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Which MLB Teams Are The Best And Worst At Drafting Pitchers?


Image credit: (Photo by Rich Von Biberstein/Getty Images)

A while ago, we looked at which teams have had the most success at drafting, signing and developing hitters since the current draft bonus format was adopted in 2012. Now, we’re taking a look at how teams have done at identifying, signing and developing pitching.

We’re looking at the draft from 2012 to present. Why 2012? It’s the first year of the current draft rules. Until 2011, teams weren’t limited in how much they could spend in the draft.

Because it’s a draft study that looks at cumulative stats, the study is weighted toward teams which had success in 2012-2017 more so than the teams who have drafted excellent in recent years.

Even more so than when it comes to hitters, there are balances to be made when evaluating how well teams have evaluated, drafted, signed and developed pitchers. Quality is probably most important, but quantity matters as well. 

Finding an excellent ace is great, but if you don’t have back-of-the-rotation arms and relievers, an ace only helps you once every five games, and a team lacking in quality arms may burn out the arms it does have.

The Best Team At Developing Pitchers

Much like the best hitters analysis, there is a pretty clear No. 1 when it comes to drafting and signing future big league pitchers in the current draft bonus pool era.

MLB Draft Pitching Production from 2012-2013.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals don’t have the best runs allowed per nine innings, but they have the third best RA/9 and the 11th-best FIP (fielding independent pitching). So why are they clearly No. 1? Because they managed to be among the best in performance metrics while also being by far the best in terms of volume.

With 6,998 innings, Cardinals have drafted and signed 1,300 more innings than any other team. They have 279 more starts than any other team. And they have 94 more wins.

So who have the Cardinals landed? Michael Wacha (2012), Marco Gonzales (2013), Jack Flaherty (2014), Luke Weaver (2014), Austin Gomber (2014), Jordan Hicks (2015), Ryan Helsley (2015), Zac Gallen (2016) and Dakota Hudson (2016). That’s a run that any team would be thrilled to have produced. There’s a front-line starter in Gallen, multiple other reliable starters and a start of a bullpen as well.

Once you get past the Cardinals, there are a number of other teams who have had impressive draft runs in landing arms.

Pitching Statcast Rankings

Assessing every MLB organization in terms of pitching Statcast production in 2023.

San Diego Padres

The Padres have the second-most innings (5,642), rank seventh in runs allowed per nine innings and ninth in FIP. Max Fried, Zach Eflin, Cal Quantrill, Eric Lauer, Joey Lucchesi and MacKenzie Gore lead the starters, while the relievers include Matt Brash, Adam Cimber and Phil Maton are solid relievers.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have done well at volume. They have the 10th-best RA/9 and the third-most innings pitched thanks mainly to landing Marcus Stroman in 2012, Alek Manoah in 2019 and a series of useful pitchers (Kendall Graveman, Jeff Hoffman, Jordan Romano) in between.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves have the eighth-best RA/9 and the fourth-best FIP while posting the fifth-most innings. Atlanta drafted and signed Alex Wood, Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright, Spencer Strider, Bryce Elder, Michael Soroka and AJ. Minter. Injuries have derailed some of these arms after great starts, but it’s still a success rate that most teams would envy.

Cleveland Guardians

The Guardians have the second-best RA/9, sixth-best FIP and sixth-most innings. With Shane Bieber, Tanner Bibee, Triston McKenzie, Gavin Williams, Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, Eli Morgan and James Karinchak, the Guardians have quantity and quality.

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers have the quality if not as much quantity. Milwaukee’s 3,265 innings can’t compare to St. Louis’ but what the Brewers did in those innings is exceptionally impressive. The Brewers lead all teams in RA9 (4.02) and FIP (3.62). Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Drew Rasmussen, Brent Suter and Devin Williams are a group of pitchers any team would be proud to have picked. 

But not everything is so rosy. We’re also looking at the teams that have struggled to draft, sign and develop pitchers.

The Worst Teams At Drafting Pitchers

Oakland A’s

We praised the A’s drafting of hitters in the first part of this study. Now we’re here to criticize the their ability to draft, sign and develop pitchers. Oakland’s 1,761 innings acquired from the draft since 2012 is more than 550 innings less than any other organization.

The pitchers who have made it haven’t succeeded when they did reach the majors. Oakland’s 5.48 RA/9 is worst in baseball over that stretch and its 4.68 FIP is 27th best. 

Part of this appears to be by design. The A’s have had a hitting-heavy focus at the top of their drafts. Oakland has picked a pitcher in the first round only once since 2012 (A.J. Puk in 2016) and supplemental first rounder Daulton Jefferies (2016) is the only other top-50 pick the A’s have spent on a pitcher since 2012.

But five second-round picks and five third-round picks, as well as a lot of picks outside of the top 100, have found few hits. Oakland’s focus on picking hitters could be a case of focusing on a team’s strengths, but producing more pitchers would help a team that could use a lot of help.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates are fifth worst in innings pitched (2,619), second worst in RA/9 (5.45) and dead last in FIP (4.76), which is discouraging for a team that has signed 21 picks within the top 50 since 2012.

Mitch Keller’s slow development, Quinn Priester’s rough debut and the traded Shane Baz’s Tommy John surgery have all played a role in this, but the main note is there haven’t been many later-round success stories either.

New York Mets

The Mets have spent a lot of draft capital on pitchers since 2012, but they don’t have much to show for it. The Mets are 27th in innings pitched (2,468), 25th in RA/9 (5.05) and 29th in FIP (4.73). Paul Sewald and David Peterson are the best pitchers the Mets have produced over that stretch.

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox have had a few hits on pitchers with top picks since 2012. Michael Kopech (2014) and Tanner Houck (2017) are a pair of high picks that have worked out. But overall, Boston has produced the second-fewest innings (2,315) while posting the 26th-best RA/9 (5.09) and 22nd-best FIP (4.55).

Boston’s problem seems to be what happens after the first round. Since 2013, the Red Sox have had just one pitcher picked in the second, third, fourth or fifth round who has posted 50+ innings in the majors (Shaun Anderson). 

Here’s a look at how all 30 teams rank in these categories for drafted and signed pitchers since 2012.

St. Louis Cardinals699814.0834.3834.2111
San Diego Padres564224.1674.5274.169
Toronto Blue Jays546734.2394.62104.3317
Kansas City Royals540944.67245.09274.5924
Atlanta Braves496154.27104.6194.147
Cleveland Guardians484563.9924.2824.146
Seattle Mariners477674.1364.4354.113
Los Angeles Dodgers463184.0844.4244.2112
Miami Marlins457594.36154.71124.3216
Detroit Tigers4549104.47214.84224.4118
Minnesota Twins4453114.32114.65114.148
Washington Nationals4417124.76265.02244.6325
Baltimore Orioles4405134.2384.5884.125
New York Yankees4327144.43194.77164.5421
Colorado Rockies4034154.80285.12284.5523
Cincinnati Reds3811164.46204.77154.6326
Chicago Cubs3408174.36144.79184.2513
Philadelphia Phillies3319184.37164.72134.092
Milwaukee Brewers3265193.6614.0213.621
San Francisco Giants3206204.33134.74144.114
Arizona Diamondbacks3117214.52234.91234.7228
Tampa Bay Rays3052224.1354.4964.1710
Houston Astros2959234.38174.83214.4420
Los Angeles Angels2914244.49224.80194.4319
Chicago White Sox2723254.39184.81204.3115
Pittsburgh Pirates2619265.03305.45294.7630
New York Mets2468274.77275.05254.7329
Texas Rangers2432284.32124.78174.2714
Boston Red Sox2315294.76255.09264.5522
Oakland Athletics1762304.98295.48304.6827

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