How good are the Brewers at drafting diamonds in the rough? A ten-year analysis


There's been a lot of discussion lately about the Brewers' drafting ability (or lack thereof) under Doug Melvin, Bruce Seid, and Jack Zduriencik, and some of it has even been initiated by people other than bklynbrewcrew. There seems to be a general consensus that the Brewers whiffed on their first-round picks in 2009 (Eric Arnett, textbook bust) and 2010 (Dylan Covey, unsigned because of diabetes, now pitching not particularly well in A-ball for the A's), and maybe 2011 (Taylor Jungmann, advancing slowly but surely without impressing anyone; Jed Bradley, stalled out at High A with shoulder injury). The jury's still out on 2012 and 2013.

The other rounds in those drafts (or any other drafts) are mentioned as kind of footnotes, if at all. Several of the guys on the roster - Hand, Davis, Gindl, Gennett - were drafted at least several rounds into the draft, but none of them could be classified as "impact players." But that got me wondering: Does anybody draft impact players beyond the first few rounds? I mean, besides the Cardinals?

We see that some fans (and possibly the organization?) have viewed Scooter Gennett as a legitimate prospect and interpret that as evidence of the deficiencies of the farm system - which it is. But in another sense, as a 16th-rounder, just making it to the big leagues makes Gennett an extremely valuable draft pick and a remarkable success for the organization. No one else from Gennett's round has made the majors, and only three have gotten to AAA for more than a couple of games. Four years later, it appears the Brewers made the best 16th-round pick of any team in baseball that year.

Even if it's not nearly as valuable as nailing your picks in the first round, that's surely worth something, especially if a team is able to do it more consistently than others over a several-year period. I thought I'd try a couple of different ways to measure that late-round drafting ability to see if Melvin, Seid, & Co. are as bad there as they have been lately in the first round.

The first and simplest way is just to look at the WAR drafted by each team, by round. I looked at Doug Melvin's tenure up to 2011, because I think the picks from 2012 are too recent to evaluate in any fair sense (and only a handful of them have made the majors anyway). A few of the other details and caveats:

- All the WAR for each player goes to the team that drafted him, regardless of whom he earned it for. So the Brewers get credit for Brett Lawrie and Lorenzo Cain. That's because I'm only analyzing the ability to find, draft, and sign talented players, not the ability to develop them or keep them once they hit the majors. I actually also calculated WAR in a different way meant to measure those things a little closer, but I'm not including it here because this post is long enough as it is. If you want to see those numbers, just ask in the comments.

- This only includes players who actually signed; the Brewers don't get credit for using a 2002 40th-round pick on Hunter Pence when they knew there was no chance of him signing. Sorry.

- I didn't include negative WAR in the calculations, because drafting someone who makes it to the majors and performs slightly below replacement level isn't worse than drafting someone who never gets past A-ball, and I think it's only fair that the totals reflect that.

- The totals are going to be in flux, because players' career WARs are constantly changing. This is as of about the end of July.

- Why separate out after the third round? Aren't the fourth through tenth rounds early rounds, too? No, not really. First, 66% of the WAR drafted during this period came from players in the first three rounds, so the value drops off quickly after the third round. Second, supplemental picks are pretty much gone after the first three rounds, so 4-50 are generally one pick per team, unlike the first three. Third, there's a significant advantage to an earlier pick in the first couple of rounds (especially round 1), and my unscientific sense is that that advantage dissipates after about three rounds or so. (This will be more important later.)

Here's the graph (click to embiggen):


The Brewers come out a lot better than you might expect (at least a lot better than I expected), but that's really the result of a handful of picks, made quite a while ago. Approximately 55% of the Brewers' total drafted WAR since 2002 comes from Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo, and Rickie Weeks alone. Which means this is probably an insufficient way of looking at this question.

First, though, I want to highlight the WAR from rounds 4-50 in that graph, since that's what I'm most interested in:

Drafted WAR Rounds 4-50, 2002-2011
Team WAR
Dodgers 67
Rangers 62.9
Cardinals 51.2
Yankees 47.7
Angels 45.2
Phillies 44.6
Cubs 43.2
Padres 41.2
Giants 40.7
Astros 40.4
Rays 40.2
Tigers 40
Marlins 37.9
Red Sox 37.4
Mets 32.7
Rockies 30.6
White Sox 29.7
Diamondbacks 27.8
Brewers 27.8
A's 27.6
Braves 27.4
Royals 26.2
Reds 25.3
Blue Jays 24.9
Mariners 24
Indians 22.8
Nationals 20.8
Pirates 19.1
Orioles 11.5
Twins 11.2

The Brewers are fifth in overall WAR, but in the middle of the pack - tied for 18th - on rounds 4-50. But these numbers are flawed in two big ways:

First, they're heavily weighted toward picks made longer ago, who have had more time to accumulate more WAR. According to this measurement, for example, Chris Denorfia was a more valuable pick than Bryce Harper because he's accumulated 1.7 more career WAR - in 7 more years. That's messed up.

Second, drafting one or two good players (especially early in this time period) can dominate the entire measurement, covering over the rest of the decade of failure. The Astros get 29.4 of their 40.4 WAR in rounds 4-50 from Ben Zobrist alone, and the Marlins get 24 of their 37.9 from Josh Johnson alone. That makes those total numbers a pretty poor representation of their overall drafting record.

So I made up another measurement to try to correct a bit for these distortions: I went through each draft, round by round, and determined the player with the highest career WAR in that round and declared the drafting team the "winner." If no one in the round made the majors or accumulated any positive career WAR, the round had no winner. (Same with cases where guys had something like 0.1 WAR in a five-game big-league career.)

I also wanted to account for more recent drafts, where many guys (especially later-round picks) might not be in the majors yet. So I used John Sickels' prospect ratings: if no one in the round had made the majors yet, whoever was highest on Sickels' latest Top 75 list was the winner. If no one was on that list, the player with the highest grade from Sickels (minimum B-, which is a potentially decent prospect) was the winner. Why Sickels? Because his was the only (free) prospect rating system that let me compare across organizations.

This is a flawed stat, too - even more so than the last one. It reduces continuous data to dichotomous data, for starters. And you get no credit if you produced the second-best player in a round, which is lame. Some of the round "winners" were pretty mediocre players (like, say, Gennett) who've barely helped their teams. Simply put, this stat is probably what you'd call a junk stat - don't ever try serious analysis with it.

But it does free us up from the biases of the raw WAR measurement: All rounds count the same, whether they were in 2002 or 2011. And you can't vault to the top of this list by simply drafting one or two good players in 10 years - you have to hit again and again. And I like the idea that it treats each draft pick like it matters - it tells you that of all the players selected in a given round - even in a late round when it seems no one good is left - this team got the most value.

So here are the round winner totals, with rounds 4-50 broken out again. That distinction is especially important here, because your round 1 through 3 winners are largely teams with early picks in that round, while that advantage largely disappears by the time you get to round 4 and beyond. You can't really complain about poor draft position when we're talking about the 14th round.

Round Winners, Rounds 4-50, 2002-2011
Team Rounds 4-50 Total Rounds
Cardinals 14 14
Padres 13 13
Yankees 11 12
Cubs 11 11
Rays 10 12
Tigers 10 12
Cubs 10 12
Giants 10 11
Rangers 10 11
A's 9 12
Braves 8 11
Mariners 8 10
Dodgers 8 8
Angels 7 8
Blue Jays 7 8
Marlins 6 8
Indians 6 7
Brewers 5 7
White Sox 5 7
Nationals 5 6
Astros 5 5
Diamondbacks 5 5
Pirates 5 5
Rockies 5 5
Royals 5 5
Mets 4 5
Phillies 4 4
Red Sox 3 5
Reds 3 5
Orioles 2 3
Twins 1 1

The Brewers are in the middle of the pack (18th, again) on this one, too. For the record, their round-winning players are Braun (1st round), Craig Breslow (26th), Lorenzo Cain (17th), Mike Fiers (22nd), Gennett (16th), Jonathan Lucroy (3rd), and Caleb Thielbar (18th). Also, I can't help but note who's sitting there at #1 on this list (BIAS: CONFIRMED).

Between the two measurements, this data doesn't tell us anything particularly surprising or alarming: Basically, that the Brewers nailed a few high picks from 2002-2005, and outside of that have been average to below-average over the last decade, both in the early rounds and the late ones. If you're looking for explanations as to why the Brewers are staring down a potentially multi-year rebuilding period, you might find a contributing factor here, but probably not the main one. The numbers here don't look good for Seid, but they don't necessarily scream "FIRE ME" either.

Anyway, I have tons more data in addition to what I put together here, so ask away.

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