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How successful are mid-first round high-school pitchers?

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Let's look at a quarter century of draft data and see how well they have done.

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This is a follow-up on something mentioned in passing when I was writing about the Touki Tossaint trade: I noted that no high-school pitcher chosen with the 16th pick like Toussaint, had ever become an "ace", or even had a career worth 10 WAR. It was pointed out, and it is fair criticism, that this was a narrow selection, and just one pick away, you could find the likes of Roy Halladay, who certainly were successful. So, I decided to dig into things a little further. Hey, it's an off-day and I couldn't find anything that grabbed me on Netflix. :)

Below, is a table listing all the high-school pitchers chosen between 1981-2005 from the 11th to the 20th round of the draft, all figures inclusive. Why 2005? Because that gives the pitcher at least five years to develop in the minors and then five more years of production in the majors, which should be enough to get a decent idea of success. Why 1981? Because I wanted a decent sample size: I started in 2005 and went back, deciding I would only stop when I had found fifty qualifying pitchers. Going back to 1981 gave me a total of 52, representing 20.8% of the 250 players chosen in that time. It was also a convenient quarter-century!

[The table columns are sortable, so you can click on the headers to order by a specific set of data. Re-click to sort it in the reverse direction.]

Year OvPck Tm Name Pos WAR G W L ERA WHIP SV
2005 16 RHP 2.3 130 35 51 4.94 1.45 0
2005 20 LHP
2004 17 LHP 1.5 127 4 3 3.54 1.33 2
2003 16 Marlins Jeff Allison RHP
2002 15 LHP 21.4 255 95 83 3.99 1.36 0
2002 17 LHP 44.5 289 113 88 3.26 1.14 0
2001 12 RHP
2001 16 RHP
2001 17 RHP
2001 20 LHP 1.6 72 18 30 5.18 1.44 0
2000 19 LHP 6.0 370 15 23 3.53 1.34 10
1999 12 Phillies RHP 14.4 381 97 96 4.25 1.33 40
1999 14 Reds Ty Howington LHP
1999 15 White Sox Jason Stumm RHP
1999 18 Rich Stahl LHP
1998 13 Brewers J.M. Gold RHP
1998 20 Indians LHP 54.9 437 211 126 3.68 1.24 0
1997 17 John Curtice LHP
1997 18 Mark Mangum RHP
1997 19 Ryan Anderson LHP
1996 11 Phillies RHP 5.3 209 71 68 4.94 1.44 0
1996 12 White Sox LHP 3.2 261 11 6 4.16 1.37 1
1996 17 Cubs Todd Noel RHP
1995 15 Red Sox Andrew Yount RHP
1995 16 Joe Fontenot RHP -0.8 8 0 7 6.33 1.78 0
1995 17 Roy Halladay RHP 64.6 416 203 105 3.38 1.18 1
1994 15 Cubs Jay Peterson RHP
1994 16 LHP
1993 13 Matt Drews RHP
1993 15 Blue Jays RHP 34.5 350 144 94 3.76 1.28 0
1992 17 Royals Jim Pittsley RHP -1.0 81 7 12 6.02 1.71 0
1991 11 Mariners LHP 11.2 283 101 93 4.71 1.53 0
1991 15 Brewers Ty Hill LHP
1990 12 RHP 6.3 184 43 54 4.71 1.43 0
1990 14 Todd Van Poppel RHP -0.2 359 40 52 5.58 1.55 4
1989 12 Jeff Juden RHP -0.4 147 27 32 4.81 1.42 0
1989 15 Dodgers Kiki Jones RHP
1987 19 Brian Bohanon LHP 8.9 304 54 60 5.19 1.54 2
1986 13 Astros Ryan Bowen RHP -1.1 64 17 28 5.3 1.64 0
1986 17 Reds Scott Scudder RHP -1.2 96 21 34 4.8 1.56 1
1985 13 Twins Jeff Bumgarner RHP
1985 14 Tommy Greene RHP 7.1 119 38 25 4.14 1.32 0
1984 20 White Sox Tony Menendez RHP -0.3 23 3 1 4.97 1.21
1983 13 White Sox Joel Davis RHP 0.6 49 8 14 4.91 1.51 0
1983 15 Wayne Dotson RHP
1983 16 Expos Brian Holman RHP 9.3 109 37 45 3.71 1.38 0
1982 12 Indians Mark Snyder RHP
1982 18 Red Sox Bob Parkins RHP
1982 20 Tigers Rich Monteleone RHP 2.7 210 24 17 3.87 1.31 0
1981 16 Cubs Vance Lovelace LHP 0.0 9 0 0 5.79 3.21 0
1981 17 Tigers Ricky Barlow RHP
1981 20 Phillies Johnny Abrego RHP -0.6 6 1 1 6.38 1.83 0

I'm not going to analyze these in much detail, I just wanted to throw a larger set of data out there: read into it, as you will! Because, from the above, we can safely conclude that... Well, we can safely conclude that we cannot predict with any degree of certainly how Touki Toussaint will perform. There is everything here from potential Hall of Famers through to total burnouts. And the line can be razor-thin: In 1995, with the sixteenth pick, the Giants picked Joe Fontenot, who went 0-7 in the majors: no starter in the modern era has lost more games without a win. With the very next selection, the Blue Jays chose Halladay, who worked out kinda well. But, in general terms?

  • Total WAR: 294.7, an average of 5.7 per player. Some are still playing, so this may increase a bit.
  • The distribution is heavily skewed. just four pitchers (Halladay, Sabathia, Hamels and Carpenter) are responsible for 198.5 WAR, more than two-thirds of the overall total.
  • Though it is worth noting, a good chunk of that was obtained after the players concerned reached free agency, not for the club who drafted them.
  • The others, representing 92% of qualifying picks, averaged two WAR.
  • 46% never played in the major-leagues at all.
  • A further 17% were at or below replacement level.
  • 23% had careers worth between zero and ten WAR.
  • 15% were over ten WAR.

The phrase "lottery ticket" gets thrown around a lot in this context, but it's by no means inaccurate. Based on the results here, there is roughly a two in three chance a high-school pitcher chosen in round 11-20 will have a career worth 1.5 WAR or less. Beyond that, the returns certainly can be massive, but the odds unquestionably become thinner, the higher you go.