Sunday, March 30, 2008

I beg to differ . . .

Perhaps not so violently as the Cap'n here, but still, I have some venting to do. Over at a certain forum, I'm know for wasting hours researching and compiling rebuttals to remarks which I take exception to - especially when those remarks perpetuate a line of thinking that has a lot more "street cred" than it is entitled to. Well, the remark that sets me off today did not come from that board, but from another. I have the greatest respect for the work that goes into battersbox but I'm just arrogant enough to disagree with some of the remarks there, and in this case, the one I quote here:

"I would have liked to see more discussion of the team's policy of avoiding high school players--a near-ideological policy until 2006 that has really hurt the organization."

Discussion you want, brother? Discussion you got.
Now, let me be careful to say that this statement in itself is hardly radical, but it is a nice one-sentence encapsulation of one of the verses in that tired old song about how poorly the Jays draft. It is my contention that there is a huge and largely unjustified mythology about the results of the Jays draft strategy over the years, built largely upon the observation that Adams was a bust, and the supposed failure (in itself a rash judgment) of Purcey and Romero (more on this at the end).
Even I am not masochistic enough to do a real deep study of this matter for free (however, if someone wants to pay me to do such things I'm all ears!) but perhaps a relatively brief illustration of how easily such opinions are shaky at best can be offered.

To do this, I took the most easily accessible prospect list of the best prospects in baseball, the one published by Baseball America. Admittedly there are many good sources for rating prospects and BA is not the final word as much as it once was, but we are just doing a "quick and dirty" analysis here.

I took the 2008 list, and I filtered it with a literal application of the claim made. That is, since the critics contend the choice of Snider signaled the end of the anti-high school problem, I eliminated the 34 players on the list chosen in 2006 and 2007. Since we are speaking specifically of draftees, I dropped the 19 players who were international signings. I also eliminated any player taken between 2002 and 2005 who was drafted before the Jays first pick (5 players), those who were taken before 2002 (3 players), and those taken so low the Jays had already taken a HS player that year (also 3 players), and finally I dropped the players that we might arguably regret having passed on but were college players and thus, not relevant to the complaint (8 players). Out of the 99 players in question (Snider obviously not included) that leaves 27.

Of those 27, we can eliminate 13 more on slightly more complex grounds. It is not a matter of debate that, if the Jays had not drafter Rickey Romero, they would have drafted Troy Tulowitski. I believe it's fair to say that no one in Jays fandom would be criticizing that pick as an unwise prioritizing of a college player over a high schooler. Therefore, I think it's fair to say that we can accept the loss of those players in this group chosen between Romero and the Jays second pick that year - Maybin, McClutchen, Bruce, Volstad, Rasmus, Escobar, and Bowden. These are players in that group of 27 which we would not have drafted over Tulo and thus not really supportive of the complaint that eschewing high schoolers has "hurt us greatly."

Beyond that, there is the drafting of Aaron Hill. I believe you would have to search pretty hard to find a Jays fan who's unhappy with Aaron Hill. So, let us look and see what high school players were denied to the Jays by the selection of Aaron Hill. These are:
Brandon Wood
Chad Billingsley
Daric Barton
Jarrod Saltamacchia
Adam Jones
Adam Miller

On the whole, while somewhat covetous of Billingsley, I don't think it's fair to say that the selection of Hill over him, and even less so the others, has "hurt us greatly." We will have to look elsewhere.

So, we are down to 14 players on that top 100 list who make up the body of evidence against the "no high school players" strategy. Lets look at them from the most recent, all the way back to Russ Adams.

After Romero, the Jays did not pick until the 3rd round when they took Brian Pettaway. He hasn't worked out as an OF and was listed on the Lansing Roster this spring as a pitcher. Between our third and 4th rounder, one player - Jordan Schafer - meets our criteria. BA rates the Braves OF as the 25th overall prospect. Unless Pettaway turns into a nice pitcher this one looks like a point scored for the opposition.

In the 4th round the Jays took Ryan Patterson, who is their #10 prospect and has been somewhat hampered by injuries. Behind him we "missed out" on Austin Jackson, Daniel Cortes, and Bryan Anderson. They are 41, 57, and 85 respectively. Given the fact that once you get out of the top third of the list the success rate for players on this list is relatively low (something like 1 in 4 live up to their press) I'm not too disturbed by this. I also note that Jackson is a Yankees prospect and thus, over-rated by definition. I don't think there is a player here - even Schafer - who has embarrassed us yet.

When we took David Purcey, we passed on Phillip Hughes due to money, so the reports go, and also on Eric Hurley and Scott Elbert. While Hughes has arrived at least a year early and enjoyed the usual garlands at his feet that a young Yankee regularly receives, I have not yet been convinced Purcey will not be his equal, so much the less the other two. I will not "cook the books" in my favor - admittedly having Hughes at this point would be nice. but the argument here is we have been "hurt greatly" - I don't think that there is a compelling argument either way with this group of players yet.

Our next pick was Zach Jackson, and this cost us Gio Gonzalez (who, like Jackson, is well traveled now) and Reid Brignac. Before you argue how cool it would be to have Brignac closing in on our major league SS job, remember that Jackson (along with another JP draftee) helped bring us Lyle Overbay. One of the arguments against our weak system is that we don't have the prospects to make that sort of deal, and yet, with two college draftees (three if you count Gross) the Jays did just that. Beyond the first round, Thigpen cost us Wade Davis (looking like a loss for JP) and then we took Lind at the expense of Lofgren and Balester (I make that a win) and Janssen instead of McGee and Patton (I'm happy here too).

For the critic of JP who emphasizes HS players, we might have Drafted Scott Elbert (who went one pick later to the Dodgers), Brignac, Davis, Lofgren, and McGee and not drafted Purcey, Jackson, Thigpen, Lind, and Janssen. It's only fair to assume Davis in Jackson's place in the Overbay deal, and otherwise, I'm not terrible convinced the college players have failed us here.

One year earlier, after we took Hill in the first round, Josh Banks cost us current major leaguer and once highly regarded prospect Ryan Sweeney - since I consider both marginal players, I make this comparison an irrelevant one. In the third round we took Shawn Marcum ahead of a plethora of high school players who have not been held in high regard since. I don't think there is a scrap of evidence in 2003 that our system suffered from the emphasis on college players.

Which brings us to the infamous draft of 2002. To do this one justice, we need to move beyond the Top 100 list and look at current major leaguers. The Jays selected Russ Adams in the first round and then watched the following high school players go off the board before their next pick:
Scott Kazmir
Cole Hamels
James Loney
Jeff Franceour
Matt Cain
Joey Votto
Micah Owings

That was a fuck up, ok? no amount of rationalization about how much Adams has fallen short of expectations, or moaning about the evils of Scott Boras (without which Kazmir would never have fallen that low) can paint a pretty picture here. Any one of those other players would have been a big boost to the Jays fortunes, Hamels/Kazmir in particular hurts very deeply. but, it must be noted this is ONE player. We could have drafted Hamels or Franceour or Votto but we could only have drafted ONE of them. Don't let your eye fool you into imagining more than one of them in our system.

After Adams we chose David Bush over John Lester, Brian McCann, and Zach Dukes. I don't think Lester is significantly better than Bush, and none of us want Dukes here. As for McCann, while he would certainly look good in a jays uni, it bears repeating that he was a late second round pick so obviously a lot of teams failed to see his upside twice. And, again, without Bush, no Overbay.
After Bush we took several useless players but there's no one else in that draft to make us regret that.

So, best case scenario, if over those 4 seasons we identify and take the best player of the group that eventually went before our next pick, college or high school, who would we have taken?

Adams - Kazmir/Hamels
Bush - McCann
Hill - Hill
Banks - Sweeney?
Marcum - Marcum
Purcey - Hughes
Jackson - Brignac
Thigpen - Davis
Lind - Lind
Janssen - Janssen
Romero - Tulo*
Pettaway - Schafer
Patterson - Jackson

No defending Adams, and while I don't think Romero can rightly be called a bust, I can't argue the Tulo decision...I do point out, however, that it does not support the "draft high schoolers daminit" thesis.
For fairness, we assume two pitchers in the Overbay deal - Davis and Marcum.

So, laying aside the two conceded bad decision (one of which is irrelevant anyway), and the players who did not change, what we have from these four years in the system now is-
Banks, Marcum, Purcey, Thigpen, Pettaway, and Patterson.
What we might have had is-
McCann, Patterson, Hughes, Brignac, Schafer, and Jackson

Banks v. Sweeney? who cares?
Marcum v. Hughes? Debatable, but not an argument for a greatly damaged organization..

McCann v. Thigpen?
Purcey, Pettaway and Patterson v. Brignac, Schafer and Jackson?

There it is. Beyond that Adams fiasco, there's the sum total of your "damage to the organization."
Let me be clear, it would be insane to not agree that choosing Adams was a massive blunder (odd though, that the Genius of Detroit never gets flack for choosing Scott Moore one pick in front of Jeff Francis but I digress) and it boggles the mind what it cost us. but that's ONE decision, not an overall philosophy. Once you get past that one pick, the claimed negative impact of avoiding high school players is far more marginal than the popular mythology would suggest. Why? Because the insane unpredictability of the Major League draft overall leads every team into at least that degree of error and poor choices (again I point out that if any team had known what McCann would turn out to be he would not have lasted so long).

As in so many other situations, it is not that I object to reasoned criticism of JP and his decisions, it is that some of the legends that have grown up around the Jays in the last five years just don't stand scrutiny. I think we are all better informed if we think about those things that "everyone knows" just a little bit harder and see if they turn out to be true.

One need look no further than the great chorus among Jays fandom dismissing Romero as a bust simply because he's still in AA at the ripe old age of 22. YES Tulo came to the bigs fast and YES he would look good in a Jays uni tomorrow in Yankee stadium. We can all agree on that easy enough without making the false assumption that Romero will never be what JP thought he was getting in 2005.


1 comment:

johnny said...

Awesome job, Will.

Tulo was the superior player and should've been taken, but I'm just amazed at how many have given up Ricky Romero for dead at 23. He was stellar in college, great at A+, then was derailed by injuries through late '06 and early '07. I think it's conceivable that he could be up in the rotation contributing at some point in '09. And very few take note of the fact that Tulo has hit a pretty weak
.250/.325/.381 away from Coors in his young career, numbers than compare unfavourably to Aaron Hill's road numbers. I just don't think you could say Tulo would be Tulo anywhere in the league (at this point).

Unrelated to this (but sort of since Joey Votto's name cropped up), but still of interest is how the Jays are consistently beat to young Canadian talent by other organizations.