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Are Higher Picks Really Better?

October 11, 2010
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Among hardcore Indians fans there was a major debate to end the year: would you rather see the Indians lose their games and receive a higher pick, or have the team get some wins and end strong?

I could see both sides of this argument, and the negatives for both sides are equally strong.  A higher pick means a more highly rated player in what is a top heavy draft, but a high draft pick is three-four years from helping your team and is no certainty to help your team, and costs a lot to sign. On the other hand, a strong end to the year means that the young guys are playing well; however, a strong finish doesn’t mean much because it was against weaker competition.  We all remember strong finishes like Karim Garcia’s that ended up being nothing.

With that in mind, I decided to look at draft history and devise a point system to see what picks have had the greatest value over a ten year period. For this I choose to start with 1996 and go through 2006. I was very tempted to end at both 2007 and 2008, but in both cases while multiple players have made the majors there are still some very highly thought of prospects that have not made it thanks to a multitude of reasons. 2006 seemed like a fair end point, since by now a top ten prospect should have made the majors.

The point system I devised works on an 80-20 system. For those who are familiar with the 80-20 scouting system, it seemed like a fair basis for awarding points. I am not sticking exactly to the system, so I will explain how I broke it down.

The point system starts with a slot getting zero points if the player never made the majors. The reason for this is if you are drafting and spending in the top ten then that player should at least make it to the majors. If a player made the majors and made little impact the slot gets 20 points. It is made this way to really penalize a slot for a player who fails to even reach the majors. If a player becomes a backup or a utility player then the slot gets 30 points. A league average starter is worth 40. A good player is worth 50. An all-star is worth 60 points. A top player in the league is 70. A Hall of fame type of player is worth 80.

For the record I only gave out two 80’s as only two guys were on that track for me. In the case of a player who performed then were hurt - like a Mark Prior - I assumed a value based on what he was able to do before injury. I was going for value of the picks, so it seemed fairest to give the pick the value the player would have had if not for injury.

So here is the break down:

1. 490 > avg 50 > good player
2. 520 > avg 50 > good player
3. 310 > avg 30 > backup
4. 310 > avg 30 > backup
5. 420 > avg 40 > average starter
6. 220 > avg 20 > fringe player
7. 340 > avg 30 > backup
8. 180 > avg 20 > fringe player
9. 320 > avg 30 > backup
10. 440 > avg 40 > average starter

If I put the picks in order of value it would be:

2 > 1 >10 > 5 > 7 > 9 > 4 > 3> 6 > 8

This has to be especially bad to read for Indians fans, since thanks to our play we have the 8th pick in the draft, but the point it should show is that really after the top two picks, it has been a bit of a crap shoot in the draft.

I was on the fence before putting this together, but to me it seems that not only does it not matter where you pick in the mid-top ten range, but that in general the top ten picks do not produce the stars that many would think they do.

Of the 100 players selected in the ten year time frame for this exercise, only 23 players became all-star level players and only two are on a possible Hall of Fame level for a career. On the other side of production, 26 players failed to even make it to the major league level. So for a team in the top ten there is a great chance of drafting a player who will never play in the major leagues than a player who will be great.

So while Indians fans might be really excited for these high picks, history shows us that it is not in the top ten where teams find their stars, but really later in the draft. So when the Indians draft rolls around next June, while fans should be excited for a high pick most fans should really spend most of their time playing attention to the other 49 guys the Indians will draft that week.

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