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College Picks and the Hometown Discount

Dustin Pedroia's exploits last night reminded me of a comparison that Nate Silver made before the season began.  When he ran his UPSIDE scores--basically, total VORP over the medium-term--Pedroia came out above Delmon Young.

Now, Nate was careful to say that PECOTA doesn't necessarily think that Pedroia will have a better career than Young.  The contrary is probably true.  But, those two players have arbitration clocks that started at about the same time, and will tick at the same rate.  So as far as the Red Sox and Devil Rays are concerned, if they keep these two guys through arbitration and not a day further, the Sox will get more value out of Pedroia than the Rays will out of Young.

This would seem to be a textbook example of the benefit of choosing college players.  They are ready sooner after the draft, and they are closer to their peak when they arrive.

Young and Pedroia continue to be textbook in both of these regards.  Young is 2 years younger than Pedroia, was drafted a year earlier, yet debuted on almost exactly the same schedule.  Pedroia will be under Red Sox control from age 23-28 while Young will be under Rays control from age 21-26.  It remains to be seen how Delmon will develop, but this year, Pedroia racked up a 30 VORP lead on his fellow rookie.

Again, the conventional wisdom is probably right that Delmon has a better career ahead of him.  But how much does that career projection matter when drafting?  For a can't-miss high school prospect (if indeed such a creature exists), it's tough to stash them in the minors much longer than Tampa did with Young, and that puts him on schedule to hit free agency after his age 26 season.  Good value, perhaps, but hardly a chance to lock up a potential Hall of Famer through his peak years.

The hometown discount

Yet can't-miss high school hitters continue to get picked early, and probably will continue to be.

The one thing I can think of that would potentially make Young a more valuable draft pick than Pedroia, in retrospect, is if both players sign below-market deals with their current teams.  I don't think it particularly matters whether those deals are Sizemore/Wright-esque arb-buyouts or they are monster free-agent deals like the one Andruw Jones signed.  The point is that the team with control over the player has first crack at signing the player when he hits free agency (or before, in the Sizemore, etc. cases), and often gets a discount for doing so.

But how much?  And how much would make a difference?  These are interesting questions, and as yet, I don't have answers.

As I discussed in my Hardball Times column last week, premium players have a value that isn't linearly related to their run/win production.  There are only so many guys who can give you 5 or 6 wins above replacement at a position, and if none of them are on the market, and you need those wins, how much is that worth?

(Hint: a lot.)

Short version: superstars are not fungible.  When I was working on that column, noting just how outstanding Posada was last year, I noticed the dearth of free-agents-to-be on the VORP leaderboard.  A-Rod (#1) is possible, as is Posada (#8).  Bonds will be on the market (#19), and then there's Aaron Rowand (#24).  That's it in the top 30.  One or two of those players will return to the Yankees, so it's a solid reminder of how important is to have talent in the pipeline to extend as necessary.

Certainly it worked out well for the Mets to sign 18-year-old David Wright; he made it to the bigs on the Delmon schedule, but the Mets have locked him up.  Hometown discount, security discount, exploitation of in-house talent, whatever you want to call it, they're going to get more for their money out of Wright--through some of his peak years, too--than, say, the Sox will get from Pedroia.

I'm sure that we could dig up plenty of examples on both sides of the fence.  Perhaps Scott Boras clients are less desirable high-school draft picks  because they are less likely to sign long-term deals before testing the free-agent market.  Maybe Pedroia is a rare case.  (I doubt it, though, with guys like the Braun/Gordon/Zimmerman triumverate running around.)

The market changes fast enough, and there are few enough legit stars, that I'm not sure a complete and accurate study could be done on this topic.  We'd have to know what kind of discount teams get by locking up their young talent; the success rate of those deals; the hometown discount given by players hitting free agency the first time; perhaps even the types of players most likely to give such a discount, or the teams mostly likely to receive it.

All interesting stuff, even if we don't have the analysis.  I'll get around to it eventually.  Until then, you'll have to settle for my numberless ponderings.