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Feeling a Draft

Previously, we reminisced over a few of the drafts from the 1990's. Now, let's look at the bigger picture and see what we can learn by studying all of the drafts from the previous decade (1990 through 1999).

First, let me explain my methodology:

  1. Thanks to baseball-reference's handy draft tool, I was able to compile all the names and pertinent details for every player drafted in the first round over the ten year period.
  2. Next, I headed over to Rally's historical WAR database and added the WAR totals for each player's first six seasons in the big leagues (not including September call-ups). Again, we look at the first six seasons because that is when a player is under team control and not yet eligible for free agency. Obviously, players get a lot more expensive once they become free agents and won't be a member of the organization that drafted them if they don't want to be. 
  3. With the six year WAR totals, I created different groupings of drafted players: high school players, college players, pitchers, hitters, and various combinations, and found the average WAR per season for each grouping.

First, we'll separate the picks from the top to the bottom of the first round to get an idea of talent distribution in the first round:

Pick Range Avg. WAR per year per player
1 Thru 5 1.20
6 Thru 10 0.85
11 Thru 15 0.66
16 Thru 20 0.72
21 Thru 30 0.24


  • To no one's surprise, top ten draft picks saw the best results, but oddly enough, picks 16-20 outperformed picks 11-15, on average.
  • Number one overall picks averaged 2 WAR per season, and they included some notable busts (Brien Taylor, Paul Wilson) as well as future Hall-of-Famers (Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones).
  • The talent thinned considerably after the first 20 picks, so it's no wonder why of some teams with these picks opt to sign a Type A free agent, even if it means they give their pick away. That's not to say that late first round picks are without value, but the drop off was significant. 

Now let's visit the college players vs. high school players debate. College players out-played high schoolers, with an average WAR per season of .7 to .65, but what happens when we separate the hitters and pitchers?

College Hitters 0.93
College Pitchers 0.56
HS Hitters 0.80
HS Pitchers 0.44

This is nearly the same as what Victor Wang found: High school pitchers as a whole are bad. College hitters are good.

But wait. While it is early in the current decade and a lot can change, so far high school pitchers are on the upswing. First round high school arms from the years '00-'04 are averaging .8 WAR per season.

Next, let's check out the split between RHP and LHP in the high school and college ranks: 

College LHP 0.72
College RHP 0.50
HS LHP 0.29
HS RHP 0.50

 I'm not sure if it's because of a smaller sample, but it is interesting, especially considering there are a lot of first round-worthy lefties in the upcoming 2009 draft. Here college lefties were pretty close in value to high school hitters, while high school southpaws bombed worse than any other grouping -- C.C. Sabathia was the only success of the group.  Again, this fact has changed dramatically during 2000 through 2004 drafts thanks to the likes of Scott Kazmir, Cole Hamels and John Danks. High school lefties so far are averaging 1.1 WAR per season.

There's one last split we'll look at, and that is between position players. Because high school players and college players are so close, we will just keep them together and divide them by position:

Shortstops 1.00
Corner IF 0.85
Catchers 0.80
Outfielders 0.79


A-Rod. Jeter. Nomar. Shortstops typically are your most athletic hitter and as a group they handily outperformed all the other position groupings. I didn't separate corner outfielders with center fielders because many times B-R made no distinction, just classifying the player as "OF". There were so few players drafted as a 2B that they were not worth looking at. 

Is there a lesson here? Well, TINSTAAP is a beast. First round pitchers, be it from the high school or college pools were riskier than hitters. But while drafting hitters was less dicey, the draft is a crap shoot with 62% of all 1st rounders busting. Just 7% of first round picks were above average regulars (worth 3 WAR or more per season). There might be some measures teams can take to lessen the risks, like using their 1st pick on a hitter, but when it comes down to it, clubs must do their due diligence, call a name on draft day and then hope for the best.