Why the Angels Didn’t Select a Single Position Player in the MLB Draft
Pitchers, pitchers, pitchers, all the way down
We’re through the All Star Break, and the average MLB batting average this year is sitting at .240. According to Baseball Reference, that’s the lowest league-wide average since 1968 (.237), which was known as the “Year of the Pitcher,” and before that, 1908 (.239), which was smack dab in the middle of the sport’s infamous “dead ball era.”
There’s been some evidence that Commissioner Rob Manfred’s crackdown on “sticky stuff” is working — bating averages jumped seven points in June, while on-base and slugging percentages also climbed — but it’s clear that MLB at-large has an offense problem. Pitchers (especially high-velocity, single-situation relievers) have gotten too good, while hitting a round ball with a round bat hasn’t gotten any easier.
All of which makes it truly astonishing that the Los Angeles Angels just completed the 2021 MLB Draft without drafting a single hitter. That’s right. The franchise selected 20 pitchers in 20 rounds. It’s the second time a team has drafted only pitchers, but the previous instance (the Miami Marlins last year, in a shortened, five-round draft) hardly counts. The Angels drafted 19 college pitchers and one high school pitcher; their top choice was right-hander Sam Bachman from the University of Miami.
What’s the rationale here? Well, the team’s current arsenal of arms is pretty bad. They rank 26th in the league in ERA (4.90), which is right around where they finish each year. And when their bullpen implodes, it really implodes, with over 10 games of nine or more runs allowed in just the first half.
The staff does happen to have an ace who just started the All Star Game for the American League, but his name is Shohei Ohtani and he’s a two-way star on track to become this year’s Home Run King. The entire baseball world would love that story to continue for many years, but general manager Perry Minasian can’t pin all his pitching hopes on the wing of Ohtani.
The good news: in this anemic offensive era, the Angels actually shake out okay. They’ve got Ohtani, Mike Trout (who was hunting for an MVP trophy before he strained his calf), and a lineup that ranks near the top five in every relevant statical category. So even if drafting only pitchers seems dramatic, it does make some sense. The front office would rather fill its coffers with lively arms that can capitalize on this new, pitcher-dominant epoch, than draft replacements to an already-potent troupe of position players.
Still, there is no guarantee the move will pay off. Twenty pitchers may sound like a lot, but research has shown that just 17.6% of drafted players actually make it to the majors. Seriously. The minors is a long, unromantic, uncertain slog. While it’s rare for a first-round draft pick to not speed though a farm system, early-round selections with fantastic scouting reports routinely get “stuck” in systems for years, and the majority of later-round picks (which would comprise most of those Angels selections) never make it out at all.
Still, you only need five men for a rotation, and about seven or eight to fill out a bullpen. And that pool includes existing starters, free agent arrivals, deadline trade targets, international bonus pool signings, and every previous draft combined. It could take a while, but at some point, down the line, the Angels will stop giving up more runs than they score. And that’s a pretty good recipe for winning baseball games.
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