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Revisiting Billy Beane’s Perfect Draft
by Richard Van Zandt, BaseballEvolution.com
February 24, 2008

Billy uses his poverty to camouflage another fact, that he wants these oddballs more than the studs he cannot afford.

                                                                                    ~ Moneyball

Back in April of 2006, in one of my first pieces here at Baseball Evolution, I took a look at Billy Beane’s so-called Perfect Draft as detailed in Michael Lewis’ best selling book Moneyball, a fictional….er, sorry…non-fictional, behind the scenes account of the Oakland Athletics 2002 amateur draft that featured a new, “scientific selection of amateur baseball players.”  More specifically, I took a closer look at the A’s list of “twenty players they’d draft in a perfect world.  That is if money were no object and twenty-nine other teams were not also vying to draft the best amateur players in the country.” 

The resulting inescapable conclusion that I came to was that Beane’s list was more hype than substance and his supposedly revolutionary method was nothing revolutionary at all.  After all, if those players as the book contends were truly the 20 that Beane would pick even if money were no object and twenty-nine other teams were not also vying to draft them then it stands to logic then that he must’ve considered all of those players first round material.  According to the theory of Moneyball, these oddball players were simply undervalued by the rest of major league baseball.  Therefore, it should stand to reason that if all the praise heaped on Beane for his Moneyball(ing) ways was deserved, then his list and revolutionary method should have produced revolutionary results.  On the contrary, the results were nothing revolutionary at all.

The Investigation

In order to assess the success or failure of Beane’s list and the Athletics' drafting methods, I used the three main criteria.  In order to remove the element of subjective evaluations, a success in this case was defined simply as any player who spent at least one day in a major league uniform:

1) Since in Beane’s perfect world these would all be 1st round picks (and in fact if it were a perfect world and no other teams were vying for them, it then figures that they would be the first 20 chosen), we can rank the success rate of his list against that of all 41 first round picks from 2002. 

2) Beane’s number one criteria going into the 2002 draft was to pick college players whom you could more accurately evaluate and project and who would likely be ready sooner.  Therefore, we can measure the success of the players on Beane’s list against the success rate of the 19 high school players drafted in the first round. 

3) We can also compare Oakland's actual success rate with that of the other 29 teams in baseball to see which team drafted more future major leaguers.

The Results

1) Through the 2005 season, a total of 7 of the 20 players featured in Moneyball had at the very least received a promotion to the majors for at least a day.  That works out to 35%.  By comparison, of the 41 players selected in the first round that year, 19 – or 46% – had at least a taste of big league life by the end of ’05. 

I further speculated at the time that the highest rate of success the A’s would probably achieve would be 60%, or 12 out of 20, but that 50% was more likely.  We’ll see later how accurate that assessment has been so far, plus how well the rest of the ’02 first round picks have now done through the end of the 2007 campaign. 

2) In ’06, the success rate of those “foolish” high school selections – including such players as Jeff Francoeur, Matt Cain, Prince Fielder (deemed “too fat even for the Oakland A’s”), and Scott Kazmir – was 42%, or 8 out of the 19 prep players selected.  Again, better than the success rate of Beane’s informal list, but how well have they fared since then?  Stay tuned.

3) In Moneyball, Beane remarked that teams would consider 2 successes out of 50 (4%) to be good, suggesting that “the draft has never been anything but a f**king crapshoot.”  At the time it seemed pretty prophetic with a total of 4.3% of all the players drafted in ’02 having graduated to the majors at some point before the ’06 season.  By that point, 5.8% of the players drafted and signed that year by Oakland had reached the big leagues. (Players not deemed as successes from the ‘02 draft included anyone who was selected yet did not sign that year and who would eventually make it with another team, such as Jonathan Papelbon – a 40th round throwaway pick of the A’s in ’02 who was later redrafted by the Red Sox in ‘03).  With seven picks in the first round, the A’s rate was better than the league average, but at 3-for-52, just barely better than the 4% mark predicted by Beane.  Several clubs, meanwhile, had graduated as many players as the A’s while four teams had promoted more.  The White Sox led the way with 10% of their draft having reached the majors (5-of-50).  Now, with the ’07 season in the books, how does that overall success rate look?  How well have the A’s done overall since ’02?  How about other teams?

All of these questions will be answered as I revisit Billy Beane’s 2002 Perfect Draft.  To do that, I will start by re-introducing the 20 players on that list, “never formally written out,” that the A’s would “draft in a perfect world.”  In doing so it’s important to remember that this list represents what Beane supposedly would do in a perfect world which obviously, it is not.  Oakland had just $9.5 million to spend on its entire draft and 15 other teams would draft before they got to use the first of their seven first round picks, so indeed both money and competition from other teams were factors.  Jeremy Guthrie and Bobby Brownlie, for instance, were represented by super agent Scott Boras and deemed unsignable for the cost-conscious A’s.  Russ Adams, on the other hand, was sure to be selected by J.P. Ricciardi and the Blue Jays while Khalil Greene was coveted by Kevin Towers in San Diego.  On the other hand, while the A’s figured they could afford 16 of the 20, Beane estimated he could get “as many as six,” so to get as many as the 13 that they did should have been quite a coup.  Regardless, it matters not in evaluating the overall success of the list whether (or where) the A’s selected them.  All that matters is whether or not Beane was right in thinking that these oddballs were undervalued or whether the rest of baseball was right to pass on the majority of them.

The List

Jeff Francis

Jeremy Guthrie

Jeremy Brown

John Baker

Khalil Greene

Joe Blanton

Stephen Obenchain

Mark Kiger

Russ Adams

John McCurdy

Mark Teahen

Brian Stavisky

Nick Swisher

Benjamin Fritz

Steve Stanley

Brant Colamarino

Bobby Brownlie

Luke Hagerty

Bill Murphy

Shaun Larkin

They Made It

Jeff Francis – 1st round – 9th overall – Colorado Rockies

Selected with the 9th overall pick after Colorado's negotiations with OF Denard Span bogged down, Francis was the first player on the list drafted and easily stands out as the cream of the crop.  After making his debut late in 2004, he became a fixture at the top of the Rockies' rotation the following year by winning 14 games.  He followed that up with 13 more in ’06 and finished with a 17-9 record last season, solidifying his role as the Rockies ace, and helping his team rally all the way to the World Series.  He has even excelled in the rarified air a mile above sea level, posting a career 4.36 ERA at Coors Field.  Expect him to be a fixture in Colorado for a long time.

Khalil Greene – 1st round – 13th overall – San Diego Padres

In many ways, Greene, in his fourth full season as the Padres starting shortstop, had a breakthrough season.  He achieved career highs in hits (155), doubles (44), home runs (27), runs (89) and RBI (97) as well as games played (153) and at-bats (611).  He also had his best season to date with the glove, making just 11 errors, posting a .984 fielding percentage, and recording a .848 revised zone rating.  On the other hand, Greene put up a very un-Moneyball like .291 on-base percentage (his second career sub .300 OBP) and missed joining the 500 Outs Club by just 21.  He also struck out 128 times while drawing just 32 walks.  Greene, born on October 21, 1979, was the oldest position player taken in the first round of the draft and just re-signed with San Diego for two-years and $11 million.

Nick Swisher – 1st round – 16th overall – Oakland Athletics

Beane was thrilled when the New York Mets used their first round pick foolishly on a high school pitcher (Kazmir) instead of taking Swisher, whom Beane would have made the top pick of the draft.  So far, though, the only thing foolish about selecting Kazmir was trading him for the wrong Zambrano.  Still, Swisher did well in three full seasons in Oakland prior to his trade to the White Sox this winter in exchange for three top prospects.  In 2007, he posted a .381 OBP after registering a .372 mark the year before, and his career OBP stands at .361.  He also socked 35 home runs in 2006 while driving in 95.  His power numbers slumped in ’07 to just 22 HR and 78 RBI and after batting .262, his career average stands at just .251. Nonetheless, Swisher is a solid player with solid numbers who is just about to enter his prime while joining Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye to form a potentially potent 3 through 6. 

Joe Blanton – 1st round – 24th overall – Oakland Athletics

Moneyball suggests that Beane viewed Blanton as the second best pitcher in the 2002 draft behind only Guthrie, and over the last three seasons Blanton has averaged 14 wins a year.  He did this despite striking out just over 5 batters per every 9 innings pitched and allowing almost nine and a half hits (in fact he has surrendered 481 hits in 424.1 IP over the last two seasons alone).  In 2006, batters hit .309 against him.  On the other hand, he has lowered his walk ratio by almost half (2.99 BB/9 in 2005 to 1.56 in 2007) and he has certainly proven himself to be at the very least a solid middle-of-the-rotation major league pitcher, if not a top end guy, though buyer beware of those iffy peripheral numbers.  Nevertheless in a draft heavy on lefties (Francis, Kazmir, Cole Hamels, Joe Saunders, Jon Lester, Rich Hill and Scott Olsen among them), Blanton has arguably been the best right hander of the bunch to date (but watch out in the rear view mirror for Matt Cain, Josh Johnson, and John Maine).  With 2007 ace Dan Haren dealt away to Arizona and the health of Rich Harden always a mystery, Blanton figures to headline a young Athletics rotation in ’07, although the hot stove league has been burning up with hints of a deal.  Count the Reds and Dodgers as teams still showing interest in the portly 250-pound right hander.

Mark Teahen – 1st round – 39th overall – Oakland Athletics

The 13th player from the list to be chosen in the draft and the last of the Athletics' seven first round picks, Teahen was sent to Kansas City in 2004 in a five player deal that saw Carlos Beltran go to Houston and brought Octavio Dotel (long since gone) to Oakland.  He made his debut in ’05 and spent his first two seasons in KC as their starting third baseman before moving to right field last season to make way for Alex Gordon, the second overall pick of the 2005 draft.  Along the way, Teahen has put up respectable numbers, though nothing to suggest that he could live up to his billing by scouting director Erik Kubota as “another Jason Giambi” (unless that’s to suggest that Teahen’s got good HGH connections).  In 2006, Teahen, who was criticized before the draft by Oakland's own scouts for his lack of power, appeared to proven Beane correct in saying, “power is something that can be acquired” when he jumped from 7 home runs to 18 in over 50 fewer plate appearances.  However, after off-season shoulder surgery, he dropped back down to just 7 in over 600 PA, re-raising old questions.  On the other hand, his defensive transition went well, as only Michael Cuddyer, Alfonso Soriano and Jeff Francoeur (19 each) had more OF assists than the 17 he recorded.  He re-signed for 2008 at roughly $2.4 million and may move to left field in addition to seeing occasion back up time at both first and third base.

They Made It But…

Russ Adams – 1st round – 14th overall – Toronto Blue Jays

Adams sparkled in his 2004 debut, hitting .306/.359/.528 in 22 games that fall.  In his first full season, however, he batted just .256/.325/.383 before slumping even further the following season to .219/.282/.319.  On top of that, a glut of throwing errors prompted a move from short to second base, and he even found himself demoted to the minors for a stretch.  Then last season, Adams spent the bulk of the year at Syracuse (AAA) where he hit .262/.333/.401 before a mid-August recall.  In 27 games after his promotion, however, he batted just .233/313/.383.  His future in Toronto is cloudy to say the least, though he will compete in camp for a utility role in what could be his final shot with the Jays.

Jeremy Guthrie – 1st round – 22nd overall – Cleveland Indians

That Guthrie fell all the way to number 22 is more of a reflection of the $20 million price tag Scott Boras was demanding for his signature than of how teams felt about his talent.  His performance since then indicates that he was overvalued by everyone, including Beane.  He pitched just 16 times in three seasons at the major league level for the Tribe, throwing 37 innings and posting a 6.08 ERA and a 1.76 WHIP.  After the Orioles claimed him off waivers in the spring of ’07, he appeared to get himself back on track by going 4-2 with a pitching line of 2.74 ERA/0.91 WHIP/.207 BAA. A big second half slide (3-3, 5.03/1.62/.300) leaves large question marks looming for 2008, when he will be counted on to help anchor an Erik Bedard-less rotation.  Guthrie, the oldest of all first round picks from 2002, will turn 29 a week after the season begins.

Bill Murphy – 3rd round – 98th overall – Oakland Athletics

Murphy’s journey to the majors was a long and winding road that finally achieved its goal last season when he got a September recall with Arizona.  Prior to making his debut, he had been traded by the A’s to Florida (for Mark Redman), by the Marlins to the Dodgers (in the Brad Penny deal), and finally by Los Angeles to the D-Backs (in the Steve Finley trade).  He got his chance by recording a 3.68 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP in 54 appearances (9 starts) for Tucson (AAA).  At the big league level, however, he struggled, tossing 6.1 innings over 10 appearances and posting a line of 5.68/2.52/.346.  As one of just two left-handers on the D-Backs' 40-man roster, he stands a good chance of joining Doug Slaten in the Arizona bullpen.

Mark Kiger – 5th round – 158th overall – Oakland Athletics

Kiger made baseball history in October of 2006 when he became the first player since Bug Holliday in 1885 to make his big league debut in postseason play.  Replacing the injured Mark Ellis on the A’s playoff roster against Cleveland, Kiger made two appearances in that series as a defensive replacement, but did not bat.  The A’s then released him two months later, and he spent the bulk of the 2007 season playing for the Mets' Double-A affiliate Binghamton, where he batted .312/.432/.478.  He became a minor league free agent the following season and signed a minor league contract with Seattle.  His big league career highlight so far has been recording a putout at second base (albeit in the playoffs), as he has yet to come to the plate in the majors.

Still Trying

Bobby Brownlie – 1st round – 21st overall – Chicago Cubs

After battling injures and struggling badly, the Cubs released their top overall pick from 2002 (one of four first round picks from the ’02 draft) in March 2007.  He was later signed by the Indians and pitched 9 times for AA Akron where he was 1-2 with a line of 3.17/1.16/.227.  He, too, became a free agent following the season and signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals in November.

Benjamin Fritz – 1st round – 30th overall – Oakland Athletics

A career minor leaguer with a record of 24-26 and an ERA/WHIP combo of 4.96/1.48, Fritz was selected by the Tigers this December in the minor league portion of the Rule V draft.  In ’07, he went 11-11 with a 5.67 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP at AA Midland.  In Moneyball, Paul DePodesta declared him the third best pitcher in the draft.

Luke Hagerty – 1st round – 32nd overall – Chicago Cubs

Injuries and resulting horrendous control (68 BB in 80.1 career innings including 53 in just 32.1 IP following Tommy John surgery in 2003) waylaid Hagerty’s career, and he was finally released by the Cubs last May.  He later signed (twice) with the Rockford River Hawks of the Frontier (Ind.) League where he pitched just 3 times, striking out 2 and walking 8 while allowing 5 runs in an inning and a third.  In four seasons with Chicago, he never rose above High-A ball and has thrown just 33.2 innings as a professional over the last four years.  Rockford released him (again) last August.

Stephen Obenchain – 1st round – 37th overall – Oakland Athletics

The A’s released the oft-injured Obenchain in March of ’07. He later signed with the Gary South Shore Rail Cats of the Independent Northern League, where he went 2-1 with a line of 3.57/1.19/.225 in 20 games (2 starts).  He remains unsigned for the 2008 season.

John Baker – 4th round – 128th overall – Oakland Athletics

After bouncing back and forth between the A’s and Marlins organizations multiple times over the last few years, Baker batted .285/.360/.430 in 89 games for AAA Albuquerque in ‘07.  The Marlins lack of depth at the catcher position for the 2008 season appears to be Baker’s best shot yet to make the majors.  The club plans to start Mike Rabelo, acquired in the deal that sent Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera to Detroit, and has Matt Treanor on their 40-man roster but Baker will be in camp as a non-roster invitee and should get a good look.

Brian Stavisky – 6th round – 188th overall – Oakland Athletics

Stavisky is a career .306/.394/.466 hitter through six minor league season, but batted just .260/.322/.442 in ’07, as injuries limited him to just 28 games.  He has played just 55 games at the AAA level, where he has batted just .238.  His best season came in 2004 at Class-A Modesto where he hit .343/.406/.550 with 19 home runs and was named the league’s MVP.  With Beane currently stockpiling young outfielders on the A’s 40-man roster, 27-year old Stavisky will at best spend the ’08 season once again at Triple-A Sacramento. 

Brant Colamarino – 7th round – 218th overall – Oakland Athletics

In 2006, Baseball America named Colamarino the A’s 28th best prospect and proclaimed him “likely to be some team’s Rule V throwback.”  This past December, the Blue Jays claimed him in the minor league phase of that draft.  Dubbed by DePodesta as possibly “the best hitter in the country,” Colamarino’s stock has plummeted after spending the past two seasons mired at Double-A Midland.  He had a line of .285/.364/.491 (17 HR, 91 RBI) in ’06, but this past season slumped to .241/.319/.377 (9 HR, 44 RBI). 

Shaun Larkin – 9th round – 274th overall – Cleveland Indians

Mostly unimpressive in five minor league seasons, Larkin was limited by injuries to just 16 games in ’07 though he batted a robust .413/.481/.630, including an 0-for-1 in his first AB at the Triple-A level.  What is most notable about Larkin is that the A’s actually bypassed him when they selected Jared Burton in the 8th round (248th overall).  Burton was a Rule V draftee by the Reds in December of ’06 and went 4-2 with a pitching line of 2.51/1.16/.187 for Cincinnati in 43 innings this past season.

They’re Out

John McCurdy – 1st round – 26th overall – Oakland Athletics

After putting up a career line of .259/.304/.374 with just 33 HR in over 1800 AB, the man Beane referred to as “the next Jeff Kent” was out of professional baseball in 2007.  He reached his peak in 2004, playing 100 games in AA-ball.

Steve Stanley – 2nd round – 67th overall – Oakland Athletics

Stanley struggled in 74 games at the Triple-A level in 2004 (.227/.328/.305), and despite a career line of .292/.371/.361 and a strong 2005 campaign back in Double-A ball (.290/.364/.391), he lasted just 7 games into the ’06 season before retiring.  In an April 2006 interview with Scout.com, Stanley cited the grind of traveling and the effect it had on his family as reasons for his retirement.

The Blue Plate Special

Jeremy Brown – 1st round – 35th overall – Oakland Athletics

“Yeah,” says the scout. “Well in this case low energy is because when he walks, his thighs stick together.”

“I repeat: we’re not selling jeans here,” says Billy.

“That’s good,” says the scout.  “Because if you put him in corduroys, he’d start a fire.”

                                                                                    ~ Moneyball

The poster boy for Moneyball, Brown was the ultimate oddball selection of the 2002 draft.  Considered too fat by the scouts, Brown was not listed among the top 25 catchers ranked that year by Baseball America, and his name appeared only on the last page of the scouting lists.  He was, according to Moneyball, “a lesser member of the rabble regarded by the scouts as, at best, low-level minor league players.”  He was derided by Beane’s own scouts because he was “not mobile” behind the plate and because his throws were “slingshot throws.”  He was a 19th round pick by the Red Sox in 2001, and according to Baseball America, he would be “lucky to get drafted” in ’02.

To Billy Beane however, he was a worthy first round pick whom he could save nearly a million dollars on. 

“He’s the only player in the history of the SEC with three hundred hits and two hundred walks,” says Paul looking up from his computer.                                                                       

“Finding a catcher who can hit – there’s not one of them out there that can hit,” says Billy.  “This guy can hit.”

                                                                                    ~Moneyball

Six seasons have gone by now since the ’02 draft and the question remains; just how well has the catcher that was drafted ahead of both Brian McCann (2nd round – 64th overall) and Russell Martin (17th round – 511th overall) done? 

Well, his major league line of .300/.364/.500 looks impressive until you account for the fact that it was accumulated in just 11 plate appearances.  He went 3-for-10 with 2 doubles and a walk in 5 games of September garbage time of 2006.  He was actually recalled from Sacramento three times that season, but made no appearances in either of the first two trips. 

Through six seasons in the Athletics' minor league system, Brown compiled a career minor league line of .268/.367/.439, clubbing 47 home runs over the last three, including 20 at Midland in 2005.  An elbow injury sapped his power over the past two seasons, however, and he never come close to replicating his debut season as a pro (.307/.446/.516) while watching his on-base percentage spiral down to just .317 in 2006.  He would rebound to .364 in 2007 (along with a .276 BA and .469 SLG), but by then, the damage had been done.   

This 35th overall pick failed to beat out the light hitting 35-year old Adam Melhuse (.237/.293/.397 career) for the backup role behind starter Jason Kendall last year and was optioned to the minors. That May, he was removed from the 40-man roster.  A month later, when Melhuse was traded to Texas, it was Kurt Suzuki and not Brown who was summoned to replace him.  Then in July, when the A’s dealt Kendall to the Cubs, they designated Suzuki as their starter and catcher of the future and made Rob Bowen, acquired from Chicago in that deal, his backup.

Brown even fell out of favor at the minor league level.  Over the past two seasons in Sacramento, the defensively challenged Brown played just 111 games behind the plate, including just 55 in ’07 when he split time with Suzuki and J.D. Closser (Brown also saw time at 1B, 3B and DH in ’07).  This winter, the A’s signed free agent catcher Justin Knoedler to a minor league contract, further diminishing Brown's role (Closser was not retained and signed a minor league contract with the Cubs).

If that weren’t bad enough, Brown also fell behind not only Landon Powell (1st round pick by Oakland in 2004) and Knoedler on the organizational depth chart, but possibly even Anthony Recker, an 18th rounder from 2005 who hit .319/.402/.609 in 56 games for Class-A Stockton in ’07 before stumbling during the second half in Double-A Midland (.204/.269/.323 in 58 games).  Powell was added to the team’s 40-man roster in November, and Recker is ticketed to start the year at Midland.

Brown, the second oldest position player taken in the first round, turned 28 this past October and was re-signed in January to a minor league contract ticketed for Triple-A, his invitation to spring training more a matter of necessity with 20 or so pitchers in big league camp.  However, with the writing clearly on the wall, Brown instead opted for retirement, not even reporting to camp.  The Blue Plate Special no longer appears on the menu. 

Continue Reading: The Results Revisited




Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard resides in San Francisco, California and can be reached at richard@baseballevolution.com.

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