2009 Draft: The High School Pitcher Myth

Game 44 Spillover Thread
Memorial Day Eve Open Thread

The common perception these days is that high school pitchers are the riskiest demographic in the draft, while in reality they’re no more riskier than their college counterparts. This train of thought really came to the forefront once Moneyball was released. Erik Manning at Future Redbirds (h/t BtB) points out that while hitters are a far safer bet when it comes to the draft, high school and college pitchers come with basically the same risk and are likely produce at a similar level in the future. John Sickels at Minor League Ball put together a list of the best pitchers in 2008 according to Win Shares, and of the 65 starters with at least 10 WS, 24 were from HS and 23 were from four-year colleges. Taking it one step further, 11 of the top 20 pitchers in WAR this year are HSers, and just four are from four-year colleges.

I’ve long been a fan of taking high school players over college players. College players spend three years under an amateur coaching and training staff during their prime development years, and often develop bad habits hitting with/pitching to players with metal bats. The top arms often experience workloads that their bodies may not be ready to handle just yet. What do you guys think? Do you but into the idea that college players are a better pick because they’re safer, or do you feel otherwise?

Game 44 Spillover Thread
Memorial Day Eve Open Thread
  • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

    I think, the risk with college pitchers is, as you wrote, that they get their arm ruined by overuse. I can’t even blame the coaches as I can’t blame the Brewers for riding CC last season.

    • http://www.bronxbaseballdaily.com Bronx Baseball Daily

      While you made some very valid points, I thought that the argument made in Moneyball was not that college players are better, but that it easier to predict whether or not they will become successful major leaguers. Those are, of course, two different arguments.

  • Drew

    I don’t think either are “safer.” I think talent is talent, sometimes it translates to the MLB, sometimes it won’t. I’d pick the player that has the best likelihood to progress and succeed, whether they went to college or not would be the least of my worries.

  • http://statspeak.net dan

    Here’s the answer to your question: Ask Joe Morgan what he thinks, and the opposite will be correct.

    • http://www.bronxbaseballdaily.com Bronx Baseball Daily

      Joe Morgan has the weekend off.

  • daneptizl

    I love me some HSers.

    • Steve H

      You get older, they stay the same age.

      • Andy In Sunny Daytona

        Alright, Alright.

      • Malcard89

        hehe, yyyyyyyyyes they do…

  • Nick

    Whether or not college pitchers are a better pick depends on the how soon the pitcher is expected to contribute. Assuming equal talent, if a team is looking for a contribution within a year or two of the draft, I’d say the college pitcher is the better choice. If the team can wait for the pitcher to develop, go with the HSer.

  • V

    I’m not sure if this analysis answers the question. While it might be true that the top talent is just as likely to be HS than college, the likelihood of a college pitcher being a future major leaguer may be higher than the same likelihood of a high schooler (thus, ‘safer’).

    Just the fact that the pitcher has already survived 2-4 years of additional abuse leads to a survival factor that should be considered.

    My un-analyzed hunch is that college players are more likely to contribute to a major league ballclub (and sooner), but not more likely to be top tier talent.

  • Tobias K. Funke

    I’ll take the college bats and high school arms.

  • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ The Artist

    One thing that could skew all this data is the ‘borrowing from the future’ that goes on all the time on the draft. Guys who become College pitchers are usually guys with less upside, the high upside guys often get snapped up in HS.

    So to compare College kids and HS kids success rates is automatically skewed, since many of the top talents never went to college to begin with.

  • Ico-Jones

    Meanwhile, check out the draft that was the focus of Moneyball. Not a great draft for Mr. beane.

    • dudes

      blanton and swish are solid major leaguers.

  • Nashfil

    Tough to say. I think college gives you a better idea of the pitcher as he is up against better players and is more physically mature. I don’t think the linked list really tells you anything (and let’s all agree that win shares is b******t). I do think you are wrong about college coaching. At serious college programs, the coaches are often good.

  • James daSilva

    I agree with the “myth” aspect in the sense that the pendulum has swung too far, now headed toward “HS pitchers = bad, or at least, huge risk.”
    The Artist also brings up a good point I hadn’t thought about, too.
    But anyways…
    Pitchers are crapshoots, year to year and all ages (look at Cliff Lee in 2006 and ’08, and then in ’07, Webb and Wang this year). So the risk, in that sense, is always there.
    As a GM, if I actually had the money on the line, though, I think I’m forced to consider the college kids more heavily. There is a track record that a HSer can’t match. A bogus track record? Perhaps. But it’s one you can show to your fan base and, more importantly, your bosses.

  • Januz

    There really is not a big difference between drafting the High School and the College player. Obviously you look for ability, But One thing you also SHOULD look for is guys who have the maturity level and the desire to become the best. The old “Gym or Rink Rat” concept. There was a player who Chief Tigers Scout Hal Newhouser wanted the Tigers to draft. In fact, Newhouser felt this kid had Hall of Fame WRITTEN all over him (Newhouser was a Hall Of Fame Pitcher for Detroit, so he knew his stuff). Even though this kid was a High School player, he had a maturity level well beyond his years. His name?……… Derek Jeter. ps: Newhouser quit because of this. Compare Jeter’s attitude as a kid with a college player like Ian Kennedy.
    The New York Yankees may be the most difficult franchise in sports to play for. Fans, media, level of expectations etc (To be fair, the Dallas Cowboys and Montreal Canadiens are not easy either), so maturity levels and inner make ups, are right up there with talent levels, and it has to be considered when deciding who to draft.