Draft Order and Baseball Success

Having too much time on my hands, I was compelled to do a bit o'digging to see if I could quantify whether teams that have a good draft position actually do get good draft results. It looks like we are going to have a good draft slot this year. Is it likely to produce good results in future years?

My hypothesis here is that draft order really doesn't much matter. Teams that are good at drafting can overcome a bad draft order. Teams that aren't are basically pigs. You can slap some lipstick on them, give them all the advantages in life, and send them to the best med school but they still won't be able to diagnose a sore throat. I also wanted to use a different approach to find out which teams are successful at drafting and which aren't.

The traditional measure of success in drafting is measured by top-100 prospects. How many of them do you have vs other teams. The winner gets the crown of 'best farm system'. This may be a good measure of how well teams are drafting in the 1st and 2nd round where most of the signing bonuses are spent. But it is a remarkably useless measure IMO. The purpose of a 40-round draft is to build successful baseball teams from the new talent available each year. The top rounds tend to be from a small group of obvious picks where the goal is simply to avoid an expensive mistake and try to get upside and most teams fail miserably at even that. The rounds beyond that are where good scouting and development matter. All minor league affiliates depend heavily on those selections to fill their rosters. The drafting results should be manifested in the minors very quickly. Build winning teams there and the cream will rise to the next level the following year and be competitive there too. Over time, the best of the best rise to MLB and that team also has depth in the high minors to withstand things like unexpected injuries.

Looking at the minors to assess draft results also levels the playing field between big v small markets. Teams may be able to buy WS championships at the MLB level - but that harms them at the draft level the next year and they can't avoid that with money. What I did was essentially take a snapshot.

My measure for 'drafting success' is - wins across the full-season minor league affiliates (A, A+, AA, AAA) for each MLB team in 2014 so far.

The draft window is the 2011, 2012, and 2013 drafts. My reason for using that start date is because the elite players from the 2011 draft are now forcing their way into MLB. Up to now, they have presumably been winning games for their teams in the minors but they will now cease to do so. At this point, the minors pipeline is as full of players from these drafts as it will ever be.

Team 2010-2012 W% W% Rank 2011-2013 Draft Rank 2014 MiLB W% 2014 Rank
Astros .385 1 1 .561 5
Mariners .418 2 2 .483 21
Cubs .426 3 4 .528 8
Pirates .428 4 3 .485 20
Royals .432 5 6 .451 28
Indians .447 6 9 .520 12
Rockies .453 7 8 .460 26
Marlins .455 8 11 .505 14
Twins .459 9 5 .526 10
Orioles .469 10 7 .489 18
Mets .473 11 12 .598 1
Padres .488 12 13 .482 22
BlueJays .492 13 15 .529 7
DBacks .494 14 10 .571 3
Nationals .509 15 14 .528 9
Red Sox .510 16 16 .553 6
Dodgers .511 17 19 .463 25
Athletics .512 18 17 .491 17
White Sox .519 19 20 .445 29
Angels .525 20 21 .466 24
Brewers .527 21 18 .563 4
Tigers .543 22 23 .500 15
Cardinals .543 23 22 .523 11
Reds .549 24 24 .492 16
Giants .560 25 26 .511 13
Braves .564 26 27 .457 27
Rays .570 27 28 .477 23
Rangers .574 28 29 .571 2
Phillies .576 29 25 .356 30
Yankees .591 30 30 .486 19

Reading across, over the 2010-2012 seasons cumulatively, the Astros had the worst winning % (.385) - which results in the #1 W% cumulative rank since the draft is reverse standings. For the following draft seasons 2011/2012/2013, taken individually, they also had the best average draft position (#1). This year, the Astros full-season minor league affiliates have a .561 winning % - which is the 5th highest.

Across MLB, the correlation between the 2010-2012 W% rank and the 2011-2013 draft rank is 98% This is very high because obviously those are the rules of the draft. The reason it is not a perfect 100% correlation is because a)the W% rank is cumulative and the Draft rank is the average of the individual draft years and b)I heavily weighted the year each team had its best draft position. I'd be happy to explain how if you want to know.

However, the correlation between a team's 2011-2013 draft rank and the 2014 W% record of its minor league system is a very very low 17%. There are many other factors that affect the 2014 W-L% of a minor league system other than the 3 prior draft years - an MLB team's Latin system, trade of veterans for prospects and vice versa, draft years prior to 2011, a minor league team's ability to sign FA, randomness. But still, this is a remarkably low correlation.

If teams were all equally skilled at drafting, then one would expect that the 140 young players who were made exclusively available to each of these minor league systems over those 3 draft years would produce value to their teams that is more aligned with the draft order in which they were taken. But teams aren't all equally skilled at drafting. It is easier to see this in the NFL where there are teams who perpetually have high draft picks and never seem to turn them into on-field talent. The same thing is happening in baseball but is hidden by the lag between the draft and MLB and by the large number of invisible minor league teams for whom those players play in the interim.

Looking at MLB teams and their minor league systems individually. This measure of minor league success would rank the Mets, Rangers, Dbacks, Brewers, Astros as the five best farm systems this year. Three of them with good draft positions in previous years and two despite poor draft positions. The five worst farm systems would be the Phillies (by far), White Sox, Royals, Braves, and, sadly, Rockies. Three of them with poor draft positions and two despite good draft positions.

Unfortunately, the basic baseball-wide conclusion here is that simple draft order doesn't determine future success much at all by this measure. On a team-by-team basis, there do seem to be some conclusions in this info about what works and what doesn't but I think I'm now too depressed to go there.

At any rate I thought I'd put this out there.

Eat. Drink. Be Merry. But the above FanPost does not necessarily reflect the attitudes, opinions, or views of Purple Row's staff (unless, of course, it's written by the staff [and even then, it still might not]).

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