How the Teams Have Drafted in This Millennium

The 2017 MLB draft is going to kick off early next week. What do I know about the MLB draft? Nothing! What can I tell you about which teams are good drafters? Very little! I don’t really know what might count as my specific field of expertise, but I know some fields that definitely *aren’t*, and the draft is one of them. You and I, we’re on the same level. Unless you read about the draft a lot, in which case, you’re the smarter one here.

I can’t tell you the first thing about how the draft is going to go. I don’t know which picks might seem risky, and which picks might seem safe. The best I can do for draft-related content is analyze results. Why don’t we take a few minutes to review those? Who has drafted well? Who hasn’t? There, we can have some ideas, if we allow the numbers to be the guide.

Long story short, I made use of the vast Baseball Reference resources, and I checked out all the draft results of this millennium. So, going back to 2000. That gives us a sample of 17 consecutive drafts, not that anything from 2016 of any consequence has happened. This is the very definition of results-based analysis, but I don’t know an alternative, and so I went ahead and gathered the data and created some plots.

Two plots will be shown below. The first one will break down, by team, how many drafted and signed players have appeared in the major leagues. There’s no difference between a guy who played one game and a guy who played a thousand. It’s just about reaching the level. That plot should be easy enough to understand.

And then, for more meat, there’s a plot showing total drafted and signed WAR. A couple things to understand, here. First, I used Baseball Reference WAR instead of FanGraphs WAR, just because it was already there in the spreadsheets I built. So, that’s out of convenience, and there shouldn’t be any super large differences. Second, I mentioned this is WAR for players drafted and signed. I don’t care if those players reached the majors with some other organization. The Astros, for example, are getting all the credit here for Ben Zobrist. Zobrist was drafted by the Astros in 2004, and two years later he went to the Rays. I know that, therefore, Tampa Bay deserves some credit, but in the end, it was Houston that saw enough to make the pick. I just want to make sure you understand these points before we advance.

How should this data actually be interpreted? That gets tricky, and I don’t have any great answers. Everything is part draft pick, part player development, and part luck. In theory, a team could have drafted all the right guys, and then the organization could’ve messed them all up. That shouldn’t fall on the drafting, but it’s impossible to create separation. Think of this as just a retrospective summary. Here’s how the draft picks have worked out. Take it to mean whatever you like.

All that now being said, here’s the first plot:

Because of the way this works, more recent drafts are under-weighted. Those players just haven’t had as much time to develop and climb up the ladder. But anyway, over more than a decade and a half, the Giants have emerged as the leaders in this category. They’ve drafted and signed 95 players who’ve found their way to the major leagues. The Padres are right there at 93, and then the Cardinals are the only other team over 90. Flipping to the other side, the Mariners and Twins bring up the rear, with 57 such players apiece. The Orioles are at 58, and the Astros are at 59.

The average out of the whole sample is 71, with a standard deviation of 10 players. Much credit goes to those first three teams. But, how did all these big-league players perform? That’s what you probably care about more.

The average: 222 WAR for each team. The standard deviation: 52 WAR. But it’s the Red Sox who are far and away in the lead, at 346 WAR, with a 36-win edge over the second-place Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks shouldn’t hang their heads or anything, and they’re led by Max Scherzer, Paul Goldschmidt, and Brandon Webb, but the Red Sox would be rightfully ecstatic. They’ve drafted and signed 12 players who’ve been worth at least 10 WAR, and they’re led by Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Kevin Youkilis, and Jacoby Ellsbury. Anthony Rizzo and Mookie Betts are climbing on up pretty fast. The Red Sox have identified many of the right players. They might not deserve all the credit, again, since those players then have to be developed, but good luck getting granular in that department.

And then. And then, there are the Mariners. Every Mariners fan already knew this, even if they didn’t *know* this, but the Mariners are again in last place, with a combined WAR of 140. Now, that’s close to the Orioles, who have also sucked. They’re down there at 146. But, well, it’s a funny coincidence that the Orioles are next to the Mariners, because the Mariners’ WAR leader out of these players is Adam Jones. Chris Tillman’s in fourth. The Mariners have drafted and signed four players worth at least 10 WAR, and only Kyle Seager has stuck around. (Doug Fister was traded away in his second full season.)

The Orioles have drafted six 10+ WAR players, topped by Nick Markakis and Manny Machado. Their own sob story, of course, is Jake Arrieta. The Indians have drafted just five 10+ WAR players, and one of them is Chris Archer. If I can be totally honest with you, I knew about Archer being traded by the Cubs, but I didn’t know he’d been traded by the Indians. Good pick, at least. Has a good head on his shoulders.

If you have more questions in the comments, I’m saving this spreadsheet, so hopefully I can help. In the meantime, I don’t think I have more to say. We don’t know who’s really drafted the best, independent of all the other factors. But this accounts for how the various draft picks have turned out. Congratulations to the Red Sox, who have identified some awfully good talent. Fewer congratulations to the Mariners. On the plus side for them, Chris Taylor could make this look better right quick. On the downside — yeah.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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6 years ago

Obviously Fengraphs Red Sox prospect bias showing these “numbers” that make the Red Sox appear to be in first place.

On a more serious note, it looks like Trout moves the Angels about seven spots on this list.

6 years ago
Reply to  Los

True about the Angels, but you also got to remember that they had some pretty good picks when Eddie Bane was the Scouting director, and if you look around the league there are a fair amount of Big Leaguers drafted by them(definitely thinning out because of the Dipoto years). Also those same Red Sox that are at the top have Eddie Bane helping them with the draft, probably the reason they have been doing so well in recent years.

6 years ago
Reply to  andrewrhodes77

Jered Weaver (35) Howie Kendrick (27)

Phillies jump up in the second graph from Chase Utley (61) and Cole Hamels (44).

6 years ago
Reply to  andrewrhodes77

2009 was a pretty good draft for the Angels – other than Mike Trout, they also drafted Randall Grichuk, Garret Richards, Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs.

Now what does it mean that only Richards and Skaggs remain on the team, and they had to trade back for Skaggs, I have no idea.