To Draft or Not to Draft

Apparently, that is the question Tom Boswell has been trying to answer this week. First, in a column for the Post and then in his chat yesterday.

A point by point analysis

Nobody — n-o-b-o-d-y — has used a No. 1 overall pick on a pitcher and been glad they did it. Thirteen teams have tried it since the draft began in 1965. Nine have gotten egg on their faces. The lucky four got Andy Benes (155-139), Tim Blecher (146-140), Mike Moore (161-176) and Floyd Bannister (134-143). No Hall of Famers. Just a bunch of guys who could throw a ball through a wall when they were young but never became great. 

What he fails to mention is how many hitters drafted #1 overall in the draft are in the Hall of Fame? That answer would also be zero. Yes, the odds are likely that Ken Griffey Jr, Chipper Jones and Alex Rodriguez will change that, but as of today, not one hitter drafted first overall is in the Hall of Fame. And when those three likely join Cooperstown, the track record of first rounders in the Hall of Fame would be 3 out of 31.

Is thirteen overall number one pitchers selected a fair enough sample size to make assumptions when you are comparing it to the 31 hitters? I’m not sure it is.  This is not the NFL or NBA where top draft picks have a much higher certainty of success. The overall success rate of any MLB draft pick is open to debate. While a pitcher drafted #1 overall has not made the Hall of Fame, that does not mean that one never will. It will likely take until the 19th try (Griffey) for MLB to have their first #1 overall hitter reach the Hall of Fame

Next …

If you take a larger sample size, the evidence is even more conclusive. Since ‘65, 102 pitchers have been taken within the first five picks. Not one is going to the Hall of Fame. None is close. Only one won more than 200 games (Kevin Brown). Rounding out the top five — Dwight Gooden (194 wins), Bill Gullickson, Moore and Benes. The only reliever of note: ex-Oriole Gregg Olsen. Josh Beckett (89-62) may end up high on the list eventually.

What he should have mentioned to strengthen his argument is that among the top five overall selections in the draft’s history, you will find four Hall of Fame hitters (Reggie Jackson, Robin Yount, Dave Winfield, and Paul Molitor). You can add Barry Larkin to the list of Hall of Famers alongside Griffey, Jones, & Rodriguez. But even so, that is only 6.8% of all hitters ever drafted in the first five picks (8 out of 118). While those are odds are better than pitchers (0%), is it that significant a difference to make the argument.

Moving on …

Hitters pan out — almost half the time. Pitchers flop or at best disappoint given their hype.

Here is where Boz tries to muddy the waters. I’m going to limit this analysis to the forty draft years from 1965-2004. It’s still too early to fairly judge the 2005 through 2008 drafts.

I’m going to borrow a baseline from something Jim Callis did over at Baseball America. Specifically I’m going to look at (1) how many players drafted #1 to 5 ever make the major leagues and more importantly (2) those who make a significant career. Per Callis

Significant careers = 1,000 at-bats, 300 innings or 100 pitching appearances

Here is what we have using Boz’ top five overall selection, there have been 200 total #1-5 draft picks in the sample. There have been 105 hitters drafted with 82 of them making the majors. Of that, 64% of them have had what BA classifies as an impact career. That leaves 95 pitchers drafted with 77 of them making the majors. Of that total 59% of them have had what BA classsifies as an impact career.

Not that huge a difference in the grand scheme of things. Yes, hitters are the surer thing but is 64% that much better than 59%?

Here is a further breakdown by where each player came from (high school or college).

Source Total Made MLB Impact Impact Pct
College bat 39 37 30 77%
College arm 50 44 32 64%
High school bat 66 45 37 56%
High school arm 45 33 24 53%

Once again, the difference is not as dramatic as Boz would like us to believe.

So if we are to abide by Boz’ suggestion that rules out not only Strasburg at number one, it should also exclude Kyle Gibson, Alex White, Kendal Volz, he-who-shall-not-be-named, Mike Leake, Jacob Turner, Tyler Matzek, Matt Purke, Andrew Oliver, Mike Minor, and Tyler Skaggs (to name just a few). If one arm is too risky then ANY arm is too risky.

Boz offers an option

However, if the Nats use their No. 1 overall pick for a hitter, whom might they get? Perhaps a future Hall of Famer like Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones or Alex Rodriguez. Or Harold Baines or Darryl Strawberry. Or a batting champ like Joe Mauer, an MVP like Jeff Burroughs or a young thumper like Adrian Gonzalez (36 homers, 119 RBI in ‘08). Or they might get a hitter with more than 200 homers like Pat Burrell, Phil Nevin, Bob Horner or Rick Monday. Or they might get a useful B.J. Surhoff or Darin Erstad.

That implies that there is a guy like that in this draft. From everything we know about this draft class, it’s pitching heavy. Among the top 10-15 players in this draft, the conventional wisdom has maybe three options for bats early in the draft … Dustin Ackley, Grant Green, and Donovan Tate.

When David Price was drafted, Matt Wieters had strong consideration for #1A to Price’s #1 (the Royals, Cubs & especially the Pirates should be kiciking themselves right now). When Mark Prior was the next big thing in 2001, there were plenty of people who believed that Joe Mauer or Mark Teixeira were just as reasonable choices for #1 overall.

None of Ackley, Green, or Tate are in the same class when compared to Strasburg.

Green might be the closest but I do not believe he remains a shortstop moving forward which diminishes his long term value, in my opinion.

Ackley is a 1B, and all reports seem to imply he is not going to develop the power necessary to remain a valuable player there. If he demonstrates an ability to play CF it makes him more valuable but he is still playing first for UNC after off-season elbow surgery.

MiLB had the following scouting report on Tate suggesting he’s not a no-doubt guy like Mauer was out of high school … 

He doesn’t quite have the feel for the game that last year’s No. 1 pick Tim Beckham had, but he’s also not completely raw. He has the potential to hit for pretty good power, runs well and plays a pretty good center field. There are some questions about his bat and how long it will take to develop. The team that thinks he’s going to hit is the one that will take the chance and draft him high.

One other thing those guys have in common … all are advised by Scott Boras. The same guy who advises Strasburg, so if the thought is there would be some sort of discount for opting for a bat over Strasburg, you might want to think again.

Boz underlying point is …

Unless [Strasburg's] price drops to the same general range as David Price ($8.8 million in 2007) or Mark Prior (a record $10.5 million in 2001), the Nationals should pick somebody else with their top choice in the draft in three months.

His argument is based upon the fact that pitchers are a risky gamble with the number one overall selection in the draft. The truth is he is correct. Drafting a pitcher number one overall is risky. Actually drafting ANY pitcher at ANY point of the draft is risky.

I agree with him that there is a price point where any player becomes unpalatable. If Strasburg/Boras were to hold to their $50 million request, I would have no issue with them walking away. In fact, I’m pretty sure MLB would strongly advise any team to walk away from a deal that would in essence blow up the draft.

But Strasburg is not going to get $50 million. I’d be shocked if he got half of that. He’s also not going to sign for slot (~$6 million and change). His true figure is going to fall in between those two figures. And if my guess-timate much closer to Prior than Matsuzaka.

Bottom line is that as of today, Strasburg is far and away the best prospect available and (assuming health) should be the Nationals selection at #1 … risk and all.

  1. #1 by Steven - March 27th, 2009 at 13:09

    bravo Brian.

  2. #2 by Ric - March 27th, 2009 at 13:15

    Boswell makes no sense - first he wants to spend money on middling free agents to make the team “more competitive”, now he doesn’t want to sign the consensus best available prospect because it might cost “too much”, even though nobody else in the draft is thought to be even close to Strasberg by a wide range of talent evaluators (including the tough Keith Law) and where at least some say Strasberg is as good TODAY as AJ Burnett. It is a complete no-brainer, just like when the Caps had the chance to get Ovechkin in 2004 (and that year, there was a reasonable number 2 in Malkin). Yes, the draft is a risk. So is free agency. The Nats really have no other choice here, unless Strasberg gets injured before the draft.

  3. #3 by Basil - March 27th, 2009 at 13:17

    If you’re standing in line at the deli counter all set to order a half-a-pound of Hall of Famer, sliced thin, then sure …. Andy Benes is going to look disappointing.

    But what’s the shame in using a No. 1 pick on Andy Benes?

    • Benes was actually a pretty damn good pitcher at the end of the day. Never an exceptional one, granted, except in some notable half-season spurts (1991, 1993, to name two). But he was generally a very competent pitcher who took on heavy workloads. It’s not his fault the Padres killed their team in the middle of what was shaping to be his career year, or that they tagged him with a 6-14 record in a season where he average 7 innings per start. All told, 2500 IP over above-average pitching is a good career.

    • What players from the 1988 draft had better careers? Robin Ventura and … Tino? Nagy, maybe? Alex Fernandez was a similar type of pitcher, shorter-lived.

    • Prior to the ‘88 draft, the two top prospects were Benes, from Wichita St., and Mark Lewis, a HS shortstop with excellent batting potential. They went 1-2. The Padres made the right choice.

    Sorry to make this so long and Benes-specific, but you draft from the pool you’re dealt this year, and declining to draft the consensus best talent on the basis of some dumb quasi-historical argument doesn’t fly. Declining to draft him solely because of budget reasons is actually a better excuse.

  4. #4 by DangerNat - March 27th, 2009 at 13:23

    A nice read, but it can all be summed up into one sentence: “Boswell is just being gloomy Boswell and trying to sell newspapers.” He is absolutely being ridiculous which is why I have cut him off my list of reads.

  5. #5 by Offense/offensive - March 27th, 2009 at 13:33

    Great analysis Brian. The point that there is no comparable hitting talent available in this year’s draft seems to have escaped Boz.

  6. #6 by Dick - March 27th, 2009 at 14:21

    Here is what Boswell says is his bottom line in his on-line chat two days ago:

    “Just to be clear, my preference would be to see the Nats take a risk on Strasburg even though I know history says it’s nutty just as long as the price isn’t crazy also.”

    One of the advantages of having the first pick is that you know who to talk to before the draft since you don’t rely on what other teams ahead of you pick. Unfortunately, you won’t really know what his bottom line price is until 12:15 am on August 16, given Boras’ track record. Boras is like all of us, you can’t make a final decision unless you have a deadline staring you in the face.

  7. #7 by Tom - March 27th, 2009 at 14:29

    So this why you get paid the big bucks! Again, good job Brian.

    PS Any word on what happening in MiLB camp. Not a word from either of the fish wraps. The walk must be toooo far.

  8. #8 by cjrugger - March 27th, 2009 at 14:31

    Well said Brian

    You have to draft the best available player and go to the negotiating table. I guess he ends up with a 20 mil major league contract, goes to Zona fall league and is in the rotation next spring

  9. #9 by Dick - March 27th, 2009 at 14:41

    Also, I agree that picking a college pitcher other than Strasburg could leave you eating crow; however, I think the gap between him and Gibson is not as wide as it is made out to be. The gap between the two is something to keep an eye on over the next two months leading up to the draft. Right now, I’d argue Strasburg is ahead in three areas: 1) Ks, 2) radar gun readings and 3) press coverage. No substantial difference in ERA or WHIP and I still argue Gibson faces better competition.

  10. #10 by Positively Half St. - March 27th, 2009 at 15:18

    Fantastic, Brian.

    The Post is offering yet another round of buyouts, and let me be pre-emptive in saying that I hope Boswell does NOT take one. Even still, I am glad for your analysis, so I can go back to fully looking forward to Strasburg.

  11. #11 by Sue Dinem - March 27th, 2009 at 15:30

    Dick :

    Also, I agree that picking a college pitcher other than Strasburg could leave you eating crow; however, I think the gap between him and Gibson is not as wide as it is made out to be. The gap between the two is something to keep an eye on over the next two months leading up to the draft. Right now, I’d argue Strasburg is ahead in three areas: 1) Ks, 2) radar gun readings and 3) press coverage. No substantial difference in ERA or WHIP and I still argue Gibson faces better competition.

    Hmmm… a Freudian slip?

    Anyway, it bears mentioning that regardless of who they choose at #1 they will have to get him signed due to what happened last year. Fair or not (mostly not), there are folks out there (I’m referring to people that actually matter, like front-office folks, not bloggers and commenters) believe the Nationals were responsible.

  12. #12 by SlowPitch63 - March 27th, 2009 at 15:41

    Brian, Thank you for another wonderful piece. Being optimistic, what a shocker, I’d say that historically, drafting a college arm gives you the second highest probability of your choice having a significant career. If Strasburg maintains his separation from the pack, he is the only choice.

    Let’s play (pick) two!

  13. #13 by VladiHondo - March 27th, 2009 at 15:52

    Nice rebuttal, from what Boz is arguing, it’s almost like he wants us to pre-2008 Pittsburghian with “signability” picks.

    Some matters to keep in mind with Strasburg:

    All the talk of Strasburg appearing in the Majors this year is bogus. He will NOT sign early. He will NOT sign until the deadline, August 15th, leaving little time in prep work in the minors. When was the last time a Boras client didn’t hold out til deadline day?

  14. #14 by BinM - March 27th, 2009 at 16:22

    Brian, Very nice counterpoint to the Boswell piece. Thanks for the fish!

  15. #15 by Andrew Z. Stebbins - March 27th, 2009 at 16:25

    Vladi - I think the consensus is even if he signs at the latest possible time he will still be up by September.

  16. #16 by TimDz - March 27th, 2009 at 16:29

    I know that draft picks cannot be traded, but I was wondering if, as the holder of the first overall pick, the Nats could begin negotiations with Boras/Strasburg now as opposed to after making the selection?

    I know that it is allowed in the NFL (just for the first overall pick), but have no idea if this is a doable concept in Baseball or if it even makes sense…

  17. #17 by Todd Boss - March 27th, 2009 at 16:56

    I lost a bit of respect for Boswell with this column. I like to use the phrase, “any jackass can point out a problem; the true valued opinion comes from he who can solve it.”

    Yes, thank you Boswell for pointing out that #1 overall picks are fraught with uncertainty in baseball. Duh. However, if the Nats do NOT pick Strasburg, then who do we pick? You can’t just throw something like this theory out there without a reasonable alternative. He offers none. And as Oliver has mentioned and as a host of talent scouts have said, there’s no one even close to Strasburg this year. there’s no Mauer to the cub’s Prior, no Wieters to the Rays’ Price.

  18. #18 by Gary - March 27th, 2009 at 18:12

    DangerNat :A nice read, but it can all be summed up into one sentence: “Boswell is just being gloomy Boswell and trying to sell newspapers.” He is absolutely being ridiculous which is why I have cut him off my list of reads.

     Boswell does make sense sometimes. Just not in THIS case.
     Hitters you can trade for; pitchers, are what we SHOULD draft!!!
     But if Boras thinks we're just gonna hand over $50 mil for Strasburg, think two words: Justin Crow. How the hell we botched THAT up, somebody tell me, PLEASE!!!

  19. #19 by Mike - March 27th, 2009 at 19:01

    Great column Brian. This is why your site is a must read every day. Keep up the good work.

  20. #20 by VladiHondo - March 27th, 2009 at 19:09

    btw - Danny Hultzen vs. Alex White - after 2, 1-1. Jarrett Parker went long on White in 1st. Error by UVa SS led to tie in bottom of 2nd. Link to Game Tracker in DraftWatch 3/27.

  21. #21 by Dick - March 27th, 2009 at 19:58

    After surrendering a two-strike, lead-off homer, Strasburg then retired 14 in a row, 10 by K before giving up a 2-out single in the 5th. So the 17th batter was the first he had to face from the stretch. Struck him out for number 11. 75 pitches through 5.

  22. #22 by Dick - March 27th, 2009 at 20:22

    Strasburg yields a lead-off double in the 6th. Two ground outs lead to a second run followed by an inning-ending pop-up. No Ks in the 6th!

  23. #23 by Dick - March 27th, 2009 at 20:49

    Strasburg done after 7. 101 pitches according to the radio. 2 runs earned, 3 hits 12 strikeouts, 1 walk. Apparently it was 39 degrees in Texas.

  24. #24 by Jeff E. - March 27th, 2009 at 23:23

    Who said Bill James and the book Moneyball did not change the way fans hedged numbers over the pure game of baseball????? Just draft Strasberg and be done with it. Keep Casto. waive No Mo Pena!!!! too bad the Nats could not pick up Ronnie Paulino- another ex-Buc farmhand!!

  25. #25 by John O’Connor - March 28th, 2009 at 08:18

    I suspect Boz was just parroting a line of thought fed to him by the Nats, all in an effort to drive down the price for Strasburg.

    Oh, and will Tony Gwynn PLEASE keep Strasburg’s pitch count below 110? Please?

  26. #26 by natteringnabob - March 28th, 2009 at 08:54

    Nats made roster moves: JZimmermann to start in AAA and get ready to be 5th starter, Martis named 4th starter, Patterson and Castillo to minor league camp, Pena placed on waivers, Valentin becomes free agent.

  27. #27 by JCA - March 28th, 2009 at 20:22

    My guess is Boz was just trying to make a contrarian argument to stimulate discussion. It stimulated Brian to write this piece, which pretty much rips up the straw that “pitchers are too risky.” sure they are, the younger the more risky, but all things aren’t equal. The only reason to have doubt would be if Green is 1A, like Mauer, Weiters, or Texiera. He isn’t according to everyone I trust.

  28. #28 by Romp n Stomp - March 28th, 2009 at 20:53

    John O’Connor :

    I suspect Boz was just parroting a line of thought fed to him by the Nats, all in an effort to drive down the price for Strasburg.

    Oh, and will Tony Gwynn PLEASE keep Strasburg’s pitch count below 110? Please?

    T Gwynn is only pitching him once a week and on a pitch count. T Gwynn has said in the past “Stephen Strasburg will not leave his arm at SDSU”

  29. #29 by Ted Leavngood - March 28th, 2009 at 20:58

    Exceptional. The point made above that the argument can be reduced to this and that is true, but it takes exactly this kind of tough, point-by-point refutation to make it stick. Again, nicely done. I think Boz does provide push back to Gammons’ piece, whose motivation I think is still suspect.

  30. #30 by Scot B. - March 28th, 2009 at 22:49

    This on Strasburg from BA’s John Manuel via ESPN: “He’s going to be outstanding…JIm Callis has a great column coming in the next BA about why the online frenzy about Strasburg’s mechanics is overblown and frankly ridiculous. Expect him to be a true No. 1 starter.” Also, (me talking): I always enjoy reading Boswell. Admit, however, he was less than circumspect in latest piece per there no “1A”.

  31. #31 by Jeff E. - March 29th, 2009 at 00:03

    Prayers that Strasburg does not end up a more polished version of Todd VanPoppel. that should not happen. Todd just had one pitch even after working with Duncan. Josh Bard is a great guy! Is Flores ready to go or will Josh be the Bard of the Anacostia??? Interesting rotation shaping up @ Harrisburg with Alaniz, Atilano, Van Allen, Detwiler and probably Brownlie to stabilize things. curious LH pen help in Novoa and Bittner. anybody down in Viera get a good read on Zach Zincola??? maturing on time? learning from the vets? should be interesting to see how THE CHIEF takes to the Pudget Sound “Junior full circle” caravan. interesting that the 1989 Upper Deck set with Junior as rookie is still $100 a set. Has not changed since 1989. Am I reading too much in the box scores from FLA, but is Alex Cintron coming on or just having a nice week, yet still bound for SYR? Hey, Cap fans- who are you picking between a VAN/CHI series in the west??? Good luck to Shawn Hil getting to listen to Bud Black AND Greg Maddux. may health restore his career. maybe the laid back, low expectations of SD is the right tonic without the gin and olive???

  32. #32 by Bill Wagner - March 29th, 2009 at 04:01

    A winning franchise goes for it. A losing franchise is afraid. The winning franchise takes the best player and pays him. The losing franchise settles for second best in order to save money. They Yankees are a winning franchise. The Red Sox are a winning franchise. The Royals are perennial doormats. There is a reason for that. If the Nats are going to be something other than Royals East then they had best take this kid, sign him to whatever the market is, and STFU. In 6 years who wants to face the prospect that a Strasbourg who is an all star front line pitcher walks? So the Nats then better sign him again - winning teams do this. Losing teams or one-shot wonder teams do not. We’re going to find out a lot about this franchise over the summer. Despite having a HUGE market are the Nats going to pay up for talent or are they going to pitter patter around doing stupid things like the Royals and Twins? I don’t get too excited about teams who get lucky one year, trade in August for a star to get them over the hump, and then do a talent drain to lower payroll the next spring - sort of like the Marlins. It gives the fans NOTHING to relate to - a gypsy team with no stability. I hope that the Nats become the Red Sox of the NL East. We certainly have the right market to be just that!

  33. #33 by Sue Dinem - March 29th, 2009 at 07:18

    Ah, the spending = smarts philistines have returned…

  34. #34 by Steve Walker - March 29th, 2009 at 10:22

    Brian — The information below is for a book I wrote on the 1969 Senators that will go to press in 3 weeks. The title is “A Whole New Ballgame: The 1969 Washington Senators.” If you prefer, I can send you the information via e-mail as well as a press release. I don’t see any other way to contact you, so I’m posting a comment. Your choice whether or not to post.

    The draft angle with the ‘69 Senators is that they had the first choice in the ‘69 draft and chose well - Jeff Burroughs, but it took him a few years to blossom, and, sadly, he did so in Texas and Atlanta, not D.C. But I don’t cover that in the book.

    Here is a link to the Pocol Press website, the book’s publisher:

    Pocol Press Box 411 Clifton, VA 20124 703-830-5862

    If you would like to receive a press release, please contact Pocol Press at chrisandtom at or steve at

  35. #35 by Guy McGuffin - March 29th, 2009 at 10:34

    Another fun one from that article was his use of W-L from Sandy Koufax and Walter Johnson from age of 19 and on. He kind of undermines his entire point by saying that sometimes it takes these pitchers a few years to develop when he throws out examples of guys who came into the league when they were 19 years old. He doesn’t discern that Strasburg might be close to 22 years old by the time he throws in the big leagues.

  36. #36 by Dick - March 29th, 2009 at 11:52

    Mike Leake is pitching so well he is liable to be long gone when pick #10 rolls around! Mowed down Trojans yesterday. Green got a triple and scored the only run Leake allowed.

  37. #37 by Dick - March 29th, 2009 at 17:06

    Andrew Oliver pitched a gem today against Mizzou. Kyle Gibson got lit up! Kipnis has been on fire this weekend and Grant Green continues to heat up.

  38. #38 by Jeff - March 30th, 2009 at 11:03

    Can someone please tell me what Gooden’s first 6 years would be worth in today’s dollars? Boswell’s argument is absurd. If someone asks you if you want a 20 year old Dwight Gooden the response is “yes, please.”

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