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April 18, 2012

The Process

Was Brien Taylor the Worst Number-One Pick Ever?

by Bradley Ankrom

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To date, six of the 46 players taken with the first-overall pick in baseball’s annual Rule 4 draft have not played in the major leagues. Gerrit Cole, Bryce Harper, and Tim Beckham—the top choices in three of the last four drafts—remain active, while a fourth, Matt Bush, currently resides in Charlotte County (Fla.) jail as police investigate a series of hit-and-run accidents on March 23 that left a 72-year-old motorcyclist comatose.

Only two former number-one picks have retired from the game without reaching the big leagues: catcher Steve Chilcott, taken by the Mets in 1966, and left-hander Brien Taylor, the Yankees’ top choice in 1991. Both players’ careers were derailed by injury, though Chilcott’s performance, even when healthy, inspired little confidence in his major-league future. Taylor, on the other hand, quickly established himself as an elite prospect before tearing the labrum in his left shoulder during an altercation in December 1993. Rehabilitation cost Taylor the 1994 season, not to mention eight miles an hour from his fastball, and the arm that changed the draft never realized the potential of what some consider the greatest high school pitcher they’ve ever seen.

Brien Taylor: Before and After Shoulder Surgery

Period

W-L

ERA

WHIP

G-GS

IP

H

HR

BB

SO

H/9

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

SO/BB

Pre-Injury

19-15

3.03

1.28

54-54

324.3

248

10

168

337

6.88

0.28

4.66

9.35

2.01

Post-Injury

3-15

11.24

2.66

46-28

111.3

112

15

184

88

9.06

1.21

14.88

7.12

0.48

Taylor’s transition from professional baseball player to just another member of society hasn’t been graceful, and the legal troubles he’s faced since retiring have only exacerbated his tragedy. When the drama is removed, however, is Brien Taylor truly the worst number-one pick of all time?

* * *

I typically turn to wins above replacement for quick, broad player comparisons. None of the players we’re investigating reached the major leagues, however, so we’ll have to explore other evaluation methods. Our goal is to arrive at a single value for each pick that represents its value relative to other picks in the same draft as well as picks in different years.

For this study, we’ll consider first-round players who signed among the top 30 picks from each draft between 1965 and 1997. We’ll evaluate the strength of each class and determine relative class strength by comparing the average career WARP earned per pick against the average per-pick WARP of all classes. To determine the average WARP constant, we’ll divide the total WARP accrued by the total number of picks in the study:

5851.68 WARP / 868 picks = 6.74 WARP per pick

Then, we’ll compare per-pick WARP to the overall average of 6.74 to arrive at a strength score for each class:

Class Strength = (Class WARP/Number of Picks in Class) / 6.74

Year

Picks

WARP

WARP/Pick

Class Strength

1965

18

98.33

5.46

0.81051

1966

18

188.91

10.50

1.55715

1967

20

187.80

9.39

1.39320

1968

19

125.73

6.62

0.98179

1969

21

97.57

4.65

0.68932

1970

20

76.87

3.84

0.57024

1971

21

128.47

6.12

0.90769

1972

23

128.09

5.57

0.82626

1973

24

207.85

8.66

1.28493

1974

23

234.09

10.18

1.51006

1975

24

24.71

1.03

0.15276

1976

21

130.71

6.22

0.92351

1977

26

236.25

9.09

1.34813

1978

26

139.91

5.38

0.79839

1979

22

117.19

5.33

0.79032

1980

26

102.41

3.94

0.58440

1981

26

84.99

3.27

0.48499

1982

28

124.88

4.46

0.66172

1983

27

135.96

5.04

0.74712

1984

28

186.25

6.65

0.98691

1985

28

460.89

16.46

2.44218

1986

27

249.59

9.24

1.37151

1987

28

319.36

11.41

1.69224

1988

28

198.44

7.09

1.05150

1989

27

176.81

6.55

0.97159

1990

29

284.60

9.81

1.45607

1991

28

224.20

8.01

1.18799

1992

27

208.60

7.73

1.14627

1993

29

286.96

9.90

1.46811

1994

29

163.65

5.64

0.83725

1995

29

215.63

7.44

1.10317

1996

24

126.75

5.28

0.78356

1997

27

179.25

6.64

0.98498

 

The first round of the 1985 draft is by far the strongest in the study, outpacing the second-strongest class (1987) by nearly 45 percent. Five players who would go on to be worth at least 30 WARP were taken among the first 22 picks that year: Barry Bonds (160.70 WARP), Barry Larkin (64.31), Rafael Palmeiro (58.91), Will Clark (50.09), and B.J. Surhoff (30.51).

Strongest Classes

Rank

Year

Strength

1

1985

2.44218

2

1987

1.69224

3

1966

1.55715

4

1974

1.51006

5

1993

1.46811

6

1990

1.45607

7

1967

1.39320

8

1986

1.37151

9

1977

1.34813

10

1973

1.28493

 

Weakest Classes

Rank

Year

Strength

33

1975

0.15276

32

1981

0.48499

31

1970

0.57024

30

1980

0.58440

29

1982

0.66172

28

1969

0.68932

27

1983

0.74712

26

1996

0.78356

25

1979

0.79032

24

1978

0.79839

 

Next, we need to assign values to picks within each class. The method of we’ll use to determine the value of picks relative to one another is borrowed from Rany Jazayerli’s draft age study and is as follows:

Pick Value = 1/SQRT(Overall Pick)

Using this formula, the first-overall pick receives a value of 1.00 and is twice as valuable as the fourth pick (0.50). The fourth pick is twice as valuable as the 16th pick, and so on.

To calculate the value of each class-pick, we’ll want to weight its generic Pick Value by the strength of its class. By doing this, we’re able to assign more value to picks in classes that produced significant major-league value, and less value to picks in underwhelming classes. The formula we’ll use to determine each Weighted Pick Value looks like this:

Weighted Pick Value = (Class Strength * Pick Value) / 0.319504

The denominator 0.319504 represents the average Pick Value of picks 1-30. Given that the 1985 draft is considered the strongest in history, it isn’t surprising that the most valuable pick in our study is that year’s first-overall pick. The Weighted Pick Value of 1985’s top pick is 44 percent greater than the next most-valuable number-one pick, which the Mariners used to select Ken Griffey Jr. in 1987. Note that while drafting team, player name, and player WARP are referenced below, none is a factor in determining the Weighted Pick Value of their respective picks.

Rank

Year

Pick

Pick Value

Class Strength

Weighted Pick Value

Player

Team

Career WARP

1

1985

1

1.000

2.44218

7.64366

B.J. Surhoff

MIL

30.51

2

1985

2

0.707

2.44218

5.40488

Will Clark

SFN

50.09

3

1987

1

1.000

1.69224

5.29645

Ken Griffey Jr.

SEA

77.45

4

1966

1

1.000

1.55715

4.87365

Steven Chilcott

NYN

--

5

1974

1

1.000

1.51006

4.72626

Bill Almon

SDN

7.45

6

1993

1

1.000

1.46811

4.59495

Alex Rodriguez

SEA

105.40

7

1990

1

1.000

1.45607

4.55727

Chipper Jones

ATL

69.06

8

1985

3

0.577

2.44218

4.41307

Bobby Witt

TEX

23.12

9

1967

1

1.000

1.39320

4.36051

Ron Blomberg

NYA

9.70

10

1986

1

1.000

1.37151

4.29263

Jeff King

PIT

17.64

11

1977

1

1.000

1.34813

4.21945

Harold Baines

CHA

45.27

12

1973

1

1.000

1.28493

4.02165

David Clyde

TEX

3.65

13

1985

4

0.500

2.44218

3.82183

Barry Larkin

CIN

64.31

14

1987

2

0.707

1.69224

3.74515

Mark Merchant

PIT

--

15

1991

1

1.000

1.18799

3.71822

Brien Taylor

NYA

--

16

1992

1

1.000

1.14627

3.58765

Phil Nevin

HOU

19.85

17

1995

1

1.000

1.10317

3.45277

Darin Erstad

CAL

23.09

18

1966

2

0.707

1.55715

3.44619

Reggie Jackson

OAK

81.60

19

1985

5

0.447

2.44218

3.41835

Kurt Brown

CHA

--

20

1974

2

0.707

1.51006

3.34197

Tommy Boggs

TEX

1.26

21

1988

1

1.000

1.05150

3.29103

Andy Benes

SDN

29.99

22

1993

2

0.707

1.46811

3.24912

Darren Dreifort

LAN

12.34

23

1990

2

0.707

1.45607

3.22248

Tony Clark

DET

6.74

24

1985

6

0.408

2.44218

3.12051

Barry Bonds

PIT

160.70

25

1984

1

1.000

0.98691

3.08889

Shawn Abner

NYN

-0.43


Predictably, the least valuable picks are found at the back end of the 1975 first round, the least-productive class in the study:

Rank

Year

Pick

Pick Value

Class Strength

Weighted Pick Value

Player

Team

Career WARP

868

1975

24

0.204

0.15276

0.09760

Mark Bradley

LAN

-0.63

867

1975

23

0.209

0.15276

0.09970

Dave Ford

BAL

0.43

866

1975

22

0.213

0.15276

0.10194

Tony Moretto

CIN

--

865

1975

21

0.218

0.15276

0.10434

Bruce Robinson

OAK

-0.18

864

1975

20

0.224

0.15276

0.10691

Dale Berra

PIT

9.05

863

1975

19

0.229

0.15276

0.10969

Jim McDonald

NYA

--

862

1975

18

0.236

0.15276

0.11270

Donald Young

ATL

--

861

1975

17

0.243

0.15276

0.11596

Jim Gideon

TEX

-0.18

860

1975

16

0.250

0.15276

0.11953

David Johnson

SLN

--

859

1975

15

0.258

0.15276

0.12345

Otis Foster

BOS

--

Full results can be viewed in CSV format here.

By this method, the pick used to select Steve Chilcott in 1966, with a Weighted Pick Value of 4.87365, was 31 percent more valuable than the one (3.71822 WPV) the Yankees spent on Brien Taylor a quarter-century later. It could even be argued that outfielder Mark Merchant, taken by Pittsburgh with the second pick in 1987, was a bigger bust than Taylor because Merchant was taken in a class that turned out to be significantly stronger than the one Taylor fronted.

Related Content:  Draft,  Brien Taylor,  Steve Chilcott,  Matt Bush

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