The MLB draft is a different beast from the drafts of, say, the NFL or the NBA. In the other two, players are typically drafted with the intention that they will be able to help their teams almost immediately. Even project players will get a fair amount of playing time in their first two or three seasons.
In baseball that's obviously rarely the case. Even guys like Corey Knebel, who is now in the majors with the Brewers after being drafted by the Tigers in 2013, are a rare exception. Baseball has a much more developed farm system to bring along prospects and a longer time-frame before most start contributing to their parent club.
For this reason, we can't judge drafts until years down the line. The Brewers' 2014 draft looked great and exciting last year, with several high-potential prospects selected in the first few rounds. But this year, most of those players haven't been faring so well. That doesn't mean the draft was a failure or that any of those individual players were busts, it means we need a lot more time before passing judgement.
At what point can we really start laying judgement on individual draft classes or draftees? The best time is probably after their careers are done. But really, we need at least a good three years to judge. With that in mind, I was curious as to who the best drafting teams were over a 10-year span up until the most recent year that I feel is viable to lay even a modicum of judgement down on.
(Open images in new tab to expand a bit)
As it turns out, the Brewers were actually pretty dang good over this time. In fact, they drafted the third-most rWAR of any team from 2002-2011. The top five in rWAR, more easily listed:
1. Red Sox, 271.1 rWAR
2. Rays, 231.2 rWAR
3. Brewers, 226.1 rWAR
4. Dodgers, 225 rWAR
5. Braves, 211.6 rWAR
Interestingly enough, those five teams have combined for just three World Series appearances since 2002. The Red Sox have won two while the Rays appeared in one.
I also included total number of players drafted as another way to judge drafts. Even getting players drafted to the majors constitutes a success, often, so it's an interesting thing to note. The top-5 there:
1. Red Sox, 81 MLB players
2. Cardinals, 76 MLB players
2. Padres, 76 MLB players
4. Giants, 72 MLB players
5. Braves, 70 MLB players
With the Cardinals and Giants in this group, that top-5 has combined for 11 World Series appearances since 2002, including eight World Series wins. In fact, the last five World Series winners have been either San Francisco, St. Louis or Boston. My theory here is that having so many prospects make it at least close to the majors means they've had a lot more trade chips to utilize along with getting plenty of decent role players to fill holes as needed. That's very simplified, but it seems to make some sense.
Now, none of this should be taken too seriously as a judgement of the best-drafting teams. Especially as we move forward into coming drafts. There are a number of things that make this data a little deceptive:
- Early years are clearly weighted heavier using this method. The Brewers had great drafts in 2002 (61.7 rWAR) and 2006 (63.5 rWAR) thanks to guys like Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun having played much of their careers already. Players drafted in the 2010s have only just started their careers, so their rWAR is much lower.
- Many GMs simply haven't had that many years at the helm of their team, so there's been a ton of change over these years where maybe some teams are now better drafters than they once were.
- This data includes players that were drafted by teams but didn't sign. So for the Brewers guys like Hunter Pence and Carlos Rodon would be included. I think it's valid to include that (teams had the foresight to draft them) but sometimes these are cases where teams know a player won't sign (or he would have been drafted much higher) but take a flier anyway, just in case.
- This doesn't take average draft position into account. Some of these teams sucked for a long time and had better positions. The top-5 picks have a much better chance at being good than the 30th overall pick.
- And so on and so on. Don't try to analyze to closely with this, it's a snapshot of a 10-year span. If I were a really good statistician, I could maybe make up some formula for a new type of stat to grade these. I'm not that. So I just find it interesting to look through.
Here are the charts year-by-year. First, by rWAR:
By players making the majors:
So, just kind of a neat thing to see. And it's always good to see the Brewers be good at something, though it maybe would have been hard to miss with guys like Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, JJ Hardy, Yovani Gallardo and so many more.