Top 100 Draft Flashback: First-Round Pick Values

Draft day is here, so it’s time to tie a bow on the Top 100 Draft Flashback series. In this final installment, we’ll attempt to assign value to each of the top 10 picks and give tiered values to the entire first round.

Everyone knows that not all first-round picks are created equal. The team selecting No. 1 overall has exclusive rights to elite talents such as Alex Rodriguez (1993), Justin Upton (2005), David Price (2007) and Bryce Harper (2010), all of whom ranked as consensus top picks in their drafts. The team choosing second sometimes comes away with a top talent, such as Justin Verlander (2004) or Josh Beckett (1999), but the travails of Mike Moustakas (2007), Pedro Alvarez (2008) and Dustin Ackley (2009) this season informs us that not all No. 2 overall picks are sure things—at least not sure things to return instant, sustained value.

The following graph illustrates the value, in terms of career wins above replacement (WAR), for the top 30 picks in the 20 drafts from 1989 through 2008, the modern draft era. Pay particular attention to the thin, five-year moving average trendline, because this smooths out the large jumps and dips in the data. (Note: WAR readings were sampled in mid-April from Baseball-Reference.com.)

 

Top 30 Picks Career WAR

 

This graph ought to look familiar to anyone who remembers Rany Jazayerli’s draft study from 2005. Jazayerli, in studying the 1984 through 1999 drafts, found precisely the same thing: The value of the No. 1 overall pick trumps the value of all other first-round picks, including the No. 2 pick. In concrete terms, players selected with the draft’s first pick have accounted for 431 WAR, with a median value of about 15—and that’s counting players with negative value, such as Matt Anderson and Bryan Bullington, and also those who did not reach the majors, such as Brien Taylor and Matt Bush.

Compare those No. 1 overall values with the same values for players selected with the second pick. Players selected No. 2 overall have accumulated less than half of the value of the first pick, whether in terms of career (199) or median (eight) value. Cumulative WAR totals drop off steadily from there, indicating that, on the whole, and in the 20 years examined, teams are properly assessing player value in the draft.

Now let’s break out the top 10 picks, the upper third of the first round, and review selections from the 1989-2008 drafts. For each pick, we review high school vs. college demographics, the number of players who reached the majors (for any length of time), the washouts (failed to reach the majors), the impact rate (defined as players with 10 career WAR), the best player and other players who hit big (defined as 15 career WAR). We also identify the team that holds the corresponding pick in today’s draft.

No. 1 Overall

Demographics: 10 high school (5 shortstops), 10 college (6 righthanders)
Reached MLB: 17 of 20 signed players
Washouts: LHP Brien Taylor (Yankees, 1991), SS Matt Bush (Padres, 2004), SS Tim Beckham (Rays, 2008)
Impact Rate: 12 of 20 (60 percent)
Pick Value (WAR): 431 total, 21.5 average, 15.4 median
Best Player: SS Alex Rodriguez (Mariners, 1993)—three MVPs, 14 all-star games, 10 Silver Sluggers, two Gold Gloves, one World Series ring with ’09 Yankees
Other Hits: RHP Ben McDonald (Orioles, 1989), 3B Chipper Jones (Braves, 1990), 3B Phil Nevin (Astros, 1992), OF Darin Erstad (Angels, 1995), OF Pat Burrell (Phillies, 1998), OF Josh Hamilton (Rays, 1999), 1B Adrian Gonzalez (Marlins, 2000), C Joe Mauer (Twins, 2001), OF Justin Upton (Diamondbacks, 2005), LHP David Price (Rays, 2007)
This Year’s Pick: Astros, who previously selected 3B Phil Nevin (1992) and SS Carlos Correa (2012) at this position

No. 2 Overall

Demographics: 7 high school (2 catchers, shortstops & outfielders), 11 college (6 righthanders)
Reached MLB: 18 of 18 signed players
Washouts: None
Impact Rate: 8 of 18 (44 percent)
Pick Value (WAR): 199 total, 11 average, 8.2 median
Best Player: RHP Justin Verlander (Tigers, 2004)—one Cy Young Award, one MVP, five all-star games, ’06 AL Rookie of the Year
Other Hits: LPH Mark Mulder (Athletics, 1998), RHP Josh Beckett (Marlins, 1999), RHP Mark Prior (Cubs, 2001), OF B.J. Upton (Rays, 2002), OF Alex Gordon (Royals, 2005)
This Year’s Pick: Cubs, who previously selected RHP Mark Prior (2001) at this position

No. 3 Overall

Demographics: 7 high school (2 righthanders), 13 college (5 righthanders)
Reached MLB: 17 of 20 signed players
Washouts: LHP B.J. Wallace (Expos, 1992), RHP Chris Gruler (Reds, 2002), RHP Kyle Sleeth (Tigers, 2003)
Impact Rate: 6 of 20 (30 percent)
Pick Value (WAR): 138 total, 6.9 average, 1.0 median
Best Player: 3B Troy Glaus (Angels, 1997)—four all-star games, two Silver Sluggers, one World Series ring with ’02 Angels (also MVP of Series)
Other Hits: C Mike Lieberthal (Phillies, 1990), OF Jose Cruz Jr. (Mariners, 1995), 3B Evan Longoria (Rays, 2006)
This Year’s Pick: Rockies, who have never held No. 3 pick

No. 4 Overall

Demographics: 7 high school (2 righthanders & lefthanders), 12 college (7 righthanders), 1 junior college (Alex Fernandez)
Reached MLB: 17 of 20 signed players
Washouts: OF Jeff Jackson (Phillies, 1989), SS Corey Myers (Diamondbacks, 1999), LHP Mike Stodolka (Royals, 2000)
Impact Rate: 5 of 20 (25 percent)
Pick Value (WAR): 141 total, 7 average, 2.6 median
Best Player: 3B Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals, 2005)—one all-star game, two Silver Sluggers, one Gold Glove
Other Hits: RHP Alex Fernandez (White Sox, 1990), RHP Kerry Wood (Cubs, 1995)
This Year’s Pick: Twins, who have not held No. 4 pick in modern draft era

No. 5 Overall

Demographics: 7 high school (3 righthanders & outfielders), 10 college (3 outfielders), 1 no school (RHP Ariel Prieto, Athletics, 1995)
Reached MLB: 15 of 18 signed players
Washouts: OF B.J. Garbe (Twins, 1999), RHP Clint Everts (Expos, 2002), OF Chris Lubanski (Royals, 2003)
Impact Rate: 6 of 18 (33 percent)
Pick Value (WAR): 187 total, 10.4 average, 0.6 median
Best Player: 1B Mark Teixeira (Rangers, 2001)—two all-star games, five Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, one World Series ring with ’09 Yankees
Other Hits: OF Vernon Wells (Blue Jays, 1997), OF J.D. Drew (Cardinals, 1998), OF Ryan Braun (Brewers, 2005)
This Year’s Pick: Indians, who previously selected LHP Drew Pomeranz (2010) at this position

No. 6 Overall

Demographics: 11 high school (5 outfielders), 8 college (5 lefthanders)
Reached MLB: 12 of 19 signed players
Washouts: OF Paul Coleman (Cardinals, 1989), OF Jaime Jones (Marlins, 1995), LHP Geoff Goetz (Mets, 1997), LHP Ryan Mills (Twins, 1998), LHP Josh Girdley (Expos, 1999), RHP Josh Karp (Expos, 2001), OF Ryan Harvey (Cubs, 2003)
Impact Rate: 4 of 19 (21 percent)
Pick Value (WAR): 124 total, 6.5 average, 0 median
Best Player: SS Derek Jeter (Yankees, 1992)—13 all-star games, five Gold Gloves, five Silver Sluggers, ’96 AL Rookie of the Year, five World Series rings with ’96, ’98, ’99, ’00 and ’09 Yankees (also MVP of ’00 Series)
Other Hit: RHP Zack Greinke (Royals, 2002)
This Year’s Pick: Marlins, who previously selected OF Jaime Jones (1995) and C Kyle Skipworth (2008) at this position

No. 7 Overall

Demographics: 6 high school (2 lefthanders & outfielders), 11 college (3 righthanders & first basemen), 1 junior college (Nick Markakis)
Reached MLB: 16 of 18 signed players
Washouts: LHP Doug Million (Rockies, 1994), LHP Chris Smith (Orioles, 2001)
Impact Rate: 8 of 18 (44 percent)
Pick Value (WAR): 226 total, 12.5 average, 2.5 median
Best Player: 1B Frank Thomas (White Sox, 1989)—two MVPs, five all-star games, four Silver Sluggers
Other Hits: OF Trot Nixon (Red Sox, 1993), 1B Prince Fielder (Brewers, 2002), OF Nick Markakis (Orioles, 2003), SS Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies, 2005), LHP Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers, 2006)
This Year’s Pick: Red Sox, who previously selected OF Trot Nixon (1993) at this position

No. 8 Overall

Demographics: 7 high school (3 righthanders), 12 college (five righthanders)
Reached MLB: 11 of 19 signed players
Washouts: OF Earl Cunningham (Cubs, 1989), RHP Pete Janicki (Angels, 1992), RHP Kirk Presley (Mets, 1993), OF Chad Green (Brewers, 1996), RHP Boddy Bradley (Pirates, 1999), RHP Matt Wheatland (Tigers, 2000), RHP Wade Townsend (Rays, 2005), Casey Weathers (Rockies, 2007)
Impact Rate: 4 of 19 (21 percent)
Pick Value (WAR): 112 total, 5.9 average, 0.0 median
Best Player: 1B Todd Helton (Rockies, 1995)—five all-star games, four Silver Sluggers, three Gold Gloves
Other Hit: LHP Paul Maholm (Pirates, 2003)
This Year’s Pick: Royals, who have picked first (once), twice (twice), third (once), fourth (three times), fifth (four times), sixth (once), seventh (three times) and ninth (once) in the modern draft era—but never eighth

No. 9 Overall

Demographics: 11 high school (4 shortstops), 8 college (4 lefthanders)
Reached MLB: 14 of 19 signed players
Washouts: LHP Ron Walden (Dodgers, 1990), SS Matt Brunson (Tigers, 1993), LHP Mark Phillips (Padres, 2000), RHP Colt Griffin (Royals, 2001), 3B Billy Rowell (Orioles, 2006)
Impact Rate: 6 of 19 (32 percent)
Pick Value (WAR): 143 total, 7.5 average, 4.1 median
Best Player: LHP Barry Zito (Athletics, 1999)—one Cy Young Award, three all-star games
Other Hits: OF Geoff Jenkins (Brewers, 1995), OF Mark Kotsay (Marlins, 1996), LHP John Danks (Rangers, 2003)
This Year’s Pick: Pirates, who have picked first (three times), twice (twice), fourth (three times), fifth (once) and eighth (five times) in the modern draft era—but never ninth

No. 10 Overall

Demographics: 9 high school (2 righthanders, lefthanders, third basemen & outfielders), 10 college (4 righthanders)
Reached MLB: 18 of 19 signed players
Washouts: LHP Joe Torres (Angels, 2000)
Impact Rate: 6 of 19 (32 percent)
Pick Value (WAR): 184 total, 9.7 average, 4.7 median
Best Player: 3B Eric Chavez (Athletics, 1996)—six Gold Gloves, one Silver Slugger
Other Hits: OF Carl Everett (Yankees, 1990), RHP Jon Garland (Cubs, 1997), 1B Carlos Pena (Rangers, 1998), RHP Ben Sheets (Brewers, 1999) RHP Tim Lincecum (Giants, 2006)
This Year’s Pick: Blue Jays, who have not held No. 10 pick in modern draft era

Approximate Value Of A First-Round Pick

The farther one moves from the No. 1 overall pick, the smaller the gap in perceived (and actual) value between players, so that the difference between sequential picks outside the top two selections becomes more and more a matter of preference. So rather than treat each first-round pick as its own entity, for this analysis we’re grouping the first round into six five-pick tiers. The Nos. 1-5 picks are grouped together and treated as one tier, just like the Nos. 6-10 and Nos. 26-30 picks.

 

FIRST-ROUND PICK VALUES • FIVE-PICK TIERS • 1989-2008 DRAFTS
Tier Picks HS Coll MLB 10+ 20+
30+ Med Best Player
1 1-5 40% 58% 88% 39% 20% 13% 3.7 Alex Rodriguez
2 6-10 47% 52% 76% 30% 19% 6% 0.9 F. Thomas or D. Jeter
3 11-15 50% 49% 70% 26% 12% 6% 0.2 Manny Ramirez
4 16-20 51% 49% 72% 17% 11% 6% 0.0 Mike Mussina
5 21-25 41% 55% 73% 18% 8% 3% 0.1 C. Knoblauch or J. Kendall
6 26-30 48% 48% 56% 5% 2% 0% 0.0 A. Wainwright or C. Johnson

MLB = pct. of players who reach majors • 10+, 20+ & 30+ = pct. of players who reach those career WAR thresholds • Med = median WAR value for all picks in sample

• The high school and college columns do not add up to 100 percent in all cases because junior college and no school players are omitted from the head count. Teams favor college players—particularly college righthanders—with the draft’s top five picks, and they also strongly prefer college players again in the range of picks 21-25, but at every other tier the split is practically even.

• The rate of players reaching the majors declines steadily from nearly nine in 10 for the top five picks to little more than half of players selected with picks 26-30. However, nearly 75 percent of first-rounders selected between pick Nos. 6-25 have reached the majors for at least a cup of coffee.

• The percentage of players who make an impact in the majors declines in an even more linear fashion, whether one uses 10, 20 or 30 career WAR as a guide. Once the draft advances past the No. 15 midpoint, teams have less than a one in four chance of drafting a player who will contribute even 10 wins in his career.

• The median WAR values paint the starkest picture of how rare it is to find star power in the draft. Players drafted outside the top 10 picks have virtually the same odds of contributing positive value as they do negative or no value. Even picks in the 6-10 range have a median value of just 0.9, meaning half of players selected are little better than replacement level (or worse).

 

Draft | #Analytics #Draft Retrospective

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