March 30, 2014

ON WINGS AND PLAYERS:

Cardinals rich with young arms (Derrick Goold, 3/30/14, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

From 1981 through 2008, the Cardinals took two high school pitchers in the first 30 picks of the draft, both in 1991. But starting with Miller, the Cardinals have selected three preps pitchers in the first round of the five drafts since. To decode pitching -- "The most volatile element of the draft," Luhnow says -- the Cardinals explored, experimented with an illustrator and controversial experts, and ran forensics on their own misses, such as in 2005 when four of Luhnow's first six picks were pitchers -- none of whom remain in professional baseball.

And they collected data, lots and lots of data.

DeWitt said the Cardinals studied the profiles of successful major-league pitchers and "in a sense reverse-engineered it." They needed years and drafts to build the database necessary.

"When I say that it's part art and part science, it really is," general manager John Mozeliak said. "We want to be a data-driven team, but it takes time to accumulate data, and once you acquire all of that data it takes time to run analysis. You also need time to let natural evolution happen."

DeWitt said the Cardinals realized arms come from random rounds, early and deep, because "pitching can develop late." Powerball lefty Kevin Siegrist, 24, was a 41st-round pick who spent 4½ seasons at Class A or lower before blooming. They also saw, repeatedly, two commonalities:

Arm strength and athleticism.

A focus on those attributes wasn't novel, but it proved fertile. Eight years ago the Cardinals counted eight pitchers in the entire organization who averaged better than 90 mph on their fastball. This season's major-league staff will include at least five arms that average 95 or better. As they prepared to draft Miller, an athletic pitcher with repeatable mechanics and a thermal fastball, they also worked to sign a lithe teenager in the Dominican Republic who had been a shortstop and could throw 96 with ease. His delivery wasn't "classic," just easy, athletic and repeatable. Martinez signed eight months after Miller.

"I always thought that if you look at the best pitchers in the game, they have two common traits," Mozeliak said. "They usually have (arm strength), and they are freaky athletic. What I mean by that is Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and that generation of pitchers -- whatever they did they were really good at. That's what we're hoping to find."

In the 2009 draft, the Cardinals took 50 players, including 29 pitchers, and the draft produced opening day third baseman Matt Carpenter (13th round) and first baseman Matt Adams (23rd round). It also found two starters, a closer and a middle reliever. As a group they combined for 15.3 Wins Above Replacement in 2013.

"It was definitely strategic," Mozeliak said. "It was also fortuitous."

"At some point you have to get lucky," Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto said. "If you look at last year (and) how many times did they hit on the upside potential and how many times did they miss, they were pretty close to 100 percent. ... Young pitching is kind of the how-the-world works. If you have young pitching and you have it in volumes, you always have the next answer or the next potential answer."
Posted by at March 30, 2014 2:24 PM
  
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