The Houston Astros And The Curse Of The 11th Pick

This is like a milk truck losing its brakes at the top of a hill, and a cereal factory residing at the bottom of the hill. You can almost taste the destiny. The Houston Astros have the 11th pick in the 2011 MLB Draft.

The Astros have had a rough string of first-round picks over the past decade, and the 11th pick in the draft, for whatever reason, is a complete sinkhole. Baseball Reference has a fantastic draft preview up, and it lists the cumulative WAR for each pick in the history of the first round. In the 55 years of the Rule 4 amateur draft, the 11th pick has produced less value than the 119th pick.

It’s actually charitable to describe what the Astros have done in the first round as a "rough string." Since picking Brad Lidge with the 17th overall pick in 1998, the WAR leader for the Astros' subsequent first-rounders is Jordan Lyles, with 0.3 Wins Above Replacement. This is especially notable because Lyles has faced 27 batters in his career. Still, he’s added more value than Chris Burke and Brian Bogusevic, the next two players on the list. There’s still a chance that Jason Castro will live up to his promise, but his knee injury will put that off for a while.

The 11th overall pick is an obvious outlier in the Baseball Reference table. You start with the obvious peak of the first overall pick, go down a bit, start to plateau a bit, and then fall off a cliff at #11 before climbing out and continuing the plateau. Greg Luzinski is the great success story of #11 picks, with Shane Mack and Walt Weiss shortly behind him. Then you get to Shawn Estes, and before you know it, you’re in Rod Boxberger territory. You know, Rod Boxberger? Maybe not. That was the last player picked by the Astros at #11, and he’s more the rule than the exception. The pick is more likely to produce a Steve Stanicek than a useful major leaguer -- even more so than you’d expect from the crap shoot that is the draft.

In 55 years, every #11 pick put together has added up to the value of about one Chipper Jones. That’s not entirely true. If you were to put all 55 of those players in the field at the same time, they’d probably prevent a ton of runs. Well, Luzinski would still hurt you, but the rest of the 54 would have a crazy-good defensive efficiency rating. But there are rules prohibiting such things.

There is a silver lining, though. The Astros might not have had a great decade of first-round picks, but Lyles looks like a fantastic young pitcher. And the #11 pick doesn’t have that gaudy WAR total yet because a lot of the best picks -- Andrew McCutchen, Max Scherzer, Neil Walker, and Justin Smoak -- are just starting their careers. If anything, the #11 pick has been a bit of a blessing over the past few years.

So maybe it’s not a milk truck without its brakes. Maybe it’s a milk truck in the parking lot, handing out free samples, and an employee from the cereal factory is getting off work with his pockets stuffed with liberated, crunchy consumables. Maybe it’ll be a perfect match this time. With the draft, the only thing you really know is that you don’t know anything.

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