How bad are the Yankees at developing young pitchers? Part Three

"Hey Brian, we need more guys who can throw this thing!" - Leon Halip

The final installment in this trilogy looks at the draft, and how the Yankees have fared in turning picks into prospects.

Last March I launched into a series that questioned if the Yankees were as bad at developing pitching prospects as their reputation suggested. This final installment is long overdue, but pulling together all of the research can be a bit of a beast at times. You can read the first and the second parts of this series for the full details, but here is a quick refresher of what the conclusions of each part were.

In the first installment, we used a method for determining a team's estimated Average WAR given the ranking of pitching prospects by Baseball America. The method breaks up prospects into Bust, Success, and Superior rankings with corresponding Average WAR calculations. It then uses historical data from 1990-2003 to show what the actual production was to classify each prospect into each of the three different rankings. Looking at the Yankees 1995-2007 pitching prospects through this prism, suggested that the organization actually had done a better than predicted job of generating Average WAR totals above the estimated figure.

In the second installment, we compared the Yankees Average WAR produced from pitching prospects with five other organizations. This peer group was chosen by calculating the next five most successful teams in terms of total games won over the given period of time. Those five teams in descending order were the Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals, and the Houston Astros. The reason why I compared the Yankees to the other most successful organizations is because elite pitching talent was shown to be highly correlated with early draft picks. Thus, I needed to compare the Yankees to other organizations who would also be drafting consistently in the same area as the Yankees from year to year. The first thing that stood out was that the Yankees were tied with the Astros for fewest total number of pitching prospects from 1995-2007. They were also last in actual Average WAR of the group, as every organization generated above their estimated rate of production. It also appeared that the total number of pitching prospects for the Yankees might be influenced by a policy decision to draft fielders over pitching.

Working through the first two parts of this series, it became readily apparent how important the draft was to generating elite pitching talent. Finding Matt Moore in the eighth round is a very rare event in baseball. Also, calling Moore elite is generous, as by the metric I used in part one he should only be considered Average to Good at this point in time. What I would like to answer in this final installment centers around the draft, and how each team in the peer group accumulated and used their opportunity set. For example, how effective have the teams been at using draft picks to generate acknowledged pitching prospects? Given the high correlation between first round draft picks and developing pitching prospects, how did each team partition their premium picks between fielders and pitchers? Finally, if the Yankees did use more draft picks on fielders, then how did they fare compared to the peer group in producing fielding prospects?

Again, one of the things that came out of the earlier investigations is that there is a high correlation between Baseball America's acknowledged pitching prospects and early draft round picks. For that reason I am only going to examine the first four rounds of the Major League draft for our given period of 1995-2007. Here are the peer group's total draft picks, first round draft picks, the number of pitchers selected using first round picks, and the total number of pitchers selected in the first four rounds:

1995-2007 MLB Draft 1-4 Round Totals:





Total Picks

1st Rnd

1st Rnd P's

1st P's / 1st Rnd

Ptchrs Total

Tot P's / Tot Picks

NYY

60

19

10

53%

32

53%

ATL

71

22

11

50%

41

58%

BOS

67

24

14

58%

39

58%

CLE

67

22

10

45%

30

45%

STL

65

22

12

55%

37

57%

HOU

51

12

7

58%

26

51%

As I mentioned before, the Yankees and the Astros generated the lowest Average WAR readings from their pitching prospects for this group. So maybe we shouldn't be surprised that both teams also had noticeably fewer draft picks or total opportunities to draft elite pitching talent. This chart also might be a good explanation as to why the Astros haven't been a competitive team for a number of years. Fewer total draft picks and considerably fewer first round picks likely took their toll on the organization's future production. Beyond the absolute number of picks, though, there doesn't seem to be a material difference in terms of the number of pitchers selected by the Yankees relative to the rest of the field. Cleveland, however, stands out as the sole team to use less than 50% of their picks on pitchers by a sizable margin. That's particularly impressive considering they produced the greatest Average WAR reading from their prospects of any of these teams. The next question to answer is how did these teams fare at turning their draft picks into prospects?

1995-2007 Prospect List total on BA 100:





Total Prspcts

Prsp / 1-4th Picks

Pitch Prspcts

Pitch Prsps / Tot P. Picks

Field Prsps / Tot F. Picks

NYY

29

48%

12

38%

61%

ATL

39

55%

20

49%

63%

BOS

31

46%

18

46%

46%

CLE

33

49%

17

57%

43%

STL

23

35%

16

43%

25%

HOU

26

51%

12

46%

56%

Well, I think we've come full circle. When compared to the entire major leagues as we did in the first installment of this series, the Yankees might not look too bad in terms of getting expected pitching production from prospects, but it does look like they are at least comparably poor in turning their draft picks into recognized pitching prospects. At only 38% they are the lowest on the board by a decent clip. Combine that success rate, and by success I mean just developing a draft pick into a viable top 100 prospect, with fewer opportunities in terms of total available draft picks, and you wind up tied for fewest total pitching prospects in the peer group. Considering the Yankees fairly poor showing in relative Average WAR production of pitching prospects with this low rate of turning draft picks into prospects,and I think it is fairly safe to say at a minimum that the Yankees have not been that good at developing pitching prospects overall.

The silver lining on this cloud is that the Yankees have been very good at turning fielding draft picks into prospects. A 61% success rate is only surpassed by Atlanta's stellar record on both sides of the ledger. If there was a conscious policy in place in the Yankees draft preparation to lean more towards fielding picks, then this data certainly suggests that tilt was warranted. Now this investigation doesn't go through how the Yankees actually fared in generating Average WAR from those fielding prospects. Perhaps that can be the start of a whole new series considering the somewhat disappointing seasons by most of the organization's fielding prospects this year. For now, let's just conclude that for this period under review of 1995-2007, the Yankees have indeed struggled at developing pitching prospects. Brian Cashman did suggest that the organization changed its draft strategy in 2005 to target more pitching. Perhaps in the future with the aid of hindsight we'll be able to say something different about the Yankees and their young pitchers.

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