Who've been the best drafters of the decade?
A's, D-backs, Red Sox, Nats and Phils have fared well
What makes for a good Draft? And which teams have had the most success over the years at being successful via this annual means of bringing talent into a system? MLB.com has tried to figure that out, at least as it pertains to the decade that was. From 2000-09, which clubs have been the most productive with their June selections?
Before answering that question, something much more basic needs to be addressed: What is the definition of Draft success? Is it the number of big leaguers produced? Could it be the number of All-Stars, Most Valuable Players or Cy Young Award winners? Is it the accumulation of stats? All of those things are taken into account in this study.
"It's a loaded question," said scouting director Tom Allison, whose Arizona Diamondbacks rank highly across many of the measurements used. "You can go through the Draft when Albert Pujols was drafted (1999) and not have an idea of who went before him. But the impact he's had at the Major League level is, 'wow.'"
Point made. In some ways, Pujols is an aberration as a 13th-rounder to have that kind of "wow" impact. Of course, that would be reflected in the statistical analysis, were 1999 included in this study. One player like Pujols can do a whole lot on his own to make a team's draft success that much greater, even by the numbers.
"You're trying to get guys that are going to be every-day guys at the Major-League level," Allison continued. "If you get impact players into your system and continually have a pipeline of players coming through, then you have had successful drafts.
"There are so many different definitions," Oakland A's scouting director Eric Kubota said. "I like to think it's the number of big-leaguers you produce. It's probably between big leaguers and number of impact players you produce."
Let's start, then, by looking at the stats and what they say about how many big-leaguers have been produced via the Draft in 2000-2009. If the key is to produce every-day Major League players, or at least ones that go on to lengthier careers, then perhaps the best indices should be things like games played, innings pitched and at-bats.
The Diamondbacks and A's have done extremely well in those categories, both for hitters and pitchers. Oakland ranks second among Major League teams in games and innings pitched and third in games and plate appearances. Arizona places third in games and innings pitched while topping all 30 clubs in plate appearances and finishing second in games for hitters.
Looking at these numbers can definitely help point to an organization's strengths and/or weaknesses. Case in point: the San Francisco Giants. The Giants, typically, are known for drafting and developing pitching, starting with Boof Bonser and Noah Lowry in 2000 and 2001 and working up to stars like Matt Cain (2002) and Tim Lincecum (2006), with many others in between. So it comes as no surprise that San Francisco finishes first not only in games and innings pitched, but also in wins and strikeouts, while finishing third in saves and fourth in ERA.
Conversely, the Giants have not done nearly as well finding bats via the Draft. As a result, they're near the bottom in plate-appearances and nearly every offensive category.
The Brewers are almost the polar opposite. Just looking at the 25-man roster says it all: Fielder, Braun, Weeks, Hart, even the since-traded J.J. Hardy. Milwaukee, as a result, is in the top six in nearly every offensive category. As for pitching, it's kind of like Giants hitters. The Brewers are near the bottom in just about every statistical category examined. The Brewers are joined in this extreme by the Colorado Rockies: Great with hitters, not so good at finding arms via the Draft.
Taking seven pitching (G, IP, W, SV, ERA, K, WHIP) and hitting (PA, G, R, TB, RBI, SB, OPS) categories, ranking the teams in each and coming up with a total score, the top four teams would be: Oakland, Arizona, Boston and Washington (see chart below for complete rankings).
The Red Sox join the A's and Diamondbacks as scoring fairly well across the board. But how did the Nationals (Nationals/Expos, to be precise) get in there? Stats were considered for any player drafted by a team, whether that player accrued those stats for the team that drafted him or another. So Washington/Montreal gets credit for the Cliff Lees and Grady Sizemores of the world.
"It's hard to judge a [team] by active, cumulative stats," Kubota said. "I don't think every team approaches the Draft in the same way. If you're looking for guys who are getting to the big leagues quickly, you're understanding you're not going to have as much impact when you do that."
It's a valid point, one that makes it necessary to move beyond just the sheer numbers. An interesting debate could occur over just what defines someone as being an "impact player." For the sake of this examination, the major awards are a good place to start, though it should be pointed out that the value of players who win major awards would likely be borne out in statistics as well.
How many MVPs, Cy Young Award winners, Rookies of the Year, Gold Glove recipients, Silver Slugger honorees, Relievers of the Year and overall All-Stars have come from the 2000-09 Drafts? Not nearly as many as one might think. There have been just three MVPs drafted in the past decade: The Phillies' Ryan Howard (2001, fifth round), Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox (2004, second round) and the Twins' Joe Mauer (2001, No. 1 overall pick).
Five Cy Young Award winners rose through the ranks from those Drafts, and two of those awards belong to one guy, Tim Lincecum (Cliff Lee, Brandon Webb and Zack Greinke are the others). There have been a dozen Rookies of the Year from those classes (Oakland leads the way with three: Bobby Crosby, Andrew Bailey and Huston Street), 95 All-Star appearances, 24 Gold Gloves, 31 Silver Slugger Awards and one Reliever of the Year.
Once again, it's the Nationals who find themselves atop the list, with 17 total pieces of "hardware." Ryan Zimmerman's All-Star appearance, Silver Slugger and Gold Glove, along with Chad Cordero's All-Star nod are the onlly ones who contributed with a Washington uniform on. The rest came from Lee, Sizemore and Jason Bay. The Red Sox and Diamondbacks rank high on this list as well, making it awfully difficult to keep them off a short list of top drafters for the decade.
Kubota's point about quick-to-the-big-leauges drafting limiting the number of impact players seems to have some validity. For much of the decade, the A's have been a very college-heavy team in the Draft. As a result, they've gotten many players up to the Majors but have just the three Rookies of the Year, one All-Star (Bailey) and one Silver Slugger (Andre Ethier, with the Dodgers) from the 10 years of drafting. There also is some pragmatism that comes into play.
"If you keep shooting for that [impact] guy, by the time you produce that guy, it might be for a different scouting director or GM," Kubota said. "You need some semi-immediate return from it.
"It's probably a successful Draft determined by what your owner or GM thinks is a successful Draft. Every team has a different approach to the Draft. As long as you're succeeding within the plan, that's successful. That's dependent on what the plan is."
To be fair, looking at only big league stats and awards would make for an incomplete survey, since many of the past decade's draftees are still making their way up through the Minor Leagues and establishing themselves as big leaguers. By no means exhaustive, a look at the Top 50 prospects entering the seasson can shed some light on this decade of draftees' futures. A total of 40 out of this year's 50 hail from the Draft classes of 2000-09. The Tampa Bay Rays, for instance, are in the middle of the rankings for stats and awards, but they have four recent draftees in the Top 50. The Kansas City Royals, similarly, don't measure up that well based on those first two indices, but also have four recent Draft selections on the Top 50 list.
All of this, of course, comes with the very big caveat that anyone in the scouting industry will bring up: The Draft isn't exactly a no-risk endeavor. Quite the contrary.
Baseball America's Jim Callis did a study back in 2003, looking at players who signed in the first 10 rounds of the 1990-97 Drafts. His findings were that only eight percent went on to become big league regulars or better. And that's just the first 10 rounds. In other words, the definition of success is very much altered by just how tough it is to draft, sign and develop quality Major League players.
Allison points this out with a bit of trivia he heard recently: Since the Draft began back in 1965, how many pitchers (who signed) went on to throw 162 innings or more in a season? How many pitchers compiled enough innings to qualify for an ERA title? Allison said he couldn't confirm it, but that the answer he was given was seven. Seven out of the hundreds of pitchers taken each year.
So things like big-time statistics and awards are nice, but the truth is that they are very hard to come by.
"Everyone's excited [about the Draft], but there are still some realities," Allison said.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.