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June 7, 2010
Ahead in the Count
Production and the Draft
The 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft begins tonight, presumably commencing with the Washington Nationals calling the name of Bryce Harper. The draft will be televised for the fourth year in a row, thanks to increasing fan interest. Unlike basketball and football with well-exposed college stars that fans are already familiar with, the baseball draft has always been filled with obscure names and generated less interest historically. However, the collective bargaining agreement in Major League Baseball keeps salaries of young talent especially suppressed when compared with other sports, meaning that drafting well can allow even a small-market team to become successful. As fans have become more cognizant of this, and as the Internet has made learning about amateur stars easier, the draft has become a bigger deal and more people are taking more notice.
While some players in the major leagues were never drafted, 77.4 percent of all WARP3 produced in the major leagues during the last three years was produced by players who were selected in the draft. Breaking down the production by round, we can see that more than a third of WARP3 from drafted players during the last three years came from those selected during the first round, and almost half of WARP3 from drafted player came from those taken in the first two rounds. Then again, almost a quarter of all WARP3 from drafted players came from players drafted latest than the 10th round. The breakdown of WARP3 produced by round:
The first round is clearly where the biggest splash is made, which begs the question of which picks are the most valuable. Initially, I was going to plot out the percentage of WARP3 production over the last three years from each pick in the first round, but there was not enough data to dig out anything that looked precise, so I averaged similar picks together after the first overall pick.
The first pick in the draft is clearly the most valuable by far. First picks generated almost 11 percent of all first-round production, which is about 3 percent of all major-league production over the last few years. This is not surprising when we consider that this group of players included superstars like Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, Joe Mauer, and Adrian Gonzalez.
After the first pick, there are far fewer guarantees of production, though roughly 60 percent of first-round picks do make the major leagues, as compared with about 40 percent of second-rounders. Of course, the early picks are far better bets than later-round picks.
Rodriguez turns out to be far and away the most productive first-round pick and he’s still going. Interestingly, the Mariners also selected the second-most productive first-round pick ever in Ken Griffey Jr. Jones will likely overtake him very soon, though. The glamorous names at the top of the list represent best-case scenarios, however. The more likely scenario is that teams picking first will get a productive major-leaguer, but not a superstar.
Now that all No. 1 draft picks selected before 1990 have retired, we can give a final career total for all players drafted between 1965-89 (not counting the double-first round pick Danny Goodwin who did not sign with the White Sox in 1971, but did sign with the Angels in 1975). The average WARP3 production of these 24 picks was 18.1 WARP3, but the median was only 15.1 WARP3. If we expand this to include the productive, but not yet all retired picks of the 1990s, the average production is 20.7 WARP3 and median is 15.1. It stands to reason that Gonzalez and Mauer are already bringing those numbers up, however, and Justin Upton and Stephen Strasburg may be primed to do so as well if they live up to their hype. When it comes to first-round picks in general, expect Shawon Dunston rather than Rodriguez.
Last week, we discussed the No Turnover Standings, which approximated what the 2007-09 standings would have been on average if all teams kept the players they originally acquired as amateurs and received the benefits of their production. I later broke down the No Turnover Standings to include only players drafted during the 2000s, giving all teams average production from other players. This produced the following results:
Standings with 2000s Draftees’ WARP in 2007-09
Given the similarities between these standings and the actual standings over the last three years, we can start to get a sense of the importance of the draft. Of course, teams like the Yankees can do far better through their strong record of acquiring international amateur talent outside of the draft, as well as spending on free agents, but the production of picks by teams like the Red Sox, Phillies, and Twins demonstrates the importance of the draft.
One commentor last week asked how much draft spot played into this, which also made me wonder how much production came from different rounds of the draft. I have now created the standings with only first round picks in the 2000s, as well as standings focusing on other rounds, which are shown further down.
The following standings include the records that teams would have during 2007-09 on average, if they maintained control of all of their first-round picks from 2000-09, but received average production otherwise. I also include three columns indicating the number of pure first-round picks that teams received (excluding unsigned players), the number of first-round picks that were actually supplemental picks between the first and second round. These count as first-round picks, but are separated below. Additionally, the last column shows the average spot that a team picked in the first round. This is different than the average spot they picked in other rounds, primarily due to free agent draft pick compensation.
First Round Picks in the 2000s
With 43.6 WARP3 from their first-round picks during the last three years, the Phillies had the most success with their 2000s first-round picks inasmuch as it led to production in the 2007-09 seasons. Interestingly, they lost their first-round pick three times as free agent compensation and only picking, on average, roughly in the middle of the round. The reason that the Phillies were ahead of the pack in first-round pick success is largely due to the 15th overall selection of the 2000 draft, Chase Utley. Utley has provided the Phillies with 25.1 WARP3, which is more than the average team got from their first-round picks. The Phillies also supplemented that with 11.6 WARP3 over the last three years from Cole Hamels, the 17th selection of the 2002 draft, while they used the fourth selection in the 2001 draft on Gavin Floyd, who they traded to the White Sox with Gio Gonzalez, for 11 starts and a 5.90 ERA from Freddy Garcia instead of receiving his production of 7.3 WARP3.
The next best team was the Brewers, with 39.2 WARP3 over the last three years from their No.1 picks. The Brewers utilized the seventh overall selection in the 2002 draft on Prince Fielder and the fifth overall selection in 2005 on Ryan Braun, who provided 16.7 and 15.2 WARP3. The Brewers also used the second overall pick in 2003 to bring in Rickie Weeks, who has added 6.7 WARP3 over the last three years.
The Twins’ first-round picks generated the next most production, 36.4 WARP3, unsurprisingly headed by 21.1 from Mauer, the first overall pick in the 2001 draft. They also received 7.6 WARP3 from the 20th overall pick of the 2002 draft, Denard Span. On top of that, Matt Garza, the 25th overall selection of the 2005 draft, has produced 6.1 WARP3, but unfortunately for the Twins, 5.5 of that has come with the Rays. That trade also included Jason Bartlett and Eduardo Morlan being sent to the Rays for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie in exchange.
There were several teams whose first-round picks of the 2000s generated negative WARP3 production over the last three years. These include the Cubs, who may yet see something out of Tyler Colvin, the 13th round pick of the 2006 draft, but have long ago stopped receiving any benefit from the second overall selection in the 2001 draft, Mark Prior. The Astros also received negative production from their 2000s first round picks, with 10th overall selection Chris Burke being the only one to even make the majors at this stage. The White Sox have seen eight of their 14 first-round picks make the major leagues, but they did not combine to produce positive WARP3 for the 2007-09 seasons.
Next, I looked at the standings that measured production if all teams received average production from players other than that provided by their second through fifth-round picks. These standings are listed below. The last column gives the average spot that a team picked from in each round, excluding any adjustments for compensatory selections since that was rarer for later picks.
Second through Fifth Round Picks in the 2000s
There was no team that even came close to the production of the Red Sox with their second through fifth-round picks in the 2000s. The Red Sox generated 56.4 WARP3 out of these picks, well above the Cardinals’ 36.6 and Nationals’ 30.8. The Red Sox found a slew of talent in these rounds. Jonathan Papelbon produced 13.6 WARP3 in 2007-09 after being their fourth-round pick in 2003. Dustin Pedroia, the Red Sox's second-round pick of 2004, generated 17.7 WARP3. The Red Sox second-round pick in 2002, Jon Lester, has produced 11.4 WARP3, while Kelly Shoppach, the 2001 second-round pick generated 6.1, and the second-round pick from 2000, Manny Delcarmen has added 2.6 WARP3. Justin Masteron has added 3.8 WARP3, as the second-round pick in the 2006. Clearly, the Red Sox have cleaned up with their second-round picks, even though they have been picking late in the round.
The Cardinals were a distant second, though they saw their second-round pick in 2001, Dan Haren, add 19.6 WARP3 (albeit not for them but the Athletics and Diamonbacks). Yadier Molina has added 14.0 WARP3 after being the Cardinals' fourth-round pick in 2000, and Skip Schumaker, the fifth-round pick of 2001, has generated 3.8 WARP3.
The Nationals have not seen any of the benefits of their third-round and fourth-round picks from 2000, Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee, who had generated 16.7 and 12.2 WARP3, respectively over the last three years. Both were part of the futile 2002 deadline deal for Bartolo Colon that failed to produce a playoff spot but the Indians get one game of the World Series in 2007.
There is far less production that has come from the sixth through the 10th rounds. The standings of teams’ production from the last three years based only on these players:
Sixth through Tenth Round Picks in the 2000s
The Dodgers barely led the pack with 19.1 WARP3, just ahead of the 18.9 from the Red Sox. The Dodgers got most of their production from 2003 sixth-round pick Matt Kemp (13.0 WARP3 from 2007-09) and Edwin Jackson (6.8), who was their sixth-round pick in 2001. The vast majority of the Red Sox production in these rounds has come from the 15.4 WARP3 of 2001 eighth-round pick Kevin Youkilis.
Next, I list the same standings for picks after the 10th round.
Post-10th Round Picks in the 2000s
The Pirates were by far the best at finding useful players in the late rounds over the last 10 years, generating 34.8 WARP3 over the last three years. Their list of players is less impressive when you account for how late these picks came. In the 2000 draft, the Pirates drafted Jose Bautista in the 20th round (3.9 WARP3 in 2007-09), Nate McLouth in the 25th round (9.5), and Ian Snell in the 26th round (4.2). The Pirates also had a pair surprising picks in the 2001 draft as well, as20th-rounder Zach Duke generated 3.3 WARP3 in the last three years and 38th-round pick Rajai Davis generated 4.9. In the 2002, the Pirates found Nyjer Morgan in the 33rd round and he produced 13.2 WARP3 in the 2007-09 seasons.
It will be years before we can really evaluate the performance of teams in the 2010 draft, and much of the production will actually come from players drafted beyond the first round on Tuesday and Wednesday. The first-round certainly provides a lot of the production, especially the first overall selection, and Harper gives every indication that this year will be no exception to that rule. The Nationals have a real opportunity with their second straight first overall pick. The only other team to ever have that luxury was the Rays 2007 and 2008. Still, we can see from the Phillies' success, that picking in the middle of the first round can still be a great opportunity as they have gotten plenty of production from Utley and Hamels. Even after the first round, the Red Sox have shown that a team can get explosive production out of the second round as well. Later in the draft, teams can certainly find gems, too. Albert Pujols was a 13th-round pick in 1999, which means he just missed the chance to give the Cardinals a big lead in the last table of 2000s’ late-round pick production. Instead, the Pirates had a series of contributors that tallied up enough WARP3 to put them ahead of the pack.
Drafting is anything but an exact science, but its impact cannot be overstated. The teams that can reliably get production beyond the average at their draft spot can make themselves into a competitor for years to come. We have seen that two-thirds of production in baseball comes from players that have yet to reach free agency, and more than three-quarters of production comes from the draft. Thus, about half of all production comes from drafted players who are still under team control. Identifying amateur talent and drafting well is truly an important science.
Tonight, fans will split their attention between the draft and watching their favorite teams' games. The excitement of the game provides the entertainment that many of us seek from following a team. However, do not mistake the fact that the most important thing that your team will do tonight will be on the other channel. It may not be clear who has won or lost the draft in real time, but the consequences of coming out ahead will be far larger.