Everyone is talking about how the MLB has shifted so much more toward pitching friendly over the past ten years and how much depth there is in pitching when compared to a few years ago. It only adds to the fuel the common school of thought that pitching should be considered in your draft after you have landed those big bats. Well I am here to tell you that I think everyone has it all wrong, and here is why. Sure the strike zone has gotten bigger and the offensive numbers are down across the board, but that actually means 2 things will naturally occur in drafts as a result. One: premium bats will cost more across the board due to simple economics. And two: premium pitchers will cost less across the board.
Ok, well “duh” right? Maybe. Natural intuition may cause a knee jerk reaction of go and get the best batters out there to offset the unbalance. But I am going to tell you to go and do the exact opposite. For one thing, a premium pitcher is still a premium pitcher, just because he is not worth as much on an open market doesn’t mean he has any lesser value. If anything, pitcher friendly strike zones and numbers should only reinforce your comfort in spending the money to grab him instead of a bigger question mark. How many top 10 batters last year didn’t quite pan out? How many top 10 pitchers didn’t pan out? I can tell you there were more batters that didn’t perform up to speed than there were pitchers.
Granted, one can counter that with there being 3 times the number of batters to pitchers out there as the reason for there being a higher number of failed batters. They might even try to argue that the ratio is actually close to the same across the board. But are they just buying into the whole concept of get the best batters and role with the pitchers? Let’s throw some numbers out there just to see if my theory might actually hold some value.
Below is a list pulled from a common top 100 player rater at the start of 2014. The names are all the players that did not live up to their projections. Some had legitimate injuries; others just didn’t play to their value.
|2014 Rank||Player||2014 Rank||Player|
|4||Paul Goldschmidt||25||Cliff Lee|
|5||Carlos Gonzalez||53||Jose Fernandez|
|6||Chris Davis||59||Justin Verlander|
|14||Prince Fielder||72||Homer Bailey|
|15||Ryan Braun||73||Matt Cain|
|16||Troy Tulowitzki||84||Mat Latos|
|18||Jason Kipnis||86||Gio Gonzalez|
|19||David Wright||92||Shelby Miller|
If you paid attention in baseball last year, you will likely recognize most, if not all of these names as disappointments on some level. In total, 29 of the 72 batters from this top 100 list were misses; that’s a 40% fail rate. When you only count top 50 players, a whopping 18 of the 39 batters (46%) failed to meet standard. That’s nearly HALF! OK, right, so how did the pitchers pan out? Well, the top 100 players had 8 starting pitchers of the 25 on the list not meet their projections; that’s 32%, or one in three picks. Of the starters in the top 50, only one of the ten pitchers didn’t keep up; that’s only 10%! Coincidentally, that means if you drafted a top ten pitcher last year, chances are he treated your team pretty well. 2013 fared pretty similar numbers to 2014 all around. 42% fail rate of batters in the top 50, and an 18% fail rate for pitchers in the top 50.
This basically means, if you took your top 4 picks in your draft and chose only batters, you would probably only get 2 worth what you paid; the other 2 picks would be anyone’s guess. If you were to pick only pitchers with your top picks, chances are at least 3 of them panned out. That’s amazing when you think about it. Even if you only pick one pitcher with your first 4 picks, you increase the odds of landing 3 winning players as opposed to only 2.
Just for fun, let’s step outside of reality and imagine for a minute, what it would be like to have the following names on your team: Stanton, Kershaw, Sale, Scherzer, Lester and Hamels. That’s 5 Aces and a bona-fide top round slugger. If you are salivating at the mouth at that rotation real or imagined, you are not alone. Would you feel more comfortable going pitcher heavy if you could insure yourself a top batter? Sure we all would, but that just goes back to me reminding you that you are taking more risk in your batter than you are with any pitcher with a history of good health.
What if I were to tell you that those five pitchers are actually obtainable (or if not them then at least comparable names), but you had to give up on picking that top bat. Well they are; and you can. Last year I drafted Jose Abreu and Nelson Cruz for bottom dollar with a stellar rotation. The year before I drafted, Chris Davis on his monster year and also picked top starters. So essentially, I had that lineup and then some for the last couple of years. They were fun and worthwhile seasons that allowed me some deep playoff runs and amazing records considering. In the end, I didn’t walk away champ, but it was more due to reasons largely out of any of our control (real life playoff roster management that often benches some of the best when you need them the most). Oh well.
Now I’m not saying you will get lucky and pick the mystery slugger of the year every year, because you won’t and neither will I. But it does speak volumes on just how much of a crap shoot drafting is at times. But you can’t really deny that the top pitchers out there have been generally more consistent at being good than the top batters. So why in the world is everyone thinking and telling you that we should take that for granted and not go for the sure thing? The short answer. Odds. We are all greedy gambling junkies trying to get as many shots at as many great batters as we can; all the while hoping our picks are better than the next guys. Well, it’s just plain wrong in my opinion.
I concede, I’m probably not going to convince most people to use their first 5 picks on all the pitchers inside the top 50 you can grab; but I should at least be able to help you recognize that pitchers are probably worth more of your attention than you usually give them. As for me, I am going to pick the most sure thing out there, which little else can compete with the best 15 starting pitchers out there. I am going to do some homework and try to guess who the next Jose Abreu is going to be each and every year. At least if I don’t guess right on any given year, I can still rely on most of my pitching categories to knock out half the battle for me.