Drafting For Need Is A Mistake
A few weeks ago, James Tate, a high school senior from Shelton, Connecticut, was banned from attending his senior prom. Tate was banned for trespassing on school property prior to the event. Why was he trespassing? Tate snuck on to school property at 1 AM to tape a cardboard sign up, asking his potential date to the dance. His date accepted, but unfortunately for Tate, he was unable to attend the dance, as he was suspended for trespassing, and due a strange rule by the school, was banned from the event. The rule was that any student suspended after April 1st would also be banned from prom.
Clearly Tate should have hung the sign on March 30th, since the violation becomes much more serious the closer you get to the actual event. Instead, Tate was punished because his school was short sighted, elevating any behavior that was closer to the big event. It’s much of the same thing we see when the MLB draft comes around.
The Pittsburgh Pirates lost their third game in a row today, losing by a score of 4-2. Their previous games saw them lose by a score of 2-0 each time. It’s only three games, and those three games shouldn’t get any more attention than the three game stretch last week that saw the Pirates combine for 21 runs. However, because it’s close to the draft, Pirates fans are taking the same approach as Shelton High, focusing way too much on behavior close to the big event.
The biggest mistake you can make in a draft is selecting based on need. The reason it is such a big mistake is because a need on May 25th, 2011 might not exist on June 1st, 2013, which is the earliest we can expect to see the 2011 first round pick in the majors. Granted, the pitching for the Pirates this year has been outstanding, even if a few starters are on the lucky side. I’ll also admit that the hitting has been disappointing. Andrew McCutchen is the only player with an OPS of .800 or better. After a hot start, Jose Tabata has really fallen off. Pedro Alvarez has had an extremely disappointing start to his 2011 season. Even Neil Walker has struggled lately.
Coming in to the season, the Pirates were banking on those four players leading their offense. When we looked at the draft, we had dreams about a lineup that included all four of those players, plus Anthony Rendon, making up one of the best young lineups in the league. It was only a few months ago that pitching was the big need for the Pirates. People were suggesting that the Pirates should pass on Rendon, who was still the consensus number one prospect, because the team needed pitching.
Now the Pirates are to the point where Brad Lincoln is looking impressive in AAA, and the Pirates don’t even have a spot for him in the major league rotation. In just two months of the regular season, we went from people wanting to sign Jeremy Bonderman to fill out the rotation, all the way to the point where people feel good enough about the pitching staff to let it affect a long term decision like the first pick in the 2011 draft.
If the opinion about the pitching staff, as well as the opinion about the hitting staff, can change in just two months of the regular season, then what will happen in the two whole years that we have to cover between now and the time the 2011 number one pick arrives in the majors? That’s plenty of time for Alvarez, Walker, Tabata, and McCutchen to prove that this is just a poor start, rather than a sign of a bleak future. It’s plenty of time for guys like Tony Sanchez, Starling Marte, Chase d’Arnaud, and maybe even Matt Curry, to make the jump to the majors. On the flip side, maybe the pitching doesn’t hold up over those two years. Maybe a year from now we’ll be talking about pitching as a need again, with the hitting being set.
If James Tate had been suspended for trespassing back in November, he would have been able to go to prom. Instead, he was suspended in May, and while the violation was no different, the timing caused the school to make a short sighted ruling. The same thing is happening with the draft. It’s getting close to the dance, and the hitters are being rung up on violations. Unlike the actual dance, this decision has a long term impact. We can’t predict whether hitting will still be a need in a few years, which is when the 2011 draft picks should start arriving. Because of this, rather than making a long term decision on short term performance, the Pirates should just take the best player available, which gives them the best chance of long term success. Maybe that best player available happens to be a hitter. If it is a hitter with the first pick, that hitter would only be a good selection if he’s the best available.