View From The Bleachers

June 5, 2014

The Draft, the Cubs and “tanking”

Filed under: Featured,General — Chris Neitzel @ 12:34 pm

The Cubs have the fourth overall pick in the 2014 MLB amateur draft, one year after taking Kris Bryant with the second pick. As the Cubs’ 2014 record sits at the bottom of the league, it would appear that another top ten pick will be forthcoming in June of 2015.  So that’s good…right? Of course it is…it just means we fans are suffering through another horrendous season.  If the Cubs lose 90 games this year…it will be for the fourth straight season!  This is a feat they have NEVER accomplished in their history…the worst four year stretch ever! When researching for my book, I was constantly amazed at the futility I uncovered in the teams’ history…like never placing above 5th from 1945 to 1966! Yet, in terms of won-loss record, we are at the nethermost point in the history of the Chicago National League ball club.

Ah, but there is a method to this madness! While Theo, Jed and company may not be directly saying “we are trying to get high draft picks”…even a modest fan recognizes that they have punted the last few seasons. That has left many a Cubs’ fan to question this strategy.  Will picks like Albert Almora, picked sixth overall, and Bryant finally lead to sustained success? As Cubs’ fans, we naturally answer… “No!” (Actually, you would use a four letter expletive in front of that “no”.)

The MLB draft is a crapshoot…right? A team is more likely to draft a complete bust as a prospective Hall of Famer.  A players’ future ability in baseball is tougher to project than in any other sport. The MLB draft is much different than the NBA or NFL.  You have probably heard similar statements over the years, and there is some truth and wisdom to them.

…but it’s changing.

For the Daft Drafts chapter of my book, I researched every single Cub’s draft since the inaugural 1965 edition….and I discovered the Cubs have drafted (wait for it)…you guessed it…badly. Actually “badly” may be too soft, let’s say their draft record as been putrid. (Yeah, that sounds worse!)    Just to emphasize this point, here are all top ten picks in Cubs’ history(see how many you remember, and how many you say “Who the hell is that?”): Rick James, Dean Burk, Terry Hughes, Scot Thompson, Brian Rosinski, Herman Segelke, Joe Carter (hey, there’s a good one), Shawon Dunston, Derrick May, Drew Hall, Mike Harkey, Earl Cunningham, Kerry Wood, Corey Patterson, Luis Montanez, Mark Prior (wow, my shoulder actually hurt while I typed that) Ryan Harvey, Josh Vitters, Javier Baez, Albert Almora  and Kris Bryant.

Wow…there is a whole lot of nothing in those early years. Here’s the catch though, while the Cubs have historically been awful at drafting (buy my book for more details)…the draft itself has evolved.  Most teams draft histories do have their share of busts and WTF’s. It has only been with improved scouting, technology, and research that the draft has now improved for all teams. Therefore, when mistakes are made at the top of the draft, it is now more likely to be a collective mistake. Thus, I state that a top ten pick in 2014 is more valuable than such a pick was just over a decade ago. Can I back these statements up? Well, I will attempt to do so by using the last 25 years of draft history.

Here are players drafted 1-10 from 1990 -2000 who had a career WAR above 10. If you don’t speak Saber, this would essentially be the equivalent to five years as an average MLB player. I am only listing players with a 10+ war…which one would assume a top ten pick would be able to achieve.

1990-Chipper Jones, Mike Lieberthal, Alex Fernandez and Dan Wilson

1991-DiMitri Young and Joey Hamilton

1992-Phil Nevin and Derek Jeter

1993-Alex Rodriguez and Trot Nixon

1994- Dustin Hermanson and Todd Walker

1995-Darin Erstad, Kerry Wood, Todd Helton and Goeff Jenkins

1996-Kris Benson, Mark Kotsay and Eric Chavez

1997-J.D. Drew, Vernon Wells, Troy Glaus, Michael Cuddyer, and Jon Garland

1998-Pat Burrell, Mark Mulder and Carlos Pena

1999-Josh Hamilton, Josh Beckett, Barry Zito and Ben Sheets

2000-Adrian Gonzalez and Rocco Baldelli

Now, here is where I notice a shift…of the players listed from 1990-2000, putting the WAR criteria aside…who would you consider a “franchise” player? I see Hall of Famers Chipper and Jeter, ‘roid King A-Rod, Todd Helton, and Josh Beckett.  There may be a couple to quibble about…like Adrian Gonzalez, or Mark Mulder…but that would be eleven drafts which yielded seven to eight great players. Now, let’s look at 2001-2007 using the same WAR criteria.

2001- Joe Mauer, Mark Prior(sigh) and Mark Texiera.

2002-B.J. Upton, Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder and Jeff Francis

2003-Rickie Weeks, Nick Markakis, Paul Maholm and Jon Danks

2004-Justin Verlander

2005-Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki and Andrew McCutcheon

2006- Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum and Max Scherzer

2007- David Price, Matt Wieters and Madison Baumgarner

Of the players above, I would consider Mauer, Texeira, Greinke, Fielder, Verlander, Tulowitzki, McCutcheon, Longoria, Braun (hrrumph!)Kershaw, Lincecum, Scherzer, Price, and Baumgarner as great players.  Let’s look at it this way:


2002 Barry Zito


2008 Tim Lincecum, 2009 Tim Lincecum, 2009 Zack Greinke, 2011 Clayton Kershaw, 2011 Justin Verlander, 2012 David Price, 2013 Clayton Kershaw and 2013 Max Scherzer.

In the American League four of the last five Cy Young award winners were top ten picks, four out of the last six in the National League.  Without a doubt, top pitching is now identified more accurately than in previous years.  As we continue to examine the drafts, the WAR criteria now becomes useless as many of the players are too young or still “prospects”…yet there are still some impressive names:

2008-Pedro Alvarez, Buster Posey, and Eric Hosmer

2009-Stephen Strasburg and Zack Wheeler

2010-Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Drew Pomeranz

2011-Gerrit Cole

Buster Posey has already won an MVP and has two World Series rings.  Strasburg, Wheeler, Pomeranz and Cole are proving to be some of the best young pitchers in the game.

Please don’t misconstrue…I hate that the Cubs are as dreadful as they have been lately.  It has become a struggle to even watch the current inclination.  Yet if recent trends hold true, Bryant, Baez, Almora and whomever the Cubs select on Thursday night has a much better chance at success than the shameful list of Cubs’ top ten guys that were previously listed.

…yes, a low bar indeed.

So is “tanking” a good thing then? Will it be these high picks that finally make the Cubs perpetual winners? Unfortunately we will have to wait a few more years to find out.

(fill in your own clichéd joke about Cubs fans and their patience)

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Chris Neitzel is the author of the critically acclaimed book, "Beyond Bartman, Curses and Goats: 108 Reasons Why It’s Been 108 Years.", which was recently released for Amazon. You can follow Chris on Twitter @BBCG108Reasons or e-mail him.

  • Dork

    I don’t know if I agree, it still looks as if you only have a 4 in 10 chance of hiting on a top 10 pick. 2004 and 2005 kind of balance out. While that might be better I am not sure that is good. To me personally it is not worth the Pain and suffering. My latest thought is that the MLB is so mediocre this year that we could have competed. It is the only positive spin on loosing I guess, but not like the NBA. Good reasearch though.

  • BBCG: 105 Reasons

    Dork, I agree they could have competed this year…and I hope this doesn’t come off as too pro-tanking…just that top ten are a bit more safe due to abundance of knowledge

  • Seymour Butts

    I’m actually pro tanking … this year. The apparent huge payoff of selecting Bryant last year has me excited about the draft.
    Though every game I watch, I want the Cubs to win, I also look at the standings and don’t want the Cubs to move out of that first place draft order.
    Kind of schizophrenic, I know.

  • Seymour Butts

    Testing… I’m trying to get my picture back

  • jswanson

    Hey. There it is.

  • Doc Raker

    Hey, maybe our new visitor will like that picture. Good thinking.

  • Doc Raker

    Speaking of pain and suffering I tuned into 1 at bat with Len Kasper last night and quickly switched to the radio feed.

    The Wesley Wright pitching to Curtis Granderson in the 6th inning with 2 out and the bases loaded at bat. Wesley was brought in just for that at bat. Len said, “Strike one.” Then said nothing for the next 2 pitches which were balls. DeShaies didn’t say much also. Now I would think this would be a good time to discuss this pivotal at bat in the game and the strengths and weaknesses of this lefty lefty matchup between a relatively unknown Wesley Wright and Curtis Granderson. Nope, didn’t get any information or insight into this matchup. “Fouled off for a 2-2 count. Swung and missed the Cubs got out of it.” Out of what Len? If it weasn’t for the yellow dots on the diamond graphic I would not have known the bases were loaded. I didn’t learn a thing about Wesley Wright.

    Why does such an iconic team have to have such a lousy broadcaster?

  • BBCG: 105 Reasons

    You see, now I have to say you could have won 80 games last year and got Schwarber…what was point of tanking

  • Eddie Von White

    It’s bigger and clearer than ever.

  • Eddie Von White

    Like Jimmy Fallon said about the Cubs when they reached 10,000 losses: “The Cubs are the third team in history to lose 10,000 games behind the Phillies and the Braves, poor Cubs, they can’t even win a losing contest.”

  • Eddie Von White

    Have you looked at the standings in…oh let’s say…the last 106 years?

  • Dork

    I had the TV on and te radio feed last night too. I like listening to Pat hughes

  • Dork

    Good point.

  • Chuck

    I am fine with tanking, to a point. I understand that the Cubs were so bad from A ball to the pros that a complete tear-down was necessary. i get that. However, a counterbalance to that is that the Cubs are one of the highest revenue teams in MLB. The Cubs are not the Pirates or the Royals. With their ability to sign quality free agents, the rebuilding process should not be as severe nor as prolonged. If the Cubs don’t make a serious run at .500 in 2015, Theo and company should be fired.

    Or the ownership just plans on running a cut-rate team that sucks every year and pocket the TV money. If that is the case, I will turn in my fan card.

  • Doc Raker

    Pat and Coomer are pretty good. It’s hard to call them Pat and Ron since Santo was the Ron I always think when I say Pat and Ron.

  • cap’n obvious

    You can tank, and still end up with a stiff. Apparently the Cubs decided to draft a fat catcher…Daytona might have the heaviest team in all of minor league baseball soon. Atrocious. To make matters worse, the Cardinals draft the top HS player of the past 3 years with the last pick of the first round. If they sign him, and they likely will, this should be considered another beatdown of the Cubs (and the rest of the league) by the Cardinal front office. Where is the genius we’re supposed to be seeing from Epstein? Worst team in the league, and a sketch (at best) first round pick that does not address the pitching needs. Simply awful. Again.

  • PLCB3

    This is part of why I preferred the Tampa GM over Theo when we were looking for a new GM after the 2011 season. Because the 2004 title that Boston won had most of the pieces in place before Theo arrived and he just tied up the loose ends. If Grady Little pulls Pedro instead of leaving him in, Boston likely goes to the WS in 2003.

  • Dork

    It was good reasearch and I agree that with all of the advanced metrics, looking back and forward you should be more predictive. Just my opinion, but I don’t think “tanking” works in Baseball, because the kids drafted are so far away from making an impact at the MLB level. Unlike the NBA orNFL where a rookie is expected to start in the next year.

  • Dork

    What I like about what the cubs are doing now is that they are taking low floor guys, not just gambling. I think this will pay off in valuable assets to play or trade in the future. Aiken might be the next kershaw, but he has a fair chance at never making it too, turning the 1st round pick into nothing of any value.

  • Dusty_Baylor

    Ok…but what about the 2007 and 2013 teams?

  • Dusty_Baylor

    Wasn’t there a significant drop-off from the top 3 pitchers, to the next level of pitchers available? Shouldn’t a team take the best player available regardless? If this is who the Cubs felt was the best player available…so be it. If they focus on pitching the rest of the draft, doesn’t that address the need?

  • PLCB3

    2007 was still heavily bought IMO. Lowell and Beckett acquired in a fire sale, JD Drew signed as a FA, Papi and Manny doping. 2013 never happens if the Dodgers don’t take a quarter billion from them. And that title was also bought. Lot of free agents signed. They had homegrown parts too, but Tampa’s run in 2008 was almost entirely homegrown.

  • Dusty_Baylor

    You have a good point…but with a core like that in place….you can add to it to push over the top. Theo inherited a bankrupt minor league system, save for Baez and a couple lesser players, and a 71 win team full of aging players. Two different situations. If Hendry had drafted payers comparable to Clay Buchholz,. Papelbon, Pedroia, Ellsbury etc, they’d have built a statue.
    The 2008 Rays still acquired from trade/FA Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, Scott Kazmir, Edwin Jackson, Matt Garza, Dioner Navarro, Carlos Pena, Gabe Gross, Cliff Floyd, Eric Hinske and Aki Iwamura. Half of the starting lineup, 3/5 of the rotation, and also a good chunk of the bullpen. I’m not knocking Friedman…he’s an outstanding GM. I’m just saying it’s the 3rd draft for Jed/Stein, they were taknig over a shit team, with a shit system. I’m willing to wait to see some results.

  • PLCB3

    I get it and I agree that they need time. No amount of money is going to fix the years of neglect from the Hendry years but I still think we would be in better position with Tampa’s GM since he never built his teams with money. I bet if you could give Billy Beane Red Sox or Yankees type resources he would be able to build a dynasty. All this talk of Theo building titles with radical ideas though is overblown because of what I stated above.

  • cap’n obvious

    well, lets see, in the 2nd round, they took a college SENIOR, who would likely still be available in the 7th round. He has 1 year of pitching experience. In the 3rd round, ANOTHER unnecessary and over rated catcher, A LHP in the 4th round, who has good size and real solid mechanics. He looks to be the best pick to me so far. The catcher from Kennesaw State is, according to a scout I know, the best catcher, and possibly best position player in this years draft. He was the best player on the Cape last summer by far. The Blue Jays snatched him up at 11 overall. The kid the Cardinals picked at the end of the 1st round will be a big leaguer. Many teams passed on him because they thought he was going to North Carolina…but watch the Cardinals sign him. The 5th round LHP the Cubs drafted has mechanics that are a complete mess. The 6th round pick, a Vanderbilt commit, is currently shut down with an elbow issue. Great, an injured 17 year old.

    Last year’s draft was at least intriguing. This looks like a Cleveland Indians draft class from the 80’s. Go to and look at the highlight videos of these stiffs, then look at the big strong pitchers the Cardinals are drafting. Either the LSU or the Evansville pitcher or the Kennesaw State catcher would have been better first round picks than Vogelsong Jr., the catcher they picked. Make a note of this…of this group, maybe the 4th round lefty makes an impact someday. The rest of these guys are longshots.

    Things are getting worse.

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