Is There a Draft in Here?

April 3, 2018

Not that I care a whole lot about the amateur draft in baseball,  or about the justice of awarding the top draft pick to the team with the previous season’s worst record, or about the injustice in encouraging tanking by rewarding poor play with unduly high draft picks, but I had another nutty idea that I’d like to float past your windows for a moment. I think this idea would have the effect of making the bad teams better sooner and the good teams struggle a little harder to stay on top, which I view as virtuous. You may not.

Imagine we had a draft in baseball where the worst team (the team with the number #1 pick) still gets to draft the #1 player, BUT the #2 team gets the next two picks, and the team with the #3 position gets the next three picks, and so on.

Obviously, this would degrade the inherent value in having the #1 pick, no question about that. Would you rather have the #1 pick or would you prefer the #2 AND the #3 pick in the draft?

Again, obviously (to me anyway), most years  there isn’t much difference between the #1 pick and the #2 pick. I imagine most teams picking first have a spirited internal discussion about who that pick will be right up to the last minute. So getting the #2 and #3 is much better than just getting the #1. Right?

OK, so now imagine that the worst team, the one that gets to pick first, also gets to choose WHEN it wants to pick. Instead of being forced to choose first and take the top pick in the draft, as now, that team can choose to pick second, taking the second and the third picks. Yet again obviously, the second position is advantageous because lots of time the top two teams (i.e., the teams with the worst records) don’t even agree on who the best player in the draft is, so in choosing to draft second, the worst-record team will often get their own top pick anyway, plus another excellent player. So I think we all agree that picking second is smarter than picking first, except maybe in those very rare years that the top pick is an instant star and the second pick is not, and even then I don’t know that "very rare" covers it.

In this scenario, the second-worst-record team then would get the #1 draft pick, after the worst-record team opts to pick second. But they are also allowed to pick any remaining position they like in the drafting order and, following the logic we just used, would probably do pretty well to opt to pick third (and get the #4, 5, AND 6 picks in the draft) rather than picking the top guy.

Or maybe they’d decide that picking seventh (and getting the 22nd-through 28th picks) is their best drafting position. At some point, though, quantity becomes less important than quality. The best team in baseball, picking last, would get players that are the 436th-best through the 465th-best in the draft, which is close to useless. (And that also would conclude the entire draft for the year—just one huge round is all that’s needed.) But that also strikes me as just—they just won the World Series, they’re clearly a strong organization, they don’t have an immediate crying need for more good players, so going a season without any real draft picks seems fair, and certainly introduces real parity to baseball. A few years of picking towards the bottom of the draft would pretty much destroy any minor league operation.

Of course, we’d have to allow such teams to trade their big league players for any number of minor leaguers in an attempt to bolster the quality of their farm systems, so it’s not as if I’m dooming them to ruination. But the place I started out with was: what is the optimal strategy in such a set-up?  Would the worst-record team uniformly to choose to pick fourth in the draft (collecting the 7th, 8th,9th and 10th picks)? Or third, perhaps? At what point would a smart team decide, "Oh, the hell with it, we’re going for the #1 player in the draft rather than swapping him out for the bunch of humpties who are left?"

Seems to me that point would come rather late in the drafting process, since most bad teams won’t really be helped that much by having one excellent player—they’re bad because they’re weak in numerous spots, and need a lot of pretty good players more than they need one real good one. It would take some courage and some confidence in their scouting, I think, for a team to decide, "Let’s go with the #1 pick now—this guy is that good!" I can imagine a team that has great confidence in its instruction and development programs to think they can mold a few big leaguers out of the bottom of the barrel.

I realized very early in the process of thinking this system through, it would work only with baseball’s amateur draft,  In the NBA, for example, I don’t know if this system would even be worth it for the World’s Champion team to bother showing up. All you really have in the NBA is one or two roster spots that open for rookies every year, and in effect the rookie crop has just been through the NBA’s minor league system by the time they’ve been drafted. So you’re looking for that rookie (or two, if you’re very lucky) who can help you out right now. There would still be some swapping in the first few picks (the argument over the #1 pick vs. the #2 and #3 would still apply) but after a very short time, the swapmeet would be over. What the hell does an NBA team want with the 100th-110th best players in the draft? They can’t do any more with that than they could do with a mountain of stale Ritz crackers.

Baseball’s amateur draft is really unlike other sports’ but that doesn’t mean it has to be. I’ve never really understood the prohibition against trading drafting positions for other considerations in the first place. Other sports do that routinely and don’t seem to suffer for it. Personally, I think it’s sort of exciting if a team could exchange a top player for the right to pick first in the draft—exciting for both the excellent team and the abysmal one. Even without my nutty idea here, I’d favor that, though I think this nutty idea would also have its exciting moments.

I haven’t abandoned my series on small and big and gigantic improvements in baseball—I’m just stuck for the moment on the "gigantic" one, taking in all of baseball and human history, but I’ll get back to writing that soon. This just seemed a short and feasible topic to bring up, and for all of you to shoot down like so many shotguns aimed at one clay pigeon. Fire away!

 

 
 

COMMENTS (38 Comments, most recent shown first)

MarisFan61
Steve: THANKS!!

That's much more than a nit. I just screwed up on him.
Please, anybody else who sees that I left a player out, please say.

I never heard of him, but that's not the total reason that I put him 'in parentheses.' (I did list him, but put him in those parentheses to indicate that supposedly while you might have heard of him, he hasn't done really enough to be listed.)

Even the players I never heard of, as I went through each year's draft page (on Wiki), I looked them up to confirm what they have or haven't become.
I must have looked too cursorily at Archie Bradley's stat page.

He was the #7 in 2011.
Please y'all just imagine his parentheses not being there. :-)
10:45 AM Apr 6th
 
steve161
Maris, just a nit: I know Arizona is a long way from New York, so perhaps you haven't been paying attention, but Archie Bradley is doing quite well, thank you very much.
6:06 AM Apr 6th
 
jemanji
No idea what you mean by "Cadillac post." But absolutely: you want to help the teams (or people) who sincererely need it, while not helping the teams (or people) who are trying to exploit the system.

Agreed 100%. And there are ways to approach this goal, not perfectly, but usefully.

Jeff





2:09 AM Apr 6th
 
Gfletch
jemanji was making a cadillac post, Steven.
1:33 AM Apr 6th
 
MarisFan61
.....Continuing the 'study,' since I recovered some study energy.... :-)

The #8's and #9's during that period, 2000-2012 (13 years):

2000: nothing
2001: nothing
2002: #9 Jeff Francis
2003: #8 Paul Maholm, #9 John Danks
2004: #9 Chris Nelson (barely makes what I'd call "good player" -- would y'all?)
2005: #9 MIKE PELFREY
2006: #8 Drew Stubbs (see Chris Nelson)
2007: #9 Jarrod Parker (maybe him too)
2008: #8 Gordon Beckham, #9 Aaron Crow
2009: #8 Mike Leake, #9 Jacob Turner who I'd say is just below the bar for what we're looking for, but you could count him if you want to
2010: #8 Delino DeShields Jr. (I'd count him)
2011: #8 FRANCISCO LINDOR, #9 JAVIER BAEZ
2012: #9 Andrew Heaney -- gets at least an incomplete, deserves to be listed

Summary:
On the #8's, I find 6 of the 13 worthy of being listed, but only one of them a real good player, although others of them could emerge.
On the #9's, I list 9 of the 13, and I'd call 2 of them real good.

Overall I find it a curious list. Three of the 26 players turned out to be quite good, and while we can't rule out that some others might be, overwhelmingly these 15 who are worth mentioning are mostly journeyman types. The #8 and #9 slots have mostly just given the teams a shot at filling a roster spot.
9:44 PM Apr 5th
 
Steven Goldleaf
It's tricky, Jeff. Not evading your point about welfare, DHS etc. but sticking to draft issues, you don't want to encourage teams to tank by incentivizing losing, but on the other hand, you do want to give losing teams some help in getting back into contention, don't you? Otherwise why have a draft at all? If you assume that bad teams will tank, and you put in punitive measures to make sure that they don't, you might inadvertently punish some teams that go on losing streaks, get a lot of bad breaks, make innocent (but wrong-headed) decisions, coaching choices, etc. You don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, costing 5% of the worst teams benefits to punish 1% of those abusing the system--we need to live with a certain risk that some WILL abuse the system, if certainty will harm the deserving poor (in both the sports sense and the social sense.) That's how I see it, anyway: we can go too far in guarding against abuse, as we can not go far enough. It's a risk/reward thing, and not easy to adjudicate.
8:56 PM Apr 5th
 
jemanji
I work at a church. Plenty of young, able-bodied men walk through our doors asking for free money. We reply by offering to help them find a job, or by offering them money in return for "two hours of pushing broom."

They instantly respond that they are disabled.

We reply by offering them envelope-stuffing jobs, or asking for a doctor's note as to their disability. Unused to this push-back, they splutter. As the conversation continues for 5 minutes, they "radiate" a desire to avoid a job.

We continue to offer to help them find a job, McDonald's etc. They continue to make up excuses they can't work, and to ask for free money.

In this situation, would you be in favor of a DHS social worker's asking for a Dr's note? Or to offer community service in return for free money?

That's what the county just did to me re: jury duty. I said I was disabled (cancer, several Dr's appts per week) and they said, sure, *IFF* you mail us a Dr's note. I simply did. End of problem.

Would you favor the DHS doing this to some % of young men who collect welfare? Say, 20% of them?

Best,
Jeff


7:02 PM Apr 5th
 
jemanji
Well, Steven, the question would be that in your first paragraph here you take it as an axiom that --- > human beings should not be encouraged to be slothful or dumb.

If that axiom is true with regard to humans and to psychology generally .... why wouldn't it be true with respect to able-bodied men who have learned that they will be rewarded for sloth or dumb-ness when it comes to working for a living?

Best,
Jeff
6:52 PM Apr 5th
 
MarisFan61
.....so....I'd say the conclusion is (notwithstanding the negligent limitedness of the "study" :-) .....I think it shows this well enough:

If you're thinking of restocking a farm system, forget about any big hopes about picks that are below single-digit 1st round, and wouldn't be likely to achieve much of that with (using an example surmised here) something like the 6th-through-9th picks in a given year.
6:12 PM Apr 5th
 
MarisFan61
....Since that was so quick and easy, due to there being so few players to list, why not do a little more, like, looking at some higher pick.

Well I know that the first few picks are very valuable and that a good number of them become good players (although I don't pretend to know the degree of it, but I know it's 'something')..... let's see....
In honor of what George Costanza was gonna name his son, if he had one... :-) let's look at the 7's for that same period.

2002 Prince Fielder
2003 Nick Markakis
2004 Homer Bailey
2005 Tulowitzki
2006 Kershaw
2007 (Matt LaPorta)
2008 Yonder Alonso
2009 Mike Minor
2010 Matt Harvey
2011 (Archie Bradley)

(2000, 2001, 2012: nothing really)

WOW!
I suspect that this period was aberrationally good for #7's.
But in any event, unless the period was aberrationally bad for #10's, it looks like there's a large difference between picking at #7 and at #10.

If I weren't 'studied out' already (yeah, this is about my level of endurance for a study) :-) I'd look at the 8's and 9's to see if there's really a cliff somewhere in this range.

I think there is.
4:24 PM Apr 5th
 
MarisFan61
.....I did the little study I described.
I did 13 years, 2000-2012.

(Why 13? I was going to do 12, as I said, but forgot that I had said 2000-2011, and did 2001-2012. When I saw that I had said the year-earlier period, I figured I'd better add 2000 to avoid any appearance that I purposely avoided it for whatever reason, and I wasn't going to throw away 2012 since I'd already done it.) :-)

I think it shows pretty much as I guessed. The only thing that I'd say is any kind of mild surprise (to me) is that even the #10's haven't done that well. I thought "close to half" would have been at least good players.
Actually it's just 3 out of 13 for that period.

For the #20's, it's 2 out of 13.
For the #30's, it's 0.

Of course this just represents my own judgments on which players were "good" -- but trust me. :-)

Here's the complete list of players that I even just HEARD OF who were #10, #20, and #30 draft picks during the period:

The ones in (parentheses) are players that I wouldn't say were "good." I list them because I heard of them.
All the others, I'd say they were (or are) "good players."

2000 20 (Chris Bootcheck)
2002 20 Denard Span
2003 20 Chad Cordero
2005 10 Cameron Maybin
2007 10 Bumgarner; 30 (Andrew Brackman)
2009 10 Drew Storen
3:22 PM Apr 5th
 
Gfletch
Well, the amateur draft is an abomination anyway, an immoral restraint of bargaining power by a monopolistic entity, so there's that.

If you want a fairer draft, though, something that inhibits tanking, you might like the NHL model:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NHL_Entry_Draft#Selection_order_and_draft_lottery

Basically, the team with the worst record doesn't automatically get the first pick; rather, they get an odds/advantageous shot at it. This works right down the line to the team with the best record having the worst chance (actually the first "lotto" draft order only involves those teams that failed to make the playoffs).

If you want the whole story, use the link.
11:37 AM Apr 5th
 
MarisFan61
.....nah, we'd need to do at least 12 years. :-)

Of course that's small too.
But I think 12 is OK.
I wasn't comfortable thinking of a thing like "close to half" when the total is just 10.
12 bothers me a lot less.

If nobody else does it first, later I'll do 12 years worth -- like, the 2000-2011 drafts.
11:14 AM Apr 5th
 
MarisFan61
It wouldn't be hard to do a rough quick study which would tell us a lot of what we're looking for.

Look at the #10, #20, and #30 picks for, say, a 10-year period that's long enough ago that we can tell something about what became of the players (but not so long enough ago that we wouldn't be confident it reflects the present).

What I would expect:
A fair number of the 10's have been good players -- like, close to half.

Few if any of the 20's.
Probably none of the 30's, maybe one of them.
And that we've never even heard of by-far-most of the 20's and 30's.
9:59 AM Apr 5th
 
OldBackstop
Just a touchstone here to the NFL, where the number one is worth the 6 +8.

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/draft/draft_trade_value.htm
9:53 AM Apr 5th
 
nettles9
Do we really need a “sexier” draft? I know Major League Baseball does in its quest to become the NFL (which might have its own problems) and to rake in even more cash.
4:26 AM Apr 5th
 
Steven Goldleaf
And all these other comments about value of various drafting positions, and whether quantity or quality is preferable, is the part I consider exciting: no one knows. I'm wondering in particular what the optimal pick would be, and at which point someone theoretically would typically break down and reject the pile of picks for the privilege of choosing the single best player in the draft. ARE the top ten picks historically miles ahead of picks 11-20? No idea. But it would make a pretty good study. I'll look into that, though getting ideas for good studies isn't helping finish the dozens of articles I've already started.
3:20 AM Apr 5th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Oh. "A brief interruption of my series on small, big, and bigger improvements in baseball and, ultimately, human society" is the teaser (they call it an "abstract"), not the first paragraph proper, Jeff. it refers to the third installment of that series, to which this article is an interruption. Not sure I see much connection with draft position and the rewards and punishment thereof, and even less sure that the things I see as "progress" you would agree is actually progress. I may be painting a nightmare for you in my vision of "progress" in baseball and society, but we won't know that until I finish the piece I'm working on.
3:11 AM Apr 5th
 
MarisFan61
Dunno......What's the frequency (apologies to Dan Rather) of 1st rounders below, say, the #20 pick, being any good?

I'd guess it's quite a low frequency.

The article doesn't really consider (or at least doesn't seem to) what's the actual relative value of the various picks.

Of course it varies by year, and isn't ever predictable. But for sure there are general probabilities. I imagine that every team has studied this, at least informally, and has its notions of the relative value of each number pick. But I don't think any such study is well known.

My impression -- admittedly rough, and I wouldn't bet a nickel on it being even roughly accurate -- is that once you get below the top 10 in the 1st round, the chances of getting anything more than a journeyman (if anything) with any given pick drops like a rock.


10:44 PM Apr 4th
 
thedanholmes
I had this idea a few years ago, in regards to making MLB's draft "sexier".

After their rookie season, every rookie is entered into a draft. Teams pick in reverse order of their record. A team can keep one rookie every three years. if they lose a rookie, they get an extra pick the following year. Draft picks cannot be traded.

How would this change the way teams call up players? When would they bring them up? I think they'd be more likely to bring up younger players because those players wouldn't be as developed and be more likely to be kept. Alternatively, we'd have a draft to help bad teams with MLB-ready talent available.
10:37 PM Apr 4th
 
thedanholmes
I would think the more picks the better. I'd always take more picks in the first round. Increases the chances of signing a player who provides value. There are still many players drafted who end up doing bubkes. If I'm a big league team, I take three picks over the first pick, and two picks over the third pick, and so on. If I have the chance for picks 32-37 rather than #1, I take it.
10:33 PM Apr 4th
 
OldBackstop
I'm not sure there is enough difference between the 25th and 35th draft choices to warrant the scrum. Maybe someone could prove differently. To me there are about 1-5 blue blue chippers every year, and everybody from there to 25 is a dice roll.

The question is, would you trade the number one for the 2 + 3? For the 3-4-5? For the 6-7-8-9?

There isn't a GM in history that wouldn't trade down for more picks like that in baseball. Having the 6-7-8-9 probably jumps you to the best farm team in baseball.
8:29 PM Apr 4th
 
FrankD
I was just thinking about adjusting the schedule based on a teams finish the previous year, like the NFL does. I don't mind the geographical schedule differences baseball has but it does give some teams an advantage by not having to compete in a big spending division and thus playing an unbalanced schedule. But I don't like the NFL method: there it seems like (maybe worth a study?) that a team will go 10-6 or 9-7, stumble in to the playoffs. Then the next year that team gets a harder schedule and flips to 6-10 or 7-9 and continues in that band of an average team as they go 9-7 the next year again with an easier schedule.......

how to award a franchise's skills at draft and development, prevent just pure power of the purse, and still keep the league competitive ..... tough question. Maybe geographical groupings is the best - although you'll never stop the "its not fair that you won the West, or Central or were 2nd Wild Card ......we were 3rd in toughest division" .... and it does lead to interesting playoffs: can a team from a weak division beat a powerhouse from the Big Money strong division......
8:12 PM Apr 4th
 
jemanji
Your line in is, "Improvements in baseball and, ultimately, human society." The golden principle in your first paragraph here is, don't provide positive reinforcement for poor/dumb efforts.

Wondering how the golden principle would apply to, say, able-bodied men who are on 4th-generation welfare. Should DHS be tougher about that?

Thanks.
8:12 PM Apr 4th
 
FrankD
Interesting ... maybe a more subtle adjustment. For example, take the worst 8 teams by record. They get seeded 1-8 and then draft 1-8, but the next 8 picks go to the same teams but now seeded 8-1. So the 8th place team gets drafts 8 and 9. NBA has a horrible time (not) preventing tanking - but with 5 starters the best players have huge value.

Baseball seems to be ok with many teams moving in/out of playoffs each year although the top money teams are in contention all the time. KC and Twins have been counted out for dead and came back. Cleveland is doing fine. Of course, the bone of 2nd wild card isn't that all hard to get and the imbalance of the schedule helps some teams (Yanks, R Sox have different schedule than Twins, KC) .....
7:53 PM Apr 4th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Sorry, Jeff, I'm not following where you're reading the government into what I wrote in paragraph one. Can you clarify?
7:28 PM Apr 4th
 
jemanji
Enjoyed the article Steven. Thanks very much.

Honest question asked in a friendly spirit. Looking at your first paragraph: are you in favor of rewarding sloth with government benefits?

Have a great day amigo.

Best,
Jeff
6:55 PM Apr 4th
 
wilbur
I'm reminded of a few years ago when the local team, the Miami Dolphins, had the number 1 pick in the NFL draft. As a non-Dolphin fan I was amused by the hand-wringing and worrying about their first pick. Fans were worried that the team was going to have to spend a huge portion of their cap budget on a number one pick when no one seemed to be front and center as the best player.

I suggested if the team didn't think any player was worth the first overall pick then the Dolphins should pass - which they are allowed to do - and jump back in - also allowed - when they thought there was a player worth the money they would have to pay him. The agents and union would scream, but so what.

They ended up taking an offensive tackle (Jake Long) with the first pick who had a very nice career, but did not rise to HoF level.
4:21 PM Apr 4th
 
Steven Goldleaf
It goes without saying, though I think I just said it, that baseball's draft comes immediately prior to a 2-to-4 year apprenticeship, while basketball's and football's come immediately after that apprenticeship, so we're drafting for potential while they're drafting for ability. Big difference. That accounts for the lower level of interest in our draft, and not much can be done about that. My idea makes for a much riskier, much sexier draft, I think, though that risk and sexiness probably puts as many off as it attracts.
4:15 PM Apr 4th
 
Marc Schneider
Top college football and basketball players are usually well-known figures before the draft. And, especially in football, you can expect immediate help or even stardom from the top picks and, in football, even lower picks. College/high school baseball players are not well-know and with very few exceptions are years away from helping the big league clubs. I don't think there is a way to make the baseball draft more interesting except possibly for people that follow Baseball America or Keith Law and know something about the prospects. Occasionally, you have players that are obvious first picks and have some notoriety, such as Strasburg and Harper but no one would trade away them. For the most part, though, amateur baseball players are unknown.
12:02 PM Apr 4th
 
MarisFan61
(oops, supposed to be "interesting")
10:25 AM Apr 4th
 
MarisFan61
I never thought the baseball draft wasn't interested. It's just nowhere near as interesting as the football and basketball drafts, for various reasons, and I don't think it can be.
I doubt this could be helped by weird ideas. :-)
A better chance might be to keep it just as it is but have it announced blow-by-blow by someone like Gilbert Gottfried or Andy Kaufman (R.I.P.).
10:24 AM Apr 4th
 
nettles9
The NBA draft is only two rounds, since the late-1980s. The big difference for baseball is the minor leagues, which makes the baseball draft much less interesting, to me. I’m not against change but nothing will make the baseball draft interesting— unless the minor leagues become completely independent.​
9:15 AM Apr 4th
 
jwilt
The reason you have to have a draft is everyone has a draft. You have to have a draft, whatta you crazy? New ideas make people feel weird.
7:25 AM Apr 4th
 
greg1990
I think I remember Bill making the point that if you are going to limit the amount that is spent in the draft, why have one? I think it that would be interesting - teams would have to decide on whether to concentrate it on a few elite prospects or spread their bets out, and draft money could be traded like international bonus money is now. Of course, it has zero chance of being adopted, but I think it would be much more interesting, and players would at least have a choice of employers once before their minor or major league free agency.
9:33 PM Apr 3rd
 
MarisFan61
Yes, I think it seems like you feel you're trying to remedy some problems.
8:17 PM Apr 3rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
I'm trying to solve a problem here?

I thought I was trying to make the draft more interesting and exciting. Maybe you're right-- dullness and predictability is a problem.
8:09 PM Apr 3rd
 
MarisFan61
You may be right that it would solve what you're wanting to solve and that it would have the effects that you surmise -- I don't think we can know, but it might.
BUT, I think you're right that it would seem "nutty" to most. I don't know that I'd call it nutty, but it does feel weird, convoluted, and too hard to get one's head around.
Which maybe does distill to nutty. :-)
6:59 PM Apr 3rd
 
 
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