SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – Take solace in this Pittsburgh sports fans: your club took the Cardinals — they are two wins from a World Series title — to an elimination game. And when combining the regular season and postseason games, the Pirates went 12-12 against the Cardinals in 2013. That’s progress.
But also feel free to feel anxious about this factoid: the Cardinals entered the Sept. with the fourth youngest roster in baseball, they have perhaps the most young pitching in the game, and Oscar Taveras is on the way … it doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere. They look to be contenders through the rest of the decade, which the Pirate front office is hoping marks the Pirates’ window of contention.
Whether you like them or not, you have to have a respect for how the Cardinals do business, most notably, how they draft players.
Seventeen players on the Cardinals’ World Series roster were drafted or signed as amateur international free agents by the team.
Joe Kelly draft 2009
Lance Lynn draft 2008
Seth Maness draft 2011
Carlos Martinez free agent 2010
Shelby Miller draft 2009
Trevor Rosenthal draft 2009
Kevin Siegrist draft 2008
Michael Wacha draft 2012
Tony Cruz draft 2007
Yadier Molina draft 2000
Matt Adams draft 2009
Matt Carpenter draft 2009
Allen Craig draft 2006
Daniel Descalso draft 2007
David Freese trade 2007
Pete Kozma draft 2007
Kolten Wong draft 2011
Jon Jay draft 2006
Shane Robinson draft 2006
Compare that to seven players drafted by Boston. (One reason not to fear Theo Epstein in Chicago?)
Then consider there are only seven holdovers from the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series team: Lynn, Molina, Carpenter, Descalso, Freese, Holliday, Jay and Craig (Wainwright was recovering from TJ surgery). The Cardinals have essentially rebuilt a World Series contender in two years.
9. If you are going to study any one draft, of any team, it might be the Cardinals’ 2009 class, which we included in our five-year study of the NL Central from earlier this year:
Eleven players drafted by the Cardinals over the past five drafts have contributed this season. Fifteen players from those classes have advanced to the majors, including last year’s first-round pick, Michael Wacha, who made his major league pitching debut Thursday night with seven shutout innings.
“If I were a GM, I’d be emulating them,” ESPN’s Keith Law said. “I used to work in consulting. BDP: best demonstrated practices. That’s the Cardinals. Go figure out what they are doing. If you have to hire one of their people, go do that.”
Baseball America’s John Manuel credits the Cardinals with doing the best job of combining analytics with traditional scouting and a strong development system.
“The analytics helped them identify some of the players: ‘Hey, go scout this guy. He is dominating this league.’ They go, and their scouts say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ ” Manuel said.
In 2009, Cardinals scout Aaron Looper saw Trevor Rosenthal pitch one inning in a community college tournament in Wichita, Kan. Later that spring, the Cardinals drafted Rosenthal in the 21st round. Rosenthal now is touching the upper 90s as a key member of the Cardinals’ bullpen.
That same spring, the Cardinals drafted Division II slugger Matt Adams (of Slippery Rock U.) in the 23rd round. Adams emerged as one of the top power hitters in the minor leagues and is now a major league contributor.
In the 2009 draft, the Cardinals picked Shelby Miller — one of the best pitchers in the NL — and found another everyday player in Matt Carpenter, who is starting at second base, in the 13th round.
Five players on the Cards’ World Series roster came from the 2009 draft, and all are significant contributors: Miller, Kelly, Rosenthal, Adams and Carpenter. It’s an amazing return.
Carpenter led NL 2B in WAR. One of the best later-round picks – 13th round – in recent baseball history
8. As we reported in May, Cardinals scout Aaron Looper saw Rosenthal pitch just one inning.
The Cardinals drafted him.
Now it was a late-round draft pick, but Cardinals GM John Mozeliak told me during the NLDS that the deeper the draft goes, the more freedom the Cardinals grant to a scout who might have a strong feeling or hunch on a player.
The Cardinals’ lean heavily on analytics but they also trust “gut” feelings.
Lesson No. 1: They trust their own human assets along with their computers.
7. In the most recent Sports Illustrated there is an article focusing mostly on the 2009 draft that sheds some light on the process.
Mozeliak notes that unlike many clubs, the Cardinals invited as many scouts as possible into their war room on draft day.
Said Mozeliak: “Having the person there who knows the player best, at a time you need to make a decisions, is really important to me.”
6. The Cardinals have done particularly well unearthing college hitters – Carpenter, Craig, Adams – who might lack a tool or two but can really hit and reach base. Part of this is looking at the numbers, but part of it also is looking at what a player CAN do not focusing on what he CAN’T do.
Lesson No. 2: don’t focus on warts
5. It’s not just Sports Illustrated and the Tribune-Review that have taken an interest in the Cardinals’ draft practices… it’s other clubs.
A Pirates official told me the club has studied the Cardinals’ 2009 draft and according to SI, a Cardinals “rival” studied the draft class and found it to be in the top 99 percentile of all drafts since 1990 – as far as producing MLB players (9) – and there’s potential for more as we are still just four years removed from the draft.
4. You might have initially despaired that Houston left for the AL, the Central division’s punching bag was gone. But this might be a very good thing long-term for the Pirates.
3. Houston is a huge market and they hired Jeffrey Luhnow to be their GM two years ago. Luhnow, the former NASA whiz, ran the Cardinals’ drafts that included the 2009 selections. It’s a considerable loss for the Cardinals that might not be known for some years.
Lesson No. 3: have some really smart people that know a thing or two about computers
2. Pirates GM Neal Huntington believes the Pirates were in much better position to draft this year than in his first several years with the club.
He said the Pirates have improved their process – they didn’t even have a computer database or analytics team in 2008 – and have a better understanding of what they are targeting in prospects.
I do believe they are constantly looking to refine their process and have studied the Cardinals.
1. And backing up Huntington’s assertion is that Baseball America rated the Pirates’ 2013 draft as the best in the game in their very early report card this month. It’s all about the draft. And as much money as the Pirates pumped into from 2008-12 (MLB high $51 million) they had to become more efficient. They might have turned a corner in 2013…perhaps with some help from the Cardinals.
STAT OF THE WEEK
That’s the share of homegrown players on the Packers roster — 50 of 53 players. The path to success, regardless of sport, and particularly in small markets, is draft and development.
Not a huge pumpkin beer guy, but go try that 2013 Pumking batch by Southern Tier before it’s gone.