Top 100 Draft Flashback: Greatest Pitcher Hits & Misses

While we're headlong into draft preview mode, we're also taking a retrospective look at the top draft 100 picks—the cream of the amateur crop—from the 20 drafts from 1989 through 2008. The first two installments of the draft flashback series examined landing spots and impact rates for position players drafted among the top 100 picks.

The most successful big league teams typically feature the most stable, effective rotations. An elite starter like Justin Verlander in the No. 1 position can exert a large influence on a team’s overall record because he faces 27 to 30 batters per game, once or twice a week, 33 or 34 times a season. Naturally, the Tigers have won about two-thirds (50-26) of the games Verlander has started since 2011. Same goes for the Dodgers, who have an identical record in that same timeframe when Clayton Kershaw takes the mound.

Teams have been remarkably effective at identifying the game’s best pitchers, like Verlander and Kershaw, at the time they were amateurs. Sixteen of the top 20 domestic pitchers (as ranked by’s wins above replacement metric) since 2009 were first-round or supplemental first-round draft picks. It’s a group that includes nine Cy Young Award winners in Verlander (second overall, 2004), Kershaw (seventh, 2006), Roy Halladay (17th, 1995), C.C. Sabathia (20th, 1998), Zack Greinke (sixth, 2002), David Price (first, 2007), R.A. Dickey (18th, 1996), Chris Carpenter (15th, 1993) and Tim Lincecum (10th, 2006).

At the same time, teams have sorted through a lot of chaff to find their aces. And even a top pitcher’s performance can be volatile enough from year to year that taking last season’s success for granted can be dangerous. Lincecum won two NL Cy Young Awards and three strikeout titles from 2008-10, but his ERA since the beginning of the 2012 season is 5.07—about 31 percent worse than the league average—over 240 innings. His decline is not a function of him exiting his prime years—he’s still just 28 this season.

Because of the inherent volatility of pitchers, because of their (typically) shorter careers, and because of the disproportionate positive effect on a team’s fortune if enough peak performances are crammed into a single season, we applied different standards to pitchers than we did position players in our draft retrospective. To qualify as a big league graduate, a pitcher needs 30 big league appearances (instead of 100 for position players) or five WAR (instead of 10 for position players) to qualify as an impact player.


Graduation Rates (at least 30 big league games)
• High School—90 of 275 (33 percent)
• College—136 of 367 (37 percent)

Impact Rates (at least five career WAR)
• High School—31 of 275 (11 percent)
Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, Josh Beckett, Zack Greinke, Matt Cain, Kerry Wood, Adam Wainwright, Bronson Arroyo, Jon Garland, Ryan Dempster, Jeff Suppan, Gil Meche, Chad Billingsley, Aaron Cook, Yovani Gallardo, Gavin Floyd, Brett Myers, Jake Westbrook, Matt Clement, Steve Karsay, Trevor Cahill—if you prefer the 10-WAR line, then here it is—Jason Marquis, Jamey Wright, Jonathan Broxton, Phil Hughes, Shawn Chacon, Todd Ritchie, Jeff D’Amico, Matt Belisle, Jeremy Bonderman, Adam Eaton
• College—55 of 367 (15 percent)
Mike Mussina, Justin Verlander, Dan Haren, Jered Weaver, Jon Lieber, Tim Lincecum, Ben Sheets, Ben McDonald, Aaron Sele, Rick Helling, Matt Morris, Shane Reynolds, Jeremy Guthrie, Bob Wickman, Mark Prior, Cal Eldred, Scott Baker, Jeff Weaver, Joey Hamilton, Chris Young, Shaun Marcum, R.A. Dickey, Kris Benson, Matt Garza, Max Scherzer, Dustin Hermanson, Jason Jennings, Brett Tomko, Todd Jones, Joe Blanton, Ian Kennedy, Huston Streetif you prefer the 10-WAR line, then here it is—Scott Linebrink, Jesse Crain, Jordan Zimmermann, Braden Looper, Justin Masterson, Kip Wells, Brad Lidge, Jim Mecir, Brandon Morrow, Darren Dreifort, Bobby Jones, Chad Cordero, Joba Chamberlain, Jon Rauch, Paul Shuey, Scott Sullivan, Jerry Dipoto, Joe Smith, Billy Koch, Mike Pelfrey, Roger Bailey, Chad Ogea, Kevin Slowey

Jury Is Out (players on 40-man rosters but with fewer than 30 games)
Phillippe Aumont (11th, 2007), Christian Garcia (99th, 2004), Mark Rogers (fifth, 2004), Josh Wall (74th, 2005), Casey Kelly (30th, 2008), Stephen Fife (85th, 2008), Jake Odorizzi (32nd, 2008), Ethan Martin (15th, 2008), Chris Withrow (20th, 2007), Neil Ramirez (44th, 2007), Kyle Lotzkar (53rd, 2007), Zeke Spruill (70th, 2008), Josh Fields (20th, 2008), Duke Welker (68th, 2007)

Highest Draft Position
• High School—Josh Beckett (Marlins, No. 2, 1999)
• College—Ben McDonald (Orioles, No. 1, 1989), Paul Wilson (Mets, No. 1, 1994), Kris Benson (Pirates, No. 1, 1996), Matt Anderson (Tigers, No. 1, 1997), Bryan Bullington (Pirates, No. 1, 2002), Luke Hochevar (Royals, No. 1, 2006)

While Hochevar technically signed out of the independent American Association, he attended Tennessee prior to his selection in the supplemental first round of the 2005 draft. He failed to come to terms with the Dodgers.

Notable Flops
No high school righthander ever has been selected with the No. 1 overall pick, and only Josh Beckett (1999) and Jameson Taillon (2010) have gone No. 2 in the past 25 years. The success rate for other high school righties tells you a lot about teams’ hesitancy to invest with confidence in that demographic at the top of the draft.

In the 20 drafts from 1989-2008, teams used 17 out of 200 (9 percent) top-10 picks to select prep righthanders, despite the fact that high school righties are taken more often among the top 100 picks than any demographic except college righties. Beckett, Zack Greinke (sixth overall, 2002) and Kerry Wood (fourth, 1995) are unqualified successes among the high school set. Gavin Floyd (fourth, 2001) and Jon Garland (10th, 1997) have had nice careers—but not for their drafting teams. Homer Bailey (seventh, 2004) and Jarrod Parker (ninth, 2007) are building toward good things, but they would have to be considered only minor successes if their careers ended today. Jaret Wright (10th, 1994) enjoyed a number of good seasons and shined brightly as a 21-year-old Indians rookie in the 1997 postseason, but he finished with a career 5.09 ERA in 973 innings.

When high school righties taken among the top 10 picks miss the mark, they tend to miss wide. Roger Salkeld (Mariners, 1989) and Chris Gruler (Reds, 2002) were both No. 3 overall picks felled by shoulder injuries. Salkeld recovered to make 45 big league appearances in the mid-1990s; Gruler never advanced past low Class A.

Kurt Miller (Pirates, 1990), Clint Everts (Expos, 2002) and Mark Rogers (Brewers, 2004) represent all the prep righties taken with the fifth pick in the draft in our sample. Miller remained relatively healthy, but he got traded twice during his first four pro seasons, put up a 4.83 ERA in parts of seven seasons at Triple-A and made just 44 big league appearances, failing to stick around with the expansion Marlins in the early '90s. Everts had Tommy John surgery early in his pro career and toiled in Triple-A prior to his release this season, his 11th as a professional, as he seeks his first big league callup. Rogers’ career got sidetracked by two shoulder surgeries—he missed all of 2007 and '08—and a bout with carpal tunnel syndrome, and while he made big league pop-ins in 2010 and '12, he is sidelined by injury again. He has appeared in eight of the past nine Prospect Handbooks, but that’s not really a good thing when you’re the first prep pitcher taken in your draft class.

None of the prep righties drafted No. 8 overall in our 20-year sample reached the big leagues. Not Kirk Presley (Mets, 1993), nor Bobby Bradley (Pirates, 1999), nor Matt Wheatland (Tigers, 2000). Bradley reached Triple-A briefly in 2005; the other two failed to advance past low Class A.

The ninth pick in his draft, Colt Griffin (Royals, 2001) hit 100 mph as a high school senior, but he retired after an '05 season spent in Double-A with more career walks (278) than strikeouts (271).

Despite their popularity at the top of the draft, college righties taken No. 1 overall don’t have an overwhelming track record of success, a fact that becomes apparent once you realize that Ben McDonald (78-70, 3.91 in 1,291 innings) and Kris Benson (70-75, 4.42 in 1,244 innings) are the success stories. Each logged a pair of 200-inning seasons as part of nine-year big league careers, but neither ever received a Cy Young Award vote or made an all-star team.

The No. 2 picks in the drafts in which Paul Wilson, Matt Anderson, Bryan Bullington and Luke Hochevar went No. 1 overall: Ben Grieve (1994), J.D. Drew (1997, though he didn’t sign), B.J. Upton (2002) and Greg Reynolds (2006, though Evan Longoria was the first position player taken, at No. 3).

The lone top-five college righty in our 20-year window to never make a big league appearance is the Tigers’ Kyle Sleeth (third, 2003), who signed for $3.35 million but had Tommy John surgery in '05 and never recovered his swing-and-miss stuff, logging just 114 post-surgery innings. When he struggled at Double-A Erie in the second half of 2004 (6.30 ERA, 14 homers in 13 starts) the Tigers attempted to smooth his crossfire delivery. We’ll never know if (or when) Sleeth would have gotten hurt using the mechanics that made him a star at Wake Forest, but he missed all of '05 with elbow trouble and put up an 8.08 ERA upon returning.

In the Tigers’ defense, the college righties taken after Sleeth in the first round of the '03 draft—at the height of Moneyball’s influence—were Tim Stauffer (Padres), Ryan Wagner (Reds), Chad Cordero (Expos), David Aardsma (Giants) and Brad Sullivan (Athletics), so it’s not like they wildly misevaluated the top talent available.



Graduation Rates (at least 30 big league games)
• High School—37 of 113 (33 percent)
• College—70 of 146 (48 percent)

Impact Rates (at least five career WAR)
• High School—17 of 113 (15 percent)
C.C. Sabathia, Cole Hamels, Clayton Kershaw, Jon Lester, John Danks, Scott Kazmir, Justin Thompson, Gio Gonzalez, Shawn Estes—if you prefer the 10-WAR line, then here it is—Jeremy Affeldt, Rick Ankiel (5.6 as position player, 3.5 as pitcher), Matt Harrison, Madison Bumgarner, Gabe White, Brett Anderson, Sean Burnett, Trever Miller
• College—21 of 146 (14 percent)
Barry Zito, Jarrod Washburn, Billy Wagner, Randy Wolf, Denny Neagle, Mark Mulder, Eric Milton, David Price, Paul Maholm, Matt Thornton, Jeff Francis, Joe Saunders, Brian Anderson, Scott Downs, Noah Lowry, Ricky Romero—if you prefer the 10-WAR line, then here it is—Mark Redman, Jason Vargas, Donovan Osborne, Dave Fleming, Glen Perkins

Jury Is Out (players on 40-man rosters but with fewer than 30 games)
Danny Duffy (96th, 2007), Joe Savery (19th, 2007), Christian Friedrich (25th, 2008), Jeff Locke (51st, 2006), Brad Hand (52nd, 2008), Mike Montgomery (36th, 2008)

Highest Draft Position
• High School—Brien Taylor (Yankees, No. 1, 1991)
• College—David Price (Rays, No. 1, 2007)

Notable Flops
Despite an impact rate of 15 percent, the highest among any high school subset, prep lefthanders have carried a similar amount of risk as their righthanded counterparts at the top of the draft. Just four of the 12 southpaws taken among the top 10 picks in our sample even reached the majors—and that’s counting Adam Loewen (fourth overall, 2002) as one of those prep lefties when he actually signed as a draft-and-follow the next year out of Chipola (Fla.) JC, .

The success of the few tends to obscure the riskiness of the entire group. The Dodgers hit big with Clayton Kershaw (seventh, 2006) as did the Giants with Madison Bumgarner (10th, 2007), but the Rangers traded John Danks (ninth, 2003) in December '06 before he reached the big leagues. Danks went on to blossom two years later with the White Sox, while the pitcher Texas acquired, Brandon McCarthy, ran up a 4.64 ERA with the Rangers before remaking himself with the Athletics in 2011.

The only prep lefty taken with one of the top three picks in the past quarter century also is one of the biggest busts in draft history. Brien Taylor (Yankees, first, 1991) ranked alongside Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera on the Yankees’ Top 10 Prospects list heading into 1995, and in an alternate universe he might have made the Core Four a quintet and contributed to that group’s dynastic run. In the real world, though, Taylor seriously injured his left shoulder in an offseason altercation in December 1993 back home in North Carolina. (Wikipedia supplies a good summary of the gory details.) Subsequent surgery and rehab cost Taylor the 1994 season, and he lost so much velocity and feel for his pitches when he returned that he closed his pro career with an 11.24 ERA, 2.66 WHIP and walk rate of 14.9 per nine innings in his five post-surgery seasons, totaling 111 innings.

In an eerie echo to the saga of Matt Bush, perhaps the biggest bust of the modern draft era, Taylor received a 38-month prison sentence for distributing crack cocaine in November 2012.

Mike Stodolka (Royals, fourth, 2000), Geoff Goetz (Mets, sixth, 1997) and Josh Girdley (Expos, sixth, 1999) have the highest profiles of the remaining prep lefty busts based on their draft position. As was the case with the high-school righthander busts, this trio of lefties all suffered shoulder injuries that stalled their progress well short of the big leagues. Stodolka reached Double-A in 2005 but went 4-11, 5.92 in 24 starts, which combined with three straight seasons of fewer than five strikeouts per nine innings persuaded the Royals to convert him to first base. He retired at age 26 following the '08 season with a batting line of .287/.394/.444 in 1,232 plate appearances.

Goetz maxed out as a reliever at the Double-A level, making just 44 Double-A appearances in three seasons from 2000-02 in the Marlins system. His claim to fame may be his inclusion in the Mets’ deal to acquire Mike Piazza from the Marlins. Myriad injuries—some self-inflicted—curtailed Girdley’s pro career. He missed most of the 2001 and '02 seasons recovering from a pair of motorcycle wrecks, and he made just 34 appearances in four years before washing out at high Class A in 2004.

For the record, the other prep lefties who flopped are Ron Walden (Dodgers, ninth, 1990), Doug Million (Rockies, seventh, 1994), Mark Phillips (Padres, ninth, 2000) and Joe Torres (Angels, 10th, 2000). Million’s case is the most tragic and comes with a caveat: The 1994 BA High School Player of the Year died of a severe asthma attack while in Rockies instructional league following the '97 season.

The success of top-10 college lefties David Price (Rays, first, 2007), Mark Mulder (Athletics, second, 1998), Brian Anderson (Angels, third, 1993), Paul Maholm (Pirates, eighth, 2003), Barry Zito (Athletics, ninth, 1999) and Jeff Francis (Rockies, ninth, 2002) may have provided a sense of false security in the demographic. A litany of other college southpaws failed to live up to their advance billing: Brian Matusz (Orioles, fourth, 2008, 1.7 WAR), Daniel Moskos (Pirates, fourth, 2007, 0.2 WAR), Jeff Granger (Royals, fifth, 1993, -0.9 WAR), Jeremy Sowers (Indians, sixth, 2004, 1.6 WAR), Andrew Miller (Tigers, sixth, 2006, -3.1 WAR), C.J. Nitkowski (Reds, ninth, 1994, -0.8 WAR) and Kyle Abbott (Angels, 10th, 1989, -1.3 WAR).

Other college lefties like Ricky Romero (Blue Jays, sixth, 2005) and Ross Detwiler (Nationals, sixth, 2007) have produced net positive value for their clubs, though that value took longer to manifest than expected given their amateur pedigrees. Romero carried a pedestrian 4.33 ERA and 1.9 K-BB ratio over 416 minor league innings prior to his 2009 breakout as a Toronto rookie. Detwiler spent the better part of five seasons in the minors, burning through four option years, before winning a permanent spot in Washington’s rotation in 2012.

While Ryan Mills (Twins, sixth, 1998) and Chris Smith (Orioles, seventh, 2001) failed to reach the big leagues, the dishonor of biggest college lefty flop belongs to B.J. Wallace, the Mississippi State product whom the Expos selected with the third pick in the '92 draft because they didn’t want to meet the bonus demands of Jeter or Jeffrey Hammonds. Wallace reached Double-A in 1994 but injuries limited him to eight starts that year and wiped out his '95 campaign. He got one last shot as a Rule 5 pick with the Phillies in 1996, but a poor showing for high Class A Clearwater (5.83 ERA, 0.9 K-BB ratio) proved to be his final pro experience. Like Bush and Taylor, Wallace ran afoul of the law in his post-playing days.

As an aside, the '90s and early-aughts Expos have one of the worst first-round track records in history. After selecting Rondell White and Cliff Floyd in the first rounds of the 1990 and '91 drafts, Montreal struck out on virtually all of its top picks for 11 straight years, taking Wallace (third, 1992), Chris Schwab (18th, 1993), Hiram Bocachica (21st, 1994), Michael Barrett (28th, 1995), John Patterson (fifth, 1996, though he didn’t sign), Donnie Bridges (23rd, 1997), Josh McKinley (11th, 1998), Girdley (sixth, 1999), Justin Wayne (fifth, 2000), Josh Karp (sixth, 2001) and Everts (fifth, 2002).