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June 10, 2013

Pebble Hunting

The Worst a Team Ever Did in the Draft

by Sam Miller

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If you were trying to find the worst draft ever, where would you start? “Bad” we could probably agree on, but “worst” would certainly lead to an argument. You might, for instance, argue that the 1968 Washington Senators (later Texas Rangers) had the worst draft ever. This is a sterling position to have. The Senators that year managed to draft -6.9 WARP, which is not only the worst draft class ever by cumulative career WARP, but it’s a) two wins worse than the second-worst class, a giant margin in an otherwise tightly packed trailerboard; and b) it came in 1968, the same year that the Los Angeles Dodgers managed a draft class that put together an incredible 192 career WARP, the most ever by any team in any single year (though it took both June and January drafts for the Dodgers to reach such peaks, just as it took Washington both June and January drafts to dig such deficits).

But those Senators were only two or six wins worse than a whole slew of other teams that were below replacement level. Why not make the case that the Giants had the worst draft ever in 1982, because their failure cost them dozens of WARP? That year, their first-round pick (11th overall) was a college first baseman who would manage to bat just .188 in 16 career at-bats. And their second-round pick (39th overall) was a high school outfielder, a local kid, who would go on to hit 762 home runs in the majors—but who, because of a failed post-draft negotiation, hit 176 of them with the Pirates, who drafted and signed him three years later. Plenty of great players get drafted, don’t sign, and end up on in another team’s history—but the Giants were sooooo close. According to columnist Glenn Dickey,

They couldn’t sign him because Tom Haller, then the general manager, wouldn’t go past $70,000. Bonds, the son of former Giants outfielder Bobby Bonds, wanted $75,000. When he didn’t get it, he went to college instead.

But the Giants ended up with Bonds anyway, and the timeline they ended up in turned out to be the good timeline. Maybe the worst draft has to lead to a bad timeline, so why not the Montreal Expos’ 1993 draft? They took Brad Fullmer, and a few years later Fullmer helped them acquire Lee Stevens, and a few years later Stevens was the final piece of the trade that helped shed Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, and Brandon Phillips in one shake. So, sure, the Brad Fullmer draft. Awful.

But I’ll say no to the Senators, because five guys making the majors—even if they were bad—says something about the team’s talent evaluation. I’ll say no to the Giants, because in the end they missed out on Bonds no more than 24 other teams did. And I’ll say no to the Expos, because that sort of extrapolation will eventually lead me to realizing what a bizarre and arbitrary thing it is that I, out of all the infinite possibilities, was born. I’ll just keep it simple: The worst draft is the draft that produced no major leaguers. The worst draft was that of the 2001 Reds.

Major leaguers signed: 0 (The Reds are one of at least six teams that have had a draft, through the year 2007, that produced no signed major leaguers.)

Best career: David Shafer, a right-hander taken in the 32nd round. Occasionally dominant in relief, as when he struck out 18 and walked two in a scoreless 14-inning stint at High-A. Reached Triple-A. Traded to the A’s for Kirk Saarloos before his age-25 season. (Bobby Basham reached the highest prospect status of anybody in this draft, making a Baseball America top 100 18 months after the draft.)

Worst career: 13th-rounder Tanner Brock threw 2 ⅓ innings in instructs, as a 23-year-old, and then was gone. 39th-rounder Miles Carpenter lasted 10 times as many innings before washing out of instructs, but walked 16 batters and retired with a 7.71 ERA.

Near miss: They took a left-handed pitcher named Nick Markakis in the 35th round, but didn’t sign him. A year later, Reds scouting director Kasey McKeon explained: “He was almost like a high school junior. He wasn’t ready to go out and play. But he made great strides,” so the Reds drafted him again in 2002, in the 23rd round, and again didn’t sign him. Finally, the Orioles drafted him in the first round, and did.

Total value wrung out of this draft: Saarloos, acquired for Shafer, had a 7.17 ERA in 43 innings for Cincinnati before he was granted free agency. Third-round pick Alan Moye was traded, along with others, for Kenny Rogers; Rogers blocked the move. Months later, he and another prospect were sent to Kansas City for Jeff Austin and Brian Shackleford, who threw a total of 74 innings with a 5.81 ERA for the Reds.

But what about the supplemental pick? The one that they got the following year for failing to sign first-round pick Jeremy Sowers? They used it on Mark Schramek, an unsigned 45th-round pick in the 2001 draft. This time, as a first-rounder, Schramek signed, but the third baseman never reached Triple-A, either.

Great remaining hope: Jesse Gutierrez, a first baseman popped in round 20, is the last player from this draft still active. He has spent the past six years playing in Mexico, with one quick trip back to the States to play in an independent league. He hit .331/.416/.609 with 27 home runs in 2011, though his OPS dropped below .800 in his age-35 2013 season. If he eventually makes the majors leagues now, feel free to print this article out, crumple it up, and toss it in the trash bin.

Fun Fact: Just five players from this draft so much as reached Triple-A; no fewer than half of the teams that drafted that year had at least five players make the majors. The Reds’ Triple-A five combined for 310 innings pitched (5.52 ERA) and 1,596 plate appearances (.266/.320/.407) at the second-highest level.

Industry view at the time: “After several years of higher-than-average spending to sign amateurs, the organization found itself short on money to spend in the 2001 draft. The Reds took Jeremy Sowers with the 20th pick, in spite of his strong commitment to Vanderbilt and reported demands of more than $3 million to sway him from school. They did not come close to his price--and in fact many in the industry said they purposely drafted a player they couldn't sign.” —Baseball America

Club quote: “I still think it’s going to be a good draft,” said McKeon, after failing to sign Sowers.

Possibly pernicious lasting effects? A year after failing to sign Sowers, the Reds had the third overall pick. They had narrowed their choices to Chris Gruler and Scott Kazmir, but passed on Kazmir, who was asking for a $3 million-$4 million bonus. “Signability was a major issue for the Reds because last year's first-round pick, left-hander Jeremy Sowers, spurned Cincinnati,” according to an MLB.com article. Gruler signed for $2.5 million the same day he was drafted, “almost unprecedented,” per MLB.com.

Where are they now (player)? Richard Bartel, a 17th-round pick, went on to be an NFL quarterback, playing three games (all as a substitute) in 2010-2011. Most of these guys have disappeared into the private lives that come with having a common name; the ones that can be found online are property underwriters, or accountants, or working in scouting. Sadly, there’s Bart Hunton, a 46th-round pick who went on to work for a landscaping company, but who died suddenly at the age of 28.

Where are they now (executive)? Scouting director Kasey McKeon got one more draft, and was then gone. The twist: he might have been let go not for this draft, but for the following one, in which he popped Joey Votto in the second round. Tracy Ringolsby:

Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto won the NL MVP. Many people also believe he is the reason Kasey McKeon was fired as Reds scouting director.

Votto, coming out of high school in Toronto, was an under-the-radar prospect in the spring of 2002. Reds scout John Castleberry saw him in a showcase in Florida and brought Votto to Cincinnati for a workout. McKeon, wanting to make sure nobody got wind of Votto, didn’t inform anybody else, including then general manager Jim Bowden. The Reds took Votto in the second round, and by the 2003 draft McKeon had been replaced.

He is now the Nationals’ director of player procurement.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Cincinnati Reds,  Amateur Draft

17 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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ttt

I'm pretty sure the Mets drafted Burnitz in 1990, not the Yankees in 1991...

Jun 10, 2013 03:45 AM
rating: 0
 
jdeich

He's referring to the 1991 Yankees. 1990 is a typo.

There's a discrepancy between the B-Ref record of the 1991 draft (http://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/index.cgi?team_ID=NYY&year_ID=1990&draft_type=junreg&query_type=franch_year) and this article, however. B-Ref only lists 16 players with MLB experience (Pettitte, Posada, Everett, Spencer, Wasdin, Ledee, Militello, Ohme, Eenhoorn, Ojala, Heathcott, Leach, Wilson, Dunbar, Rios, Jordan, in order of descending WAR).

They got most of their value in rounds 20-28, with six major leaguers including Posada/Pettitte. 1st round pick was Carl Everett, who is now ironically a dinosaur.

Jun 10, 2013 06:42 AM
rating: 0
 
jdeich

Err.. 1990 Yankees is correct. 1991 is the typo. Damn you, lack of edit button.

Jun 10, 2013 06:47 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

The two New York teams got merged in the query. That entire paragraph has been deleted.

Jun 10, 2013 07:05 AM
 
jfranco77

In case you're curious about the 68 Dodgers (like me):

Davey Lopes 42.0 WAR (Jan)
Geoff Zahn 20.7 WAR (Jan)
Doyle Alexander 35.5 WAR (June)
Joe Ferguson 20.9 WAR (June)
Bill Buckner 14.7 WAR (June)
Tom Paciorek 7.6 WAR (June)
Bobby Valentine 2.0 WAR (June)

Jun 10, 2013 05:19 AM
rating: 7
 
SGreenwell

This was a great read, and the subtle "Community" plugs only made it better. I would eagerly read about teams No. 2 through 5, if you wanted to make this a series.

Jun 10, 2013 05:26 AM
rating: 3
 
gtliles82

That list sums to 143.4 WAR. The article says over 190 WARP. Are they that much different, that you lose 50 shifting WARP to WAR?

Jun 10, 2013 06:46 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

Ron Cey and Steve Garvey were also drafted that year, in the June Secondary, filling out the total.

Jun 10, 2013 07:08 AM
 
Shauncore

The Rays 2008, 2009, and 2010 draft classes are dangerously close to not ever having a MLB player.

If weren't for Derek Dietrich in 2010, then it would be really bad.

In a few years and article might have to be written about those classes.

Jun 10, 2013 08:19 AM
rating: 1
 
Agent007

Is -6.2 WAR better than nothing at all?

Jun 10, 2013 08:19 AM
rating: 0
 
Ian Miller

That's a valid question. We'd have to somehow determine the value a team derives from having players within the system, including the minors.

Jun 10, 2013 11:26 AM
rating: -1
 
Shauncore

That's really hard to quantify.

Two ways to look at it I would think.

Reason A) Yes if the player even had one hit in a major league game he (seemingly) had a positive impact on the game for his team. The same idea if he hit a home run or had an RBI. That's on the most basic level. If you're looking at a guy, like let's say Jeff Francoeur for instance, who is a career .240 hitter with maybe 50 home runs or so but has a career negative WAR, then you think "well he obviously had hits, RBI's and home runs" which means he has SOME positive impact on his teams single game(s) performance, just not over his career (holy run on sentence).

Reason B) He had a career negative WAR. That inherently means, over the long term, he hurt his team and a replacement level player would have been better over that span. Does that mean the team would have been better off never having him or having a replacement level player instead?

I think you have to look at it over a long term span and short term.

Was Jeff Francoeur worth it May 13 2006 when he hit a walk off grand slam? Surely he was.

But was he worth it from May whenever for 2006 to May whenever of 2013, or any span where he accumulated long term negative WAR (which in his career seems like any span on 2 months)? You'd have to say no.

Jun 10, 2013 12:34 PM
rating: 1
 
zwestwood

I would imagine that warm bodies in the minors, even if they dont sniff MLB, would benefit the players who will. Giving someone live competition is better than none. Even if WAR < 0. Competition helps. Right? Maybe its not quantifiable, but intuitively I would imagine hitting off a pitcher is better than hitting off a tee or a pitching machine.

Jun 11, 2013 09:44 AM
rating: 0
 
jalee121

I'm shocked that a recent White Sox draft didn't fall under the "never having an MLB player reach the majors" category. It just feels like something they would accomplish.

Jun 10, 2013 10:16 AM
rating: 2
 
jrbdmb

Will recent Marlins drafts now be considered howling successes since so picks are now showing up on the MLB club?

Jun 10, 2013 13:08 PM
rating: 2
 
BarryR

Sure, it's really awful for a team to have a bad draft, but it requires a special level of ineptitude to do what the Mets did in the early 70s. In the 1970 and 1971 draft classes combined, the Mets produced four major leaguers with a combined WAR of 1.9. Bruce Boisclair and his 1.0 WAR in 917 MLB AB was the only one from 1970, while Rick Baldwin, a pitcher who had a 1.3 WAR in 103 games, was the stud of the three 1971 draftees. Number 1 choice Rich Puig had 10 hitless AB in the show (-0.4 WAR), while Mark DeJohn went 4-21 for 0.0 WAR. That's it. For the record, this was preceded by the 1969 draft which produced a total of 1.4 WAR, but did produce Buzz Capra, whose 6.8 WAR were quite useful. In 1972, they drafted Craig Swan, who produced a relatively astronomical 12.7 WAR. There were five other major leaguers from that class, with a combined WAR of -1.2, with a high of 0.6.
To summarize - over a three year period (1970-72) the Mets drafted only three players with a career WAR of 1.0 or greater and just one with a WAR over 1.3.
In the period between 1965 and 1973, the Mets had nine first round draft choices, many of them quite high. Only four of these choices made it to the majors, and only two (Tim Foli and Jon Matlack) appeared in more than four major league games or produced positive WAR. Good thing they lucked into Tom Seaver.

Jun 10, 2013 13:08 PM
rating: 0
 
Schere

Some pretty astonishing Orioles fail:

1998: 0 WAR, only two draftees signed and made the majors.
1999: about 50 WAR, mostly Bedard and Roberts
2000: pretty astonishing - none of their picks in rounds 1-31 made an appearance in MLB. The Round 32-33 picks did, and combined for a -1.2 WAR.
2001: 17 (Jim Johnson headlines)
2002: 0.6 (Adam Loewen, sadly, headlines the list)
2003: 24 (100% Markakis, the others net to zero)
2004: 3.5 (drafted Will Vanable and Jaime Garcia, but couldn't/didn't sign them)
2005: 7.0 (only two players remain in the majors, Reimold and David Hernandez)
2006: 0.0 (Zach Britton may some day put this one into positive territory)

Jun 10, 2013 14:19 PM
rating: 0
 
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