Monday, June 28, 2010

The Should-Be All-Stars

I'm currently running a small workshop on baseball statistics with a couple of local students, and today we discussed the upcoming All-Star game. As you are probably aware, Major League Baseball has put itself in a bit of a conundrum, unsure whether the All-Star game is an exhibition or a meaningful competition. "This time it counts," was a catch-phrase when the league first implemented a plan to award home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the Midsummer Classic. On the other hand, fans vote, meaning often rosters are not constructed to win, but to entertain.

This season, for example, Placido Polanco is on the verge of being voted in at 3B in the National League. Why? Because he's on the hugely popular Philadelphia Phillies. He's having a passable season, to boot, with a .349 OBP and .433 SLG, but compared to Ryan Zimmerman's .384 and .517, there really shouldn't be a contest, especially considering Zimmerman is the better fielder and has almost three times as many home runs (13 to 5).

Such is the whimsy of the fans, who overwhelmingly vote in undeserving large-market players and fail to support under-sung standouts like Ben Zobrist, Josh Willingham, or Andres Torres, even when those players are better - indeed, far better - than their more famous counterparts like Ryan Braun or Jimmy Rollins. One need look no further than the American League DH voting, where a retired Ken Griffey, Jr. is in fourth place to see the absurdity of the fan vote.

Of course, none of that would matter if the game didn't count for anything, but since it does, the MLB is stuck in an unfortunate, contradictory position: the game is for the fans, but also for the players, but also for the league, but also for teams fighting for a World Series win. For a single game to be all of those things is absurd, and it's no accident that there are more "how to fix the All-Star Game" articles written this time of year than "how to fix the oil spill" articles.

Anyway, in the workshop today we figured out who we think deserves an All-Star berth, based on our reckoning of the actual performances of the players involved, though with a dash of deference to established players and with a higher weight put on hitting than defense. I've also compiled my own list, and I'll also note who the current vote leader is. Since WAR is the statistic du jour on this blog, I'll simply give that for each player, with notes when applicable.

National League - Catcher

Class Pick: Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves, 2.3 WAR
My Pick: Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves, 2.3 WAR
Voter Pick: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals, 0.8 WAR

Molina is a fine defensive catcher, but he's a butcher with the bat, with a slash line of .235/.312/.314 (that's batting average, OBP, and SLG for those that don't know). By all accounts McCann is just as good with the glove, but boasts a .259/.379/.443 line. McCann is also better than Molina in "traditional" stats like HR and RBI, so this fan selection is a staunch reminder that reputation and media hype go a long way. To the fans' collective credit, McCann is in second in the latest ballot update (with a final update coming tomorrow), and may yet overtake Molina, but even a second-place finish for Yadier is absurd.

It pains me to admit that the only other legitimate pick in the National League at catcher would be Miguel Olivo, who I continue to maintain should not be the Rockies starting catcher. He has, undoubtedly, put up a stellar first half (with a 2.5 WAR that exceeds McCann's, actually), but his secondary statistics (an absurdly high BABIP, for example) point to a huge crash in the second half. I suppose we'll see.

American League - Catcher

Class Pick: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins, 2.0 WAR
My Pick: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins, 2.0 WAR
Voter Pick: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins, 2.0 WAR

Mauer is a star, is the reigning MVP, and leads AL catchers in WAR. Even with only 3 homers so far, he's a no-brainer.

National League
- First Base

Class Pick: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2.6 WAR
My Pick: Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego Padres, 3.3 WAR
Voter Pick: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2.6 WAR

Adrian Gonzalez is the best player you've never heard of, as he suffers from the misfortune of playing in Petco Park. Much as Rockies pitchers are underrated because Coors Field inflates their ERAs, Padres hitters are routinely underrated. Gonzalez is doing nothing new this season; he has been one of the very best hitters in baseball for a while now (consider his 6.6 WAR last season), but because he plays at Petco, he looks merely very good instead of great.

American League - First Base

Class Pick: Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins, 4.5 WAR (!)
My Pick: Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins, 4.5 WAR
Voter Pick: Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins, 4.5 WAR

That Mark Teixeira and his 0.6 WAR season are within 300,000 fan votes of Morneau is ridiculous. Only Miguel Cabrera's 20 HR even deserves to be in the conversation here, and even then that's only to be summarily dismissed from the conversation. Morneau's 4.5 WAR so far is preposterously good, because it combines the best fielding at 1B in the AL so far with a .445 OBP and a .612 SLG. Morneau didn't deserve the MVP award he won a few years back, but if he keeps this up, he will deserve the one he wins this season. His only competition - at the moment anyway - comes from the next AL player we'll see.

National League - Second Base

Class Pick: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies, 3.2 WAR
My Pick: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies, 3.2 WAR
Voter Pick: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies, 3.2 WAR

Another no-doubter. Even with a sub-par (for him) .276 average, Utley is by far the best second baseman in the league. What's more, he has deserved more than one Gold Glove, even though he hasn't won one yet, and probably will again this season.

A tip of the hat to the fans who have Martin Prado and his 2.8 WAR in second place, despite being relatively unknown.

American League - Second Base

Class Pick: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees, 4.5 WAR (!)
My Pick: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees, 4.5 WAR
Voter Pick: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees, 4.5 WAR

Cano has been, hands down, the best player on the best team in baseball. He and Morneau will duke it out for the MVP, most likely, unless Mauer or Carl Crawford (about whom more later) can turn it on a little bit the rest of the way. As a second baseman, Cano is far more valuable than Morneau, of course, but Justin is perhaps more likely to keep up his torrid offensive pace.

National League - Third Base

Class Pick: David Wright, New York Mets, 3.2 WAR
My Pick: Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals, 3.1 WAR
Voter Pick: Placido Polanco, Philadelphia Phillies, 2.0 WAR

Zimmerman is not even in the top five NL third basemen in the latest voting results, which is a travesty. Not only has he matched Wright offensively (.290/.384/.517 SLG for Zimmerman to .300/.386/.542 for Wright), but he is the best fielding 3B in the Majors. Polanco (.318/.349/.433), as mentioned above, is having a fine season, but is a simply awful choice by comparison to either Zimmerman or Wright.

American League - Third Base

Class Pick: Adrian Beltre, Boston Red Sox, 3.5 WAR
My Pick: Adrian Beltre, Boston Red Sox, 3.5 WAR
Voter Pick: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays, 3.2 WAR

It's hard to go wrong here, as Beltre, Longoria, ARod, and even the Rangers' Michael Young are all deserving. Beltre gets my nod - and the class's - over Longoria for his superior defense.

National League - Shortstop

Class Pick: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins, 2.6 WAR
My Pick: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins, 2.6 WAR
Voter Pick: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins, 2.6 WAR

Jimmy Rollins - who has played fewer than 20 games so far this season due to injury - is a close second in the fan voting.

I'm much more torn here than my students were. Troy Tulowitzki, though he will be injured for the All-Star game, has also put up 2.6 WAR so far. Add in that Hanley Ramirez was involved in something of a snafu by not hustling after a booted grounder earlier this season and it is tempting to give the edge to Tulo. I stick with Hanley only because, in the end, he's so much better a hitter than Tulowitzki that I can't really bring myself to vote for the injured leader of the Rockies, especially when Hanley needs all the help he can get to hold off Jimmy Rollins.

American League - Shortstop

Class Pick: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees, 2.0 WAR
My Pick: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees, 2.0 WAR
Voter Pick: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees, 2.0 WAR

You were expecting Erick Aybar?

Jeter would get voted in here even if he weren't the best shortstop in the American League. He'd probably get voted in even if he were the worst. As is, however, he is the best, at least for now, so it's no contest.

National League - Outfield

Class Picks:
Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers, 0.8 WAR
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers, 1.0 WAR
Josh Willingham, Washington Nationals, 2.6 WAR
My Picks:
Andres Torres, San Francisco Giants, 2.8 WAR
Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals, 3.1 WAR
Ryan Ludwick, St. Louis Cardinals, 2.5 WAR
Voter Picks:
Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers, 0.8 WAR
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers, 1.0 WAR
Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves, 1.8 WAR

A lot of discrepancy here, mainly thanks to defense. My class, like the voters, was willing to forgo outfield defense in favor of the stellar offensive seasons of Ethier and Braun, though we dodged the over-hyped Jason Heyward in favor of the much more deserving Willingham. Even so, the defensive combination of Willingham, Bruan, and Ethier (or substitute Heyward) is brutally bad. Ethier and Braun have been two of the worst fielders in baseball this season, and while Heyward has been passable, he has not been nearly as good offensively as you might expect at .251/.366/.455. Torres has a comparable .276/.375/.448 line with a fraction of the attention, and he plays plus defense at all three outfield positions.

I also think that Holliday and Ludwick both deserve recognition for being solid hitters and fielders, so much so that they lead the way in the NL in WAR among outfielders. What's more, an outfield with Ludwick in right, Torres in center, and Holliday in left is preferable to the horror show of Bruan in left, Ethier in right, and Willingham in center. Yikes.

American League - Outfield

Class Picks:
Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers, 3.7 WAR
Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Rays, 3.8 WAR
Ichiro, Seattle Mariners, 2.8 WAR
My Picks:
Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers, 3.7 WAR
Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Rays, 3.8 WAR
Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians, 3.0 WAR
Voter Picks:
Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers, 3.7 WAR
Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Rays, 3.8 WAR
Ichiro, Seattle Mariners, 2.8 WAR

Carl Crawford is quietly having one of the best seasons of his career. He has been, as usual, one of the best fielders in all of baseball, and is a very good hitter to boot. Hamilton continues to be a wonderful success story, and is among the best hitters in the game whilst remaining a passable fielder.

The choice between Choo and Ichiro is a tough one, however, especially because a case could be made for Ben Zobrist, Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, Brett Gardner, and surprising Tigers rookie Brennan Boesch as well. I give the nod to Choo for his slight edge in WAR over those other guys (except Rios, who at 3.3 WAR so far this season strikes me as a fluke). Zobrist will likely make the squad for his versatility, as will Gardner thanks to Girardi being the manager.

That Choo is not even in the top 15 among AL outfielders in the voting says something about his relative star power. To me he gets the edge over Ichiro and those other guys, but it is close.

American League - Designated Hitter

Class Pick: Vladimir Guerrero, Texas Rangers, 2.1 WAR
My Pick: Vladimir Guerrero, Texas Rangers, 2.1 WAR
Voter Pick: Vladimir Guerrero, Texas Rangers, 2.1 WAR

Another no-brainer. No other DH has come close to matching Guerrero's production this season. It also makes for a great story to have Guerrero DH back in Anaheim for the All-Star Game after being ditched by the Angels this offseason for the vastly inferior Hideki Matsui.

There you have it. On the whole, the fans aren't doing an awful job this season, and there's still time for Polanco and Molina to slide out of their starting spots at third base and catcher in the NL.

The two most common debates in the process of trying to select who really deserves to be in the game were brand-name versus performance and offense versus defense. While big names are often big simply because of exposure, it is also the case that an anomalous first half - like Miguel Olivo's - should be taken with a grain of salt,whereas players performing a little below expectations like Chase Utley are as likely to improve in the second half as the Olivo's of the world are to regress.

As far as offense and defense goes, there's no question that fans tilt heavily towards favoring offense in the All-Star Game, but that only returns us to the question we started with: what is this game really for? If you're really trying to win, why wouldn't you send out your best team, rather than just your best hitters? Only Bud Selig knows, I guess.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bizet's "Farandole"

The embedded youtube videos don't show up in Buzz, so those of you who normally read there, just click over to the actual blog for the rest of the content.

The opening of this piece is, for lack of a better word, epic. The counterpoint is superb, the melody compelling, the harmony flawless. But beyond that, it simply yells "listen to me!" It's loud, it's aggressive, it's passionate, and it combines the dark undertones of minor tonality with an unabashed excitement that is anything but languid.

Georges Bizet is probably best known for his opera Carmen. You know it, whether you think you do or not, thanks to its two most famous bits.

Farandole, on the other hand, comes originally from the incidental music to the play L'Arlésienne, about which I know next to nothing, and about which Wikipedia says little except that it's a classic Romantic Era silly love-suicide story. Wikipedia doesn't use those exact words, mind you, but it's close enough. One wonders, given the fairly tepid plot description on The Great Free Encyclopedia, where exactly this particular piece fits in the action.

Not surprisingly, given the quality of the music, Bizet took the incidental music he wrote for the play and reworked it into a suite of the same title (another composer did the same with Bizet's work, which is why there are two suites if you go looking). The Farandole you have just heard is, then, one of the movements of that suite.

Like so many Romantic composers - and artists more generally - Bizet died young. A heart attack at 36, precipitated by ill health, claimed his life before Carmen took off. The tragedy of his death fits neatly into the era, to be sure, but nevertheless robbed the world of years of excellent music. In his last four years, from the ages of 32 to 36, Bizet wrote both L'Arlésienne and Carmen. Who knows what he could have written in another ten, twenty, or thirty.

To my mind, while Carmen is the better known of Bizet's late works, I find L'Arlésienne, and Farandole in particular, much more compelling. It leaves that itch, like much Romantic music, for just a little bit more refinement, but it delivers so much on the side of raw emotion that its rawness is forgivable.

I'm not satisfied, however, with high-level talk about what is compelling and what isn't, so let's dig into the actual music a bit, too. Hey, I never promised this blog would be all vague similes and philosophical ramblings.

In this piano reduction (click to enlarge; I think it redirects, so right-click and open in a new tab), we can see the opening of the piece all on one manageable line. We're missing out on some of the awesome counterpoint at, say, the end of the first phrase (where the horns ascend against the descending string melody), but the overall chord structure is accurate.

What is striking here is the lack of a dominant. Where many romantic composers loved to overemphasize the dominant - Wagner, I'm looking at you - to the exclusion of the tonic, Bizet here is mostly playing with subdominants and substitutions. We don't get a big A7 until the very end of the phrase, at which point we're just turning around and starting down the subdominant path all over again. The second time through the opening melody is essentially the same as the first, with a Bb and A7 (a VI-V-i) replacing the strange Fsus thing that's going on the first time through.

Diving into the opening melodic and harmonic phrase, it's worth remembering that this all happens so fast that we barely register the particular movements of the chords. The whole things feels like one big, fat, subdominant - that is, moving away from the rest of the key, but hardly establishing a new home or particularly dragging us back to the tonic - as well it should given the chords involved.

Bizet emphasizes, at the outset, the Bb Major triad, a substitution for the tonic of D-. I think this is why, despite the minor tonality of the piece, it doesn't feel minor. We're emphasizing the Major tonalities within the D minor scale. Moreover, replacing A Major - the usual dominant, with A minor lets that Bb Major feel more intentional. Rather than being a substitution for the dominant in the purest sense - that is rather than acting as a resolution of a dominant chord - the Bb is simply part of a progression exploring and defining the key of the piece.

The next couple of measures, which include much quicker rhythms, end up in a F Major triad. Bizet emphasizes the D minor triads leading up to this. Even these Ds are hurried, and the F is the focal point here, which is unusual. It seems to me that Bizet is using the F as a half-way point between the dominant A and the tonic D, as a kind of odd subdominant that, rather than serving as a departure from the tonic and a move towards the dominant, heightens the tension of the piece without moving particularly away from the tonic. That F is the dominant of the Bb which has already been emphasized is not insignificant either. We're being pulled back towards the Major tonality, here.

The resounding C Major that starts the next bit of the phrase reinforces this, serving as it does as a II of Bb, and as nothing relative to D minor. Indeed, we could almost claim to have modulated here, especially because of the A diminished (A*) in the next measure. That A* unambiguously points towards Bb, and not at all towards D minor. That it resolves to a G minor instead of the Bb Major only goes to show, since G minor is Bb Major's vi (six), and therefore a tonic substitution.

The rest of the phrase is a subdominant holding pattern, which, in the end, leads us back to D- and restarts the phrase. Of course the counterpoint is more engaging here than the harmony, but they are inextricably linked: the counterpoint is responsible for the harmonic work. Nevertheless, the kind of harmonic analysis that would be easy with Beethoven or Mozart is somewhat confounded here, not because it is ignored, but because it is intentionally being manipulated towards a whole different set of musical goals.

I would be satisfied with this fascinating opening to the piece, but the real fireworks come in the next few measures, starting on the third line down. I've provided no analysis here, because this is pure counterpoint. Bizet shows that, despite the harmonic complexity implied by his melody, he can also set it against itself - only half a measure offset - and produce music nonetheless. He doesn't pursue this, turning it into a fugue as Beethoven often did when using similar devices. Rather, Bizet simply lets the counterpoint resolve itself before launching into yet another and even more frantic new melody which - not surprisingly - ultimately ends up being a counterpoint to the original melody.

To me, however, there is something unsatisfying about the second half and the ending of this piece. It is certainly exciting, but it feels much like the Overture to Carmen: fast, frantic, brilliant, and without development. The rich melody that begins the piece should yield itself to so much more than simply being played against itself and against other melodies. Instead it is repeated and repeated, and while context is changed rhythmically and harmonically, the melody is never transformed within those bounds in the way that, say, Brahms does in his Variations on a Theme by Haydn.* Granted, Brahms is doing variations, which deal by definition with transforming melodies within a harmonic structure, but that doesn't change the fundamental model: hold the one bit of the music constant while you transform the other.

* Yes, I just linked to myself. I've also become aware that the Brahms videos I link to in that article have been taken down. With a modicum of digging, you can find an alternative, though I haven't found a recording online of the same quality as that to which I originally linked. If I do find something, I'll set up new links - or embed those - in the old post.

Regardless, I find Farandole a truly joyful piece. It almost doesn't matter that it feels unfulfilled. What is there is so perfect, so epic, so hilarious, so fun that it doesn't matter. Look closely at some of the musicians and, when you can see them, the audience in the video at the top of this post. People love this music, and not in some kind of reserved, elitist way. No, this is just the raw, naked joy of Romantic expressiveness at its best.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Joe Posnanski on the Disallowed Goal

This is absolutely worth reading.

Game Theory in the World Cup

The classic Game Theory puzzle is the "Prisoner's Dilemma." In short, two criminals are caught and separated (so they can't collaborate on their respective stories), if neither rats on the other, they'll both get one year. If one confesses and the other does not, the confessor goes free, and the non-confessor gets 5 years. If both fess up, they both get 3 years. The numbers can vary - and, if you want to be purely mathematical about it, the numbers can make a big difference - but the core of the problem is always the same. Each criminal has to make a choice, either denying everything and getting either 1 or 3 years, or trying to rat out the other and getting either 0 or 5 years.

There are infinite variations of this problem, but since we're in the midst of a World Cup, I think it's informative to look at Group A as an exemplar of the classic prisoner scenario. Consider the current standings in Group A:

1 Uruguay 2 1 1 0 3 0 3 4
2 Mexico 2 1 1 0 3 1 2 4
3 France 2 0 1 1 0 2 -2 1
4 South Africa 2 0 1 1 1 4 -3 1

Uruguay and Mexico are sitting pretty, with 4 points each, while France and South Africa are both on the outside looking in. As a result, this is a kind of reverse-dilemma for Uruguay and Mexico because they play each other in their next match while France plays South Africa. Since a win nets three points and a draw one point, Uruguay and Mexico are in a position to both advance to the next round if they tie each other. They could both, in theory, simply let the ball sit at the midfield and play Duck-Duck-Goose for 90 minutes, and move on to the knockout round. They're not likely to do that, but there isn't a lot of impetus to play hard.

Let's assume that France dominates South Africa. Granted, France has been far from impressive in its first two games, but South Africa has also been quite poor, and they simply can't match France's skill. With a 4-0 scoreline, France would be in a position to make the next round if either Uruguay or France were to beat the other 1-0.

Now, assuming France can pull off a 4-0 thrashing of the host nation, what should Uruguay and Mexico do? If they tie 0-0, they both move on, whereas a win for either team means one of them goes home. Like the prisoners, their best mutual option is for neither team to try, and to therefore both advance. Like the prisoners, however, each individual team will benefit most from playing hard while the other team doesn't. It is true that, unlike the prisoners, both teams playing hard doesn't have any significant disadvantages, except the risk of picking up suspensions or injuries moving into the next round.

The analogy fails slightly on one point, which is that the order of finish in Group A has serious repercussions. The winner of Group A is likely to play either Greece or South Korea in their first knockout game. Neither of those teams is bad, mind you, but the Group A runner-up faces (barring some shocking results in Group B's final match) Argentina, the odds-on favorite to win the entire tournament. Uruguay, by virtue of their goal differential after their thumping of South Africa, are in a position to win the group with a draw.

The result is a twist on the "Prisoner's Dilemma," wherein Uruguay's position should be that a draw is fine, and that Mexico clearly shouldn't play hard because, hey, we're both moving on. Mexico, on the other hand, might say that we need to play hard because the difference between playing Argentina and South Korea is potentially the difference between winning and losing in the round of 16. Conversely, however, Mexico might say that Uruguay need not worry as much about getting caught by France, because they already have a better goal differential. A 2-1 final for Mexico, for example, would mean that France would need a 5-1 (or 5-0) victory instead of 4-0 to catch up.

The strange logical result here is that Uruguay and Mexico should intentionally allow each other to score one goal, in order to increase their mutual likelihood of moving on. At that point, playing to win, but doing so cautiously, seems the best option.

It is unlikely either team will intentionally concede, but I do expect Mexico and Uruguay to play each other somewhat tentatively. Mexico has more to play for, but not by much, and while Argentina is a terrifying foe, no one gets through the knockout stages of the World Cup without playing terrifying foes.

Undoubtedly there will be other examples of the Prisoner's Dilemma in the World Cup, as it goes with the territory of the three-team group format. In all likelihood, we'll see something even more true to the Game Theory form. Indeed, within any particular match there are dozens of Game Theory situations at play in terms of tactical approach. I think that's why soccer - or football - is such an engaging sport. It is both tactical and strategic, and it affords not only opportunity for appreciation of physical feats, but also mental ones.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Scale is an important word in the education world. It's especially important in the business-of-education world. In the business world, more generally, what matters most is not really the quality of your product, but rather the number of people you can get to buy it. That is not to say that quality doesn't matter, but rather that it matters only insofar as it is a means to the end of scalability.

Little wonder that business people look at the education world and say things like, "Good teachers don't scale!" Or "Yes, it's a great idea for a curriculum (or a school, or a nonprofit), but does it scale?" On the one hand, they have to do that, especially as funding for education comes more and more from venture funds and an increasingly business-oriented federal government. On the other, it ignores the fundamental reality of learning: it is not a product, but an experience, and you can't sacrifice customization for scale.

Standardized production is, of course, the engine that drives scalability. Back when Henry Ford revolutionized automobile production with the assembly line, his advantage was in scale, and his disadvantage was in customization. "You can have a Model-T in any color, so long as it's black," was the joke, as I recall. Meanwhile, the original makers of the car in Germany produced more stylish, fancy machines for a more elite audience.

That is the drawback of not scaling: it limits your audience, and most often limits your audience to those that can afford it. That's not really a problem, as far as our culture is concerned, when it comes to material things like cars or computers. We don't really begrudge the wealthy their Aston Martins. No, what is frustrating is the access to personalized services, the ability to skip long lines at the airport, the capacity to enroll their kids in the best and most expensive schools. Rewards are one thing, but self-perpetuating advantages are another all-together.

The ironic thing is, rewards, for the most part, do scale. Oh sure, not everyone can have the fanciest cars or the newest mobile device or what-have-you. But the main reason for that is because companies see a bigger profit margin at higher prices. It has almost nothing to do with production costs, and everything to do with exchange. If I will pay $50,000 for a BMW, it doesn't matter that it costs the company the same $10,000 to make the car as it costs Hyundai to make theirs, what matters is that BMW is built on making that $40,000 profit off of fewer customers, while Hyundai is built to make $2,000 in profit off of lots more customers.

That's oversimplified, to be sure, but the point is that, from a material standpoint, most of what we pay for in our time does scale. Shopping at WalMart or Target is not so different than shopping at Pier One, fundamentally. It's just a different audience, and a different business plan. In the end, however, profit is profit, production is production, and purchase is purchase.

Nowhere is this more evident than in software. Each new sofa produced adds to costs, and while my position is that, thanks to the prevalence of scalability in the world of economics, the cost of production has almost nothing to do with the cost of the purchase at the other end, it is certainly the case that some material goods are made with higher-quality materials, and that they are therefore marketed and sold in more expensive circumstances. In software, on the other hand, there is no additional cost for each new unit sale. Symantec pays very nearly $0 to get Norton Antivirus from customer #50 to customer #5,000,000. In short, the entire cost of the product, for customer #5,000,000, is determined by what he is willing to pay for it, and not by the production cost at all. As a corollary, Symantec benefits most not from improving their product, but from finding a way to sell more units and spending their money on deals with companies like Dell to make sure Norton is preloaded on new PC purchases.

In this sense, software is scale incarnate. Each piece of code certainly takes work to make, and from a historical-economic perspective the software writer certainly deserves compensation for that work, but there is a tremendous philosophical, social, and cultural disconnect between the software engineer and the user that it seems to me that no existing system of economics adequately addresses the situation.

The problem is this: in the scalability world, there is no consideration of the importance of material things and interpersonal relationships for human existence. Products are merely purchasable and scalable. Exchange, indeed, has all but exited the equation. A thing, or a piece of code, or a service, is made, and then it is put into some mysterious world where it is purchased on a greater or lesser scale. The producer is compensated, usually, in a way that is far abstracted from those sales, and the purchaser's relationship with the producer is abstracted as well. The entire process, indeed, is mechanized and in fact is itself the victim of scale.

Consider eBay or Amazon, ostensibly connecting people who are selling with people who are buying, and therefore working against, in some sense, the impersonality and abstraction of scalable economics from the real world. Except, the materials exchanged here - and here there is exchange - are abstracted. I may get a real book or a real CD, but nowhere do I come in any kind of meaningful contact with the origin, maker, materials, or work that went into that book or CD. The buyer and the seller are dealing outside the world of scale, but are doing so across a platform which does indeed scale, and Amazon and eBay extract from the system - the abstract, inhuman system - their capital.

I will freely admit that I do not understand modern economics. I will, however, assert this: I don't believe that anyone does. In my interactions this year with a number of Stanford MBAs, it strikes me that almost none of them has a meaningful handle on economy of scale, at least from any kind of human perspective. Whereas Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and a host of other historical economists spoke of their terms in human contexts, there is no human context in modern economics, and where humans are a part of the picture, their leverage point is in designing and assessing scalability.

It would take, I think, some combination of economist, philosopher, anthropologist, sociologist, mathematician, and some other fields to unravel the modern economic picture. Of course, in these specialized times there's little impetus for that, and so the work that mostly gets done in each and every of those fields - even when it touches on the others - remains un-synthesized. To me it is clear that there is a difficult-to-define problem in economics, both in the sense of the current "recession" and in the sense of broad problems of income disparity and poverty, for example. But I think the problem has not been defined - and much less has any kind of solution been offered - because there is no meaningful human framework through which the problem can be considered. We have an economics of scale, but no human scale on which to measure it.

I began with education, here, because it operates in stark opposition to the material and meta-material world of sofas and software. Good teaching, the business people are right, does not scale. But that does not mean that software and scalability are the inevitable and best paths for learning. It might be that customization - and not fake customization like what Apple gives you - has to do with human-to-human interactions, and not making choices about wallpapers or avatars. In that case, customization isn't even the word. "Relationships" is. It might be, then, that in education, the reason that you cannot scale is because education and learning have to do with relationships, and not products. Education is not alone in this, but it is indicative. And it's one of the biggest holes in the modern economic picture. We have networks, of course - which are an attempt to understand scaled relationships - but that only begs the question: what is a network, what are those relationships upon which learning is built, and who is playing what role for whom?

It might turn out, if we look closely enough at even the largest scale products and companies in the world, that at their heart are the same anthropological, sociological, and, yes, educational questions that require a departure from the specialized, production-oriented, inhuman economics of scale.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Colorado Rockies Draft History, Part Three: 2004-2010

Tip of the hat to baseball-reference, yet again.

Part three of three! We've looked at every Rockies draft pick who has made the Majors from 1992 to 2003 so far, and today we're going to look at the Rockies most recent drafts. Of course, the most recent ones - from 2007 on - haven't really paid off, as yet. Nevertheless, we can look at the players who are on the path to the big leagues from those drafts, even if we don't know who's going to become a starter and who's going to be a career backup yet.



Round 2, Pick 50 - OF Seth Smith, 2.7 WAR

Smith has actually added another 0.6 WAR so far this season, but BR's totals only go through 2009. Even so, Smith has already shown that his tremendous athletic ability - as a former quarterback - translates well to the baseball diamond. Smith leads the Rockies in HR so far this season (as of this writing) despite only recently becoming a regular starter. Indeed, the Rockies have mysteriously resisted playing Smith regularly for the past three seasons, despite now sporting a career .364 OBP, .506 SLG and .283 AVG. Add to that 28 homers in 593 ABs and you definitely have a starting outfielder.

The knock on Smith is and has always been his struggles against left-handed pitching. As a result, fewer than 100 of Smith's career ABs have come against lefties. Much like a young Brad Hawpe, the Rockies are sheltering Smith from the challenge of hitting against southpaws. Which is fair enough, because Smith has undoubtedly struggled in his admittedly limited opportunities against left-handed pitching. Someday, however, he'll likely start to get more time against pitchers of all kinds.

Round 3, Pick 80 - RHP Steven Register, -0.3 WAR

Register made it to Colorado in 2008, a fairly quick ascent for a young player drafted in 2004, but he struggled in 10 innings, giving up 10 runs (and not due to bad luck). He has since moved on, and resides in the Blue Jays' minor league system, hoping for another crack in the Majors.

Round 4, Pick 110 - C Chris Iannetta, 4.7 WAR

I've written about Iannetta already this season, thanks to the shenanigans the front office and management have gotten entangled in with arguably the best home-grown catcher in franchise history. Chris still has only 50 PAs so far in 2010, an unthinkably low number after hitting 16 homers in only 289 ABs with a .344 OBP last year (when, again, he mysteriously split time with a catcher who is, frankly, not good enough to be in the Majors in Yorvit Torrealba). Iannetta may never really hit for that high an average, but he has tremendous plate discipline and is not some young prospect. He is a proven Major League catcher, with a career .356 OBP and a .440 SLG in over 1,000 PAs. That's not outstanding - indeed, he's about a league average hitter - but for a catcher it is more than solid.

As fantastic a draft pick as Iannetta was, his misuse since is exemplified best by the reaction around the blogosphere - and around the rest of the Majors - when Iannetta was demoted. Shock would be a good word. There was also a killer instinct displayed by intelligent clubs like the Red Sox, who immediately tried to trade for the wayward catcher. I don't think they asked about Miguel Olivo, no matter how well he's hitting at Coors Field this season.

Round 5, Pick 140 - 3B Matt Macri, -0.1 WAR

I have to admit that I have never heard of Matt Macri before. Apparently the Rockies traded him for Ramon Ortiz (one of their many soft-tossing-pitcher reclamation projects) in 2007. Macri made it to the Majors with the Twins in 2008, playing surprisingly well in 18 games. Even so, he hasn't appeared in the Majors since, and has even been Designated for Assignment and thus removed from the Minnesota 40-man roster, meaning he's unlikely to appear in the big leagues any time soon.

Round 6, Pick 170 - 1B Joe Koshansky, -0.2 WAR

Another heir-apparent to Todd Helton, Koshansky has never quite figured out how to made contact enough to stick at the big league level. Koshansky was a September call-up for the Rockies in 2007 and 2008, and while his prodigious power was on display in especially the second of those call-ups, so was his even more prodigious ability to strike out. Overall, Joe struck out 22 times in his 55 PAs in the Majors, with little indication that he'd do better with more time. Unlike Ryan Shealy, however, the Rockies were unable to get anything in return for this prospect, instead losing him to the waiver wire in 2009. He now plies his trade in the minor league system of the Milwaukee Brewers, where he's blocked by a much larger first baseman than Todd Helton in Prince Fielder.

Round 8, Pick 230 - RHP Jim Miller, 0.2 WAR

Miller was a part of the trade that brought Rodrigo Lopez to the Rockies from Baltimore in 2007, and made his 8 MLB appearances with the Orioles in 2008. He pitched well enough in just under eight innings, but has been truly awful so far this season in AAA, keeping him off of a very bad Orioles roster.

Round 12, Pick 350 - RHP David Patton, -0.5 WAR

Patton worked in 20 games for the Cubs last year, but wasn't really any good, walking 19 and striking out 23 in 27.2 innings. The Rockies gave up on Patton fairly easily, allowing him to be taken in the minor league draft after the 2008 season. And, apparently, they were right.

Round 14, Pick 410 - OF Dexter Fowler, 0.9 WAR

Dexter Fowler is still young because he was drafted out of high school. This season he is 24, meaning he still has time to develop. He needs, however, to cut down on his strikeouts, especially if he is going to wrest playing time away from Carlos Gonzalez, Seth Smith, and the always beloved Brad Hawpe. Indeed, like Iannetta, the Rockies sent Fowler to AAA as punishment for early-season struggles, despite a fairly small sample size. In Fowler's case, however, there is no history of success to recommend against the move. His 2009 was below league average at the plate and, despite reviews to the contrary, in the field as well. Unless Fowler can cut down on his strikeouts and find a little more pop, he's going to be the most recent in a long line of speedy, light-hitting center-fielders the Rockies fall in love with, but can't justify running out there every day.

Round 19, Pick 560 - LHP Josh Newman, -0.6 WAR

Newman pitched in 14 games in 2007 and 2008 for the Rockies and Royals, and hasn't been heard from since, thanks to more walks than strikeouts and a 8.15 ERA.


Round 1, Pick 7 - SS Troy Tulowitzki, 13.0 WAR



That is all.


Round 1, Pick 2 - RHP Greg Reynolds, -1.4 WAR

For this pick, I can't help but play the "what-if" game, again. Reynolds was regarded with skepticism at the time of his drafting, and for good reason. Consider the following picks, coming after Reynolds, at #2 overall:

3) Tampa Bay: 3B - Evan Longoria, 10.4 WAR
7) Los Angeles Dodgers: LHP - Clayton Kershaw, 4.9 WAR
10) San Francisco: RHP - Tim Lincecum, 15.0 WAR
11) Arizona: RHP - Max Scherzer, 2.3 WAR
41) New York Yankees: RHP - Joba Chamberlain, 4.3 WAR

The draft is, of course, an imperfect science, and the Rockies are not alone in busting on this draft. Overall #1 pick Luke Hochevar hasn't exactly been a world beater for the Royals, after all. But Longoria, especially, was very highly regarded, so much so that he could have been a number one pick. What's more, he was a college teammate and indeed close friend of Troy Tulowitzki. In short, he made so much sense for the Rockies, and Greg Reynolds made so little, that it's hard not to be a little frustrated by how these respective picks have turned out.

Round 18, Pick 528 - RHP Andrew Cashner, 0.1 WAR

Cashner made the Majors just this season with the Chicago Cubs. His is a veritable modern draft romance. He was picked in 2005 by the Braves in the 20th round, then the Rockies in 2006 in the 18th before being picked by the Cubs in the 29th round in 2007. Finally, the Cubs picked him again in 2008 in the 1st round. Because, you know, he got that much better in one season. Anyway, the last of those picks seems like the most accurate, given that Cashner has made the Majors already. Most 20th rounders don't make it to the Bigs period, let alone after two seasons. Regardless of Cashner's successes from here on out, he's proven a point by refusing to sign until he was picked 18th overall, and then delivering on that point by pitching his way to the Majors quickly.

2007, 2008, and 2009

Not surprisingly, no one from the 2007, 2008, or 2009 (or 2010) draft classes has made it to the Majors yet for the Rockies. Casey Weathers - the first rounder from 2007 - probably would have if not for Tommy John surgery a couple seasons ago. Other than that, however, no one has really been delayed. Rather, there are a handful of prospects on their ways, some of whom have high ceilings, indeed.

The Rockies top two prospects are 2008 first-rounder Christian Friedrich and 2009 first-rounder Tyler Matzek. Add 2010 top picks Kyle Parker - an outfielder, and Clemson's starting quarterback - and pitcher Peter Tago, and the Rockies certainly have some good potential Major Leaguers coming out of their recent drafts. But that's the definition of a high draft pick: potential. Not every first round pick turns into a Todd Helton or a Troy Tulowitzki.

Indeed, if nothing else I hope these posts have demonstrated how hard it is to tell who is going to be a good Major League player on draft day. Despite all of the hype surrounding Bryce Harper, we simply don't know if he'll turn into an All-Star or not. Likewise with Stephen Strasburg, whose impressive ML debut does not assure him a Hall of Fame berth, believe it or not.

The best cautionary draft tale I can think of comes from the 2001 draft. The Minnesota Twins were picking first overall, and they were hammered by analysts and experts who simply could not believe that they didn't pick Mark Prior. It was as if the Nationals, in 2009, refused to pick Strasburg. Prior, as you probably know, went on to have an incredible career for three seasons, before blowing out his arm. He hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2006.

The Twins, meanwhile, continue to enjoy the services of their pick that season, hometown hero and awful, awful first overall pick: Joe Mauer.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Colorado Rockies Draft History, Part Two: 1998-2003

Tip of the hat to baseball-reference, where all of my info for this series of posts is coming from.

Yesterday we looked at the first six drafts of the Rockies history, which, with the not-inconsequential exception of Todd Helton, did little to boost the Major League club. Part two will take us into more recent territory. The volume of Major Leaguers - and especially Major Leaguers who have made an actual impact with the Rockies - is much higher than in the first few years of Rockies drafts, before they had a chance to really build their scouting department. Add to that the struggles of the big league club, which in turn netted higher picks, and you'll see more familiar names in today's post than in yesterday's.

Without further ado, onwards to 1998.


Round 1, Pick 28 - RHP Matt Roney, -0.1 WAR

An inauspicious start to the day, Roney left the club as a Rule 5 pick between the 2002 and 2003 seasons, landing with the Detroit Tigers. The following season, the Tigers were unthinkably bad, at 43-119 (and they would have lost 120, if not for a 5-1 finish*). Roney worked mostly in relief, starting 11 games and appearing in 34 others. All things considered, he did alright, producing a 5.45 ERA, but he also walked more hitters than he struck out and, not surprisingly, finished with a 1-9 record. The truly remarkable thing, however, is that Roney, in what would be his only complete season in the big leagues, was realistically the Tigers' fourth best pitcher, behind "ace" Nate Cornejo and fellow relievers Chris Spurling and Jamie Walker. That you have probably never heard of any of those pitchers says a lot about why the Tigers lost 119 games in 2003.

* As for how bad they were, consider this: that 5-1 finish accounted for 12% of their wins for the
entire year. For comparison's sake, consider that those six games accounted for about 4% of the schedule.

While we're at it, it's worth mentioning that Roney was joined by Adam Bernero and Ben Petrick - who you'll remember from yesterday's post - on one of baseball history's worst teams. The Rockies were producing Major Leaguers of a kind, anyway, but at least they were someone else's problem.

Round 1 (supplemental), Pick 36 - OF Choo Freeman, -1.5 WAR

Choo was something of a fan favorite in his three years with the Major League club. From 2004 to 2006 he was given a chance to break into the regular lineup, but never really managed to impress. His lack of power meant that he needed to hit for a high average, show good plate discipline, and employ his excellent speed to his advantage. He struggled, however, to do any of those things, stealing only six bases in thirteen attempts, and punching up a putrid .296 OBP in his 318 Major League PAs. Choo was one in a series of light-hitting center fielders that manned the cavernous alleys of Coors Field, joining the likes of Curtis Goodwin, Darryl Hamilton, and going further back, Alex Cole. One might also throw Willy Taveras, Cory Sullivan, and Dexter Fowler into that mix. Obviously the Rockies have believed that they need speed in the outfield - even at the expense of power - to be successful at Coors. Current center fielder Carlos Gonzalez, fortunately, provides both.

Round 2, Pick 60 - RHP Jermaine Van Buren, -0.6 WAR

Van Buren's 16 games came as a Cub and a Red Sock, after being released by the Rockies in 2003. He posted a 9.00 ERA in 19 innings.

Round 2, Pick 71 - OF Jody Gerut, 4.2 WAR

The second of four eventual Major League outfielders the Rockies picked in this draft, Gerut was a part of the trade that sent catcher Josh Bard to Cleveland for another speedy, light-hitting outfielder named Jacob Cruz. Since then, Gerut has become something of a journeyman, never living up to the potential displayed in his rookie season in 2003 when he hit .279 with 22 and a respectable .336 OBP, thanks largely to an ACL tear he suffered late in 2004. Gerut was out of the Majors by the end of 2005, but fought his way back and was a regular for the Padres in 2008. He is currently playing for - and struggling with - the Milwaukee Brewers, having been traded by the Padres for Tony Gwynn Jr last season.

Round 4, Pick 120 - RHP Luke Hudson, 1.4 WAR

Hudson enjoyed two full seasons and parts of a couple more at the big league level, pitching for the Reds and the Royals with limited success. A career 5.11 ERA in 243 innings is nothing spectacular, and probably had something to do with Hudson's low strikeout, high walk, and fairly high home run totals. A dangerous combination.

Round 5, Pick 150 - 1B Ryan Shealy, 0.6 WAR

Rockies fans probably remember Shealy as the one-time heir apparent to Todd Helton who never really got a chance to play. Eventually the club moved Ryan to Kansas City in the deal that brought Jeremy Affeldt to the roster. Given regular playing time, Shealy proved that his batting eye was, more or less, for real, but his vaunted power has never lived up to expectations, and he hasn't appeared in a Major League game since 2008. Deemed not good enough for the Royals, who start Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Guillen every day, there's little chance Shealy will play anywhere else.

Round 7, Pick 210 - 3B Matt Holliday, 21.9 WAR

You may be surprised to learn that Holliday, picked out of high school, went in the seventh round. There may be no better anecdotal evidence - at least in Rockies history - as to what a crap-shoot the draft is than Holliday's selection. Based on this draft, one would be tempted to say that the Rockies (and all of baseball) in 1998 thought that Choo Freeman was a better played than Matt Holliday. Yeah.

Anyway, you know the story from there. Holliday moved to the outfield from third base, debuted in Colorado in 2004, and promptly grew into some power to accompany his .300+ batting averages. In 2007 he hit a league-leading .340 and cracked 36 home runs en route to a second-place finish in the MVP voting and a World Series appearance for the Rockies. Showing tremendous shrewdness, the Rockies dealt Holliday after a sub-par (for him) 2008 season, getting in return Carlos Gonzalez, Greg Smith, and Huston Street from the Oakland Athletics.

Last offseason Holliday signed a massive contract with the Cardinals that will keep him there past, frankly, the time when he will likely be a useful player for them. The Rockies, meanwhile, have both a decent if oft-injured closer and a budding young star in the outfield instead. Despite much hand-wringing at the time, Holliday not only gave the Rockies his best seasons, his departure brought in one of the franchise's current best players.

Round 13, Pick 390 - OF Juan Pierre, 11.9 WAR

The fourth of four Major League outfielders the Rockies picked in 1998 (and another light-hitting speedster), Pierre has had a solid career despite his limitations as a hitter. Pierre won the World Series with the Marlins, of course, and then was a part of one of their infamous purges after the 2005 season. What you may not know is that current star Ricky Nolasco came to Florida, along with a couple other players, from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Juan Pierre.

Pierre typifies a certain style of player - the small, scrappy, speedster who always gives you a tough at bat, even though he can't hit for power and isn't nearly as good a base stealer as you think he is.* That Pierre has lasted as long in the Majors as he has is partially due to skill, yes, but also because he has overvalued skills in spades: he hits for a decent average, even though he doesn't walk much or hit for any power, and he is fast, even though he's not an excellent base stealer. A career OPS+ of 85 (meaning he's about 15% below league average) shows a degree of usefulness, but almost 1,500 career games seems a bit much. Until you look at the picks before him like Choo Freeman, and you realize that Pierre is a veritable god by comparison.

* Pierre has led the league in stolen bases twice in his career. He has led the league in caught stealing five times.

Round 15, Pick 450 - RHP Mark DiFelice, 0.6 WAR

DiFelice pitched for five different organizations in the minors before making it to the show with the Brewers in 2008, at the age of 31. Last season he worked 51.2 innings, striking out 48 and walking only 15, leading to a 3.66 ERA. A shoulder injury has sidelined him for the entirety of 2010, and may potentially end his career. Unfortunately for the Brewers, he was one of their more reliable relief pitchers last season, and that is an area where they have been lacking so far this season.

Round 44, Pick 1314 - SS Alfredo Amezaga, 1.2 WAR

Most 44th round picks don't make it to the Majors, but Amezaga is a special case. After not signing with the Rockies in 1998, he was drafted by the Angels in 1999 in the 13th round. Nevertheless, he found his way to the Rockies briefly as a waiver claim in the winter of 2004, playing only 2 games before likewise being claimed by the Pirates off of waivers. With a career going nowhere as a backup infielder, Amezaga made it to the Florida Marlins in 2006, where he received regular playing time for the first time in his career. His numbers are far from spectacular, but Amezaga has been a regular for the Marlins since 2006, posting averages of .260, .263, and .264 in the last three seasons. Unfortunately, he doesn't really walk or hit for power (he has 12 home runs in his 544 career games played), so most of his value derives from defense. On the whole, Amezaga has had an unremarkable career, but a much better one than most 44th round, or even 14th round, picks.


Round 1, Pick 16 - RHP Jason Jennings, 9.2 WAR

It's easy to forget how good Jason Jennings was in 2006, the year before he was traded for Taylor Buchholz, Jason Hirsh, and Willy Taveras. Of his 9.2 career WAR, 4.2 came in that season alone. Though he only went 9-13, Jennings posted an excellent 3.78 ERA, striking out 142 and walking 85 in 212 innings. He won, that season, the first ever 1-0 game in Coors Field history, against the San Diego Padres, and while he was probably somewhat lucky to have an ERA as low as he did, he nevertheless conjured a certain amount of hopeful expectation in the minds of Rockies fans everywhere desperate for an "ace."

After leaving Colorado, of course, Jennings arm fell apart, and he was awful with the Houston Astros in 2007 while watching his former team surge into the World Series. Like with Matt Holliday, a trade that was regarded skeptically at the time has definitely paid off for the Rockies in the long term, though in this case more because of how little Jennings has produced instead of how much the players received in return have produced.

Regardless of his successes and failures, Jennings signified a shift in the Rockies approach towards pitching. Along with Aaron Cook, Jennings was the poster-child of the hard-sinker, pitch-to-contact model that has become the mantra of the Rockies staff in recent years. Jennings was always in imperfect practitioner of this approach, probably because his control simply wasn't good enough, but he nevertheless was an important transition point.

Round 3, Pick 100 - C Josh Bard, 1.9 WAR

Unlike the '98 draft, the '99 draft didn't produce much for the Rockies, as Bard was the second best Major Leaguer to come out of the 49 rounds. Bard was, as mentioned, traded along with Jody Gerut for Jacob Cruz in 2001, and he has since been involved in two other trades as he has zipped around the league. This year he is a backup for the Seattle Mariners, but he has also played for the Nationals, the Padres, the Red Sox, and the Indians. In his best season, 2006, Bard hit .333 with 9 HR and a .404 OBP in 284 PAs. He would play even more in 2007, but hit fewer HRs, had a lower AVG, and a lower OBP. Since then, he's been mostly a part-timer, but has a reputation as an effective defender and an acceptable hitter for a catcher, meaning he may stick around for a few years more.

Round 12, Pick 370 - RHP Craig House, -0.2 WAR

House, born in Japan, bounced around in the minors for a few years after his Major League debut at the age of 22 in 2000. He struggled in 16 appearances in 2000, but an arm injury sidelined him and stunted his future development into a shutdown closer. The Rockies gave up on him in 2002, shipping him off to New York as a part of the massive trade that brought Todd Zeile and Benny Agbayani to the Rockies. He was released for the last time in 2005 after playing in six other minor league organizations, but never making it back to the Majors.

Round 28, Pick 850 - LHP Justin Hampson, 1.1 WAR

Currently working as a minor leaguer for the Oakland A's, Hampson appeared briefly for the Rockies in 2006, and was a regular reliever for the Padres in 2007 and 2008. Hampson has never shown exceptional ability, but his ERA in his career is 3.38 in 96 innings, certainly not shabby for a 28th round pick.


Round 2, Pick 47 - RHP Jason Young, -1.2 WAR

Matt Harrington was the ill-fated first round pick by the Rockies in 2000. He refused to sign, was picked in the second round by the Padres in 2001, refused to sign again, and eventually never made it to the Majors despite being one of the most heralded prospects of his year.

Jason Young did sign with the Rockies, and was a part of a disastrous quartet of pitchers the Rockies picked in the first four rounds. I've been avoiding playing the "what if" game so far during these posts, but consider the following position players who were drafted in the first four rounds of 2000, all of whom the Rockies had a chance to pick and didn't:

2B - Chase Utley
SS - Kelly Johnson (now a 2B)
3B - Xavier Nady (now an OF)
OF - Grady Sizemore
OF - David DeJesus
C - Yadier Molina

Don't get me wrong, a lot of teams missed on these players. Remember in 1998 when every team in the whole MLB passed on Matt Holliday 13 times. But the Rockies, even in 2000, stuck stubbornly to their "pick pitchers first" mentality, which cost them opportunities at players like Sizemore and Utley. The above list doesn't include pitchers Adam Wainwright and Cliff Lee, who both went in the early rounds, as well.

Anyway, Jason Young was not a bad pick, per se, but his Major League career never took off. In 10 games - 5 starts - he posted a 9.71 ERA in 29.2 innings, thanks mainly to 11 home runs surrendered. That he was probably the best of the four pitchers the Rockies selected in the first four rounds just goes to show how hard this drafting thing is.

Round 4, Pick 107 - LHP Cory Vance, -0.1 WAR

Cory Vance pitched in 11 games, mostly in relief, for the Rockies in 2002 and 2003. His 5.74 ERA was better than Young's, but he gave up almost as many homers, and walked more than he struck out. His career was doomed to be a short one.

Round 5, Pick 137 - 1B Garrett Atkins, 10.9 WAR

While the Rockies dropped Matt Holliday and Jason Jennings at the exact right times, they held onto Atkins for one season too long. In 2008 Atkins had a career low .328 OBP, and was, overall, a below league average hitter for the first time since his rookie year. Of course, his 2009 was a disaster, and his poor defense at 3B was always troubling, but worth putting up with thanks to decent offensive production. Needless to say, Atkins has been terrible with the Orioles - playing against the Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees all the time - this season.

Nevertheless, Atkins was a good Major League player for five seasons, giving the Rockies stability at a position they have often struggled to fill. He was a key contributor to the 2007 World Series team, and even garnered some MVP votes in his career-best year in 2006. Atkins, however, is also a case study in age curves. Peaking at 26, Atkins has collapsed rapidly, and will likely be out of Major League baseball within the next couple of seasons. While his rise and fall have been somewhat more extreme than most players, it is easy to forget that Atkins career arc is the norm, not the exception.

Round 6, Pick 167 - RHP Scott Dohmann, -0.1 WAR

Dohmann stuck around for 164 appearances in the Majors, despite never being particularly good. Indeed, he is the definition of "replacement," with a career WAR almost exactly at 0 despite over 170 innings pitched. The theory is that one could easily drop into triple A and find a dozen Scott Dohmans floating around, waiting for their chance in the Majors.

Round 10, Pick 287 - SS Clint Barmes, 6.2 WAR

Clint Barmes has never had an above league average season on offense, even as a rookie when he got off to a torrid start before injuring himself in a tagic deer-meat carrying accident. It's also easy to forget that Barmes's rookie year came at the game of 26, making him 31 now. As an everyday player, Clint's usefulness has always been as a defender, where he has become one of the better second basemen in the Majors. Add to that his ability to hit the longball, and he has been a passable every day player in the past few seasons for Colorado.

Age, however, knows no limits, and if it can claim Garrett Atkins as swiftly as it did, there's no reason to believe that Clint Barmes's march towards career lows in AVG, OBP, and SLG this season are anomalous. Add to that early-season defensive struggles, and it's beginning to look like Barmes belongs on the bench as a utility infielder, and not on the field as a starter. If only the Rockies had someone else who could play second base.

Anyway, as a pick this was an excellent one. Despite how easy it is to knock Clint's shortcomings, he has been a decent Major League player, and even produced a 2.3 WAR season in his prime. Indeed, though you wouldn't expect it, he has been a better player in his career than the Rockies 11th round pick in the same draft.

Round 11, Pick 317 - 1B Brad Hawpe, 2.7 WAR

I know what you're thinking, I'm not about to argue that Brad Hawpe has been a worse player in his career than Clint Barmes. That's unthinkable. But it's true. Hawpe may hit homers, and his career OBP may be a solid .376, but his defense is so unbelievably bad that his offense cannot save him. Where Barmes has been a poor hitter and excellent defender, Hawpe has been a good hitter and a truly, almost historically, atrocious fielder. In 2008, for example, Hawpe was 4.1 wins below replacement in the outfield. Not runs, wins. As in, Hawpe's defense, in 2008, cost the Rockies FOUR GAMES! Consider that most MVPs collect about 7 or 8 Wins in a season and you'll see how amazingly bad that is.

The reason, of course, is that Hawpe has played out of position for his whole career. Coors Field has a difficult enough outfield to navigate, so Hawpe's transition from first base - where he grew up playing - has been an especially cruel one. It's hard to fault Hawpe for his defensive shortcomings, since it is the Rockies who march him out to the outfield every day, but it would be silly to pretend that Hawpe's value in his career hasn't been significantly lessened by his misadventures in the vast, grassy pastures of the outfield.

Round 12, Pick 347 - RHP Sean Green, 0.5 WAR

Green has appeared this season for the Mets, and before that worked regularly in relief for New York and Seattle. On the whole, he has pitched 250 innings in 240 games, posting a 4.40 ERA. Nothing spectacular, but, again, a decent career for a 12th round pick.

Round 15, Pick 437 - RHP Justin Huisman, -0.2 WAR

Husiman made it to the Majors with the Royals in 2004, working 25 innings. He was, later, a "player to be named later" in a trade with the Astros.

Round 35, Pick 1037 - RHP Darren Clarke, 0.1 WAR

Darren Clarke was drafted by the Rockies in both 1999 and 2000, but didn't sign the first time. He made it to the Majors in 2007 for the proverbial "cup of coffee," pitching 1.1 innings in 2 games.


Round 1 (supplemental), Pick 44 - SS Jayson Nix, 0.8 WAR

Everyone remembers the disastrous Mike Hampton signing the Rockies made before the 2001 season - a contract that the Rockies only recently stopped paying for - but we don't usually remember that signing Hampton also cost the Rockies their first round pick in 2001. The Mets, with that pick, selected future Major Leaguer Aaron Heilman.

The Rockies first pick was 44th overall in 2001, and Jayson Nix's career really has gone nowhere. Simply put, Jayson Nix can't hit in the Major Leagues. Thanks to the somewhat backwards Chicago White Sox Nix has now accrued 396 PAs in the Majors, but his batting average is .199 and his OBP is .290. Ugly. Add to that his high strikeout totals and his mediocre power and you don't really have the profile of an everyday player. Of course, the Rockies hoped and prayed that Nix would supplant Barmes at 2B, giving him the starting job in 2008 out of spring training, and taking it away by May.

Nix has picked up some value in his career thanks to solid defense, but he's been a less-than-inspiring first round pick, on the whole.

Round 7, Pick 214 - OF Cory Sullivan, -0.9 WAR

We've already talked about the Rockies love for light-hitting speedsters in center field. Cory Sullivan is the archetype. As a starter for two full seasons, Sullivan hit in the high .200s with no power and no plate discipline. What's more, he's never been much of a base stealer despite his theoretically good speed, swiping only 32 bases so far in his 6 year career. Currently with the Astros, Sullivan is "hitting" .176 in what may, realistically, be his final campaign.


Round 1, Pick 9 - LHP Jeff Francis, 6.0 WAR

The infamous "Moneyball Draft" treated the Rockies fairly well. While they didn't acquire any stars, the number of Major League players that came out of the draft was much higher than either 2001 or 2003.

Francis, of course, is the best of the bunch, his career WAR suffering mainly from pitching hurt in 2008 and missing all of 2009. His 2006 and 2007 seasons netted 2.5 and 2.2 Wins, respectively, both solid if unspectacular. What's more, he's looking like he may be a useful pitcher again this season, having finally recovered from his arm troubles. While Francis will never be an All-Star, he's a decent middle-of-the-rotation arm with, moreover, the profile of a pitcher who is likely to age well. At only 29, Francis may be around Colorado for years to come, giving him ample chance to up his career WAR to 10 or 15.

Round 2, Pick 50 - RHP Micah Owings, 2.9 WAR

Ironically, 2.5 of Owings career Wins come from his offensive production, and not his pitching. Indeed, Owings has been a mediocre pitcher throughout his career with the Diamondbacks and Reds, but has a career .289 average with 9 homers as a hitter. He won't fool anyone into thinking he could be a regular in the field, but his production as a pitcher who can hit is not insignificant.

Owings never played in the Rockies system, even though he was a second round pick, because he refused to sign in 2002. He was later picked by the Cubs in 2004, where he also didn't sign, and then finally by the D-backs in 2005.

Round 4, Pick 111 - 3B Jeff Baker, 2.1 WAR

Baker never really got a chance to play regularly with the Rockies, serving as a backup from 2005 through 2008. He has still yet to show significant ability as a hitter or a fielder, but is good enough and versatile enough in the field to stick around as a backup and pinch hitter. The Rockies traded Baker to the Cubs for Alberto Alburquerque, a prospect pitching in, fittingly, AA this season.

Round 6, Pick 171 - OF Sean Barker, 0.0 WAR

Another "cup of coffee" player, Barker appeared in three games in 2007 for the Rockies, but did not get a hit. How frustrating is that?

Round 7, Pick 201 - OF Ryan Spilborghs, 1.0 WAR

Spilly, in addition to routinely having some of the ugliest facial hair in baseball, has been a solid backup outfielder for the Rockies since 2006. He is well liked in the clubhouse, sure, but is also a good enough hitter that he has so far been worth keeping around. Most seasons Spilly has been right around 0 WAR - a replacement level player - but his career year in 2007 (at the age of 27) was a 2.1 WAR year in a mere 97 games. His 2008 was better offensively, but he was stuck in center field too often for his own good.

Ryan Spilborghs also selects hilarious songs to stride to the plate to. Where most players pick something they like, or that is appropriately "epic," Spilly has used in recent years a song from Gwen Stefani, "Eye of the Tiger," and most recently "Tainted Love." The walkoff Grand Slam he hit against the Giants last August in extra innings was, in fact, preceded by "Eye of the Tiger." Which, frankly, is way more epic than even Larry Walker's many "Crazy Train" homers.

Round 8, Pick 231 - OF Jeff Salazar, -0.7 WAR

Now in the Orioles minor league system - and if you're not good enough to play for the Orioles, you're probably not good enough to play anywhere - Salazar has collected 348 PAs at the Major League level, but has never done enough to earn regular playing time.

Round 11, Pick 321 - 1B Ryan Shealy, 0.6 WAR

We already discussed Shealy. This was the year he was actually signed. The Rockies really did want him enough to pick him both before and after college.

Round 12, Pick 351 - RHP Mike Esposito, -0.1 WAR

Esposito started three games for the Rockies in 2005, losing two of them. He walked 9 and struck out 5 in 14.2 innings, which is a recipe for failure.


Round 1, Pick 10 - 3B Ian Stewart, 1.6 WAR

Stewart is the only player from the Rockies 2003 draft to make the Majors, but he has so far been a pretty good one. Finally given the starting job in 2009, he's settling into everyday play this year, and while he has not yet posted a high batting average in his career, his patience and power make him a decent, if unexceptional hitter. Expect his career WAR to start climbing in the next few seasons, as he is still only 25, and should have another couple years of improvement left in him.


In some way these drafts were even less impressive for the Rockies than the 1992-1997 crop, but what is notable is not the skill of the players here but the volume. Much of the homegrown talent that carried the team in 2007 came from these drafts: Hawpe, Atkins, Holliday, Francis, and Spilborghs. Add to that the Rockies Latin American signings of Manny Corpas, Franklin Morales, and Ubaldo Jimenez and you have the core of what ended up being a World Series team.

Perhaps these six years, even more than the previous six, demonstrate how hard it is to draft effectively. The Rockies have, in fact, drafted and developed well compared to many teams, despite only a small handful - or in 2003, only one - of Major League players coming out of each draft. Perhaps more important than the draft for the Rockies has been how they have dealt their homegrown talent at the exact right time: Jennings for Taveras, Holliday for CarGo and Street, and so on.

Our final rundown of 2004 through 2010 (!) will come tomorrow. Of course, there will be fewer MLB players in those ranks, simply because some of the players who will make it from those years haven't made it yet. Players drafted out of High School, especially often take six or seven years to broach the Majors. Matt Holliday was drafted in 1998, after all. Who knows what Matt Holliday-caliber player was picked in 2005, and won't make an impact until 2013?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Colorado Rockies Draft History, Part One: 1992-1997

Tip of the hat to baseball-reference, where all of my info for this series of posts is coming from.

The first round of the MLB amateur draft is today. In the past few years, the event has gotten more publicity than it used to, but it has always taken a back seat to the drafts in the NFL and NBA. The main reason is that, where in basketball and football top picks make an immediate impact on the professional team, in baseball the best players often spend years in the minor leagues. Today's draft will pay off in 2013 and beyond, not in this year's pennant race.

Anyway, since today is the draft, I wanted to look back at the Rockies draft history since their inception in 1992 (I know, the Major League team started in '93, but the Rockies first draft was in '92). Much of the Rockies top-tier talent in recent years comes from Venezuela, the Dominican, and Panama, of course, which are not a part of a draft limited to Canadian and United Statesian players. But the team has had some success with its draft picks as well, though maybe not as much as you'd think.

So here's the first part of my year-by-year, blow-by-blow review. I'll be using primarily WAR (Wins Above Replacement) to assess players, just because it's an easy, one-size-fits all approximation of a players' career value, and because it is on a fairly intuitive scale (1 WAR is, basically, 1 Win). I won't debate the merits or drawbacks of WAR here, rather, I'm using it to get a sense. Anyway, here we go.


Round 1, Pick 27 - RHP John Burke, -0.3 WAR

Burke pitched for the Rockies briefly - in 28 games - in 1996 and 1997, but was never really any good. He punched up a 6.75 ERA in those two years, and didn't last long after that.

Round 2, Pick 65 - RHP Mark Thompson, -0.3 WAR

Thompson, like Burke, was picked out of college, but he lasted much longer in the Majors. His career WAR of -0.3 is misleading, because he did have a couple of decent seasons. Reaching the Majors at 23, in 1994, Thompson had his best season as a 25-year-old in 1996, finishing 9-11 with a 5.30 ERA in the early, high-scoring days of Coors Field. Despite the high ERA, he was actually right around league average that season, but injuries derailed his career, and he never made more than 6 starts in a season after that, finishing his career as a reliever with St. Louis in 2000.

Round 3, Pick 95 - RHP Roger Bailey, 4.4 WAR

The Rockies were pitching-happy in their early drafts. Bailey was followed in the fourth round by fourth pitcher, Lloyd Peever (who never reached the majors). The Rockies didn't pick a position player until the 151st pick of the draft.

Bailey had the best career of any pitcher the Rockies selected in this draft, believe it or not. His 4.4 WAR is not impressive, but it's not too bad over a 92 game career. He put up a well above-average season at 26 in 1997, going 9-10 with a 4.29 ERA. Unfortunately, a car accident that off-season ended his career prematurely.

Round 7, Pick 207 - SS Jason Bates, -2.6 WAR

Jason Bates never played for anyone except the Rockies, and his rookie year in 1995 was also his best. At the age of 24 he netted 116 games played and 368 PAs, hitting .267 with 8 HRs. Thereafter he was a utility infielder until 1998, but increasingly struggled as a hitter and was done as a Major Leaguer after a .189 average in his final season.

Round 10, Pick 291 - RHP Garvin Alston, -0.1 WAR

Alston appeared in 6 games for the Rockies in 1996, but, like many players, didn't last.

Round 11, Pick 319 - SS Craig Counsell, 18.4 WAR

Counsell is easily the best player the Rockies selected in the 1992 draft. The book hasn't even closed on his career yet, as he is still plying his trade for the Milwaukee Brewers even now, in 2010. Counsell has won the World Series twice, with the Marlins in 1997 and the Diamondbacks in 2001, and has been a generally competent, if unimpressive, semi-regular infielder throughout his career. In over 5,000 career PAs, Counsell has a .258 average, a .344 OBP, and a .350 SLG.

Round 14, Pick 403 - RHP Juan Acevedo, 3.2 WAR

Acevedo was never a great pitcher, but he was good enough to stick around from 1995 until 2003, bouncing from the Rockies to the Mets to the Cardinals to the Brewers, back to the Rockies, on to the Marlins, then on to the Tigers, Yankees, and finally, the Blue Jays. Phew. Definition of a journeyman. But it is certainly remarkable for a 14th rounder to throw 570 innings in the Majors, which Acevedo did in his career, punching up a respectable 4.33 ERA.

Round 17, Pick 487 - OF Angel Echevarria, -1.0 WAR

A career backup, Echevarria was never really given a chance to shine. In his best season, as a 28-year-old in 1999, he hit .293 with 11 homers in only 191 ABs before the Rockies sent him out of hitter-friendly Coors Field. As a Blue Jay, he struggled mightily, and was out of the game by 2003.

Round 25, Pick 711 - 2B Quinton McCracken, -2.6 WAR

For a 25th round pick, McCracken had a remarkable career. He lasted from 1995 until 2006, playing in 999 games and stealing 89 bases. As a speedy, backup outfielder (not as a 2B, where he was drafted), McCracken was able to stick around for longer than you would expect, but he never was able to hit for enough power to play regularly. Nevertheless, his best season, at 31 in 2002 - with the Arizona Diamondbacks - was well above league average, as he hit .309 with a .367 OBP and a .458 SLG.

Round 28, Pick 795 - C Mark Strittmatter, -0.1 WAR

Strittmatter played only 4 games in the Majors, but he is and has been the Rockies bullpen catcher for as long as I can remember.


Round 1, Pick 28 - RHP Jamey Wright, 6.0 WAR

Wright has had a long and mediocre career. Currently he's a reliever for the Cleveland Indians, having left the rotation for good with Texas in 2007. In his 1,700+ inning career Wright has a not-so-great 5.03 ERA, and has walked almost as many batters as he has struck out. Wright was picked out of high school, but made the Majors in 1996 at only 21-years-old, perhaps rushed by a Rockies franchise desperate for pitching help. Wright never really fit at Coors Field, which is hardly a surprise because he hasn't really fit anywhere else either. Nevertheless, Wright has stuck in the Majors, especially because he's not nearly as dangerous to his own team in the pen as he was as a starter.

Round 2, Pick 70 - RHP Bryan Rekar, 0.7 WAR

Rekar had a 655 inning career that ended in 2002, probably most remarkable because he was picked by the Devil Rays in the 1998 expansion draft. His 5.62 ERA was unimpressive, as was his 25-49 W-L record.

Round 7, Pick 212 - RHP John Thomson, 12.4 WAR

Missing here, again, is rounds 3 through 5, all pitchers, none of whom made the Majors. Thomson was the best player from this draft for the Rockies, lasting in MLB until 2007. Injury troubles kept Thomson from being as good as he could have been, but he manager to put up a 4.68 ERA and strikeout over twice as many batters as he walked. His 63-85 record has more to do with the middling to poor teams he played with than his own shortcomings. He easily could have been a better-than-.500, middle-of-the-rotation starter, as evidenced by his 14-8, 3.72 ERA year in 2004 with the Braves.

Round 10, Pick 296 - OF Edgard Clemente, -1.8 WAR

Clemente had a short career, hitting only .249 with an awful .276 OBP in 270 PAs over three seasons, from 1998-2000.

Round 13, Pick 380 - OF Derrick Gibson, 0.4 WAR

Gibson played in 17 games over two years with the Rockies, obviously not impressing enough to warrant a shot anywhere else.

Round 30, Pick 856 - RHP Mark Brownson, 0.3 WAR

Brownson pitched in 11 games over three seasons, but his best known for his debut. Against the Astros he pitched a complete game shutout, surrendering only 4 hits. Unfortunately, he never captured that lightening again.

Round 40, Pick 1136 - OF Terry Jones, 0.5 WAR

Jones played mostly with the Expos from 1998 to 2001 as a backup outfielder. He may not have had an impressive career, but making the Majors at all after being a 40th round pick is exceptionally rare, let alone sticking around to play in 227 games.


Round 1, Pick 7 - LHP Doug Million

Million didn't make the Majors, but I list him because his reason for not making it has nothing to do with talent. Million died of a severe asthma attack in 1997 while in the minor leagues. What his career would have been is unclear, but he would have undoubtedly made the Majors if not for his tragic death.

Round 6, Pick 154 - RHP Luther Hackman, -2.3 WAR

Hackman had a couple passable years as a reliever with the Cardinals and Padres, but was never exceptional. Hackman was part of the trade that sent Daryl Kile to and brought longtime closer Jose Jimenez from the Cardinals to the Rockies.

Round 12, Pick 322 - RHP Mike Saipe, -0.3 WAR

Saipe appeared in only 2 games in 1998 for the Rockies.

Round 49, Pick 1326 - RHP Bart Miadich, -0.1 WAR

Miadich did not sign after being picked in the 49th round, eventually joining the Red Sox organization before being traded to the Angels, where he made his 12 career appearances.

Round 51, Pick 1366 - 2B Brandon Knight, -0.9 WAR

After not signing with the Rockies, Knight was drafted by the Rangers in the 14th round in 1995, and eventually made the majors as a pitcher for the Yankees. As his -0.9 WAR attests, Knight was no good (he had a 8.62 ERA) in 15 games played over 3 seasons. Strangely, those seasons were 2001, 2002, and 2008. Sometimes players stick around a long time in the minors.


Round 1, Pick 8 - 1B Todd Helton, 57.5 WAR

Easily the best player in Rockies history, and the first ever non-pitcher the Rockies selected in the first round, Helton's career OBP of .426 is among the best baseball has ever seen. It remains to be seen whether Helton will be a good enough player in the next three or four seasons to cement his borderline case for the Hall of Fame, but regardless he'll go down as the first truly great player the Rockies ever picked, developed, and then watched play through a long and successful career.

Round 2, Pick 38 - C Ben Petrick, 0.5 WAR

Petrick's career was cut short by Parkinson's disease. As he struggled to establish himself as a young catcher in the, called to the Majors at 22, Petrick had barely settled in when he had to retire in 2003. Where Helton's pick is has been one of the happiest stories the Rockies have enjoyed, Petrick's - along with Million's - is one of the saddest.

Round 11, Pick 291 - RHP Scott Randall, -0.5 WAR

Randall made the Majors as a Cincinnati Red in 2003, pitching in only 15 games and struggling with a 6.51 ERA. With 25 strikeouts against 11 walks, Randall maybe deserved a longer look, but he never got it.

Round 23, Pick 627 - RHP David Lee, 1.0 WAR

Lee pitched in 96 games over 5 seasons. In his rookie year in 1999, he punched up a 3.67 ERA over 49 innings, showing some promise. Likewise with the Padres in 2001, he had a 3.70 ERA in 48.2 innings, but Lee missed 2002, and was out of the game by 2004. Wikipedia tells me he now coaches little league in Pennsylvania.


Round 1, Pick 21 - RHP Jake Westbrook, 11.5 WAR

The Rockies traded Westbrook to the Expos as part of the deal that brought them Mike Lansing, and the Expos traded him to the Yankees as part of their deal for Hideki Irabu. Finally, the Yankees moved Westbrook, along with Zach Day and Ricky Ledee, to the Cleveland Indians - with whom he has spent his whole career - for David Justice. Westbrook is still pitching for Cleveland, after missing 2009 due to injury. In 2004 he was an All-Star on the way to a 3.38 ERA and a 14-9 record.

Round 3, Pick 86 - RHP Shawn Chacon, 4.4 WAR

Oh Shawn Chacon. He was the first Rockies pitcher to make the All-Star game, but an injury prevented him from appearing. After that injury, he was never the same. The Rockies moved Chacon to the bullpen in 2004, the year after his All-Star berth, and he collected 35 saves, but had an atrocious 7.11 ERA. He was eventually traded to the Yankees, but it is now clear that his injury did irreparable harm, and he never lived up to the promise he showed as a young starter for the Rockies.

Round 11, Pick 326 - LHP Tim Christman, 0.0 WAR

Christman appeared in only one game for the Rockies in 2001, hence the 0.0 WAR.

Round 38, Pick 1136 - RHP Adam Bernero, -2.6 WAR

Bernero was picked in 1994 by the White Sox, but didn't sign. He also didn't sign at this pick, eventually joining the Tigers as an amateur free agent in 1999. He was never all that impressive as a Tiger, and was traded to the Rockies - who apparently really, really wanted him - for Ben Petrick before Ben's Parkinson's was diagnosed. As a Rockie, Bernero was an unimpressive reliever. For his career, he went 11-27 with a 5.91 ERA in 376 innings.


Round 2, Pick 70 - RHP Aaron Cook, 13.1 WAR

The Rockies first round pick in 1997 was Mark Mangum, a pitcher who never made the Majors. Cook has turned out to be the much better pick, working over 1,150 innings in his still-running Rockies career. Cook has never been much of a strikeout pitcher, but he was the vanguard of the new style of Rockies pitcher which has led to so much success in the late 00's. Cook throws a hard sinker, pitching to contact and keeping the ball on the ground. The result is a lot of hits on balls that find holes, but by keeping walks and home run totals low, Cook has been an effective Major Leaguer, winning as many as 16 games in 2008 and posting a respectable 4.36 ERA for his career.

The most famous Aaron Cook story is probably his brush with death while pitching in 2004. Suffering from pulmonary embolism, Cook felt dizziness and numbness on while pitching in a mid-season start. He was rushed to the hospital, where the blood clots were removed. Cook missed a full year dealing with the condition.

Round 3, Pick 102 - 1B Todd Sears, 0.0 WAR

Sears played very briefly in the Majors for the Minnesota Twins after the Rockies traded him for Butch Husky and Todd Walker in 2000. Walker was a solid, if unremarkable, second baseman for the team for a couple seasons.

Round 4, Pick 132 - SS Chone Figgins, 21.1 WAR

The proverbial one that got away. Figgins has had one the best careers of any Rockies draft pick, mostly for the Anaheim (or Los Angeles or California) Angels. The Rockies traded Figgins for Kimera Bartee in July of 2001. And who can forget Kimera Bartee?

Figgins has never been a power hitter, but his career .361 OBP, his excellent defense all over the infield, and his exceptional speed (292 career stolen bases against 99 times caught stealing) have made him an All-Star, and have garnered him a handful of MVP votes throughout his career.

Round 5, Pick 162 - RHP Justin Miller, 0.7 WAR

The lowest pick from the 1997 draft that made the Majors from the Rockies, Miller has appeared in four games for the Los Angeles Dodgers this season, bringing his career total to 201 games since 2002.


If you're wondering why the Rockies were so bad from 2000 until 2007, look no further than their first 6 drafts. The only 10 or more WAR players the Rockies picked were Helton, Figgins, Thomson, Counsell, Cook, and Westbrook. Only Figgins and Helton have wracked up more than 20 WAR, and Figgins did all of that work with another team.

The number of players who made the Majors from these drafts - or, rather, the number who didn't - is nothing surprising. Most teams have about the same level of success as the Rockies did in terms of overall numbers, but the number of high-round pitchers that didn't work out for the Rockies is somewhat damning. Some of that had nothing to do with player development, of course - injuries, car accidents, and unexpected deaths are hard to predict when you draft - but the Rockies never really learned from their success in picking Helton in the first round. He was the only first-round position player for the franchise in from '92 to '97, and was also their best pick.

Tune in next time for 1998 through 2003!