Eyes to the Future: Rockies to Select 8th in 2014 Draft

The Reds drafted Drew Stubbs (center) 8th overall in 2006 after the Dodgers nabbed Clayton Kershaw (right) one pick before. - Jamie Sabau

Because sometimes, the seemingly pointless events that happen while no one is looking can change the longterm path. Might that have happened to the Rockies yesterday?

Todd Helton's career ended yesterday with Vin Scully behind the microphone.  If you missed Scully's tribute to the ToddFather, make sure you watch this now (NSFW because you'll cry all over your keyboard, and that's an electrical hazard).  Scully spoke of Helton's "grand career" and wished him a "wonderful life" after baseball.

In Helton's final inning, the words "wonderful life" bounced around in my head in more ways than one.  Todd Helton has been one of the most successful people in history at the job he chose, a very public one at that, and he did so with a reputation of class that earned him respect league-wide.  We all strive for such an accomplishment, for such a wonderful life.

But as the Helton-less Rockies era drew near, I also thought of the 1946 film "It's a Wonderful Life."  That film deals with the "Butterfly Effect," a phenomenon also dealt with in more modern films like "The Butterfly Effect," the "Back to the Future" series and "Sliding Doors."  One small change could cascade into huge changes in the future.

As Rex Brothers faced Nick Buss with the runners on second and third and one out in the ninth inning Sunday, the Rockies had a 48.3% chance of winning.  If the Rockies lost, they would jump into a tie with Philadelphia for the 7th draft slot in 2014.  If they held on and won, they'd fall into a four-way tie for the eighth slot.

Draft position ties are broken by 2012 record, so the Rockies would have won the tie-breaker against any team outside of Houston and the Chicago Cubs.  So it was one draft slot up for grabs yesterday.  The Rockies sent Todd Helton out a winner after two strikeouts from Rex Brothers, so Colorado settled into the #8 slot, the very slot Helton himself was drafted in back in 1995.

This very well might not change much of anything for the Rockies going forward, as most often, butterflies flapping their wings don't do much.  But sometimes it does.

Back to baseball.  First, the overall picture, from Baseball Reference:

  • Of 49 players drafted 7th, 34 played in the majors (69%) for a total of 289.7 WAR, or 8.5 per major leaguer.
  • Of 49 players drafted 8th, 29 played in the majors (59%) for a total of 236.7 WAR, or 8.2 per major leaguer.
There is indeed a difference in expected value between the #7 and #8 pick, but it isn't much on average. Average doesn't tell you too much though, because in some cases, it the difference can be quite large.

Let us look closer at the types of players available at this part of the draft.  Rockies fans are very familiar with the value that can be obtained, as Helton represents the best #8 pick ever, while Troy Tulowitzki is already the 3rd ranked pick selected 7th.

Here are the best 10 players selected 8th overall:
Year Tm Player Drafted 8th Pos WAR
1995 Rockies Todd Helton 1B 61.3
1984 Twins Jay Bell SS 37
1988 Angels Jim Abbott LHP 19.9
1972 Twins Dick Ruthven RHP 18.6
1973 Expos Gary Roenicke SS 15.5
1991 Padres Joey Hamilton RHP 14.6
1976 White Sox Steve Trout LHP 13.5
2003 Pirates Paul Maholm LHP 12.9
1994 Twins Todd Walker 2B 10.5
1985 Expos Pete Incaviglia 3B 10.2

So Todd Helton, who will likely miss the Hall of Fame, and Jay Bell.  Nobody else above 20 WAR (or two Mike Trout seasons).  As for 7th overall:

Year Tm Player Drafted 7th Pos WAR
1989 White Sox Frank Thomas 1B 73.6
2006 Dodgers Clayton Kershaw LHP 33.1
2005 Rockies Troy Tulowitzki SS 32.3
2003 Orioles Nick Markakis OF 23.5
2002 Brewers Prince Fielder 1B 23.5
1993 Red Sox Trot Nixon OF 21.2
1977 Angels Richard Dotson RHP 16.3
1990 Reds Dan Wilson C 13
1998 Reds Austin Kearns OF 12.9
1965 Indians Ray Fosse C 12.9

The Big Hurt is a definite Hall of Famer, while Tulowitzki and Kershaw have a solid chance to get there.  Three other players broke the 20 WAR threshhold, so while the overall yield isn't changed dramatically from 8th the 7th, the 7th overall slot has a very clear top-heavy advantage.

We also do not know how the 2014 draft class will shake out.  In 2013, there was a general consensus that there was a clear break after the top tier of players, a tier that consisted of three men.  Colorado was fortunate to have the #3 pick and a guarantee of selecting from that group.  The 2014 class is supposed to be deeper, and it is possible for a tier to end at 7 players, making even a smart selection a tougher one to make.

Maybe the Rockies end up with the 2014 version of Wade Townsend instead of Troy Tulowitzki.  Yes, that example actually happened.  The 2004 Rockies finished the season 1-9 while the Devil Rays surged with a 6-4 mark over the last ten games.  That stretch vaulted the Rockies over the Devil Rays in the 2005 draft, thankfully.

Here are the ten teams who chose eighth after the best 7th overall picks left the board:

Year Tm Player Drafted 7th Pos WAR Next Player chosen WAR
1989 White Sox Frank Thomas 1B 73.6 Earl Cunningham (Cubs) -
2006 Dodgers Clayton Kershaw LHP 33.1 Drew Stubbs (CIN) 7
2005 Rockies Troy Tulowitzki SS 32.3 Wade Townsend (TB) -
2003 Orioles Nick Markakis OF 23.5 Paul Maholm (PIT) 12.5
2002 Brewers Prince Fielder 1B 23.5 Scott Moore (DET) -0.8
1993 Red Sox Trot Nixon OF 21.2 Kirk Presley (NYM) -
1977 Angels Richard Dotson RHP 16.3 Brian Greer (SD) -0.1
1990 Reds Dan Wilson C 13 Tim Costo (CLE) -0.7
1998 Reds Austin Kearns OF 12.9 Felipe Lopez (TOR) 7.5
1965 Indians Ray Fosse C 12.9 John Wyatt (LA) -

Ouch.  The Rockies might fall into one of those deficits just because Rex Brothers managed to hold on to a save in a meaningless game.  Or it might mean nothing and this venture was a waste of  time, not unlike 99% of the discussions we will have in the next five months about things that will never happen.  Welcome to the offseason.

(PS:  The Rockies draft 8th in 2014, just in case you missed it).

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