June 5, 2012
When a 13th Round Produces as Much as a First Round
In 1999, 30 major-league teams drafted 30 players in the 13th round of the first-year player draft. Those 30 players have, to date, produced 91.2 WARP.
The next year, in 2000, major-league teams drafted 30 players in the first round of the first-year player draft. Those players have, to date, produced 93.1 WARP.
There is, obviously, a twist. These are the future major leaguers who were drafted in that 13th round:
Justin Leone: 0.4 WARP
Other than the one pick, the 13th round went as 13 rounds go. But oh, boy, that one pick. Meanwhile, the next year's first-round picks who made the big leagues:
Adrian Gonzalez: 29.0
So it's a trick, but it's also true, to say that the 13th round in 1999 has produced as much in the majors as the next year's first round. But will it last? Or can Pujols actually surpass the 2000 first round before he retires? Certainly not impossible. There are only five active players from the 2000 first round, unless you want to be generous and include Bonser and Thorman. Of the five, only three--Gonzalez, Utley, Wainwright--are likely to contribute significant WARP going forward. Pujols has one advantage over the three of them: he is signed for a decade and will, therefore, presumably get to keep playing for the better part of 10 years. He has had a slow start this year, which sensible people might argue suggests a steep decline curve for him, but that's probably jumping to conclusions. Meanwhile, Utley's return date is a complete unknown. Wainwright, despite decent strikeout and walk rates, is struggling in his return from a year off. And Adrian Gonzalez has started just about as slowly as Pujols. All are in decline phases of their own, their respective declines starting at much lower points than Pujols'.
Still, it's hard to bet on Pujols outperforming three stars' cumulative 30s. Here's PECOTA's take on each player, through 2021:
Albert Pujols: 32.4 WARP
Pujols could certainly do it, but he needs at least one thing to happen: Utley's career ending now, or Gonzalez hitting an Eddie Mathews-level decline, or Wainwright never recovering a replacement-level elbow. Well, two things: One of those, plus his own continued excellence into his late 30s or beyond. It probably won't happen, but it could happen.