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March 27, 2006
How Do Teams Draft?
"They just take high school players."
"Of course they're good, look at how much money they spent."
These are the kind of things one hears when talking to people about how teams draft. Can we actually measure how teams draft? I gave it a shot.
To do so, I used the bonus data available for the last three drafts, and then totaled the amount of money spent by each team for their top five picks, as defined solely by bonus. So Andy Laroche (a 39th-round selection) is still a top-five pick for the Dodgers in 2003 because of his $1 million bonus. Here are the 10 highest payouts to the top five bonuses in a single draft since 2003:
YEAR TEAM $(M) BRIEF EXPLANATION 2005 Diamondbacks $8.57 Justin Upton ($6.1M) 2004 Angels $6.44 Jered Weaver plus two late-round big money signs 2004 Twins $5.75 Five picks in first 39 2003 Indians $5.63 Three picks in first 31 cost $4.56M 2005 Marlins $5.58 Five picks in first 44 2005 Royals $5.56 Alex Gordon ($4M) 2004 Diamondbacks $5.55 Stephen Drew ($4M) 2003 Brewers $5.50 Rickie Weeks ($3.6M) 2003 Devil Rays $5.48 Delmon Young ($3.7M) 2004 Devil Rays $5.42 Jeff Niemann, $600K to 10th round
Worth the money? We shall see. Here are the bottom five:
YEAR TEAM $(M) BRIEF EXPLANATION 2005 Giants $0.50 No picks until 4th; 6th and 8th don't sign 2004 Orioles $1.12 Wade Townsend mess, no 2nd rounder 2003 Phillies $1.14 No 1st or 2nd; 6th didn't sign 2004 Giants $1.43 Don't pick until No. 70 2004 Braves $1.47 No first round pick
The average team spent $3.75 million on their top five bonuses, so for the three-year period studied, you're looking at $11.24 million per team for 15 players, and a grand total of $337 million dollars spent on 450 players who have yet to step to the plate or throw a pitch in a professional game. Here are your top and bottom five spenders for the last three drafts.
TEAM $(M) Diamondbacks $17.88 Royals $14.85 Indians $14.26 Devil Rays $14.00 Tigers $13.95 . . . Braves $8.58 Orioles $8.42 Astros $7.40 Giants $5.74 Phillies $5.58
Interesting note: Not only did the Diamondbacks spend more than three times the amount on their top five bonuses over the last three years than the Phillies and Giants, they spent more money on one player (Justin Upton), than either of those teams did on their 15 players.
So knowing which teams spend a lot and spend a little is easy to figure out, but it's also not the best measurement of how teams draft. Rather, it's the best measurement of where teams draft. For the most part, the teams spending the most money were those consistently picking near the top of the draft, where bonuses get into the multi-million range. In other words, consistently bad teams. In order to come up with a second measurement on how teams draft, I tried to measure patterns of risk. To do so, I enlisted the assistance of Rany Jazayerli, who has done a valuable series here at BP measuring draft picks. Based on Rany's research, I asked him to assign a "risk coefficient" for each kind of selection, assuming the safest pick is a college hitter, and here's what he came up with:
College Hitter: 1.000 College Pitcher: 1.501 Prep Pitcher: 1.506 Prep Hitter: 1.621
Using these values, I assigned each player a value that I called RiskCost. I used these risk coefficients in the same way that degree of difficulty is used in competitive diving. So by multiplying the bonus by the risk coefficient, I came up with RiskCost values for each selection. Here are the 10 highest RiskCost scores for a single player over the past three years:
YEAR TM PLAYER BONUS DOD RiskCost 2005 ARZ Justin Upton 6.10 1.621 9.89 2004 LAA Jered Weaver 4.00 1.501 6.00 2003 TBD Delmon Young 3.70 1.621 6.00 2005 NYM Mike Pelfrey 3.55 1.501 5.33 2004 SDP Matt Bush 3.15 1.621 5.11 2003 DET Kyle Sleeth 3.35 1.501 5.03 2004 TBD Jeff Niemann 3.20 1.501 4.80 2004 DET Justin Verlander 3.12 1.501 4.68 2004 NYM Philip Humber 3.00 1.501 4.50 2005 DET Cameron Maybin 2.65 1.621 4.30
Justin Upton's RiskCost score is the highest by over 50% and also the highest of all time. What you can see here is that with risk brought into the equation, the system implies that Cameron Maybin at $2.65 million is a riskier selection than the $4 million bonus that Stephen Drew and Alex Gordon, both college hitters, received.
Using this data I assigned a weighted Risk Score to each team. Instead of simply adding up the 15 RiskCost values for each team, I added them and then divided that total by the total amount of money spent. In other words, the risk of signing a high school hitter for $2 million has four times the impact on a team's risk score than signing a high school hitter for $500K.
So now we have two measurements for each team: a total in money spent, and a weighted risk score. This is the kind of data that screams for a scatter plot:
So now we can view how each team deals with the draft on both money and risk levels, with cash outlay on the Y axis and weighted risk on the X axis. By splitting the chart into four quadrants using the averages of all 30 teams, I've categorized each team into one of four types. Let's look at each one.
Big, But Cautious Spending
Best Example On A High Spending Level: Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks have spent more than $3 million more than any other team with their 15 bonuses. This is mostly because of the record bonus ($6.1 million) handed out to 2005 No. 1 overall pick Justin Upton, and the $4 million given to 2004 first-round selection Stephen Drew. But you have to hand it to Arizona and scouting director Mike Rizzo, because they haven't been afraid to do what it takes to get the best talent. By taking Upton last year and Drew at No. 15 overall in 2004 (when other teams were afraid to deal with agent Scott Boras), the Diamondbacks exercised patience and guts and wound up with the equivalent of two No. 1 overall picks. Despite Upton being the 'riskiest' pick in the study (and arguably the one with the highest upside) Rizzo has been exceedingly safe otherwise. Upton is the only Arizona draftee among the top 15 bonuses to come out of the high school talent pool, and the three players with the highest bonuses after Upton--Drew, Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson--are all college hitters.
Best Example On A Low Risk Level: Oakland Athletics
Is it any surprise to BP readers that the team with the lowest weighted risk is Oakland? Seven of the top eight bonuses paid by the Athletics over the last three years went to college hitters. Keep in mind, that even Oakland may be coming around to the fact that this kind of drafting is possibly too risk-averse, as the only reason their plot isn't even further to the left is that they spent over $1.5 million on a trio of high school arms in 2005.
Best Example On A High Spending Level: Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Because the team always stinks at the big league level, the Devil Rays always pick high, and man, do they let it ride. Of the 15 bonuses looked at here, not a single one was handed out to a college hitter, and only three went to college pitchers. More than half of their $14 million spent have gone to two players: the best prospect in baseball (Delmon Young), and a high-ceiling pitcher (Jeff Niemann) who has had problems staying healthy so far.
Best Example On A High Risk Level: See Devil Rays, Tampa.
Spend Little, Risk Little
Best Example On A Low Spending Level: San Francisco Giants
The Giants have spent less than $6 million on their 15 bonuses, and they've deliberately timed moves in the last two years in order to sacrifice their late first-round picks. This is a practice that borders on criminal when you look at the kinds of players the Giants could have taken with this pick. The next time there is a meeting among the Giants executives, and somebody starts talking about the worthlessness of a late-first round pick, can somebody stand up and remind that person it was the 25th pick in 2002 that netted the team Matt Cain? Please? Anyone? Bueller?
Best Example On A Low Risk Level: Washington Nationals
Like the Royals, the Nationals have one player/bonus (Ryan Zimmerman/$2.975M) skewing their risk score, but they do avoid high school players pretty consistently. 2004 3rd-round pick Ian Desmond ($430K) is the highest bonus they've given to a high school hitter, while Collin Balester is the only prep pitcher they've given a six figure bonus to.
Big Risks, Little Investment
Best Example On A Low Cost Level: Houston Astros
Tulane lefthander Brian Bogusevic is the team's only first-round pick in the last three years, and as a general rule, the teams strays away from high school hitters with their early picks. What brings their risk score a little above average are a pair of high school pitchers taken in the late rounds who received second round money. 2003 13th-round pick Jimmy Barthmaier ($750K) and 2004 9th-round pick Troy Patton ($550K) show that the Astros can be aggressive in taking prep players with signability issues.
Best Example On A High Risk Level: New York Yankees
The Yankees always pick late, but they definitely look for high-risk/high-ceiling guys when they do invest, with their top five bonuses all going to prep players, and four of those going to high school hitters. 2005 third-round pick Brett Gardner is the only college hitter the Yankees have selected above the ninth round in the last three years, and big 2005 bonuses to late picks Austin Jackson and Alan Horne may be a sign of things to come as the Yankees look to parlay their high-spending ways into the draft without the benefit of ever picking towards the top.
One thing that was not addressed here is a judgment on these four groupings. Is any one of them a right way to draft? If a team is spending a lot, does it make sense to spread your risk around? If for whatever reason a team has a limited budget for the draft, does it make sense to go for the riskier players who may have a higher ceiling? If you look at the chart again, you can find very good and very bad systems in every quadrant, except one. The Spend Little, Risk Little teams have spent less than most and put the money into low-risk players--putting little impact talent into their organization, and leaving all of those teams lagging behind when it comes to overall system strength.
So there is more than one way to draft properly, and much of it depends on draft position, available talent in any one year/at any one draft position, and obviously the collective skills of a team's scouting director and their staff. From evaluating drafts and prospects for years, my gut tells me that--all things being equal--the ideal draft balance on this chart is a curve that begins at the top somewhere round around the Diamondbacks' point, slopes to where the average risk and cost intersect, and finishes on the right below the Yankees a tick or two.
But it's only March, and there is plenty of time for more studies.