Don’t Forget About The ’02 Draft

If pressed to name which year featured the best amateur draft class in recent baseball history, the vast majority would immediately gravitate toward the 2005 Draft.

(Side Note: In fact, I originally began researching this article in an attempt to prove just how good the 2005 Draft was in comparison to other recent drafts.)

It’s certainly not an unreasonable position to take. The 2005 Draft enjoyed copious amounts of hype prior to draft day, and the star power atop the draft is mind-blowing. Players such as Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Andrew McCutchen, and Alex Gordon were all drafted in the first twelve selections. Those six players combined for an impressive +35.6 WAR last season.

The 2005 Draft has the big names early in the first round, to be sure, but the 2002 Draft could actually be the better all-around draft. The reason the 2002 Draft doesn’t make headlines is that the early picks did not produce All-Star caliber players.

The Pittsburgh Pirates chose right-hander Bryan Bullington with the first-overall pick, and he compiled a career 5.62 ERA over 81.2 innings in the big leagues and was exactly replacement-level over his five years with the Pirates, Blue Jays, and Royals.

Though, Bullington’s career could be considered a modest success compared to right-handed pitchers Chris Gruler, who was selected by the Reds with the third-overall pick and retired in 2008 after three separate shoulder surgeries, and Clint Everts, who was selected fifth overall by the Expos and is currently trudging through his tenth season in the minor leagues with the Toronto Blue Jays’ Triple-A affiliate.

The first round of the 2002 Draft, however, did produce significant big league talent. Here is a chart of the total wins above replacement from first-round draftees per year since The Strike:

Draft Year Total WAR
1995 297.5
2002 288.4
1998 286.2
2005 248.9
1997 225.0
1996 194.6
1999 192.8
2001 171.5
2003 155.7
2006 146.3
2004 131.8
2000 114.8

Only the 1995 Draft — which featured players such as Darin Erstad, Todd Helton, Roy Halladay, and Kerry Wood — has produced more wins above replacement from the first round, and that is largely due to the fact that those draftees have had seven more seasons as professionals.

The first round of the 2002 Draft, on the other hand, consisted a slew of quality pitching in the middle picks — headlined by Zack Greinke, Matt Cain, and Cole Hamels — as well as position players Prince Fielder, Nick Swisher, B.J. Upton, and Denard Span. Again, it doesn’t possess the star power of the 2005 Draft or the longevity of the 1995 Draft, but the overall production yielded from the players drafted in the first round of the 2002 Draft is significant.

Of course, it’s important to note that the 2005 first rounders are producing more wins above replacement per year than the 2002 first rounders, 31.1 WAR/year to 26.2 WAR/year, respectively. If strictly viewing the draft through a first-round lens, the 2005 Draft is probably the best collection of talent that baseball has seen in the past fifteen or twenty years.

Players are obviously drafted after the first round, though, and the 2002 Draft made a particularly large impact in the second round. That is where the Cincinnati Reds drafted Joey Votto, the Boston Red Sox drafted Jon Lester, and the Atlanta Braves drafted Brian McCann. Comparatively, the best players drafted in the second round of the 2005 Draft were Chase Headley — who appears to be breaking out as an elite player this year — and Yunel Escobar.

It should also be noted that Curtis Granderson (3), Josh Johnson (4), Howie Kendrick (10), and Russell Martin (17) were all acquired in the 2002 Draft. All four of those players have been at least five-win players at some point in their career, with Granderson compiling a massive +7.0 WAR season in 2011.

The 2005 Draft, however, only had two five-win players drafted after the second round: Brett Gardner (3) and Austin Jackson (8).

As shown above, the 2002 Draft may not have featured the extreme star power and elite value in the first round, but it proved to be a very deep class with impact talent available in later rounds. Defining which class was overall better can be rather subjective, however, and has reasonable arguments on both sides, but the next time someone asks which is the best draft class in recent history, don’t immediately reach for 2005. The 2002 Draft was better than many people remember.

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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

18 Responses to “Don’t Forget About The ’02 Draft”

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  1. Radivel says:

    You declined to mention Ricky Romero as part of the 2005 draft, thereby depriving yourself of a choice opportunity to say, “the player the Jays selected instead of Tulo”.


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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      A lot of troll Nats fans are whining about how they drafted Storen instead of Trout at #10 in 2009. Anyone else with a top-24 pick that year having this issue? Like say Mariners fans disappointed with Ackley?

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      • ecp says:

        Nats fans need to quit whining; they got Strasburg and Harper in back to back years. That kind of no-brainer windfall never happens to any organization. Any GM will tell you that if you aren’t making mistakes in the draft, you aren’t drafting.

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      • marc w says:

        Seattle fans, in general, aren’t disappointed that the M’s took Ackley instead of Trout at #2. They ARE disappointed that new GM Jack Zduriencik chose to sign 2008 1st rounder Josh Fields just before the draft, thereby forgoing a compensation pick that would’ve been around #22.

        But mostly, they’re still stung by taking Jeff Clement #3 in the 2005 draft. Ouch.

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      • marc w says:

        Seattle fans, in general, aren’t disappointed that the M’s took Ackley instead of Trout at #2. They ARE disappointed that new GM Jack Zduriencik chose to sign 2008 1st rounder Josh Fields just before the draft, thereby forgoing a compensation pick that would’ve been around #22 in the 1st round of 2009.

        But mostly, they’re still stung by taking Jeff Clement #3 in the 2005 draft. Ouch.

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    • Atari says:

      C’mon! Who knew Trout was going to be the best player in baseball? He was the second HS OF chosen by the Angels in that draft.

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      • Schlist says:

        That was only a means of manipulating the signing fee – they were adjacent picks.

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      • DeeEmm1 says:

        Not only that, but Grichuk is being played at 3B not OF. If he pans out too, the Angels made out like bandits in that draft. Which makes this fan very happy.

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      • Dan Out West says:

        3B for Grichuk? Not sure where you are getting that info from. He has played 135 games in 2012, all but two in RF & CF (and those were at DH). Hasn’t recorded a single minor league game at 3B since being drafted.

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  2. Disa says:

    Not to get off topic, but I was baited. The Brewers (rumored to be enamored with Trout) would have had pick 24 of the 2009 draft from the Yankees for the Sabathia signing. With Teixeira being a higher ranked free agent, the Brewers pick was bumped to the Yankees 2nd round pick, while the Angels acquired pick 24 in addition to their own at 25. The Brewers were left to helplessly watch as their own pick at 26 came without Trout available. The Brewers apparentally had good intel that Trout would be there, thus panicked and slected 1st round bust Eric Arnett.

    Nats fans should be content with Storen.

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  3. BenH says:

    I wouldn’t have introduced the chart saying, “Here is a chart of the total wins above replacement from first-round draftees per year.” The wording makes it sound like the stat that is used later in the column, WAR/yr. But I digress. When I read that 2002 was the draft the Braves selected Brian McCann, it made me realize that is also the draft they selected Jeff Francoeur. Thought that was amusing.

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  4. bill says:

    What the hell happened in year 2000 drafts? It’s generally acknowledged as the worst NBA draft in years, it’s a pretty bad NFL draft (except Tom Brady), and the NHL draft is pretty weak as well.

    Weird coincidences.

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  5. gonfalon says:

    Bryan Bullington :facepalm: :facepalm: :facepalm:

    Apparently, it was down to him, B.J. Upton, and high-school lefty Adam Loewen, but Bullington was viewed as closest to MLB-ready:

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  6. Johnny Guitar says:

    Would it not have been better to look at the total WAR per year since each draft? After all, as you say, the spread of years in the table is somewhat large. I threw the numbers into Excel and got these results:

    2005 35.6
    2002 28.8
    2006 24.4
    1998 20.4
    1995 17.5
    2003 17.3
    2004 16.5
    2001 15.6
    1997 15.0
    1999 14.8
    1996 12.2
    2000 9.6

    2002 was excellent and should definitely be in any conversation of draft classes, but it looks that 2005 still holds a significant edge.

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  7. RudolfSchmidt says:

    Bryan Bullington also played for the Cleveland Indians. Your glaring omission of this fact ruins this article.

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