Some Daylight

A couple of months ago, Darren Shred was taken by the Cincinnati Reds in the 22nd round of this yearís amateur draft, the 655th player selected overall. This is the first and last time Iíll ever be able to say this: I coached Darren for three years at Huttonville P.S., the school Iíve been at since I started teaching full-time in 1998. By ďcoached,Ē I mean that we picked him for the school team, got out of his way as quickly as possible, then stood back and watched him launch baseballs over the far portables. There wasnít a whole lot that I or the other coaches could tell him. ďWay to go, Darren--now donít get hurt, and donít go on vacation.Ē In his final year in grade 8, we won our annual tournament for the one and only time. Thatís about as much as I can or should write about Darrenís time at Huttonville--itís not something teachers should do, and on the thousand-to-one shot he ever stumbles over this, Iím quite sure he doesnít want to be reading a former grade-school-coachís thoughts online (least of all when the coach was also his grade 6 teacher). I have, though, become very interested in what Darrenís chances of making it to the majors are from such a rela- tively low perch in the draft. There were 40 rounds this year, with a total of 1215 play- ers selected, putting him a little past the halfway mark. How often does a 22nd-round pick go on to get in some time at the major-league level? Thanks to Baseball, whereís thereís an extensive year-by-year rundown of the draft going back to the begin- ning, thatís something that can be researched and quantified very easily. I went back and looked at all the 22nd-round picks since the very first one in 1965. I used 2009ís draft as the cut-off mark--anyone drafted after 2009, especially a lower pick, hasnít really had a chance to find his way yet (although a couple of post-2009 picks have in fact reached the majors already). So thatís 45 yearsí worth of data to go by. Short version: the chances of a 22nd-round pick reaching the majors are not great--not hopeless, by any means, but Darren has an uphill slog ahead of him. Some numbers: Total Players Drafted in the 22nd round: 1194 Total Players Who Reached the Majors: 92 (7.7%) Position Players Who Reached the Majors: 43 Pitchers Who Reached the Majors: 49 That works out almost exactly to a one-in-thirteen shot. If youíre drafted as a pitcher, as Darren was, your odds are a little better of making it to the majors--and, by a much wider margin, of achieving some success when you get there. Total WAR for the 92 22nd-round Picks Who Made the Majors: 360.1 Total WAR for Position Players: 70.1 Total WAR for Pitchers: 290.0 WAR, if you donít know, is an approximation of how many wins a player is worth to his team above and beyond what a replacement-level player might provide (i.e., somebody you stick in there simply because you have nobody better). Itís a metric that has been de- bated endlessly the past few years, but itís gradually becoming less contentious--as an easy summation of a playerís value, itís useful. Over 45 years of drafting, thatís not a lot of value coming from the 22nd round: about 4 career wins for the 92 players who made it to the majors, and only about a third of a career win for the 1194 players drafted. Pitchers fare much better--their 290 WAR is four times as great as the 70 generated by position players. Almost half of that belongs to two pitchers, though, so thatís a bit misleading. Most Successful Draft by Number of Players: 1975 (5) Most Successful Draft by Total WAR: 1985 (69.6) Least Successful Drafts: 1979, 1980, 1981, 2003, 2004 (135 players drafted, none made it to majors) Again, almost all of 1985ís 69.6 WAR is attributable to one player. The í75 group in- cluded only one player of any consequence. The five years that were complete washouts, especially the three in a row...might have been a few scouts lose their jobs around that time. (I wonder if the í79-81 run had anything to do with the success of the í77-78 Yankees, who won two World Series in a row and were the first example of a team in the free-agency era that won by simply buying up everything in sight. Maybe there was a momentarily declining belief in the draft as a gateway to success, especially via the lower rounds.) Getting down to specifics, here are the 10 best (as measured by career WAR) 22nd round picks. I was originally going to list the 10 best position players and 10 best pitchers separately, but these are the only 10 from either group who exceeded 10 WAR for their careers, so Iíve combined them into one tidy group. 1. John Smoltz (69.5 career WAR; drafted 1985): the one 22nd-round pick in the HOF. How was it that a player of such caliber was overlooked? I took a look at his minor-league record, and it seems clear that he took a few years to develop into John Smoltz; his strikeout rate was fairly low as a 19- and 20-year old, and it was only at 21 that he exceeded 7.0 for the first time. Drafted by the Tigers (seemingly a favorite-son pick-- he attended Lansing High, about 100 miles northwest of Detroit), Smoltz was involved in one of the most famous late-season trades ever, one that was brought up frequently when the Jays recently acquired David Price for Daniel Norris. I canít think of another trade that resulted in such immediate and spectacular short-term success for one team--the Tigers got Doyle Alexander, who proceeded to go 9-0 down the stretch with a 1.53 ERA, leading them past the Jays and into the playoffs--while the other, the Braves, received all the career value and then some. They got John Smoltz. The Tigers missed the World Series in í87, losing the ALCS to an inferior Twins team (the Jays, of course, were better than both), and after a so-so year in í88, Alexander would retire in 1989. (Up- date: the explanation as to why he was drafted so low turns out to be very simple. From the Cliff Corcoran piece linked to below: "Before the 1985 draft Smoltz signed a letter of intent to play baseball [and try basketball] at Michigan State. Without it, Sickels estimates that Smoltz would have gone in the first five rounds.") 2. Andy Pettitte (60.8, 1990): the borderline HOF case--he may get put in by one of the veteranís committees one day, but that wonít be for a while. Finished Top 10 in Cy Young voting five times, and the key holdover starter for all four of the millennial Yankees WS winners. 3. Jason Bay (24.3, 2000): Rookie of the Year in 2004, drew MVP votes three times, and the one Canadian in the Top 10. Went to the Red Sox in a big three-way trade involving Manny Ramirez in 2008, at a point where his career was in very good shape. Followed up with a big year in 2009, and that was it--retired four years later at 34. 4. Freddie Patek (24.1, 1965): Key part--defensively, anyway--of the great Royals teams of the Ď70s. Famously short (5í5Ē), 41 career HR, three of them improbably in one game. Never won a Gold Glove--they all went to Belanger in the Ď70s. 5. Jeff Fassero (24.1, 1984): I remember him from his time as an Expo in the early-Ď90s-- he was pretty great there his first four seasons--and he followed up with one strong year in Seattle (9thĖplace in that yearís Cy Young voting). Like all left-handers, he then hung around as a journeyman middle reliever until he was 67. 6. Bill Lee (22.2, 1968): Iím quite sure the Red Sox hadnít the slightest clue what was in store for them when they called his name. (Lee completely contradicts my statement about left-handers: Iím surprised to see that he only played for two teams and was out of the game at 35.) 7. Aaron Harang (20.4, 1996): Still at it, taking his regular turn in the rotation for the awful Phillies, his eighth team. Finished fourth in Cy Young voting for the 2006 Reds. 8. Dave Rozema (15.9, 1974): I remembered that he was a Tiger, but I had the wrong era. I thought he was part of the lousy run of mid-Ď70s teams, the Fidrych and Wockenfuss and LeFlore years, but in fact he came along a little later, just as the great Ď80s teams were starting to be assembled. Top 10 Cy Young finisher in his rookie year, still hang- ing on as the 5th starter for the í84 team that won 104 games and the World Series. 9. Jeff Nelson (15.2, 1984): Also an important part of the millennial Yankees dynasty as the right-handed set-up guy for Rivera. Not much control, but struck out more than a man- per-inning from 1996-2000, when that wasnít nearly as common as it is today. 10. Ron Hassey (14.7, 1975): Another Jays connection: it was Hassey who lofted the fly ball that George Bell caught for the final out in the Jaysí first-ever division-clinching game in 1985. Quite a good hitter at the time, but that only lasted for three or four seasons. A few other players of note: Ron Bryant (drafted 1965): won 24 games for the Giants in í73. Ron Musselman (1975): part of that í85 Jays team. Chris Bando (1977): Salvatoreís brother. Mark Davis (1978): one of the more dubious Cy Young winners ever (1989 with the Padres, for a year thatís replicated by about six closers every season now). Mike Fetters (1983): another middle reliever who pitched forever, right-handed version. I vaguely remember that he looked like he should have been in the Little Rascals. Kevin Maas (1986): Babe Ruth for a day. In 1990, Maas (then 25 years old) got called up by the Yankees in June and proceeded to hit 21 HR in 254 AB; he was runner-up to Sandy Alomar in ROY voting that year, and--during the heyday of card-collecting--his rookie cards were bought and sold like they were IBM stock. (Partly a function of being with the Yankees.) He hit 22 the next year, but in twice as many AB, and was finished by the time he was 30. Mike Glavine (1995): Tomís brother. Jaime Garcia (2005): still in the Cardinals' rotation--very good pitcher when heís healthy, never seems to be able to stay that way (starting with Tommy John surgery after his rookie year). Again: not hopeless, not easy. Iím quite sure Darren knows this. One in 13 gives you much better odds than winning the lottery, and the payoff--at least if youíre John Smoltz (an estimated $135 million in career earnings) or Andy Pettitte ($140 million); even Jaime Garcia has earned over $25 million thus far, and heís still only 30--can be almost as lucrative. Hereís a good rundown of the best low-round picks from any round (Glavine and Pettitte both make the list): The 10 Best Late-Round Draft Picks Ever, Led by Mike Piazza, and a New Way to Measure Them

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