Wacha and Miller and nicknaming draft picks

Dilip Vishwanat

Less than a year after signing with the St. Louis Cardinals, Michael Wacha debuted last week with the big club and turned in seven strong innings. Wacha was the 19th pick in the draft last June. As it happens, this June -- this week, actually -- the Cardinals again have the 19th pick in the draft. And as Derrick Goold wrote last week, the franchise's recent history with that pick is highly encouraging:

Of the 49 players taken 19th overall since 1965, only 13 have logged at least 500 games there. Roger Clemens, taken 19th overall by Boston in 1983, is the most successful pick at that spot in the draft.

This is the third time in five drafts that the Cardinals have selected 19th overall with their highest pick. In 2009, the Cardinals selected Texas high schooler Shelby Miller. In 2012, they took Texas A&M righty Wacha.

Both are now rookies in the Cardinals’ rotation.

Both were scouted and signed by Garr.

It starts with Ralph.

"Body, frame, stuff, and physical strength – allow to project as future top of the rotation guy at (major league) level in future," read part of Garr’s spring 2012 report on Wacha. "One of the top arms in area and country for that matter."

That's Ralph Garr, Jr., the son of 1970s speedster Ralph Garr. Ralph Jr. played some ball himself, but it seems he's found greater success as a scout. And it's good to see him getting some credit for the successes of Miller and Wacha.

What's really got me revved up, though, is that coincidence of both Miller and Wacha becoming wildly successful -- so far, anyway -- shortly after being 19th picks in the draft. You might think that a number of stars have been drafted 19th. They haven't. Once you get past Roger Clemens (1983) and Bobby Grich (1967), there's Alex Rios and Mike Scioscia and a whole lotta nothing. Well, and James Loney. Plus Miller and Wacha.

I know that bad things happen to young pitchers, but I just love the coincidence, and so I'd like to propose that we forever refer to the No. 19 pick in the draft as the Miller/Wacha Pick.

Silly? Sure. But it's exciting to me when things are named, because stories are exciting and names tell stories. If we call it the Miller/Wacha Pick, then we've got an excuse to recount how the Cardinals -- with the help of Roadrunner Jr. -- came up with two outstanding young pitchers with the same pick in the space of three years. Which seems worth recounting, at least if you're a Cardinals fan.

By the way, the No. 19 picks have been oddly non-productive, as you may glean from this nifty line graph!


That y-axis is the collective Wins Above Replacement for every player drafted in the draft slot represented by the x-axis, and of course what's most dramatic is the steep drop-off from the No. 1 picks. What's most notable after that is the lack of consistency, with No. 10 picks being nearly as productive as No. 2 picks, and No. 39 picks significantly more productive than No. 11 picks.

Of course, these data points are highly subject to the influence of just one or two players. That spike at No. 39? That's Barry Bonds, with 163 Wins+ all by himself.*

* on a technicality, though, as Bonds didn't actually sign when drafted No. 39 by his hometown Giants; he wouldn't sign until three years later when drafted No. 6 by the Pirates, and this graph does double-count the Wins+ for players selected twice among the first 50 picks.

That spike at No. 30? Mike Schmidt. Which brings me to my next suggestion. I believe that No. 30 should be the Mike Schmidt Pick ... and No. 29 should be the George Brett Pick. Not because they were picked in those slots, but because, quite kismetically, they were picked in those slots in the same season (1971). I've always wondered ... If Brett hadn't been available, would the Royals have taken Schmidt? If the Royals had taken Schmidt (or someone else), would the Phillies have taken Brett?

Probably not. But it's these sorts of things, full of chance and caprice, that set the fate of entire franchises.

More suggestions? Sure.

No. 9 -- the Appier/Zito Pick, for two pitchers at opposite ends of the alphabet who looked like Hall of Famers early, but faded badly.

No. 16 -- the Lance Pick ... yeah, just Lance, for the two Lances -- Parrish and Berkman -- who top the career Wins+ list at this spot.

No. 46 -- the Rolen/Rollins Pick; while they played together for just one full season, one or the other has been anchoring the left side of the Phillies' infield since 1996.

We could also come up with a good nickname for the No. 1 pick -- the Mariner Pick for the American League, the National Pick for the National League? -- but then again maybe No. 1 pick needs no ornamentation. Anyway, that's all I've got for now. Which leaves the field wide open, and Baseball-Reference.com's draft information is dynamite if you want to give this a crack.

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