MLB Draft Dollars And The Strategy Of Spending

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Why do I get the feeling that with all the talk about clubs spending, spending and spending some more in the MLB Draft, that 2011 will wind up going down as the year that teams overspent and got little return?

We can go up and down, back and forth with the arguments for carting wheelbarrows of cash in the draft and bringing in top-quality talent, but the fact remains that the draft is the ultimate crapshoot.

As opposed to one of the most idiotic assertions in Moneyball that the genius Billy Beane was counting cards in a casino (repeated by Michael Lewis in the afterword/extra chapter of the paperback version as if saying something stupid once wasn’t enough), all you can do with drafted players is hope.

Naturally giving them an opportunity to play in the majors instead of continually bringing in veterans is a key to their development and becoming useful big leaguers, but the truth about the draft is that you don’t know until you know.

Picking a year at random (and I’m actually picking a year at random) with 2004 and the 1st round.

How many “star” players are there? There are two: Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver.

Apart from that, you have useful cogs (Huston Street; Jeff Niemann; Phil Hughes; Neil Walker; J.P. Howell; Gio Gonzalez); the underdeveloped (Bill Bray; Homer Bailey; Blake DeWitt; Philip Humber); and the busts (Matt Bush; Jon Poterson; Greg Golson).

Being a 1st round pick and getting a load of money increases expectations and the amount of time a player is going to get with the organization. The bigger amounts of attention and money they receive, the more a club is going to want to get some kind of return on that investment; that goes a long way in keeping a player employed and moving up the ladder even if he doesn’t deserve it.

The obvious and easy response to any failure or perceived success is to go all in. So if teams are seen to be “winning” with the Moneyball system, that’s what will come en vogue; if teams win by signing veteran players, that will be the new strategy.

It’s the same with the draft and development—others will copy it while it appears to be working; then they’ll move on to something else.

The drafted players have taken advantage of MLB’s complete lack of competence in implementing the bonus slots. The reliance on the draft to find players not to collect and trade, but to use is making them more valuable and the bonuses reflect that. But simply spending isn’t the answer on the big league level nor in the draft; it’s a matter of picking correctly.

This strategy of spending might be a one-and-out, because judging from history, it’s unlikely to succeed as well as the money or public accolades indicate it should.

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Viewer Mail 5.25.2011

Books, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

Norberto at NorbertoPaulino.blogspot writes RE the MLB Draft:

If you don’t like the draft there are more things you can focus on, like the Yankees-Posada saga or horrible pitching or what ever you want.

It’s not that I don’t like the draft; I don’t understand the sudden focus and attempt to make it into an NFL/NBA-style extravaganza and to sell the concept that it’s something that can be examined in a similar way.

I admire the work you put into your blog, but don’t think there’s much value in a “mock draft” for MLB; most drafted players are: A) not going to succeed in the big leagues to any significant degree if they make it at all; and B) unknown to a vast majority of even the most tuned-in fans.

Because of the absence of regularly televised college/HS games as there are in basketball and football, these players set to be drafted could be anyone; you can say anything about them and most fans won’t know the difference.

There’s more value in the scouting reports and comparisons to current recognizable players than formulating a meaningless mock draft.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the MLB Draft and Andrew McCutchen:

Sweet read! Some of these back stories were totally off my radar. The way MLB is trying to cash in on the production of the draft. I recall King Bud standing at the podium when MLBN aired it for the first time and all I could think about was how much of a joke the whole thing was. Then I quickly changed the channel.

You still think McCutchen is gonna be a superstar? I think he’s been overrated thus far. I mean, his numbers from last year were respectable, but not superstar-like by any means. Except for his HR numbers, this year he’s actually been worse.

I love how they have their regular MLB broadcasters/writers providing analysis like they know something about the players they’re discussing; they have a scouting directory they’re parroting and have no clue about the drafted players aside from what they read and are told.

I’m not saying this to denigrate the time people put into their mock drafts, but it’s a waste of time and energy.

Andrew McCutchen is a 24; can fly; has pop; can play good defense; has pop and style.

Yes, he’s going to be a superstar.

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE Brian Cashman:

I think Cashman is done here. There is too much negativity on the horizon for the Yanks. They eventually have to put these legends to bed and there is no one coming up from the farm who will satisfy fans enough to forget the good times and their “heroes”. You already mentioned the thin free-agent outlook.

That leaves Randy Levine to destroy everything because I don’t think Cashman wants anything to do with him either. I honestly do not think Hal, Hank or Sis have the knowledge or gumption to fire Randy Levine (and at this point why would they – he hasn’t done anything wrong…, yet.) But I think he’ll be the one to make a total mess of the whole operation after Cashman. I see Levine hiring a yes-man as his new GM and redefining the meaning of spending Bad Money.

I’m not prepared to say Cashman will leave, but the overruling on Rafael Soriano was an eye-opener as to Cashman’s limits of autonomy. That he was right makes it worse.

I get the idea Levine takes to the style of his former boss Rudy Giuliani in wanting credit for things he had nothing to do with and frames the perception based on what he thinks looks good; he wants to be Larry Lucchino and he can’t.

The Soriano signing was one of desperation and if the Steinbrenners and Levine are left without the one dissenting voice for reactionary maneuvers, things will spiral. Fast.

The concept of winning year-after-year without a lull of any kind is a special kind of arrogance and will only exacerbate a full-fledged downfall as opposed to a couple of years of reloading before another run.

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I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic. Check it out.

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Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

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Mocking The Draft

Books, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

It’s nearly draft time in Major League Baseball and the leeches looking to sell you things, invite webhits or garner viewers are out in force.

Now I must have my annual rant as to how silly it is to pay attention.

Predicting MLB stardom/productivity/failure is a colossal waste of time.

Regardless of the strategy utilized by various teams—college players; high school players; tools; stats; legacies—you cannot escape the simple fact that the games from amateur to pro are so different, you could conceivably place them in different categories of competition.

In the NBA and NFL, the games are essentially the same.

In MLB, it’s not.

They use aluminum bats in the amateurs. The pitchers have to account for the inability to jam the hitters by tricking them. This diminishes the use of the fastball—unless we’re talking about a lights-out 100+ mph bit of gas from a Stephen Strasburg-like prodigy—and reduces the velocity.

You can scout and project, but to think that the amateur results will translate to the professional ranks is ludicrous in most contexts.

They’re names, nothing more.

The media controls much of a drafted player’s profile. If they’re coming from a big college program, have had success in the College World Series, or Keith Law starts telling people how good they are, suddenly they’re in the public conscisousness.

They’re names.

Gerrit Cole; Anthony Rendon; Bubba Starling; Dylan Bundy; Daniel Hultzen.

Who are they?

I know Cole’s name because there was an article about him in the NY Times by Tyler Kepner—link. He was drafted in the first round by the Yankees out of high school and decided to go to college.

And?

I’ve heard that story before. Repeatedly.

The young player who was primed to be the top pick in the draft, but announced his intention to go to college.

Todd Van Poppel.

Remember him?

In 1990, then Braves GM Bobby Cox was scared away from drafting him because of that ironclad decree that he was going to college.

Instead, the Braves settled for Chipper Jones, a high school shortstop.

The Athletics (under Sandy Alderson) used one of their extra first round draft choices on Van Poppel; lo and behold, money attracted his signature.

Van Poppel, compared to Nolan Ryan in high school (presumably because both were Texans) became an eminently hittable journeyman; Jones is going to the Hall of Fame.

Cole’s about to go in the first round again. Will he make it? Who knows? But because he’s such a revered prospect, he’s going to get chance-after-chance-after-chance not only because of the money invested in him, but for the drafting team to save face for drafting him.

Don’t discount perception in the course of a player’s development or the recognizability of names to drum up press coverage even if the player isn’t any good.

It ain’t a straight shot.

NFL and NBA players are going straight from the amateurs to the big time.

In MLB, they have to work their way up to the big leagues.

Of course there are some college players who are determined to be close to big league ready and will be up sooner rather than later, but that doesn’t happen successfully very often. Chris Sale did it last year for the White Sox, but the White Sox drafted him with the intention of using him almost immediately and told him so.

Sometimes they’re not ready; sometimes they have to be adjusted mentally or physically; sometimes their skills/tools/whatevers don’t translate.

There are a myriad of reasons why a player makes it or doesn’t and they’re all viable and only understood in retrospect.

Glossy and idiotic.

For what purpose do I want to read about a kid that I’m not going to see in the big leagues for 2 years (if they’re on the fast track) to 5 years (if they’re normal) or never at all (which happens more often than not)?

Bud Selig can come ambling out to the echo-chamber of the MLB Network studio and announce the names; the analysts can regurgitate stuff they’ve read or been told as a basis for the drafting of said player; fans can debate about things they know nothing about…and nothing will change as to the survival-of-the-fittest nature of the primordial climb to the big leagues.

These young players better enjoy their moment in the spotlight, because many times it’s the last bit of positive attention they’re going to get for playing the game of baseball.

They’re selling if you’re buying.

It’s cyclical. Go up and down the drafts at random and look at the first round picks; see how many made it and how many didn’t; think about why.

Baseball-Reference has the draft history right here. Take a look.

MLB, ESPN and other sites paying close attention to the draft and making an infomercial-style, glossy sales pitch and the masses are buying it.

That’s on them; and you if you choose to partake in it.

What I’d like to see.

I’d dearly love to see the draft eliminated entirely.

Think about it; it’s un-American to tell a person that he has to go to a specific place against his will. As much as Scott Boras is reviled for his manipulations of the draft and attempts to circumnavigate it with his diabolical chicanery, he’s not wrong.

Imagine if a law school student were subjected to a draft and forced to go to a city not of his choosing.

The government would intervene. The people would revolt.

But it’s allowed in sports.

Eliminating the draft would raise the prices of the top players and would truly indicate which clubs are smart and willing to spend to find players.

Short of that, how about allowing the trading of draft picks? Imagine what the Rays would do with their massive number of accumulated selections from departed free agents? They’d move up and down the board to get the players they want at a reasonable cost while bringing in multiple assets.

I’d love to see a team with the courage to say, “we’re not indulging in the draft; we’re gonna scour the international market worldwide and spend out draft money there to bring in 50 players for the cost of 1 and hope we hit on at least 5.”

How would that work?

It couldn’t be any worse and it would be far more interesting.

There are so many aspects to the draft from development to opportunity to intelligence to scouting acumen that you can’t account for.

Keith Law can play MLB’s version of Mel Kiper Jr. and presumably make a nice living at it; he can travel around, collect names of players in a word-of-mouth fashion and present the myth that this guy is the next Chipper Jones; the next Ken Griffey Jr.

It doesn’t happen that way. Reality intervenes very quickly, but once the reality hits, the “experts” and MLB draftniks are preparing their sales pitch for 365 days hence.

As long as the system stays the same, I’m going to scream at the wind on an annual basis.

The only thing I can say is, you fly back to school now little (Bubba) Starling. Fly fly. Flyflyflyfly….

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I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic. Check it out.

****

Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

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Theories

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

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.

I’ll be a guest on two podcasts tomorrow. In the afternoon, I’ll be on with Sal at SportsFanBuzz; in the evening with Mike on NYBaseballDigest.

Don’t be scaaaaared.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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