In a rather surprising move, the Texas Rangers signed 29-year-old relief pitcher Matt Bush to a minor league contract last week. Yes, the same Matt Bush who the Padres took first overall in the 2004 amateur draft. Bush had previously spent 34 months in prison for DUI charges stemming from a hit-and-run incident that took place in March of 2012.
The recent history of first overall picks is largely a history of successes. Justin Upton (2005), David Price (2007), Stephen Strasburg (2009), Bryce Harper (2010) and Gerrit Cole (2011) all blossomed into some of the best players in the game, and Carlos Correa (2012) appears to be on a similar trajectory. Even the busts — like Delmon Young (2003), Luke Hochevar (2006) and Tim Beckham (2008) — often turn into big league players who have their moments in the sun.
Bush, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of a success story. He was originally drafted as a shortstop, but hit a paltry .219/.294/.276 in parts of four seasons in the low minors before the Padres pulled the plug on him. From there, he caught on with the Blue Jays, and then the Rays, who tried him out as a relief pitcher. He pitched pretty well in 65 minor-league innings over two years, but not well enough to get any big league consideration.
Bush’s on-field performance was pretty disappointing, but it pales in comparison to his off-field exploits. Just after he was drafted in 2004, an 18-year-old Bush was arrested for fighting with security who were escorting him out of a bar. In 2009, he beat a high schooler with a golf club at a high school lacrosse game. A month later, he threw a baseball at a woman’s head and banged on her car window. Then the big one came in 2012, when Bush hit a man on a motorcycle and ran over his head as he fled the scene. Bush’s life has been a troubled one since his draft day over a decade ago.
There’s no question that Bush is a tremendous athlete. You don’t get drafted first overall out of high school unless you have excellent tools. His success relative to his experience as a pitcher also speaks to his athleticism. He supposedly threw in the mid-90s in a recent bullpen session, so his stuff appears still to be intact. Now that he’s served his time and grown a few years wiser, hopefully he’s learned his lesson. Hopefully he’ll lead a better life off the field, which will allow him to take baseball more seriously, and finally tap into his talent — not unlike Josh Hamilton did several years ago.
Stranger things have certainly happened, especially in the chaotic and unpredictable world of relief pitchers. For what it’s worth, here are the top ten Mahalanobis distance comps for Bush’s 2011 season, his most recent as a professional. He pitched to a 3.09 FIP as a reliever Double-A that year with an excellent 35% strikeout rate. As always, the lower figure represents a more similar statistical comp.
|Rank||Name||Mah Dist||MLB IP|
By no means would I call this an impressive list. Ian Thomas and Scott Dohmann are the only players listed who had even a modicum of big league success — and even then, it was just a modicum. There’s also the not insignificant detail that this is based on data that’s nearly five years old now. But a handful of those players (the highlighted ones) cracked the big leagues, which suggests Bush might be able to do the same if everything breaks right. From a purely statistical standpoint, there’s a hint of promise in Bush’s profile.
Bush will never come close to fulfilling the potential he had on draft day. That ship sailed a decade ago. More likely than not, this signing will be nothing more than a footnote in the story of a once promising career that took a sad and unfortunate turn.
However, it’s not out of the question that Bush could still make for a decent relief pitcher. That’s not a particularly exciting upshot, especially for a first overall pick, but it’s something. It’s enough that you can see why the Rangers might roll the dice on him despite his numerous missteps.
I’m tempted to say a successful comeback from Bush would make for a good story, but I’m not sure the story will ever be particularly good. Multiple people were injured as a result of Bush’s actions — one of them very seriously. Nothing Bush does in the future will resolve his past indiscretions. But by distancing himself from his past and possibly realizing some of his potential, he can make the story a more agreeable one.