Does Pick Placement Guarantee a Better Player in the First Round?

Does Pick Placement Guarantee a Better Player in the First Round?

Does Pick Placement Guarantee a Better Player in the First Round?

One common statement I heard during the MLB Draft was “Outside of the first 8 picks, the quality drops off.” I was curious if that was a general theory for this draft, or if this was common every year.
The MLB has had an amateur draft since 1965. I took the first 30 picks and looked at the career WAR for each player taken. Before we really get into the numbers, there are a couple of note.

Picks 21-30 were part of the second round in 1965-1968. With expansion, picks 25-30 became the second round from 1969 to 1976. The following five years (1977-1981) had the second round being with pick 27.

Starting in 1982, picks 27 and 28 were supplemental first round picks; this was the case until 1987. Picks 29 and 30 were part of the second round.

From 1987 until 1991, the supplemental rounds started at pick 27. In ’92, the supplemental round began at pick 28. The following 3 years, it began at 29.

In 1996, the first round extended to 30 picks. There are a few years where it’s gone beyond 30 pick, if a pick from the previous year did not sign.

The other major note was I only looked at players drafted between 1965 and 2006; players after 2006 are still making their way to the majors and have a lower average WAR than those prior to 2006.

Average WAR for the First 30 Picks
The major trend I noticed was the average WAR for draft picks decreased as with the picks.

The average WAR for the first overall pick was 18.2. The high for the first pick is Alex Rodriguez (Seattle, 1993) at 110.6; second is Chipper Jones (Atlanta, 1990; 80.1). The low belongs to Danny Goodwin at -2.0; he was the first overall pick in 1971 by the White Sox and then again by the Angels in 1975. He didn’t sign out of high school and played 4 years at Southern University and A&M College. Next lowest is Shawn Abner (New York Mets, 1984) at -1.6. There have been 6 first picks with negative WAR. There have also been 3 picks in this time frame that have not made the majors (with 3 more that were drafted after 2006).

The highest active player is Rodriguez; the lowest active player is Delmon Young, at 0.9.

The second pick drops to an average WAR of 11.8. The high here is Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson (Oakland, 1966) at 68.4; he’s followed by Will Clark (San Francisco, 1985) at 53.2. The low is Mark Lewis (Cleveland, 1988) at -4.0; he’s followed by Pete Brobert (Oakland, 1968; -1.9). There are 7 players with negative WAR (and Pedro Alvarez drafted in 2008) and 4 players who didn’t make the majors (with 3 additional who were drafted after the cut off).

The highest active player is Josh Beckett (Florida, 1999; 31.9), but Justin Verlander (Detroit, 2004; 29.0) is closing in. The current low is Greg Reynolds (Colorado, 2006) at -1.4 and it looks like he might not see the majors again.

The third overall picks drops again, this time to 10.2. There are 2 Hall of Famers at the top of this spot; Paul Molitor (Milwaukee, 1977) has a 72.5 WAR and a 0.1 WAR over former teammate Robin Yount (Milwaukee, 1973; 72.4). The low belongs to former pitcher Dewon Brazelton (Tampa Bay, 2001) at -3.5; the next worst is Jimmy Jones (San Diego, 1982) and Dave McCarty (Minnesota, 1991) at -2.6. There are 8 players in the negative and 7 players that never made the majors (with 5 additional after the cut off).

The current active leader for the third pick is Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay, 2006) at 27.5. The active bottom feeder is Luis Montanez (Chicago Cubs, 2000; -1.4), who is in Triple A for the Cardinals.

Surprisingly, the fourth overall pick moves up to 11.6 WAR. That would be attributed to 3 strong players at the top: Hall of Famer Barry Larkin (Cincinnati, 1985; 67.1), Kevin Brown (Texas, 1986; 64.3), and Hall of Famer Dave Winfield (San Diego, 1973; 59.4). The low belongs to Eddie Williams (New York Mets, 1983) at -1.6, with Terry Blocker (New York Mets, 1981) coming next at -1.1. There are 10 players with negative WAR and 8 that never made the majors (with 4 more after the 2006 draft).

[Yes, Kevin Brown has a higher career WAR than Dave Winfield; at the peak of his career, he was a solid player. I may need to do an article on Brown vs the HOF pitchers.]

The high active player would have been Kerry Wood (Chicago Cubs, 1995; 26.1) had he not retired recently; now it’s Ryan Zimmerman (Washington, 2005; 25.1) who would pass Wood anyway. The active low is Brad Lincoln (Pittsburgh, 2006) at -0.5.

The fifth pick (and final one I’m expanding on) has an average WAR of 6.7; the reason for the large drop is a good number of players never made it to the majors. The high belongs to Dwight Gooden (New York, 1982) at 50.1; he’ll probably be passed by Mark Teixeira (Texas, 2001; 43.2) in the next 3 years. The low is Kurt Miller (Pittsburgh, 1990) at -2.7, followed by Justin Wayne (Montreal, 2000) at -1.6. There are 8 players in negative and 16 players that didn’t make the majors (there are 3 more that were drafted after 2006).

The current active leader is Teixeira. The lowest active player is Mark Rogers (Milwaukee, 2004) at 0.4 and this could change if he makes it back to the majors.

Here is the full breakdown by round:

Based on the average WARs, it’s safe to assume that there is a huge jump in talent from pick 1 to pick 30. Like all metrics, there will be exceptions – Mike Schmidt was drafted 30th overall in 1971 and had a WAR of 103.0 – but the general assumption is true.

Check back tomorrow for a breakdown of the first 30 picks by education level (high school vs junor/community college vs college).

Be sure to check out other great articles at 85% Sports.

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By The Baseball Page
Thursday, 21 Jun 2012

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