Thomas Boswell: Nationals Should Be Weary of Drafting Strasburg

By Thomas Boswell
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's too bad Stephen Strasburg is a pitcher. Otherwise, he might be worth a record-shattering amount of money for a No. 1 overall draft pick. But he's a pitcher. So, he isn't.

History is unequivocal. Strasburg, no matter how much he dominates college hitters, will probably either be a .500 pitcher with a 150-150 record, or he'll be a bust.

Unless his price drops to the same general range as David Price ($8.8 million in 2007) or Mark Prior (a record $10.5 million in 2001), the Nationals should pick somebody else with their top choice in the draft in three months.

At the kind of numbers being rumored or leaked last weekend -- $50 million for six years -- there's nothing to see here. It's a waste of time. Especially since Scott Boras is Strasburg's adviser. Breaking the bank for Strasburg would be a huge waste of money and squandering of an enormously valuable draft pick.

Enormously valuable, that is, if you pick a hitter.

The history of baseball's draft since it began in 1965 is unmistakable. You can project exceptional hitters with about a 50 percent success rate. You can't project No. 1 overall pitchers at all.

Nobody -- n-o-b-o-d-y -- has used a No. 1 overall pick on a pitcher and been glad they did it. Thirteen teams have tried it since the draft began in 1965. Nine have gotten egg on their faces. The lucky four got Andy Benes (155-139), Tim Belcher (146-140), Mike Moore (161-176) and Floyd Bannister (134-143). No Hall of Famers. Just a bunch of guys who could throw a ball through a wall when they were young but never became great.

If you take a larger sample size, the evidence is even more conclusive. Since '65, 102 pitchers have been taken within the first five picks. Not one is going to the Hall of Fame. None is close. Only one won more than 200 games (Kevin Brown). Rounding out the top five -- Dwight Gooden (194 wins), Bill Gullickson, Moore and Benes. The only reliever of note: ex-Oriole Gregg Olson. Josh Beckett (89-62) may end up high on the list eventually.

More than 75 percent of those 102 were wasted picks. Yet absolutely every one was hailed as a future star.

However, if the Nats use their No. 1 overall pick for a hitter, whom might they get? Perhaps a future Hall of Famer like Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones or Alex Rodriguez. Or Harold Baines or Darryl Strawberry. Or a batting champ like Joe Mauer, an MVP like Jeff Burroughs or a young thumper like Adrian Gonzalez (36 homers, 119 RBI in '08). Or they might get a hitter with more than 200 homers like Pat Burrell, Phil Nevin, Bob Horner or Rick Monday. Or they might get a useful B.J. Surhoff or Darin Erstad.

You get it. Hitters pan out -- almost half the time. Pitchers flop or at best disappoint given their hype.

To compare apples-to-apples, look at the hitters picked in the top five overall since '65: Reggie Jackson, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, Thurman Munson, Joe Carter, Mark Teixeira, Barry Larkin, Dale Murphy, Matt Williams, Troy Glaus, Evan Longoria, Ryan Braun, Ryan Zimmerman and many a Will Clark or B.J. Upton.

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