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Analyzing Cleveland’s draft history: A surprisingly decent 2003

Later round picks Kouzmanoff, Laffey, and Garko anchor an average draft class

Analyzing Cleveland’s draft history: A surprisingly decent 2003
Aaron Laffey (Photo: Mark Duncan/AP)
October 25, 2014
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An often repeated phrase surrounding Cleveland baseball over the past two decades regards how poor the organization has fared in the draft.

But exactly how bad has Cleveland been? And how do they stack up against the rest of baseball?

Those are the questions this series will seek to answer. Using a combination of Baseball-Reference and Baseball America’s respective draft databases, I compiled the total WAR of each draft pick and compared it to the expected value of the respective pick (as calculated using Sky Andrecheck’s 2009 findings). There is a difference between picking first and picking 30th, which is represented in this analysis (Andrecheck gives different formulas for high school and college draft picks as well as pitchers and hitters, but for our purposes, we will just be looking at the average value). We will be also only judging teams based on the picks they signed since those are the ones who actually entered the system.

We started this series in 2004, since 10 years gives us a decent sample to judge the players in that draft class by. Here are links to the previous articles in this series:

Now, we move on to the 2003 draft:

Rank Team Signed Picks Overall Value (in WAR)
1 Rangers 32.8
2 Dodgers 17
3 Phillies 10.4
4 Blue Jays 5
5 Mariners 0.1
6 Cardinals -6.1
7 Red Sox -7.3
8 Pirates -12.3
9 Orioles -12.8
10 Yankees -15.9
11 Athletics -16.9
12 Twins -18.7
13 Cubs -21.5
14 Atlanta -22.8
15 Giants -23.6
16 Cleveland -24.2
17 White Sox -24.9
18 Mets -25.4
19 Angels -26
20 Astros -26.2
21 Reds -26.8
22 Brewers -27
23 Expos -27.5
24 Diamondbacks -28.9
25 Royals -29.7
26 Rockies -29.8
27 Padres -31.9
28 Devil Rays -37.6
29 Marlins -38.7
30 Tigers -47.3

After finishing 25th in total value in the 2004 draft, we see Cleveland’s 2003 draft actually provided middle of the road value. Just like we saw in 2004, nearly every team finishes the draft with negative total value due to the volatility inherent in drafting players, meaning Cleveland’s -24.2 WAR total is not as bad as it looks on the surface.

But despite a draft that outdid nearly half of the other teams in major league baseball, Cleveland’s top four draft picks provided no value. First baseman Michael Aubrey (picked 11th overall), outfielder Brad Snyder (18th), right-hander Adam Miller (31st), and catcher Javi Herrera (48th) combined for all of 0.1 WAR in 76 major league games. Picking four times in the first 48 picks is an event that should provide an organization some nice talent, but in Cleveland’s case, injuries and other factors left the team in with four busted prospects.

The value in Cleveland’s 2003 draft came from three picks in particular: sixth rounder Kevin Kouzmanoff, 16th rounder Aaron Laffey, and third rounder Ryan Garko. Those three picks carried an expected WAR of 4.6, a figure Kouzmanoff (7.6 WAR), Garko (3.6), and Laffey (2.4) exceeded by 9.0 WAR.

Of course, the best player and value out of this draft for Cleveland did not actually do much while in the organization. Following 61 roughly replacement level plate appearances in 2006, the third baseman was traded along with Andrew Brown to the Padres for Josh Barfield. Cleveland got none of Kouzmanoff’s value due to the trade, and in return, acquired -0.5 WAR of Barfield.

Even when Cleveland wins, sometimes it seems they lose anyway.

As for the other two, Garko was a roughly average player during his time in Cleveland, and even though he was traded for Scott Barnes (a player who has not done well in the majors), the organization actually sold high at the right time, as Garko’s career went straight downhill after the trade. Roughly three years of average play from a first baseman may not seem like much, but it was enough to make him a solid selection as a third round pick.

Laffey fulfilled his role as soft-tossing lefty perfectly. Laffey never really stood out, but putting up decent innings as a starting pitcher is something that gave him some value as a back-end starter in Cleveland.

Of course, the goal is not to hit on three picks after the second round while missing on four high picks, but this is still a decent draft for Cleveland.

The thing missing from the 2003 draft for Cleveland is a standout talent. The Rangers finished at the top of the value list thanks to their first round pick doing well (John Danks) and hitting it big on two late-round selections. Texas’ 30th round pick, Scott Feldman, has been decent in his career, but the real carrying factor for Texas was their 17th round pick, Ian Kinsler.

Two pieces into this series, that is what the draft really comes down to: if you want to be successful, you basically need to find three players who can be at least useful as major leaguers. If all three are just decent, you end up in the middle of the pack like Cleveland in 2003. If you hit it a bit bigger, you can actually end up with a positive value in the draft.

As for how good teams draft from one year to the next, we obviously only have two years’ worth of data, making the conclusion fairly useless. But given the way the draft seems to be a crapshoot, the following graph should not really surprise anyone.

2003/2004 Value Comparison Chart

The correlation from year to year for the 30 teams is .27, a fairly small correlation that is basically just randomness. If teams were repeating their draft performance from year-to-year, the dots would be clustered along the red dotted line, not scattered all over the place.

Look at that dot at the bottom right. That is the Rangers, with a tremendous 2003 draft class that finished first in total value and a disastrous 2004 draft that was dead last.

Among the 11 above-average drafting teams in 2004, a meager three were also above-average in 2003. On the other end of the spectrum, only 11 of the 19 below-average drafting teams in 2004 were also below-average in 2003.

As we look at more drafts, some teams may prove to be consistently good (or consistently bad). Based on these two years, however, the randomness, injuries, and long period of time it takes for prospects to develop appear to point to the draft being more luck than science.

If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at If you want to read his Master's thesis on college athletes and Twitter, you can do so here.

User Comments

October 28, 2014 - 6:53 PM EDT
And what slot were all those first rounders picked, that matters A LOT? During that era, the Royals were consistently picking in the top-10 or top-5. In fact, from 2002-2014, the Royals drafted before the Indians 10 times, the Indians drafted ahead of the Royals twice. The highest pick by the Indians in that period was #5 (twice) once to take Frazier in 2013, and once to take Pomeranz, but that was AFTER the Royals who picked at #4 that year, and they took Christian Colon. The Royals drafted in the top -5 a whopping EIGHT TIMES out of 12 years. Yeah, it is a lot easier to hit on picks when your team consistently sucks so badly that you are picking that high year after year.
October 25, 2014 - 6:07 PM EDT
Indians drafting has gotten considerably better especially in recent years if you look at the drafting. Need some consistency with the guys that are doing the job. Also, the Indians need to start developing guys especially in the starting pitching area. Indians do have some excellent arms and need more of them in the next draft or two. The problem is that all of the nice arms in the system are in the A ball. I think they need to make a concerted effort in developing them, pushing them into the AA and AAA so we can have depth when needed and maybe make a trade for something else we need.

The ultimate goal is to get the Indians' farm system to the point where they won't need free agency or to make trades because they can be able promote guys when they lose one. Goal is to become similar to that of the STL Cardinals who every once in awhile sign a decent free agent but usually just promote from within to get whatever they need. Word is that STL won't sign any big free agents and will promote from within for '15

The Indians system is getting their. Once they get some of the starting pitching up to speed in the upper levels it will be a fantastic system because we already know the bats and position players are making move. Kime, Lugo, Linares, Lovegrove, Brown, Brown, Baker, Plutko, Anderson, Miniard, Sheffield, Hockin, those are just some that need to be developed and a since of urgency needs to be abound to get them rolling up into the upper levels.
McKenzie County, ND
October 25, 2014 - 5:09 PM EDT
Jimmy P is the man. More please!
October 25, 2014 - 5:07 PM EDT
Good stuff Jim. Let me just add this. Over the same period of time the Kansas City Royals took as their number one picks: Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakis, Aaron Crow, Luke Hochevar, Larry Finnegan- these are all guys who are on the field or in the dugout at the World Series tonight! And that doesn't include Zack Greinke who was their first pick in 2002. Who besides Lonnie Chisenhall and Jeremie Guthrie who ironically is pitching for the Royals is playing in the majors after being picked by the Indians in the first round? ..So the Indians could put a much better team on the field and save a substantial amount of money by firing their draft scouts and hiring one good PI to snoop on the Royals scouts and find out who they are planning on drafting.

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