Tuesday, May 5, 2009

2009 MLB Draft

Given the unrelenting coverage of the NFL Draft on ESPN, I thought I would write about the upcoming MLB draft in June. There has been a lot of buzz about Steven Strasburg out of San Diego State, a three-year starter that can reach 103 on the gun and had a 23-strikeout game last season, and Patrick Schuster, a Tampa-area high schooler that tied an American high school record by tossing four no-hitters consecutively. But when the draft approaches, I always look to a sabermetrics website for the most accurate prospect list. Sabermetrics is a term coined by Bill James and is a way of analyzing baseball players objectively through statistics, rather than subjectively based on things like "stuff," "athleticism," and "potential." It was popularized by the Oakland Athletics in the late 90s and was made popular enough in the 2003 book "Moneyball" that now I would say every team except the Yankees uses it to some degree. Sabermetrics has given us such stats as the WHIP (walks & hits per inning pitched) and OBP (on-base % + slugging %) - objective statistics that are used as better ways to measure a player's ability. Given the annual success of small-market teams like the As, Twins, and Marlins, and even larger-payroll teams like the Angels and Red Sox, sabermetricians are generally a good source of knowledge on prospect potential.

Here are the top 10 propsects according to SaberScouting.com:
1. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, SDSU
2. Dustin Ackley, CF, UNC
3. Grant Green, SS, USC
4. Andrew Oliver, LHP, OKSU
5. Donovan Tate, CF, HS
6. Tyler Matzek, LHP, HS
7. Josh Phegley, C, IU
8. Matt Davidson, 3B, HS
9. Alex White, RHP, UNC
10. Matt Purke, LHP, HS

This is a pretty solid list I'd say. Strasburg is by far the consensus #1, although there are some concerns if the Nationals would be able to sign him. His agent is Scott Boras and there are talks that he would demand a 6-yr/$50 mil guaranteed contract. Also, with a player that can reach triple-digits on the gun with a mean slider, that always sends up the red flag for future injury problems. I would say Tyler Matzek is your best high school prospect on this list. He has great mechanics, and any hard-throwing lefty will always draw attention. Position players is kind of a toss-up - the players on this list are all great prospects, but there's also a great catcher I've heard a lot about named Austin Maddox, who has a great eye at the plate and hits for power, but weight and defensive mechanics may be an issue. Aaron Crow is also a name to watch out for. He's a hard-throwing righty that was drafted 9th last year but failed to sign, and he projects to be a solid #2 starter if he irons out some mechanical flaws that could lead to injuries.

In the end, it's always hard to project how the draft will shake out, which is why baseball's draft is given the least coverage out of the four major sports. It's not a sport like football or basketball where the drafted players go right to the pros, so it's harder for the casual fan to get excited for players they won't see for 3-4 years, if ever. There are so many factors that go into a prospect delivering in the pros that go beyond stats - things like poise, work ethic, or even small things like adjusting to wood bats or better pitching. Pitchers, particularly those out of high school, are usually a bust because they end up getting hurt, traded, or developing mechanical issues moreso than position players. A lot of pitchers get drafted with one or two good pitches and cannot develop those pitches or any additional pitches to get big-league hitters out with. Baseball is an individual sport in a lot of ways, and perhaps more than any other major sport, there is intense pressure on high-drafted players to make it big, which is part of the reason there are so many minor league levels - to ensure the best preparation and seasoning possible for every talented prospect. The fact is that only about 3% of all players drafted make it through the five levels of minor leagues to the pros, and only 1% of those players that make it become Hall-of-Famers. I read somewhere once that of all pitchers drafted, the average number of pitches thrown in the big leagues per player is five pitches. With the odds stacked against prospects from the start, and with salaries reaching epic proportions, these are major reasons that a great scouting department, which includes use of sabermetrics, is THE most crucial element of fielding a competitive team at the professional level, and it all starts with the draft.

Brewers 14-12, -3.0 (2 @ Pirates, 2 @ Reds, 3 v. Cubs)
Reds 13-12, -3.5 (2 @ Marlins, 2 v. Brewers, 3 v. Cardinals)
Twins 13-13, -2.0 (2 @ Tigers, 2 @ Orioles, 3 v. Mariners)

Erik - 10 (+ 4 worked)
Peter - 14

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