THE NUMBER of variables involved in Major League Baseball's annual draft is such that the possibility of concocting an accurate generalization of The Way To Do Things is roughly nil. Draft order, market size, pick forfeiture, and, oh yeah, the fact that the rules completely changed a couple of years ago with the signing of a new collective bargaining agreement. Browse through all of the data you want. There is no easy empiricism to employ when attempting to identify the secret to a successful draft.
So let's start with what we know:
1) The Cardinals have had plenty of success with their drafts over the last half decade or so.
2) The Phillies have not.
You can reject those premises if you wish, but good luck finding a better explanation for the disparity between the two franchises in question. Both have been to two World Series while winning one since 2008. Both have an NLCS loss and an NLDS loss in that time frame. Yet one of those franchises entered yesterday five games above .500, and the other entered it four games below. One is working on its seventh straight winning season. The other hasn't had a winning season since 2011.
The composition of each team is a testament to their performance in the draft. Of the nine Cardinals position players with 100+ plate appearances, five were drafted by the team since 2006. Three of their top four starters were drafted since 2009. Three of their top six relievers were drafted since 2008.
You probably don't need a rundown of the Phillies' situation, but we'll give it to you anyway. The lineup: Domonic Brown (2006) and Cody Asche (2009). The rotation: Crickets. The bullpen: Jake Diekman, Mario Hollands and Justin De Fratus have all been drafted since 2007. Of course, the Phillies' bullpen has the third-worst ERA in the National League, while the Cardinals' bullpen boasts the third-best.
Two more known quantities:
1) Since 2008, the Cardinals have selected 175 players out of 4-year colleges, compared with 69 out of high school.
2) During that same time period, the Phillies have selected 128 players out of 4-year colleges and 124 out of high school.
We refer you back to the disclaimer at the top. It is hard to generalize. So just take it as the kids say it, and let it be what it is. The Cardinals: good drafts. The Phillies: bad drafts. One difference: a college-to-high school ratio of over 2-to-1 vs. a college-to-high school ratio of 1-to-1. The draft is a crapshoot, but it helps when you are shooting at the right kind of crap.
College kids, all: Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Manness, Joe Kelly.
There are exceptions, but not many. Shelby Miller was a high school pick. So was Jaime Garcia. Yadier Molina was a high school pick well before our stated window. But the blueprint for the Cardinals has been pretty clear, particularly on the pitching end of things.
Another cherry-picked stat that may or may not mean something: Since 2006, in the first five rounds, the Cardinals have used 20 of their 53 picks on pitchers from 4-year colleges. During that same time period, the Phillies spent just eight of their 49 picks in the first five rounds on college pitchers. No team in the majors selected college pitchers less frequently during that time span.
We bring all of this up because, while the Phillies have the seventh overall pick in next week's draft, and while the seventh pick is the place where Prince Fielder, Nick Markakis, Homer Bailey, Troy Tulowitzki, Clayton Kershaw, Mike Minor and Matt Harvey went between 2002-10, the organization desperately needs to inject some power arms into its system, and scouting director Marti Wolever happens to think that this draft is deep with college power arms.
"We've seen a lot of kids this year with a lot of velocity," Wolever said. "I think we're going to get velocity, even third/fourth round, there are kids that throw very hard. If the command of the fastball is going to be an issue, that's why they might slide. But there's a lot of velocity, and there's a lot of good college pitching."
This is a pivotal year for the future of the Phillies franchise, and everybody around here seems to understand it. They can't afford to miss on No. 7, and they better find some arms later on, too.
From 2004-06, the Cardinals won three straight division titles, two National League titles, and one World Series. In 2007, they went 78-84. But in the 2008 and 2009 drafts, they landed Lynn, Miller, Kelly, Carpenter, Rosenthal and Adams.
Again, any adjudication of draft strategy requires more than 900 words in a newspaper. So just leave it at this: A successful franchise seems to have favored one kind of player in recent drafts, while an unsuccessful one seems to have favored another. Maybe the difference is the scouting of those preferred types. Or maybe the blueprint needs to change.