JUNE 9, 2004
College Hardball Players Only Star Later?
By Steve Lombardi, NetShrine.com

Major League Baseball's 2004 “Rule 4 Draft” - also known as the amateur draft or first year player draft - is now complete.  While the draft is done, the debate on whether or not it is wise to choose players from high school (over college players) is not.  In fact, this dispute has been one of the more popular arguments in baseball the past few years.

Related, the scrawling on this scorecard has a curious question of "From where were today's stars first acquired?"

Thanks to the fabulous Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia (SBE), and the measure of "Runs Created Above Average" (RCAA) and "Runs Saved Above Average" (RSAA), determining who are the best performers in present day baseball is easy. 

Using the SBE and RCAA and RSAA, I looked for the top 50 batters and pitchers for the period 1994 through 2003.  Once found, I researched how the player was first acquired in professional baseball - drafted out of high school or college, or signed as a non-drafted free agent (NDFA).  Here are the results of this exercise:

Top 50 



College 29 58%
H.S.  12 24%
NDFA 9 18%

Top 51












Top 101












Note:  Troy Percival, Tim Wakefield, and Trevor Hoffman finished in the "Top 50 RSAA" group.  However, since they were drafted as hitters, it is not fair to include them in this review.  They were dropped from the 50 and the next three pitchers below the Top 50 were added.  Since there was a tie for 53rd place in RSAA, in the end, there are 51 pitchers used in this study.

If one is willing to make the leap of faith that most NDFA are the equivalent of high school players from the United States in terms of age and playing experience, then these findings are very interesting.  In terms of "From where were today's stars first acquired?" it is just about 50-50 on the college or not college question.  Fifty-five percent came from college draft picks and forty-five percent were not college draft picks.

Further, in terms of pitchers, where the claim by many is that college pitchers in the draft is the "safer bet," the percentages are even closer - - Fifty-three percent of today's pitching stars came from college and forty-seven percent were not college draft picks (as they were high school picks or NDFAs).  Again, just about 50-50.

For the record, the numbers here do not indicate that if you draft a college pitcher then you get a star 53% of the time, and if you draft a high school pitcher you get a star 31% of the time, etc.  That is not the claim made here.  What the scrawling on this scorecard says is that our  contemporary "pie of baseball stars" can be cut roughly into two equal halves - and about half of today's stars came from college programs and about half came from places other than college.

Therefore, star players (at least the current ones) are found from college programs no more often than they are found from outside of college (as a whole) - thereabouts.

Granted, this is solely based on the top 101 players over the last 11 years.  Still, you can measure the temperature of a baby's formula to the 15th decimal place using a fine-tuned thermometer and applying it to the whole bottle to determine if it is cool enough to feed to an infant or you can just squirt some out of the bottle on to your wrist to find out.  Sometimes, you only need a small sample and rough feel to know what is right.  This may be one of those cases.  Obviously, you do not have to give something "the ol' college try" every time to be a success.

Steve Lombardi is the Creator & Curator of NetShrine.com.  Scrawling On The Scorecard appears regularly during the baseball season and sporadically during the off-season.  Steve can be contacted at sots@netshrine.com

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