Friday, November 14, 2003
Mailbag (Mr. Clutch Edition)It has taken a little longer to arrive than it should have, but the mailbag entry about "Mr. Clutch" that I have been promising is finally here.
For those of you who missed my two-part series on Derek Jeter from last month (or for those of you who read it but have forgotten what you read), here are the links to the original entries:
"Derek is really, really cute"
"Derek is really, really cute" (Part Two)
And here's a little sample, just to get you in the mood:
"In his entire post-season career, a total of 99 games spread over eight seasons, Derek Jeter is a .210/.355/.306 hitter with runners in scoring position and a .245/.345/.329 hitter with men on base. Take that and add in the fact that, over the last four post-seasons, he is a .176/.263/.323 hitter in "close and late" situations, and I think it is safe to say that my sarcastic response to Jeter constantly being hailed as "Mr. Clutch" is completely justified."As is the case with anything involving Derek Jeter, this topic generated a ton of reader response. Here are a few of those responses...
"The key point about Jeter is this: he is a good hitter and has 99 games in the post-season. As a good hitter, naturally some of his good plays will come up in key situations. But he is no better in those situations than he is normally, and perhaps even worse. Most sports fans remember the good plays and forget the bad.I think Greg makes an excellent point. If at some point in time people get it in their heads that a player is somehow a "Clutch" performer and that player has an opportunity to play a ton of post-season games, like Jeter has, there are inevitably going to be lots of instances in which the player is going to perform well in important situations
Even if you hit just .245 with men on base in the post-season (like Jeter has), that still means you are getting a hit in 24.5% of those at bats. And if a fan (or announcer) goes into a situation thinking that a player is Clutch, then when one of those 24.5% of the at bats occurs, it simply re-enforces their incorrect perception.
In other words, when Jeter goes 0-4 and leaves three men on base in the late innings or hits .150 during a series, it goes unnoticed. When Jeter goes 2-4 with a homer or wins a game with a single in the bottom of the ninth, it is viewed as more "evidence" of his Clutchness. You go through 99 games of that and I can see where someone gets a completely undeserved reputation.
"Thanks for the great articles on Jeter. Who knew that all this time Jeter was just a big choker!"I got quite a few emails along these lines, essentially saying that now, instead of being "Mr. Clutch," many people think Jeter is "Mr. Choke."
I have to say this was not my intention, although a lot of people (specifically Yankee fans) seem to think that because I showed Jeter's actual numbers and commented that they weren't particularly Clutch, I must be trying to say he "chokes" in important situations.
I said no such thing. My only point in all of this was to show that what you hear over and over and over again from the likes of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver during every Yankees post-season game is not always something that you should take to be 100% fact. If a simple glance at Retrosheet.org and ESPN.com can reveal actual numbers that contradict essentially the main thing McCarver and Buck say about someone, imagine what types of inaccuracies we could unearth with some serious research.
Don't always believe what you read or hear, whether that stuff is coming from Tim McCarver or from Aaron Gleeman. To quote W. Edwards Deming: "In God we trust, all others must bring data."
"Your column about people's unwillingness to believe what statistics tell them was interesting and probably describes about 99% of the people out there. In my experience, even those who do focus on numbers tend to look at the ones they're familiar with and comfortable with - not those that best describe what they're trying to understand. Most of these people (which include almost all my friends and family) will never be convinced that the opinions they hear from the broadcasters and other talking heads might be wrong, and you can go crazy trying to show them evidence to convince them."For those of you who didn't read Part Two of the Jeter article, in it I quoted a few people on a Yankees message board, responding to Part One of the article. It's a pretty interesting read, to say the least. In short, many of them were willing to completely dismiss Jeter's actual numbers, just because they didn't fit their long-held perception of him.
It's certainly frustrating when you run into people like that and I have to say that in having a website that often discusses baseball in statistical terms, I run into them quite often. There is nothing worse than making what you think is a very well thought out argument, based on actual evidence and numbers and such, only to have the person on the other end say something like "That's just what the numbers say" or "I watch the games, not the numbers." It's frustrating, but what can you do?
It takes a special kind of fan to be able to look at Derek Jeter's actual post-season numbers and still hold the opinion that he is "Mr. Clutch." And I am sure there are times in all of our lives that we have been "guilty" of being that sort of fan. Sometimes the truth hurts.
"I'm a huge Jeter fan, he's my favorite player, but I realize the flaws in his game and take him for what he actually is, not what the perception is and I really appreciate your columns over the last few days."Ah, this is the type of response I liked the best. Not someone who says "who cares about the stats, Jeter is Clutch!" and not someone who says "Jeter sucks!" Just a Yankee fan who is able to recognize that his favorite player is both far from perfect and still very good.
To the many of you who sent me emails about Jeter that I didn't include in the mailbag, I'm sorry. One of the few downsides to having what is a fairly popular website is that I get a ton of reader emails, often far too many for me to respond to individually. I got more emails on this subject than just about anything I can remember writing about in the past and I tried to pick a few good ones for the mailbag, but I certainly got many more that were deserving of attention as well. Rest assured though, I read every single email I get, so if you've ever got something to say, whether it is about Derek Jeter or anything else on this blog, I'd love to hear from you.
See ya Monday...
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Thursday, November 13, 2003
News and notes (in need of a good name)I think it's time for another bit of Aaron's Baseball Blog reader participation. On occasion, I do an entry that basically features a whole bunch of relatively short (for me, at least) comments on various stories around baseball.
I've titled these entries "Deep Thoughts" and "News and notes" and similar things in the past, but it seems like I should come up with one concrete name to use every time. Good names like "Around the Majors" are already snatched up and "News and notes," while good, is much too boring. I sort of like "Deep Thoughts" and, while that's not really taken by anything or anyone else in the baseball world, it isn't exactly an original idea.
So, I turn to you, my loyal readers. What should something like today's entry be called in the future? Email me any and all suggestions.
Oh, and speaking of reader participation, long-time readers of Aaron's Baseball Blog may remember the "1st Annual Aaron's Baseball Blog Pre-Season Predictions Contest" from way back in late February and early March. Fear not, I have everyone's predictions stored somewhere on this computer and at some point I will calculate the winners and losers and post them for all to look at. But, the way I have all the entries (basically just lists emailed to me) makes it a very long process involving re-reading each email and hand-counting all the points for each set of predictions. But don't worry, it's a long off-season and I will get motivated to sit down and get it done at some point (I think).
Now, onto the news and notes for which a better name is hopefully forthcoming...
Rookie of the Year reflux
Yesterday I criticized a local writer, Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, for ignoring the voting criteria set forth by Major League Baseball when he filled out his AL Rookie of the Year ballot. Souhan responded to such criticism with a column in yesterday's paper. As I said yesterday, I enjoy Souhan's work and I generally find him to be very good at his job, but I think his actions were completely uncalled for and I think his response makes very little sense, if any.
Rather than quote from it, here's the link, so you can judge for yourself:
Baseball Insider: Steinbrenner ire affirms writer's vote
Souhan's main premise seems to be that George Steinbrenner getting angry at him validates his decision to ignore the rules. I find that idea to be extremely illogical and quite frankly nothing more than a cop-out. Like I said, read the article and see for yourself.
Over on the NL side of things, I have yet to see a response from any of the seven voters who left Brandon Webb completely off their ballot. I'm not quite sure what the worse offense is, purposely ignoring the rules like Souhan did or being so out of touch with reality that you leave someone like Webb off the ballot.
Roy Halladay won the AL Cy Young in a landslide on Tuesday and Jack McKeon and Tony Pena were announced as the Manager of the Year winners yesterday. I have no problem whatsoever with Halladay winning, although he is not the guy I would have voted for. To me, the top AL pitchers this year were extremely close and a decent argument could be made in favor of no less than four guys.
I looked at the complete voting results and noticed that someone gave Johan Santana a completely undeserved third-place vote. Johan is and always will be The Official Pitcher of Aaron's Baseball Blog and you all know I am a bigger supporter of his than probably most of his actual family, but there's just no way he was the third-best pitcher in the AL this season. It did make me smile though.
As for the Manager of the Year, I honestly couldn't care less. McKeon and Pena are certainly fine choices. In general though, it strikes me as a fairly silly award, mostly because it is essentially given to the manager of whichever team surprises people the most each year. Now, in some cases, that is the same manager who was the best manager that year. In other cases, managers from good teams who were expected to have good seasons and did have good seasons are also worthy. In other words, just because a team was expected to be good before the season started shouldn't preclude that team's manager from contention, and it seems to me that that's exactly what happens every year.
Plus, really, how can you judge a manager's performance with any sort of accuracy? I wouldn't even know where to begin. A team's record? A team's record compared to the payroll? A team's record compared to the previous year? Who knows. I think there is enough trouble trying to judge players, and we have incredibly detailed stats telling us exactly what they did the entire year.
I do think it's a little ridiculous that someone like Bobby Cox, who has managed the Atlanta Braves to 12 straight trips to the post-season, has exactly one Manager of the Year award during that time, and he got that one in the very first of those 12 seasons, 1991.
Trade winds blowing in New York
There are about 100 different trade rumors flying around right now and many of them involve the Yankees dealing either Alfonso Soriano or Nick Johnson, and maybe even both.
I heard they might be sent away in a deal that gets New York Curt Schilling or Jim Edmonds or Carlos Beltran. If/when any of these deals actually become reality, I will obviously have a whole lot more to say about the issue, but my first reaction to this news is that the Yankees will be making a big mistake if they deal Johnson and Soriano.
The Yankees are currently constructed with what is a very old core of players. Mike Mussina is 34, Mariano Rivera is 33, Jorge Posada is 32, Bernie Williams is 35, Jason Giambi is 32. Even Derek Jeter turns 30 next year. The only real young players they have on the entire team right now are Soriano and Johnson, who are both just 25.
Playing with a payroll approaching $200 million will cure a lot of problems, but there is going to come a time when that aging core of veterans just isn't going to be able to get the job done any more. And while trading for Curt Schilling or even Jim Edmonds may be an okay move for the short-term, not having Nick Johnson and Soriano around in 3-4 years is going to come back to bite them in a big way.
I personally think that if Nick Johnson can find a way to stay healthy he is going to be become one of the elite offensive players in all of baseball. He has an incredible minor league track-record and his performance this year (.282/.422/.472 in 96 games) was great. He's a walking-machine and I can definitely see him adding some power in the near future. You just don't trade 25 year olds with .422 on-base percentages. Or at least I don't.
With Soriano, I get the feeling that he is catching a ton of unfair heat from Yankee fans across the country. Soriano has several big faults as a player and those things are being magnified more and more right now it seems. But something I have said numerous times on this blog is that a good evaluator of talent will look at a player and see what he can do, not what he can't. Alfonso Soriano won't take a walk to save his life at this point and his defense at second base leaves an awful lot to be desired. At the same time, he's a 25 year old who has hit 77 homers over the last two years while stealing 76 bases.
Even with his complete lack of walks, his on-base percentage over the last two years is still slightly above league-average and he has been one of the best offensive second basemen in baseball. He's got some very noticeable faults, but so do a lot of great young players. I honestly don't see what the big need to trade him is.
I also read a rumor yesterday that the Texas Rangers have made it clear to other teams that they are willing to at least try to work out a deal for Alex Rodriguez.
I've heard both sides of the debate over whether or not Alex Rodriguez is worth trading for, despite his massive contract. I am of the belief that yes, he certainly is. Is $25 million too much to pay him every year? I think so. But this guy is probably going to go down as the one of the greatest players to ever play the sport and it's worth overpaying a little bit to get your hands on him.
The Rangers are often said to be hamstrung by Rodriguez's large salary. I say give me the best player in the league at $25 million a year and I'll find a way to surround him with a good team for whatever money there is left in the budget. In Texas' case, there was another $50 million or so to spend on ARod's teammates last year, which is more than enough. Or at least it should have been.
I would love to see Rodriguez get traded, if for no other reason than it might give him a chance to play on a team that might give him the opportunity to win. I think it would be great to see him go to the Red Sox and reel off six or eight straight playoff appearances. Then maybe the bullsh-- about him not being a "winning player" can be exposed as nothing more than mindless crap.
It'd be funny to see just how quickly all those MVP voters suddenly appreciate the "value" Rodriguez brings to a team when he's got some quality teammates around him.
The Periodic Table of Bloggers
If you follow the following link...
Periodic Table of Bloggers
...you'll notice that world-renowned baseball-poet "Score Bard" has put together a rather amusing page featuring a periodic table of elements with different blogs in place of all the actual elements.
You'll also notice Yours Truly is listed as "Ag" (it's at the top of the table, right in the middle). I actually had to look up what element I am (what can I say, I hate science). Turns out "Ag" is silver, which is pretty good, right?
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Wednesday, November 12, 2003
One big jokeWhile I was writing about high school basketball players going to the NBA, the American League and National League Rookie of the Year awards were handed out on Monday.
You may remember that I made my picks for both Rookie of the Year awards back in late September, before the playoffs started. I also made my picks for AL and NL Cy Young and AL and NL MVP.
At the time, I had the following to say about my six selections:
"I have a hunch that none of those six guys will end up winning the actual award. Of course I could be wrong and I certainly hope so, but I would bet that, at most, two of those six guys will win."When I saw the announcement for the AL Rookie of the Year, I was pleasantly surprised. The winner, Kansas City shortstop Angel Berroa, is the same guy I chose as my pick. In fact, the top-three of Berroa, followed by Hideki Matsui and Rocco Baldelli, is the exact same top-three that I had on my "ballot."
In that sense, I am obviously pleased with the overall result of the AL voting. What I am not pleased with is the reason for that voting. According to ESPN.com, two voters left Hideki Matsui completely off the ballot, simply because they did not feel Japanese League veterans should be eligible for the award.
While that is a defensible opinion (although one I find flawed and personally disagree with), I do not believe the action of not voting for Matsui because of that reason is proper at all. The baseball writers who vote for these awards are asked to chose the player that deserves to be honored, by following the guidelines issued by Major League Baseball. In this case, those guidelines make it very clear that someone like Hideki Matsui (or Ichiro! or Kaz Sasaki before him) are 100% eligible for the award and should be considered just the same as any other rookie.
Yet, two writers took it upon themselves to go against the guidelines and decide to make up their own rules. Like I said, I don't particularly have a problem with someone thinking Matsui shouldn't be eligible. But since he is eligible, I have a huge problem with someone disregarding that because of their personal opinion.
If you don't think Japanese League veterans should be eligible, make an effort to change the rule. Don't simply do nothing and then ignore it.
One of the two writers who left Matsui off the ballot is Jim Souhan, a writer for the newspaper I read the most, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. I actually like Jim's writing quite a bit and I think he does a better job than a tremendous number of other baseball writers across the country, but I'm severely disappointed in his actions here.
Also, as much as it pains me to say this, I am in agreement with George Steinbrenner, whom I actually think put it the best, when he said the following yesterday:
"Two misguided writers -- Bill Ballou from the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune -- in voting for American League Rookie of the Year, clearly made up their own rules to determine who was and was not eligible for the award and disqualified an eligible candidate who could have won."Of course, I suppose it would have been just as easy for them to say that they didn't vote for Matsui because they didn't think he deserved the award, on the basis of his play. And I guess I respect them for being honest about their motivation, but that doesn't make what they did any less wrong.
In a situation where a major award is being handed out on the basis of a very limited number of votes being cast (in this case, 28), there simply can't be 26 people following one set of guidelines and two others going by their own rules. It undermines the entire point of the award and basically turns the entire process into one big joke.
[Update: Souhan responded to Steinbrenner's criticism in today's paper and there is a thread started over at BaseballPrimer.com where you can read the article and discuss it]
Over in the other league, there wasn't really a controversy in the voting, other than the fact that the wrong guy got the award. I went into this in some detail a while back, so I won't repeat everything I said, but I think it is clear to anyone who looks at actual performance and not simply a player's hype and who the best "story" is that Dontrelle Willis was in no way the best rookie in the National League this season.
Here's a little of what I said about the issue, way back in September:
"I am almost certain that, when the actual voting is done, Dontrelle Willis will win the 2003 NL Rookie of the Year award. And I am even more certain that he doesn't deserve it."I then went into all of their numbers from this year, showing how Brandon Webb had a huge advantage in just about everything, except for wins and hype. Webb was better in innings pitched, ERA, strikeouts, strikeout/walk ratio, homers, opponent batting average - you name it. And he did all that while pitching in a severe hitter's ballpark, while Willis did his pitching in a severe pitcher's ballpark.
After examining all of that, I came to the following conclusion:
"I don't want to say something overly dramatic, like "anyone who votes for Dontrelle Willis over Brandon Webb should have their voting privileges taken away," but that's essentially how I feel. This is not a close contest and if a person can't see that Brandon Webb has been better than Dontrelle Willis this season, it is ridiculous to think that that person actually plays a part in determining which baseball players win awards every year."Sadly, I was right about Willis winning and, not only didn't Webb win, it wasn't even particularly close. Willis got 17 first-place votes, compared to just seven for Webb. And, in fact, seven different voters left Brandon Webb completely off the ballot, which is utterly ridiculous.
The fact the people paid to report on baseball and vote on baseball's biggest awards are unable to see what anyone willing to spend any sort of time and effort in examining the seasons of players can easily see is fairly despicable, in my opinion. Any person who calls themselves a "baseball writer" and is willing to take part in voting for baseball's awards should be ashamed of themselves if they sent in a ballot without Brandon Webb's name on it.
As every year passes, I become more and more disinterested in baseball's "official" awards. The people in charge of voting constantly disappoint me and make decisions that I feel are without logical reasoning or any sort of thought and effort. And the sad thing is that in 50 years, people are going to look back on these things and see stuff like Dontrelle Willis winning the award and Brandon Webb finishing a distant third in the voting, and they aren't going to realize just how ridiculous the entire thing is.
Not only was Willis rewarded with something he in no way deserves and not only was Brandon Webb completely shafted, there were actually two writers who gave third-place votes to Jeriome Robertson of the Astros, who finished the year with a 5.10 ERA in 160.2 innings pitched. And there was another voter who gave a third-place vote to Ty Wigginton of the Mets, who hit .255/.318/.396 this season.
If you want to give the award to someone who doesn't deserve it, that is one thing. But you mean to tell me that there are seven professional baseball writers out there who honestly don't think Brandon Webb was one of the top three rookies in the NL this season? That is going into a whole nother level of ridiculousness. When you add in the votes for people like Robertson and Wigginton, I just don't see how you can call this entire process anything other than idiotic and bordering on completely useless.
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Tuesday, November 11, 2003
Straight into the pros (Part Two)
I'm draftin 'em outta high school straight into the pros
--- Nelly, E.I.While this is and will remain almost solely a baseball website, there are occasionally other topics in the world of sports that interest me. So today, with all apologies to those of you only interested in baseball, I would like to discuss one of those topics...
In yesterday's entry, I discussed Kevin Garnett and his role as the guinea pig for an entire generation of basketball players. I also looked at the early development of the three players (Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O'Neal) who followed Garnett by going from high school straight to the NBA in the two years after Garnett was the first player to do so in two decades.
Here's a little bit from yesterday:
"Of the first four high school draft picks of this era, all four of them were All-Stars by 23 years old and, although the oldest of the four is just 27 right now, three of them are among the elite handful of players in the NBA and all four of them are among the top two-dozen players in basketball.Today I would like to take up right where I left off yesterday and look at the more recent high school draftees to see how their development is going...
The 1998 draft featured something "different" in regard to high school players. Garnett started the trend by being the #5 pick in the 1995 draft and Bryant, McGrady and O'Neal followed by all being selected in the top 20 picks of their respective drafts. But in 1998, three high school players were drafted, one at the very end of the first round, one not until several picks into round two, and one with the 40th pick of the draft.
This new development showed, I think, two main things. First, the fact that three high school players were drafted in the same year showed that it had become more common, more acceptable to make the jump. Second, and perhaps related to the first point, the players making the jump were no longer the very elite, the cream of the high school crop. It took a special, once-in-a-lifetime player like Garnett to start the trend, but by 1998 simply being a great high school player was good enough. In that sense, I think the 1998 draft was an important development in the history of high school draft picks.
Al Harrington | #25 (1998)
AGE G GS MPG PPG RPG APG BPG SPGAl Harrington's development is a little bit slow when compared to Garnett, Bryant, McGrady and O'Neal (a group that will be referred to as "The Big Four" from here on out). Harrington's first season in the NBA was very much like O'Neal's, in that he barely played and was essentially a mop-up player. He saw his minutes per game more than double in his second season when played 17.1 per game, more than O'Neal played in his second year and slightly fewer than McGrady in his. Of course, by his second year, Garnett was an All-Star.
In his third year, Harrington appeared to have made the first jump, which is moving into a part-time starting role. He started 38 of the 78 games he played and averaged 24.3 minutes per game. This is a jump Garnett made midway through his rookie season and that McGrady experienced in his third season, just like Harrington.
But unlike The Big Four, Harrington has yet to make the second jump, which is moving into the role of a full-time starter. After starting those 38 games in 2000-2001, Harrington started just one of the 44 games he played the next season. Last year he was again in the role of part-time starter, getting a start in 37 games. But now this season, Harrington has come off the bench for all seven games he has played.
Harrington is in a similar situation to the one Jermaine O'Neal found himself in while with Portland (which I discussed yesterday). The Pacers are a very good and very deep team and it is simply hard for Harrington to move ahead of guys like Ron Artest and Reggie Miller on the depth-chart. I suspect at some point very soon Miller, who is 38 years old and averaging just 8.8 points per game, will step aside and Harrington will get his spot in the starting lineup.
Despite not getting tabbed as a starter yet, Harrington has been a solid contributor to the Pacers during the past few years. Counting this season, he has averaged 29.8, 30.1 and 29.7 minutes per game, while scoring 13.1, 12.2 and 12.7 points per contest. He struggles at times with his outside shooting, but he's extremely athletic, he is a good scorer and his rebounding and defense are vastly improved from his early days. Oh, and he's still just 23 years old.
While it doesn't look like he is going to follow in the footsteps of The Big Four and become an All-Star by 23, I do think Harrington has a good chance of being an All-Star player soon after he is given a starting job. In the 37 games he started last year he averaged 14 points and 7 rebounds in 33.4 minutes.
Rashard Lewis | #32 (1998)
AGE G GS MPG PPG RPG APG BPG SPGRashard Lewis' draft-day experience was not a good one. He was invited to attend the draft in person, an honor usually reserved only for those players guaranteed of being selected within the first half or so of the first round. Lewis sat in the "green room" as pick after pick after pick was announced, all dressed up in a brand new suit, with his family by his side.
The top 10. The top 15. The top 20. The top 25. They all came and went. As the first round came to a close and most of the night's storylines were already played out, TNT's cameras seemed to all focus on a distraught Lewis waiting - praying - for his name to be called. It finally was, although not until several picks into the second round.
As was the case with Jermaine O'Neal's lack of playing time in Portland, many critics of high school draftees jumped all over Lewis' late selection, using it as "evidence" against high school players going to the NBA. At the time, that seemed logical because, after all, Lewis had come into the draft expecting guaranteed millions and was leaving with a lot of embarrassment and a non-guaranteed contract that is standard operating procedure in round two.
Whatever sense that criticism made then is completely gone, however. Lewis joined the Seattle Supersonics and his development has been what I think many basketball experts would call a perfect one. He played sparingly in his first season, averaging just 7.3 minutes per game. After learning the ropes a little, he became a key bench player for Seattle in his second year, averaging 19.2 minutes and 8.2 points per game, while getting eight starts along the way. Then, in his third season, he made the leap into the starting lineup and responded by scoring 14.8 points per game in 34.9 minutes.
Lewis went from disappointed second round pick to mop-up man to bench contributor to starter, all within three years. And he was a legit NBA starter at 21 years old. Lewis has been one of Seattle's best players over the past three seasons and he dropped 50 points on the Clippers in his second game this season. After making the first jump, the one into the starting lineup, several years ago, Lewis appears ready to make the second jump, the one The Big Four have all made. I wouldn't be surprised if he was an All-Star this season, at the age of 24. And I also wouldn't be surprised if he went down as one of the best second round picks in NBA history.
Korleone Young | #40 (1998)
AGE G GS MPG PPG RPG APG BPG SPGKorleone Young is the first true "bust" among this generation of high school draftees. After a standout career at Hargrave Military Academy, Young bypassed college and declared for the NBA draft, to the surprise of most. He was a great high school player (USA Today and McDonald's First-Team All-American), but the general feeling was that he was not up to the standards of Harrington and Lewis, let alone The Big Four.
I did a little digging around the internet researching this subject and found a couple of "mock drafts" written prior to the 1998 draft.
In Jackie MacMullan's (of CNN-Sports Illustrated), she projects the entire first round of the draft, assigning players for all 29 picks. Korleone Young's name is nowhere to be found.
Bob Hill (also of CNN-Sports Illustrated) similarly projects the entire first round without once mentioning Young's name.
I also found a scouting-report on Korleone Young, which was published in USA Today, prior to the draft:
"Early entry candidate for draft from high school. USA TODAY first-team All-American after averaging 30.3 points and 11.4 rebounds per game for Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia. Spent first three seasons at Wichita East HS. Totaled 2,092 points and 1,177 rebounds in high school career. Probably not ready for the NBA and is not expected to be taken in the first round. Questions about offensive ability were only enhanced after a mediocre effort in the NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Chicago. Would be better served by going to college and may be out of the league shortly."The key sentences there obviously being, "Probably not ready for the NBA and is not expected to be taken in the first round" and "Would be better served by going to college and may be out of the league shortly."
I would say the writing was on the wall for Young and that scouting-report was right on the money. And, of course, failure by a #40 pick is certainly nothing out of the ordinary.
The players drafted in the years following Harrington, Lewis and Young in 1998 are, at most, 22 years old, and many of them are younger than that. As you can see by looking at the early stages of the careers of the high school draftees from 1995-1998, it is often pointless to try to make judgments on a high school player that early in his career.
Keeping that in mind, let's take a look anyway, and maybe try to find some similarities between the more recent high school draftees and some of the guys from the first wave.
Jonathan Bender | #5 (1999)
AGE G GS MPG PPG RPG APG BPG SPGThe Pacers liked drafting a high school player in 1998 so much that they went and got themselves another one the next year. At the time, I remember Jonathan Bender being called "The Next Kevin Garnett" over and over again. And certainly the physical similarities are there. Like Garnett, Bender is a lanky seven-footer who can handle the basketball, he has good range on his jump-shot and he can play just about any position on the court.
Unlike Garnett, Bender was not given significant playing-time in his first few seasons. He spent the first two years at the end of the bench and has been a solid contributor while still coming off the bench during the last two years. Last year he averaged 17.8 minutes and 6.6 points per game.
Bender has yet to play this season because of a knee injury, although he is supposed to be due back very soon. When he does return, he faces the same problem Harrington has, which is moving ahead of the veterans on Indiana's depth-chart. Bender's best two positions are almost certainly small forward and power forward, but those two starting spots are currently held down by Ron Artest and Jermaine O'Neal. Incidentally, the Pacers lead the NBA in high school draftees with three, and I would love to get a chance to talk to Donnie Walsh, the man responsible for acquiring all three of them, about his thoughts on high school players going to the NBA.
Leon Smith | #29 (1999)
AGE G GS MPG PPG RPG APG BPG SPGLeon Smith joins Korleone Young as one of the few official busts among high school draftees. Like Young, Smith was not projected by many to be chosen in the first round, but the Dallas Mavericks traded up to grab him with the last pick in first round, #29 overall.
From there, Smith's story gets a little strange. From what I remember, Smith showed up at a Mavs training facility wearing army fatigues and camouflage paint on his face. I believe there were some other incidents, including a screaming match with Mavs coach Don Nelson, and Smith was later diagnosed as having some mental problems.
He was let go by the Mavericks before he ever played a single minute for them and later ended up playing in the CBA. He did very well there, averaging 18 points and 15 rebounds in 19 games, and then signed with the Atlanta Hawks. He played 14 games with Atlanta in 2001-02, averaging 7.1 minutes per game. Then he was involved in the trade that sent Toni Kukoc from Atlanta to Milwaukee for Glenn Robinson. I am not quite sure where Smith is now, but I do know he isn't a member of the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Leon Smith saga is a very sad one and I suspect he was just about the worst person in the world to attempt to go to the NBA straight out of high school.
Darius Miles | #3 (2000)
AGE G GS MPG PPG RPG APG BPG SPG
Darius Miles is similar to Tracy McGrady (and somewhat similar to Jermaine O'Neal), in that he had to find a second NBA team before he was given a chance to be a full-time starter. After two years with the Clippers in which he played 26.3 and 27.2 minutes per game but started a total of only 27 games, Miles was dealt to Cleveland. He started 62 games for the Cavs last year, although his minutes per game and overall production were basically the same as they had been in Los Angeles.
I am a big fan of Darius Miles and I have defended him various places when people talk about him as a disappointment. To me, he is one of the most intriguing players in basketball, because he can truly play any position on the floor and his athleticism in unmatched. The big problem with Miles and the thing that is keeping him from taking the next step as a player, is that he has absolutely zero outside jumper. The man can't shoot to save his life at this point. Despite playing quite a bit of shooting guard and small forward (and even some point guard this year with the Cavs), Miles is 5-60 (12.5%) on three-pointers during his career.
If he can ever learn to shoot - and at this point that's a pretty big if - I truly believe he can become an elite NBA player. The main point I try to make to those who are ready to give up on Miles is that he turned 22 years old last month. Sure, he may been rough around the edges, but can you imagine if he was this good and he had just come out of college? And really, the same point can be made for any high school draftee who struggles. Even if a guy is a mediocre player with tons of weaknesses for his first four or five years in the league, he is still just 22 or 23 years old at that point, an age at which they'd be in the first or second NBA season if they had gone to college.
DeShawn Stevenson | #23 (2000)
AGE G GS MPG PPG RPG APG BPG SPGAfter Miles went #3 in the 2000 draft, DeShawn Stevenson went #23 to the last team I ever would have thought interested in taking a high school player, the Utah Jazz. I would have thought Utah would have been the last team in the league to draft a high school player, not only because they were a veteran team at the time, but also because their coach, Jerry Sloan, didn't seem like he'd be all that interested in having a 19-year old on the squad.
And actually, for the first few years, he wasn't all that interested. Stevenson played 7.3 minutes per game as a rookie and then 16.9 and 12.5 minutes per game in his second and third years. With Karl Malone and John Stockton gone and the franchise is a serious youth-movement, Jerry Sloan has given Stevenson a spot in the starting rotation and quite a bit of playing time in the early going this year.
Through six games (all starts), Stevenson is averaging 13.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in 29.7 minutes. Like many of his fellow high school draftees, Stevenson is extremely athletic but he lacks shooting range. This is even more of an issue with him because, unlike Miles, he doesn't have the ability to play an inside position. For his career he is 8-54 (14.8%) on three-pointers, which works out to one made three for every 295.6 minutes he has been on the court.
There is no doubt that he is on his way to becoming a good player however, and he'll be a big part of Utah's next good team.
Kwame Brown, #1 in 2001
Tyson Chandler, #2 in 2001
Eddy Curry, #4 in 2001
DeSagana Diop, #8 in 2001
Amare Stoudemire, #9 in 2002
LeBron James, #1 in 2003
Travis Outlaw, #23 in 2003
Nbudi Ebi, #26 in 2003
Kendrick Perkins, #27 in 2003
James Lang, #48 in 2003
That's the group of high schoolers who have been picked during the last three drafts. 2001 was an important development in this area, because high school players made up three of the first four picks in the entire draft, and four of the first eight.
Kwame Brown, the #1 pick that year, has taken a ton of heat about his lack of development, but I think anyone who has any sort of knowledge about the career-paths of the high school draftees that have come before him knows it is far too early to pass judgment on him. Brown played very sparingly in his first two years in the league and is only now getting a chance to start, in his third season. I still think he has a very good chance of becoming a star.
After Brown, the Bulls got a hold of two high schoolers, Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry. Those two big men are the frontline of the present and of the future for Chicago, and both of them are playing a lot this season.
Chandler has missed some time with a back injury, but he is averaging 31.8 minutes per game and has given the Bulls 12.8 points, 13.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per. Curry is averaging 29.0 minutes per game and has scored 12.0 points per contest, while blocking 1.9 shots.
Chandler is a much more polished player than Curry, and while I think they are both going to become stars, I really like Chandler's future. I think he could be the next high school draftee to make "The Jump."
DeSagana Diop is a guy I saw play live in high school and I wasn't even really impressed with him then. He's a huge guy (7'0" and over 300 lbs.) but he didn't really have any discernible skills back then, other than his height and strength. He really still doesn't, but he's turned himself into a quality backup big man and has impressed the Cavs with his shot-blocking this season.
Amare Stoudemire's debut last season is currently the best rookie year ever by a high school draftee, although LeBron James is going to put an end to that this year. He is the first guy to have been a starter from essentially the very beginning of his career. He played "starter's minutes," he scored 13.5 points per game, he grabbed 8.7 rebounds per game, and he was named the NBA Rookie of the Year.
Among this year's high school draftees, only LeBron James is playing any sort of significant minutes, and he is playing extremely well. I don't think there is much doubt at all that he will be a great player very soon.
In examining these players, it strikes me as extremely impressive the amount of stars that have been drafted straight out of high school. Of the seven who have had what I would consider long enough time to develop as players, three of them are elite superstars (Garnett, Bryant, McGrady), another one is right on the cusp of that (O'Neal), and yet another is a borderline All-Star (Lewis). Also in that group is one flat-out bust (Young) and one player (Harrington) for whom the jury is definitely still out.
I think five great players, one "jury is still out" and one bust is one hell of a success-rate, considering just two of the seven were chosen in the top-10 and two others weren't even picked in the first round.
As for the more recent high school draftees, it's way too early to tell. I think LeBron James and Amare Stoudemire are just moments away from becoming full-fledged stars and I also think Chandler is getting close too. Curry and Miles also look very promising to me, and I'd say the jury is still out on the rest of them (aside from Smith, whom I think we can safely call another bust).
The next time you hear someone complain about a high school player, whether it is Kwame Brown or DeSagana Diop or someone else, just remind them that even guys like Tracy McGrady, Rashard Lewis and Jermaine O'Neal weren't looking all that great after just a few years in the NBA. It takes time, time to mature, time to develop NBA-skills and an NBA-body. Lucky, time is what most of these guys have plenty of. Kevin Garnett, the elder statesman of this fraternity, turned 27 years old this year.
I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a more successful "group" of players than the high school draftees. There is probably a good study to made out of this, comparing them to college seniors and juniors, etc., although they all need a few more years (or maybe a decade) before they can really be judged. Still, I don't think it is a stretch to say that within 3-4 years, the top 10-20 players in the NBA could include as many as 10 high school draftees and that's impressive, no matter what you think about 18 year olds playing professional basketball.
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Monday, November 10, 2003
Straight into the pros
I'm draftin 'em outta high school straight into the pros
--- Nelly, E.I.While this is and will remain almost solely a baseball website, there are occasionally other topics in the world of sports that interest me. So today, with all apologies to those of you only interested in baseball, I would like to discuss one of those topics...
Back in 1995, the Minnesota Timberwolves used the fifth overall selection in the NBA draft on a lanky high school player named Kevin Garnett. Garnett was the first high school player since 1975 to make the jump straight to the pros. Eight years later, that decision is, far and away, the best in the history of the (albeit short-lived) Minnesota franchise.
The Timberwolves were awarded an expansion team to start play in the 1989-1990 season. As all NBA expansion teams do, they struggled initially. They went 22-60 in their first year, improved to 29-53 in their second season and then dropped all the way to 15-67 in their third. And it didn't really get any better after that.
Overall, for the six seasons they played before Kevin Garnett was drafted, the Timberwolves went 126-366, for a miserable .256 winning percentage. They lost 60 games in five of those six seasons and had a franchise-best 29 wins in 1990-91.
Then Garnett was drafted, but Wolves coach Bill Blair didn't play him much. Blair was fired after the Wolves started the 1995-96 season 6-14, with Garnett serving as a backup forward. Flip Saunders took over as coach following the 20th game of the year and continued to keep Garnett out of the starting lineup. Through 40 games, Garnett had been a starter just one time, and the Wolves were 11-29 (.275).
Add those 40 games to Minnesota's previous six seasons and you get a total franchise record of 137-395, a .257 winning percentage.
At some point in late January of 1996, Saunders must have realized the season was over and decided that it was time to see what the kid could do. He started Garnett in the 41st game of the season, against the Denver Nuggets, and Garnett went just 2-6 for four points in 35 minutes, but grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked three shots.
The Timberwolves are now in the middle of the 2003-2004 season and, since that start against Denver, Garnett has played in 578 games for Minnesota and has started every single one of them.
During the 42 starts in a row that Garnett got in 1995-96, the Wolves went 15-27. That may not seem like much, and certainly it is a horrible record, but that .357 winning percentage would have been the best in Timberwolves franchise history at that point.
The very next season, with Garnett as their starting small forward, the Timberwolves, who had not won as many as even 30 games in their first seven seasons, made the playoffs. If they make the post-season this year, as expected, it will be their eighth consecutive season as a playoff team.
It is, in my opinion, undeniable the impact Kevin Garnett has had on the entire Minnesota franchise. When he was drafted, the team was an absolute mess. They had no future, they had no present, they had no past, they had no identity. He brought them from the laughing-stock of pro basketball to what is currently seven straight playoff appearances and his impact was almost immediate.
At just 27 years old, Garnett is already a six-time NBA All-Star, a four-time member of the NBA All-Defensive Team and a five-time member of either the first, second or third-team All-NBA.
His is the greatest thing to ever happen to the Minnesota Timberwolves, he is one of the most likeable, genuine, interesting and media-friendly players in the entire NBA and when his career over he will likely go down as one of the greatest players in NBA history. And yet there are many who feel as though he should never been have been allowed into the NBA out of high school.
I am not one of those people and you may not be one of them either, but trust me, they exist and you probably know some of them. As someone who has attempted to "argue" this issue with some of those people, let me be the first to tell you that no amount of logic or evidence of quality basketball players coming out of high school will ever sway their opinion. It's not quite at the level of those who refuse to believe Derek Jeter is something other than Mr. Clutch, but it's damn close.
So, in place of starting another argument with those people, I would like to take a look at the careers of the players who have gone straight to the NBA out of high school since Garnett did so in 1995.
I have already talked about what type of player Kevin Garnett has become, but I would like to look a little closer at the early stages of his career to see how he developed.
AGE G GS MPG PPG RPG APG BPG SPGGarnett became a starter in the second-half of his first NBA season, at age 19, and was an NBA All-Star the next year.
The speed of Garnett's development is absolutely amazing, whether you are talking about a high school draftee or a guy who played four seasons in college. He was a legitimate contributor from the very beginning of his first year and was the best player on the team and an All-Star in his second season. He hasn't looked back since and is now a top-five NBA player according to just about any expert you can find.
It may seem hard to believe right now, but Garnett making the jump to the NBA was a pretty big deal back in 1995. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated, which said, "Ready or Not...Three weeks ago Kevin Garnett went to his high school prom. Next week he'll be a top pick in the NBA draft."
I was only 13 years old then, but I remember reading that article and then watching the NBA draft to find out which team would take Garnett. His story intrigued me, his personality was interesting, and the fact that some kid five years older than I was would be playing in the NBA made my head spin. Much to my delight, Kevin McHale and the Timberwolves made the extremely bold and extremely brilliant decision to draft Garnett.
In essence, Garnett was like the guinea pig for an entire generation of basketball players. He not only tested waters that hadn't been tested for 20 years, he dove right in. He was a high first round pick, he experienced almost immediate success and he gained both national attention and some big endorsement deals.
Having seen the guinea pig and all the success he had, more high school players decided to make the same jump. After two decades without any high-schoolers going straight to the NBA, the very next season Kobe Bryant, out of Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, was the 13th pick in the draft. The year after that, Tracy McGrady, from Mount Zion Academy in North Carolina, went #9 overall, and Jermaine O'Neal, of Eau Claire High School in South Carolina, went 17th.
All four of those high school draftees are now veteran NBA players who have had sufficient time to develop. Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady are all among the ten best players in all of basketball right now and Jermaine O'Neal is a two-time All-Star and 2002-2003 All-NBA Third-Team member who could debatably be included in that top-10 as well.
It is absolutely amazing that in a group of four players, drafted over the course of three years, all of them would develop into All-Star players and three of them into consensus top-10 talents. And this is not a group of four #1 picks, these guys were drafted #5, #13, #9 and #17.
As we did with Garnett, let's take a look at the early development of Bryant, McGrady and O'Neal...
AGE G GS MPG PPG RPG APG BPG SPGBryant was brought along much more slowly than Garnett, in part because he joined a much better team. He played sparingly and off the bench as a rookie in 1996-97, continued to come off the bench but in a bigger role in 1997-98, and then became a full-time starter in 1998-99, at the age of 20.
Bryant was an All-Star in his second season, mostly because of his popularity with fans. However, like Garnett, he became a legitimate All-Star level player at 20 years old and in his first full-season as a starter.
Obviously everyone is aware of the more recent parts of Kobe's story. Strictly sticking to the "on-court" stuff, he has already won three NBA championships and was an All-NBA First-Team selection in each of the past two seasons. He turned 25 years old earlier this year.
AGE G GS MPG PPG RPG APG BPG SPGTracy McGrady's rookie year is actually somewhat similar to Garnett's, in that he was on the bench for much of the year but did become a starter for an extended period of time. He played slightly more minutes per game as a rookie than Bryant and scored 7.0 points per game.
McGrady's second season was the lockout-shortened 1998-99 campaign and, after starting 17 games in his rookie year, he started just two games. His minutes per game rose slightly, but he averaged fewer minutes per game in his second year than Bryant and significantly fewer than Garnett.
McGrady began to get "starter's minutes" in his third season, averaging 31.2 minutes per game while starting 34 of the 79 games he played. His scoring rose to 15.4 points per game and he was in the top-five in both the "Most Improved Player" and "Sixth Man of the Year" balloting.
McGrady left Toronto after his third NBA season, signing a long-term free agent deal with the Orlando Magic. In his first season in Orlando, he became a full-time starter for the first time in his career, averaged 26.8 points per game, was an All-Star for the first time, and was named to the All-NBA Second-Team.
Although McGrady's development was much slower than Garnett's and slightly slower than Bryant's, he also became an All-Star player the same year he became a full-time starter.
AGE G GS MPG PPG RPG APG BPG SPGUnlike Garnett, Bryant and McGrady, Jermaine O'Neal's playing time and production did not improve in each of his first three seasons. He played very sparingly as an 18-year old rookie in 1996-97, played just 13.5 minutes per game in his second season, and then saw his playing-time drop to just 8.9 minutes per game in his third year.
O'Neal was essentially a mop-up player for what was then a very deep Portland Trailblazers team and he stayed in that role for his fourth NBA season, playing just 12.3 minutes per game in 1999-2000. The reaction to Jermaine O'Neal's career through his first four NBA seasons was very different to the reaction that Garnett, Bryant and McGrady got.
While all three of those other guys got their fair share of criticism during their first few seasons, the general feeling on all of them seemed to be that they were showing a ton of potential and, although they may have been struggling at times, they were contributing and it was only a matter of time before they became good players.
O'Neal's situation was completely different. He was rarely used for anything more than a couple of minutes at a time and was viewed as a "bust" by many, and shown as an example of the downside to high school players going into the NBA.
Fortunately for O'Neal and unfortunately for Portland, the Trailblazers traded him to the Indiana Pacers for 31-year old veteran big-man Dale Davis. Davis stepped right into Portland's rotation and started 43 games the next year, averaging 7.2 points per game. Jermaine O'Neal went to Indiana and became a star.
O'Neal immediately became a full-time starter with the Pacers and played more minutes in his first year there than he had in his four seasons with Portland, combined. In 32.6 minutes per game, O'Neal averaged 13 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks.
He made his first All-Star appearance the next year and averaged 37.6 minutes, 19.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. He was voted the NBA's Most Improved Player and was named to the All-NBA Third-Team.
O'Neal's development was much slower than Garnett's, Bryant's and McGrady's, but that was in part because his first team was simply unwilling to give him significant playing-time. Immediately after he moved on to a different team and was given an opportunity to play 30+ minutes a game, he became an impact player. And he was an All-Star in his second full-season as a starter.
So, of the first four high school draft picks of this era, all four of them were All-Stars by 23 years old and, although the oldest of the four is just 27 right now, three of them are among the elite handful of players in the NBA and all four of them are among the top two-dozen players in basketball.
That is an absolutely amazing "success-rate" and I suspect it is a very large reason for why, in the years after these four were drafted, more and more high school players have made the jump to the NBA.
I'll take a look at those players tomorrow. See you then...
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