June 3, 2003
Touring The Minors
Draft DayIn his Monday column, Peter Gammons raised a point that illustrates why the MLB draft is more fun than the draft for the NBA or NFL:
"One club that has done extensive predictability studies offers this stat: a team has as good a chance of getting a major-league pitcher selecting a high school pitcher in the 20th round as the first, and in the case of college pitchers, the sixth round is as likely to produce a major-league pitcher as the first."
The success of Michael Lewis's Moneyball has brought more attention to the draft and to the debate between the organizations who rely on subjective scouting, and those who focus on performance. This debate is essentially being presented as computers vs. scouts, collegians vs. high schoolers. Gammons raises this point too:
"Another club rated the 50 best pitchers in baseball in terms of value, and came up with this rating: College 20, high school 10, Latin America 10, junior and community Colleges 6 and Asia/Australia 4."
The breadth of the draft allows everyone--including the fans--plenty of room to work out their theories. And it gives us armchair GMs a chance to learn that it's not as easy as it looks. As a fan, I don't know what GMs or scouts know. I don't get to watch high school baseball, and the only college ball I see is when ESPN runs the College World Series. The good news is that my eyes won't fool me. The bad news is that I don't know anything about a player's mental or mechanical defects, his signing demands, or injuries.
I have the numbers, though, and I know how to read them. It's true that numbers can be made to lie, and they can be misunderstood. The variances of league, park, and competition make high school numbers notoriously untrustworthy. If you're going to scout the high schools, you have to rely far more on scouts' observations than data. If you're a frequent visitor to this website, you're highly suspicious of wholly subjective analysis. You'd be more comfortable if you could play with some numbers too. So you prefer to look at college players.
College numbers are difficult to interpret, but not as hard as some people think. If we account for strength of competition, strength of conference, age, and park factors, we can get a crude but helpful idea of a player's projectable skills. Until recently these factors have been hard to come by, but Boyd Nation has revolutionized the processing of college baseball data. Using Boyd's rankings and comprehensive collection of hyperlinks, we can make substantial adjustments for context. We could use these sources to collect our field of draftables, or we could use them to modify Baseball America's many lists. BA is second to none in its coverage of the draft, but if you lean toward performance over tools, you're bound to be dissatisfied with some of BA's conclusions. Even so, its subjective observations are often invaluable.
So with Boyd's rankings and hyperlinks, and BA's multiform coverage, you settle in for the draft. You know that Delmon Young, Rickie Weeks, Tim Stauffer, and Kyle Sleeth are going right up top. You know that Vince Sinisi will probably fall a bit because of the Boras factor. By draft day, a lot of the drama has already been diffused. But there are choices to make:
Most of the talk leading up to the draft focuses on the first round, but as Gammons points out, more and more teams are becoming aware of the bargains that can be found later in the draft. The search for sleepers appeals to our vanity. And it's fun. For the fans, who have the luxury of knowing their job security doesn't rely on the choices they make, this is where it gets fun. For GMs, even the later picks are as thrilling and portentous as a jury verdict. It's not as easy as it looks, but it's more fun than football. Pull up a chair and enjoy.