2.12.2005

Sabean's habit of drafting pitchers

I got into this in Across the Seams's blog and thought I would put my answer here and rewrite it a bit (this is a preview of what I was going to write about in my finale article):

Why does Sabean always seem to draft pitchers more than position players? Even last year when he started out the draft by picking a number of position players first before getting to pitchers, he ended up drafting more pitchers than position players. Why this fixation with pitchers?

To me, it is all about supply and demand. Look at a team's composition. In the past of my youth, maybe 10 pitchers were on the roster but today's day of the short starts and reliever specialists, most teams carry 12-13 pitchers. That's approximately 50% of the roster, split with 20% starters and 30% relievers, roughly.

On the other hand, take any position player. Unless he's a utility player, he probably can play 2-3 positions tops, and most probably only 1 position excellently (if that). If you have a position prospect, you can only market him to teams with a need for that position, maybe two, three tops for a CF or SS. That's 24% tops but most probably just 8% of the roster (2 spots, one starter, one backup, out of 25) that a particular prospect can fulfill for a team.

Compare that to what I said about pitchers. So how many teams need one specific position and how many teams can use a starter or reliever? I don't know the numbers but the old adage is that you can never have too much pitching. Every team is always looking for pitching, can always use more pitching, but not all teams are looking for your studly 3B prospect.

In addition, the Giants, I believe, maximizes the potential for trade by being flexible and ambiguous, to some degree, about whether a pitcher is a starter or reliever. For example, Rod Beck was a starter in the minors and Russ Ortiz was a closer plus Aardsma was not thought of as only a reliever/closer, the Giants were not sure for his first professional season whether to start him or relieve with him. Also, Correia was moved into a relief role last season and there has been talk about using Valdez in a closer role because of his slight build not being able to handle grind of starting. I also recall reading or hearing somewhere that the Giants' player development philosophy is to prepare the pitchers with the thought that they can go into either role when the time and need comes at the Major League level.

Given all these, plus their habit of drafting mainly pitchers, the Giants can always deal with almost any ballclub in the Majors for what they need because they have a huge supply of what every club needs: pitching. And their pitchers could do either, start or relieve, opening more opportunities for trades and making it easier for them to do business with almost every team in the majors. This enables the Giants to have feelers out to every team for players that they are enamored with and when the other team is ready to deal, the Giants would have pitchers ready to be trade bait. By drafting predominantly pitchers, they ensure a steady supply of easily tradeable pawns - Bruso, Habel, Vogelsong, Grilli, Bump, etc. - that they can use to acquire proven veterans.

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