National Treasure (Part 1)
April 10, 2009
people would rather sell an interesting story than tell the truth.
I'll admit there are times when that is
perferable, but most of the time the facts are interesting enough to
tell a compelling story without all the embellishments. The book
mind but I'll save that one for another day.
example, for the last 30 or so years there is a large segment of the
community that posits that the dinosaurs were wiped out
asteroid colliding with the earth in a region on the coast of Mexico
They say that meteor about 6
miles in diameter impacted the earth, creating an explosion 200 miles
and that the impact created 500 foot tidal waves, massive blasts of
thrust portions of the earth's crust into space which fell back to
the atmosphere and causing acid rain and hell fire to fall all around
wiping out the dinosaurs.
evidence is that there is a layer of clay with a high concetration of
element common in asteroids and meteorites called iridium all over the
No doubt a big meteorite hit the Earth where they say it did, but was
it really responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs worldwide?
the main problems with this theory is that they are attributing the
fluctuations in termperature that occurred around the world at roughly
time to an event that spanned barely .0001% of the surface of the Earth.
Those kind of extreme numbers are a bit
tough to get one's head around so let's reduce it to human scale.
If a man six feet tall weighing two hundred
pounds represents the surface area of the Earth, the Chicxulub asteroid
bullet not much larger than a water molecule (roughly .0000645
A human pore is 50 microns
across and a micron is .0001 millimeters.
It seems a bit far fetched that a missile that size, regardless
fast it is going, is going to have the kind of effect they are
other scientists combat that problem by saying that there were multiple
all around the world, which there were.
But again, we're talking about maybe a dozen or so molecule
thousands or even hundreds.
those impacts most certainly would have wiped out life in the immediate
to suggest that a meteor hit in Mexico would have wiped out life in
just seems more science fiction than science to me.
another huge problem with their theory: dinosaurs were dying out at a
fast rate well before Chicxulub.
million years before the impacts, there is evidence of extinctions of
species around the world.
In fact, there
is no evidence that any prehistoric species lived longer than 2 or 3
million years so to suggest that something wiped any of them out is
ignoring the possibility that they were already in the process of being
wiped out by natural causes. Something else that calls the theory
into question is the fact that there was a much bigger mass extinction
200 million years
before but during that one there were no impacts.
apparently a meteor isn't required to wipe out life on the planet.
Here's another problem for the impact theory:
if the meteor created huge temperature
changes and acid rain, why didn't it wipe out amphibians and turtles in
Those animals are among the
most sensitive to those kinds of environmental changes, y
the Chicxulub impact area has one of the
highest concentrations of amphibians and turtles on earth. Still,
biggest problem with the Chicxulub impact theory is that they attribute
wide temperature changes that affected the terrestrial world for
years to an event that took minutes, at most only hours, to unfold.
To me, a meteor impact just
isn't going to have that kind of staying power to affect things for
However, a volcano that covers
square miles that erupts for at least 30,000 years and perhaps as long
million years might.
That would change the
atmosphere and global temperature for quite a while.
And wouldn't you know it, such a volcano called the Deccan Flats
(located in present day India) was erupting during that period.
And the mass extinction that occurred at the
end of the Permian period, 200 million years before the mass extinction
dinosaurs... yes, that period was marked by a significant increase in
That may not have been
the reason all of those critters died (there are several possibilities
including an increase in number and virility of diseases) but that
more sense than the lone meteor theory. It also makes me think
that the money being spent by the federal government to study
volcanoes, particularly the Yellowstone
which is overdue to blow, might be money very well spent.
was reminded of this when I read Tom Boswell's recent column suggesting
the Nationals would be wise to pass on Stephen Strasburg in this June's
If you haven't read by now,
Strasburg is widely considered not only the best prospect in this
draft, but by many scouts as a singular talent (like ARod or Ken
Griffey Jr) and perhaps the best pitching prospect ever. At first
I thought "Boswell
can't be serious." But then I thought maybe he was just trying to
It's a common practice
these days - when they don't have something useful to say, talking
heads often say something ridiculous to create a buzz.
This is what often
passes for analysis on the Fox Network, ESPN, with many sportswriters
Whitlock and about 90% of the fantasy sports columns on the
reasoning was that high-pick pitchers never work out.
He rambled at some length about how even the best top pick
pitchers had only a .500 winning percentage and that the others simply
to measure up at all.
hitters with the top pick nearly always worked like a charm.
a few flaws with this reasoning, the first of which is the most
the Nats pick otherwise?
Four of the
top five amateurs this year are pitchers. Two position players
are also highly regarded but USC shortstop Grant Green is having
start of the season and UNC 1B/OF Dustin Ackley might not be anything
more than a glorified singles hitter.
acknowledges that the talent gulf between Strasburg and the others in
year's draft is enormous.
is suggesting is akin to passing on Roger Clemens in order to select
Polanco just because Clemens is a pitcher. Correct me if I am
wrong, teams still need pitchers to play the game and judging by the
Nats' efforts so far this year with the majors second worst ERA at
9.38, they could probably use a good one, no?
Looking deeper into his reasoning reveals some seroius flaws with
that pick first in the draft are generally the worst teams in baseball.
Often a part of the equation that puts an
organization in that position is having an incompetent scouting
Sometimes, as with the Nats,
have a good scouting department but the team has just run into some
Sometimes, like the recent
editions of the Rays and Diamondbacks, as well as the Mariners a few
back, the talent emerges all at once but not before a few more lean
years after their big pick.
But most of
the time, as with the
and Padres in recent years, the failed selection is a product of some
poor scouting, management and ownership. Here's a list of all the
first overall picks:
2008 Tim Beckham
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2007 David Price
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2006 Luke Hochevar
Kansas City Royals
2005 Justin Upton
2004 Matt Bush
San Diego Padres
2003 Delmon Young
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2001 Joe Mauer
1999 Josh Hamilton
1998 Pat Burrell
1997 Matt Anderson
1996 Kris Benson
1995 Darin Erstad
1994 Paul Wilson
New York Mets
Rodriguez SS Seattle Mariners
1992 Phil Nevin
1991 Brien Taylor
New York Yankees
1990 Chipper Jones
1989 Ben McDonald
1988 Andy Benes
San Diego Padres
1987 Ken Griffey
1986 Jeff King
1985 B.J. Surhoff
1984 Shawn Abner
New York Mets
1983 Tim Belcher
1981 Mike Moore
Strawberry OF New
1979 Al Chambers
1978 Bob Horner
1977 Harold Baines
Chicago White Sox
1975 Danny Goodwin
1974 Bill Almon
San Diego Padres
1973 David Clyde
1972 Dave Roberts
San Diego Padres
1971 Danny Goodwin
Chicago White Sox
1970 Mike Ivie
San Diego Padres
Burroughs OF Washington Senators II
1968 Tim Foli
SS New York Mets
1967 Ron Blomberg
New York Yankee
Chilcott C New York Mets
Monday OF Kansas
in point, I don't think
outside the Royals and Pirates thought that Luke Hochevar or Bryan
(respectively) were the best talents of those drafts. I doubt
those organizations thought those were the right guys, yet those are
who were picked first. While we
are on that topic, if a team is incompetent at evaluating talent, does
it really matter if they take a hitter or a pitcher? I mean, Michael Lewis wrote how
A's were for exploiting the market with their drafts in his book, Moneyball
, yet with 10
round picks over two of the most talent-laden drafts in recent memory
(2002 and 2003) they were only able to produce 4 major league players
and none of them
are stars. The best of the lot, Nick Swisher, is currently a
reserve on the Yankees. But I digress... apparently
Boswell didn't remember such luminaries as Matt Bush, Shawn Abner, Al
Danny Goodwin and yes, Steve Chilcott, who was taken one pick before
Let's not forget the underwhelming careers of first overall
Almon, Ron Blomberg, Tim Foli and Mike Ivie.
Honestly, how many times did Boswell cast
his Hall of Fame vote for Shawon Dunston, BJ Surhoff and Jeff King?
Nice players certainly, but also certainly
not the best taken in their respective drafts.
Those honors belong respectively to Gary Sheffield and Kevin
Brown (a pitcher!) in 1986, Barry Bonds and Barry Larkin (1985) and
Dwight Gooden (1982...
isn't he a pitcher, too?).
But maybe we should look at the so called first round pitching
see if there is a connection between them. Some of the "failures"
were due to team mismanagement. The
Yankees picking Brien Taylor was not a bad idea; their mistake was not
having a bodyguard do all his bar fighting, something that cost him a
broken pitching arm and thus a broken career. I guess they never
saw "Bull Durham".
David Clyde, just
18-years old when he was selected, didn't get even one minor league
before he was thrown to the major league hitters as a "local boy makes
good" publicity ploy.
Mike Moore spent less than a year in the
minors before he was pitching against major league hitters.
Either one of those guys might have become
pretty good had they been afforded a few years in the minors to learn
Andy Benes as an example of the best a top-pick pitcher can do using
won-loss record as his baromoter.
is either the height of ignorance or intellectually dishonest.
Even if Benes had pitched like the second
coming of Walter Johnson he was not going to win more than 15 or 16
games pitching for some of those terrible fire-sale Padre teams.
When he did pitch for a pretty good Cardinals team, he won 18
Funny how that works.
To be honest, Benes was another guy rushed
to the majors who could have used a full season in the minors to
craft. Boswell's whipping boy Ben
McDonald was a great college pitcher but everyone knew his fastball was
straight as a string.
He spent the
better part of his major league career tinking with his grip in order
movement on it.
Two minor league starts
was all he was afforded before he was annointed as the savior of the
big league staff by, among others, Boswell himself.
All totalled, he made 14 starts in the
minors over his first three seasons as a professional.
Perhaps a little more seasoning was what he
needed rather than a lower draft selection.
The biggest oversight in Boswell's calculations is that he completely
ignores the abuse that some of the pitchers
endured during their first few years, usage that seems criminal
Take the number of
innings Gooden pitched at an early age:
191 innings as an 18-year old at single-A Lynchburg
218 innings as a 19-year old in the majors the following year
276 innings in the majors as a 20-year old the year after that.
250 innings in the majors at age 21 the year after that.
Is it really surprising after that kind of workload that he came up a
little lame in 1987 and was never the same?
As for the others, does he really believe that Paul Wilson's
career would have
as badly as it did without Dallas Green's overuse sending him to the
He cites Ben McDonald as an
example of a failed first pick but fails to remember the exorbitant
counts that he endured his final season at LSU.
Baker's criminal handling of Mark Prior, the #2 pick overall in 2001,
down the stretch in 2003 where
topped 130 pitches nine times in the final two months.
Strasburg is highly unlikely to fall victim to this kind of workload as
organizations are much
more cognizant of the risks associated with overwork now. In
Strasburg's current manager Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn already gets it
and refuses to let
him throw more than 115 pitches in any outing.
sniffs at picks like Tim Belcher, but fails to acknnowledge that the
picks in that draft - Kurt Stillwell, Jeff Kunkel, Eddie Williams, Stan
Jackie Davidson, Darrel Akerfelds, Robbie Wine, Matt Stark, Ray Hayward
Dave Clark - weren't exactly Hall of Famers.
Belcher was clearly better than any of them, both as an amateur and a
professional by any objective measure. Six of those guys
are hitters so the teams picking the
hitters went 0-for-6. If you include
Ron Delucchi, Terry Bell, Stan Jefferson, Gary Thurman, Ricky Jordan,
Doran, Jim Lindeman and Russ Morman, teams picking hitters in the first
that year pretty much went 0-for14 as far as finding a better player
than Belcher, whereas teams picking pitchers at
came away with two guys they could count on for a few years: Belcher and the guy that turned out to be the best
pick of that draft, the #19 overall, Roger Clemens.
What is clear from looking at the list of top picks is
the most important factor in a successful draft is who is
picking, not who is being picked.
Rays had four #1 picks in the last 10 years and Hamilton is already one
of the best players in the game. Young, Price and
Beckham certainly seem to have the talent to join him.
Roger Jongewaard was
with the Mariners, he had two #1 picks (1987 and 1993) and he nailed
both of them.
Mike Rizzo of the
Diamondbacks had one
opportunity at a #1 in 2005 - and coincidentally he's the same guy who
picking for the Nationals this year - and he nailed it.
looking at the Pirates and Royals history, it wouldn't matter if Babe
his prime was available, they would have whiffed with their #1s.
without saying that drafting is as much art as science.
However, it is clear that some teams are getting much better at
out which players are going to have long term value. The reason
getting better at it is because they have people who know talent when
they see it doing the picking. The
Nationals are fortunate to have one of
the best crews in this regard so to suggest that they abandon their
because some sportswriter decides he knows more about drafts than they
because he's done a little reading is patently absurd.
Strasburg is clearly the best pick in this
year's draft, and high bonus demands or not the
should take him, get a deal done, and hope that his career turns out as
well as some of the other singular talents of the last 30 years.
Just as with the disappearance of the dinosaurs, the correct answer for
the Nats is probably the most obvious one.
Part 2 - What's wrong with the 2009
Part 3 - That Good?
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