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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Draft Day Predictions: Serious Business

I’ve been pretty busy the last few days, so this post may be a little shorter than normal. Use the extra time to do something productive, like feng shui, or writing the Great American Novel, or something (or commenting here, if that’s too time-consuming).

Anyway, as you may have heard the 2012 Draft was earlier this week! Exciting times for everyone involved. I, personally, am looking forward to 2017, when the Orioles (led by Kevin Gausman) and the Cardinals (led by Michael Wacha and Stephen Piscotty) meet in the World Series.

But wait! Rob Neyer points out that the MLB Network was a little overly-optimistic in their projections of the drafted players.

Look, it's perfectly appropriate to mention the major-league pitchers who come to mind, when you're looking at an 18-year-old pitcher. Baseball men like John Hart love to project young baseball players; in fact, the ability to project a young baseball player is what separates a great baseball man from a regular baseball man.
...
But the whole draft went like that: Player drafted, immediately compared to major-league superstar. But it wasn't until a bit later in the draft that my blood pressure shot up again. With the 19th pick, the Cardinals took a Texas A&M right-hander named Michael Wacha.
Greg Amsinger: "The player comp is Jon Garland. Do you see that, John Hart?"
Hart did not: "I think he's gonna be a better pitcher than Jon Garland. Again, looking at a guy like Wacha, not a lot of ceiling, not a 1 or 2 guy. But a safe bet to become a major-league starter. I see him as a good mid-rotation guy ..."
If Wacha is better than Jon Garland, it will be a major upset. Jon Garland won 132 games in the major leagues. I would be willing to bet John Hart a cool three hundred dollars that Michael Wacha doesn't win even 100 games in the majors.
Repeating our little exercise from before, here are the college pitchers taken with the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, or 21st picks from 1998 through 2007: Brad LidgeSeth EthertonBen DigginsChris BootcheckAaron HeilmanBrad HennesseyRoyce RingBobby BrownlieChad CorderoChris LambertCesar Carrillo, Brett Sinkbell, Ian KennedyJoe Savery.

Is this really a problem? I mean, I actually didn’t mind that they listed the best projections for each pick. I would say it’s probably better that way. I mean, it’s not perfect. I suppose they could continually mention caveats, like “Best case scenario:”, or “His most favorable comparison is...”. However (maybe this was just me assuming too much), I thought that those qualifications were implicit.

I think most fans (or, at least, fans who take at least some interest in the draft) know how inadequate those comparisons are. Everyone knows the players taken won’t help for several years at most. I would bet most people also have some idea of how unlikely it is any one pick becomes a superstar. They MLB Draft does have a wide-spread reputation as a crapshoot, after all (it isn’t totally, but the comparison isn’t totally invalid).

On top of that, there’s a question of practicality. I would also wager that most people have some idea of what type of pitcher Jon Garland is, for example. Comparing a player like Wacha to Garland gives the audience, who may never have heard of this player before, a sort of short-hand for what this new player’s ceiling is. For example, Garland generates images of a pitcher without overwhelming stuff who, at his peak, can be a decent number two starter. Is this comparison totally accurate? I have no idea-I don’t really know a ton about Wacha outside of the few pre-draft reports I read. But it does tell me more than comparing him to, say, Chris Bootcheck or Joe Savery. Particularly because 1) the quality of each draft can vary, so #19 in one year may not be equal to #19 another year; and 2) just because they are all pitchers taken around #19 does not mean that they are all similar types of pitchers.

Besides, isn’t Draft Day for dreaming, at least to some degree? Like I said, most of these players are years away from even making the majors. We’ll have plenty of time to learn more about them as they appear on prospect lists and such over the next few years. Use Draft Day to celebrate the new players and the starts of their careers. Just keep in mind everyone is a little happier and more optimistic than normal and it should be fine.

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