2016 MLB Draft Follow Up
With six of the top pitchers taken in the first round of the 2016 MLB draft already making injury headlines, we wanted to take a look back at our analysis from that year's draft. Yes, you read that correctly. In less than two years time, six of the 17 pitchers taken in the first round have already endured a throwing-related arm injury resulting in surgery.
According to MLB.com, A.J. Puk, the third pitcher taken off the board and 6th pick overall, underwent Tommy John Surgery back in mid-April, and will miss the entire 2018 season. Braxton Garrett, drafted 7th overall by the Miami Marlins, had undergone surgery on his UCL back in June of 2017, and has still yet to throw an inning in 2018. There is even speculation that he won't see game action until 2019. Most recently, Jason Groome, drafted 12th overall by the Boston Red Sox, has been slated for Tommy John Surgery sometime this month. Groome had started the season on the DL with a flexor strain, but it was recently decided that surgery was the next step. Next on the list is Zack Burdi, drafted 26th overall by the Chicago White Sox. Burdi underwent Tommy John Surgery last July, and reportedly won't be ready until 2019 per CBS Sports. Selected 30th overall by the Texas Rangers, Cole Ragans was diagnosed with a UCL tear in March, and underwent Tommy John Surgery sometime this past month. Similar to Burdi, the time table on Ragan's return likely won't be until 2019. Lastly, Anthony Kay, taken by the New York Mets with the 31st overall pick, underwent Tommy John Surgery a few months after getting drafted. He missed the entire 2016 and 2017 seasons, and is just now making his way back to the mound this year.
As much of our research has continued to revolve around finding answers and solutions to baseball's current injury epidemic, it's important to continue to shed light on these alarming trends that have seemingly become accepted as normal. In total, including the six listed above, nine of the top 50 pitchers listed by MLB.com's Top 100 Draft Prospects for the 2016 Draft have either undergone, or are scheduled to undergo surgery caused by a throwing-related injury. We've outlined these players in the table above. Keep in mind we're only accounting for surgeries, and not including pitchers that may have missed time due to other throwing-related injuries not requiring surgery.
Although these stats and trends are unfortunate, they come as little surprise. Based on a specific set of results produced by the DVS Model, both college and professional pitchers inherit 2.9% additional risk of sustaining a throwing-related injury for each later year they are born. This means that a pitcher born in 1995 is considerably more at risk of getting injured on any given pitch than a pitcher born in 1985. In another Model Analysis, a starting pitcher born in 1995 is projected to only throw approximately 1,168 innings before sustaining a major throwing-related injury, compared to 1,538 innings by a starting pitcher born in 1985. That's roughly a 370 inning difference, which in many cases, can make the difference of several seasons.
However, taking into account our retrospective analysis of the 2016 Draft, you can see that some of these players are getting injured much faster. Of the nine players mentioned above, the average birth year was 1996, yet the average innings pitched before a major throwing-related injury was just over 130. This number includes innings accumulated in both college and the professional ranks.
"Of the nine players mentioned above...the average innings pitched before a major throwing-related injury was just over 130. This number includes innings accumulated in both college and the professional ranks."
This expedited time to injury can likely be attributed to various environmental and cultural factors seen at the youth and sub-professional levels. This not only includes the rise in games brought about by travel baseball and showcase tournaments, but various training techniques that facilitate countless, high-intensity throwing reps that often go unaccounted for. Lastly, the throwing pattern embodied by many of today's pitchers, both professional and youth alike, has been found to be relatively more injurious through our ongoing research into the DVS Score. It is likely the culmination of these factors, combined with a specific set of player-based circumstances, that ultimately initiate the injury cascade and dictate a pitcher's window of availability.
With that said, one has to question the current process surrounding not only player development, but player evaluation as well. Front offices spend millions of dollars each year on high-round draft picks, but with troubling trends such as the one evident in the 2016 MLB Draft, it's hard not to wonder how much of the picture these teams are actually acquiring. In other words, how complete and valid are the evaluation processes used to assess the value of a particular pitcher? And if given different insight, would the teams that drafted these players have made the same decisions on draft day?
From our perspective, and based on the numbers, it would be tough to rationalize. According to The Baseball Cube, teams dished out in total nearly $17 million in signing bonuses alone to the six pitchers listed above. In return, these same pitchers have accumulated barely 400 innings combined, which averages out to be around 36 innings pitched per year for each pitcher. Not a very good return on investment, especially taking into account that the DVS Model shows an increased risk of injury for each subsequent major pitching injury sustained. This means that after a pitcher's first major injury, their likelihood of having another major injury increases significantly.
Keep in mind, the number one ability of an athlete is availability. Performance potential is obviously a key component that gets factored-in when assessing a pitcher's worth, but true value only occurs when you get what you pay for. In essence, professional organizations pay for quality innings pitched, and regardless of the talent these athletes possess, teams lose money everyday a pitcher isn't available to pitch. Not only that, but you have to consider valuable development time lost, in addition to the negative psychological effects that often accompany an injury or surgery.
Thus, at the moment, it seems like these teams made a rather risky investment that isn't paying off. Perhaps if they had more comprehensive insight on draft day, they could have found lower risk investments, still with the potential to provide what every team truly wants from their starting pitcher...quality innings pitched and wins.
- Will Fox