Over the years the Yankees have received endless criticism for their development of pitchers. This criticism is based on the assumption that other teams are better at it, and that they fail to develop as many pitchers as other teams. Looking at the 150 starting pitchers in the MLB today paints a different picture. The Yankees are not bad at this, they are top 10 in the league by many standards.
Of 150 starting pitchers in the MLB, 77 had success with the team that drafted or developed them, or 51-percent. 38, or 25-percent of the starting pitchers in the league were drafted in the first round before New York had a pick. The Yankees can sign international talent that helps sway the balance in their favor. It should be noted, however, that 1st round draft picks have a much higher success rate than international free agents.
The first number is how many players each team drafted/developed that are currently MLB starters. The Yankees come in a tie with Atlanta, Boston, Miami, the Rays, and the Twins for second place with eight. Texas was best with 11. These teams have a good eye for talent.
A pitcher was considered to be developed by a team if he spent more than one year in their farm system. The only player who made the Yankees list who they didn’t draft was Ted Lilly. The pitcher was considered a developmental success if he had one or more good season with the team who developed them. The benchmark for a successful season is a 4.50 ERA with 150 IP. I understand the trouble with using ERA to judge pitchers, but if anything that puts New York at a disadvantage given their ballpark, division, and American League status.
If traded to another team before producing, the player wasn’t a developmental success. Two pitchers the Yankees developed were excluded from consideration for this reason. These were Ted Lilly, whom they didn’t draft but spent over a year in their minor league system, and Ian Kennedy, who was traded just before his first successful season. Many players go on to have good careers after their contract with their original club expires. These do not count as developmental successes, as they developed too slowly to help that team.
Texas is great at manufacturing pitchers (11), but their developmental success rate is low. They’ve only benefited from three of the pitchers they’ve developed. The Red Sox helped develop eight current starters. Only two had success with the team. The Braves have only three current starting pitchers in the league that have had successful seasons as a part of their team.
The teams with the most developmental successes were the A’s, with six, and the Twins, with five. It’s a five-way tie for third between the Yankees, Padres, Phillies, Rays, and Miami.
The A’s are 6-for-6 in harvesting production from their prospects. Barry Zito was drafted with the ninth pick in the draft, so New York couldn’t have had him. They also developed Gio Gonzalez. Joe Blanton and Trevor Cahill have been borderline successes, but have staying power, so they get credit. Dallas Braden is great. Brett Anderson has been good, but injury prone. If he was in New York, this would have been somehow blamed on management.
The Twins have several success stories. Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano come to mind right away. They developed three inconsistent pitchers; Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, and Kyle Lohse. Blackburn has two successful seasons mixed in with three poor ones. In Yankee-land, that might be seen as a failure. Kyle Lohse is not an example of someone an organization should be proud of developing.
The San Diego Padres have had some good pitchers come up through their system. Tim Stauffer, Jake Peavy, Clay Hensley, and Clayton Richard were productive. Of those, Tim Stauffer was the fourth overall pick in the draft, and Clay Hensley was not drafted by the team, but did spend time in their minor league system.
Philadelphia has had several prosperous prospects. Vance Worley is the most recent. It remains to be seen if he can duplicate last season. Cole Hamels was drafted early in the first round, before the Yankees pick. J.A. Happ had a good season before being traded. I guess he’s a developmental success? They did get Hunter Pence from the Astros, so I can justify it. Randy Wolf is still in the league and they did get success from him. That was ages ago.
The Rays have had four. David Price was the first overall pick in the draft, and Niemann was the fourth overall. Needless to say the Yankees can’t draft players like these. James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson are fair game, and the Rays have done a fantastic job with them. It looks like Matt Moore is the real deal, but he could still end up a bust since he’s proven nothing.
Now, the Yankees. The Yankees developed Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Andy Pettitte, and Chien-Ming Wang. Nova has much to prove, and Hughes is inconsistent. Pettitte was drafted ages ago. As we’ve seen, every team on this list has guys like that. Of all the teams listed, the one thing that New York’s list lacks is an ace. Every team has at least one early first round pick though, something the Yankees won’t ever have. The eight starters currently in the MLB that were drafted, signed, or developed by New York include those four, plus Ian Kennedy, Ted Lilly, Jeff Karstens, and Hector Noesi.
While the team has failed to develop an ace, they have an excellent success rate developing pitchers. Every team has the same amount of players in the minor league system, and yet the Yankees have more success stories than most teams in the league, with few exceptions. The lack of star power in the system could be due to any number of factors, not the least of which is luck.
The importance of draft picks can’t be emphasized enough. The fact that 25% of starting pitchers are players the Yankees never had the opportunity to draft is telling. The talented players that fall to New York are often injury prone or seen as long term projects. These players have high risk of busting. Brackman and Joba constitute players of this caliber. The key is that these players fell to the Yankees for a reason. They often bust, and it gets blamed on the Yankees for mishandling them. All pitchers are fragile, but those who make it to the end of the first round often have red flags. The Yankees have made up for this through international signings. This has helped make them on par with some of the top teams as far as development goes.
It should also be noted that the Yankees are a win now team. This means that obtaining top prospects through trades is not often an option. It did happen recently with Jose Campos, but I wouldn’t count on that being a frequent occurrence. Low budget teams are able to trade for prospects. When the writing is on the wall and they can’t resign a player, they trade for a nice package of prospects. Surprisingly, the Rays haven’t benefited much from that either. They do get more compensation picks.
Any number of things can hamper pitcher development. Injuries, control problems, mental issues, behavioral problems, and mechanical problems can all turn a promising prospect into a project. Sometimes players just don’t have the stuff. Developing starting pitchers is difficult; even the best teams have few success stories. There are 20 starters in every farm system. If one or two end up successful MLB starters, it would be a success. With such low success rates, there has to be a considerable amount of luck involved. The 18-19 starting pitchers who don’t work out are not all failures on the part of the organization.
New York gets a lot of attention for being bad at developing pitchers because there is so much emphasis on the players that fail. Every organization experiences these failures, and as a matter of fact most have a lower rate of starting pitcher success than the Yankees. I hope this post opened some eyes about starting pitching development. Not only is New York currently on par with some of the best in the league, but the minor league depth at the position of starting pitcher is better than it has been in decades. I know that many New Yorkers love to find fault in the Yankees front office. I think it is time to find a new reason to bash Cashman because the times have changed.