Nationals Baseball: Nats draft strategy in original WAR

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Nats draft strategy in original WAR

Lucas Giolito has a golden arm. It's golden because he has all the talent in the world, enough so that Baseball America would make him the #21 prospect after seeing just 40 innings of him in the minors. Baseball Prospectus basically says he has Hall of Fame talent (at least from what they can see right now) and rank him I believe #13 (but don't hold me to that).

It's also golden because pure gold is pretty damn soft and he's already had Tommy John surgery done for the wear and tear put on his arm facing high school talent. He's only got 38 IP so far in the minors which tells us basically nothing about the long term health of that arm.

Anyway, the point is the Nats drafted him for the great arm and ignored the realistic potential that the kid might not heal right (signs look good that he has) or get injured again (jury will be out for a while on that) while other teams were more cautious. They did a similar thing in drafting Rendon (though I'd really argue he dropped about as far as he was going to go, the Nats were just in the right spot at the right time - I'm digressing again!). Why?

#1 Kershaw 6.5 WAR
#10 Darvish 5.0 WAR
#28 Zimmermann 3.6 WAR

The difference between Yu Darvish, who put up a 2.83 ERA in the AL pitching in Texas, and Kershaw, was the same as the difference between Darvish and ZNN, who had a very good year no doubt but one that, let's admit, petered out at the end. If you don't see ZNN to Darvish as a big difference, (I don't know maybe you don't follow the AL) what about ZNN to Cliff Lee (5.1)? It makes the same point. ZNN is a very good pitcher. What would you say, a very good #2? Darvish/Lee are among the best #1s in the majors. The difference between a very good #2 and the general group of best #1s, was the difference between that group of best #1s and Kershaw. That's how much better he was than anyone.

The same thing can be seen with hitters
#2 McCutchen 8.2
#12 Cano 6.0
# 33 Adam Jones 4.2

Cano, who hits for average, hits for power, and still plays a decent 2nd base, is more valuable than Adam Jones who hits for power but only a good average and is kind of out of position in center. The difference between them is the difference between Cano and McCutheon, who basically does everything right.

Elite, best in the majors, talent separates itself even from the rest of the best. If you can manage to get that kind of talent on your team while it is young and relatively cheap?Your job just got that much easier.*

So the Nats gamble.  Prospects often don't work out so they go big every time hoping for the straight flush to show up. It may usually fail, causing organizational depth problems, but if it succeeds even once every 3-4 years, it can be worth the risk.

*"But Harper!" You say. "The Angels have Mike Trout, the elitist of elite talent (10.4 WAR) and didn't even make the playoffs!"  Here's a couple fun facts. The Angels team ERA was 11th in the AL. That's bad. The Angels offense with Mike Trout ranks 3rd in average, 3rd in OBP, 5th in SLG. That's good. hence the around .500 record. The Angles offense without Mike Trout would rank 6/7th, 8th, and 9th in those fields respectively. That's below average. Not to mention he plays good CF and accounts for 40% of the Angels SBs (82.5% success rate).  Without Trout the Angels would have likely won fewer than 70 games last year. It's makes the job easier, but it doesn't make it easy.


cass said...

I know he has the most commonly misspelled name in MLB (just ahead of Jordan Zimmermann), but I don't think I've seen anyone drop the 'c' while adding an 'o' before. It's the weirdest thing how everyone adds the 'o' - I've done it too.

Andrew McCutchen. M-c-C-u-t-c-h-e-n. Mc + "clutch" - l + en. No 'o'. Whatever mnemonic works best.

(Not trying to be a nitpicker. Just find the fact that we all add an 'o' to be baffling - I think it reinforces itself, though.)

You make a good point about stars, though injuries can level things, like with Tulo. He's better than Desmond when healthy, but he's never healthy.

Can't wait for some baseball. Even Sprint Training. Want to see Strasburg's slider. No mention of Matt Harvey, but it's hard not to think Harvey's slider was an influence on Strasburg adding the pitch. And yes, I know, "new pitch" stories are basically as common and meaningful as "best shape of his life" stories.

Harper said...

It's not baffling - a search of the Census data base of surnames tells us with the "o" is more common than without (around 3700 in rank with with the o, without is around 7800th)

Yeah injuries make it a bigger gamble than as a well-wisher of the Nats I'm comfortable with. Imagine it does work once every 4 years and you get a superior talent. Then imagine one of those guys is beset by injuries. You basically crushed your depth for 1 guy in 8 years. By the time the next guy comes along this one is gone or coming back down.

For now the Nats are ok, since they lucked into two with elite potential in Strasburg and Bryce, just by being bad in the right years. It'll be interesting to see if they gamble as hard 4-5 years down the road when those two are getting paid or gone.

If Strasburg isn't adding an eephus I'm not interested.

Donald said...

I like the gamble of swinging for the fences on your top picks. On the flip side to those not working, you also get lucky with the occassional 3rd (Desmond) or even 9th round (Clippard, though with Yankees) player turning out way better than you could have hoped. Plus, I'm sure Rizzo doesn't view it as a gamble given how much emphasis he puts on his scouts ability to find talent. I'm sure he thinks of it as more of a science than he probably should.

Sirc said...

"...or even 9th round (Clippard, though with Yankees) "

Clip was a starter with the Yankees, and a really bad one at the time of the trade. I remember thinking that this was typical Nats grabbing someone else's unwanted guy again.

But the Nats used Clippard as a starter only twice in the majors. He was coming out of the pen almost immediately.

What I've wondered is whether that was something that the Nats saw and jumped at when he became available. And whether the Yanks screwed up or just got it wrong.

I suppose the concept of putting high value on bullpen arms is still somewhat new to me. But the Clippard situation was my crash course in that regard. He was a lousy starter, but an immediate ace out of the pen. Later we saw it happen with Stammen, and I still think that Detwiler's month in the pen in 2012 is what sorted him out as a pitcher because he was pretty terrible before that at the major league level.

I still struggle with the concept of bullpen value, but I'm trying to wrap my head around it. It's still such a novelty to me though.

Wally said...

You know, I have read this a few times and I am not sure if you are advocating this 'shoot for the moon' approach to drafting, or just making an observation?

I think the black and white aspect of the narrative: you can either take a chance on a toolsy player who can be a superstar, or a safe player who is guaranteed to be a MLB regular but no more - is just that, too black and white to be accurate. I think every team weighs ceiling and probability to form an opinion on value. No one thought Trout would be this good. Like Jeter, he was a kid from a cold weather state that showed nice flashes but no one knew how it would turn out. Even the Angels didn't take him with their first pick.

In Rizzo's case, I think the draft philosophy is pitching, pitching, pitching (and the pitching he wants are big arm and frame guys with command problems, since he thinks that can be taught). Rendon and Harper are the only high position player picks that I can recall, and I think that he took them opportunistically. Bubba Starling was in Rendon's draft too, and he was a proto-typical boom or bust guy (huge HS athlete, cold weather state so not a lot of baseball to be played). If the situation played out that he was available to Rizzo instead of Rendon, I think Rizz goes for his next best pitcher, not Bubba. I think that he was just very confident in Rendon's hit tool, and he looks to have gotten it right.

NotBobby said...

Does it have to be an all or nothing thing? Why can't Rizzo listen to his scouts and say this guy has elite talent but injury concerns but we will go with him anyways, and then take a safer bet the next year if there isn't as much upside?

Also, really don't have a problem with taking the gamble on upside when Rizzo is willing to put multiple prospects together to grab proven young talent (i.e., Gonzalez, Fister). Great unproven talent in the low minors is always worth something to GMs

Harper said...

Donald - Was Clippard a gamble when drafted? I'm sure there's more behind the draft than how I simplify it

Sirc - Don't give the Nats TOO much credit. They gave Clippard all of 2008 to work as a starter after getting him. But he wasn't good and they saw a big drop in effectiveness 2nd/3rd times around lineup so they converted him. Probably only a year earlier than when another team would do the same. Wasn't really something the Nats saw and Yanks didn't.

Wally - just an observation. Certainly it is too black and white in comparison with reality but I thought it was interesting in back to back years the Nats "took chances" with high picks on injury guys (not boom or bust like Starling so much as boom or injured). Didn't have one in 2013 so we'll see if pattern holds in 2014. May not even be applicable.

I guess I'd have to go and analyze the drafts, to get a real feel of strategy. bah BORING. Calling it now - not going to happne

NotBobby - He can. Two in a row going with big injury concerns 1st round picks is an interesting coincidence that to me speaks to a philosophy. (Can't really extend past 1st rounds because potential will cause them to be drafted by someone by time it comes around again).

Better trade bait? Hmmm possible.

Chinatown Express said...

I agree with everything you wrote here, Harp. I'd make an observation, though: The only notable draft busts the nats have had are Marrero (total bust) and Detwiler (disappointment). Neither of those guys were really seen as reach picks, were they? They were before my time. Heck, for that matter Storen (who was drafted seven slots earlier in 2009 than Giolito in 2012) has been a bit of a letdown, and he was a prototypical "quick to the big leagues" sure-thing.

Of course, maybe the problem is that not enough time has elapsed since the 2009 draft to start labeling Rizzo's picks as hits or busts. Are we (over my protest) labeling Purke a bust yet?

JWLumley said...

Prospects are a crapshoot to begin with, might as well go big or go home. High upside guys should sideways be picked first even is they have a lower floor. Still bales me that teams pick guys that are "more projectable" over his like Giolito. Still there's something to be said about how that talent is developed look at what happened when Jim OPSBI was running the Nats with Detwiler her last his plus curveball and still hasn't regained it. Rizzo, for all his faults cough Tyler Moore cough Span, had done an excellent job in this regard.

JWLumley said...

Stupid SwiftKey....

Anonymous said...

Hard for a 3rd round overdraft pick to be a bust... Purke has showed some potential to meet his upside and is only 23, his bust side would have been if he signed as a top 5 pick the year before. As for Lucas dropping... there were only a handful of picks that seem questionable above him (just start at the top and work down Correa, Bruxton, etc., even Appel was a better bet at the time). Also, you could make the argument of "how could the Nats pick Giolito over Wacha."

Chinatown Express said...


Purke was a third round pick, but he slipped due to concerns about signability and he also got a way-above-slot signing bonus. I have no idea how to value those two things, but he's definitely underperformed what the Nats signalled as his value with those investments.

Re: Giolito vs. Wacha, sure, yes. But did anyone expect Wacha to be Wacha? It's like slamming the Nats for taking Storen (or Strasburg!) ahead of Mike Trout. You'd do things differently in hindsight, but you can't blame management, anymore than you can blame the billion GMs who passed on Pujols in '99.

Chinatown Express said...

Really, did anyone but Wacha's immediate family even know who he was? He wasn't famous; he just had Wacha flocker fame.

Wally said...

I dunno, still seems like the conversation is too black and white. Development is huge, especially for HSers. Several of these 'boom/bust' guys turn into avg players, and some of these safe picks turn into stars (Wacha, maybe Minor),

But even taking the flip side: There has to be an argument that 'safe' picks can be a good way to go too. If you can repeatedly fill out the spare parts of your lineup, bench and bullpen with pre-arb guys and buy a few stars on the market, I think that can be an effective payroll.

Bottom line, if you get the talent appraisal/ development right, the money doesn't matter. But it matters enormously when you get it wrong,

Anonymous said...

Just FWIW, Purke was also taken ahead of Trout, #14 by the Rangers in 2009, and didn't sign. But he was that highly regarded. Purke was also five picks ahead of Shelby Miller.

Of course the Angels took the immortal Randal Grichuk before they picked Trout, so maybe they weren't *that* much smarter than everyone else. It really is a crapshoot.

Harper said...

CX - hard to say anything about the pre-GM drafts How much was Rizzo, how much was Bowden? Then were the Strasburg / Bryce years where a monkey takes those guys. really I'm just going on two years here.

Purke a bust?... not yet. Can't say that at 23.

JWL - But you can end up in a pickle if a few years go the wrong way. You're minor leagues won't be able to feed you anything useful nor have anything to trade. Probably better off going big but I need to look at it more.

Fire Jim OPSBI!

Anon/CX - yeah, it's difficult to go the "should have taken" unless everyone is in agreement say like when the Pirates went with Moskos in 2007. You might differ by a couple slots but not more than that.

Purke wasn't a reach but mcuh like Rendon and Giolito, he was a talent waiting for someone to take a gamble on his injury history (shoulder bursitis limited innings in college). Still not a bust.

JWLumley said...

I don't get the Wacha love. The guy was/is a flash in the pan who lacks a 3rd pitch. Plenty of guys--hello Zach Duke--have had one great half a season in the majors. Wacha may eventually turn into a middle of the rotation starter, but he's not going to be nearly as good this year unless he develops a 3rd pitch. I'd take Giolito over Wacha every day of the week and three times on days he starts.

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