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
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|
|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.