Homegrown - Michael Conforto (Mets), Aaron Judge (Yankees) (Photo: SNY TV)

Mets And Yankees: On Why Team Building Strategy Is Upside-Down

The Mets and Yankees not excepted, nearly all major league teams draft far more pitchers than position players. That’s upside-down and here’s why…

A look at the Mets and Yankees college draft strategy over the past three years reveals an overwhelming tendency to favor pitching over position players. Though not researched, it’s safe to assume most teams employ the same team-building plan – the one that says you can never have enough pitching.

There’s a better way to team build, but before we go there let’s take a look at the Top-10 draft choices of both the Mets and Yankees since 2016.

Sixty percent of the Mets draft choices last season were pitchers. In 2017, seventy percent were pitchers, and in 2016 sixty percent again were pitchers. Over the same span of time, the Yankees selected pitchers over position players sixty percent of their thirty Top-10 draft opportunities (18-12).

When The Logic Ends

This is not a logical strategy when you consider the shelf-life of pitchers in baseball today and most especially the young ones who blow their shoulder or elbow out almost as a rite of passage on their journey in professional baseball, requiring expensive and progress delaying Tommy John surgery at least once, and sometimes more.

The present team building strategy attempts to account for this by increasing the volume of pitchers in their system, with the hope and a prayer that a few will make it through. This is nonsensical when you consider the expense of the surgery, together with rehab costs while the pitcher sits waiting for his next opportunity – if it ever comes.

Take the Yankees as an example and what they’ve done to improve their pitching staff for the upcoming season. Adam Ottavino, J.A. Happ, Zack Britton, James Paxton – do you see anyone who can be called a “home-grown Yankee”?

Or, what about the Yankees choices in coming up with a pitcher to replace Luis Severino until he comes back? Do they trust Jonathan Loaisiga or Luis Cessa – or how about James Kaprielian, their number one pick in 2015 who missed all of 2017 after he was traded for Sonny Gray, and is still having issues with what the Oakland A’s describe as “lat discomfort”, making him not eligible to begin the season.

For the Mets, the warning lights should brighten even more. Only Jacob deGrom as a homegrown Met has blossomed into a Cy Young type pitcher, but it’s taken some time and a setback surgery to reach the point where he’s at now.

Steven Matz is homegrown but nowhere near what the Mets need him to be. After Matz, there’s Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler, both of whom were acquired by trades. Yes, trades – and now we’re getting somewhere when it comes to seeing the logic behind what I call the upside-down strategy of the Mets and Yankees.

The emphasis in the upcoming June college draft can/should be on position players over pitchers. When you need pitching, you can trade for it as in the case of James Paxton, or a team can sign a free agent as the Yankees are likely to do with Dallas Keuchel since they have no one in their system they can fully trust with starting assignments until Severino and CC Sabathia returns.

A Model To Follow – Maybe

Theo Epstein and the Chicago Cubs are the team closest to employing the strategy of position players over pitchers in team building I can find, drafting these position players (Javier Baez, Draft, 2011 (1st round), Kris Bryant, Draft, 2013 (1st round), and Kyle Schwarber, Draft, 2014 (1st round) to form the core of the team we see today.

Conversely, a look at the Cubs roster today shows Tyler Chatwood, Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, and others who have been added via trades or free agent signings. Translation – when you need ’em, you can find ’em.

Position players are not immune to shoulder injuries as we have seen with Michael Conforto of the Mets and Didi Gregorius with the Yankees. But the bounce-back rate is higher and faster than pitchers when these injuries occur. Conforto, for instance, can be counted on as a mainstay in the Mets outfield for the next decade. In the same way, Estevan Florial will be patrolling centerfield for the Yankees beyond the next decade.

With the Mets and Yankees, the emphasis has always been to point to the “up and coming” pitching in their minor league systems. These names tend to disappear off the charts though, or they get traded away as was the case with Justus Sheffield and James Kaprielian.

So why play those odds with pitchers? Draft and develop position players who are less prone to severe injuries, very coachable, and given the athleticism causing their drafting in the first place, more apt to progress through the Mets and Yankees farm system rapidly.

It’ll be interesting to see the list of Mets and Yankees drafted this June – same ole samo – or something new and progressive?

Written by Steve Contursi, Editor, Reflections On Baseball
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One comment

  1. While there is some logic to what you say my counter to this is the cost of acquiring pitching. A team ends up overpaying, both in money and length of contract, for free agents and the last years of a contract are very likely to become “dead money.”

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