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Building Through the Draft: Worst of the Worst

On Monday morning, I wrote an article that revealed the top five teams in Major League Baseball at drafting and developing talent for their big league club over the past decade, starting with the 2002 Draft.

Several people commented that they wished to see the entire list of teams, ranked by total accumulated WAR and also including average WAR per homegrown player. Here is the entire league:

Team Total WAR Average WAR
Boston Red Sox 100.3 4.36
San Francisco Giants 97.9 2.88
Los Angeles Dodgers 95.5 3.98
Milwaukee Brewers 86 3.91
Tampa Bay Rays 80.2 4.46
Detroit Tigers 78.7 2.25
Atlanta Braves 70.9 3.22
Oakland Athletics 70.8 2.83
Kansas City Royals 65.2 2.61
Cincinnati Reds 64.5 2.58
Colorado Rockies 63.7 2.45
Los Angeles Angels 60.2 2.15
Miami Marlins 59.1 1.48
Minnesota Twins 58 2.64
Washington Nationals 57.7 2.31
Arizona Diamondbacks 57.6 2.22
Toronto Blue Jays 54.8 2.19
Texas Rangers 48.7 2.32
San Diego Padres 44.7 1.44
Baltimore Orioles 41.5 1.73
Pittsburgh Pirates 40.3 2.02
New York Yankees 34.7 1.73
St. Louis Cardinals 30.9 0.97
New York Mets 30.8 1.62
Philadelphia Phillies 30.2 1.78
Houston Astros 24.2 1.51
Chicago Cubs 19.3 0.92
Cleveland Indians 15.5 0.65
Chicago White Sox 11.9 0.54
Seattle Mariners 8.9 0.45

The disparity between the Boston Red Sox and the Seattle Mariners is 91.4 wins. That’s unbelievable. That’s as many wins as the Tampa Bay Rays netted last year, which ended in an AL Wild Card and a postseason berth. Heck, that paltry +8.9 WAR represents fewer wins than Jacoby Ellsbury was worth in 2011 alone!

In some ways, analyzing the bottom teams is more entertaining (or painful, depending on your loyalties) than looking back at the top teams’ successes. Here are the bottom five teams at building through the draft, who all finished below .500 and averaged 70.6 wins last season:

#26) Houston Astros — 24.2 WAR (1.51 WAR/player)

The Astros have developed the fewest homegrown players since the 2002 Draft — only graduating 16 draftees to the big leagues — and exactly one of them has been even above-average: Hunter Pence. The remainder of their picks have either fizzled out or were lost in free agent compensation. 2002 first-round draft pick Derick Grigsby left baseball due to crippling depression issues. 2006 first-round draft pick Maxwell Sapp left baseball after three years of hitting only .224/.310/.313 in A-ball. Houston didn’t even agree to terms with a draft pick higher than fifth-rounder Collin DeLome in 2007. It has simply been a rough road for the Astros in the draft. Things remain on the upswing, though, especially after the Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn trades.

#27) Chicago Cubs — 19.3 WAR (0.92 WAR/player)

If the Astros have only developed one stud player since the 2002 Draft, the Chicago Cubs have developed no one significant. They have been relatively successful at drafting and developing minor role players — Tony Campana, Rich Hill, Darwin Barney, Tyler Colvin, etc — but the homegrown talent is lacking star power. The best the Cubs have done is Sean Marshall, who found success as a dominant set-up man — which, while nice, has little overall value for creating a homegrown core to build around. Perhaps the 2005 Draft personifies the Cubs’ developmental success over the past decade. The 2005 Draft saw one Chicago Cub draftee make the big leagues (thus far), and that was left-handed reliever Donnie Veal, who pitched 16.1 innings for the Pirates in 2009 and compiled a 7.16 ERA. The system suffered yet another blow prior to the 2011 season, when they sent Chris Archer, Hak-Ju Lee, and company to Tampa Bay for Matt Garza.

#28) Cleveland Indians — 15.5 WAR (0.65 WAR/player)

The draft history since 2002 for the Indians is fascinating. On one hand, seven of their last ten first-round picks have made big league debuts with Cleveland. That is obviously a plus. On the other hand, though, the vast majority of those first-round draftees have not provided much in terms of value. Jeremy Guthrie, Michael Aubrey, Trevor Crowe and Alex White all netted negative value in their respective stints in the Indians’ big league club. The organization had some luck with mediocre left-handers — Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Sowers, and David Huff — but that’s hardly anything to get excited about. Considering ESPN’s Keith Law recently ranked the Indians’ farm system as the second-worst in all of baseball, overall production from homegrown talent does not appear poised to skyrocket anytime soon.

#29) Chicago White Sox — 11.9 WAR (0.54 WAR/player)

The White Sox have never been known for spending money in the draft, and like it or not, spending money (for the most part) acquires better talent. Gordon Beckham has provided the most value (+4.6 WAR) of any homegrown player drafted since 2002. Gordon Beckham has also been labeled an underachiever thus far in his big league career, which illustrates the level of success the White Sox have experienced over the past decade. It gets worse. The legendary Chris Getz is the organization’s second-best position player acquired through the draft since 2002. Chris Getz and his whopping +0.8 WAR through 117 games with the White Sox. Eesh. The light shines a little more brightly now that Chris Sale has firmly broken into the majors, though he may turn out to be nothing more than a set-up man down the road and nothing is percolating down in the minors.

#30) Seattle Mariners — 8.9 WAR (0.45 WAR/player)

With this last-place ranking, it should be no surprise the Seattle Mariners have finished under .500 in six of the past eight seasons. The organization lost numerous picks to free agent compensation, struck out on a couple of position players — Matt Tuiasosopo and Jeff Clement — and also traded away top prospects for big league talent. All three components led to this dead last ranking. Right-hander Doug Fister (+6.4 WAR) is the highlight of this group, with Dustin Ackley being the only other player being with more than two wins. The addition of Jack Zduriencik as GM has helped flush the organization with quality prospects, which will help end the bleeding in Seattle, but it’s not difficult to understand why the Mariners have fallen out of contention in the AL West for the better part of a decade. It’s difficult to build a winning franchise without a constant stream of effective cost-controlled talent.