Monday, June 07, 2004

More On The Draft

Here's a piece by David Cameron on the Moneyball draft and drafting strategies in general. In a recent reference to the article on U.S.S. Mariner, Cameron writes, "...The famed Moneyball draft was basically a disaster for the A's."

Many of the players the A's chose in that draft were signability picks, in that they were chosen as much because they wouldn't break the Athletics' modest draft budget as they were for their potential. That draft included outfielder Nick Swisher, who's currently hitting very well at AAA; Joe Blanton, who's one of the best pitching prospects in baseball; Mark Teahen, who hit .419/.543 in 200 at bats this year at AA Midland and was recently promoted to Sacramento; Brant Colamarino, who was fantastic at Class A+ Modesto this year and was recently promoted to Midland; and several other guys who have displayed some potential since signing. The A's didn't really break the bank for any of these guys. It's far from clear that their 2002 draft was a "disaster."

But the point that Cameron tries to make in U.S.S. Mariner is generally correct, I think: "Putting yourself in a box and refusing to see the limitations of a hard-and-fast set of evaluation techniques raises your likelihood of making a mistake." It isn't a good idea to refuse to draft high school players on principle (no major league team has done that, although in recent seasons the A's and Blue Jays have come close). Not only might such inflexibility cause teams to miss out on a big talent, it might also put teams at a disadvantage when the dynamics of the draft change.

Let's say, for example, that an average draft produces thirty quality major leaguers. ("Quality Major Leaguers" can be pretty different from one another, of course, and I can't even give you a clear idea of what I mean by that term, but fine distinctions aren't especially important here.) Let's say that, typically, ten of those are high school draftees, while twenty are college draftees (I'm just making these numbers up). We still don't know whether it's a good idea to draft in a manner that favors college players or high school players, since the probability of drafting one of those players is determined in part by how many college and high school players other teams are drafting. If we know from experience that a given draft is likely to produce ten quality major leaguers from high schools and twenty from colleges, but all the other teams are drafting only college players, it might be advantageous to grab all the best high school talent available. The reverse could also be true. It's also obviously wise to see how closely the factors that cause high school and college players to succeed and fail as groups apply to the individual players one wants to draft. A smart scouting director would also pay close attention to changes in the high school and college baseball systems that might affect the classes of players those systems produce.

And perhaps the wisest strategy of all would be to develop an informed perspective on what types of players are likely to contribute in the majors (taking into account their age and experience as well as other factors), then to simply choose the best players available (based on that perspective) rather than reacting to what other organizations are doing.

With the caveat that I still think drafting high school pitchers in the early rounds is usually not a wise idea, my point is that I agree with Cameron: drafting only college players, or only high school players, is dumb. So if Neil Walker really is the best player on the board when the Pirates draft today, I hope they grab him.


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