Why is it that the link between college ability and play in the NBA and the NFL is pretty accurate to predict?
That is, a great college player is almost always turns out to be a great football or basketball player after graduating to the big time professional league.
Whereas in baseball it’s almost always a crapshoot and college, high school or minor league “stars” are most likely to be a crapshoot in regards to their professional talent. And sometimes a great big league talent will come from nowhere… Why is this so?
In the NFL or the NBA, most players need to be good at one or two things. (Football is nothing but specialists). In baseball, an athlete has be not only a good multi-tool player, (able to field, run, hit for average, and throw for distance/accuracy) but be a damn good multi-tool player. These skills don’t always ripen at once. Sometimes, only a few of the required skills pan out.
Pitchers are a different story (We’ll have to wait until someone else comes along to explain their talent). I saw Mark Appel pitch for Stanford a number of times. He went number one in the first round of the 2013 draft. (6 million signing bonus with the Houston Astros). A really fine pitcher, but he won’t see major league play until 2016 at the earliest.
Baseball has the minor leagues, while the NFL and NBA draft out of college. Football and basketball teams get to evaluate players who have competed against a higher level of talent than you see in high school, while baseball teams draft players out of high school and evaluate them in the minor leagues. Some baseball players go to college, and they are easier to evaluate than high school players are.
It’s not true that minor league stars are a “crapshoot.” By the time a player reaches the high minors, you can usually tell how well they’ll do in the majors. There’s a concept (worked out by the sabermetricians years ago) called “Major League Equivalency.” The MLE of a minor league player is a translation of that’s players stats to a major league context. Basically, you apply a set of formulas to a player’s minor league numbers to get another set of numbers representing how he would have done if he’d been facing major league competition.
There are a couple of big problems with evaluating pitchers. First, they get injured a lot - far more than players at other positions, and it’s hard to predict who will stay healthy. Second, pitchers are inconsistent - their performance tends to fluctuate a lot from season to season (sometimes even within a season). Even well-established pitchers will suddenly lose it (see Tim Lincecum for one example). A pitcher who looks great today may be terrible a couple of years from now. It’s not a property of the draft so much as a property of pitchers in general.
Baseball player skills appear to mature later than is the case with basketball, football, or for that matter hockey. IT seems that one can often establish by 21-22 years of age if a football or basketball player will be pro-worthy, but that’s not the case with baseball, so the college years are not long enough for many players.
WHY that is is probably just the nature of the sport. Baseball is, to more of an extent than the other sports, a game of precision, anticipation, and repetition, rather than pure athletic awesomeness. It is notable that we just had a thread about Bo Jackson, who was an incredible physical specimen and played both football and baseball; it is not at all surprising that while Jackson was an awesome football player, he struggled at times as a baseball player, because his physical gifts could not overcome his lack of detailed skills. A hitter’s success is dependent upon his control of the strike zone and pitch selection, which is not usually developed by age 21-22.
And it’s not like NFL teams aren’t pouring thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into the prep work – it’s just not a slam dunk to do. Heck, I bet it’s almost as hard in the collegiate ranks where coaches have to recruit high school kids.
The closest analogue to baseball that hockey as is the American Hockey League, which is the NHL’s AAA level. Each NHL team has an affiliated minor league team and players are sent up and sent down all the time. But this is a recent development. For a long time, some AHL teams were (more or less) independent.
A step below that is the East Coast Hockey League, which is nominally connected to the NHL in that players can be promoted to the AHL and then onto the NHL, but several teams are affiliated with multiple NHL teams and some of the teams are independent.
Then you’ve got the independent leagues like the Central Hockey League, Southern Professional Hockey League, and Federal Hockey League. Some teams in these leagues are connected with the NHL and some even serve as independent farm teams for AHL teams. But most of the teams are unaffiliated.
Finally, you’ve got the Junior Hockey leagues that exist in Canada and the US for kids 16-20 as preparation for (or sometimes, an alternative to) college. There’s the Canadian Hockey League (which actually oversees three separate leagues) and in the US there’s the United States Hockey League and the North American Hockey League.
Well, nothing is ever certain, but I think it’s fair to say the NFL and NBA drafts are probably more accurate than the MLB draft.
For fun I went back to 2000 - certainly long enough to ascertain whether someone panned out of not - and looked at the 2000 MLB First Year Entry Draft. Here is the first full round and first compensation round:
1 Adrian Gonzalez Florida Marlins 1B
2 Adam Johnson, Minnesota Twins RF
3 Luis Montanez, Chicago Cubs SS
4 Mike Stodolka Kansas City Royals LHP
5 Justin Wayne Montreal Expos RHP
6 Rocco Baldelli Tampa Bay Devil Rays OF
7 Matt Harrington Colorado Rockies RHP
8 Matt Wheatland Detroit Tigers RHP
9 Mark Phillips San Diego Padres LHP
10 Joe Torres Anaheim Angels LHP
11 Dave Krynzel Milwaukee Brewers OF
12 Joe Borchard Chicago White Sox OF
13 Shaun Boyd St. Louis Cardinals 2B
14 Beau Hale Baltimore Orioles RHP
15 Chase Utley Philadelphia Phillies 2B
16 Billy Traber New York Mets LHP
17 Ben Diggins Los Angeles Dodgers RHP
18 Miguel Negron Toronto Blue Jays OF
19 Sean Burnett Pittsburgh Pirates LHP
20 Chris Bootcheck Anaheim Angels[Compensation 2] RHP Auburn
21 Boof Bonser San Francisco Giants RHP
22 Phil Dumatrait Boston Red Sox LHP
23 David Espinosa Cincinnati Reds SS Miami, FL
24 Blake Williams St. Louis Cardinals RHP
25 Scott Heard Texas Rangers C
26 Corey Smith Cleveland Indians SS
27 Robert Stiehl Houston Astros RHP
28 David Parrish New York Yankees C
29 Adam Wainwright Atlanta Braves RHP
30 Scott Thorman Atlanta Braves 3B
Obviously the #1 pick was great, and there are a few other gems there, but most of these guys are near-complete busts. Many did not make the majors or even come close, and many that did weren’t much when they got there. Can’t say I remembered many of these names.
The last pick, Scott Thorman, is a typical example. Thorman was drafted out of a Canadian high school, a big lefthanded hitter. He was immensely powerful but also just 18 years old, so whether he could hit professional pitching and control the strize zone was still to be determined. He did make it to the majors at age 24, but he just wasn’t quite good enough to stick. Atlanta gave him a chance in 2007 - he played over half the season - but he proved a bit overmatched, they sent him to Milwaukee, and he never got a big league chance again.
So clearly the Braves were in a sense correct to draft Thorman. He had SOMETHING. He made it to the major leagues and hit 11 home runs in a season and played first base decently well, and that’s more than most guys ever drafted will ever do. But the Scott Thorman of 1990 was so far from the Thorman of 1996, the player who would actually be good enough to be given a shot in the majors, that it’s just impossible for them to have been sure he’d be good enough when he got there.
As an addendum, I should add that I looked at some other 1YPD lists in MLB and my impression is that 2000 might have been a slightly below average draft year but, really, while some years they got five or six All-Stars, most of the names are nobodies and scrubs.
The aluminum bat (used both in high schools and college, but not allowed in pro baseball) is a major factor. Hit balls both go much farther with an aluminum bat than a wood one, and thus it is much easier to drive a inside pitch with one than a wood bat. Amateur players thus pretty much have to relearn how to hit and pitch, which isn’t the case in football and basketball.
Plus, the MLB draft is much longer:40 rounds for 25 man teams as compared to just seven rounds for 53 man NFL rosters. And outside of the very top picks, draftees in baseball get much less money. So you can afford to have a “let the cream rise to the top” attitude in baseball for most players. NFL draft picks are way too expensive and too few in number to adopt such a hands off attitude; they make much more effort to make sure their draft picks pan out.
I try to save thoughts like this one for the Crazed Anarchists Message Board I frequent but the data I linked to in post #7 is one more reason why the NFL draft really has to go. The league has us conditioned to think of it as this all important process, and then surrounds it with hype (9 million viewers watched the first round Thursday night) but the reality is that the salary cap and roster limits are by far the greater factors in its beloved “parity.” The draft is a huge TV spectacle, which is where the sport is at its best, but its an unnecessary restriction to the freedom of its labor force.
I’m with Red Wiggler. With its extensive revenue sharing and salary cap system it is highly doubtful any team could just buy up the NCAA’s top players. I cannot see how it would work. You’d either run out of money, run out of cap space, or get to the point that players would opt to sign with a team where they had a chance of starting. The third best quarterback in CFB isn’t going to sign with a team that signed the first two. In the long run he’d make less money.
The purpose of the NFL draft is primarily to reduce the amount of money they have to pay the draftees.