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The Best of Drafts, The Worst of Drafts
2005-04-05 20:37
by Mike Carminati
I am the vessel. The draft is God's. And God is the thirsty one.
—Dag "Atlee" Hammarskjöld

I am come, young ladies, in a very moralizing strain, to observe that our pleasures of this world are always to be for, and that we often purchase them at a great disadvantage, giving readi-monied actual happiness for a draft on the future, that may not be honoured.
—Jane Austen "Kearns"

What was the best draft in baseball history? What was the worst?

What team drafted the most talent in one draft class? The least? Has any team ever had a draft so bad that none of the players drafted ever contributed at the major-league level?

After sifting through the data for developing talent at an organizational level, it occurred to me that the statistics that Studes and I developed could be used to evaluate individual drafts.

So which draft class had the most talent ever? Let's ask Mr. Owl…

Based on Win Shares Above Baseline (WSAB), here are the top ten:

YrCareer WSWSAB Career

What made 1985 so special besides Foreigner's classic "I Want To Know What Love Is" and, of course, the nonpareil Starship rendition of "We Built This City"? Here are the top players drafted that year:

NameTeamCareer WSWSAB Career
Barry BondsPIT664474
Rafael PalmeiroCHN384206
Randy JohnsonMON286190
Will ClarkSFN331183
Barry LarkinCIN346169
John SmoltzDET234148
Mark GraceCHN294145
Chuck FinleyCAL214119
David JusticeATL233108
Brady AndersonBOS21493
John WettelandLAN12878
B.J. SurhoffMIL22764
Gregg JefferiesNYN16252
Todd StottlemyreTOR11543
Brian McRaeKCA13242
Jeff BrantleySFN8841
Mike StanleyTEX14539
Bobby ThigpenCHA7137
Bobby WittTEX10334
Randy VelardeCHA12631
Bruce RuffinPHI7631
Joe MagraneSLN6130
Greg HarrisSDN5526
Pete IncavigliaMON10725

There are maybe a half dozen Hall of Famers in that group plus a good many with productive careers as useful regulars and or long-time role players. And of course, it had the best player from the amateur draft era in Barry Bonds.

The next best draft was 1981:

NameTeamCareer WSWSAB Career
Tony GwynnSDN398214
Fred McGriffNYA341173
David ConeKCA205122
Frank ViolaMIN187118
Paul O'NeillCIN259113
Mark LangstonSEA184107
Joe CarterCHN24096
Kevin McReynoldsSDN20295
John FrancoLAN18393
Lenny DykstraNYN20190
Mickey TettletonOAK18473
Mark GubiczaKCA14172
Devon WhiteCAL20767
John KrukSDN15665
Mike MooreSEA13361
Glenn DavisHOU13259
Phil BradleySEA12454
Sid FernandezLAN11745
Ron DarlingTEX10643
Bob TewksburyNYA10140

There are a lot of good players in their, possibly more depth than in 1985, but only one surefire HoFer (Gwynn) and one borderline one, at least in the future voters' minds (McGriff).

The next best draft was 1989:

NameTeamCareer WSWSAB Career
Jeff BagwellBOS385245
Frank ThomasCHA359218
Jim ThomeCLE278160
John OlerudTOR294144
Jeff KentTOR269139
Chuck KnoblauchMIN231119
Tim SalmonCAL229116
Brian GilesCLE199112
Ryan KleskoATL20999
Mo VaughnBOS20096
Trevor HoffmanCIN13276
Scott EricksonMIN12058
Denny NeagleMIN11556
J.T. SnowNYA16055
Shane ReynoldsHOU9441

A lot of the players are still active in this group so their value could rise. Bagwell and Thomas are probable HoFers with a handful of potentials.

Next is 1968, the year of Dodger infielders and Phillies outfielders:

NameTeamCareer WSWSAB Career
Ron CeyLAN280135
George FosterSFN269130
Steve GarveyLAN279123
Greg LuzinskiPHI247118
Gary MatthewsSFN257116
Cecil CooperBOS241106
Thurman MunsonNYA206104
Davey LopesLAN240103
George HendrickOAK237100
Doyle AlexanderLAN19293
Garry MaddoxSFN20379
Bill LeeBOS12570
Bob ForschSLN15470
Bill BucknerLAN22667
Paul SplittorffKCA14064
Al BumbryBAL16964

No probable HoFers in this group but a lot of very talented players. And we'll revisit the Dodgers angle in a minute.

Rounding out the top five is 1978:

NameTeamCareer WSWSAB Career
Cal Ripken Jr.BAL427230
Ryne SandbergPHI346199
Dave StiebTOR210129
Tony PhillipsMON268109
Kent HrbekMIN23099
Steve SaxLAN19890
Kirk GibsonDET21885
Doug JonesMIL14679
Mike BoddickerBAL13273
Charlie LeibrandtCIN13873
Lloyd MosebyTOR17768
Steve BedrosianATL11959
Jesse OroscoMIN14058
Tom BrunanskyCAL17558
Mike WittCAL11757

Two HoF middle infielders (Ripken and Sandberg) and a bunch of useful players. Not bad at all.

OK, so which were the worst drafts? This gets complicated. First, because more recent drafts are for players whose careers are, in most cases, nowhere near completion. The second complication is that Retrosheet has draft data only for players active through 2002.

Given this I am giving any draft since 1994 a Mulligan. Here are the worst ten drafts outside that period:

YrCareer WSWSAB Career

1980 was the worst draft ever? I wonder who the number one pick was, perhaps the most disappointing player of the draft era:

NameTeamCareer WSWSAB Career
Darryl StrawberryNYN252130
Eric DavisCIN22497
Tom HenkeTEX14081
Danny TartabullCIN18879
Darren DaultonPHI15965
Tim BurkePIT8649
Harold ReynoldsSEA12346
Kelly GruberCLE9540
Craig LeffertsCHN9138
Walt TerrellTEX8733
Oil Can BoydBOS7331
Jim EisenreichMIN10823
Matt YoungSEA5522
Glenn WilsonDET9420
Dennis RasmussenCAL6920

I remember when Strawberry was signed. It was before the draft was front page news even in the sports section, but Darryl was so highly touted that the draft was pretty big news.

You know, the list of players does not look that bad. Strawberry and Davis had some great years and a number of the others were pretty good, but there really isn't much of an All-Star team that could be put together here.

The next worst was 1993, which might be unfair. It just missed our arbitrary cutoff, but we have to have some sort of cutoff, so…

NameTeamCareer WSWSAB Career
Alex RodriguezSEA281189
Scott RolenPHI214132
Billy WagnerHOU10867
Derrek LeeSDN11451
Mark LorettaMIL13351
Paul Lo DucaLAN9147
Richie SexsonCLE10243
Kevin MillwoodATL8542
Torii HunterMIN8431
Jeff SuppanBOS7431
Bill MuellerSFN11831
Jermaine DyeATL9130
Trot NixonBOS8430
Brian MoehlerDET4922
Scott SullivanCIN5421
Chris CarpenterTOR5420
John ThomsonCOL5620

I would say that the general caliber of player is higher here than in 1980. This class should be better served when all is said and done. Still, A-Rod should be a HoFer when he retires and Rolen and Wagner may get there.

Next is 1992, which again contains a good number of active players:

NameTeamCareer WSWSAB Career
Jason GiambiOAK236143
Derek JeterNYA219128
Jason KendallPIT16475
Johnny DamonKCA17075
Bobby HigginsonDET15764
Phil NevinHOU13258
Jose VidroMON11954
Rich AuriliaTEX12851
Shannon StewartTOR12649
Jon LieberKCA9138
Charles JohnsonFLO13137
Rick HellingTEX7529
Preston WilsonNYN7724
Scott KarlMIL4716
Paul ShueyCLE5216
Juan AcevedoCOL4316

Jeter is probably the player with the best shot at the Hall here.

Next is 1975:

NameTeamCareer WSWSAB Career
Lou WhitakerDET351171
Andre DawsonMON340165
Lee SmithCHN198118
Carney LansfordCAL244104
Dave StewartLAN14168
Jason ThompsonDET16564
Gene RichardsSDN12253
Don RobinsonPIT11649
Glenn HubbardATL14039
Bump WillsTEX9435
Willie UpshawNYA10733
Dave RozemaDET7629
Keith MorelandPHI11527
Jim BeattieNYA6325
Willie AikensCAL7725
Tim StoddardCHA5720

Dawson and Smith are still on the active BBWAA ballot for the Hall, and I would have to think that Whitaker will get some strong consideration from the Veterans. However, it's not inconceivable that no one from this class will get into Cooperstown, not even Tim Stoddard.

Rounding out the top five worst drafts is 1966, the second year of the draft:

NameTeamCareer WSWSAB Career
Reggie JacksonKC444252
Charlie HoughLAN233117
Andy MessersmithCAL169109
Joe NiekroCHN18987
Richie HebnerPIT21979
Gary NolanCIN11363
Dave CashPIT16562
Bill RussellLAN18546
Carlos MayCHA12042
Del UnserWAS13839
Ken BrettBOS8035
Ted SizemoreLAN13033
Clay KirbySLN6429
Bill StonemanCHN5628
Cliff JohnsonHOU13426
Steve BraunMIN12126
Tom HallMIN5725
George StoneATL5423
Ken TatumCAL3621

Jackson was the plumb here. There's no one else who would even be considered strong Hall candidates.

Now, let's look at the best individual drafts per team. Here are the top fifteen, what that heck:

TeamYrCareer WSWSAB Career
Los Angeles Dodgers19681611644
Pittsburgh Pirates1985696477
Boston Red Sox1976856412
Detroit Tigers1976828395
Boston Red Sox1983680382
San Diego Padres1981797381
Boston Red Sox1989697375
Kansas City Athletics1965797370
Chicago Cubs1985704351
Chicago Cubs1984651347
Cleveland Indians1989737336
Milwaukee Brewers1986704336
Baltimore Orioles1973620328
San Francisco Giants1968755326
Cincinnati Reds1965703322

Wow, the Dodgers really kicked that draft in 1968. We saw how well the Dodgers did in 1968 earlier, but they really blow away everyone else. Here is their entire Dodger draft class:

PlayerCareer WSWSAB Career
Ron Cey280135
Steve Garvey279123
Davey Lopes240103
Doyle Alexander19293
Bill Buckner22667
Geoff Zahn11154
Joe Ferguson13050
Tom Paciorek10518
Sandy Vance71
Bobby Valentine380
Bob Gallagher30

That may be as good as a few of the poorer drafts for all teams combined above. It seems incredible that they garnered three-quarters of their great infield in well fell swoop, but there it is. Plus Buckner who was a pretty good first baseman (and outfielder) as well as a couple of starting pitchers, a catcher, and a couple of bench guys.

The 1985 Pirates are number two on the list. I wonder why…

PlayerCareer WSWSAB Career
Barry Bonds664474
Bill Sampen173
Tommy Gregg130
Brett Gideon20

Yep, Bonds and a few stiffs.

Numero tres: The 1976 Red Sox draft

PlayerCareer WSWSAB Career
Wade Boggs394222
Bruce Hurst14482
John Tudor13577
Mike Smithson6329
Glenn Hoffman412
Reid Nichols310
Gary Allenson220
Dennis Burtt20
Chico Walker240

One Hall of Famer (Boggs) and basically most of the early Eighties Sox plus Chico Walker…priceless.

Number four is also from 1976, the Tigers draft class:

PlayerCareer WSWSAB Career
Alan Trammell318154
Jack Morris225130
Steve Kemp13957
Dan Petry10848
Pat Underwood163
Kip Young93
Roger Weaver30
Glenn Gulliver50
Dave Stegman50

Trammell and Morris are still both on the BBWAA Hall ballot. And most of the rest were part of the Tigers' core in the early Eighties.

Number five was the Red Sox again, in 1983:

PlayerCareer WSWSAB Career
Roger Clemens398272
Ellis Burks260107
Dana Kiecker93
Mike Dalton00
Mike Brumley70
John Mitchell60

They got arguably the best pitcher of his era and very good center fielder/DH in Burks, but not much else.

I'm throwing in the 1981 Padres since they were one point out of fifth and since I like their group:

PlayerCareer WSWSAB Career
Tony Gwynn398214
Kevin McReynolds20295
John Kruk15665
Bill Long267
Paul Noce30
Greg Booker120

One Hall of Famer, two pretty good regulars, and a couple of average pitchers. Not quite the Dodgers in 1968 but I like it.

Now for the worst drafts…This also gets complicated. There are sixteen teams that had zero Win Shares in total for the players that reached the majors. That's pretty bad, but there were four teams that didn't even have one player drafted reach the majors at all (prior to 1998).I'd say that they qualify for the worst. They are:

Cincinnati Reds1973
Toronto Blue Jays1980
Atlanta Braves1981
Minnesota Twins1983

Other entries in the Trade Series:

Mike: I'll Take Manhattan: Baseball's Most Lopsided Trades: Parts I, I (revised), II

A Quick One (Happy Mike)

Lee Even Stevens: Parts I, II—The Sexy Version

Cain and A-Rod—A Bling-Bling Rivalry: Parts I, II

Kansas City Blues: Parts I, II

Baseball's Most Lopsided Trades—The Revenge of Glenn Davis

Awe-Phil?: Parts I, II, III

Gone With the Draft

Organizational Skills

Studes: The Best and Worst Teams of the Trade

Smoltz for Alexander

The Biggest Deals of All Time


Sean Lahman's Baseball Database

Retrosheet's Transaction Data

2005-04-05 21:47:04
1.   Padgett

Fascinating stuff. Could you adjust for career length by using some sort of Win Shares rate instead?

2005-04-06 04:17:49
2.   phorever
hi mike. i just managed to notice that you are a combination phan and stathead, have bookmarked this blog, and am enjoying this particular series. is there any chance of your revisiting the question of the phillies pitcher drafts, but focusing on the arbuckle era? i had a heated debate with someone on that topic last year. i insisted that arbuckle had been doing a solidly above-average job, particularly with respect to high-school pitchers. i used bp's career vorp and wins stuff to back up my argument, and i would like to see if your wsab analysis concurs.
2005-04-06 06:55:48
3.   Alex Ciepley
Hey Mike,

Great list. Even though 1994 was an arbitrary cutoff, I have to think you'd really need to go back a few more years--the guys on the 1993 list, for example, could add well over a 100 Win Shares a year for a while still. In fact, I could see them easily escaping the "worst drafts" list altogether when all is said and done. Wouldn't, say, a 1990 or 1991 cutoff be a better line?

2005-04-06 09:05:57
4.   Tom
Hey Mike,

I know you've retired the Joe Morgan thing, but his Sunday night stolen base stuff was truly the Joe Morgan Chat Day calibre. "It's not like every guy who gets throw out stealing is going to score." Thanks Joe. Thanks a lot.

Any thoughts?

2005-04-06 12:20:50
5.   Jay
Great stuff, Mike. Out fo curiosity, what was the Mets best draft? Was it actually 1980 with Straw? Was he the best player the Mets ever drafted (since Seaver was out of a lottery)?
2005-04-06 12:49:43
6.   Mike Carminati

If you mean in order to filter out lifetime bench players who have long careers as opposed to Albert Belle-types, we created WSAB to do that. It sets a baseline for each year that the player must beat in order to get credit for his Win Shares. A career sub will likely have a bunch of WS but not too many WSAB. Look at Valentine and Eisenreich's (though he did start briefly as well in his career) numbers above.

2005-04-06 12:52:08
7.   Mike Carminati

It's difficult to make a full assessment until some of these players have logged a good bunch of years. Look at the worst draft assessment: even with a cutoff that's 11 years old, the full story is not told yet. I'm not sure if Arbuckle era is mature enough to tell us much.

2005-04-06 12:59:03
8.   Mike Carminati

You say po-tat-o. There are only 40 years of data. Eliminating 15 would leave almost every year on the best or worst lists. After looking at the data 1993 seemed to be the point at which the number of active players dropped. 1994 had a bunch more if I recall correctly. You have to go back to 1982 to find a draft without an active player. When you look at the average players from the early 90s drafts, a number are out of the game. 1994 still had a few, so I chose it as the dividing line.

2005-04-06 13:02:06
9.   Mike Carminati

Lil Joe has a loose grasp of the obvious. My response is that not every player that steals a base scores either, but that isn't even the argument. It involves accumulated evidence, but Joe's more intested in what he can very readily grasp: Man steals base, batter singles, man scores. Stolen Base is good. Fire bad.

2005-04-06 13:05:34
10.   Mike Carminati

I think Studes is working on something for the Mets. I'll ask him.

2005-04-06 13:51:45
11.   Mike Carminati
Studes reports:

There were three standout Mets' drafts:
1965, 1967 and 1982. The best player the Mets ever drafted was Nolan Ryan.

He's doing an article on the Mets that will contain more.

2005-04-06 20:20:55
12.   Alex Ciepley

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