Yes, I know I am a little behind the curve since I am just now watching Moneyball. I am hooked. While it surely won’t replace some of my favorite baseball movies it has made the list and gotten me to thinking about all of the changes the St. Louis Cardinals have gone through this off-season and the struggles that may be yet to come. Between the crappy weather, it being Super Bowl Sunday, and the fact that pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in only fifteen days away my thoughts are more and more turning to baseball. Today is the culmination of the NFL season. This will leave sports fans in a distinct lull for the next two weeks at least. Fortunately the Mizzou Tigers men’s basketball team is rolling and the St. Louis Blues are playing great hockey. That will almost get us through. Since I am a casual fan at best of those sports, unless it’s March Madness I’m more than ready for some baseball.
Watching Moneyball has been an eye opening experience. I have enjoyed it even more than I thought I would. I am truly regretting not watching it earlier than my hectic schedule has allowed. The movie opens with a quote from Mickey Mantle. “It’s unbelievable how much you don’t know about the game you’ve been playing all your life.” While Mantle had passed away before the true evolution of sabremetrics had taken hold in the Major Leagues his quote is extremely relevant. As fans, casual or otherwise we often don’t completely understand the complexities of the deals that must be made to secure the talent we see on the field on any given day.
If you have followed my columns you will understand that I do not often delve into the mathematical side of the sport. This is mostly because I suck at math and there are other writers on our staff that understand how this world works and can explain it intelligently. I prefer to write from a fan’s perspective. One of the biggest mysteries in professional sports is the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. It is more difficult to understand than the other leagues due to the length of time it takes for a prospect to navigate the minor league farm system and make it to the Major Leagues. As a NFL fan I regularly watch the draft. It has become a spectacle. To be honest, as a St. Louis Rams fan we have had plenty of reason to watch due to the high picks the home team has had. Nearly every pick that is made in this draft will see the light of day by the end of the season. This is also true for NBA and NHL draft picks. So does the Major League Baseball Draft matter? Has it been relegated to a non sequitur due to the rise of free agency?
The draft has hit our radar in St. Louis in a big way this week. Due to the loss of some high profile players this off season the Cardinals have received five picks in the first round. These have been accumulated due to the following situations:
Do these picks matter? Are they still relevant? I believe they are. I wanted to take a brief peek into the Cardinals recent draft history. I could go all the way back and look at important draft picks and how they contributed to the organization. I feel the game has changed so much a more accurate story can be found in the last 10 years.
2001 Justin Pope RHP
2002 No First Round Pick
2003 Daric Barton Catcher
2004 Chris Lambert RHP
2005 Colby Rasmus Outfield Comp Pick for Edgar Renteria
2005 Tyler Greene SS Comp Pick for Edgar Renteria
2005 Mark McCormick RHP Comp Pick for Mike Matheny
2005 Tyler Herron RHP
2006 Adam Ottavino RHP
2006 Chris Perez RHP Comp Pick for Matt Morris
2007 Pete Kozma SS
2007 Clay Mortensen RHP Comp Pick for Jeff Suppan
2008 Brett Wallace First Base
2008 Lance Lynn RHP Comp Pick for Troy Percival
2009 Shelby Miller RHP
2010 Zack Cox Third Base
2010 Seth Blair RHP Comp Pick for Mark DeRosa
2010 Tyrell Jenkins RHP Comp Pick for Joel Piniero
2011 Kolten Wong Second Base
A brief glance at this list shows only a couple of major contributors at the Major league level. Ramus (who in a roundabout way is responsible for 2 first round picks this year), Greene, and Lynn have or continue to make an impact. Shelby Miller is the next big thing but only time will tell for sure once he makes his arrival in the starting rotation. Statistically only 18% of Minor Leaguers make it to the Majors. On the other hand the Compensatory picks have had some impact and can prove to be valuable assets. I often wonder if they are enough to offset the loss of some of the talent over the years.
The draft is still an important tool. Due to the length of time players spend in the minors it is important that teams continuously stock the farm. The Cardinals have recently done a great job of not raiding the Minor League system in deals to bring in marquee players. This philosophy will pay off. They are continuing to stockpile picks and make smart decisions. That affords them the depth they need to maintain a small market team that competes with the big boys. There are approximately 1200 players in the Majors and 5400 in the Minors. What pick will have an important future with the Redbirds? Which one will prove to be the most valuable to the organization whether as a player or what they bring in trade? Only time will tell. It is a numbers game after all.