence of elbow issues for pitchers in the major leagues are starting to draw comparisons to the long term effects of concussions in the NFL. What remains clear is that the number of pitchers undergoing TJ remains high, approximately 1.1 per team in 2014.

The implications TJ surgery has on various levels of the game is a fascinating discussion. At a youth level there is a need for a greater breadth of creditable research on how to develop and maintain arm strength in a sustainable way, when to introduce young pitchers to offerings that put a greater strain on their arm (such as breaking balls) and arm conditioning regimens which can be followed at all levels of youth baseball to begin to decrease the risks of TJ.

A useful starting point and road map for this conversation can be found in the differing models of youth baseball in the United States and Japan.

Year TJ/Team NPB TJ/Team MLB
2012 0.833 2.30
2013 0.667 1.63
2014 0.083 1.10

At the major league level the particulars and possibilities are no less fascinating. A starting pitcher in 2015 and a starting pitcher in the 1960s have very different roles, naturally. It is easy to overlook how the statistics have traced the arc of the starting pitching role, the introduction of the ‘quality start’ being the most striking example of this (not to mention its alteration from 7 innings with 2 runs or less conceded to 6 and 3).

Pitching is an increasingly specialized trade with innings shared in greater and greater numbers between the rotation and bullpen (ever see a MLB team break camp with 13 pitchers in the 1970s)? With the combination of career threatening injuries to pitchers at a consistently high level and the explosion of power arms in recent years, one wonders if MLB teams could ever field 6 man rotations consistently?

Jose Fernandez in another pitching start rehabbing from season ending surgery

Jose Fernandez in another pitching start rehabbing from season ending surgery

This is a popular practice in Japan, where despite overusing and overexposing young and talented arms at the youth level through tournament play, the clubs of the Nippon League ere on the side of caution with starting pitching. Typically Japanese teams feature a 6 man rotation, with a season typically featuring a day off per week; the idea of a particular pitcher generally occupying a spot on a particular weekday is not uncommon. This raises interesting economic questions around the subject of a 6 man rotation. The most exceptional starters would probably be lined up on weekend days when more fans have an opportunity to attend games. This would however, create a divergence in pitching quality between weekdays and weekends, with the Kershaws and Scherzers of the world being trotted out on Saturday and Sunday while the J.A Happs and Trevor Mays perhaps occupying the Thursday matinee.

A further intriguing possibility would be a more extreme reduction in work load for back of the rotation starters and splitting innings between two or more multi-inning bullpen options, much like a traditional spring training game is handled. There are several problems with this notion (length of game, matchups)

Whatever the path forwards, there are certainly disturbing trends emerging in the status of pitchers who have undergone TJ surgery. According to a recent article from ESPN’s Stephania Bell ‘since 1999, of the 235 MLB pitchers have undergone TJ surgery, only 32 have undergone a revision – but one-third of them have occurred in the last year’. This data disturbingly points toward the misnomer that TJ recipients somehow miraculously strengthen their arms through their rehab and end up pitching at the same level and with the same effectiveness as they did prior to their surgery.

The bottom line here seems to be that despite an increasing willingness of pitchers to have and/or repeat the procedure the long term effects are still incredibly unpredictable. MLB seems to be moving forwards with a number of different research studies, educational programs and even technology aimed at reducing and limiting the number of pitchers that require TJ surgery, including obtaining data as specific as which pitches place the greatest long term biomechanical strain on various parts of the throwing arm.

MLB needs to continue its own in house research about the logistics of a possible 6 man rotation (expanding rosters, the potential stress placed on relievers, the potential for extra jobs creating some good will with the players union to name but a few).  While positive steps are being taken, pitchers are not yet carefully protected by major league baseball and out understanding of the specific relationship between work load and arm health will continue to limit this understanding, to the detriment of the most important players on the diamond.

Why the NBA is ruining their best product, part 2

Last article, I talked a bit about the NBA, and why it is not doing as well as I think it should. This article I will discuss what I see as the number one problem with the growth of basketball, and it lies with mainstream white American culture.

Contrary to many’s beliefs, America is not post-racial, demonstrated by numerous events from Ferguson, MO to Baltimore, MD, and many places in between. These instances only represent a lived experience for many in this country: that racism is still alive and well in many places around the nation. The racial bias and uneasiness definitely transfers into the world of sport, particularly basketball, as Bruce Levenson proved. Lost in the racism of the Levenson story is a key point – that much of white America is fearful of the NBA due to race. My personal belief is that the NBA having most of the power and value in the players is not a comfortable thing for white America, and this is a shame. Potential fans are missing out on one of the best eras of a beautiful sport in its growth period.

Since the 60s, the NBA has been a majority African-American sport. It is the most African-American sport in North America, and in 2011, became the least Caucasian American sport in the history of professional sports in North America. This gradual trend is making the perception of basketball that it is not a ‘white’ sport, causing many white fans to feel uncomfortable.

In an American culture where western European descendants have majority control over the look, feel and culture, basketball can be looked at as a place where that is most certainly not true. And this, demonstrated in ticket sales and television ratings, is turning white fans off. Some folks also point out that the NFL is majority black, as well, but the NFL is not a player driven league. Basketball is almost entirely a player driven league. America’s “post-racial” racism is represented by the NBA: white former fans may use coded language, or have excuses, but the NBA is not as culturally relevant for white folks.

The most disturbing thing for me is that the NBA just finalized the Levanson issue, selling the Hawks to the highest bidder. Unlike the Donald Sterling issue, which came under intense media spotlight and coincided with a long history of bigotry and racism, the Levanson issue was said from a business owner’s perspective, and mostly named what many owners of NBA teams feel: they want what’s best for their business. The NBA lost out on an opportunity to talk about the biggest issues in America, and use their platform for honest conversation. Why are the Atlanta Hawks drawing a different demographic than their metro area would suggest? Why are there not very many white fans in the NBA? Why are all majority owners, nearly all general managers and coaches and much of the executive staff of teams white, in a league with mostly black players? Why are players like Ellis scoffed for their attention to professionalism with game streaks, while hockey players get lauded for their toughness?

So, shame on the NBA for not taking some of what Levenson wrote and creating a dialogue surrounding it. The fact that white America is not feeling cultural attachment to basketball can be a great opportunity for empathy for white folks who feel that marginalized groups need to “get over it” and “work harder”. The more attention shown to some of the questions above can convince many of the facts, that race is a powerful piece of American culture, and cannot be swept under the rug. Although this issue stems larger than basketball, a dialogue could help the sport, too. With white America still not ready for a sport that is culturally dominated by African American men, it is causing a multitude of fans to be missing out on what could be the highest quality playoffs out there.

The NBA is ruining their best product, but not for the reasons you think

Sunday marks the beginning of the NBA playoffs. The 82-game regular season ended Wednesday, and marked the end of a tumultuous 12 months in the NBA. Starting with Donald Sterling a year ago, Bruce Levenson in the fall, a slew of high-profile injuries, and some marquee franchises struggling, this 2014-2015 season could rank as the most disappointing in recent memory in terms of fan interest. The NBA may have the best product they have ever had, and is in a key crossroads for their future as a business and a cultural symbol.

Basketball is the second most popular sport in the world, and is continuing to grow. In addition, basketball has cultural appeal that extends across so many cultures and demographics. Basketball, as a sport, seems to be in a period of marked success – more kids are playing basketball than ever, and it remains the most popular youth team sport. Internationally, foreign teams and prospects are becoming more competitive, and 2014 set a record for most international players on the opening roster. So basketball is succeeding. But what about the NBA? How come NBA’s viewership was down in 2014?

In this article, I will address a couple issues that I have seen with the NBA. The number one reason for their decline in viewers, in my opinion, deserves its own post. I will get to that later.

One of the biggest issues with viewer interest comes down to the nature of the sport of basketball. One player influences team success more than in any other sport. Lebron’s return to Cleveland this year surely shows validity in that statement. Unlike other North American sports franchises, where the value is in the team name, locale, and stadium, NBA franchises are mostly tied to the players on that team. When Lebron came back to Cleveland from Miami, the Cavaliers doubled in value. Outside the Lakers and Celtics, teams are popular because players are popular. The NBA is a player driven league – considerably more so than any other league.

LeBron James may be the most marketable, and valuable, athlete on the planet.

Tied to this is the variance in talent in the NBA. The best players (Lebron, Kevin Durant) are superior to the weakest players by such a wide margin, wider than in sports such as baseball, football or hockey. Over the course of NBA history, stars have dominated the league: Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson & Larry Bird, and Jordan are the prime examples. When stars didn’t dominate, mainly from the “Bad Boys” Pistons teams in late 80s and early 90s, it was not due to strategy or skill as much as intimidation and brute force. Great players are what win NBA championships.

Modern basketball has changed the landscape of NBA success to a certain degree. In the past 5 seasons, stars are choosing to play together, creating several powerhouse teams. The rise of analytics has given teams without stars, or at least with less star power, a better chance to succeed. This has promoted some of the most efficient and entertaining basketball in years. The Warriors have the league’s best record and may be the most fun team to watch in the league; those two identifiers coupled together may be a first for the league since the Showtime Lakers of the 80s. Competitive balance in the west makes every team either a lot of fun or a legitimate title contender. The Hawks in the East won without having any names that a casual NBA fan would know (in fact, no one on the Hawks cracked 30 points this season; James Harden scored that many 35 times). In addition, players are bigger, stronger, and in better shape than ever. In addition, due to the rise of AAU youth leagues, young players can come into the league ready to contribute more than ever before. Basketball, at least amongst the top 8-10 teams, is played at a more competitive and higher level than ever.

So what gives? Why is the NBA mired in low interest? One reason that is often talked about is the season length. In the most recent period of early April, even the most diehard of NBA fans are longing for the season to end. The season drags on forever. A side effect not alaways talked about is the drain this has on the players. Due to the fact that the game is played on a higher level every night, the game takes a huge toll on the body. This is not the 1970s, where players didn’t run hard every possession and little contact was allowed. Modern basketball is intense, physically demanding and a contact sport. This poses problems, particularly with players who treat professionalism seriously. The Mavericks’ Monta Ellis hates missing games, and had a 237 consecutive game streak recently snapped. Many players take their nightly consistency seriously, but what that leads to is more injuries. This season endured unending injuries to star players, which diminished the product and the fan interest.

The myriad of injuries is a morale crusher to the fans, but the wear and tear on players may diminish careers. The NBA and its players may need to recognize that less is more when it comes to games and scheduling. The season is far too long and grueling for players to maintain their elite physical abilities, so either the league needs to go to a year-round model with 82 games, lessen the number of games, or both.

Next post, I’ll address the number one reason I believe the NBA is not living up to the potential of its athletes and its sport. Stay tuned…

A Window into the MLB Draft: San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals Come out on Top

by JDCam 03.28.15

With the MLB draft coming up in June, Curveball writers got to thinking about the differences between the 3 major US sporting drafts, baseball, football and basketball. The most obvious differences are the size, ranging from the smallest (the NBA at 2 rounds) to the largest (MLB at 40 rounds).

Specifically I was wondering what percentage of draftees in such a mammoth undertaking as the MLB draft actually make it to the majors? (Around 1 in 6 as it happens). These odds are actually surprisingly high for players drafted on the first round (around 81.1% between 2002 and 2006 in a study conducted by Baseball America). Unsurprisingly these figures drop round by round, petering out at a paltry 5.1% of players drafted after the 21st round making it to the show. But how effective are these players who make the majors and what proportion of them are significant major league contributors?

Round 87-91 92-96 97-01 02-06 87-91 92-96 97-01 02-06
1 78.0% 70.6% 61.6% 81.1% 50.4% 42.6% 32.2% 43.9%
1st supp 60.0% 52.8% 49.3% 55.0% 33.3% 13.9% 17.3% 15.0%
2 50.0% 47.5% 52.8% 50.7% 14.7% 15.1% 21.8% 19.1%
3-5 35.2% 32.8% 34.0% 35.2% 13.7% 9.9% 14.1% 6.8%
6-10 27.4% 20.4% 21.6% 19.9% 11.3% 6.0% 7.1% 5.1%
11-20 16.1% 13.9% 10.9% 13.2% 5.9% 3.1% 4.2% 2.5%
21+ 7.2% 8.3% 7.1% 5.1% 2.2% 2.4% 1.6% 0.9%
Total 18.3% 17.1% 17.2% 17.4% 7.3% 5.5% 6.4% 4.9%

I decided to look at the first round of 5 drafts (2006-2010) and try and find answers to a few basic questions; are certain teams drafting more successfully? What proportion of first round picks become successful major leaguers.

Immediately this goal hit major obstacles. Although smaller than I would like, I chose this draft window as it allows the players drafted in 20010 almost 5 years to progress to the major league level (I wish with hindsight I would have allowed longer). The greatest challenge comes in defining what a ‘successful’ MLB player is. I use this term as I wanted to distinguish between players that reach the major league level. Some players may make a handful of MLB appearances, I wanted to hone in on consistent contributors. In order to do that I focused on WAR (Wins Above Replacement). For the purposes of this study, we will use the following table from Fangraphs as a very basic guide in our analysis;

Scrub 0-1 WAR
Role Player 1-2 WAR
Solid Starter 2-3 WAR
Good Player 3-4 WAR
All-Star 4-5 WAR
Superstar 5-6 WAR

These figures are based on a single season sampling (and would therefore need to be multiplied to find player effectiveness over a larger span – it is merely a guidepost for an at a glance analysis). Using WAR is of course tricky as WAR tends to alter position by position according to positional depth and quality (it’s tough for a relief pitcher to have a high WAR). A couple of caveats to this data:

  • This is strictly based on the 1st round of these 5 drafts.
  • I did not include the data from players who did not sign even if they signed for another team in a consecutive year.
  • The WAR listed in the chart below is for their entire MLB career to data, regardless of which club it was amassed with.

Let’s start by looking at the drafting history of teams within this window. In the table below all 30 MLB clubs are ranked by their average drafting position within the 5 year window (06-10) regardless of the number of picks they had. For example the Pirates had 5 picks in the window at an average position of 3.1. For teams that had the same average draft position, they were simply listed alphabetically. I subsequently listed the total career WAR to date of all draft picks made by a particular team as well as an average WAR for each draftee that made the majors. To account for players drafted more recently, I also listed the current organizational farm rankings according to Keith Law (Insider Reqd). Additionally, I listed the number of players per organization that did not make the majors to date (significant picks or current prospects are listed in parentheses).

Obviously the expected trend would be to see teams that had a higher average draft position amass a greater MLB WAR from its draftees. The limitations of the data certainly center around having too small a window of drafts as well as prospects drafted later not having a significant enough time in the majors to make a significant impact (Zach Wheeler for example). Having owned those limitations, there were still some compelling findings to be had.

Team Number of Draft Selections Average Position of Draft Selection Number of Selections that did not make the majors Total MLB WAR of all 1st round selections (Baseball Reference) Average WAR of 1st round selections who made majors (Baseball Reference) Current rank of Farm system (ESPN Law)
Pittsburgh 5 3.2  1 (Taillon) 6.2 1.55 7
Kansas City 5 4.4  0 15.5 3.1 15
Baltimore 5 5.2  2  26.3 8.76 22
Washington 6 9.1 1  28.3 5.66  9
Tampa Bay 5 10.6  3 (Beckham)*  63.2 31.6 23
Cincinnati 5 10.8  0 28.2 5.64  17
Seattle 5 13  0 17.3 3.46 21
Atlanta 3 15  1 28.3 14.15 6
San Francisco 7 15.14  2  63.3 12.66  29
Oakland 4 15.25  1 -1.3 -0.43 26
Cleveland 4 15.5  1 6.3 2.1  16
Florida 5 15.6  1 5.6 1.4  24
NY Mets 3 15.6  1 12.5 6.25 4
Detroit 4 15.75  0 10.1 2.525 30
Houston 5 16.2  4 (Foltynewicz) 7.1 7.1  3
Milwaukee 4 16.25  1 11.6 3.86  28
Chicago NL 5 16.4  1 4.5 1.125  1
San Diego 4 16.5  3 -0.2 -0.2  18
Toronto 6 16.5 2 7.3 1.825  19
Texas 6 16.83  4 2.5 1.25  11
Colorado 6 17.3  2  -0.9 -0.225  8
Arizona 5 15.8  1  37.4 9.34  14
LA Dodgers 5 19.2  1  42.4 10.6  10
Chicago AL 5 19.6  2  29.3 9.76  12
St. Louis 5 21  1 9.6 2.4  13
Minnesota 6 22  2 6.5 1.625  2
Philadelphia 4 22  2 (Biddle) -0.1 -0.05  25
LA Angels 5 25.4  1 30.1 7.525  27
Boston 5 26.6  2 3.5 1.16  5
NY Yankees 4 28  2 9.9 4.95  20

* Number 1 overall pick.

An interesting trend was just how many players in these 5 drafts that made only a handful of MLB appearances or just didn’t stick long term. To really get at the high impact players, here is the data presented in a different format. This table simply lists players that made the majors by team as well as their cumulative WAR since becoming major leaguers. (Players in bold have been MLB All-Stars)

Pittsburgh Brad Lincoln 0.1 Moskos 0.2 Alvarez 5.5 Sanchez 0.4
Kansas City Hochevar 2.5 Moustakas 4.5 Hosmer 5.5 Crow 2.3 Colon 0.7
Baltimore Wieters 13.6 Matusz 2.3 Machado 10.4
Washington Marrero -1 Detwiler 3.1 Strasburg 11.9 Storen 4.7 Harper 9.6
Tampa Bay Longoria 40 Price 23.2
Cincinnati Stubbs 9.2 Mesoraco 4.3 Alonso 4.2 Leake 6.2 Grandal 4.3
Seattle Morrow 7.4 Aumont -0.4 Fields -0.2 Ackley 8.9 Franklin 1.6
Atlanta Heyward 24.5 Minor 3.8
San Francisco Lincecum 22.6 Bumgarner 15.3 Posey 23.2 Wheeler 2.0 Brown 0.2
Oakland Weeks 1.1 Green -0.5 Choice -1.9
Cleveland Chisenhall 4.1 White -0.5 Pomeranz 2.7
Florida Sinkbeil -0.2 Dominguez 0.9 Skipworth 0.0 Yelich 4.9
NY Mets Davis 5.6 Harvey 6.9
Toronto Snider 3.8 Arencibia 2.0 Cooper 0.1 Jenkins 1.4
Detroit Miller -0.2 Porcello 10.6 Perry 0.2 Turner -0.5
Arizona Scherzer 24.0 Parker 6.1 Schlereth 0.0 Pollock 7.3
Houston Castro 7.1
Milwaukee Jeffress 0.8 LaPorta -0.9 Lawrie 11.7
Chicago NL Colvin 1.1 Vitters -1.3 Cashner 4.6 Jackson 0.1
San Diego Antonelli -0.2
Texas Beavan 1.5 Smoak 1.0
Colorado Reynolds -1.8 Friedrich -0.6 Matzek 1.9 Parker -0.4
LA Dodgers Kershaw 39.7 Morris 2.2 Withrow 0.9 Martin -0.4
Chicago AL Poreda 0.2 Beckham 6.2 Sale 22.9
St. Louis Ottavino 3.8 Kozma 0.9 Wallace -0.6 Miller 5.5
Minnesota Parmelee 0.5 Revere 4.2 Hicks 0.6 Gibson 1.2
Philadelphia Drabek -0.1 Savery 0.0
LA Angels Conger 2.4 Grichuk 0.2 Trout 28.2 Bedrosian -0.7
Boston Bard 4.3 Kelly -0.6 Fuentes -0.2
NY Yankees Kennedy 9.8 Brackman 0.1

In this group there are 19 All-Stars out of 146 first-rounder picks (that’s 13% if you’re counting). Of these 19 All-Stars, 8 were top 5 picks, 13 were top 10 picks, 18 were top 15 picks (the only one who wasn’t is Mike Trout). That raises your odds of drafting an All-Star to 24% if you have a top 15 pick and, 26% if you have a top 10 pick and 32% if you have a top 5 pick.
There were only 4 teams that drafted multiple all-stars in this drafting window, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Washington and San Francisco. Of these 4 the Giants are by far the most captivating, not only because their average position in these drafts was 15 (almost 5 spots later than the next highest (Tampa Bay) but also because of their incredible success in recent seasons (3 of the last 5 World Series). The Giants success seems tied to exceptional value out of their top picks. Even looking beyond the 3 all-stars drafted in this window, the Giants continually reap and develop outstanding talent in the first 5 rounds. Aside from the players drafted in the given window in the 1st round, the Giants have added Zach Wheeler (now with the Mets), Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford and going back a little further, Matt Cain in the first few rounds of the draft (that’s a cumulative drafted WAR of 52.5 to tack onto what Lincecum, Posey and Bumgarner gave them). The Giants rarely have the best farm system in baseball, because they draft talent that can help them within a few years. Their success rate at drafting talent with MLB staying power is almost as impressive as how quickly they get it to the show. Anyone want to bet against Tyler Beede being a future all-star?

Will Joe Panik be next in line as a fast moving Giants draft pick who excels in the major leagues?

Will Joe Panik be next in line as a fast moving Giants draft pick who excels in the major leagues?

Another team worthy of discussion here is the St. Louis Cardinals. Their draft results were unspectacular, Shelby Miller being the only player of note, yet they always seem to be in contention at the end of the year. They rank in the middle of the pack (15th) in payroll obligations. Yet they have reached 2 World Series and two NL Championship Series in the past 4 seasons. The Cardinals typically have a good farm system but not always elite. Delving into the Cardinals history during this period, they maximize value from the middle rounds of the draft. From 2006 onwards the Cardinals have drafted the following players in rounds 2-10: Allen Craig (6.1 WAR), Jon Jay (11.2 WAR), Lance Lynn (7.7 WAR 1st round supplementary), Joe Kelly (3.8 WAR), Matt Carpenter (9.9 WAR – 13th round), Matt Adams (3.7 WAR – 21st round) and Kevin Siegrist (41st round) who have all made significant contributions to their major league roster. St. Louis it seems has an eye for diamond in the rough talent and does a stellar job at getting it major league ready.

This discussion wouldn’t be complete without the non-example. The Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates did an AWFUL job with their top picks between 2006 and 2010. Thank goodness for Andrew McCutchen (drafted in the first round of 2005). Pedro Alvarez was the only player of significance who has made a major league impact for Pittsburgh in the draft window. While Jamieson Taillon is an elite prospect and the Pirates seem to have made amends with Gerrit Cole and Austin Meadows (drafted since the window), they have simply whiffed too many times with such an outstanding average draft position. The list of players the Pirates passed on in this window is truly staggering and while hindsight is 20/20, there is no doubt some weak draft classes slowed their ascendance to a now perennial competitor. Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Max Scherzer, Matt Wieters, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Manny Machado and Matt Harvey, to name but a few.

Jameson Taillon is a rare example of a highly touted prospect in amongst a slew of whiffs by the Pirates between 2006-2010

Jameson Taillon is a rare example of a highly touted prospect in amongst a slew of whiffs by the Pirates between 2006-2010

Looking at a small window into the first round of the draft has been fascinating. The most sure fire way to drafting high caliber MLB talent lies with a top 15 pick, even then there will always be whiffs. The most successful teams in recent years have found a way to maximize fast moving talent throughout the draft regardless of their position in it.