Who made their 1st round picks count?

First round picks are so cool. They get all the buzz and make all the money. The average signing bonus for a first round pick last year was $2.59 million, a number inflated by several teams ignoring MLB's little slot bonus rules. If this decade is anything like the last, two-thirds of these expensive little balls of potential will produce zilch for their drafting club. That is a lot of money to throw at such a risky investment. So what teams beat the system? Is there anything we can learn from what they did? 

First let's see how the different teams around baseball did with their first round picks over the last decade. The wins above replacement totals were found at BaseballProjection.com. The WAR totals are for the players' first six seasons in the majors, which is when they are still under their team's control. After those six years, they hit the free agent market and more often than not cease to be bargain. Because there were four expansion teams added and some teams lose picks because they sign type A free agents, I went ahead and  posted the average WAR per team's picks and divided them by six to determine how much a pick was worth a team per year.

 

TEAM WAR Avg. per yr. 
BOS 79.8 1.48
SEA 78.6 1.45
TOR 99.9 1.39
OAK 89.4 1.24
HOU 58.9 1.09
LAA 44.3 1.05
FLA 47 0.979
ATL 33.5 0.931
STL 71.5 0.917
COL 43.6 0.908
CLE 48.6 0.900
NYY 46 0.852
CHC 47.4 0.718
MIN 40.3 0.672
MIL 37.9 0.632
PHI 28.5 0.528
SD  32.9 0.498
CIN 23.2 0.483
PIT 28.4 0.473
BAL 32.8 0.456
DET  22.4 0.414
MTL 25.8 0.391
CHW 23.9 0.362
NYM 20.4 0.309
LAD 11.2 0.267
TEX 6.9 0.164
KC 10.7 0.149
SFG 0.6 0.008
ARI 0.1 0.005
TB 0 0

 

It's as if the Giants had a monkey pull a name out of hat every year, but I think the monkey would've yielded better results. Moving along to what teams did right. We'll bypass Seattle and Boston, whose numbers are A-Rod and Nomar inflated. Rodriguez might be the best 1st overall pick ever, while Boston does deserve credit for taking Nomar 12th overall as well as drafting Trot Nixon, who was worth about 3 WAR per year while under team control. Aaron Sele and Adam Everett were decent picks as well.

You can see why it is no small wonder that Tony La Cava's name gets bandied about whenever a GM position opens up, the man knows talent when he sees it. With his help, the Blue Jays built up a pretty impressive farm system, correctly hitting on their first round picks more than your average team. Take a look:

 

Yr. Pick Team Player  Position HS/COL WAR
90 22 TOR STEVE KARSAY  RHP HS 4.1
91 16 TOR SHAWN GREEN OF HS 11.2
92 19 TOR SHANNON STEWART OF HS 16.8
92 25 TOR TODD STEVERSON OF COL 0
93 15 TOR CHRIS CARPENTER RHP HS 6.9
94 28 TOR KEVIN WITT SS HS 0
95 17 TOR ROY HALLADAY
RHP HS 19.8
96 4 TOR BILLY KOCH
RHP COL 5.8
96 16 TOR JOE LAWRENCE SS HS 0
97 5 TOR VERNON WELLS OF HS 19.5
98 8 TOR FELIPE LOPEZ SS HS 4.1
99 19 TOR ALEX RIOS OF HS 11.7

 

That is a pretty good cast of players, and what impresses me that many of these good picks were made in the second half of the first round. What also sticks out to me is Toronto's preference for toolsy high schoolers as compared to the team's current strategy, which has been mostly college heavy and viewed as "safe". We'll talk about this in a future post, but high school pitchers are extremely risky picks, and yet the Blue Jays identified two Cy Young winners while they were still teenagers. That's pretty good.

The A's did pretty well for themselves as well.

 

Yr. Pick Team Player  Position HS/COL WAR
90 14 OAK TODD VAN POPPEL RHP HS 0
90 26 OAK DONALD PETERS RHP COL 0
91 26 OAK BRENT GATES SS COL 3.8
92 20 OAK BENJI GRIGSBY RHP COL 0
93 25 OAK JOHN WASDIN RHP COL 2.6
94 2 OAK BEN GRIEVE OF HS 8.4
95 5 OAK ARIEL PRIETO RHP CUBA 2.9
96 10 OAK ERIC CHAVEZ 3B HS 26.7
97 11 OAK CHRIS ENOCHS RHP COL 0
97 21 OAK ERIC DUBOSE LHP COL 1.3
98 2 OAK  MARK MULDER LHP COL 19.6
99 9 OAK  BARRY ZITO LHP COL 24.1

 

Things were going array in Oakland with Dick Bogard at the helm of the scouting department,  then Grady Fuson stepped on the scene in 1995 and started to turn things around. Well, that is until he famously went all anti-Moneyball and drafted Jeremy Bonderman and then shortly thereafter found himself canned by Billy Beane. The thing is, his first round picks at least were - unknowingly or not - pretty saber-slanted. High school hitters and college lefties are the safest of picks outside of college hitters. Again, we'll get into that a little more next later.

I don't think we can draw any hard conclusions from looking at the top two teams, but we'll stop there for now.  In Toronto's case at least, it seems to be that there was some gold-standard scouting going on. Next time we'll look at some of the top teams and maybe some of the bottom feeders and see if we can find some more clues.

 

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