Draft

A Window into the MLB Draft: San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals Come out on Top

by JDCam 03.28.15

With the MLB draft coming up in June, Curveball writers got to thinking about the differences between the 3 major US sporting drafts, baseball, football and basketball. The most obvious differences are the size, ranging from the smallest (the NBA at 2 rounds) to the largest (MLB at 40 rounds).

Specifically I was wondering what percentage of draftees in such a mammoth undertaking as the MLB draft actually make it to the majors? (Around 1 in 6 as it happens). These odds are actually surprisingly high for players drafted on the first round (around 81.1% between 2002 and 2006 in a study conducted by Baseball America). Unsurprisingly these figures drop round by round, petering out at a paltry 5.1% of players drafted after the 21st round making it to the show. But how effective are these players who make the majors and what proportion of them are significant major league contributors?

GRADUATION AND TENURE RATES THROUGH THE YEARS
MLB% 3YRS%
Round 87-91 92-96 97-01 02-06 87-91 92-96 97-01 02-06
1 78.0% 70.6% 61.6% 81.1% 50.4% 42.6% 32.2% 43.9%
1st supp 60.0% 52.8% 49.3% 55.0% 33.3% 13.9% 17.3% 15.0%
2 50.0% 47.5% 52.8% 50.7% 14.7% 15.1% 21.8% 19.1%
3-5 35.2% 32.8% 34.0% 35.2% 13.7% 9.9% 14.1% 6.8%
6-10 27.4% 20.4% 21.6% 19.9% 11.3% 6.0% 7.1% 5.1%
11-20 16.1% 13.9% 10.9% 13.2% 5.9% 3.1% 4.2% 2.5%
21+ 7.2% 8.3% 7.1% 5.1% 2.2% 2.4% 1.6% 0.9%
Total 18.3% 17.1% 17.2% 17.4% 7.3% 5.5% 6.4% 4.9%

I decided to look at the first round of 5 drafts (2006-2010) and try and find answers to a few basic questions; are certain teams drafting more successfully? What proportion of first round picks become successful major leaguers.

Immediately this goal hit major obstacles. Although smaller than I would like, I chose this draft window as it allows the players drafted in 20010 almost 5 years to progress to the major league level (I wish with hindsight I would have allowed longer). The greatest challenge comes in defining what a ‘successful’ MLB player is. I use this term as I wanted to distinguish between players that reach the major league level. Some players may make a handful of MLB appearances, I wanted to hone in on consistent contributors. In order to do that I focused on WAR (Wins Above Replacement). For the purposes of this study, we will use the following table from Fangraphs as a very basic guide in our analysis;

Scrub 0-1 WAR
Role Player 1-2 WAR
Solid Starter 2-3 WAR
Good Player 3-4 WAR
All-Star 4-5 WAR
Superstar 5-6 WAR
MVP 6+ WAR

These figures are based on a single season sampling (and would therefore need to be multiplied to find player effectiveness over a larger span – it is merely a guidepost for an at a glance analysis). Using WAR is of course tricky as WAR tends to alter position by position according to positional depth and quality (it’s tough for a relief pitcher to have a high WAR). A couple of caveats to this data:

  • This is strictly based on the 1st round of these 5 drafts.
  • I did not include the data from players who did not sign even if they signed for another team in a consecutive year.
  • The WAR listed in the chart below is for their entire MLB career to data, regardless of which club it was amassed with.

Let’s start by looking at the drafting history of teams within this window. In the table below all 30 MLB clubs are ranked by their average drafting position within the 5 year window (06-10) regardless of the number of picks they had. For example the Pirates had 5 picks in the window at an average position of 3.1. For teams that had the same average draft position, they were simply listed alphabetically. I subsequently listed the total career WAR to date of all draft picks made by a particular team as well as an average WAR for each draftee that made the majors. To account for players drafted more recently, I also listed the current organizational farm rankings according to Keith Law (Insider Reqd). Additionally, I listed the number of players per organization that did not make the majors to date (significant picks or current prospects are listed in parentheses).

Obviously the expected trend would be to see teams that had a higher average draft position amass a greater MLB WAR from its draftees. The limitations of the data certainly center around having too small a window of drafts as well as prospects drafted later not having a significant enough time in the majors to make a significant impact (Zach Wheeler for example). Having owned those limitations, there were still some compelling findings to be had.

Team Number of Draft Selections Average Position of Draft Selection Number of Selections that did not make the majors Total MLB WAR of all 1st round selections (Baseball Reference) Average WAR of 1st round selections who made majors (Baseball Reference) Current rank of Farm system (ESPN Law)
Pittsburgh 5 3.2  1 (Taillon) 6.2 1.55 7
Kansas City 5 4.4  0 15.5 3.1 15
Baltimore 5 5.2  2  26.3 8.76 22
Washington 6 9.1 1  28.3 5.66  9
Tampa Bay 5 10.6  3 (Beckham)*  63.2 31.6 23
Cincinnati 5 10.8  0 28.2 5.64  17
Seattle 5 13  0 17.3 3.46 21
Atlanta 3 15  1 28.3 14.15 6
San Francisco 7 15.14  2  63.3 12.66  29
Oakland 4 15.25  1 -1.3 -0.43 26
Cleveland 4 15.5  1 6.3 2.1  16
Florida 5 15.6  1 5.6 1.4  24
NY Mets 3 15.6  1 12.5 6.25 4
Detroit 4 15.75  0 10.1 2.525 30
Houston 5 16.2  4 (Foltynewicz) 7.1 7.1  3
Milwaukee 4 16.25  1 11.6 3.86  28
Chicago NL 5 16.4  1 4.5 1.125  1
San Diego 4 16.5  3 -0.2 -0.2  18
Toronto 6 16.5 2 7.3 1.825  19
Texas 6 16.83  4 2.5 1.25  11
Colorado 6 17.3  2  -0.9 -0.225  8
Arizona 5 15.8  1  37.4 9.34  14
LA Dodgers 5 19.2  1  42.4 10.6  10
Chicago AL 5 19.6  2  29.3 9.76  12
St. Louis 5 21  1 9.6 2.4  13
Minnesota 6 22  2 6.5 1.625  2
Philadelphia 4 22  2 (Biddle) -0.1 -0.05  25
LA Angels 5 25.4  1 30.1 7.525  27
Boston 5 26.6  2 3.5 1.16  5
NY Yankees 4 28  2 9.9 4.95  20

* Number 1 overall pick.

An interesting trend was just how many players in these 5 drafts that made only a handful of MLB appearances or just didn’t stick long term. To really get at the high impact players, here is the data presented in a different format. This table simply lists players that made the majors by team as well as their cumulative WAR since becoming major leaguers. (Players in bold have been MLB All-Stars)

Pittsburgh Brad Lincoln 0.1 Moskos 0.2 Alvarez 5.5 Sanchez 0.4
Kansas City Hochevar 2.5 Moustakas 4.5 Hosmer 5.5 Crow 2.3 Colon 0.7
Baltimore Wieters 13.6 Matusz 2.3 Machado 10.4
Washington Marrero -1 Detwiler 3.1 Strasburg 11.9 Storen 4.7 Harper 9.6
Tampa Bay Longoria 40 Price 23.2
Cincinnati Stubbs 9.2 Mesoraco 4.3 Alonso 4.2 Leake 6.2 Grandal 4.3
Seattle Morrow 7.4 Aumont -0.4 Fields -0.2 Ackley 8.9 Franklin 1.6
Atlanta Heyward 24.5 Minor 3.8
San Francisco Lincecum 22.6 Bumgarner 15.3 Posey 23.2 Wheeler 2.0 Brown 0.2
Oakland Weeks 1.1 Green -0.5 Choice -1.9
Cleveland Chisenhall 4.1 White -0.5 Pomeranz 2.7
Florida Sinkbeil -0.2 Dominguez 0.9 Skipworth 0.0 Yelich 4.9
NY Mets Davis 5.6 Harvey 6.9
Toronto Snider 3.8 Arencibia 2.0 Cooper 0.1 Jenkins 1.4
Detroit Miller -0.2 Porcello 10.6 Perry 0.2 Turner -0.5
Arizona Scherzer 24.0 Parker 6.1 Schlereth 0.0 Pollock 7.3
Houston Castro 7.1
Milwaukee Jeffress 0.8 LaPorta -0.9 Lawrie 11.7
Chicago NL Colvin 1.1 Vitters -1.3 Cashner 4.6 Jackson 0.1
San Diego Antonelli -0.2
Texas Beavan 1.5 Smoak 1.0
Colorado Reynolds -1.8 Friedrich -0.6 Matzek 1.9 Parker -0.4
LA Dodgers Kershaw 39.7 Morris 2.2 Withrow 0.9 Martin -0.4
Chicago AL Poreda 0.2 Beckham 6.2 Sale 22.9
St. Louis Ottavino 3.8 Kozma 0.9 Wallace -0.6 Miller 5.5
Minnesota Parmelee 0.5 Revere 4.2 Hicks 0.6 Gibson 1.2
Philadelphia Drabek -0.1 Savery 0.0
LA Angels Conger 2.4 Grichuk 0.2 Trout 28.2 Bedrosian -0.7
Boston Bard 4.3 Kelly -0.6 Fuentes -0.2
NY Yankees Kennedy 9.8 Brackman 0.1

In this group there are 19 All-Stars out of 146 first-rounder picks (that’s 13% if you’re counting). Of these 19 All-Stars, 8 were top 5 picks, 13 were top 10 picks, 18 were top 15 picks (the only one who wasn’t is Mike Trout). That raises your odds of drafting an All-Star to 24% if you have a top 15 pick and, 26% if you have a top 10 pick and 32% if you have a top 5 pick.
There were only 4 teams that drafted multiple all-stars in this drafting window, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Washington and San Francisco. Of these 4 the Giants are by far the most captivating, not only because their average position in these drafts was 15 (almost 5 spots later than the next highest (Tampa Bay) but also because of their incredible success in recent seasons (3 of the last 5 World Series). The Giants success seems tied to exceptional value out of their top picks. Even looking beyond the 3 all-stars drafted in this window, the Giants continually reap and develop outstanding talent in the first 5 rounds. Aside from the players drafted in the given window in the 1st round, the Giants have added Zach Wheeler (now with the Mets), Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford and going back a little further, Matt Cain in the first few rounds of the draft (that’s a cumulative drafted WAR of 52.5 to tack onto what Lincecum, Posey and Bumgarner gave them). The Giants rarely have the best farm system in baseball, because they draft talent that can help them within a few years. Their success rate at drafting talent with MLB staying power is almost as impressive as how quickly they get it to the show. Anyone want to bet against Tyler Beede being a future all-star?

Will Joe Panik be next in line as a fast moving Giants draft pick who excels in the major leagues?

Will Joe Panik be next in line as a fast moving Giants draft pick who excels in the major leagues?

Another team worthy of discussion here is the St. Louis Cardinals. Their draft results were unspectacular, Shelby Miller being the only player of note, yet they always seem to be in contention at the end of the year. They rank in the middle of the pack (15th) in payroll obligations. Yet they have reached 2 World Series and two NL Championship Series in the past 4 seasons. The Cardinals typically have a good farm system but not always elite. Delving into the Cardinals history during this period, they maximize value from the middle rounds of the draft. From 2006 onwards the Cardinals have drafted the following players in rounds 2-10: Allen Craig (6.1 WAR), Jon Jay (11.2 WAR), Lance Lynn (7.7 WAR 1st round supplementary), Joe Kelly (3.8 WAR), Matt Carpenter (9.9 WAR – 13th round), Matt Adams (3.7 WAR – 21st round) and Kevin Siegrist (41st round) who have all made significant contributions to their major league roster. St. Louis it seems has an eye for diamond in the rough talent and does a stellar job at getting it major league ready.

This discussion wouldn’t be complete without the non-example. The Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates did an AWFUL job with their top picks between 2006 and 2010. Thank goodness for Andrew McCutchen (drafted in the first round of 2005). Pedro Alvarez was the only player of significance who has made a major league impact for Pittsburgh in the draft window. While Jamieson Taillon is an elite prospect and the Pirates seem to have made amends with Gerrit Cole and Austin Meadows (drafted since the window), they have simply whiffed too many times with such an outstanding average draft position. The list of players the Pirates passed on in this window is truly staggering and while hindsight is 20/20, there is no doubt some weak draft classes slowed their ascendance to a now perennial competitor. Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Max Scherzer, Matt Wieters, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Manny Machado and Matt Harvey, to name but a few.

Jameson Taillon is a rare example of a highly touted prospect in amongst a slew of whiffs by the Pirates between 2006-2010

Jameson Taillon is a rare example of a highly touted prospect in amongst a slew of whiffs by the Pirates between 2006-2010

Looking at a small window into the first round of the draft has been fascinating. The most sure fire way to drafting high caliber MLB talent lies with a top 15 pick, even then there will always be whiffs. The most successful teams in recent years have found a way to maximize fast moving talent throughout the draft regardless of their position in it.