Bye-Bye Brackman

The Yankees declined Andrew Brackman’s option today, making him a free agent. While I hate to see any aspiring big-leaguer fail, the decision makes me perversely happy in that it validates what I was saying about the decision to sign the tall pitcher all along. When he was first drafted, I wrote:

I am the first to admit that I am not an expert in amateur baseball players or the draft, and at the very least Andrew Brackman is an imposing physical specimen who many of the people who are experts thought would go high in the draft. Yet, I cannot help but be disappointed in this pick… Brackman himself has an indeterminate elbow problem… or maybe he’s just overrated. Check out the strikeout rates of some other highly regarded college starting pitchers in this draft: David Price (to the Devil Rays), 149 Ks in 105 innings, or 12.8 per nine innings. Ross Detwiler (to the Nats), 99 in 79 innings, or 11.3 per nine. Daniel Moskos (to the Pirates), 66 in 55 innings, or 10.8 per nine. Nick Schmidt (to the Padres), 97 in 101 innings, or 8.6 per nine. Brackman had 74 in 78 innings, or 8.5 per nine. Maybe that’s his sore elbow talking. Maybe it’s his lack of experience, since he didn’t pitch much as a freshman or a sophomore. Again, fully disclosing my lack of knowledge when it comes to amateur types, I don’t know if I’m overreacting to a low strikeout rate as compared to Brackman’s gigantic body.

No, I wasn’t overreacting. The next day I explained why.

The more I think about Andrew Brackman the more I dislike the pick. In the Yankees’ favor, he was a better raw talent than any other player then on the board. At the same time, Baseball Prospectus’s prospect guru Kevin Goldstein, who I will interview on the state of the Yankees farm system next week, raised an interesting point yesterday: Brackman is not only potentially damaged—you could write a Warren Report on the state of his elbow—but he’s awfully unrefined for his age. As Kevin said, raw is okay if you’re talking a very young player, but Brackman is already 21 years old. Add in that it will probably take a major league contract to sign him, and you have a very small window to give him a lifetime education in pitching before you have to make a decision as to what to do with him.

Of late the Yankees have been more successful at growing pitching than at any time in the last 30 years, but the chances of getting anything exceptional out of Brackman seem very, very small. And if the negotiations drag out over a long period of time, preventing Brackman from making his debut this year, or it turns out he can’t debut this year because of his elbow, you can drop those chances by an additional 20%.

What I didn’t understand then and don’t understand now is this: one of the benefits of being the Yankees is that you don’t have to roll the dice to the degree they did with Brackman. A low-ceiling but reliable pitcher or solid offensive contributor is going to have more value given their financial capabilities—as we saw this year, and will likely see again this winter, the Yankees aren’t inclined to gamble on their own pitchers anyway. The players selected after Brackman were mostly a mediocre lot—you have to go into the next round to find a star, Florida’s Mike Stanton—but something is better than nothing. As much as, say, Brett Cecil (also 2007’s first round, eight picks after Brackman) has been banged around as a Blue Jay, you would trade Brackman for him in a heartbeat. Cecil didn’t have Brackman’s upside, but then, neither did Brackman.

First-round picks are very valuable. Your chances of finding a good player are better in the first round than any other, and the odds drop each pick you get further away from the top. It’s not a place for Hail Mary passes; gambling on a high ceiling only makes sense if the player also has a high floor. Draft your baseball players in round one, dream on basketball players with sore elbows in round two. The Yankees didn’t observe due caution, and they got burned. The release of Brackman merely confirms what was almost certainly inevitable from the moment the pick was made.

Pack up all my care and woe
Here I go, singing low
Bye-bye Brackman…

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