Research is important.
And today, it’s easy.
With that in mind, I have to wonder why writers insist on twisting facts to bolster their arguments when the “facts” which underpin their assertions are so rapidly ascertainable.
The latest is in today’s NY Times: In Search for an Ace? It’s Best to Invest Early.
In this piece, Tyler Kepner attempts to “explain” how to successfully build a pitching staff through the draft. Of course there are the customary shots at the Pirates for repeatedly bypassing on pitchers they should’ve drafted and then watched the failures of the ones they did.
In the piece, there are the facts without context; quotes from executives; and blame doled out on those who were supposedly responsible for the missteps.
Everyone has a theory.
In Moneyball, there was the results-oriented and college player postulation that a team with limited resources should find signable, near-mature talent to use in the big leagues as quickly as possible.
With the Giants championship spurred by homegrown talent, naturally the focus is on developing young players—especially pitchers; the concept has evolved to drafting highly and selecting the best available arms.
Jennie Finch and her husband Casey Daigle now have a son called “Ace”; the implication is that because of those tremendous genetics to be tall and to pitch, there’s going to be a top draft pick on the horizon 17-20 years from now.
Then there’s the “new” way in which the same Pirates—mentioned earlier—are spending heavily on international prospects and investing in the draft by going over advised MLB slot prices.
Which is it?
Is it the last thing that worked?
Or is it a strategy that must be adhered to if the individual teams want to be considered intelligent and have books written about them?
Former Pirates GM Dave Littlefield is defended by his now-boss, Jim Hendry with the Cubs; it’s said that because of the interference of the Pirates ownership in what Littlefield wanted to do, he couldn’t win. Littlefield made some good trades like the one in which he acquired Jason Bay; and some terrible ones where he got nothing for Aramis Ramirez. The team was consistently awful under his stewardship and he quickly proved that there are certain executives who are not suited to being the architect of the organization—they’re better as assistants.
A lack of money doesn’t account for that; nor does it excuse the draft mistakes and the suggestion that the Pirates bypassed CC Sabathia for financial reasons and misunderstood his potential. But the entire foundation of the Sabathia gaffe is faulty because Kepner leaves out the other players who were drafted ahead of the big lefty.
The Pirates drafted Clint Johnston—a lefty who never made it as a pitcher despite big strikeout numbers; he didn’t make it as a hitter either after making the switch to first base and the outfield.
As for the other players who were missed by teams not named the Pirates, there were 19 players picked in front of Sabathia—link. Some of whom—Mark Mulder, Pat Burrell, J.D. Drew, Brad Lidge—made it; others who didn’t. Does that mean the Pirates should be singled out as “stupid”? Only if the other clubs are stupid as well.
How quickly did the Moneyball nonsense come apart as the 2002-2003 drafts which were supposedly orchestrated by the “genius” Billy Beane yielded some useful players like Nick Swisher, but placed an untenable amount of pressure on Jeremy Brown to live up to the role he played in the book; I’m convinced that had he not been such a central character, Brown could very well have been a useful bat in someone’s lineup; everyone knew his name for all the wrong reasons and he was done at 27.
This was exacerbated by Beane’s abandonment of the principles Michael Lewis’s story (not account, story) laid out as in subsequent years, Beane took the step of drafting the dreaded…high….school….pitcher!
It worked too with Trevor Cahill.
The Giants drafted highly—as Brewers GM Doug Melvin says in the article—because they were bad for a few years; but the Giants were smart (or gutsy; or desperate) enough to look past Tim Lincecum‘s size, unusual training regimen and stage father to draft him and leave him alone. How many other organizations would’ve accepted the terms set forth by his dad?
The genetics theory? It’s not irrelevant to think that a young player who comes from good athletic stock can mimic the skills of his parents, but you can pick and choose with that as well. Where’s Nolan Ryan‘s son Reid now?
The Pirates are spending money and expanding their international outreach, but it’s only going to bear fruit if they find players with the money they’re spending. Whether or not they’re acquiring talent is the key, not how much they pay for it. Considering the atrocious way in which the Pirates are being run by the current front office at the major league level, why would they know what they’re doing in scouting young players—money aside—and not have a clue how to make intelligent trades or understand that it was a terrible idea to non-tender Matt Capps?
We can go up and down the draft boards and find players that were overlooked for one reason or another, but what’s the point?
Mining for talent isn’t a science; it’s not a matter of spending money; nor is it a broad-based set of rules that must be adhered to for fear of being called a fool. It’s about knowing what you’re doing; being lucky; having the courage to do as the Giants did with Lincecum and leave him alone; teaching; and giving young players an opportunity.
The Giants succeeded because they had all those factors going for them. Not because of the high draft choices alone.
Don’t be scaaaaared.
Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.
I published a full excerpt of my book here.