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Analyzing the Draft, Part 1

In my effort to improve my statistical formula I’ve been working on for years, I decided to do some research on the MLB Draft. There are some common ideas about the draft. Many think that college players are less likely to fail and are more likely to succeed than high school players. Another theme is that catchers take longer to develop as well as fail more. Sometimes these two are combined saying that high school catchers fail often. Over the next few articles, I will break down the rounds starting with the 1st round. I will look which positions generate the best players and are the most successful. I will look at which had given the best return, high school, college or junior college players and how long it takes each to get to the major leagues.

I studied from 1987-2001 to see if these hold true. Over the next few articles, I will tell you what my findings are. I cut the study off at 2001, even though I have data thru 2010. This allowed players time to make it to the majors and establish themselves so I knew how to rate them. This is a large scope study so the numbers may be slightly outdated because it does involve more junior college players that were signed with the now defunct draft-and-follow system. Junior college numbers will be skewed due to that.

I used Baseball Reference’s career WAR numbers to classify players. I used these numbers to classify them along with my 0-10 rating that I use for prospects. I didn’t assign anything below a 5, because a 5 is a major league player. I did adjust a few players that didn’t have a lot of MLB time to fit in more with where he projects over his career using WAR/year but it was minimal.

Here is my rating system:
10 All-time Great - 50+ WAR
9 Star -10-49.9 WAR
8 Occasional All-Star - 5-9.9 WAR
7 Starter-Solid Regular - 2-4.9 WAR
6 Part-time player - 0 to 1.9 WAR
5 Bench warmer - Below 0 WAR
0 Never reach the Majors

Using this rating system and analyzing the 1st round draft picks that signed over this time shows us that very few players become truly elite. About 30% become players that any team would be happy to have but almost as many never make it to the majors. About 40% of draft picks make it to the majors and have mediocre careers but fill roles. The 1st round creates the highest percentage of major leaguers, to no one’s surprise.

1st round
Rank Number %
10 16 3.96%
9 71 17.57%
8 38 9.41%
7 25 6.19%
6 37 9.16%
5 98 24.26%
0 119 29.46%
Grand Total 404

Breaking this information down into college, high school and junior college players, we see more patterns develop. Of the 404 players that signed, 207 of them came from college, 187 came from high school and 9 came from junior colleges. High school players actually had a higher percentage of Hall of Fame type players but were less successful across the board. Junior college players were very likely to bust. This shows that college players are the safer bet to succeed over the long run. This got me thinking. What about the highest picks?
Rank 4-yr HS JC
10 8 3.86% 8 4.28% 0 0.00%
9 40 19.32% 29 15.51% 2 22.22%
8 21 10.14% 17 9.09% 0 0.00%
7 13 6.28% 11 5.88% 0 0.00%
6 25 12.08% 12 6.42% 0 0.00%
5 58 28.02% 39 20.86% 1 11.11%
0 42 20.29% 71 37.97% 6 66.67%

Just looking at the top 10 picks of each draft, we see that a very high percentage become impact players. Only 30 of the 142 picks didn’t make it to the majors.
Rank Number Percent
10 9 6.34%
9 39 27.46%
8 15 10.56%
7 6 4.23%
6 9 6.34%
5 34 23.94%
0 30 21.13%
Grand Total 142

Here is a comparison of the difference between high school and college:
College
Rank Number Percent
10 4 5.26%
9 23 30.26%
8 8 10.53%
7 2 2.63%
6 6 7.89%
5 25 32.89%
0 8 10.53%
Grand Total 76

High School
Rank Number Percent
10 5 7.94%
9 14 22.22%
8 7 11.11%
7 3 4.76%
6 3 4.76%
5 9 14.29%
0 22 34.92%
Grand Total 63

Junior College
Rank Number Percentage
9 2 100.00%
Grand Total 2

Only Kevin Appier and Alex Fernandez were drafted in the top 10 out of a JuCo.
Of the college busts, here is the positional breakdown:
2B 1
LHP 2
OF 1
RHP 4

Ty Griffin and Chad Green were the lone positional players. Ryan Mills and BJ Wallace were the lefties. Bill Bene, Pete Janicki, Josh Karp and Kevin Garner were the righties.
Of the high school busts, here is the positional breakdown:
LHP 9
OF 6
RHP 5
SS 2


Matt Brunson and consensus overdraft Corey Myers were the shortstops. Injury and tragedy played the biggest part with the LHP’s with Joe Torres, Brien Taylor and the sad passing of Doug Million. Colt Griffin was one of the failed RHP’s, which should remind people that power armed high school pitchers aren’t a lock. Oddly, no players drafted as catchers are here.
Somewhat surprisingly there was a player that didn’t make it to the majors in every draft. I had to see if that pattern is still going. The 2005 draft has a chance to break the streak if Wade Townsend makes it to the majors. 2006 has a shot if Billy Rowell and Brad Lincoln make it.
The rest of the 1st round shapes up a little differently. There are a lot less impact players as the draft goes on. There are still quite a few good players though.
Total
Rank Number Percent
10 7 2.65%
9 32 12.12%
8 23 8.71%
7 19 7.20%
6 28 10.61%
5 64 24.24%
0 91 34.47%
Grand Total 264

As you can see below, the bust percentage in college players really increases from 10.53 to 25.95%.
College
Rank Number Percent
10 4 3.05%
9 17 12.98%
8 13 9.92%
7 11 8.40%
6 19 14.50%
5 33 25.19%
0 34 25.95%
Grand Total 131

The fascinating part about high school picks is that the bust rate doesn’t increase that much. It went from 34.92 to 40.48%. This just proves how hard it is to identify top high school talent, even when they look much better than the rest.
High School
Rank Number Percent
10 3 2.38%
9 15 11.90%
8 10 7.94%
7 8 6.35%
6 9 7.14%
5 30 23.81%
0 51 40.48%
Grand Total 126

Phil Dumatrait was the only JuCo player to make it to the majors. All but 2 were pitchers RHP’s. One was a 1B, the other a C.
JuCo
Rank Number Percent
5 1 14.29%
0 6 85.71%
Grand Total 7

If you have specific questions, just ask and I’ll do my best to answer them, but I do have a lot more info on the way.

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