The Case For Dustin Ackley

Just a quick programming note – I’ll be live-blogging the draft here on the site tonight, beginning at 5:45 pm. Feel free to come join us for live reactions to the draft as it takes place.

Today is draft day, or as it’s known in D.C., Stephen Strasburg Day. As a reward for their lousiness last year, Washington has been granted the right to call out Strasburg’s name tonight with the first overall pick, and then spend the next few months trying to get him signed. There’s never been a consensus number one pick in the draft like there is this year. Everyone, and I mean everyone, agrees that Strasburg should go number one tonight.

Well, maybe not everyone. I think there’s a not-too-ridiculous case to be made that the Nationals should draft Dustin Ackley instead.

There’s no doubt that Strasburg is an elite talent. His stuff is better than any college pitcher we’ve ever seen, routinely hitting 100 MPH with his fastball and blowing hitters away with a hard breaking ball. Unlike most other kids who can throw hard at age 20, Strasburg actually knows where the ball is going. His ability to throw strikes with that kind of stuff is remarkable. The performances match the reports – 19 walks and 195 strikeouts in 109 innings this year, putting even Mark Prior to shame.

No one doubts the potential. It’s very easy to see a scenario where Strasburg is the best pitcher in baseball in a couple of years. Unfortunately, it’s also very easy to see a scenario where any number of factors (injuries, diminished velocity, mental breakdown, bad lifestyle choices, failure to learn how to pitch) cause him to fall short of his ultimate upside. He could be great, or he could end up as the next Dwight Gooden, Rick Ankiel, or Kerry Wood. It’s not just a binomial star-or-bust situation either – Felix Hernandez was destroying major league hitters with similar stuff at age 19, but hasn’t progressed as a pitcher, and is now having to adjust to having a fastball that averages 94 rather than 96.

In reality, history tells us there’s something like a 20% chance that Strasburg becomes what everyone hopes he can be. There’s also around a 20% chance that he gets knocked down hard early in his career, whether it be for health or mental reasons, and fails to get back up. That leaves the 60% middle ground, where he becomes a good, maybe great pitcher, but doesn’t live up to the best of all time hype. Or, if we translate those odds into Wins Above Replacement over the six first six years of his career, it would look something like this.

30-40 WAR: 25%
21-30 WAR: 25%
11-20 WAR: 25%
0-10 WAR: 25%

We’re giving him a one in four chance of becoming Randy Johnson, a one in four chance of becoming Jake Peavy, a one in four chance of becoming Kerry Wood, and a one in four chance of becoming Rick Ankiel. You can quibble the percentages a bit if you want, but not enough to move the conclusionary needle. The total expected WAR over six years of that package of probabilities, is +20. If you really think that Strasburg is different than all the previous phenoms, you could maybe push the probabilities to where the conclusion was +25. That’s about your limit, though. If the Nationals are expecting Strasburg to add more than 25 wins to their franchise before he becomes eligible for free agency, they’re probably headed for a disappointment.

So, all that said, let’s bring this back to Dustin Ackley. He doesn’t have anything like Strasburg’s upside. He’s a high average gap power hitter who has spent most of his time playing first base because his arm strength hasn’t returned after Tommy John surgery last summer. He’s athletic enough to play the outfield, but he doesn’t have much experience there, so the projections of him being an asset in center field are based on hope more than observation. The scouting report isn’t nearly as sexy.

However, the track record of established, premium college hitters is a terrific one. Unlike with the pitchers, you have to really look to find guys who were the best hitter in their class coming out of college and failed to do anything in the majors. For guys who just totally flopped, there’s David McCarty and Travis Lee, and that’s about it. Alex Gordon hasn’t hit as expected yet, so maybe he’s on his way to joining them. But the list of total premium college bats who have been total busts is very short.

Just to put this in comparison, Darin Erstad, who fell apart early in his career and was considered a less than elite #1 pick when he was drafted anyway, was worth 25.8 wins to the Angels from 1996 to 2002. A lot of people would consider Erstad’s career a disappointment, given how poorly he’s hit in his 30s, and his first six years were comparable in value to six years of pitching from a guy like Peavy or Josh Beckett.

Those are just the low-end guys. The high end is littered with players like Frank Thomas, Todd Helton, Mark Teixeira, Evan Longoria, and now Matt Wieters. No one thinks Ackley is as good as those guys, but even if you slice 20 percent of the upper end value off of those guys to reflect the power difference, you’re still talking about a premium upside. Let’s do the same probability breakdown for Ackley that we did for Strasburg.

31-40 WAR: 10%
21-30 WAR: 40%
11-20 WAR: 40%
0-10 WAR: 10%

With reduced potential but also reduced risk, we’re giving Ackley something like a 10% chance of being Todd Helton, a 40% chance of being Darin Erstad, a 40% chance of being J.D. Drew, and a 10% chance of being Travis Lee. The more certain, less volatile projection here has the exact same expected value as the one we listed for Strasburg above.

Again, you can quibble with the numbers if you want, but not that much. I think there’s room to argue that Ackley is as low as a +15 WAR and Strasburg is as high as a +25 WAR guy over their first six years. If you’re completely convinced that Ackley’s arm will limit him to left field and he won’t develop much power, and you’re convinced that Strasburg is significantly better than Prior/Wood/Hernandez were at similar stages of development, the difference in upsides would tip the scales in Strasburg’s favor by a comfortable margin.

However, I think it’s closer than most people think. Ackley’s significantly reduced risk makes up for a good chunk of the potential gap. When you toss in the cost differences (Strasburg is probably going to sign for $15 million more than Ackley), the gap closes even more. The present win value of $15 million in cash is something like three to four wins. If you have Strasburg as a +22 win guy and Ackley as a +18 win guy, then the cost difference essentially makes it a wash.

Even at the extremes, where Strasburg is +25 and Ackley is +15, the signing bonus requirements push it to within a reasonable gap of just 6-7 wins over six years.

Strasburg’s going number one, but I think there’s a pretty strong chance that we’ll look back in six years and realize that picking Dustin Ackley wouldn’t have been such a bad idea after all.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

47 Responses to “The Case For Dustin Ackley”

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  1. Evan says:

    As a Mariners fan, I’ve been hoping for some weeks that the Nationals take Strasburg so the M’s can have Ackley.

    Strasburg is probably the better pick, but Ackley’s the safer pick, and I’ve had enough stress from draft picks. I want a damn hitter.

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  2. CCW says:

    This quantifies what many people intuitively understand – pitchers are risky. This principle applies in fantasy baseball when drafting, real baseball when signing free agents, and real baseball when drafting. There will always be a good argument for letting someone else take that risk. We simply will not know that Strasburg’s arm can withstand the rigors of starting as a major leaguer until it already has. How many top-notch pitching prospects have started out well at a young age and continued to pitch well and injury-free through their first 5 years? Not many.

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  3. Nathan says:

    I feel there’s an error being made here. I’ve got no idea where you came up with those ranges, but aside from that, I guess I think you’re conflating WAR with something like value. The relationship between value and a player’s WAR is not linear; 30 WAR over 6 years is worth more than 15 WAR over 6 years, to just pick some numbers. Each additional win a single player gives you is more valuable than the previous win.

    This means that from strictly a value perspective, high-variance players are good. Given the ranges above, Strasburg is more valuable than Ackley is, just because his 25% chance of turning into Randy Johnson biases the average value up.

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    • Matt Harms says:

      This makes no sense. Why are “high-variance” players good to draft? On the contrary, low-variance implies high predictibalitiy, which is the entire point of Dave’s article. Why risk blowing a #1 draft pick on a pitcher who has a significant risk of failure (high variance), when you can get someone with a much lower risk of failure (low variance) instead? This is the absolute root of probability analysis.

      It’s almost better to externalize the risk of injury/flaming out onto some other poor team during a drafted players pre-Free Agency years. Because remember there are opportunity costs in play here: for every player that doesn’t pan out, you’re losing production not just from the drafted player, but also from the alternative player that could’ve been drafted in that spot instead.

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      • Gobias says:

        I think Nathan makes a good point. I would rather take a high variance player in the draft than a lower variance player with the same expected value. If you agree that the value of each additional WAR that a player provides is more valuable than the win prior, then it should be clear that higher volatility players are move valuable than lower volatility players with the same expected WAR.

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      • Nathan says:

        So here’s a situation. You have a choice between two players, a pitcher and a hitter. They have equal talent (equal WAR upside). Obviously you take the hitter, because his lower variance means he actually has a higher expected value, because the pitcher can’t be any better and is much more likely to be out of baseball before he hits the majors. (I’m simplifying this example; Ackley, per Cameron, actually does have similar upside to Strasburg, just not nearly the same chance of reaching it.)

        But that’s not the choice here. The choice is between a pitcher with far superior talent and a hitter with far superior reliability. The point is that in the cases when the pitcher does pan out, his value does not linearly increase with his production. If that were true, then a 8 WAR player would have the same value as two 4 WAR players. But that seems crazy to me. There are approximately two 8 WAR players in baseball, and how many 4 WAR? a few dozen?

        Side note: I competed against a Matt Harms from Truman State. Are you he?

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      • Matt Harms says:

        But as you say, there’s a distribution of how many pitchers are 8 WAR guys. Are you saying that just because some player has a small, minute chance of being an 8 WAR player, that you draft him based on that extreme chance alone?

        Perhaps Dave oversimplified it here with the 25%/25%/25%/25% analysis, it’s obviously a much more extreme 1/x shaped curve in terms of WAR distributions. But even still, assuming you factor in the correct WAR payoffs for a guy like Strasburg, you can negate the effect of marginally increasing returns as you go from 4 WAR to 5 WAR to 6 WAR, etc. All you’d be left with is 1/x-weighted expected WAR, and a variance. Assuming a similar WAR, you pull the trigger on the lower variance guy.

        And yeah, that’s me. Who are you?

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      • Nathan says:

        I’m Nathan Smith; I competed for Rice. We hit each other several times.

        Sure, it’s more complicated than I’m making it, but I’m not saying that just because someone has a minute chance of being an 8 WAR player, we draft him. I’m saying that phenom pitchers of this kind have an outcome distribution weighted to the tails; likely, either he is very very good, or his arm blows up. As long as we hold expected value equal, guys whose outcomes are polarized like that are particularly valuable. You might deny that Strasburg’s outcomes really are polarized like this; I don’t know, I am not a scout, nor have I studied people with his statistical profile (though it seems plausible to me that his outcomes are polarized). But getting 8 WAR out of one roster spot is more than twice as valuable as getting 4 WAR out of one roster spot.

        Here’s a micro-level example. Take two pitchers, both with a true-talent ERA of 4.50. Pitcher A is incredibly reliable and gives up three runs in six innings every game. Pitcher B is incredibly erratic; half the time he gives up five runs in three innings, the other half he throws a one-run complete game. Given plausible assumptions about the team they play for, their team will win more of B’s starts than A’s. That’s because his positive performances have more effect on his team’s chances of winning than his negative performances, as compared to A’s starts.

        Here’s a macro-level example. Take a team which can afford to put 1 WAR players in every roster spot. Assuming a replacement-level team would have something like 60 wins, giving a cheap 4 WAR player to such a team would give them 88 wins But giving a cheap 8 win player to such a team would give 92 wins, while if the 8 WAR player burns out, 85 wins, for an average of 88.5 wins. As long as the team in question would not be required to rely on replacement-level talent in the case where the stud burns out, that team will come out slightly ahead.
        The effect on playoff chances are complicated, so I’m mostly leaving them out, but I’m inclined to think that for most teams, having one roster spot be 8 WAR has a larger effect on playoff chances, per WAR, then having one roster spot be 4 WAR. But if that isn’t intuitive for you, I don’t have a good argument for it.

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      • Fresh Hops says:

        Variance is irrelevant once you’ve done an expected utility calculation. Suppose you have a player with a 50% chance to be 4 WAR and 50% chance to be 2 WAR on the one hand, and a player with a 50% chance to be a 3.5 WAR and a 50% chance to be a 2.5 WAR on the other, you get an expected 3.0WAR either way.

        Gobias makes an interesting point that the value of WAR may be non-linear, but if that’s right, we’re just doing the valuation wrong in using WAR instead of some other number. Maybe a players value is equal to WAR^1.2, in which case we have to calculate and weight those numbers rather than WAR.

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  4. Think Blue Crew says:

    The fact to the matter is, premium college hitters tend to be more successful in the big leagues because not as many of them fall due to career-ending injuries or season-long shoulder problems. Clubs understand this, and that the riskiness of pitchers should play a role in where amateur pitchers are drafted. It’s a high-risk, high-reward factor, we might look back at this years from now and many will easily say that Ackley was a better pick than Strasburg, should Strasburg turn out to be a Dwight Gooden, a Mark Prior or a Rick Ankiel. But at this moment in time, the talent and results that Strasburg has had far outweighs that of anyone else’s in the draft, and short of knowing what the future holds, 1st overall is exactly where Strasburg should be going.That comes with the volatility of MLB drafts, and it’s part of the game.

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    • Sandy Kazmir says:

      Plus if Strasburg doesn’t work out, it’s not like the Nats won’t be picking in this spot again next year.

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  5. Matt Harms says:

    I also think perhaps this article could be more successful if you argue for this type of decision-making as a broad drafting philosophy, rather than just using it as a case for Ackley. Using probability analysis to draft low-variance, predictable players over the course of 100 or 200 draft picks would hopefully yield the intended result, namely a higher average WAR per player.

    But using it to justify picking one and only one player over another might be a bit more difficult.

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  6. YC says:

    This is very enlightening. I’ve always thought of Dustin Ackley as a surefire #2 in the draft, but as a player that had quite a gap in value in comparison with Stephen Strasburg. I think this really nails down an important point about the true value of position players with established track records from College. I mean, Dustin Ackley is an excellent premier prospect, but him having the similar potential future value as probably the best college pitching prospect in our generation goes against what most of our instincts tell us. While the Mariners lost out on the so-called Stephen Strasburg Sweepstakes, they might’ve not lost any future wins at all. Great read.

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    • YC says:

      But for what its worth, I’d still take Strasburg over Ackley if I had the #1 pick. Strasburg is too sexy to pass up if there is a chance to draft him. (Statistically Speaking)

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      • seattlecougar says:

        There’s also something to be said for the sheer drawing power of having Strasburg take the hill for you every 5 games. The Nationals desperately need a face for their franchise. Even if Strasburg and Ackley’s projections were dead even, Strasburg still would be worth paying more to because he would put more butts in the seats.

        Even if he doesn’t pan out to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, he’ll give fans in Washington something to be excited about. Their ownership and management know this, and, talent aside, that’s why they’re taking him at #1.

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  7. Matt H. says:

    I also don’t think it is all that easy to predict Ackley’s future value, because we really don’t know if he can play CF. If he is a 1B there are serious questions about his ability to carry that position and be a great player.

    I see your argument but I think the most sound strategy is to take the player who has the most talent and you predict to be the best player at the next level. If injuries happen that sucks, but taking the player who is expected to be the better player is usually the right pick. Especially when there is such a huge gap like this one, Ackley would have been what the 3rd best College bat compared to last years crop. Probably 5th best bat overall.

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    • JH says:

      “best talent” sounds all well and good, but when you’re pretty sure one guy will cost upwards of $10 million more, you NEED a way to balance risk, reward, upside, and cost. Best player available doesn’t always work out well given the current system, and well-run teams understand that.

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  8. Myrtle Parker says:

    What Matt says. I think this sort of analysis would be perfect for describing a drafting philosophy. However, it would be difficult to stick with such a philosophy in any given year. If the Nationals do not pick Strasburg, riots wil ensue.

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  9. Jordan says:

    One significant factor that’s left out of this analysis is fan reaction. I can certainly sympathize with arguments like, ‘that’s extremely difficult to quantify’, or ‘we’re talking about the Nats, what fans?’. But as the Marlins have proven, building a consistently winning franchise requires more than talent alone. We see examples of fan reaction not being adequately accounted for all the time, most recently in the McLouth trade. Popular misconceptions about his value aside, McLouth was a fan favorite – and one of few bright spots in Pittsburgh – and fans were far from happy to see him go. I’ve heard talk of boycotting Pirates home games; I doubt anyone will follow through on that, but the point remains: that trade upset a ton of fans.

    So maybe, from a WAR vs. $ perspective, Ackley and Strasburg aren’t so far apart. Maybe Ackley’s even a slightly better pick. But because he’s been so incredibly hyped as ‘the best prospect of all-time ever in all universes…ever’, if the Nats don’t draft (and sign) Strasburg, they’ll reinforce – perhaps permanently – their fans’ perception that they have no real interest in winning.

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    • joser says:

      Actually, the Marlins have proven nothing of the sort. The Marlins prove it’s possible to win World Series titles with a team that isn’t merely indifferent to its fans, but with malignant ownership that is downright hostile to them. Of course, the Marlins also prove that (thanks to the distortions created by profit sharing and the luxury tax) it’s possible to create a profitable team while minimizing wins. There are no bounds to the perversity of a universe that contains Jeffery Loria

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  10. Adam says:

    This reminds me a lot of the Mario Williams/Reggie Bush debate, right down to the fact that taking a running back high carries the exact same risks as taking a pitcher high.

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    • Michael says:

      Exactly. And don’t forget how the Texans also passed up Vince Young, who delivered a championship to the homestate Longhorns in one of the most exciting National Championship games in recent memory and then went on to have a sensational rookie year with the Titans. One year after the draft he looked like he should have been the Texans’ choice at #1, and now he’s a total headcase. Meanwhile Mario Williams has established himself as one of the most feared pass rushers in the league and most people would now agree the Texans had it right all along.

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  11. Carson says:

    I also have to say, that as a Mariners fan, I’m sort of glad the M’s ended up #2. I sure would be happier if this draft class were stronger, but I believe Ackley is the safer pick.

    With the money that Strasburg is going to get and the risk factor with pitchers – Ackley has to be considered safer. Based on potential, you’d be insane not to take Strasburg. And, I’m pretty sure Washington would burn to the ground if they didn’t take him.

    I’m happy with Ackley at #2, though.

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  12. Jacob Jackson says:

    If Stephen Strasburg turns into Dwight Gooden, that would be fantastic for the Nationals. Gooden’s pre-arb years were incredibly valuable – if Nationals get 3-4 similarly excellent, dirt-cheap years, I’m sure they’ll be ok with a collapse arc similar to Gooden’s. Someone else will be paying for it, most likely.

    I think the Ackley vs. Strasberg debate is sealed when you look at how replaceable one is vs. the other on the open market. It’s not just WAR vs. WAR – it’s also the WAR of available talent at those positions. Lets assume can’t play center field. How easy is it to find a decent/league-average hitting first baseman or left fielder? Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi – the market is going to continue to be flooded with these guys now that all 30 teams are cognizant of the importance of defense. So if your team has a gaping hole there, you simply plop down $5M and fill it with Ackley-quality performance.

    Conversely, Strasberg could yield something that is simply unbuyable on the open market, except for the wealthiest 3-4 teams.

    You have to take him for that reason. What Ackley stands to (likely) become is easily replaceable with $5-7M annual. So you shouldn’t spend the #1 overall pick on it when a generational talent is available.

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    • joser says:

      How are the years “dirt cheap”? Are the contract faeries paying his signing bonus from the Troubled Asset Relief Program? Do you not amortize that bonus across his pre-arb years? Gooden did not have Boras as an agent, and he wasn’t the bonus baby that Strasburg will be.

      (The rest of your argument wrt positional scarcity is much stronger)

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      • Jacob Jackson says:

        No contract “faeries” needed – even if we assume a signing bonus of $20M for Strasburg, if he’s a 5-win player during his pre-arb years, you can amortize all you want and its still dirt cheap relative to value.

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      • Jacob Jackson says:

        If Strasberg were a true free agent right now, either the Yankees or the Red Sox would likely be willing to pay $80-100M for his services over the next 6-7 years.

        So even a bonus that doubles the previous record could conceivably amount to “dirt cheap” services over his pre-arb years.

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      • Matt Harms says:

        Do you work for Boras? That’s been his chief argument: essentially, don’t punish a kid for being from the middle of maryland instead of from japan.

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  13. Rob in CT says:

    One second…

    Dwight Gooden, Rick Ankiel, Kerry Wood… one of these things is not like the other! One of these kids is doing his own thing…

    Dwight Gooden >> Ankiel or Wood.

    Dwight Gooden was brilliant early and then mostly flamed out. For a team like the Nationals, that’s fine, because they’re not going to keep this guy long-term anyway, are they? What you want is a guy who starts off awesome. What happens after he’s a free agent doesn’t really matter to the team, does it?

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  14. Mike Ketchen says:


    This is solid logic here as always. I swear you guys get better with each piece. The one thing I would like to comment on is the percieved nature that Strausburg is a once in a life time talent. Is this not a negative in a way? There is probably a reason no starting pitcher averages a fastball north of 96+. Is he really going to be able to do something that no one in a game as old as this has been able to due for a long time? Also this “once in a lifetime” statement gets thrown around far to much in baseball. Just look in the last ten years alone. Delmon Young, Felix Hernandez, Mark Prior, on and on. All good but none great and non sustaining elite levels for years.

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    • JH says:

      I was paying pretty close attention at the time, and I don’t remember anyone ever referring to Delmon Young as a once in a generation guy. A top prospect, sure, but nothing like a generational talent.

      One person may have said it on some blog somewhere, but it was nothing near a scouting consensus.

      Also, Felix Hernandez never once rated as the #1 prospect in baseball, anywhere! To be fair, this was back when people were still in TINSTAAPP shock, and he was considered the best pitching prospect in more than a decade (though I think most of those people didn’t realize just how huge a prospect Roger Salkeld was back in the day before his career was ruined by injuries), but there was nothing like the consensus we’ve got on Strasburg with Hernandez, the “King Felix” label notwithstanding.

      Prior maybe, but then again, a ton of Strasburg’s hype comes from the fact that scouts who saw both have overwhelmingly agreed that Strasburg’s even better than Prior was.

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  15. NadavT says:

    Great article as usual. I’m just curious – what are you using to estimate defensive value for position players pre-2002?

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  16. q says:

    I think this debate boils down to one phrase: risk-averseness. Should teams pick the less riskier player, even if that player’s expected value is lower? Individuals do this all the time (insurance is a perfect example). But it’s generally recognized that corporations are less risk-averse than individuals, as their broader range of activities mitigates the riskiness of any individual act (insurance providers is a perfect example).

    Should teams be risk-averse? From a broad drafting strategy, I’d say no, given how many picks a team gets. But an argument could be made that for extremely high picks, such as #1, teams may prefer being risk-averse due to the rarity of having such a pick.

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  17. Erik says:

    I think one could take the argument a step further. A quick glance at the elite college hitters of past drafts’ junior seasons puts Ackley’s junior season into perspective.

    [Sorted by SLG%]

    Buster Posey (Junior Season): .463, .566, .879… 26 HR… 29:57 K/BB
    Dustin Ackley (Junior Season): .412, .513, .776… 22 HR, 32:50 K/BB
    Mark Teixeiria (Junior Season): .427, .547, .772… 18 HR, 23:67 K/BB
    Alex Gordon (Junior Season): .372, .518, .715… 19 HR, 38:63 K/BB
    Evan Longoria (Junior Season): .353, .458, .602… 11 HR, 29:40 K/BB
    Matt Wieters (Junior Season): .358, .480, .592… 10 HR… 37:51 K/BB

    Of all the elite college hitters in recent memory (I had a hard time finding Erstad and Lee’s numbers), the only hitter in his junior season to out-slug Dustin Ackley has been Buster Posey, who just so happens to be crushing the ball this season in his first taste of pro ball. I know that the numbers are meaningless until they’re at the ML level, but when they’re staring us right in the face, it’s not as easy to overlook Dustin Ackley. With that said, I think the 10% probability that Ackley reaches Teixeiria/Longoria value is too conservative. Taking nothing away from Strasburg’s potential greatness, I’m having a difficult time understanding the logic that Strasburg is 2.5 times more likely than Ackley to be an elite player. It is essentially a fact that Ackley’s standout junior season is one of the best junior seasons by a hitter in recent memory, and you don’t have to take anything away from Strasburg to make the claim that Ackley is just as likely as Strasburg to achieve peak value..

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    • What were Justin Smoak’s number last year at South Carolina?

      Also, I’m glad some of you posted postively about Doc Gooden. 24-4, 1.53 ERA, 268 K in 276.2 IP isn’t bad for a 20-year-old. Remember, guys, he didn’t flame out in the traditional ways pitchers do. It was the coke.

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      • Fresh Hops says:

        Smoak was .383/.505/.757

        Ackley is a hell of a bat, but with college cases, it’s important to look at what Scouts are saying as well as what the numbers are saying. (And these numbers come from so many environments, in small samples, so they don’t say very much in a comparison.)

        Here’s what I hear scouts say: Ackley doesn’t have Tex or Smoak power potential because he’s a little small for that. He’s a good base runner and fast, which he should maintain because he’s not huge. He should be able to play OF, but we haven’t seen it yet. He’s a great contact hitter with wonderful bat speed. Perfect world comp: Nick Markakis.

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    • Nice analysis.

      My one concern here would be that each player’s SLG in college will not be comparable to their MLB results. Posey, despite all his homers in college, is not expected to be much more than a 15-20 HR hitter when he makes the majors. Longoria and Teixeira both had less in college than Posey but were expected to be big boppers in the majors (which Teixeira has done, and Longoria is doing now). So a junior’s power performance is not always a good indicator of how well they will do in the majors, power-wise.

      How would you account for this?

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  18. Bryan says:

    Ackley might turn out to be a very decent player at the highest level, but right now this draft is still Strasburg and everyone else.

    1. The injury risk to Strasburg is referenced, but how about Ackley already undergoing Tommy John surgery before even being drafted. That has to be cause for concern.
    2. Strasburg will be a starting pitcher, so there is no doubt about his professional position. On the other hand, Ackley is called a 1B by some, an OF by others, and even a potential 2B by some. Would you spend the #1 pick on a guy with no fixed position?
    3. His college numbers are great, and that is excellent news for comparison to other college players…but keep in mind that 13 other players have higher Slugging % than he does this year. Should any of those players also be considered this high in the draft?

    Strasburg has the lowest ERA in college, the most K’s, allows less than 5.5 hits per 9 innings, and just so happens to have not only pitched in the Olympics already- but pitched very well there.

    Strasburg is the #1 talent in this draft, that is plainly obvious to me.
    And while I agree that Ackley is obviously talented, the question marks about injury history and position projections makes me wonder if he really should be the #2 player taken.

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  19. Mike Green says:

    Dave, you’ve listed Dwight Gooden on the “bust” side of things and Randy Johnson on the “jackpot”. The key marker is performance during the pre-free agency period of the player’s career. From this perspective, Dwight Gooden was the jackpot and Randy Johnson was a very good but not great choice (although there is no comparison obviously over their careers).

    While I generally would prefer position players to pitchers in the first round of the draft, Strasburg would be an exception in my view.

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  20. MarkE says:

    Interesting and thought provoking as ever.

    Is there not a case, however, for considering these player relative to scarcity? If your expectation of Player X is ~25 WAR and Player Y ~20 WAR you’d instinctively go with Player X. Except that, if you go with Player Y and what you end up with as the runners-up prize in Player X’s position is themselves worth ~15 WAR, whilst the runners-up prize in Player Y’s position is just worth 5 WAR, you could consider an alternative argument.

    I suppose it’s the baseballing equivalent of ‘opportunity cost’. If the Nationals end up in 3 years time with Strasburg pitching and an outfielder who contributes far more than whoever the Mariners settle on pitching with Ackley in their outfield, the Nationals win hands-down, even if Ackley’s contribution is greater.

    In reality I don’t know the relative scarcities of this position, but as mentioned above this is really a generic argument regarding drafting rather than Strasburg vs Ackley.

    Ho hum, only a few hours left to posture…

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    • MarkE says:

      I may have outrageouly contradicted myself by ignoring the fact that WAR already accounts for scarcity

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      • Matt Harms says:

        Yeah, WAR is position specific based on the replacement level for that position. That’s why so many people are arguing over what position he’ll be, as a CF with his bat is much more different than a 1B with his bat.

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      • WAR only refers to comparison with a replacement level player.

        The good point you make here (and others above) is regarding, as noted, the market scarcity for equivalent players. WAR does not refer to this scarcity, this opportunity cost.

        The point is that it is relatively hard to find a pitcher with Strasburg’s potential WAR, while relatively easy to find a hitter equivalent to Ackley on the free agent market. That makes pitchers more valuable in that way. And that is true, also, for the top players at any position, hence why Teixeira got such a big contract too this past off-season. And hence why one should pick Strasburg on that chance he could be that good, even though on an overall basis, Ackley would be more of a sure thing.

        Here’s where perhaps a team might look at their situation and see what they really need more of. Since the Nats need everything, and particularly a marquee name, they must go for Strasburg. Perhaps a team with great pitching already (like the Giants) might do this bold move and select Ackley instead.

        Very thought provoking article, enjoyed it greatly, good discussions/comments.

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  21. Longgandhi says:

    Other “can’t miss” college hitters you guys didn’t mention:

    Khalil Greene – .470/.577/.877, 1st round
    Chris Burke – .435/.562/.815, 1st round
    John-Ford Griffin – .450/.555/.797, 1st round
    Ken Harvey – .478/.584/.862, 5th round
    Sawyer Carroll – .419/.536/.782, 3rd round
    Kellen Kulbacki – .464/.616/.943, 1st round
    Ryan Garko – .402/.502/.703, 3rd round
    Michael Aubrey – .420/.534/.733, 1st round

    That’s obviously not all of the guys who put up purty numbers against college pitching, but it’s enough (all in the last decade) to know that Dustin Ackley is no sure thing to become even Darin Erstad.

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  22. Longgandhi says:

    I also think there’re some oranges in with the apples here. Players like Delmon Young, Felix Hernandez, Dwight Gooden, etc were not college players. With non-college players there are additional risks that are not germaine to the Ackley vs Strasburg debate.

    Roger Clemens was not the top pitcher drafted the year he was chosen; Tim Belcher was. But back then scouting the draft was far more art than science than it is today. Given the choice between assuming the risk of drafting the next Clemens or drafting the next Erstad, is picking the next Erstad really the safer or smarter choice?

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  23. Dwilson says:

    How very relevant.

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