If I have learned anything watching every scouting director in the business, it’s this-every one of them wakes up on draft day with hopes of drafting two things in the first five rounds: a future ace, and a future up-the-middle star. Go deep enough into the draft history books, while pitchers are easily the most drafted position, you’ll find that catchers, shortstops, and center fielders are all not too far behind. I have also found that if a director is taking someone from up the middle, the prospect generally falls into four categories:

  1. Catchers: Simply put, a player that will stay behind the plate.
  2. Five-Tools Guys: The rarest and the most sought-after, but in essence, a shortstop or center fielder who can do it all.
  3. Bats First, Defense Comes Second: Think players like Aaron Hill or Eric Munson.
  4. Future Leadoff Hitters

To define what a future leadoff hitter is, scouting directors start with one skill: speed. While we here at BP loathe the assumption that a leadoff hitter must be fast, the combination of ex-scouts as scouting directors and ex-players as managers are likely to keep basestealers atop their lineups well into the distant future. Try as sabermetrics might, experiments like Jeremy Giambi are likely to remain experiments.

So if we can’t change’em, and we certainly don’t want to join’em, the next step is a compromise: let’s insist on the right speedy players, and not one-dimensional players like Juan Pierre. If we meet the old-school types halfway, and accept speed as a prerequisite, can’t they accept what Giambi stood for-on-base skills as the other major prerequisite? This is where managers and sabermetrics can converge, but I’ll leave the arguments for proper lineups to Joe Sheehan, or to David Pinto‘s lineup analysis model.

The better question to ask, I think, is where can scouting directors and sabermetrics converge? If we accept that directors want to look for speedy future leadoff types on draft day, the next responsibility becomes determining other traits (beyond home-to-first times) to look for in these players. It seems that right now the ratio of Carl Crawford success stories to Denard Span-caliber busts involves a lot of bonus money getting flushed down the toilet.

To better this ratio, we must go back through these players’ careers and look at where and what things went wrong, as well as look for the success stories. From the 2000 to 2002 drafts, I have found 11 players who were drafted with leadoff ambitions in the first two rounds that will likely never achieve that role in a single MLB game. Yet given their high bonuses, it’s important to remember that these players were once considered to be the cream of the leadoff crop.

From there, the next step is comparing their plights to players that eventually achieved their destinies to sit atop big league lineups-be it poorly, like the Pierre types, or effectively, like Carl Crawford. However, this distinction is important to make, too-determining the difference between a good leadoff hitter and a bad one. So I went back and looked at players that logged a lot of games atop lineups from 1996-2006, and found 11 good hitters and 11 bad hitters to match the group of failed prospects. With that, we have three groups of leadoff types:

    Good               Bad                Ugly
Craig Biggio       Roger Cedeno       Jason Bourgeois
Carl Crawford      Chris Duffy        Josh Burrus
Ray Durham         Doug Glanville     Tyrell Godwin
Curtis Granderson  Tom Goodwin        Fred Lewis
Derek Jeter        Brian L. Hunter    Drew Meyer
Chuck Knoblauch    Juan Pierre        Miguel Negron
Matt Lawton        Scott Podsednik    Corey Ragsdale
Kenny Lofton       Dave Roberts       Mike Rodriguez
Jose Reyes         Alex Sanchez       Denard Span
Grady Sizemore     Willy Taveras      Steve Stanley
Shannon Stewart    Tony Womack        Josh Womack

What should jump out is just the fundamental difference between the players in the “good” and “bad” columns. The middle column is made up of extremely fast major leaguers that aren’t particularly patient or powerful, and perhaps not at all; the “good” column would have a significant advantage in career OBP and ISO. However, what we’re investigating is what we could have previously forecasted in their minor league or amateur days, to subsequently allow us to forecast these sorts of drastic differences.

Today we are going to stick with biographical details, before crunching numbers next week. I’ll start by using the quick-and-dirty analysis outlined by Kevin Goldstein‘s “Spectrum” articles. Simply, whether these players stemmed from the draft (and if so, which rounds) or international signings, college or high school, etc. Here’s the raw numbers, with “R” standing for “rounds”:

Source, Round      Good    Bad     Ugly
College, 1-5        3       2       5
College, 6+         1       4       0
High School, 1-5    5       2       5
Draft & Follow      1       0       0
Draft, Int'l        0       1       1
International       1       2       0

What first jumps out is the high school rows, which do nothing to disprove the “boom or bust” notion that is usually attached to prep players. There is only one player represented who signed out of high school despite being drafted after the fifth round-Matt Lawton. There is little else among the high school players’ biographies that dictates anything denoting future success.

With the collegians, however, there was something I noticed: let’s look at the colleges represented by players from each group drafted within the first five rounds:

Good: Seton Hall, UIC, Texas A&M
Bad: Pennsylvania, Cal State Fullerton
Ugly: North Carolina, Southern, South Carolina, Miami, Notre Dame

Notice what I noticed? Combine the two groups that made the Major Leagues, and we have two good baseball programs (Fullerton, A&M), while the other three are all fringe programs. The “ugly” group, however, has four very good programs, and another in Southern that is solid, if not noteworthy. To continue, here’s a list of the five schools represented by major leaguers taken after the sixth round: Arizona, Arizona State, South Alabama, UCLA, Guilford College. Here we have three very good programs, a solid program in South Alabama, and a fringe program.

To summarize, scouting directors have struggled taking players from accomplished programs in early rounds (in this study just a 2-for-6 success rate), doing better with smaller programs, and waiting to take leadoff hitters from the good programs later in the draft (Kenny Lofton, Dave Roberts, Chris Duffy). With this, we find our first rule:

The Steve Stanley rule to Drafting Leadoff Hitters: Do not place an overemphasis on a player’s body of work in college; don’t let the numbers cloud perspective on a player’s tools.

In addition, another useful quick-and-dirty analysis figure is to look at what these players are listed at. Here is an average of each group:

                 Good    Bad     Ugly
Height (Inches)  71.72   71.91   71.82
Weight          182.27  172.18  176.55

The results here speak for themselves. Height, very obviously, is not a determinant in future success-the “good” leadoff hitters are the shortest group of the three. Leadoff hitters are going to be somewhere between 5’9″ (Ray Durham) and 6’3″ (Derek Jeter), and their placement within that range is ultimately unimportant. Weight, on the other hand, is another story. The “good” group of players has a ten-pound advantage on “bad” leadoff hitters, and a 5.7 pound advantage on the group that never made the major leagues. If this were a boxing match, the “good” column would be the favorite on fight night. However, the answer here is not that scouting directors look for heavier players on draft day. Carl Crawford was not 219 pounds in high school; Curtis Granderson has gained ten pounds since college. Which brings us to our next rule:

The Corey Ragsdale Rule to Drafting Leadoff Hitters: Projectability should not be a term resigned to pitchers; the ability to add muscle mass to a frame correlates with future success.

However, with every rule, we should remember it’s general, not set in stone. Jose Reyes is the second-lightest player in the study, and is 40 pounds smaller than Tyrell Godwin. There is obviously something else that separated these players, which I’ll investigate next week, perusing the minor league numbers of each group. Ultimately, in part three, we’ll use the analysis to look at the group of leadoff hopefuls currently in the minor leagues.

Thank you for reading

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