There are different ways to find pitching. The San Francisco Giants used first-round picks to draft their three top starters. The Yankees scoured the free-agent market for starters big (CC Sabathia) and small (Bartolo Colon, compared to Sabathia), and they've done well. The Red Sox acquired their top starter in a trade, filling out the rest of the rotation with pitchers they've developed or signed.
But every team is always scrambling for pitching. They spend millions to get the best amateur pitchers. They spend millions to keep the pitchers they have, and to lure pitchers they don't have. Not sure why no one else is doing what the Braves did:
Step one: calmly approach an undrafted third baseman and ask him if he'd like to pitch professionally.
Step two: watch him zip through the minor leagues in three seasons, blowing away the competition.
It's a pretty low-maintenance approach if you think about it.
It might not be the best story of the year -- Ryan Vogelsong and Colon have compelling cases for that one -- but that's only because no one expected Brandon Beachy to fail like Vogelsong and Colon might have been expected to. No one expected Beachy at all. It's pretty amazing to go from an undrafted player to this:
Brandon Beachy set an Atlanta rookie mark with his 140th strikeout of the season on Wednesday night in the Braves' 3-2 loss to the Phillies.
Beachy has struck out more hitters than any other rookie in Braves history. That's probably because the Braves haven't really developed any good pitchers in their 100+ year history. (I should probably look that up.)
The story of Beachy, then, might be the best story of the year that no one's really mentioning. He's a rookie, sure, so it's possible that baseball fans think of their top prospects like they do their hamburger meat -- don't care where they came from, so long as they keep being good. But for an undrafted pitcher to make the majors is a coup. It doesn't happen that often. For an undrafted pitcher to make the majors that quickly is almost unheard of. And for him to do this ...
Beachy entered the Wednesday with a ratio of 10.10 strikeouts per nine innings. The only rookies in Major League history with better marks were Kerry Wood (12.58 in 1998), Dwight Gooden (11.39 in 1984) and Hideo Nomo (11.10 in 1995)
... is simply obscene. Now some of that has to do with the rising strikeout rates in today's game, so it might be more useful to look at strikeout-to-walk ratio. If the season ended today, Beachy would have one of the 20 best K/BB ratios of any first- or second-year pitcher since 1901, and that list gets more impressive if you thin out the pitchers who didn't strike out a lot of hitters, which Beachy certainly is doing.
Beachy went undrafted mostly because he was a) a third baseman out of b) Indiana Wesleyan University, which according to Baseball Reference is far behind Iowa Wesleyan and Illinois Wesleyan when it comes to developing major leaguers. Actually, Beachy was the first I(n)WU player to make the majors. But he wasn't just a third baseman; he did pitch. And it's amazing to think of all the scouts, all the crosscheckers out there, not one of them saw a game with Beachy doing well enough to convince a team to spend a 50th-round pick on him.
Remember, no one really pays attention to all 50 rounds of a draft. The end of the draft is when teams start drafting the kids of people who work in the front office, or college football stars in case there's a 0.000001% chance they feel like playing baseball. Heck, sometimes teams let interns make selections based on names alone. If there's a player who exhibits any sort of major-league skill in any capacity at any point, there's a good chance that one of the 30 teams will find a spot for him on their draft board.
No one wanted Beachy, whose fastball averages 92 miles an hour, whose change-up breaks almost ten inches, and who will almost certainly start a playoff game for the Braves. They were lucky to get him, and then they used the developmental talents of the organization to develop him. Think of all the first-round busts at whom teams have thrown hundreds of millions of dollars. Then think of Brandon Beachy, casually arriving on the scene and setting rookie records after being ignored 1,500 times in one draft. Even for baseball, it's sort of hard to believe.