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Analyzing Cleveland’s draft history: Sipp saves 2004

Despite draft busts at the top, Sipp’s selection proves valuable

Analyzing Cleveland’s draft history: Sipp saves 2004
Tony Sipp (Photo: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
September 30, 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). Also, we will be also only judging teams based on the picks they signed since those are the ones who actually entered the system.

We are starting this series in 2004, since 10 years gives us a decent sample to judge the players in that draft class by.

Rank Team Signed Picks Overall Value (in WAR)
1 Astros 33.2
2 Red Sox 18.6
3 Angels 13.8
4 Rockies -3.0
5 Brewers -4.9
6 Tigers -6.9
7 Athletics -11.1
8 Diamondbacks -16.0
9 Marlins -18.2
10 Pirates -19.4
11 Expos -19.9
12 Royals -20.5
13 Orioles -20.8
14 Cubs -21.6
15 Mariners -22.7
16 Yankees -24.5
17 Blue Jays -25.2
18 Dodgers -26.1
19 White Sox -28.6
20 Braves -28.7
21 Devil Rays -28.9
22 Twins -29.2
23 Phillies -31.0
24 Giants -31.4
25 Cleveland -32.6
26 Reds -32.8
27 Mets -37.6
28 Cardinals -43.7
29 Padres -43.7
30 Rangers -46.4

Something I am sure will become a recurring theme in these analyses is the high amount of failure inherent in the draft. Look at that table. Only three teams pulled off a positive value in the 2004 draft: the Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. A few other teams come close, but the median value among the draft picks is -23.6 WAR (some of that is the result of every low draft pick who is unlikely to make the majors ending up with an expected value of 0.5 WAR, but the point still stands).

As exciting as prospects are, more often than not, they do not become productive major leaguers.

And even when they do become productive major leaguers, it is not always with the drafting team. Of the 15 best values in the 2004 draft, four of them -- Ben ZobristGio GonzalezLorenzo Cain, and Jason Vargas -- made their mark with another team.

Plus, among the 11 players whose primary team was their drafting team, six of them -- Hunter PenceChris IannettaKurt SuzukiStephen DrewHuston Street, and Dexter Fowler -- also accumulated at least some of their value after leaving the team that drafted them.

Name Drafting Team Primary Team Value
Dustin Pedroia  Red Sox Red Sox 40.6
Ben Zobrist  Astros Rays 34.3
Jered Weaver  Angels Angels 30.7
Justin Verlander  Tigers Tigers 26.8
Hunter Pence  Astros Astros 25
Yovani Gallardo  Brewers Brewers 15.4
Gio Gonzalez  White Sox Nationals 12.6
Chris Iannetta  Rockies Rockies 12.2
Kurt Suzuki  Athletics Athletics 11.7
Stephen Drew  Diamondbacks Diamondbacks 11
Huston Street  Athletics Athletics 10.7
Lorenzo Cain  Brewers Royals 10.5
Dexter Fowler  Rockies Rockies 10.2
Ian Desmond  Expos/Nationals Expos/Nationals 10
Jason Vargas  Marlins Mariners 9.4

A player’s primary team is defined by the team on which they accumulated the most WAR.

Regarding the best path to running a positive value in the draft, it really just comes down to hitting it big on one or two players.

For the Astros, it came down to hitting big on two picks: their sixth round pick in Zobrist and their second round pick in Pence. Beyond those two, only their ninth round pick, Troy Patton, broke even, accumulating 2.3 WAR.

And of course, they did not enjoy one bit of Zobrist’s major league success, instead sending him to Tampa Bay in a 2006 trade for 68 games of a replacement-level Aubrey Huff.

For the Red Sox and Angels, however, it basically came down to hitting on one pick. Boston selected Dustin Pedroia in the second round -- a pick that is expected to provide 2.5 WAR over an entire career -- and hit big time. Though the Red Sox only had one other player provide a positive value (on their sixth round pick Cla Meredith), Pedroia turning into a star is more than enough to make this a wildly successful draft.

The Angels’ pick of Jered Weaver at #12 overall turned out to be the third-best value of the entire draft and makes up the vast majority of the team’s draft success.

Which takes us to Cleveland’s 2004 draft. Despite the median result baking in an acceptable level of failure, the organization finished 25th among all teams in value from the 2004 draft due to only gaining surplus value in one draft pick.

Picking sixth overall, Jeremy Sowers’ 1.6 career WAR fell far short of the 8.1 WAR expected from that pick (which is a bit of a feat considering 8.0 WAR is only four league-average seasons). After Sowers, only four others made the majors, with three of them -- Scott LewisChris Gimenez (yes, the same one currently on the major league roster), and Wyatt Toregas -- turning out to be replacement-level players who did not add any value based on their draft slot.

Only Cleveland’s 45th round pick, left-handed reliever Tony Sipp, provided any value for the organization from the 2004 draft. A pick that late in the draft only carries an expected WAR of 0.5, which Sipp provided in his first major league season in 2009. Sipp is still pitching in the majors -- and is having a pretty good season in Houston -- though a left-handed reliever alone is not good enough to carry an entire draft.

Over the course of this series, we will see how the rest of Cleveland’s drafts stack up (and how bad the cumulative effect is). But solely judging on 2004, Cleveland’s draft was not good, but the late-round selection of Sipp kept the team out of the basement.

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

Jim Piascik
October 3, 2014 - 11:42 AM EDT
One quick note about Rich's comment: that value column is Actual WAR minus Expected WAR from the draft pick. So there are actually more players with higher WAR totals than that list.

But the point still remains: this draft is looking pretty weak overall.
October 1, 2014 - 3:07 PM EDT
I agree the Indians have gotten better in the draft of late. That said they are still a middle of the road drafting team and middle of the road farm system. Until they start pumping out some legit arms from the minors that can go into the rotation, that won't change. TJ House is a solid pitcher, but he along with Danny Salazar and Josh Tomlin are it as far as drafting/signing and then developing starting pitching over the past decade really - and the jury is still out on all three of them. There are some promising young arms in the system that could impact down the road - though that has been the mantra for a few years now. They need a few of those promising young arms to kick the door down.
October 1, 2014 - 2:58 PM EDT
The drafting has been better since Grant took over. One reason for that is he has drafted hitters with his first pick every year. Not only that but middle of the diamond guys (Middle of the diamond guys or either from middle and moved out i.e Chiz or moved to the middle from out i.e. Naquin). He has spent his second pick on pitchers (Howard, Brown, Sheffield, Kime) mostly. This team still either has an issue developing pitchers from the ground up, not drafting/scouting, or converting too many to relievers although Salazar and House have broken that trend. I'd still like more pitching in the minors but I agree with drafting hitters but would have liked to get a pitcher in return for ACab and Masterson (even a projection guy).
October 1, 2014 - 2:22 PM EDT
I was one who though Sowers was going to be big time. He mixed his pitches well and simply knew how to pitch. His rookie season was outstanding and it appeared he was going to be a stud for a long time. Idk what happened but he flamed out.
October 1, 2014 - 2:20 PM EDT
The good news is that the drafting hasn't gotten considerably better. We can see this on the major league roster and guys on cusp on being on the ML roster. I haven't seen this much talent throughout the Indians' system since the early 90's. Brad Grant along with Mickey Calloway deserve raises because they've done excellent work.

The Reason the Indians struggled so much because they couldn't draft. This isn't talked about enough, IMO
October 1, 2014 - 8:46 AM EDT
I think an average ML starting player has a WAR of 2.0 per season. So a player who was drafted 10 years ago, spent five years in the minors and then five years as an average ML starter would have accumulated a WAR of 10.

I'm only seeing 14 players in the entire draft who have a 10. Make it 15 if you include Vargas and his 9.4.

That means over half the teams won't get a single average starter in a down year like 2004. And only 5 of the 30 teams got an All-Star out of this draft. Really bad year for talent.

Just a brutal year.
Jim Piascik
September 30, 2014 - 8:59 PM EDT

Hard to say if 2004 was just a bad draft year overall without other years to compare to, but based on what I've seen of 2003 (I'm currently writing that article), I'd lean toward yes. Just kind of a blah year.

As for the Tigers, that's what happens when you only have one real major leaguer in the entire draft. Their other players who reached the majors from the 2004 draft: Jeff Frazier, Brent Dlugach, Luke French.

Plus, since they picked second, Verlander's expected WAR was already pretty high, hurting the value. But most importantly, only one of their 34 signed picks played above replacement level at the major league level.
September 30, 2014 - 8:38 PM EDT
2005 may be even worse. Jensen Lewis is about it.
Vic Venom
September 30, 2014 - 6:08 PM EDT
Jeremy Sowers SMFH!! The human home run derby pitcher. God this guy was awful. What's funny though is that I believe in his rookie season he pitched 2 CG shutouts. What a frickin fluke!!!
September 30, 2014 - 4:35 PM EDT
Does this mean that the 2004 draft was a weak on talent? If the Tigers drafted Verlander and it only gave the Tigers only a -6.9 value.
September 30, 2014 - 2:16 PM EDT
This was well put together. Just another sad reminder of the Indians struggles in the draft in the early Shapiro Era. They did such a great job scouting and unearthing talent for trades.....but had such a longstanding problem with the draft. Glad it has improved, though time will tell just how much better they have been the last 4-6 years.
Jim Piascik
September 30, 2014 - 1:51 PM EDT
You always need pitching, but it also flames out so often. Injuries, just hitting the wall, etc. The draft's a fickle thing, that's for sure.
September 30, 2014 - 12:18 PM EDT
This Indians went pitching heavy in 2004 with Sowers, Justin Hoyman, Lewis and Chuck Lofgren in the first four rounds. Initially it looked good but Lofgren stalled at AAA, Lewis reinjured his arm (had TJ in college) and Hoyman only lasted 2 years. Another pick Carlton Smith did hang around a while pitching for the Indians in AAA in 2010 and 11.

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