The Jeremy Brown Blue Plate Special is my favourite chapter of Michael Lewis' Moneyball. In fact, it's my favourite chapter in non-fiction history. It's got everything a sports fan wants. It openly admits that teams negotiate with players before they are drafted (a big no-no). It's got a happy Billy Beane, then a mad Billy Beane, then an ecstatic Billy Beane. It's like the whole movie Draft Day except true, made about baseball, condensed into one chapter, and then actually exciting [editor's note--and good].
As Lewis typically writes about finance, he tends to focus on the business side of baseball throughout the book. Some people don't like that about Moneyball, but it actually lends itself to one of the most interesting facts in the story. At the beginning of the chapter, Lewis explains that Billy Beane and his team of assistants and scouts have been granted $9.4 million to sign all the players they draft. This is in spite of the fact that the cumulative value of Oakland's seven first-round picks alone are expected to eclipse $11 million (given the amount suggested in each slot).
Billy Beane did a momentous thing by letting a writer into the draft war room. He put his whole philosophy up for debate. Imagine there is a large contingent of people that routinely call for you to lose your job. Now, imagine an author accompanied you on the most stressful day of your work year. An author who will now publish what you and your colleagues went through and include every celebration and misfire. Let's take a look at how that first round (and first compensation round) went:
|1||Pittsburgh Pirates||Bryan Bullington||RHP|
|2||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Melvin Upton Jr.||CF|
|3||Cincinnati Reds||Chris Gruler||RHP|
|4||Baltimore Orioles||Adam Loewen||LHP|
|5||Montreal Expos||Clint Everts||RHP|
|6||Kansas City Royals||Zack Greinke||RHP|
|7||Milwaukee Brewers||Prince Fielder||1B|
|8||Detroit Tigers||Scott Moore||SS|
|9||Colorado Rockies||Jeff Francis||LHP|
|10||Texas Rangers||Drew Meyer||SS/2B|
|11||Florida Marlins||Jeremy Hermida||OF|
|12||Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim||Joe Saunders||LHP|
|13||San Diego Padres||Khalil Greene||SS|
|14||Toronto Blue Jays||Russ Adams||SS|
|15||New York Mets||Scott Kazmir||LHP|
|16||Oakland Athletics||Nick Swisher||1B|
|17||Philadelphia Phillies||Cole Hamels||LHP|
|18||Chicago White Sox||Royce Ring||LHP|
|19||Los Angeles Dodgers||James Loney||1B|
|20||Minnesota Twins||Denard Span||OF|
|21||Chicago Cubs||Bobby Brownlie||RHP|
|22||Cleveland Indians||Jeremy Guthrie||RHP|
|23||Atlanta Braves||Jeff Francouer||OF|
|24||Oakland Athletics||Joe Blanton||RHP|
|25||San Francisco Giants||Matt Cain||RHP|
|26||Oakland Athletics||John McCurdy||SS|
|27||Arizona Diamondbacks||Sergio Santos||SS|
|28||Seattle Mariners||John Mayberry Jr.||1B|
|29||Houston Astros||Derick Grigsby||RHP|
|30||Oakland Athletics||Ben Fritz||RHP|
|31||Los Angeles Dodgers||Greg Miller||LHP|
|32||Chicago Cubs||Luke Hagerty||LHP|
|33||Cleveland Indians||Matt Whitney||1B|
|34||Atlanta Braves||Dan Meyer||LHP|
|35||Oakland Athletics||Jeremy Brown||C|
|36||Chicago Cubs||Chadd Blasko||RHP|
|37||Oakland Athletics||Steve Obenchain||RHP|
|38||Chicago Cubs||Matt Clanton||RHP|
|39||Oakland Athletics||Mark Teahen||3B|
|40||Cincinnati Reds||Mark Schramek||RHP|
|41||Cleveland Indians||Micah Schilling||2B|
There are a number of recognizable names and then there are 'other' names. Such is the nature of the major league draft. My favourite recognizable name on this draft list is probably esteemed shortstop Sergio Santos. You know, the shortstop that now pitches for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Let's take a look now at this list re-sorted by fWAR, with players that never made the majors omitted:
|2||Melvin Upton Jr.||22.0|
|28||John Mayberry Jr.||2.3|
The first thing that stands out to me is the fact that three pitchers top the board. One of the rules Bill James and Billy Beane preach and live by is to avoid, as often as possible, drafting high school pitching prospects. It is proven that they don't turn into superstars the way scouts once believed. The problem is, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and Matt Cain were all drafted out of high school. It's a pretty hilarious coincidence that the top three performers of the 2002 draft ended up being players Beane would avoid altogether. That being said, Chris Gruler (drafted 3rd overall) was the earliest-selected high school pitcher in that year's draft. He never played higher than Rookie ball. In total, eight pitchers were selected out of high school in the first round. Three never made the majors. Not really the success rate general managers should be looking for on draft day.
Something new that comes out of looking back on the 2002 draft more recently is the fact that Scott Kazmir now dons an Oakland Athletics jersey. Let's see what Michael Lewis had to say specifically about Kazmir in Moneyball:
Scott Kazmir is yet another high school pitcher in whom the A's haven't the slightest interest. Billy's so excited he doesn't even bother to say how foolish it is to take a high school pitcher with a first-round pick.
In context, Beane has just found out that the Mets want Kazmir and this means the likelihood of Swisher dropping to the Athletics at 16 goes way up. It has turned into a very interesting part of the discussion while the context has grown as the years have past. Yet we look at Kazmir now and we probably do see a Moneyball-style pitcher; another pitcher off the free agent scrap heap. And I mean that in the most affectionate way.
While Jeremy Brown didn't really pan out, the 2002 draft is still a fascinating case study because of the inside perspective we have from Michael Lewis' accounts in Moneyball. It is interesting to note that four of the 11 compensation round picks belonged to Oakland that season. Of those 11 picks, three made the majors. Two of them belonged to Oakland and only one of them had a fWAR greater than zero: Mark Teahen. Take what you will from this, but there's a reason Billy Beane is still employed and has been for the better part of two decades.
. . .
Michael Bradburn is a Featured Writer for Beyond the Box Score. He does not endorse Mark Teahen as a FanDuel option. You can follow him on Twitter at @mwbii. You can also reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org