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

Previous

2002 Major League Baseball First Round Selections

#

Player

Team

Age

#

Player

Team

Age

1

Bryan Bullington

Pittsburgh

21

22

Jeremy Guthrie

Cleveland

23

2

B.J. Upton

Tampa Bay

18

23

Jeff Francouer

Atlanta

18

3

Chris Gruler

Cincinnati

18

24

Joe Blanton

Oakland

21

4

Adam Loewen

Baltimore

18

25

Matt Cain

San Francisco

17

5

Clint Everts

Montreal

18

26

John McCurdy

Oakland

21

6

Zack Greinke

Kansas City

18

27

Sergio Santos

Arizona

19

7

Prince Fielder

Milwaukee

18

28

John Mayberry*

Seattle

18

8

Scott Moore

Detroit

18

29

Derick Grigsby

Houston

20

9

Jeff Francis

Colorado

21

30

Ben Fritz

Oakland

21

10

Drew Meyer

Texas

21

31

Greg Miller

Los Angeles

17

11

Jeremy Hermida

Florida

18

32

Luke Hagerty

Chicago (NL)

21

12

Joe Saunders

Anaheim

21

33

Matt Whitney

Cleveland

18

13

Khalil Greene

San Diego

22

34

Dan Meyer

Atlanta

21

14

Russ Adams

Toronto

22

35

Jeremy Brown

Oakland

22

15

Scott Kazmir

New York (NL)

18

36

Chadd Blasko

Chicago (NL)

21

16

Nick Swisher

Oakland

21

37

Stephen Obenchain

Oakland

21

17

Cole Hamels

Philadelphia

18

38

Matt Clanton

Chicago (NL)

21

18

Royce Ring

Chicago (AL)

21

39

Mark Teahen

Oakland

20

19

James Loney

Los Angeles

18

40

Mark Schramek

Cincinnati

22

20

Denard Span

Minnesota

18

41

Micah Schilling

Cleveland

19

21

Bobbie Brownlie

Chicago (NL)

21

 

 

 

 

* Was the only player selected who did not sign

The Results Revisited

 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 his success rate against that of all 41 first round picks from 2002.

Through the 2007 season, 10 of the 20 players on the list had made it to the majors for at the very least, a cup of coffee.  Since the ultimate goal is to advance the player to the majors, even a single at bat or batter faced at the big league level for the purpose of this evaluation is considered a success.  We’ll forget for now that 3 of the 10 had been recalled for exactly that: a cup of coffee and not much more.  We’ll also ignore that for a couple of the others, success has been fleeting at the big league level.  For now, all that matters is that 50% of the players on Beane’s list have been recalled to the majors at some point in their careers.

So how does that ranks against the success rate of all 41 first round picks?  Well, through the 2007 season, 24 of the 41 had reached the majors at some point in their careers.  That is a success rate of 59%.  If you subtract out the 13 players from Beane’s list who were selected in the first round, then the overall success rate drops just a little bit to 57% (16 of 28), still better than the 50% Beane’s list achieved. 

On the other hand, since those players would be the theoretically be the first 20 taken in Beane’s perfect world, we can also compare those 20 against the first 20 actually taken in the 2002 draft.  Those results are far from favorable.  Only three of the first twenty players selected that year have yet to get the call to the majors, a success rate of 85%.  That rate could rise up to 90% in 2008 when Span (20th overall) gets a long look in spring training as the Twins look to replace the departed Torii Hunter in center.  He will have stiff competition, though, from both Carlos Gomez, acquired in the Johan Santana deal and Jason Pridie, picked up along with Delmon Young.  The other two who have yet to make it, high school pitchers Chris Gruler (#3) and Clint Everts (#5), by now can be considered certifiable busts.

Interestingly enough, after the first 20, only 33% of the remaining first round picks have made it to the majors (7 out of 21 including all supplemental picks).  Of those final 21, nine were players off of Beane's list.  Of those 9 listers, 4 have made it (44%) while of the remaining 12 non-listers, only 3 (25%) graduated to the bigs.  Regarding where some of these players were taken, they actually did better than the non-listers.  Score one for Beane.

It should also be duly noted that 13 of the 20 players on Beane’s list were actual first round picks, and 8 of those have thus far made it to the majors at some point in their career (61%).  However, 6 of those 13 were taken by other teams. Of those six, four made it (67%) while four of the seven the A’s selected (only 57%) had made it.  It’s also worth noting that the two players out of the six listers selected by other teams who have not made it to the majors – Brownlie and Hagerty – were drafted by the Cubs, who had four first round picks that year, none of which have panned out. 

Around the rest of MLB though, only 8 of the 13 actual first round picks from the list were generally considered first round material.  This was proven true in six of those cases, since they were selected by other teams (Swisher and Blanton, chosen by Oakland, being the other two).  Of those eight, six have made it (Brownlie and Hagerty again are the exceptions).  Among the other five oddball first rounders selected by the A’s, only Teahen has made any kind of significant impact.  Included among those duds are “the third best pitcher in the draft” and “the next Jeff Kent.”  So the success rate of the acknowledged clear-cut first rounders is 75%, while conversely the success ratio of the oddballs is only 40% (2 out of 5), a rate that includes Brown and all of his 11 plate appearances as a success.

All things considered, when weighing the list against the actual first round picks, there is no sign of anything remarkable or revolutionary.

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 quicker.  Therefore you 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.

High School

Team

College

Team

Sergio Santos

Arizona

Joe Saunders

Anaheim

Jeff Francouer

Atlanta

Dan Meyer

Atlanta

Adam Loewen

Baltimore

Royce Ring

Chicago (AL)

Chris Gruler

Cincinnati

Bobby Brownlie

Chicago (NL)

Matt Whitney

Cleveland

Luke Hagerty

Chicago (NL)

Micah Schilling

Cleveland

Chadd Blasko

Chicago (NL)

Scott Moore

Detroit

Matt Clanton

Chicago (NL)

Jeremy Hermida

Florida

Mark Schramek

Cincinnati

Zack Greinke

Kansas City

Jeremy Guthrie

Cleveland

James Loney

Los Angeles

Jeff Francis

Colorado

Greg Miller

Los Angeles

Derick Grigsby

Houston

Prince Fielder

Milwaukee

Nick Swisher

Oakland

Denard Span

Minnesota

Joe Blanton

Oakland

Clint Everts

Montreal

Jeremy Brown

Oakland

Scott Kazmir

New York (NL)

Mark Teahen

Oakland

Cole Hamels

Philadelphia

John McCurdy

Oakland

Matt Cain

San Francisco

Stephen Obenchain

Oakland

John Mayberry

Seattle

Ben Fritz

Oakland

B.J. Upton

Tampa Bay

Bryan Bullington

Pittsburgh

 

 

Khalil Greene

San Diego

 

 

Drew Meyer

Texas

 

 

Russ Adams

Toronto

In any case, you only had to study the history of the draft to see that high school pitchers were twice less likely than college pitchers, and four times less likely than college position players, to make it to the big leagues.

                                                                                    ~Moneyball 

In 2001, A’s scouting director Grady Fuson used the club's top pick on a high school pitcher who could throw 94 mph.  He was “precisely the kind of pitcher Billy thought he had trained his scouting department to avoid,” and emphasized his point by throwing a phone through a wall.   That selection as much as anything led to the A’s decision to emphasize college players over high school players in 2002. 

Overall, nineteen players were picked out of high school in the first round of the draft by a total of seventeen different ball teams (2 open minded clubs – Atlanta and Cleveland – selected at least one college and one prep player, with the Indians actually selecting two HS players along with Stanford alum Guthrie.  The Dodgers took two HS players with their two picks).  Conversely, 22 college players were drafted by a total of 13 different teams and eleven of those 22 were hoarded by just two apparently like-minded and draft wealthy teams (the A’s and the Cubs).

Group

Total Selections

Total Successes

Percentage

Beane’s List

20

10

50%

High School 1st round picks

19

11

58%

College 1st round picks

22

13

59%

Here we see that Beane’s list compares less than favorably against the success rate of the prep players, while overall, college and high school players from the first round of 2002 have graduated to the majors at just about the same rate.  Certainly, the book is not yet closed on the ’02 draft (and in fact high school players selected that year are by now more likely than the college players taken to eventually get a promotion), but thus far, taking a college player instead of one out of high school didn’t appear to give any type of significant edge in success of development this time.

Of course, it should certainly be noted for the record that the A’s and the Cubs are primarily responsible for bringing down the actual success rate of the college players from the ’02 draft.

Group

Total Selections

Total Successes

Percentage

Beane’s 1st Rd Picks

7

4

57%

Cubs' 1st Rd Picks

4

0

0%

11 other teams' 1st Rd Picks

11

9

82%

Draft position must again be cited here, as 14 of the final 22 college players drafted in the first round (including all four of Chicago’s first rounders) were taken in the second half of the round, where we’ve seen that the success rate plummets.  Only 5 of those 14 have made it, while all 8 college players selected in the first 20 spots have at some point graduated to the majors (with mixed results).  Then again, since Beane’s players were in theory (to him at least) the top 20 in the draft, they should have had similar results to the first 8 regardless of the actual position where they were picked.  Still, nine players from the list were selected in the back half of the first round with only Guthrie, Blanton, Brown and Teahen making it to the top level (44%), again showing that there was nothing revolutionary about Beane's method.

Oh, and by the way, that high school pitcher whose top selection in 2001 drew the ire of Beane and resulted in Fuson’s unemployment (as well as the destruction of one of Ma Bell’s finest)?  Well that, of course, was the Tigers' 2007 Opening Day starter, Jeremy Bonderman, now a five-year major league veteran who amassed 56 career wins before his 25th birthday (Blanton by contrast had only 12 before turning 25).

3) We can also compare the A’s actual success rate with that of the other 29 teams in baseball to see which team drafted more future Major Leaguers

Top Ten 2002 Draft Success Rates*

 

Team

Players Drafted

Total Successes

%

GM

1

Oakland Athletics

52

8

15.4%

Billy Beane

2

Florida Marlins

50

7

14.0%

Larry Beinfest

3

Chicago White Sox

50

7

14.0%

Kenny Williams

4

Pittsburgh Pirates

43

6

14.0%

Dave Littlefield

5

Colorado Rockies

51

7

13.7%

Dan O’Dowd

6

San Francisco Giants

50

6

12.0%

Brian Sabean

7

Baltimore Orioles

50

5

10.0%

Syd Thrift

8

Toronto Blue Jays

50

5

10.0%

J.P. Riccardi

9

Los Angeles Dodgers

52

5

9.6%

Dan Evans

10

Detroit Tigers

45

4

8.9%

Randy Smith

*Draft data accumulated through information provided by The Baseball Cube

Click here for full results

“Billy had his own ideas about where to find future major league baseball players: inside Paul’s computer.  He’d flirted with the idea of firing all the scouts and just drafting the kids straight from Paul’s laptop.”

                                                                                    ~Moneyball

Using the objective method of calling any player who has spent at least a day in a major league uniform a success, we see the A’s now have graduated more players to the majors and at a better rate than any other team.  Score another one for Billy Beane.  Of course, this method fails to consider that half of the eight players recorded as successes for the A’s (Brown, Kiger, Murphy and non-lister Shane Komine) have combined for a total of just 11 plate appearances and only 23 innings pitched in the majors or that two of the other four (Teahen and Burton) have played all their ML games for other teams.  On the other hand, it similarly fails to do that for every other team, which is purposely the point.  The real question is, does the Athletics' success hold up under the more intense microscope of a subjective examination, and if not, then who did have the best draft results of 2002?  I’ll save the answer to those questions for a little bit later.

Most teams, if they kept a wish list of twenty players, would feel blessed to have snagged three of them.

                                                                                    ~ Moneyball

For now, I feel that it must be pointed out that (not that you didn’t know already but…) the A’s benefited from an unprecedented seven first round picks while the White Sox and Marlins have totaled 7 successes despite being limited to the usual single first round pick.  In fact, among all teams who rank in the top ten aside from Oakland, only the Dodgers had multiple first round picks.  Supporters will now dutifully rise and call attention to the fact that the A’s lacked the necessary funds to draft and sign 7 quality studs.  In Moneyball, however, it is pointed out that “Billy uses his poverty to camouflage another fact, that he wants these oddballs more than the studs he cannot afford,” negating that argument.  Beane had a list of 20 players he’d take under ideal circumstances (16 of which the A’s felt they could actually afford under more realistic circumstances) and he was able to grab 7 of those with his plethora of first round picks and 6 more in subsequent rounds.  Regardless of Oakland's draft budget, Beane ended up with 65% overall of the 20 players he wanted the most and over 80% of those on his list that he could afford.

If this scientific and primarily statistical method of drafting players were truly revolutionary and previous ideas of scouting now obsolete, wouldn’t the A’s have had more success than that? Two of Oakland's eight successes were non-listers, which means the A’s could have had a whopping 15 successes if all 13 listers they drafted had been successful (raising to 29% the overall success rate), so wouldn’t it be more appropriate to expect the A’s to have at least been near a 25% success ratio?  Wouldn’t you expect a little more distance between the A’s and their peers?  If this technique were truly innovative, wouldn’t you expect fewer than three busts out of seven first round picks?

Continue Reading: A Subjective Analysis


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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