Commentary

Where do baseball's best come from?

Updated: June 4, 2009, 1:47 PM ET
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com

We hope Stephen Strasburg lives up to the hype. We hope baseball gets another rising star for fans to follow. But we also know that we're hoping against history, that pitching prospects -- no matter how fast the radar guns read -- are risky propositions to succeed.

Since most top pitching draft choices fail to become stars, we thought we'd take a look at where baseball's best pitchers do come from. In the chart below, we included any starting pitcher who (1) ranked in the top 25 in wins, ERA or strikeouts over the three-year span from 2006 through 2008, or (2) any pitcher who ranked in the top 10 in his league in any of those categories in 2008.

This gave us a list of 53 of baseball's top starters (not including the retired Mike Mussina). Yes, we realize this may not be the list of the best 53 at this exact moment, but it's a list of the pitchers who have proven success in recent seasons. And, no, we didn't include closers since very few first-round draft picks are spent on closers (although that trend is starting to change).

More notes follow below the chart, but one quick point: We are not suggesting scouts do a bad job identifying the best prospects; actually, the fact that 20 of the 46 drafted pitchers were first-round picks actually tells us scouts do a remarkable job of identifying future major leaguers.

Notes and factoids

• Twenty of the 46 drafted pitchers were first-round picks. Of those 20, eight were drafted in the top 10 overall, suggesting you're just as likely to get a good pitcher later in the first round as in the top 10. But it's even worse; three of the eight pitchers never did much for the team that drafted them:

1. Josh Beckett, Marlins (2nd overall): Good pick, won World Series, netted Hanley Ramirez in return.
2. John Danks, Rangers (9th overall): Never played for Rangers; traded for Brandon McCarthy, a one-time 17th-round pick.
3. Gavin Floyd, Phillies (4th overall): Never developed with Phillies, traded for Freddy Garcia, who won one game with Philadelphia.
4. Jon Garland, Cubs (10th overall): Traded before reaching majors for relief pitcher Matt Karchner, who had 4.60 ERA with Cubs.
5. Zack Greinke, Royals (6th overall): Turning into a star.
6. Tim Lincecum, Giants (10th overall): Let's hope he stays healthy.
7. Ben Sheets, Brewers (10th overall): Gave the Brewers eight solid seasons.
8. Justin Verlander, Tigers (2nd overall): On track for best season yet.

McCarthy may end up giving the Rangers value, but Floyd and Garland should be considered "flops" for the teams that drafted them, since they netted no value when traded.

• Thirteen of the 20 first-round picks were high school pitchers, including Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, Cole Hamels and Scott Kazmir, all drafted between 15th and 20th overall.

• Twenty-four of the 46 drafted pitchers were high schoolers.

• Kudos to the Angels for drafting well and keeping their talent: John Lackey, Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders all were college selections.

• Anti-kudos to the Rangers for all the pitching they've given away through the years: Danks, Ryan Dempster (traded for John Burkett way back in 1996), Aaron Harang (traded to Oakland for Randy Velarde), Chris Young (traded with Adrian Gonzalez for Adam Eaton, one of the worst deals of the decade) and Edinson Volquez (at least he netted Josh Hamilton).

David Schoenfield | email

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