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Origins of 2008 Pitchers: Some Thoughts

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Pitcher Origins: Conclusions

This was just a quick study of the top pitchers in one season, 2008. A larger study, with a greater sample covering multiple seasons, would be more informative. This study also doesn't tell us anything about the longevity of the pitchers involved: 2008 will be a career peak, or even a simple aberration for many of them.

With that caveat, let's see what we found.

There were 86 pitchers in the majors last year who generated 10 or more Win Shares, 65 starters and 21 relievers. 26 of these pitchers (30%) were first round or supplemental first round picks. However, only 8 of them (9%) were second round picks. I thought that ratio would be closer, but apparently there IS a big difference between the two categories. It would be interesting to break that down by exact draft position, or in aggregates of 5 or 10. . .top 5 picks, top 15 picks, etc;, but we would need a larger sample size of pitchers for that to be really meaningful.

After you get past the second round, things thin out even more. Third through fifth round picks produced just 10 pitchers (12%) despite having three times as many draft slots as the second round by itself. The sixth through tenth rounds produced another 10, but with five times as many slots. This all seems to be completely logical and rational.

In terms of origins, 19 of the 86 (22%) were free agents, 4 from Asian countries (including Australia) and the rest of Latin America. Note the concentration of free agents in the relief role. 33% of the relievers were Latin American free agents, but just 12% of the starters were. Why would this be? Do Latin American pitchers tend to have just one or two good pitches, rather than the three or more generally required of a starter? Or is it a matter of stereotyping, perhaps unconscious, by coaches and player development people.? "Here's a guy from the Dominican who throws hard, let's make him a closer." To follow that up, we'll need to look at the relievers on the list and see how many of them were starters in the minors and when/why they converted to the pen. But that's another study.

There were 27 high school pitchers (31%), 9 junior college pitchers (10%), and 31 four-year college pitchers (36%). That doesn't seem particularly strange or unusual to me. Texas leads the states with 5 high school pitchers, 4 of them (Beckett, Danks, Wood, Kazmir) being first round picks. California is second with 4 preps, 2 of them (Sabathia, Hamels) drafted in the first round. Florida has just 2 pitchers on the list, and only 1 (Greinke) was a first rounder. Georgia, Ohio, and Washington state have all been just as productive as Florida.

There were 9 junior college pitchers, almost all of them products of the old "draft and follow" process. The highest-drafted JC pitcher was John Lackey, drafted in the second round. I'm going to do a separate breakdown of the four-year college pitchers shortly.

All in all, I think the most interesting things were 1) the sharp break between the first and second round;  2) the concentration of Latin American free agents in the relief role; and 3) the relative lack of success from Florida preps compared to their Texas or California counterparts. It is interesting to see Ohio ranking equal with Florida in this study.