A Reality Check From the Draft Hype

The major league draft has come a long way in terms of coverage. In this age of twitter and blogs, we get more and more information on these prospective major league players than ever before. We also have seen two of the most hyped players in draft history set to go in consecutive years. Steven Strasburg received an insane amount of hype and continues to do so, while Bryce Harper made the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old kid.

Around this time we begin to see mock drafts, hear rumors and get all sorts of pre-draft hype leading up until draft day. That’s all fine and good, and I’m not here to rain on anyone’s parade, but we need to counterbalance some of the draft hysteria with a healthy dose of reality.

Using Rally’s historical WAR database, I compiled the WAR figures for every player drafted in the first round in the 1990s. I only compiled the WAR totals for the player’s first six years of major league service, or in other words, his team-controlled years. Teams benefit the most when the player is a relative bargain, not when he’s being paid what he is worth on the free agent market. There’s many different angles we can look at with the data I put together, and maybe we’ll look at some later, but for now I just want to take a look at the attrition rates to help sober us up from the draft prospect propaganda.

-63.4% of first rounders busted, or produced between zero and 1.5 WAR.

-12.9% of first rounders produced 1.6 WAR and 6 WAR. These would be your role players; that is, your middle relievers, bench players.

-12.9% of first rounders were worth between 6.1 and 12 WAR. These are, but are not limited to, your starters on the fringe to average regulars.

-5% were worth between 12.1 and 18 WAR, 6.8% were worth 18.1 WAR or greater. That grouping includes some of today’s stars; Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Manny Ramirez and *ahem* Jason Kendall.

(Once upon a time, Jason Kendall was pretty awesome.)

So that’s about three-quarters of all first rounders failing to live up to the hype. Every team envisions their first round pick as a fixture in their every day lineup or pitching rotation, but the odds are they produce little to nil in the big leagues. I do not envy the job of the scouting director; it’s a job where you swing for the fences but often come up empty. On the other side of the coin, the payoffs can be huge for the ones that do pan out.

Erik Manning is the founder of Future Redbirds and covers the Cardinals for Heater Magazine. You can get more of his analysis and rantings in bite-sized bits by following him on twitter.

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12 years ago

Good stuff… It’d be interesting to see the correlation between pick (1-30) or bonus paid and WAR.

12 years ago
Reply to  GZ

If you can find a copy of BP’s Baseball Between The Numbers, there’s a whole article on that subject. The short version (from memory) is that there’s a relatively smooth curve of rapidly declining value as you go from the 1st overall pick to the 30th pick. #1 overall draft picks on average do produce more value than any other player in their draft.