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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Rany Jazayerli Completes Draft Series

Last week, Rany Jazayerli posted the final installment of his incredibly valuable article series on the amateur draft. He investigated each position among players drafted from high school and college and tracked how they performed relative to their position the draft. His results, many of which are novel and surprising, give a great indication as to what sorts players are the most reliable picks. Here are some key data from his study (I'll report only the '92-'99 data over the first three rounds of the draft, though his study also includes data going back to 1984; data indicate percent improvement from the expected wins generated by a player, given his position in the draft):

Position College HighSchool
LHP 8.0% -45.2%
RHP -22.5% -6.4%
C 49.8% 17.2%
1B 113.1% -52.9%
2B 55.6% -89.7%
3B 55.2% 31.1%
SS 45.1% -16.3%
OF -5.3% -31.8%
Really interesting results here:
  • College infielders in general seem to be a solid way to go, as many college infielders get moved to different positions (often the outfield) during their minor league careers. The biggest surprise there has to be first basemen, however, as those guys don't shift positions as often as other players; apparently they're just extremely reliable hitting prospects.
  • Among high school hitters, catchers and third basemen were the only reliable choices. Shortstops weren't terrible, so one could consider those players as well. This makes sense, as the best high school athletes are often put into those key positions. Other positions, particularly on the right side of the infield, were disasters.
  • If you want to take a pitcher, college pitchers--particularly left-handers--continued to be the most reliable picks. High school righties were also reasonably good choices as far as pitchers go. College right-handers, however, were surprisingly poor choices.
    • At least one reason for this is probably that right-handed pitchers often have to be very talented to succeed in the major leagues. Since the best righty talent in the country usually gets gobbled up out of high school these days (high signing bonuses, etc), fewer of those players go on to college. This makes the talent level of right-handed college pitchers rather poor.
    • In contrast, left-handers often can make it and perform well in The Show with less overall talent due to their advantages vs. lefty batters. It's the 'ole "crafty lefthander" scenario: there are almost twice as many left-handed pitchers (~26-27%) as there are left-handers among hitters or in the general male population (~14%), indicating a lower overall talent threshold (assuming being left-handed is not "talent") for making it to the majors among southpaws. Predicting which lefty pitchers will be "clever" enough pitchers out of high school to succeed in the majors is apparently a very tough exercise as those players have a lot to learn yet about pitching. College pitchers tend to be more polished and closer to being big-league ready, making it easier to pick the smart and crafty-types from that talent pool.
The key thing to remember about all of these data is that these are just overall trends, and do not mean that, for example, Jay Bruce is doomed to failure because he was a high school outfielder (see Austin Kearns, Adam Dunn, etc). Rather, I think what these data suggest is that if you're planning to draft a player from a typically poor category, you should take another look at that player and see if there is any special rationale for selecting him.

Rany's articles do a great job of investigating specific success and failure stories for each position, so if you're interested, I highly encourage you to head over there and read through his articles in detail. There is a subscription cost, but you can test-drive their site on a month to month basis for only $5. If you like what you see--and I'll vouch that it's the best baseball info you'll find on the web--you can then subscribe for $40/yr.

Update: This information may be particularly interesting for those participating in the Minor League Ball mock draft on Sunday, June 4.


  1. It seems likely to me that a big reason that first basemen are so much more likely to 'make it' as valuable players is that a first baseman has nowhere to move down to on the defensive spectrum. A major-league first baseman is also expected to contribute a great deal offensively, and not much at all on defense (a first baseman doesn't even have much room to contribute at all on defense, no matter how athletic he is).

    If a 1b is drafted but doesn't hit as well as a first baseman ought to, that's pretty much it for him as a prospect. Therefore, if a GM is thinking about spending a high-level draft pick on a first baseman, he is much more likely to make sure that the guy is a can't miss hitting prospect. The result of this natural selection among potential 1b draftees is that fewer of them fail.

  2. This works for college 1b's--and I think you're probably right that it's at least one of the causal factors--but doesn't work for the high school 1B's, which are on average terrible picks. Jazayerli's explanation for high school 1B's poor showing is that a player relegated to first base in high school is almost invariably an extremely unathletic individual--you'd think a good athlete would at least be playing third or outfield. Nevertheless, teams have taken high school first basemen in the early rounds, and the results have been worse than any other position except high school second basemen. -j