Tuesday, June 03, 2008
This will be the second year in a row in which you can watch the draft on ESPN, which I intend to do Thursday evening off my DVR. (News I haven't broken to my wife yet ...) The MLB Draft has never held the attention of the public quite the way that the NFL Draft has for a number of reasons, some of which the MLB is trying to change. For one thing, the draft never used to actually be in a central location but was done over the intercom. No Commissioner striding to the podium to announce the next pick under the glare of the TV cameras as Bud Selig will do Thursday afternoon, and as the NFL as done for years in New York City.
The problem with the MLB's efforts to make the Draft an Event with a capital E is that, unlike the NFL, NBA and (to a lesser extent) NHL drafts, the MLB Draft will have absolutely no immediate impact on the teams that make their selections today. The '98 Minnesota Vikings took a gamble on Marshall wide receiver Randy Moss with the 19th pick of the first round of the Draft that season and landed an impact player who helped spark the Vikings to 556 points and a 15-1 record (after going just 9-7 the previous season) thanks to his 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns. No player taken today is going to have that kind of impact in 2008 or even 2009. David Price was taken #1 overall last season from Vanderbilt and he has played no role whatsoever in the Tampa Bay Rays success in '08.
The players being taken today are going to be the cornerstones to their franchises in 2010 or 2011 at the earliest. Most of these players are going to make their MLB debuts in 2012, however. The lack of impact that these players will have on their teams makes the MLB Draft a spectacle for the hard-core baseball fan. The NFL Draft promises: "See tomorrow's players today!" The MLB Draft promises: "See the distant future's players today!"
Additionally, thanks to college football and basketball being televised to prominently by ESPN, CBS, ABC and the like, many fans are familiar already with the players they see on Draft Day. College baseball is barely on the radar of most baseball fans. High School baseball? Forget about it ...
So while I am skeptical that the MLB Draft will ever be an Event with a capital E, I applaud baseball for shaking up the status quo and attempting to make it interesting for the public. While baseball has traditionally been a sport given to tradition above all else, I enjoy seeing the powers that be attempt to grow the game and give something to get the fans fired up. This is the kind of forward thinking we typically don't see from Major League Baseball.
History. So where does the draft come from? The major league draft, which was adopted by baseball following the winter meetings in December of 1964, grew out of a concern that New York Yankees were dominating the game. The persistent dominance of the Yankees between 1921 and 1964 (in 44 years they won 29 American League Pennants and 20 World Series), in which the Yankees would attract and sign marquee talent like Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle led Major League Baseball to institute the draft. Scouts like Tom Greenwade used to specialize in locating talent and signing them to the Bronx Bombers before other teams were aware these players existed. Suddenly the legions of scouts that the Yankees had criss-crossing the country looking for talent now longer had the ability to corner a player and lock him into a deal. Aging already, the Yankees went into an eclipse in the mid-to-late 1960's.
Theory. Typically teams took players in the MLB draft somewhat equally from college and high school and simply selected the players their scouts rated as the best. Scouts typically would give high ratings to high school players because they were more raw in terms of their talent and were the subject of more speculation. Speculation that oftentimes would prove erroneous. The proliferation over the last decade of sabremetric analysis in the game as well as the internet as turned the draft philosophies on its head. Bill James wrote in his 1988 Baseball Abstract: "Of all the studies I have done over the last twelve years, what have I learned? ... [After listing four things, James lists as the fifth:] Players taken in the June draft coming out of college (or with at least two years of college) perform dramatically better than players drafted out of high school." The ten points listed by James, of which the foregoing was number five, became known as A Bill James Primer.
The split between the sabremetric pundits and the baseball establishment over high schoolers vs. college players continued into the 1990's and 2000's. In the book Moneyball, author Michael Lewis spends a lot of time dissecting the Oakland A's draft in 2002 for many reasons. The '02 Draft showcases the A's approach to the game in a nutshell: their focus on stats over scouting, their focus on proven college talent over speculative high school talent, their obsession with keeping their costs reasonable. The experience and failure of Billy Beane the ballplayer, the talented high schooler from San Diego taken in the first round of the 1980 Draft, is what drives Billy Beane the A's General Manager.
Beane was a bust as a player because he was an unproven talent who could, in the eyes of scouts, be molded into a big leaguer. The scouts who saw Billy Beane play saw Billy Beane as the next Mickey Mantle. Billy Beane the General Manager has no interest or confidence in the capacity of minor league instructors to mold players or try and make them something they are not. Billy Beane wants proven talent, which is why the '02 A's took college players exclusively and took players that other teams took a pass on. Perhaps things didn't work out with Jeremy Brown, the much maligned catcher the A's took from the University of Alabama in the first round, in the minor leagues, but the A's success from 1999 to now otherwise underscores why the A's are such a successful franchise despite owning one of the smallest payrolls in the game. Author Michael Lewis wrote about the A's preparation for the 2002 Draft:
Billy [Beane] had his own idea about where to find future major league baseball players: inside [the computer of] Paul [DePodesta, then-Assistant General Manager] ... He'd flirted with the idea of firing all of the scouts and just drafting kids straight from Paul's laptop. The Internet now served up just about every statistic you could want about every college player in the country ... From Paul's point of view, that was the great thing about college players: they had meaningful stats. They played a lot more games, against stiffer competition, than high school players. The sample size of their relevant statistics was larger, and therefore a more accurate reflection of some underlying reality. You could project college players with greater certainty than you could project high school players. The statistics enabled you to find your way past all sorts of sight-based scouting prejudices ...Moneyball, pages 37-38.
So what is the actual evidence for college superiority? According to Baseball Between the Numbers (see, Table 7-1.1 on page 237), College players are much, much more likely to make it to the majors than high schoolers. The percentage of high-school players drafted between 1984-1991 who made the majors was just 41%. In that same time period, 60% of college players drafted made the majors. Amongst high schoolers drafted between 1992-1999, 39% made the majors. About 57% of college players during that same time period made the big leagues. So College players are roughly 50% more likely to make the majors than a high schooler, which validates the A's belief in drafting college players. The A's need to develop talent from their farm system and cannot afford to have their draft picks come up short.
According to Baseball Between the Numbers (I am referencing Chapter 7.1, "What Happened to Todd Van Poppel?" by Dayn Perry, in this post, by the way), "High school pitchers remain the riskiest selections in the first round [of the Draft]. This is mostly because, unlike college hurlers, they haven't made it through the 'injury nexus'." That is partly why high schoolers are such a risky bet for big league teams to take.
Now, at this point, I ought to note that not every team follows the A's focus. The Anaheim Angels, for example, focus aggressively on taking high school talent and developing it. With their deep pockets and focus on small ball, the Angels are almost like baseball's Anti-A's. And the Angels have been successful in developing talent on their farm system, so there is a powerful counter-argument to be made that high schoolers are a good bet too: you get to shape and mold their development and you get to bring them aboard before they get into college and possibly suffer injuries. For teams with large payrolls, high schoolers are a good bet.
So that's basically where the draft comes from and what some of the theories about it are.
The Phillies position on Draft Day. The Phillies own the 24th, 34th, 51st, 71st, 102nd and 109th picks in the draft, or 6 of the top 109 picks. Why so many? The Phillies were given supplemental first and third round picks (#34 and #109 respectively) for losing Aaron Rowand to free-agency and failing to sign Brandon Workman, the Phillies third-round pick in the '07 draft. The supplemental picks, particularly the first-rounder, will pay huge dividends to the Phillies in the long run and will confirm the team's wisdom of not sacrificing draft picks to re-sign pricey free agents. As James wrote in the '88 Baseball Abstract: "The chance of getting a good player with a high draft pick is substantial enough that is clearly a disastrous strategy to give up a first-round draft pick to sign a player like Rick Dempsey, Pete Falcone, or Bill Stein." (This is #6 in the 10 points to the Bill James Primer.)
The Phillies ought to be able to leverage their large number of draft picks into a few talented players. Who will they pick?
Phillies Draft History. The Phillies have shown a real focus on pitchers recently. Four of their last five first-round draft choices have been pitchers.
First Round Picks
2007: Joe Savery, LHP
2006: Kyle Drabek, RHP
2005: No Pick (Took 3B Mike Costanzo in 2nd Round)
2004: Greg Golson, OF
2003: No Pick (Took 2B Tim Moss in 3rd Round)
2002: Cole Hamels, LHP
2001: Gavin Floyd, RHP
2000: Chase Utley, 2B
1999: Brett Myers, RHP
1998: Pat Burrell, 1B
1997: J.D. Drew, OF
1996: Adam Eaton, RHP
Take notice of the success the Phillies have generally had too: every one of those 1st rounders taken between '96 and '02 have made the majors and, aside from J.D. Drew, is or has been on the Phillies roster.
Winding their way right now through the Phillies system is a slew of great pitching talent: John Outman, Carlos Carrasco, Savery, Drabek, Drew Carpenter. The future is bright for the Phillies pitching staff as Outman and Carrasco (and possibly Savery) might be in the rotation in 2009 to supplement Hamels and Myers, two other former first-round picks.
The Phillies most recent draft does suggest, however, that the team might be moving back towards an emphasis on position players. The Phillies took position players with five of the six picks they had following their selection of Savery with the 19th overall pick. They selected seven pitchers in a row in rounds 7-13, but their focus was clearly on the position players.
It is difficult to predict who the Phillies will take in the draft, but I have heard a lot about the Phillies being interested in Anthony Hewitt, a talented high school shortstop from Connecticut. He is the name that keeps popping up in discussions with the Phillies. I tend to think that the Phillies will take a position player with their first round pick for the first time since they took Greg Golson in '04.
Misc. Points: This will be the final draft Pat Gillick oversees as the Phillies G.M. You have to wonder how much imput he'll have and how much imput someone like Assistant G.M. Reuben Amaro, who is Gillick's likely heir apparant, will have on the team.
I'll post some more thoughts tomorrow and Thursday, but I thought that I might put a few things out there now ...
Bockman signed seven guys on that 1980 Championship squad.