Big Three States Offer Teams Best Bet For High School Pitchers

Big Three States Offer Teams Best Bet For High School Pitchers

After a lone postseason appearance in the previous 17 seasons, the newly-assembled Atlanta Braves' brain trust, then-general manager Bobby Cox, president Stan Kasten and scouting director Paul Snyder, created a detailed eight-point blueprint for long-term success in 1986, as detailed in the book, "Scout's Honor" by Bill Shanks. The number one organizational priority on the list that would propel the Braves to 14 straight division titles? Draft as many high school pitchers as possible.
"You got to have about 20 pitchers to get two in the big leagues," Paul Snyder, the  architect of a farm system ranked in the top seven in the game per Baseball America's rankings for 14 consecutive years, said in the book.

Snyder's philosophy is supported by numerous studies that have demonstrated high school pitching has the highest risk of flameout, as well as the highest potential upside. Of the top 10 domestic born pitchers in cumulative WAR (Baseball-Reference) from 2008-2012, nine of them were drafted out of high school. 

Owing to the Brach Rickey philosophy of getting "quality out of quantity," organizations deploy scouts to every part of the country to discover these young, projectable arms.

The three largest and most fertile baseball states—California, Florida and Texas—are the most-frequented excavating grounds for unearthing these treasured arms and often stake claim to the highest draft positions. For example, from 2008-2012, 60 percent of the first and supplemental-round high school pitchers were from the "Big 3" states, as well as 52 percent taken in the top three rounds.

With such a large investment in player acquisition and scouting—as 40 percent of all scouts and 45 percent of crosscheckers reside in these three states—how does the production of the "Big 3" compare to other parts of the country?

Baseball America analyzed every high school pitcher taken in the top three rounds of the 1988-2007 drafts, and partitioned these pitchers on a state-by-state and regional basis. Supplemental first-round selections were considered first-round picks. All pitchers were then evaluated on three measures—if the pitcher reached the majors, the number of big league starts, and cumulative Baseball-Reference WAR.

There were two WAR thresholds (admittedly, these are arbitrary endpoints); if a player accumulated 1 career WAR (e.g. Milwaukee Brewers righthander Mark Rogers, the No. 5 pick in the 2004 draft, who has a 3.0 SO/BB ratio, 3.49 ERA in nine starts and 1.0 career WAR) and 5 career WAR (e.g. Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals righthander John Patterson, the No. 5 pick in the 1996 draft, who had a 2.3 SO/BB ratio, 4.32 ERA over 78 starts and 5.0 career WAR).

The data includes 385 pitchers over the 20 drafts, 158 from the "Big 3" states and 227 from 40 other states, Canada and Puerto Rico. High school pitchers were not taken in the top three rounds out of Alaska, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont or Wyoming during this time frame. For these comparisons, two other measures were added: 10 career WAR and 100 starts. The raw totals and percentages are displayed for the total data set and by draft round.

"Big 3" vs. Everywhere else
  CA, FL & TX All other states
Total 158
Started a ML game 70 44% 70 31%
More than 100 starts 23 15% 22 10%
More than 1 WAR 33 21% 36 16%
More than 5 WAR 25 16% 22 10%
More than 10 WAR 16 10% 14 6%
Round 1 76
Started ML game 42 55% 37 42%
1+ WAR 22 29% 21 24%
5+ WAR 16 21% 13 15%
Round 2 39
Started ML game 16 41% 17 21%
1+ WAR 7 18% 8 10%
5+ WAR 4 10% 4 5%
Round 3 43
Started ML game 12 28% 16 27%
1+ WAR 4 9% 7 12%
5+ WAR 1 2% 5 8%

By nearly every measure, the "Big 3" states have a stronger success rate than the other states. "Big 3" pitchers (44 percent) are more likely to reach the big leagues than the other states (31 percent). Even though the other states had 69 more pitchers drafted, the "Big 3" produced more 10 WAR pitchers (16 to 14).

While the previous look measured the outcomes of a player meeting certain thresholds, this next chart shows the pitchers' impact. The "Big 3" had nearly 36 percent more WAR (435 to 320), despite 30 percent fewer pitchers. This outcome held true for each of the three rounds and most starkly in the first round. In fact, the 76 "Big 3" first-rounders' (325 WAR) surpassed all 227 pitchers from other states (320). First-round pitchers from the "Big 3" states averaged nearly two more WAR (4.3) than the other states (2.6). The other states from all rounds averaged 1.4 WAR, while the "Big 3" averaged double that amount at 2.8. 

Baseball-Reference WAR
  CA, FL & TEX Remaining States
Number WAR Average Number WAR Average
Round 1 76 324.7 4.27 88 225.3 2.56
Round 2 39 71 1.82 80 51.5 0.64
Round 3 43 39.3 0.91 59 42.6 0.72
Total 158 435 2.75 227 319 1.41

This discrepancy can be attributed to the greater number of frontline pitchers that single-handedly impact the data set's mean; stalwarts such as California's C.C. Sabathia (51 WAR), Texas' Josh Beckett (32) and Florida's Zack Grienke (30).

Many of the aforementioned frontline starters are first-round picks and frequently top-10 selections. In the 20 drafts analyzed, 48 percent of the 158 pitchers from the "Big 3" states were first-round selections, while 38 percent of the 227 pitchers from other states were first-rounders. Additionally, two-thirds of the top-10 selections came from the "Big 3" states. There are likely a multitude of reasons for this. Mostly importantly, as demonstrated by the results, these states have the greatest wealth of high-upside talent.

The second factor is considerably softer in nature. Due to the warmer climates, these states have significantly more opportunities for scouts to see players and gain increased exposure, therefore, a large track record, and ultimately conviction about the player. For example, high school practices in Florida started on Jan. 14 this spring, with game action beginning on Feb. 11.

During January and February, many northern scouts migrate to these states to aid the coverage. A glowing early-season report can initiate the call for more senior eyes on the player. Most importantly, crosscheckers, scouting directors and GMs get increased exposure.

For example, last February, righthander Walker Weickel's first start for Olympia High in Orlando drew more than 60 scouts, including multiple GMs and scouting directors. Even after a down spring, Weickel was picked in the supplemental first round by the Padres and signed for $2 million. Florida preps also benefit from the fact that 15 teams hold spring training in the state as high school seasons are underway.

Ultimately, talent evaluators are more likely to select players that they have longer track records with and that their top crosscheckers have seen multiple times, as opposed to pop-up guys in Northern states that make a strong push during April and May.

Texas, in particular, stands out for its propensity to produce standout pitchers. On an individual state basis, Texas bests all 42 others, Canada and Puerto Rico, in every category measured. Pitchers from Texas are significantly more likely to start in the big leagues (51 percent) than the national average (36 percent) and more than twice as likely to accumulate 5 career WAR (26 percent to 12). Lone Star State first-rounders averaged 5.4 WAR, more than double the national average of 2.6. Even Texas' second-rounders averaged 4.3 WAR, led by 2004 selection Yovani Gallardo with 12.

Much of this success can be attributed to the high number of high first-round picks Texas produced during the 1988-2007 drafts. Only Florida (28) had more first-round picks than Texas' 24, and no state had more than Texas' nine top-10 selections. These picks, such as Beckett, Kerry Wood, Homer Bailey and Clayton Kershaw that carry and perpetuate the legend of the tall, strong and broad-shouldered Texas gunslinger, drive much of Texas' success.

On a state-by-state and regional level, there are varying levels of success.  
The Deep South, including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina (Georgia warranted its own category because of its size), was arguably the worst region at producing big league pitchers. Despite 14 first-round picks and 27 overall selections, merely two starters have eclipsed 1 WAR and only one of those exceeded 5 WAR. Six of the nine pitchers that reached the majors from this region compiled negative WAR in the majors. Without the regions' lone saving grace, Gil Meche with 15 WAR, the region would have a negative career WAR and Cubs lefthander Travis Wood (2) is the only active big leaguer. [Editor's note: It's much easier to find pitchers from these states who became successful big leaguers after college or junior college, such as Ben Sheets, Scott Baker and Craig Kimbrel, or drafted lower-round picks, such as Jake Peavy, a 15th-round pick in 1999.]

Beginning in 1988, this region had as many draftees as any region in the country, except the "Big 3" states, but this changed in 2000. After averaging more than two top-three round picks annually in the '90s, the region had just two picks in the six drafts following the turn of the century. This fallow period ended abruptly with four first-round picks in 2006 and 2007, none of which has pitched above Double-A. Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina had zero top-three round selections in the 2000-20007 drafts.

America's heartland—Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma—is also well below-average in most metrics. Nine of the 23 pitchers did start in the majors (48 percent), which was 12 percent above the national average, but six of these pitchers produced a negative WAR. Jamey Wright (7) was the lone starter to produce more than 5 WAR. The average pitcher WAR the region was 0.4, which is one-fifth of the national average. Similar to the Deep South, the region struggled to produce draft picks in the 2000's, garnering only one selection in the final five drafts.

There were only two regions besides the "Big 3" that produced 5 WAR pitchers at a better rate than the national average: Georgia and the Four Corners plus Nevada. In both cases, the regions produced one stud, Adam Wainright (19 WAR) for Georgia and Roy Halladay (63) for the Four Corners, who was then supplemented by two complimentary pitchers, Jake Westbrook (12) and Jonathan Broxton (7) in Georgia and Shawn Estes (7) and Shawn Chacon (6) in the Four Corners.

Five of the seven pitchers drafted out of Arizona have graduated to the big leagues, a laudable feat, but every pitcher registered a negative WAR. The cumulative WAR for the state is -5, the worst total of any state.

The regional results can be seen below with the total number of draftees, number of pitchers that registered 1 and 5 WAR, and the corresponding percentages for the region. The national averages are also included.

Region-By-Region Breakdown

Deep South (AL, AR, LA, MS, SC)

Total 27
Started ML game 7 26%
1+ WAR 2 7%
5+ WAR 1 4%


Total 15
Started ML game 5 33%
1+ WAR 3 20%
5+ WAR 3 20%

Northwest (WA, OR, ID)

Total 19
Started ML game 5 26%
1+ WAR 3 16%
5+ WAR 2 11%

Northeast (CT, DE, MD, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, RI)

Total 28
Started ML game 12 43%
1+ WAR 7 25%
5+ WAR 3 11%

Mid-Atlantic (NC, PA, VA, WV)

Total 24
Started ML game 5 21%
1+ WAR 2 8%
5+ WAR 2 8%

North (IL, IN, MI, OH, WI)

Total 32
Started ML game 7 22%
1+ WAR 4 13%
5+ WAR 3 9%

Tenn. & Kentucky

Total 12
Started ML game 3 25%
1+ WAR 2 17%
5+ WAR 1 8%

Four Corners & Nev.

Total 23
Started ML game 9 39%
1+ WAR 4 17%
5+ WAR 3 13%

Middle America (IA, KS, MO, NE, OK)

Total 23
Started ML game 11 48%
1+ WAR 3 13%
5+ WAR 1 4%

Canada, PR & HI

Total 9
Started ML game 4 44%
1+ WAR 3 33%
5+ WAR 1 11%


Started a ML game 137 36%
More than 100 starts 45 12%
More than 1 WAR 69 18%
More than 5 WAR 47 12%
More than 10 WAR 30 8%

Because the "Big 3" were superior at producing high-impact pitchers, no other region was above the national average and no individual state had enough draft picks to create a reasonable sample size to make any inferences.

There is a clear separation in the number of draft picks from the "Big 3" states and the next most drafted states. Only nine states had more than 10 selections over the 20 drafts. The "Big 3" had as many draft picks (158) as the next 18 most drafted states combined.   
Top States For HS Pitchers
1988-2007, Top 3 Rounds

Total Total 1st rd.
1. Florida 62 28
2. California 57 24
3. Texas 39 24
4. Georgia 15 8
5. Oklahoma 14 4
6. Washington 14 6
7. Louisiana 10 5
8. Ohio 10 1
9. Virginia 10 4
10. Pennsylvania 9 3

240 107

A look at the 1988-2007 drafts shows that Paul Snyder was right; the path to finding one solid big league starter is filled with dozens of once-talented arms that failed to deliver on their immense promise. Finding a true frontline starter—a Roy Halladay (Colo.), Jon Lester (Wash.), Matt Cain (Tenn.), or Chris Carpenter (N.H.)—is an exploration that can pay dividends in any part of the country. But teams have the greater chances of success and highest potential upside when capitalizing on the deep reservoirs of talent and warm weather of California, Florida and Texas.