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Saturday, May 16, 2009

How much should we expect from a 1st-round pick? How have the Reds done?

As a follow-up to yesterday's post...how much should we expect from a 1st-round pick anyway?

Thus far, Erik has posted a three-year sample (1994-1996). This is probably not enough to get a reliable estimate, but to get some idea, here's a quick pivot table of his data (note: I am setting all negative WAR values to zero, as Rany Jazayerli did in his study, and as Tango recommends--players who don't make it to the big leagues should never be considered more successful picks than players who do make it, even if they stink upon arrival):

Position N WAR/player
1B 5 4.5
2B 1 7.4
3B 4 6.7
3B 1 0.0
C 6 3.5
OF 22 3.7
SS 10 4.4
PosPlyr Totals 49 4.1
P 50 2.8
Grand Total 99 3.5

I am showing the position-by-position totals, though I probably should not be--many are based on just a single player! It's no accident that you see more SS's and OF's than other positions, though: that's where the best amateur players will tend to play on their teams. Another interesting tidbit is that almost exactly half of the first round picks during 1994-1996 were pitchers, even though pitchers averaged just 64% of the production of position players.

Anyway, from 1994-1996, the average player taken in the first round returned 3.5 WAR in his career. An average MLB player will produce 2 WAR/season, so this is essentially saying that the baseline for an average first round pick is one and a half seasons of MLB-average performance. Not very good. It's no wonder that baseball drafts have a reputation for being a crapshoot, even in the first round.

I'm not sure if 3.5 WAR is a reliable figure. My guess is that it's within a half-win or so of the true mean, but it's hard to know at this point without more data. Furthermore, it's questionable whether we should even use a mean here--the data are not normally distributed, and, in fact, the median WAR is actually zero!

But if we run with it for now, how have the Reds done? Let's break it down by 5-year increments. I'm including all players shown in yesterday's post, again setting anyone with negative WAR to zero:

Years Players TotalWAR WAR/Player
65-69 16 75.5 4.7
70-74 17 12.2 0.7
75-79 20 15.2 0.8
80-84 20 40.5 2.0
85-89 10 72.3 7.2
90-94 5 19.5 3.9
95-99 5 16.3 3.3
00-05* 8 4.0 0.5
The reason there were so many more players in the 60's, 70's, and 80's is that I included all of various drafts that existed in those years--January, August, etc. I was concerned that this was the cause of the rather striking awfulness of the 1970-1984 drafts, so here are the data focused exclusively on the June draft (supplemental picks are still included, as they are in Erik's studies; I'm also setting players like Sowers who did not sign to zero, as those are wasted opportunities):

Years Players TotalWAR WAR/Player
65-69 5 62.3 12.5
70-74 5 0 0.0
75-79 6 7.5 1.3
80-84 6 9.4 1.6
85-89 4 72.3 18.1
90-94 5 19.5 3.9
95-99 5 16.3 3.3
00-05* 8 4 0.5
My take: the Reds did extremely well in the first several years of the amateur draft, but then were downright awful from 1970-1984. And then Barry Larkin happened in '85. And ever since Barry, the Reds have been just about average in the performances of their first round selections. There is an apparent downturn in the 2000's, though my feeling is that Jay Bruce and (hopefully) Homer Bailey will turn that around when all is said and done. Overall, the Reds have averaged 4.3 WAR/player taken in the first round of the June draft since its inception. Ignoring Larkin (which is probably not fair), they're averaging 2.8 WAR/player.

This is comforting. I know we (or I, at least) as Reds fans tend to be pretty down on our team's ability to draft talent. But I think the message here is that they historically have been close to average, and may even be slightly above average thanks to the Larkin pick. Let's hope that in the coming years, they can improve on that a bit--as a small market team, it may be that the Reds can't afford to be merely average in the draft.