Archive for MLB Draft

MLB’s Qualifying Offer: A King’s Ransom

With the MLB draft just past, I thought it would be appropriate to examine one of the most controversial topics surrounding the draft: the qualifying offer. Essentially, the qualifying offer intends to reward teams — presumably the small-market, low budget ones — that lose players in free agency. This reward comes in the form of an additional first-round draft pick for every player that signs with another team.

Only it isn’t that simple. Once a player reaches the end of his contract, the team can decide whether or not to offer the player a 1-year extension known as the qualifying offer. This new contract is equal to the average of the highest 125 salaries in MLB ($15.8 million in 2016). The player then chooses to either accept the qualifying offer or decline it — and thus, enter free agency with the assumption that he can earn more than a 1-year, $15.8 million contract. Once the player signs on with another team, his former team is awarded a first-round draft pick (to go along with the one(s) they already have, assuming they do) as compensation. Additionally, the player’s new team loses their first-round pick in the draft so long as it is outside the top 10 (in which case their second-round pick would be forfeited).

So, one would assume that, more often than not, a small-market team with a low payroll would benefit from this system. A budding star player reaches the end of his contract and commands a new contract worth hundreds of millions and spread over 5+ seasons. His current team does not have the financial resources to resign him, and another big-market team does. The cash-strapped team receives an additional first-round pick as compensation, while his new team willfully forfeits its first-round pick in exchange for his services over the next half-decade. And that’s that.

Not quite. I went back over the draft order for every year since 2013 (when the qualifying offer was first introduced) and summed the number of draft picks gained and lost. Results are shown below. I sorted the teams by their average payroll over the span in descending order. As you can see, the compensation is not in line with the assumption I presented above. In any way you shape it, the high-payroll teams are the ones benefiting from the current system. The 10 highest-payroll teams have received 19 additional draft picks over the four seasons — highlighted by the Cardinals who have gained four and lost none. The 10 teams with the lowest payrolls have received eight additional picks. The high payroll teams have a net draft pick gain of four, while the low payroll teams have a net loss of two.

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Now, I’m not coming up with any revolutionary solutions here — I’m not that smart and I don’t get paid enough. I am simply presenting data that supports that MLB’s current free-agent compensation system doesn’t benefit the teams that need it the most. In fact, this seems to be a story of “the rich are getting richer” — big-money teams are receiving the extra draft picks that were seemingly meant for the low-budget ones. Maybe MLB scraps the compensation system altogether, maybe they extend the time frame for when a player can accept the qualifying offer (they currently have seven days), or maybe they come up with some other solution. In any case, the current CBA ends after the 2016 season so us fans will likely know the answer before next year’s draft.


Jake Fishman On His Draft Process, Gaining Velocity, and Spin vs. Location

The MLB draft was about two weeks ago and the Blue Jays selected a lefty out of Division 3 Union College in the 30th round. At first blush, a pick like this sounds like when a team selects a notable name like football star Russell Wilson for some good publicity. The selection might lead you to believe that Jake Fishman is a little crafty lefty who tosses batting-practice fastballs.

Well, not exactly. Jake Fishman was the top pitching prospect in all of Division 3 heading into the year, and he finished his 2016 collegiate season with a 0.41 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 66 innings, while regularly running his fastball up into the 90s. The 6’3 lefty was heading to play in the Cape Cod League this summer before the Blue Jays plucked him, signed him, and started him down a whirlwind that hopefully ends in big-league success.

Over the last few days, Jake has been kind enough to exchange emails with me. We covered his draft process, adjusting to pro ball, some of his theories on pitching, and tardigrades. I’ll be rooting for Jake, even as a proud Vassar Baseball alum. He’s a nice guy, a good story, and clearly a hard worker. Enjoy the interview.

 

SM: I saw that you just signed, so Congrats! Vassar coach Jon Martin is probably happy with that decision. How did that process work? Can you walk me through the decision making that lead to signing and foregoing your senior year? Union College is a good school with a good reputation.

Jake:  Thank you! The draft process is definitely hectic. For me, it was difficult to understand because I come from a family with no professional athletes and I went to a school where nobody has been drafted for baseball. Everything was new for us. So when scouts started to come around, my family and I started reaching out to anybody we could talk to that had gone through the process to get info on it. Eventually as the season progressed, a lot more teams reached out and watched me pitch. This went on until my season ended and we accumulated a hand full of teams that we could tell were more interested than the rest. I was invited to a few pre-draft workouts so I drove out and pitched for a couple teams before the draft.

When we finally reached the draft, we were waiting to hear (from) anybody. At the beginning of day 3 we got two phone calls from the Reds and the Blue Jays. I could have gone as early as the 10th round, but rounds 10-20 flew by very quickly and we hadn’t heard anything. I knew from the start that you can’t trust what the scouts tell you, but after round 20 hit I started to get really nervous.

The Blue Jays reached out again and said I was still on their draft board and they were thinking of taking me, while the Reds told us I would be a very late pick if they were to take me, and then they would watch me pitch in the Cape League to see how I did. Finally, when I was at the point of thinking I wasn’t going to get taken, the Blue Jays took me in the 30th round. It was the best feeling in the world.

Even though I went in the 30th round, they gave me a very reasonable offer for a kid like me. I expressed to the Blue Jays how important school was to me, and they offered to pay for my entire senior year of school. Tuition for next year is $65,000. If they didn’t offer to pay for school, I wouldn’t have signed. That was my biggest requirement. Before the draft, I spoke with my Dad so we could agree on a number. If push came to shove, I would accept a $50k signing bonus and all of school.

In the end, I was beyond happy with the offer they gave me because I had a lot of friends who are phenomenal players that didn’t get selected in the draft. I also think for the best opportunity to make it to the major leagues, I should start my career as soon as possible. As a deceptive lefty, there’s a chance I can move up the ranks fast, so if I have a great year in the minor leagues, they may look at me and say “let’s challenge this kid” and I would move up fast. And of course the Blue Jays were encouraging about getting me back to school in the fall to work towards finishing my degree. They might send me to a fall instructional league, but if they don’t then the timing works out perfectly with Union’s trimesters for me to get a fall term in before spring training starts.

 

SM: Okay that all seems to make a surprising amount of sense. I know that’s a nerve-racking process. I had a friend who actually went undrafted following his senior year after thinking he’d be picked up, and then wound up signing with the Yankees and has worked his way to high-A and is pitching well there, so draft position really isn’t all that important.  My buddy Max actually wrote about Yankees’ farmhand Matt Marsh here and I did a follow up about the success he’s enjoying so far in 2016

Anyway, your approach to the draft seems to align with the analytic approach I gleaned from your blog on pitching mechanics. You seem to have some strong opinions on pitching that have definitely helped you improve velo. So I guess two questions:

1) How’d you go from 84-86 as a freshman to 92 as a junior? A whole lot of us never make that jump.

2) You’re going to have a whole lot of new coaches and new perspectives. The Liberty League and [Union Head Coach] Paul Mounds are used to your kind of “heady” player. How are you going to handle it if the Jays make some adjustments to your mechanics or repertoire that don’t really make sense to you?

I tend to take an analytical approach with most things (except when I’m on the mound). But you’re definitely right about me having some strong opinions about pitching. I think that if somebody finds something that works for them, they should stick with it.

1) The big jump I made was from freshman to sophomore season in velocity. I put on 20 pounds and my strength shot through the roof. I’d always been a pretty fast kid, but I was scrawny. When I put on the weight I got bigger, stronger, faster and the velo followed.

I was around 88-90 my sophomore year (as long as it was warm), but I was a little shaky on the mound. It felt almost as if I had hit another big growth spurt and I didn’t have pinpoint control of my body. It took me until the summer, where I pitched for the Brockton Rox (of the collegiate summer league FCBL), to figure out my mechanics again. From then I’ve maintained my weight and kept my control. It’s been smooth sailing ever since then and I picked up a mph or two just from adding strength over this year.

2) It’s funny to me that you bring that up. The past three years, Coach Mound has accepted that I have my own philosophy behind the stuff I do and he was very open to letting me follow my routine. High school was the same way. The commonalities between the two is that I was pitching well. As long as I do well, my coaches have stayed away from changing me mechanically and philosophically. From what I can tell, the Blue Jays follow the same approach. After listening to our pitching coordinator here, he has been discussing a lot about his philosophies and what the ideal pitchers have done to make it to the big leagues. He’s been making suggestions to us that he thinks will help us. He doesn’t expect us to change, but if we start pitching poorly those suggestions are gonna have to be worked into our routine. So my take on that is I’ll just keep pitching well and there shouldn’t be an issue.

 

SM:  It should be interesting to see how that plays out. I know different organizations tend to have different philosophies on how their pitchers should conduct themselves. Was it Daisuke Matsuzaka who threw 300-foot long toss between starts? That got shut down quickly by the Red Sox.

I also noticed that you had 5 unearned runs this year. How many of those were legit unearned? Did your ERA benefit from some friendly scorekeeping?

Yeah they shut down a lot of the stuff Matsuzaka did that seemed unusual for baseball in the United States. For now, they are just encouraging us to just go out there and pitch our game so they can see what we have and make adjustments from there.

Thinking back, maybe one of those unearned runs could be scored as an earned run. But at the same time, one of my earned runs could have turned out as unearned, so I think in the end it’s balanced itself out.

 

SM:  Yeah, it’s just interesting to think about the difference between really good and great. I guess that difference gets that much tighter in affiliated ball.

I saw an awesome interview with Lance McCullers that really felt like a new-age way of thinking about attacking hitters. I’d love to hear your reaction to his theory of emphasizing spin over movement and velocity.

Jake: It really does. We got to see some big leaguers a couple days ago who were recovering. They threw an inning to our drafted position players and you could tell there was a difference but it’s such a small one. Everything’s just a little bit tighter.

I like his approach. As a former hitter in college, I can relate to what he’s talking about in terms of picking up the spin on the ball. Not being able to see the spin was what beat me most. It’s definitely new-age now that we can pick up spin rates of the ball and I think it can be an extremely useful tool to use.

I like his view on a lot of things he mentions in his interview like adjusting to the hitters’ mentalities whether they are being aggressive or patient at the plate and his changeup (because that’s how I throw my changeup). But at the same time, I think location of the pitch is just as important. Or maybe I should say it’s another way to fool the batter in combination of spin. I can see having spin rate as a priority though, because if you can’t see the spin you don’t know where the ball is going.

 

SM Exactly. Well I’m sure the Blue Jays will get some spin reads on you and you can start to use that information to your advantage.

Thanks so much for the exchange of emails. We’re definitely be looking out for you and I will likely reach back out in the offseason to see how things are going.

Now, it’s time for the rapid fire all-important questions. You must answer honestly and you’re only allowed to provide explanation for 2. No clarification from me of any kind will be provided.

  • Which Pokemon game was the best: red, blue, gold or silver?

Gold. Because you can go back to the Kanto region and Ho-oh is badass.

 

  • Who wins in a fight to the death, assuming both parties are savage, LeBron James or 1,000 kindergardeners?

1,000 kindergardeners

 

Yes.

 

  • How tall is the average tree?

20 feet.

 

  • True or False: Vassar’s coach Jon Martin resembles a Tardigrade.

I love this. True.

 

  • Would you ride a polar bear if it asked you to?

Depends. What kind of drugs am I tripping on?

 

  • Why are you afraid of heights?

I’m not.

 

  • What’s your favorite flavor of chocolate ice cream?

Chocolate chip cookie dough

 

  • In a game of horse against a horse, don’t you automatically win?

Ah here we go again. The classic horse vs. a horse example.  Everybody makes this mistake: you actually automatically lose.

 

  •  Is a hot dog a sandwich?

It has bread.  And meat in the middle.  Gotta say yes.


Who Has Performed Better In the Draft?

The MLB draft has passed but its impact will last. Some selections will go down as busts (e.g. Matt Anderson by the Tigers in 1997). Others will be real bargains such as Carlos Beltran with the 49th pick in 1995. I decided to look at the numbers in an attempt to answer the following questions I read over the last few weeks:

  1. How many Round 1 picks do end up in the big leagues? What’s the average impact of a Round 1 pick? How does that compare to Round 2? Are there differences between pitcher and batters?
  2. What has been the best draft class for the 1993-2008 period? (per three first rounds)
  3. What teams have done a better job?
  4. What is the best round (top 10 overall picks)?

As I usually do, let’s define the data sources and assumptions. First, my data source is Baseball-Reference. There are many assumptions and disclaimers in this process, but the most important ones are:

  1. I am using data from 1993 to 2008 to give ample time for players to reach MLB. As I am using career WAR, I don’t want to over-penalize players that have been selected in the recent years and therefore have not accumulated MLB service time.
  2. Organizations change and so do their ways of conducting business, which evidently includes draft strategy. We are looking at teams rather than specific front offices or general managers.
  3. WAR refers to Baseball-Reference WAR (i.e. bWAR).
  4. Teams may have more than one pick per round due to compensation and supplemental picks.
  5. This methodology does not take into account the overall quality of the draft pool i.e. total WAR per draft year is not constant.
  6. All WAR is allocated to the team that drafts the player. Understandably, that is not true but let’s toy with the idea through this post.

Let’s get to it.

Question 1 – How many Round 1 picks do end up in the big league? What’s the average impact of a Round 1 compare to a Round 2 pick? Are there differences between pitcher and batters?

The table below outlines how many players have been/were called up to the majors and how many actually have had a positive career WAR i.e. over 0.0. I have also added the average career WAR per player and I have broken down the data by round and by position (pitcher and batter) to grasp the differences easily. Just take a moment with this table:

 

Round Pos Total players Players that reached MLB % of Total players Positive WAR % of players who reached MLB Average WAR per player
Round 1
Pitchers 372 242 65% 161 67% 9.7
Batters 320 225 70% 157 70% 14.4
Sub-Total 692 467 67% 318 68% 12.1
Round 2
Pitchers 247 121 49% 60 50% 8.1
Batters 244 127 52% 70 55% 13.1
Sub-Total 491 248 51% 130 52% 10.8
Round 3
Pitchers 244 99 41% 59 60% 5.5
Batters 235 88 37% 50 57% 7.3
Sub-Total 479 187 39% 109 58% 6.3
Total 1662 902 54% 557 62% 10.6

 

Three things come to my mind:

First, this provides some empirical validation of what we intuitively thought: First-round picks produce greater WAR values than the others. While I only have data for the first three rounds, it’s worth noting that the gap between Round 1 to Round 2 (10%) is smaller than from Round 2 to Round 3 (41%).

Second, I actually found surprising that 67% of first-rounders reached MLB at some point. That is two players out of three and it’s a testament to how important raw skills are when it comes to moving up through the minors.

Lastly, the answer to the question of whether t draft pitchers or batters looks like an easy one. Batters not only reached MLB at a higher pace but delivered better results as a group and as individuals. While these results are not statistically significant, they provide a pragmatic answer to the question and suggest a sound strategy might be to draft batters and trade for pitchers later down the road.

Question 2 – What has been the best draft class for the 1993-2008 period?

This table should provide guidance on how to answer this question but does not fully explain it. If we think of it as the number of players that got to MLB, then 2008 is the best year. That year highlights Eric Hosmer, Buster Posey, Brett Lawrie, Craig Kimbrel and Gerrit Cole as the most prominent stars, but offers a very low career total WAR as most of its players are still playing – they’re the youngest generation of my sample. In this class, 27 out of the top 30 picks have reached MLB, though a few for a very short stint e.g. Kyle Skipworth or Ethan Martin.

Year Total war Total players that reached MLB Average WAR per player
1993 476.3 54 8.82
1994 243.4 54 4.51
1995 484.9 41 11.83
1996 280.0 45 6.22
1997 409.5 59 6.94
1998 397.6 53 7.50
1999 402.1 52 7.73
2000 236.8 47 5.04
2001 350.9 55 6.38
2002 508.1 54 9.41
2003 297.1 60 4.95
2004 393.2 63 6.24
2005 458.1 63 7.27
2006 282.7 62 4.56
2007 325.4 69 4.72
2008 213.2 71 3.00

 

If we think of the highest total career WAR, then the winner is 2002. This class is led by two of the best picks on the sample (Zack Greinke and Joey Votto) but also features Prince Fielder, Jon Lester and Curtis Granderson. If we think of highest concentration of skills, then the 1995 class has to be the first one with an average of 11.8 WAR per MLB player. On the other hand, only 41 players got the MLB call, the lowest among the sample. While Carlos Beltran and Roy Halladay are the most notable names in that draft, player such as Darin Erstad, Kerry Wood, Randy Winn and Bronson Arroyo enjoyed nice peaks.

 

Question 3 – What teams have done a better job?

Evidently, not every team has selected in the same combination of draft slots e.g. some teams have had the opportunity to choose top picks (Rays, for example), while other have frequently picked from mid-bottom draft slots (Yankees).  It would not be fair to compare total career WAR for players the Yankees has selected against those that the Rays has because the latter had more options and access to a different pool of players than that the Yankees had. How to fix that? I am comparing what each team did on the overall pick they were slotted. If we use 2016 as an example, I would be comparing how good Philadelphia was in choosing Mickey Moniak as pick 1 against the average of all other first picks in the timeframe (1993-2008). Once I know the WAR gap between a particular team and the average WAR per pick, I need to standardize that number by the standard deviation i.e. calculating Z scores. In simple terms, this is understanding how good or bad a pick was in relation to the entire distribution of a particular draft slot. The Z-score number allows us to compare how good a 14th pick was in relation to a third pick, for example. Finally, to identify which teams have fared better, I am calculating the average of Z-scores for all picks.

Again, there are many caveats here, but this should give us a ballpark estimate on how well teams have drafted from 1993-2008. Keep in mind, this methodology does not produce a linear WAR per draft slot. That would mean, for example, that overall pick 4 will produce greater WAR than pick 5. On average, the 4th pick has produced 6.2 WAR on average, while the 5th one has produced 14.3. While this might be counter-intuitive (it is at least for me), the empirical evidence of this sample size shows that.

 

Batter Pitcher    
Teams # of batters drafted Average of OvPck – Zscore # Pitchers drafted Average of OvPck – Zscore Total Count of Name Total Average of OvPck – Zscore
Phillies 26 -0.81 24 -0.46 50 -0.64
Nationals 9 -0.70 6 -1.14 15 -0.88
Athletics 40 -0.99 30 -0.75 70 -0.89
Twins 34 -0.57 32 -1.31 66 -0.93
Diamondbacks 18 -0.84 26 -1.06 44 -0.97
Angels 18 -1.10 27 -0.88 45 -0.97
Rays 14 -0.50 20 -1.31 34 -0.97
Rangers 26 -1.06 28 -1.05 54 -1.06
Cardinals 28 -1.03 34 -1.25 62 -1.15
Giants 34 -1.23 28 -1.10 62 -1.17
Braves 32 -1.24 35 -1.12 67 -1.18
Royals 25 -1.40 32 -1.04 57 -1.20
White Sox 24 -0.65 40 -1.54 64 -1.20
Reds 28 -0.73 27 -1.70 55 -1.21
Blue Jays 32 -1.46 27 -0.91 59 -1.21
Red Sox 29 -1.33 35 -1.14 64 -1.23
Brewers 26 -0.87 27 -1.72 53 -1.30
Dodgers 21 -1.13 32 -1.44 53 -1.32
Rockies 18 -0.85 33 -1.60 51 -1.33
Pirates 27 -1.72 23 -0.88 50 -1.33
Mariners 25 -1.33 20 -1.45 45 -1.38
Mets 17 -1.14 35 -1.61 52 -1.45
Tigers 20 -0.81 32 -1.88 52 -1.46
Orioles 28 -1.05 28 -1.88 56 -1.46
Padres 40 -1.47 24 -1.54 64 -1.49
Marlins 30 -1.59 23 -1.41 53 -1.51
Astros 23 -1.45 26 -1.61 49 -1.53
Expos 26 -1.30 22 -1.85 48 -1.56
Yankees 24 -1.94 29 -1.37 53 -1.63
Cubs 24 -1.46 29 -1.95 53 -1.73
Indians 33 -2.13 29 -1.49 62 -1.83
Total 799 -1.19 863 -1.35 1662 -1.27

 

Perhaps surprisingly, the Phillies come at the top of the list. The Phillies advantage came in three picks: First, Chase Utley was drafted in 2000 with the high 15th pick and has had a great career that is up to 63.4 WAR. Second, in 1993, the Phillies chose Scott Rolen (70 career WAR) with the 46th overall pick – which seems like a bargain now. Finally, Randy Wolf in 1997 was selected in the 54th position and went on to have a 23.1 career WAR. The Nationals have had very much success on their first few years as a franchise with both Jordan Zimmermann and Ryan Zimmerman. The sample size does not include Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg, which may push the Nats to the top of the list in the near future.

Astros, Expos, Yankees, Cubs and Indians are the bottom five teams. Coincidentally or not, these teams have long droughts (Yankees exempted). Interesting to see if there is a relationship between draft performance and wins but I guess that’s is another post.

We could go and dig deeper for each team into what they’ve done well and not so much but that would not make sense. Teams make mistakes and it looks like the draft selection is pretty damn hard with an extremely high WAR standard deviation (11.6 WAR through the first 30 picks).

 

Question 4 – What is the best round (top 10 overall picks)?

This question is about finding the best selection on each of the first 10 picks. I’ve used the Z-score which pick was really ahead of the curve.

OvPck Year Tm Player Pos WAR Average WAR of pick OvPck – Zscore
1 1993 Mariners Alex Rodriguez SS 118.8  22.73 3.16
2 1997 Phillies J.D. Drew OF 44.9  16.23 1.88
3 2006 Rays Evan Longoria 3B 43.3  9.00 2.46
4 2005 Nationals Ryan Zimmerman 3B 34.8  6.21 2.67
5 2001 Rangers Mark Teixeira 3B 52.2  14.26 2.02
6 2002 Royals Zack Greinke SP 52.3  4.76 3.63
7 2006 Dodgers Clayton Kershaw SP 52.1  11.86 2.42
8 1995 Rockies Todd Helton 1B 61.2  6.41 3.56
9 1999 Athletics Barry Zito SP 32.6  8.70 2.24
10 1996 Athletics Eric Chavez 3B 37.4  11.31 2.04

 

Well, this is quite a nice group of players. A-Rod is the WAR leader of our sample. Even as a first pick, which on average has yielded the highest WAR, he manages to be three standards deviations above the mean. Five other players are active and two of them (Greinke and Kershaw) still are among the best starting pitchers in the game. They will continue to cement their position as great draft picks for the Royals and Dodgers. Interestingly enough, Barry Zito and Eric Chavez were part of the A’s Moneyball team that frequently over-performed a few years ago — a reminder of how important it is to build a strong core of players.

As a bonus question – these are the top 10 picks, according to this methodology:

Year OvPck Tm Player Pos WAR Drafted Out of OvPck – Zscore
2002 44 Reds Joey Votto C 42.7 Richview Collegiate Institute (Toronto ON) 3.74
2007 34 Reds Todd Frazier 3B 16.8 Rutgers the State University of New Jersey (New Brunswick NJ) 3.71
1997 70 Rockies Aaron Cook RHP 15.9 Hamilton HS (Hamilton OH) 3.71
1995 69 Pirates Bronson Arroyo RHP 26.5 Hernando HS (Brooksville FL) 3.67
1995 53 Indians Sean Casey 1B 16.3 University of Richmond (Richmond VA) 3.67
2007 27 Tigers Rick Porcello RHP 12.2 Seton Hall Preparatory School (West Orange NJ) 3.63
2002 6 Royals Zack Greinke RHP 52.3 Apopka HS (Apopka FL) 3.63
1996 18 Rangers R.A. Dickey RHP 21.1 University of Tennessee (Knoxville TN) 3.61
1997 91 Royals Jeremy Affeldt LHP 10.5 Northwest Christian HS (Spokane WA) 3.61
1995 31 Angels Jarrod Washburn LHP 28.5 University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh (Oshkosh WI) 3.60
1998 33 Expos Brad Wilkerson OF 11 University of Florida (Gainesville FL) 3.60
1995 49 Royals Carlos Beltran OF 68.8 Fernando Callejo HS (Manati PR) 3.59

 

As always, feel free to share your thoughts and comments in the section below or through our twitter account @imperfectgameb.

Note: This analysis is also featured in our emerging blog www.theimperfectgame.com


A Way-Too-Early 2016 MLB Mock Draft

With the NFL Draft having been on, it’s hard for us baseball nerds not to get excited about the MLB draft that’s a little over four weeks away. As many of you know, it is almost impossible to predict an MLB draft. In the NFL, teams are drafting to fill current needs and expect most prospects to be immediate impacts. We know this not to be the case in baseball. To keep it simple, the MLB draft is an absolute crapshoot. But that does not mean that we can’t have fun with it.

Without further ado, with the first overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, the Philadelphia Phillies select:

1. LHP Jason Groome – Barnegat HS (NJ)

Before Brady Aiken was taken in 2014 by the Houston Astros, the last high-school pitcher taken first overall was Brien Taylor in 1991 by the New York Yankees. We all know how that ended up. However, as of right now, it would seem that Groome, who goes to school roughly 60 miles from Citizens Bank Park, is the consensus top prospect heading into the draft. At 6’6′ 220 pounds, Groome touches 96 mph, but sits 90-94 mph with his fastball. Groome could be a great addition to the Phillies already improved rotation, as he has the makings of a future ace. He has committed to play college baseball at Vanderbilt.

2. Cincinnati Reds – 3B Nick Senzel (Tennessee)

It would appear that Walt Jocketty and Dick Williams have been targeting MLB-ready players through offseason trades, acquiring players such as Scott Schebler, Jose Peraza, Rookie Davis, Caleb Cotham, and Eric Jagielo. They also have a history of taking college players in the first round such as Drew Stubbs (Texas), Yonder Alonso (Miami), and Mike Leake (Arizona State). As the best college bat in this draft class, Senzel seems like a perfect fit to go to the Reds. His all-fields approach at the plate should enable him to hit for both average and power at the next level. Look for Senzel to be a big piece to the Reds’ “quick rebuild.”

3. Atlanta Braves – OF Kyle Lewis (Mercer)

The Braves have not selected a college position player in over two decades. With a plethora of young pitching throughout their system, look for the Braves to break that trend. The Braves are also known to draft players out of their backyard, such as Brian McCann and Jason Heyward. In fact, many have referred to Kyle Lewis as a right-handed Jason Heyward without the defense. Many scouts believe he will end up in right field and that he could become a serious home-run threat in the league. Lewis will be the first ever player taken in the first round out of Mercer.

4. Colorado Rockies – LHP AJ Puk (Florida)

The search for an ace continues in Colorado. Three of their last five first-round picks have been used on college arms. If Puk happens to fall to them at 4, I would be very surprised if they passed up on him. At 6’7″ 230 pounds, Puk can touch 99 mph with his fastball. It will be interesting to see how his control and command translate to the next level. He could be the frontline starter that Colorado has been looking for in the past few drafts.

5. Milwaukee Brewers – RHP Riley Pint (St Thomas Aquinas HS – KS)

One of my favorite prospects in this draft is the Kansas high-school pitcher Riley Pint. At 6’4″ 210 pounds, Pint sits in the mid- to high 90s with his fastball and touched 102 mph this spring. He also features a plus curveball and changeup. His fastball is what fascinates me though. With his lower arm slot, his fastball has lots of movement. Here is where you will notice that I am a baseball nerd. When I first watched a clip of Pint, I immediately thought of White Sox prospect Tyler Danish. Obviously, Danish does not have Pint’s fastball, but you will understand my logic if you watch the video. With that said, Pint could be the best prep arm ever to come out of Kansas and is committed to play at LSU next year.

6. Oakland Athletics – OF Corey Ray (Louisville)

Everyone knows about Oakland’s love for college position players in the draft. In the past 14 years, their first-round pick has been a prep player only three times. He is currently slashing .318/.390/.597 with 11 homers and 47 RBIs. Ray is an above-average hitter with plus speed and tremendous athletic ability overall. He could bring a lot of value to a team playing center field at the next level.

7. Miami Marlins – OF Blake Rutherford (Chaminade College Prep – CA)

Rutherford is considered the best prep bat in the class. Due to being a 19-year-old senior, scouts have their concerns as the track record for older high-school players speaks for itself. However, that may mean quicker stints in the minor leagues. Rutherford is considered a five-tool player who will eventually end up in right field. He comes from the same school that produced Blue Jays OF Kevin Pillar and is committed to play college ball at UCLA.

8. San Diego Padres – SS Delvin Perez (International Baseball Academy – Puerto Rico)

We all know what happened to the last shortstop to come out of Puerto Rico. Before anyone becomes enraged, I am only kidding. I am not comparing Perez to Carlos Correa. However, Perez has his own uniqueness as a ball player. He is the definition of a “glove-first” shortstop, who has plenty of potential with the bat. Right now, he profiles as an Andrelton Simmons. If his bat develops, he will easily be a perennial All-Star. With his ceiling, it would be hard for AJ Preller to pass him up.

9. Detroit Tigers – RHP Dakota Hudson (Mississippi State)

For some reason, I feel like Hudson has Detroit Tigers written all over him. The Tigers have drafted their fair share of players from the SEC (James McCann and Jonathon Crawford). They also love their big-velocity pitchers, such as Beau Burrows. Hudson’s fastball touches 97 with some run and sink and also features a nasty high-80s slider with solid break. As of right now, Hudson has the look of a future frontline starter.

10. White Sox – OF Mickey Moniak (La Costa Canyon HS – CA)

The White Sox have emerged as one of the best teams in baseball through the first month of play. If they can keep this up, having a top-10 pick in the draft will enable them to beef up their farm system. The White Sox aren’t known for taking prep pitchers in the first round and the best available on the board here could be Moniak. This Southern California kid has committed to play at UCLA with fellow draftee Blake Rutherford. He has an advanced hit tool with a more contact-oriented swing, but lacks power at the moment. With his plus speed and defense, Moniak would be a safe pick at 10.

11. Seattle Mariners – RHP Connor Jones (UVA)

Before anyone says anything, I know the first person that comes to mind is Danny Hultzen. UVA pitchers also have an interesting track record in the major leagues. However, Seattle’s depleted farm system could use a win in this year’s draft. Jones is one of the safest picks at the top of this class. He has stepped in for Nathan Kirby as the Friday night starter and has shown the ability to lead the Cavalier’s staff. Jones throws a low- to mid 90s fastball with plus sink and a solid slider and changeup. This pick makes a lot of sense for Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners, even though I could also see them going after a bat to eliminate any risk with a pitcher.

12. Boston Red Sox – RHP Forrest Whitley (Alamo Heights HS – TX)

At this spot, with an already strong farm system, I expect the Red Sox to take the best available on the board. At 6’7″ 225 pounds, Whitley throws a 92-97 mph fastball with movement and has an above average curveball with good depth. Many believe he’s the best prep pitcher behind Riley Pint. He is committed to play at Florida State next year.

13. Tampa Bay Rays – RHP Ian Anderson (Shenendehowa HS – NY)

Last year, the Rays took a prep star (Garrett Whitley) from Upstate New York with the 13th overall pick. Right down the road from where Whitley went to school is an impressive prep pitcher named Ian Anderson. Looking at their impressive rotation of Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly, Matt Moore, and eventually Blake Snell, the Rays are getting the reputation of developing their pitchers. Mike Nikorak was a northeastern prep pitcher who slid into the first round last year to the Rockies. With a 6’3″ 170 pound projectable frame, Anderson throws his fastball 91-95 mph with good downhill angle. He is committed to play at Vanderbilt next year.

14. Cleveland Indians – OF Buddy Reed (Florida)

Cleveland has shown that it values upside earlier in the draft with picks such as Brady Aiken at 17th overall last year. Reed has above-average speed with above-average defensive skills, but his overall stock will be determined by the amount that he hits. At 6’4″ 185, he has a projectable build that should be able to stay in center field. His overall high ceiling will get him selected in the first round.

15. Minnesota Twins – LHP Joey Wentz (Shawnee Mission East HS – KS)

Wentz was originally being looked at as a first baseman as he blasted a 543ft shot at Great American Ballpark last summer. There is no question that his future as a pitcher looks more promising. With 6’5″ 210 pound frame, Wentz has a fastball that sits between 90-95 mph with a plus curveball and changeup. He has a clean delivery and athleticism to go along with his big frame. Wentz is committed to play at UVA next year.

16. Los Angeles Angels – LHP Braxton Garrett (Florence HS – AL)

With the current state of the Angels farm system, they are best off by taking the best available. They have a tendency to go with pitching at the top of their drafts. Garret is a 6’3″ 190 pound lefty prep star out of Alabama. Scouts claim he has one of the best curveballs in this class with a fastball that sits 90-94 mph and has late life. Many say that he has the ceiling of a future No. 2 starter. He is one of the many commitments to play at Vanderbilt next year.

17. Houston Astros – 3B Josh Lowe (Pope HS – GA)

The Astros’ farm system is loaded; therefore, they can afford to go with a high-ceiling pick. Lowe has raw power, as you see in that video, with his 6’4″ frame. With his plus speed and arm strength, he could play either third base or the outfield. If hitting does not work out, some scouts claim he’s the best prep pitcher to come out of Georgia since Zack Wheeler. Lowe can reach mid 90s with his fastball and is committed to play at Florida State next year.

18. New York Yankees – RHP Kevin Gowdy (Santa Barbara HS – CA)

The Yankees have been successful with their Southern California prospects and have also been targeting pitching in the top rounds. Gowdy comes from the same high school as former White Sox prospect Dylan Axelrod and Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs. At 6’4″ 170 pounds, Gowdy has a projectable frame with three above-average pitches (fastball, slider, change). His fastball sits 92-93 mph, but it is easy to imagine increased velocity in his future. Gowdy is committed to play at UCLA next year.

19. New York Mets – RHP Matt Manning (Sheldon HS – CA)

The Mets have accumulated tons of pitching in the past few years with one of the best, if not THE best, rotation in baseball right now. I could see them targeting a prep pitcher with tons of upside like Matt Manning, son of former NBA player Rich Manning. His spring season has been cut short due to a deep playoff run for basketball. At 6’6″ 185 pounds, Manning uses every inch of his tall frame throwing his fastball 96-97 mph. He is committed to play at Loyola Marymount next year.

20. Los Angeles Dodgers – RHP Cal Quantrill (Stanford)

Dodgers are known to target high upside early in the draft. Last year, they drafted injury-prone pitcher Walker Buehler from Vanderbilt and the struggling Kyle Funkhouser from Louisville. If it wasn’t for Tommy John last spring, Quantrill would have been a top-10 pick this year. He is the son of former big league reliever Paul Quantrill and has an advanced feel for pitching, which should enable him to move quickly through the minors. Quantrill has four pitches that could be major-league average. This is a high-risk, high-reward pick that I would not be surprised seeing the Dodgers take at 20th overall.

21. Toronto Blue Jays – C Zack Collins (Miami)

Collins is the definition of a “bat-first” player. He is destroying the baseball this year in the ACC with a walk total that is double his strikeout total. Collins seems to be a better fit in the AL where he could potentially DH and he has drawn some comparisons to Evan Gattis/Kyle Schwarber type. Scouts aren’t sure if he will stick behind the dish, but he has to potential to put up 20-plus homers annually.

22. Pittsburgh Pirates – OF Alex Kirillof (Plum HS – PA)

In 2004, the Pirates selected local prep star Neil Walker with the 11th overall pick. Walker has now departed via an offseason trade to the Mets for LHP Jon Niese. I wouldn’t be surprised if Huntington and the gang select local star Kirillof if he falls to them at 22. Kirillof has explosive bat speed and power from the left side of the plate and is projected to be a corner outfielder. He is committed to play at Liberty next year, but signability should not be an issue.

23. St. Louis Cardinals – RHP Jordan Sheffield (Vanderbilt)

Sheffield’s brother Justus was a first round pick of the Indians in 2014. Out of all the pitchers in this draft class, Sheffield may have the best chance of developing his three plus offerings. His fastball touches 98 mph and sits 94-96 mph. However, like many power pitchers, he comes with injury concerns after having Tommy John surgery in 2013. His size and explosive stuff draws comparisons to the Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman, but it also leads to concerns about his durability as a starter. If anyone can develop Sheffield, it’s the model team of major-league baseball.

24. San Diego Padres – 3B Will Craig (Wake Forest)

This pick is for free agent Justin Upton signing with the Detroit Tigers. Due to pick a prep bat early on in the draft, I can see the Padres going with a college bat here. Preller has a love for high-ceiling talent and could look to add a power bat like Will Craig. Do you know when the last time a Wake Forest player was drafted in the first round? In 2008, Allan Dykstra was drafted 23rd overall by the SAN DIEGO PADRES. Am I on to something here? Probably not. At 6’3″ 235 pounds, Craig draws comparisons to Billy Butler. Stay with me here Padres fans, I don’t mean to scare you off that quickly. Craig has impressive bat speed with his right-handed swing and many see him having 20-plus homer seasons with high OBPs due to his command of the strike zone.

25. San Diego Padres – RHP Jared Horn (Vintage HS – CA)

This pick is for free agent Ian Kennedy signing with the Kansas City Royals. After taking a college and prep bat, the Padres could go after a talented prep pitcher. The 6’3″ Northern California prep pitcher may be one of the more underrated arms on the board. His fastball is consistently 94-96 mph and many scouts love his competitiveness on the mound (starting quarterback for high school team). He is committed to play at the University of California-Berkeley next year.

26. Chicago White Sox – OF Bryan Reynolds (Vanderbilt)

This pick is for free agent Jeff Samardzija signing with the San Francisco Giants. After taking a prep bat, the White Sox could target a safe college bat with three years of consistent performance. Reynolds is one of the more well-rounded players with solid speed and defense, but his below-average arm has left field written all over it. Reynolds will not kill you with any one particular tool, but he could be a solid average major-league performer.

27. Baltimore Orioles – RHP Robert Tyler (Georgia)

This pick is for free agent Wei-Yin Chen signing with the Miami Marlins. The Orioles need to start stockpiling on pitching and I wouldn’t be surprised if they targeted a college arm with this pick. Their current MLB rotation is below average and they have not done a great job of developing top prospects Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey. Tyler was previously drafted by the Orioles in 2013 in the 28th round out of high school. However, he would have gone in the top five rounds if he were signable. He has one of the best fastballs in this draft, which sits 92-95 mph as a starter. Tyler is tough to hit due to his steep downward plane, but some scouts see him ending up in a bullpen.

28. Washington Nationals – SS Nolan Jones (Holy Ghost Prep – PA)

This pick is for free agent Jordan Zimmermann signing with the Detroit Tigers. This year, there could be two prep bats out of Pennsylvania taken in the first round. Jones has good bat speed and raw power from the left side. Currently, he plays shortstop in high school, but many scouts feel that his 6’4″ frame will profile better at third. He is committed to play at UVA next year.

29. Washington Nationals – LHP Kyle Muller (Jesuit College Prep – TX)

This pick is for free agent Ian Desmond signing with the Texas Rangers. Texas prep pitcher, Kyle Muller, is from the same school that produced Pirates top prospect Josh Bell. While he is more impressive on the mound, Muller has also battled for the national high-school lead in homers. His fastball sits in the low 90s, but can touch 95 mph. Muller has one of the best bodies in the draft at 6’5″ 230 pounds and is committed to play at the University of Texas next year.

30. Texas Rangers – RHP Cody Sedlock (Illinois)

This pick is for free agent Yovani Gallardo signing with the Baltimore Orioles. In the last three drafts, the Rangers have used their top pick on a pitcher. Last year, the Twins took Illinois left hander Tyler Jay with the sixth overall pick. Sedlock has done very well this year in his transition to the rotation with 90 strikeouts and 24 walks in 11 starts. He has all the tools of a starter with four solid pitches, command of the strike zone, and the ability to generate ground balls. Sedlock’s best pitcher is his sinker that sits 91-93 mph.

31. New York Mets – 3B Drew Mendoza (Lake Minneola HS – FL)

This pick is for free agent Daniel Murphy signing with the Washington Nationals. If they go after a pitcher with their first pick, look for them to target a prep bat. At 6’4″ 195 pounds, he has a tremendous feel for hitting which should generate some power at the next level. With his great arm strength, he projects better as a third baseman. Mendoza is committed to play at Florida State next year.

32. Los Angeles Dodgers – OF William Benson (The Westminster School – GA)

This pick is for free agent Zack Greinke signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks. After taking a high-risk, high-upside college arm, look for them to roll the dice on a high-risk, high-ceiling prep bat in William Benson. Many scouts have referred to the Atlanta prep star as Jason Heyward 2.0. Both were high-school prospects in Atlanta, have similar builds, and tremendous athletes. Benson stands 6’6″ 220 and has tremendous bat speed which give him above-average power. At the next level, many project him to move from center to right field. Benson is committed to play at Duke next year.

33. St. Louis Cardinals – C Matt Thaiss (UVA)

This pick is for free agent John Lackey signing with the Chicago Cubs. After taking a college pitcher, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cardinals target a college or prep bat. At UVA, Thaiss has been consistent with the bat, but extremely raw behind the dish. Scouts are not sure if he will stick at catcher when he gets to the next level.

34. St. Louis Cardinals – OF Taylor Trammell (Mount Paran Christian School – GA)

This pick is for free agent Jason Heyward signing with the Chicago Cubs. At 6’2″ 195, the Cardinals would be getting an athlete to say the least with Taylor Trammell. He was the Georgia Class A Offensive Football Player of the Year after rushing for 2,479 yards and 36 touchdowns. When it comes to baseball, he is very raw offensively and defensively. As he is learning to recognize pitches and tap into his raw power, scouts give him a 70 grade for his speed. Trammell is committed to play at Georgia Tech next year.

There it is folks. That is my best or most educated guess on a mock draft about four weeks out. In the meantime, things can change. One of the pitchers in this group could go down with an injury or a prep star could announce that he will be attending school regardless of where he’s drafted. With that said, I hope you all enjoy this and have as much fun with this as I did.


The Gritty Details

“Grit” in baseball has long been a gag for the saber crowd. Fire Joe Morgan was basically one long joke about how gritty David Eckstein was. And there’s good reason to distrust “grit.” Grit, hustle, guts — they’re unquantifiable (sabermetrician attempts to the contrary), often racially coded, and poorly defined skills. (Grit does predict great legal representation, though!)

Yet “grit” has evolved into a buzzword and teachable skill — one that social scientists suggest correlates with success in school, work, and life. Grit is defined by Prof. Angela Duckworth, who pioneered the field of “grit” research, as follows:

We define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.

Duckworth’s research suggests that grittiness corresponds with success in everything from spelling bees to West Point.

So why not in baseball? In a sport where we are constantly prophesizing how players develop, isn’t the predictive power of “grit” something we should be looking at? And can “grit” help us ID players who are more than meets the eye? Read the rest of this entry »


How Valuable Is the First Selection In the MLB Draft?

Pop Quiz: What do Andrew Wiggins of the Minnesota Timberwolves (2014), Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts (2012), and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (2015) have in common? Answer: They are all recent household names that were chosen with the first overall pick in their respective draft class. Yet, unlike the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Football League (NFL), and the National Hockey League (NHL), much less attention is paid to the first-year player draft by fans in the Major League Baseball. Correspondingly, not withstanding exceptions such as Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals, there is also considerably less hype associated with the first overall selection in the Rule 4 draft on the whole. As America’s Pastime, how is it possible that the grand old game’s annual amateur drafts consistently fall behind the other three North American major professional sports when it comes to media exposure? Why is it that interests among fans on the top pick of MLB drafts pale in comparison to that of the NBA, NFL, and the NHL?

Several explanations have been presented by analysts, including the fact that:

  1. the majority of potential top draftees, typically comprised of high school and college student athletes, were “unknowns” to the lay public because high school and college baseball are nowhere near as popular as college football, college basketball, and college/junior hockey;
  2. high MLB selections would almost certainly be assigned to minor league-affiliated ballclubs (either Rookie or Class A) in order to refine their skill sets whereas top draft picks in the NHL, NBA, and NFL have a good chance of starring in their leagues right away in their draft year; and
  3. the overwhelming majority of prospects taken in the first-year player draft, including numerous first-round picks, would end up never appearing in a single MLB game whereas significantly more drafted players in the NHL, NBA, and NFL, including some of those who are late-round selections, would reach their destiny in due course. Although these assumptions all have merits to various degree, I construe that the dual trends are the direct result of the more volatile nature of the first-year player draft (relatively speaking in comparison to the NBA Draft, the NFL Draft, and the NHL Entry Draft), which makes the process more difficult to yield a “can’t-miss” generational player when compared to the other three North American major professional sports.

All-Stars:

Dating back to the first Rule 4 Draft in 1965, there has been a total of fifty-one first overall selections. To this date, this short list has produced twenty-three All-Stars:

  1. Rick Monday, drafted by the Kansas City Athletics in 1965;
  2. Jeff Burroughs, chosen by the Washington Senators in 1969;
  3. Floyd Bannister, selected by the Houston Astros in 1976;
  4. Harold Baines, picked by the Chicago White Sox in 1977;
  5. Bob Horner, drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 1978;
  6. Darryl Strawberry, chosen by the New York Mets in 1980;
  7. Mike Moore, selected by the Seattle Mariners in 1981;
  8. Shawon Dunston, picked by the Chicago Cubs in 1982;
  9. B.J. Surhoff, drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1985;
  10. Ken Griffey, Jr., chosen by the Seattle Mariners in 1987;
  11. Andy Benes, selected by the San Diego Padres in 1988;
  12. Chipper Jones, picked by the Atlanta Braves in 1990;
  13. Phil Nevin, drafted by the Houston Astros in 1992;
  14. Alex Rodriguez, chosen by the Seattle Mariners in 1993;
  15. Darin Erstad, selected by the California Angels in 1995;
  16. Josh Hamilton, picked by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999;
  17. Adrian Gonzalez, drafted by the Florida Marlins in 2000;
  18. Joe Mauer, chosen by the Minnesota Twins in 2001;
  19. Justin Upton, selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2005;
  20. David Price, picked by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2007;
  21. Stephen Strasburg, drafted by the Washington Nationals in 2009;
  22. Bryce Harper, chosen by the Washington Nationals in 2010; and
  23. Gerrit Cole, selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011.

By all accounts, the results are quite encouraging as the chance of landing a player who would go on to be named an All-Star at least once in their MLB career is a generous 45.10% (23/51).

Rookie of the Year Award Winners:

While All-Star selections are the benchmark of elite players, one question that we need to ask is how many of these players can actually make an immediate impact to their respective ballclubs? Historically, we should look to past American League and National League Rookie of the Year Award winners to answer this question seeing that the Rookie of the Year Award is the highest form of recognition to new players who are making contributions to their teams straight away in very meaningful ways.

Of the aforementioned fifty-one first overall picks, twenty-three of whom were named All-Stars at some point in their MLB career, only three of them were winners of the Rookie of the Year Award:

  1. Horner, the National League winner in 1978;
  2. Strawberry, the National League winner in 1983; and
  3. Harper, the National League winner in 2012.

Sadly, this means that the probability of choosing an eventual Rookie of the Year Award winner with the first overall selection is only 6% (3/51). Although this phenomenon could be purely circumstantial, it is noteworthy that no first overall pick (as of 2015) have ever been named as the winner of the American League Rookie of the Year Award!

National Baseball Hall of Fame:

On the other side of the spectrum, an equally interesting question is how many of the fifty-one previous first overall selections can make a long-lasting contribution to the ballclub(s) that he has played for over his MLB career. Here, we ought to look to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum as being inducted into Cooperstown is the ultimate form of acknowledgment for a player in terms of honouring his sustained excellence and longevity in the big league.

Among the aforesaid fifty-one first overall selections, only one of them was ultimately enshrined into the Hall of Fame: Griffey, Jr. In other words, the odds of choosing an eventual Hall-of-Famer with the first overall pick is a minuscule 2% (1/51). That said, I gather that adjustments are needed as including first overall selections who are still active players into the computation would distort the outcomes. If we were to leave out these seventeen players who are still playing in MLB—(1) Rodriguez; (2) Hamilton; (3) Gonzalez; (4) Mauer;(5) Delmon Young, picked by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2003; (6) Matt Bush, drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2004; (7) Upton; (8) Luke Hochevar, chosen by the Kansas City Royals in 2006; (9) Price; (10) Tim Beckham, selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008; (11) Strasburg; (12) Harper; (13) Cole; (14) Carlos Correa, picked by the Houston Astros in 2012; (15) Mark Appel, drafted by the Houston Astros in 2013; (16) Brady Aiken, chosen by the Houston Astros in 2014 but did not sign; and (17) Dansby Swanson, selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015; out of the formula, then the possibility of being able to reap a future Hall-of-Famer utilizing the first overall pick would increase to an ever so slightly better 3% (1/34).

Cross-Sports Comparisons:

While the short-term outlook of getting an impact player who can pay immediate dividend in the form of a Rookie of the Year winner is bleak to say the least at 6%, the good news is that there is close to a coin flip (fifty-fifty) chance of drafting an All-Star player with the first overall selection of a first-year player draft at 45%. However, when it comes to the long-term outlook, the likelihood of obtaining a future Hall-of-Famer is highly improbable at 2% pre-adjusted and 3% post-adjusted.

For comparison’s sake, if we look to the left tail of the MLB and NHL distribution curves, the chance of an MLB ballclub landing a Rookie of the Year winner with the first overall pick in a Rule 4 Draft, at 6%, is a sizable 13% less (or more than three times worse) than an NHL team finding a Calder Memorial Trophy winner in an Entry Draft at 19%. Likewise, the probability of an MLB ballclub being able to draft an eventual Hall-of-Famer with the first overall selection of a first-year player draft, at 2% before adjustment and 3% after adjustment, is a considerable 11% (or nearly seven times worse) and 16% (or more than five-and-a-half times worse) less than an NHL team unearthing a Future Hall-of-Famer in an Entry Draft at 13% prior to adjustments and 19% after adjustments. Accordingly, the results seem to back up my hypothesis that the Rule 4 Draft is inherently more unpredictable when contrasted to the NBA Draft, the NFL Draft, and the NHL Entry Draft, which in turn renders the procedure of uncovering a “can’t-miss” generational player harder compared to the other three North American major professional sports.

Final Words:

Even though the likelihood of picking a player who fails to have at least a short stint in MLB is remarkably low at 4% (2/51), as only two players who were taken first overall in the first-year player draft failed to play a single MLB game — (1) Steve Chilcott, picked by the New York Mets in 1966 and (2) Brien Taylor, drafted by the New York Yankees in 1991 — the reality, much like the NHL, is that the likelihood of being able to discover that “can’t-miss” diamond in the rough appears to be an imperfect science regardless of how we break down the fifty-one first overall picks in past Rule 4 Drafts. Now do you want to choose heads or tails?

N.B. A more condensed version of this article was originally published on Obiter Dicta, 89(13), 20 and 23.


The Method to the Yankees’ Madness

Last week Miles Wray examined an emerging spending pattern of the New York Yankees, suggesting that the club’s approach to free agent spending varies, depending possibly on how many dollars had recently come off their books: They appear to spend each offseason either signing seemingly every premium free agent available (2008-9, 2013-4) or they limit themselves to the bargain bin, focusing on late-offseason signings, reclamation projects, and trades.

While this description is certainly accurate, at least since 2008-9 when this pattern began to emerge, there’s little discussion of why a team would choose to invest in free agency this way.  Presumably, teams like the Yankees, the Dodgers, or the Red Sox, which are capable of fielding significantly higher payrolls than any other team in the league, would prefer to do the opposite: Selecting from a much more limited subset of free agents would limit the advantage gained over other teams.  It’s also not inconceivable that a team with as much money as the Yankees might have concerns that they’d be driving up the entire market, increasing their own cost of acquiring talent.  This approach also has very real impacts on team age and roster flexibility as an entire free agent crop begins to enter their decline years together.

Moreover, the Yankees may very well not be the only team taking this approach.  An argument can be made that the Boston Red Sox are following a similar strategy, albeit at a pace accelerated by their shorter duration contracts they signed in the 2012-3 offseason and their salary-dump trade with the Dodgers four months earlier.  The team signed both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, arguably the two top hitters available in free agency, only a year after they signed precisely one free agent, Mike Napoli, who was their own.

So what does a team gain by going on spending sprees followed by (relative) austerity?  I submit they pursue this approach to gain one thing: draft picks.

Consider for the moment what happens in the case where the Yankees are not following this feast/famine strategy in free agency, and instead they sign a premium free agent each year.  In 2009-10 they might’ve signed Matt Holliday or Jason Bay.  2010-1, Carl Crawford or Jason Werth.  In 2011-2, Fielder/Pujols/Reyes.  In 2012-3 Upton/Hamilton/Bourne/Grienke.  All were free agents tied to compensation, meaning in addition to the dollar-cost of signing that player, the signing team also forfeited a draft pick.  (It’s probably also worth noting how godawful most of those signings look today, but that’s the nature of free agency – The last couple of years are almost always ugly.)  The mechanics of where those picks go have changed since the 2012-3 offseason but the cost to the signing team remains the same: A first round draft pick, or a later round pick if the first round pick is already spoken for.

Instead of signing those players, over that span the New York Yankees signed only a single draft-pick-compensation free agent, Rafael Soriano, 2010-11, and it was over the objections of Brian Cashman.  They kept their first-round draft picks in 2010, 2012, and 2013, and picked up a few compensation picks from departing free agents like Nick Swisher, Javier Vázquez and Soriano.

As Miles points out, however, the Yankees simply can’t stockpile picks and rebuild like a normal team.  This restraint is made possible by lavish spending in the 2008-9 offseason, where the Yankees signed pretty much everybody and then went out and won the World Series.  Signing Teixeira, Sabathia, and Burnett means the Yankees not only forfeited their first round draft pick, but their second and third round draft picks as well.

When viewed in the whole, however, this doesn’t appear to be that bad of a deal for the Yankees.  By moving their spending forward into the 2008-9 offseason instead of spreading it out over four years, they essentially traded their second and third round draft picks in 2009 for first-round draft picks in 2010, 2012, and 2013.  They repeated this approach 2013-4, signing Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran, and while the early returns from those transactions are not promising, it should be noted that the McCann and Ellsbury deals, at least, were considered sound at the time they were signed.  Beltran?  Not so much.  With the last free agent with draft pick compensation attached off the board, they’re keeping their 2015 first round pick as well.

At a time when the aging curve for older players have suddenly become unforgiving, the value of young players is certainly up, and the Yankees appear to be maximizing their chances of acquiring young talent in the draft by minimizing the draft pick cost of signing free agents.  This approach is remarkably similar to their strategy in the international market, where they’ve determined the best way to acquire talent is not to stick to a limited bonus pool each year, but to sign ten or eleven of the top thirty international free agents, (and possibly one more.)  This approach costs them a great deal of money in luxury tax and international bonus pool “overage” tax, but may make sense given how much surplus value an above-average, cost-controlled young player generates.  Now, if only they could do something with all those draft picks


The Cubs, the Red Sox and a Blank Check

The Cubs and Red Sox are doing interesting things for their ambitions. Boston overhauled their young and unpredictable club with two of the top free agents on the board while the Cubs’ rotation makeover coincides with a slew of young offensive talent already in place. Neither team is yet finished as the outcomes of Scherzer, Shields and whatever we’re calling San Diego still loom toward the New Year. Regardless, their intent for 2015 and beyond is the same: win.

But these two teams are interesting for another reason. It’s not often that clubs expected to contend in one year also happen to have top 10-selections of that year’s amateur draft, but that’s exactly what will happen this coming June. The former club of Epstein and Hoyer will select 7th overall. Their current club will select 9th and if all goes according to plan, each club’s 2016 selections figure to fall well out of protection.

But rising from this is a fascinating opportunity. It’s a very rare opportunity requiring the unique but exact convergence of factors surrounding these two teams, swinging the cost/benefit ratio to an extreme. The Red Sox intend to be at the top of the standings this season and based on what they’ve done, chances are good that they will. The Cubs are not far behind and as opined by Dave Cameron may be just a leap or two from the same goal. Whatever happens, each of the next two seasons project to be followed by two of the strongest free agent classes in history. 2015 should include Justin Upton, Jordan Zimmermann, Jason Heyward and more. The 2016 elite is likely to be headlined by Stephen Strasburg. There is going to be a hefty number of qualifying offers and little reason to care.

Focusing upon the next two years is important. The current collective bargaining agreement is in effect until December 1st, 2016, specifying the rules that govern draft bonus allotments and the penalties for their violation. Summarized below:

–        0-5% overage: 75% tax on the overage

–        5-10%: 75% tax on the overage and loss of 1st round pick in subsequent draft

–        10-15%: 100% tax on the overage and loss of 1st and 2nd round picks in subsequent draft

–        15% or higher: 100% tax on the overage and loss of 1st round picks in subsequent two drafts

o   Note: If a team lacks the selection subject to penalty due to a prior penalty levied from draft overages, the team will be penalized in the next draft in which said selection is conveyed.

To date, no team has spent beyond the 5% threshold and thus no team has been penalized a selection.

But then no team has been in this particular position before, a situation perhaps too unlikely to have been considered during CBA negotiations. Under the rules above, teams are pressured either to adhere to slot value or to strategize by shifting their allotments in favor of two or three top talents. The Cubs and Red Sox will have no such limitations this June. They can spend with complete and utter impunity.

Part of how this is possible is due to the language of the CBA and the impending sequence of events. A theoretical chronology:

1)     The 2015 draft begins

2)     Boston or Chicago picks who it wants and spends as much as it wants

3)     Boston or Chicago receives the maximum penalty, including tax and forfeiture of 2016 and 2017 1st-round selections

4)     2015 free agent class – Either team signing a QO free agent forfeits its next highest 2016 selection (2nd round)

5)     2016 free agent class – Either team signing a QO free agent forfeits its next highest 2017 selection (2nd round)

6)     Draft Penalty completed

Why would they do this? Because of who they are and because there is every incentive for doing so. Consider the maximum penalty – forfeiture of 2016 and 2017 first round picks – only for these two clubs, it’s entirely probable that none of these picks project to exist. Notice I said project, which is a critical distinction, because at the time of the 2015 draft their 2016-17 selections are officially still in place.

Implying, what if they can be sacrificed? The Cubs and Red Sox each operate at the highest levels of revenue and at their current win-curve trajectory are virtually guaranteed to be major players on the free agent market in each of the next two years. As a demonstration, both have already signed major targets this off-season. It’s easy then to imagine either team having to relinquish their top selections anyway, except either club can decide that in June as opposed to November. Given enough information by then, they’d have to ask themselves: What do they have to lose?

Lets assume each team performs toward the fringe of the playoffs and we assign them the 23rd selection in 2016 and 2017. In Boston’s case we could argue this will be even lower, or a few spots higher for the Cubs if you think they aren’t quite playoff ready, but as a middle ground the 23rd selection is a good place to start. Keep in mind by June, enough games will have been played to know this with some certainty. Let’s also assume that the first-round selections in each year will be lost to FA compensation. This isn’t an exact process since picks will be added or removed to a varying degree, but using 2014’s values will give us a rough estimate going from one year to the next:

2014 7th 9th 23rd
Round ($M) ($M) ($M)
1 3.30 3.08 1.95
2 1.19* 1.13 0.90
3 0.68 0.66 0.53
4 0.47 0.46 0.39
5 0.35 0.34 0.29
6 0.26 0.26 0.22
7 0.20 0.19 0.17
8 0.16 0.16 0.15
9 0.15 0.15 0.14
10 0.14 0.14 0.14
Total 5.71 6.57 2.93
% Decrease -48.7 -55.5

*Boston forfeits 2nd round selection (Hanley Ramirez)

In addition to forgoing the top 30 prospects, dwindling bonus pools severely damage teams’ ability to pay for any talent at all. By employing this strategy, Boston and Chicago can essentially punt drafts in which they might have expected to extract little value in the first place. In exchange, they take full reign to obtain as much talent as they wish in the coming draft – and the talent will be there. Even as restrictions pressure draftees to sign close to slot nevertheless talent falls due to signability, particularly when coming from high school. In the scenario above, a team is looking at one 7-figure talent, maybe two if slots can be shifted. Compare that to what they might obtain with 40 limit free selections.

Just as important, where these teams select has a significant influence on realistic return. Where top ten selections can result in impact talents, selecting early in each round is an opportunity to grab a falling talent well before other teams consider themselves able. Within current strategies, teams have to be cautious of the round in which they decide to risk on higher prospects as the ability to pay is tied directly to their selections in other rounds. But if money is no object, the Cubs and Red Sox can simply pick whomever they want whenever they want, in which case having the higher position becomes a huge advantage.

This isn’t foolproof. It would have to be a “calculated risk” decided upon almost the day-of. For one thing, it’s impossible to predict exactly what a free agent class will have to offer. If several projected free agents instead sign extensions, it becomes more difficult to justify devaluing your top selection. By June, teams should have a better sense of the picture ahead but it won’t be crystal clear. These teams will have to be reasonably confident not only that targets will exist, but that they’ll have a reasonable desire to sign them.

For another thing, at a certain point the cost in payable tax becomes a bit unwieldy. Perhaps the key then isn’t to sign as many top prospects as possible but rather enough to make up for impending losses in the two subsequent drafts. Because their pools are relatively large both teams will be partly insulated, but past that you’re paying double what you normally would per prospect. That requires confidence that the talent available is worth the additional costs, something not often expressed by teams prior to the current CBA.

That’s an argument to be made however, simply because the successful development of a few can exponentially result in surplus value. Should you prefer a direct measure of dollars, studies such as this one routinely demonstrate the windfalls in appropriately identifying and obtaining draft talent regardless of where they’re picked. In today’s league with today’s prices, that’s as tempting an idea as ever and if you wonder whether teams still place premiums on potential, look no further than the international market. Furthermore, the value of a prospect is predicated not on “Will he produce major-league value?” but rather “Can he?” The extractable value of potential in trades should be evident as I write this.

But the third and perhaps the most critical obstacle is the league itself and whether it takes the power to reject bonus agreements. This is suggested in the CBA document linked above, where the “uniform player contract” specifies required-approval by the Office of the Commissioner. Whether this suggests the Office would actually exercise its right of refusal isn’t clear. The only precedent as far as I know is MLB’s refusal to allow a $6M bonus to Matt Purke, a unique situation in which MLB had control of the Rangers’ finances. Particularly controversial deals have drawn little more than ire. Strict stipulation of penalties in the current CBA implies a team’s right to accept said penalties should it choose to do so. For the Commissioner to explicitly prevent a team from exercising this right is bordering on breach and may be actionable or subject to a grievance by the club or by the MLBPA. This is where the issue gets a little messy and comes down to debates beyond the scope of this article.

I won’t hesitate to call this what it is: a gambit. Strategies like this enliven the game and introduce an element of danger that can either pay off or egg face. Regardless, it highlights yet another flaw to the system in place. In one sense, this strategy is a novel way of playing within the rules, which is at the very heart of high competition. In another sense, it goes against sportsmanship in that this strategy is available only to teams who can realistically devalue their top selections, i.e. teams operating with enough capital to consistently invest at the top of the open market.

But rules are rules. The Cubs and Red Sox have the chance to align their playoff ambitions with a prospect bonanza not yet seen. They’ll have their pick among the elite and after that, should the dominoes fall along the way, they can – and should – take full advantage.

Jonathan Aicardi is a researcher with UCSF in the study of glioblastoma and the proprietor of Another Mariners Blog! Because apparently the world needed another one.


Why Is Brandon Finnegan So Unique?

On September 30, Royals 2014 1st Round Draft Pick Brandon Finnegan was brought into the AL Wild Card Game against the Oakland A’s just under 4 months after being drafted out of Texas Christian University. Manager Ned Yost had little choice but to take a leap of faith with the rookie Finnegan, having used pitchers like Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland already. Finnegan pitched very well, allowing 2 baserunners in 2.1 innings and striking out 3 Oakland batters. He was removed with a runner on base and was charged a run when the runner scored, but otherwise had a great outing.

I found it ironic and puzzling that the only team to utilize this approach of drafting a college pitcher, rushing him up the farm system, and giving him a shot at the postseason was the team that already had the likes of Herrera, Davis and Holland. After all, it seems like every playoff team could use some help out of the bullpen. When compared to other positions, predicting a relief pitcher’s success in the big leagues really doesn’t seem too hard either.

In 2014, 12 relievers pitched more than 60 innings with an FIP under 2.50. Aside from the sinker-oriented Steve Cishek and Pat Neshek, all of them averaged at least 92.5 mph on their fastballs. Everyone except Cishek generated swinging strikes at least 11% of the time, almost 2% more than the 9.4% league average. Simply put, pitchers with high velocity are safe bets when it comes to building a bullpen.

I can understand why a team might be stingy with its first-round draft pick. The first rounder is supposed to be the future of the franchise, the one who fans envision 25 years older, making his Hall of Fame induction speech. But looking at the 93 2nd round draft picks from 2006-2008 (an arbitrary time period which I felt gave players sufficient time to reach the big leagues), it is clear that players selected this late in the draft are no sure thing.

48 picks have yet to make their major league debut, and another 21 have career WAR’s equal to or less than 0*. There are exceptions like Giancarlo Stanton, Jordan Zimmermann and Freddie Freeman, but the data looks even worse after the 15th pick of the second round. Of the 48 picks in the 16-32 slots, only 8 players have career WAR’s greater than 0*. 29 have yet to make their MLB debut.

Since 2011, 10 relievers have posted FIP’s under 2.50 with at least 100 innings pitched. Of those drafted in the American amateur draft, only Sean Doolittle was picked before the 3rd round. He was drafted in the first round as a first baseman. While overpaying for an elite reliever can be appealing for teams like the Angels or Tigers, both teams in win-now mode, a possible fall back option is taking a chance on the best reliever available in the draft with the second-round pick. Chances are, that pitcher will still be on the board.

Of course, there are major-league relievers who can throw hard but still do not succeed at the big-league level. Also, stats like average fastball velocity and swinging strike rates might not be available for college players. The prior is virtually impossible without Pitch F/X. If this is the case, GMs can consider reverting to the eye test to determine how hard a pitcher throws and what his command and movement look like. Generally accepted measures of command such as K-BB% can be derived from box scores.

For traditional fans who still value the human element of baseball, there are ways to gauge an NCAA pitcher’s ability to pitch in the spotlight. Stats like opposing batting average with runners on base and inherited runners stranded can be determined by simply looking at play-by-play recaps. Both measure a pitcher’s ability to perform under pressure, even if only in a limited sample size. I do not know what kinds of information are given to baseball operations teams, but I would be surprised if a college pitcher’s WPA in high-leverage situations was available.

If I was Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski or Angels GM Jerry Dipoto circa July, I would make the trade for Joakim Soria or Huston Street without hesitation. Both teams, one could argue, were a bullpen arm away from being World Series favorites. But for teams who don’t have the resources Detroit and Los Angeles have or don’t want to give up too many prospects, the best mid season bullpen pickup might not have even thrown his first professional pitch yet.

*I had to use rWAR, not fWAR in the interest of time. Baseball Reference has the draft results with career WAR readily available. Of course, data not from FanGraphs was taken from baseball-reference.com.


Top 10 Picks in the ’90s: Irrational Trends

The annual MLB Draft is an exciting time for baseball. Dozens of high school and college players convince fans that they have the potential to be future All-Stars, and teams make selections to stock their farm systems with talent to win in the future. But obviously, not every pick can be savvy, and the majority of these selections turn out to be regrettable. The best a team can do is make rational choices to put themselves in a position to succeed. I decided to take a look at the draft classes in the 1990s to see if teams were making these rational decisions. I chose this decade because it’s the most recent one that is almost exclusively filled with players who have finished their careers.

In the 1990s, there was a fairly even distribution of pitchers and hitters selected with early draft picks. Since roster makeup isn’t skewed much in favor of either group, this seems to make sense. Teams are just as eager to get elite pitching as they are to acquire top-tier hitters. This year, 6 of baseball’s 12 highest paid players are pitchers, 6 are hitters.

It’s not surprising that during the ’90s, 45 of the 100 Top 10 picks were pitchers. In hindsight, this seems like it was probably the result of some pretty big mistakes. There are certainly some successful examples. In 1999, Josh Beckett was selected 2nd overall, Barry Zito was 9th, and Ben Sheets was picked 10th. The hope that a pick can turn into a future ace is enough to tempt any GM to take a pitcher. But that usually didn’t go well.

I gathered the career WAR for every draft pick, and here is the expected output for each Top 10 selection.

Draft Curve

This does not paint a pretty picture for teams who decided to go with pitchers. No matter where on the chart you look, picking a hitter gives a team a better expected outcome than a pitcher, and it’s not particularly close. The average hitter taken in the Top 10 achieved a career WAR of 16.0. The average pitcher reached 7.0. That’s a big gap, and the disparity was made on a large scale.

Here’s a year-by-year average for draft picks at each position:

Draft Bars

1999 was an excellent year for pitchers, as I already mentioned. In fact, it was the best year for pitchers. But if you add it to the list of years for hitters, it would rank 6th out of 11.

Clearly, picking hitters seems like the preferable strategy of the ’90s. But teams opted not to do so roughly half the time.

Similar to what position someone plays, there’s another core attribute about a player outside of his scouting reports: whether or not he went to college. College players will be more developed and will have less room to grow. High school picks are considered riskier with higher upside. The data seem to support that. Unlike the difference between hitters and pitchers, the age of a draft pick had a more nuanced effect.

Draft Source

High school players taken at the top (of the top) of the first round are more promising than college players. This is because elite players like A-Rod, Chipper Jones, and Josh Hamilton don’t often slip under the radar when they’re 17 or 18. But what’s interesting is when you make your way to the bottom of the Top 10, college players have a better expected career WAR. I don’t want to make too many guesses why, because honestly I’m not sure. But it’s a very noticeable trend. No matter the reason, it’s clear that teams should be more eager to draft high schoolers with picks 1-5, and college players with picks 6-10. But look at the frequency of high school draft picks by selection.

Draft Source Pick

Teams do the exact opposite of what they should. The earlier in the draft, the more likely a college player is to be selected. 32.5% of Top-4 picks are drafted out of high school, while 68.3% of picks 5-10 are.

To a strong extent, this analysis is not fair to these teams. I’m looking at these numbers in 2014, and it’s easy to go back in time and point out what mistakes teams made in drafts. But these aren’t scouting report mistakes, isolated misjudgments, or bad luck decisions. Teams in the 1990s made consistent poor strategic decisions on a large scale in the draft that were often indefensible.