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Revisiting Machado vs. Taillon

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SOUTH HILLS – If the first 40+ games haven’t been painful enough to many in Western Pa., if Tuesday night wasn’t disappointing enough with Francisco Liriano rocked by the Orioles, there was also Manny Machado playing third base at PNC Park – for another team.

Now Machado is off to a slow start this season, coming off a knee injury and resulting surgery. But as a 21-year-old last season he posted a remarkable 6.2-WAR campaign for the Orioles. And had the Pirates selected him, he would be playing his natural shortstop position, an area where the Pirates have struggled to generate production.

The great debate in the 2010 Pirates’ draft war room was Machado vs. Jameson Taillon. Machado has already made an impact at the major league level and could become a superstar. Taillon is in Bradenton, Fla. rehabbing following Tommy John surgery, a living reminder of the dangers associated with drafting and developing young pitching.

The 2010 draft was headlined by Bryce Harper, the clear-cut No. 1 overall talent.

The Pirates, just their luck, selected second. The top everyday player on almost everyone’s board was Machado. The top pitching prospect on almost everyone’s board was Taillon, a pitcher some said was the best prep arm in the draft since Josh Beckett.

What’s interesting is about this selection is the players had nearly equal grades. They were both viewed as elite talents, just at different positions. So it wasn’t about best player available – it was about philosophy and preference. (In the 2009-11 drafts, 22 of the Pirates’ 30 top-10-round selections were pitches. Seventeen were prep pitchers).

The Pirates’ philosophy was to stockpile high-upside starting pitching in their system, as we’ve documented. It’s a strategy that made sense given the cost of free-agent pitching and the overall impact of quality starting pitching. We’ve seen the impact of excellent stating pitching in 2013 for the Pirates, and not so-great stating pitching to date in 2014. There’s a reason starting pitchers take in the highest average salaries in the game, they provide the greatest impact.

While it would be easy to second-guess the decision this week, I’m not so sure the Pirates made the wrong decision or will regret the decision in the long run.

Today? Yes.

Tomorrow? We’ll see.

The first chapters have been written but the book is far from finished.

Said friend of the program John Hart this offseason:

 

“I look at what has happened in the (free agent) pitching market, Sabathia, Hamels, Greinke,  all these pitchers, and the money, you are going  into dangerous waters when you are giving these 29-, 30-year-old guys who have pitched a 1,000 innings (large contracts),” Hart said. “The teams that get the most out of these guys are the guys that get them young. Get them in your 20s. You get them through the draft. The Pirates are like what we went through when I was in Cleveland. We said ‘We ain’t getting these guys (top-of-the-rotation free agent pitchers). We aren’t going out into the market and spending $150-200 million for a starting pitcher. It ain’t happening.’ You have to get them through the draft.

“That’s why they drafted Taillon over Machado: ‘We can’t afford the pitching. It’s easier for us to get position players.’ That’s why the drafted Cole No. 1. … I’m sure they had a tremendous debate: ‘It’s hard for us to get a projectable body with good makeup, plus-arm with a chance to have three plus pitches with durability vs. a center of the diamond, big-time bat with a chance to stay at shortstop…. I think it is a little easier for most clubs to find the bats than it is to find the arms. But at some point looking up, I’m telling you, the bats are disappearing around the game. We’ll see how it plays out.”

 

What’s fascinating is how the facts on the ground might have altered the debate had it occurred in the 2014 war room and not the 2010 one. It might be easier now to find premium velocity later in drafts. It might be harder to find bats – anywhere in the draft.

Consider:

*Offense is vanishing from the game – particularly right-handed power.

(Look, the Astros just drafted Mark Appel over Kris Bryant, which already looks like a mistake.)

*We’ve seen an incredible amount of young pitching talents fall victim to Tommy John surgery.

 

There’s no doubting teams need elite starting pitching, typically, to contend for postseason berths. But because of the attrition rate, because of the decline of offense, perhaps with premium early picks there should be a philosophical change in giving the edge to the bat, not the arm.

 

- TS

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Comments

  1. Steelkings says:

    Leading off:

    Ill say that the best arguement for drafting Taillon over Machado is the loss of Taillon’s services this year. You can never have too much pitching….Ever

  2. John Lease says:

    As long as they were equal, the position player should always get the nod. Having a guy for 30 games vs having someone for 150+ should be a no brainer.

    Something the Pirates should excel at.

  3. NMR says:

    Thanks for the topic, Travis. Tough mining material right now, I’m sure.

    “*Offense is vanishing from the game – particularly right-handed power.”

    Isn’t there a cause and effect relationship here? Or do we actually believe that offense is simply disappearing on it’s own? That hitters are just naturally worse now than they were before.

    The 2014 Pirates are a perfect example of just how much offense has declined against marginal pitching. Hint: it hasn’t.

    Baseball, as a sport, has always and will always favor pitching. Hitting a round ball with a round bat is simply the hardest skill in sports. The hitters of today are faster, stronger, and smarter than at any point in the history of the game (outside of peak-PED).

    Pitchers have simply kept up. Take that away, though, and the wheels come off very quickly.

  4. NMR says:

    Except that no position has the opportunity to dominate the game more than the pitcher.

    The only way I’d agree with your statement is if that position player played up the middle (C, SS, CF), and those positions also happen to be the most difficult to evaluate at the amateur level.

  5. Chuck H says:

    Pitching is a big problem for the Pirates this year, but , by far, the biggest problem is their inability to score runs. They get behind early in the game and later in the game, when they somehow manage to get a couple of runners on base, the next couple of HITTERS!!! either hit into DPs or strike out. which, of course, results in no runs, making a sometimes no name pitcher look good. I’m sure Pirate management has waited too long to stop the bleeding for this team this year.
    Another losing season is inevitable. I guess management doesn’t care as long as the faithful fans keep pouring through the turnstiles to watch a bunch of clowns perform. Can’t wait for the Steeler season to start.

  6. Nate83 says:

    The fact that we have daily debates about what is most wrong about the Pirates is proof that there is many things wrong with the Pirates. They could and should be better in hitting, pitching and defense. I personally lean towards pitching being the bigger issue and the easiest to get improvement in. Many have underperformed from a level they set for themselves. There are also underlying stats that show they are not as bad as the results have been and just simply have had some bad timing and bad luck.

    As far as Travis’s blog post goes I thing an organization like the Pirates has to build through drafting pitching in the draft. Not only is it the most expensive asset to aquire if you don’t have it but it’s the most valuable asset to have if you want to trade to aquire a position player to upgrade a position you are weak at. The Pirates have just built up their pitching depth so they haven’t had a chance to trade a proven player like Cole or an intriguing prospect like Kingham or Glasnow. That trade when it happens will get a better return then anything NH has ever traded.

  7. Andrew says:

    It is not that simple, assuming a good/great starter pitches 180 inning/year and a good/great position player has 650 PAs/year, the starting pitcher is pitching about 12% of all innings, the batter about 10.5% of a team’s plate appearances.

    In a vacuum I will take a position player over a pitcher every time. I think it is better to construct a core around hitters than pitchers, but outside LA and New York you still need home grown pitching. And if you want homegrown pitching you are going to need to draft a good number of pitchers due to attrition rates. It is almost a Catch-22.

    NMR, intentionally or not you’ve listed the right side of the defensive spectrum, I would argue not that is so hard to project those positions (though, I think hitting ability is the most difficult aspect to project in sports), but there are so few players who possess the ability to play those positions at the major league level.

  8. Andrew says:

    “The fact that we have daily debates about what is most wrong about the Pirates is proof that there is many things wrong with the Pirates.” Spot on.

  9. NMR says:

    “NMR, intentionally or not you’ve listed the right side of the defensive spectrum, I would argue not that is so hard to project those positions (though, I think hitting ability is the most difficult aspect to project in sports), but there are so few players who possess the ability to play those positions at the major league level.”

    Ok, can you explain how we are not saying the same exact thing?

  10. Andrew says:

    Not really; so few players thus hard to project, hard to project because so few player, no I cannot.

  11. Steelkings says:

    That is solid math Andrew!

  12. Steelkings says:

    Statements like your last paragraph is what makes it possible for guys around here to continue to accept my presents. Maybe Im not so negative after all.

  13. NMR says:

    We’ll win you over one of these days, Steel… ah, who am I kidding ;)

  14. NMR says:

    We clearly value your looks and not your writing…

  15. NMR says:

    Ok. Sometimes you say things that are over my head and I don’t even know it. Please bare with me!

  16. John Lease says:

    It’s not an either/or proposition, you need both. The attrition rate for pitchers is a whole lot higher than for position players, although there might be a fancy stat for that I’m not aware of it.

    So if you have equally high talented potential picks, the odds favor the position player. The last time the Pirates had a no doubter position player was probably Barry Bonds.

    Think the Pirates should have taken Mike Witt instead?

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/?query_type=year_round&year_ID=1985&draft_round=1&draft_type=junreg

    I don’t know why Bonds fell into the Pirates lap, but he did. McCutchen wasn’t the no-doubter that Bonds was, at least to me, but he sure looks better than any of the pitchers drafted in the first round with him too.

  17. Andrew says:

    I don’t know what I was trying to say there.

  18. Ghost says:

    One addage that will never be turned on its head: “Good pitching beats good hitting.” The Pirates are getting this right.

  19. Steelkings says:

    I am a pretty bastard, you know. When around me ladies swoon, birds sing, children frolic. I just cant figure out whats wrong with my writing.

  20. Steelkings says:

    “One addage that will never be turned on its head: “Good pitching beats good hitting.”

    Said the Shortstop, Third baseman and Right fielder

  21. Steelkings says:

    of the 34 different players used by the Pirates so far this season 17 have been pitchers. Exactly half. 10 of the 17 have been used as starters between Pitt and Indy. (7 Pitt) That doesnt count Gomez, Wilson or Watson, who have started in the past.
    When half your roster stands in one position its hard to value that position less than any other.

    Also just for thought, here is my top 3 in order of players the Pirates cannot lose to injury in (2014) and remain competitive. Two are Pitchers

    McCutchen
    Cole
    Liriano

  22. LeeFoo says:

    Personally, I wanted Machado and have seen nothing to make me change my mind. I understand what Hart said, but too many HS pitchers bomb out.

  23. Drafting Taillon was questionable not necessarily because he was a pitcher, but because he was a high school pitcher being selected at 1-2. The attrition rate for high school pitchers is higher than for any other type of draftee – really stupendously high – which is why no right-handed high school pitcher has every been drafted 1-1.

    Taillon is a good example of why drafting high school pitchers that early is such a high risk proposition. The Pirates have struggled to develop him, and just when it appears that he might be ready to make an impact, he blows out his elbow. Tommy John surgery is no panacea, by the way – only about 72-75% of pitchers ever get their full velocity back, and many do not reach their previous level of success.

    If there was a huge drop off from Taillon to the next available player on the board, then by all means, take a chance. But with Machado there for the taking, no way I’m drafting a prep pitcher.

  24. “One addage that will never be turned on its head: “Good pitching beats good hitting.”

    “and vice versa.” – Bob Veale

  25. NMR says:

    “The Pirates have struggled to develop him…”

    This is just false.

    And would you really rather draft a college pitcher who’s coach has wrung every pitch he can out of him?

  26. NOT BLINDED BY LAST YEAR says:

    Instead of debating the merits of a minor league pitcher, why isn’t anyone mentioning the fact that management brings in pitchers that have been horrible recently (liriano (except last yr), wandy, volquez) and lets pitchers go that have had back to back successful yrs (burnett). why don’t the pirates scout mlb pitching better and pay these players appropriately. everyone here is talking about thallion and at other times polanco saving the pirates. how many other teams talk about bringing in minor leaguers to save them instead of talking about bringing major league talent. boston is fading and they bring back stephen drew. the pirates are fading and they wait to bring up a minor leaguer. which team wants to win and which team wants to keep making money.
    I’m tired of the we’re a small market team reply too. the pirates made more money than expected last yr, have supposedly a great tv deal (yeah right) and are getting more from the national tv deal. ticket sales are up so start spending money on major league talent.

  27. NMR says:

    Haha, yes.

  28. Taillon’s struggles in the minor leagues are well documented. Many informed observers commented that he consistently underperformed his ability. I have seen him get hit around at every stop in the minor leagues. That does not mean that he is not a very good prospect, or that he won’t be successful in the major leagues. Simply put, his progress has been gradual, with some bumps in the road, not what you would expect from the hype about “the greatest high school pitcher ever.”

    Your point about college coaches is becoming less relevant at this point, as many have pointed out the growing number of high school pitchers having Tommy John surgery. Whether this is due to travel teams and an increased workload, or poor mechanics, who knows? But it is happening. And while there are still college coaches who abuse starters, most have come around to a balanced approach to the problem of having to win games while trying to keep their pitchers healthy at the same time. In a key game the other day, Elliot Avent did not start Carlos Rodon on three day’s rest, and NC State got knocked out of the ACC as a result, and may not make the NCAA tournament.

    College pitchers pitch once a week, not every five days. Unfortunately, with a limited number of scholarships in college baseball, there aren’t a bunch of studs sitting around in the bullpen just waiting to come in and save the day.

  29. Steelkings says:

    leave Wandy out of it. He was good before and after the Pirates got him. He has had double digit wins until he got hurt.

  30. NMR says:

    “Simply put, his progress has been gradual, with some bumps in the road, not what you would expect from the hype about “the greatest high school pitcher ever.””

    Literally go back one year ago this week and I bet you’d find at leats one article saying the exact same thing about Gerrit Cole.

    How’d that work out?

    Just because a prospect doesn’t follow the path you conceive as expected does not mean he hasn’t developed. Lesson learned.

  31. NMR says:

    By the way, go ahead and give me a list of successful high school shortstops picked 1.1 or 1.2…certainly looks like you haven’t bothered to check that out.

  32. Steelkings says:

    That 85 draft was LOOOAAADed. 10 first rounders played more than 1000 games in the majors. Later rounds brought David Justice, Randy Johnson, Tino Martinez, Jeff Blantley, Chad Krueder, Al Martin, Brady Anderson, and Deion Sanders who sported a +5.5 WAR

    WOW!

  33. Steelkings says:

    The other thing about that is that if they hadnt have drafted Bonds you may as well add another 10 years to the futility streak

  34. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks, NMR. Topic mining is indeed becoming more challenging!

  35. Andrew says:

    Elliot Avent, is that a joke? He the antithesis of a proactive coach, Rodon threw 379 over three starts in April.

    I think the discussion is of Machado versus Tallion is interesting, but it is a bit dishonest to discuss the risk of high school pitchers in isolation. Pitchers are risky in general, heck drafting is risky in general, and this article from Baseball America found the opposite of what you are claiming, with high school position players being less likely to make it to the majors and less likely to become impact players.

    http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft/top-100-draft-flashback-what-does-it-all-mean/

    The draft is inherently risky, Machado’s promotion after a very low number of minor league at bats was historically risky. Machado was an outlier.

  36. BostonsCommon says:

    ‘Just because a prospect doesn’t follow the path you conceive as expected does not mean he hasn’t developed”.

    Spot on, absolutely… What the heck do I know, or you, or the good Doctor?

    Squadoosh, compared to an industry full of professional talent evaluators that have consistently ranked Taillon in the top 10-25 prospects in all of baseball. Over a four year period no less. I mean each, and every year, Taillion is in the same spot. That means he’s developing enough to hold his value as a premium prospect, even as more top 5 picks get added to the pool every year.

    Taillon has done nothing to diminish his prospect status, and I’d argue that as he returns from TJ next year, he’s still going to be ranked in the same spot.

    Now do all prospects work out, no of course not… But this idea that Taillion isn’t developing, is doing something wrong, is just FALSE. He’s done everything that was asked, and was knocking at the door of a MLB team coming off a playoff run at 22… What more does anyone want?

  37. BostonsCommon says:

    Whats wrong with gradual progress anyway? Would you rather him gradually regress?

    And did anyone ever call him ‘the greatest prep arm ever’?

  38. NMR says:

    Thankfully for Bucco fans there isn’t as much debate for Cole v. Rendon circa 2011 this weekend.

  39. John Lease says:

    that was an interesting link. The numbers really across the board though are almost identical, it was 12% for HS pitchers and 10% for HS position players. But it’s everyone, not first rounders, right?

  40. Andrew says:

    John, it is the first 100 picks; in 1989 that was the mid fourth round, in 2007 it was early 3rd round because of the explosion of compensation picks associated with Type B free agents.

    It is historically true that high school pitchers had relatively high bust rates, I remember reading an article that said Bill James covered this one of his Abstracts. However, teams for various reasoning, stopped overdrafting high school pitchers in the mid-90s.

  41. NMR says:

    I also don’t think by any means Taillon has to develop into an ace in order to be a better pick than Machado.

    Manny did have a ridiculous 6+ WAR season as a 21 yo, but almost all of that value came defensively in the form of 35 runs saved. Nobody has ever posted a DRS over 25 in back to back seasons. Andrelton Simmons, justifiably regarded as the best defender on the planet saved 45 runs last season and is on pace for 12 this year.

    Mchado is still young enough to literally turn into anything, but he was an average hitter last year that benefitted from his home park. The ole addage is that doubles often turn into home runs, but that is far from a certainty, and as we’re seeing with Matt Carpenter this season, doubles are also incredibly variable.

    Far from certain that Machado is anything more than a good at this stage of the game.

  42. Ghost says:

    A sublime answer! I plan on stealing it!

  43. Ghost says:

    Haha, yes.

  44. To clarify on some things being read into my comments that I did not say (imagine that on an internet forum)!

    1) I had Jameson Taillon as the number two prospect in the Pirates system coming into this year.
    2) I believe Jameson Taillon is a great prospect.

    As far as things I did say, high school players are the riskiest of draftees, and with high school pitchers you are not only dealing with the fact that the draft itself is a crapshoot, but also a significantly increased risk of injury. Andrew’s comment about James is correct. He did a study on this published in the Historical Baseball Abstract. There is a reason why no right-handed HS pitcher has ever been taken 1-1.

    As far as Avent goes, he is no better or worse than any college coach. Andrew, if you think that throwing 379 pitches over three starts (7 days apart) is abuse, what would you like Avent to do? What would you do differently if your job depended on winning games?

  45. Absolutely. You will find many articles about Cole that said the same thing. I think I wrote one of them.

    How did Cole turn out? Please us know. Will he be the true ace that just about everybody in baseball expected him to be, or the good #2-3 starter he is now. Sorry, there goes those expectations again…

  46. Andrew says:

    Stranglove, I apologize if I wasn’t comprehending something, but Bill James’s stuff is out of date, teams have adjusted their draft strategies, in the last 15 years high school pitchers appear to be no more risky than position players.

    I don’t think there is a definitive answer, one can certainly favor position players with premium picks. I am against giving long term, big money to pitchers because of attrition rates, but you have to get pitching somewhere. If other teams are drafting guys high and you pass until later rounds you are going to find yourself picking from a lesser talent pool.

    As for Avent, that is the moral hazard of college athletics, uncompensated talent being put a risk by coaches, Avent is following his own self interest I cannot fault him for that, but he is not proactive, and the system sucks, formal rules are needed.

 
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