Mike Piazza has become the symbol of big league underdogs.
A 62nd-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Dodgers — thanks to the pleading of longtime Piazza family friend Tommy Lasorda — Piazza put together a Hall of Fame-caliber career that included 12 All-Star selections, the 1993 National League Rookie of the Year award, 10 Silver Slugger awards and seven top-10 finishes in NL MVP voting.
He also is most often brought up by those wishing to preach about baseball’s annual draft being more luck than skill.
Piazza was too good a player to be exploited to pump life into a faulty argument.
Baseball’s annual draft will be held next week, and despite what naysayers may believe, there’s more than luck involved in selecting the players.
Take the All-Star lineup minus the DH candidates (the projected starting eight that each team submitted before spring training) and the 73 pitchers who have an ERA lower than 4.25, and it is hard to dispute the fact that the overlooked player is rare.
Of those 313 players, 254 of them were draft eligible, including undrafted pitcher Brandon Beachy of Atlanta, and catchers Rod Barajas of Pittsburgh and Ryan Hanigan of the Reds.
Only 13 of those players were selected in the 20th round or later, including Orlando Hudson, a 43rd-round draft choice of Toronto in 1997. Hudson is listed as the second-base candidate from San Diego, which released him earlier this month. He has since signed with the Chicago White Sox.
• 109 of the players were first-round draft picks — 42.9 percent of the draft-eligible players.
• 134 were first- or second round selections — 52.8 percent.
• 209 were selected in the top 10 rounds — 82.2 percent.
And the impact of the draft is even stronger with pitchers:
• 35 of the 62 draft-eligible pitchers were selected in the first round, 56.5 percent.
• 38 of the pitchers were selected in the first two rounds, 61.3 percent.
• 52 of the pitchers were drafted in the first 10 rounds, 83.9 percent.
Beachy led the major leagues with a 1.87 earned-run average through Sunday, but 13 of the 23 lowest ERAs belong to pitchers who were first-round picks, including Chris Sale (2.30), Gio Gonzalez (2.31), Stephen Strasburg (2.35), Clayton Kershaw (2.42), David Price (2.44), Jered Weaver (2.61), Matt Cain (2.62), Lance Lynn (2.63), Justin Verlander (2.67), R.A. Dickey (2.69), Wade Miley (2.72) and Cole Hamels (2.81).
Three of the seven other pitchers in the top 22 in ERA were not draft eligible, and James McDonald, an 11th-round pick of the Dodgers was the only one of the top 23 selected after the eighth round.
There are 59 foreign-born players among the 313 surveyed, 18.8 percent, considerably below the 25.7 percent of the Opening Day roster spots filled by players who were not draft eligible when they originally signed.
Sixteen of the 30 first baseman listed on the All-Star ballot were first-round draft choices. There were 11 second basemen and 11 third baseman picked in the first round, and 30 of the 90 outfielders were first-round picks.
Since the beginning of expansion in 1961, the New York Mets have produced pitchers who threw more no-hitters than any other organization. It, however, wasn’t until Friday, in the Mets’ 51st year of competition, that a player wearing a Mets uniform tossed a no-hitter, and Johan Santana, who did the deed, was actually signed and developed by the Minnesota Twins.
Six pitchers who originally signed with the Mets have combined to throw 12 no-hitters — seven by Nolan Ryan, and one apiece for Mike Scott, Phil Humber, Tom Seaver, A.J. Burnett and Dwight Gooden.
Santana’s no-hitter leaves the San Diego Padres, in existence since 1969, as the only big league team to never have a pitcher throw a no-hitter. Clay Kirby came close on July 21, 1970, against the Mets, but with the Padres trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth, manager Preston Gomez pinch hit for Kirby. Jack Baldschun, who relieved Kirby, gave up three hits and two more runs in the ninth for a 3-0 loss.
Gomez made a similar move as the manager of Houston when on Sept. 4, 1972, he pinch hit for Don Wilson, who had a no-hitter going but the Astros were trailing. It was not as big an issue with Wilson because he already had two no-hitters on his resume.
The Houston franchise, which like the Mets came into existence in 1962, registered its first no-hitter in 1964 when the team was still known as the Colt 45s, and Ken Johnson became the only pitcher to lose a no-hitter. Cincinnati beat the Colt 45s 1-0 when Pete Rose reached base in the ninth inning on an error, advanced on a ground out and scored on another error.
• Colorado left fielder Carlos Gonzalez equaled a major league record when he became the 22nd player to homer in four consecutive plate appearances, three on Wednesday and his first one on Thursday. A sign of his maturing as a hitter is they came on four different pitches — in order: change, cutter, slider and fastball.
• The Dodgers went into the weekend with four of their projected eight members of the starting lineup on the disabled list — center fielder Matt Kemp, second baseman Mark Ellis, third baseman Juan Uribe and left fielder Juan Rivera. Also on the list is lefty starter Ted Lilly. Maybe shouldn’t be a total surprise the team went into Saturday having lost seven of nine, including five in a row.
• No games have been delayed or postponed in Miami this year, where the Marlins are enjoying their retractable roof at Marlins Park. The grounds crew, however, did get surprised by a mid-afternoon shower on Wednesday, which hit before the roof could be closed and forced the cancellation of batting practice that night.
• Tim Lincecum’s winless May was the fourth winless month of his career. He also came up empty in June 2007, September 2007 and August 2010. Lincecum, however, didn’t have any hangovers. In July 2007 he was 4-0 with a 1.62 ERA. He followed up that 2007 September by opening the 2008 season going 4-1 with a 1.73 ERA in April. And in September 2010 he was 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA.