The MLB amateur draft happened a couple of weeks ago. As I was listening to a recent episode of the Fangraphs podcast Effectively Wild they had on Ryan Nelson a baseball blogger who did his own research into how teams rank as either “good” or “bad” at drafting. The podcast had mostly to do with methodology, but his post has the hard numbers of his data crunching and the Orioles as you might have guessed, are the worst team when it comes to getting value from draft picks
First and foremost, I’ll try to distill his methodology the best I can. He took all of the drafts from 1998 to 2012. This is when most of today’s players have been drafted and many organizations have had the same people in place over that period of time. Drafts from after 2012 have not had enough time to have the players work their way up to the major leagues to produce solid data. So he picked those 15 drafts.
Nelson then found what the average production level was for each draft slot using bWAR. For instance, the first overall pick typically produces 18 WAR in his career. So, if a player drafted first overall and produced 20 WAR in his career the pick is considered a “good” pick an given a score of +2. If the player produced 15 WAR in his carer the player is considered a “bad” pick and is given a score of -3.
For a real world, and Orioles example, the 20th worst pick between 1998 and 2012 was Adam Loewen who was expected to produce 9.1 WAR for his draft slot of 4th overall. However, Loewen produced -0.2 WAR giving him an overall negative value of -9.3 in this methodology.
Nelson then totaled all the value of every pick from 1998 to 2012 for each team and ranked them. The Orioles came in dead last with a total of -107.4 WAR over that period of time. The next closest were the Padres at -83.5 WAR. The first place team is the St. Louis Cardinals who have produced 176.5 WAR above what was expected from their draft picks. That is a difference of 283.9 WAR over a 15 year period between first place and the Orioles.
Now, as he acknowledges in his research, a lot of the Cardinals value comes from drafting Albert Pujols in the 13th round. Albert Pujols has produced an insane amount in his career and drafting him that late gives the Cardinals a big edge over what was expected from the typical player drafted in the 13th round.
So, Nelson also looked at the percentage of players drafted that have reached the major leagues. Figuring that identifying the Pujols of the world was a skill, but that it was also important to identify major league players to fill out a roster. These players have their places even if they aren’t going to produce 100 WAR in their careers.
In this analysis, the Orioles finished 27th out of 30 major league teams. Only 8.45 percent of the players the Orioles drafted from 1998 to 2012 made the major leagues. The Mariners are in 30th place having 8.11 percent of their draftees reach the major leagues. The Padres rank in 1st place with 14.31 percent of their draftees reaching the major leagues.
As Nelson points out in his post, this could be skewed by bad teams giving playing time to young players. So what he did was blend the two measures—the WAR differential and the percentage of draftees to make the majors—and created a “Super Secret” ranking system. He goes into more detail about this on the podcast.
Essentially, the measure blends about 80 percent of the WAR differential with about 20 percent of the Major League percentage to give you the final ranking. This takes some of the noise out of both of the methodologies of draft analysis.
According to his Super Secret ranking algorithm, the Orioles rank dead last in baseball. Being that the Orioles are 27th in players reaching the majors and 30th in expected WAR differential this should not be all that surprising. For what it’s worth, the Cardinals are also first in this Super Secret ranking analysis.
This analysis puts what Orioles fans know into black and white, the Orioles have been bad at drafting and developing players for a very long time. Now, the most recent administration has only one draft included in this analysis so it may not be fair to indict them based on this analysis. Of course, you could indict them on the dearth of talent available in the minor leagues to help out the 2017 squad.
Either way, the Orioles need to figure out a way to better identify talent or they need to start getting lucky.