Seniority Rules In The Draft

When Stanford right-hander Mark Appel began his free-fall from the top spot to the eighth-overall selection due to signability concerns, many pointed to the new draft rules agreed upon in the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement as the culprit.

The new draft rules call for each pick in the first ten rounds to have a monetary value. The draft budget for each team is the combined value of their respective draft picks in the first ten rounds. By now, most following the draft are aware that penalties exist for exceeding the draft budget — first a tax, then the loss of future draft picks. The catch is, though, that any unsigned pick in the first ten rounds costs that team the corresponding budget money allotted to that specific pick, and any bonus greater than $100,000 after the tenth round still counts toward the overall draft budget.

Thus, Mark Appel fell to the number eight slot held by the Pittsburgh Pirates because teams felt the Stanford pitcher would demand too much of their budget, and the worst scenario for any team would be that the two sides failed to come to an agreement. Little would happen to Appel. He would simply return to Stanford for his senior year and return for the 2013 Draft. Though for the major league team, they would not only throw away a first-round pick, but also forfeit a huge portion of their draft budget, which would handcuff their options in remaining rounds.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the new rules, the vast majority of the players taken in the first round aligned with the best available talent. Even Florida State senior James Ramsey, who was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals with the 23rd pick and largely seen as the biggest reach of the first round, was ranked as the 51st-best player available by Baseball America. That’s one slot higher than high school outfielder Lewis Brinson, who went six picks later to the Texas Rangers.

So, in some ways, the new draft rules worked as designed. Signing bonuses should be reduced due to the strict adherence to the overall draft budgets, and talent largely fell where it should in the first few rounds. No player floated out a Josh Bell type bonus demand like last year and dramatically fell to a team willing to meet his demands.

Perhaps more accurately, the new draft rules worked until the later rounds, especially rounds nine through eleven. That is when the true effect of the new budgets became realized. As J.J. Cooper of Baseball America wrote on Tuesday evening:

[T]eams had to know how to stretch their dollars, but just as importantly, how to make absolutely sure they would sign all of their picks in the first 10 rounds. So while talent was important, finding cheaper players after the first few rounds became even more important. And no draft commodity is cheaper than the college senior.

College seniors have no leverage in the negotiation process with teams. No option to return to school looms ominously over contract talks, generally allowing teams to sign college seniors for signing bonuses that fall under the recommended slot value. That money saved can then be allocated to other draft picks, allowing the organization to go over slot, if necessary.

Because of this, a huge influx of college seniors were drafted from rounds seven through ten, much more than in the previous year.

As you can see, the number of college seniors drafted per round after the fifth round in the 2011 Draft remained roughly consistent. Anywhere between four and seven seniors were drafted in rounds six through thirteen.

Compare that with the 2012 Draft, however, and we see a massive jump in college seniors drafted in rounds seven through ten. A whopping twenty-one college seniors were drafted in the tenth round, clearly as a calculated move to save money for other rounds because only one college senior was drafted in the eleventh round — the first round in which a team can fail to sign a player and not have it affect their individual draft budget.

The issue with the massive influx of signable college seniors being drafted in rounds seven through ten is that the ultimate goal of drafting players in the order of talent, not signability, gets thrown out the window.

For example, the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted second baseman Zach Babitt, a college senior from Academy Of the Arts University in San Francisco, California. By all accounts, the 22-year-old seems to be a pleasant young man, but Babitt is not a tenth-round talent. He should not be drafted thirteen slots ahead of prep left-hander Hunter Virant. Babitt is a 5-foot-7 infielder, who played for a 6-44 Division II team and hit one home run in 99 collegiate games. Virant, on the other hand, ranked as the 53rd-best player available in the entire draft.

Virant was the first player drafted in the eleventh round. Teams shied away from drafting him in the first ten rounds because the industry considers the high schooler a difficult sign, and no one was willing to risk a portion of their draft budget. Virant symbolized a run on high school talent after the tenth round.

After just three high school players went in the tenth round, twelve high school players were drafted in both the eleventh and twelfth rounds. Teams felt far more comfortable drafting many of these players after they were no longer risks to their budget, signifying yet again the later rounds became much more about signability than talent.

Much like we saw earlier, the 2011 Draft saw more stability between rounds. From round six to round fifteen, anywhere between seven and eleven high school players went per round. We did not see any major peaks and valleys, as we saw on Tuesday.

The new draft rules were lauded as a way to curb draft spending and to ensure draftees came off the board in the order of talent, not signability. With the premium placed on cheap, signable college seniors in rounds seven through ten — some of them college seniors who would have normally gone in rounds thirty through forty — we see that now, more than ever, the draft has become just as much about signability as it is talent.

We hoped you liked reading Seniority Rules In The Draft by J.P. Breen!

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

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Nitram Odarp
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Nitram Odarp

Great, more of the Fangraphs agenda on the new CBA rules. We get it, you guys don’t like the new system and you’re going to take every chance to rip it.

First, can we stop with the whole “the Pirates would throw away a first round pick if they can’t sign Appel?” They don’t throw the pick away, they just delay it for a year. Obviously it wouldn’t be their first choice, but if it gives them some chance of landing Appel with the #8 pick on an extremely reasonable deal it is worth the risk.

Second, are we really complaining because guys aren’t getting drafted in order of ability in rounds 7-10? I don’t think anyone in their right mind think that issue compares to having top 5 talents slip to the end of the first round because they’re demanding huge bonuses. Besides, no one said signability would no longer be an issue. The larger point was to force high school players to be realistic with their demands up front or risk falling out of the first 10 rounds and basically forcing themselves to go to school. It’s not like highly thought of high school players didn’t slip way down the draft in the old system because they were thought of as unsignable either. There is a reason that Rendon, for instance, wasn’t drafted until the 820th pick out of high school despite scouts thinking he was much, much better than the 820th best overall player in that draft.

juan pierres mustache
Guest
juan pierres mustache

“Second, are we really complaining because guys aren’t getting drafted in order of ability in rounds 7-10? ”
yeah, i personally think this is worth complaining about, especially because it isn’t just rounds 7-10 where this is happening. if teams are more focused on trying to game the financial system than they are on acquiring the best talent with each pick, that seems like a problem with the way the draft is set up to me. now, i’m not suggesting that the old system was great either–really, i think the “fangraphs agenda” you mentioned is mainly due to the fact that all MLB did was replace a flawed system with a similar, differently flawed system that “fixed” some signability/gaming the system issues by adding new, different issues.

i do agree with your point about Appel–certainly not the worst thing in the world if they can’t sign him, since my understanding is that they would essentially receive a replacement pick (and presumably a higher draft budget?) next year.

Nitram Odarp
Guest
Nitram Odarp

Yes, there is no perfect answer when it comes the system, but I think it’s pretty clear that getting guy’s drafted in order of their talent in the first round is far, far more important than doing the same in rounds 7 through 10. The new system is a huge improvement IMO. Fangraphs is completely unwilling to admit that possibility.

Radivel
Guest
Radivel

Nitram – Read this overview of Alex Anthopolous’s strategies and reasoning behind how to best abuse the new draft format, which is very well written: http://www.bluebirdbanter.com/2012/6/6/3067442/draft-day-2-blue-jays-make-a-mockery-out-of-new-draft-rules

From the comments, a tweet by Marc Hulet:
MLB has ruined the draft. Watching players who normally go in the 40th round in the 6-10th is a joke. I get why teams did it #mlbdraft

It’s unfortunate that one poor system is replaced by another. Maybe we’ll get it next time. Until then, we can spend each year laughing at the mockery.

Nitram Odarp
Guest
Nitram Odarp

So what’s your suggestion to improve the system that is so much better? I could care less about guys being reached for because they are signable in rounds 7-10. That pales in comparison to keeping top prospects from manipulating the draft and forcing their way out of the top 10.

And you’re assuming that AA’s system is actually a good one. I think they can get away with it because they stocked up last year, but I don’t think punting on that many picks is a good idea for the vast majority of teams. It forces teams to come up with a plan ahead of time and adapt to what everyone else is doing. I don’t think there is a “right” answer anymore where previously the right answer was to spend as much as possible. That’s a step in the right direction IMO.

The bigger point is it actually forces HS prospects to be more honest with teams. No more Josh Bell’s claiming they won’t sign just so that he can get a bigger offer from the team that eventually decides to pop him later on. No more asking for ridiculous amounts upfront to try and retain more leverage and get more money despite falling in the draft. Those things far, far outweigh some college seniors getting drafted much earlier than they would otherwise IMO. YMMV

My main issue is that FG refuses to place any focus on the positives. They continue to just right about the terrible things the new rules have done or will do. If they actually wrote a fair and balanced article I wouldn’t be here.

byron
Member
Member
byron

It’s hard to focus on the positives when the true intent of the rules has nothing to do with competitive balance and everything to do with reducing the leverage children and young adults have to negotiate with billionaires.

My perfect system? Draft the right to match any contract offer a player receives, then let the players negotiate with the market. That’s substantially more rights than any other prospective employer would get.

Nitram Odarp
Guest
Nitram Odarp

Any prospective employer except for every other major American professional sports league. What you suggest would completely ruin the competitive balance in baseball and could lead to lower total overall salaries for professional players because the league as we know it fundamentally changes with those rules. It’s standard collective bargaining. It may not be fair, but acting like your system could ever happen isn’t even worth discussing.

baty
Guest
baty

@ Nitram

But the issue you’re talking about in regard to elite prospects manipulating, sliding and being selected… You’re talking about a few guys at most per year… significant players, yes, but still… The case laid out in Breen’s article, 2013 shows dozens and dozens and dozens of players being manipulated.

I’m not saying that I liked how the system previously worked, but RADIVEL is correct in what he’s pointing out. It’s turning a poor system into a more convoluted kind of poor.

So the attention shifts from a few of the yearly elite prospects, to a load of low cost players… So let’s wait to see how the “elite” prospect/agent will continue to manipulate, only differently…

Nitram Odarp
Guest
Nitram Odarp

But the guys chosen in the top few rounds are the players most likely to be difference makers for a franchise. The guys chosen later on are rarely difference makers that early picks are. It is far more important to have the best players going in the “correct” spots, than the also rans later in the draft (who still weren’t going in the “correct” spots in the old system because of signability).

byron
Member
Member
byron

I think it’s most important to not transfer additional money to billionaires from the kids who’ve eked out the tiniest bit of leverage, but that’s just me.

Nitram Odarp
Guest
Nitram Odarp

Where did all my negatives on the posts other than the first one go? I was quite proud of those.

Nitram Odarp
Guest
Nitram Odarp

@byron

The total amount of slot money in the first 10 rounds is 50-60 MM less than it was last year (which was one of the best classes ever and teams last chance to take advantage of the old rules, so spending was probably dropping anyway). Do you really think billionaires care all that much about saving less than 2 MM a season? Don’t you think that money might get spent elsewhere? Isn’t it possible that this was done for competitive balance reasons and not so teams could save ~2 MM a year?

illinibob
Guest
illinibob

no replacement picks anymore. Incentive to sign the player because if you don’t, you don’t have a first round pick that year.

Nivra
Guest
Nivra

LOL. of course billionaires care about saving $2M per season. How do you think they became billionaires in the first place?

baty
Guest
baty

Let’s also not downplay the value of being able to draft and sign for talent’s sake within the 7-12 rounds. It does matter A LOT.

Nitram Odarp
Guest
Nitram Odarp

It used to matter a lot. It doesn’t matter as much anymore because there are fewer high upside guys falling to those picks in the first place.

baty
Guest
baty

I just don’t think that’s true. After more than 500 picks, there’s still lots of upside left on the BaseballAmerica top 500, and nearly all of the players left in the top 300 are HS prospects. Sure, many of those players are tough to sign because of commitment issues, but they are still there. There’s always value to be found in the 6-12th rounds.

Nitram Odarp
Guest
Nitram Odarp

And teams could still possibly sign those guys if they saved money earlier in the draft. They also could have been taken earlier and signed if teams thought they were worth the money they were asking relative to their other options at that draft spot.

obsessivegiantscompulsive
Member

Please, just go into baseball-reference.com’s draft database and pull up 7th round picks over the first 40 years, and see how many of them end up with at least 10 WAR in their careers (and I’m being generous, the good players that people want to see on their teams are at least 18 WAR). That alone should show you that you don’t need to look at rounds 8-12 to see that you are wrong.