I have to admit I'm fascinated with the major league baseball draft as there is nothing else like it in professional sports. Essentially general managers are drafting players that they hope will help the team in three, four or five years down the road. It's no wonder that major league rules don't allow for the trading of draft picks when 90% of GM's will never see the players they draft have any kind of success while still employed for that team (I totally made up the 90% number but you get my point).
I think my fascination with the draft is a direct result of J.P. Ricciardi's tenure as general manager of the Blue Jays. When he was hired he came with a pedigree of being an expert talent evaluator and his true strength was to be shown in his drafts. I bought into this hype immediately and after his first draft I couldn't wait for the Russ Adams era to begin.
Looking back now the draft was actually a major weakness of Ricciardi's, and it was very strategic of him to paint this kind of a picture of his skills set as it sometimes takes a decade for us to find out if he's telling the truth. Then again, it's not a lie if he knows the truth. It's also one of the reasons I'm hesitant to praise Alex Anthopoulos for his work at rebuilding the minor league system. How the hell do I know if any of the guys in the Jays minor league system will be any good five years from now? I've heard this story before and it didn't work out to well, and guess what, the boy wonders first 1st round draft pick Deck McGuire is already looking like a bust. In all fairness to Anthopoulos, his approach of preaching patience while building from within and through trades is probably the right one, but it requires a leap of faith from fans and there are no guarantees of success.
This brings me to the 2002 "Moneyball" draft made famous by Micheal Lewis and the Oakland Athletics. I was probably a little biased going into reading the book Moneyball because at the time I was just learning about OPS as a dedicated reader of Rob Neyer's column at ESPN, back when he wasn't behind a paywall, and loving it. But after I finished the book I was even more convinced that Billy Beane was smarter than any other GM in the sport, and possibly all of sports. It all made perfect sense to me and finally someone had figured out the "mlb draft".
Now that it is a decade later and moneyball is officially dead we should be able to look back at the 2002 draft and be able to clearly state whether or not it was a success for Billy Beane and the Oakland A's. However, today I read this column written by Dustin Parkes over at Getting Blanked who disagrees with Jon Paul Morosi who wrote this column which declared that "History has judge it (Oakland's 2002 draft) a failure". On the surface this didn't make much sense to me because they did draft Nick Swisher that year who has had a pretty damn good career, I wish Ricciardi had that kind of lack of success at the draft more often. This inspired me to take a closer look at the famous moneyball draft.
Thanks to Baseball Reference and their easy access historical draft information it's actually pretty simple to go back and look at the complete Oakland Athletics 2002 draft or any other team's draft in any other year for that matter. After looking at the Oakland draft, which appeared decent to me, I decided to do a little comparative research and calculate the cumulative Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to date of the players drafted for every team in the 2002 rule four draft. What I found was that the cumulative WAR for the Oakland Athletics (51.1) was actually the best in baseball that season, refer to Table 1 below for the breakdown of the cumulative WAR by team of the players drafted in 2002.
Table 1 - Cumulative WAR by Team of the 2002 Draft
I guess this is what they call revisionist history? Not only was the moneyball draft a success for Billy Beane and the Oakland A's, it was the most successful draft of any team in baseball that season and by a significant margin. It also confirmed my beliefs that J.P. Ricciardi had no idea what he was doing when it came to the draft.
To be fair, some of the success Oakland had from this draft was the result of taking a late round pick named Jonathon Papelbon (16.2 WAR) who they were unable to sign. However, if you removed him from the equation, you would also have to remove others that didn't sign, such as Hunter Pence (17.7 WAR) taken by the Brewers and Jacoby Ellsbury (13.7 WAR) taken by the Rays, and the A's would still finish in the top 3 teams for value of players taken that signed with their team. Also, I feel removing these players would be taking away credit for a system that identified great talent, therefore I officially declare the A's winners of the 2002 draft!
Some other interesting facts that came up while doing my 2002 draft research included:
- The Boston Red Sox selected one Ricky Romero in the 37th round of the draft (Thank God he didn't sign, although would that have meant that Tulo would now be with the Jays?)
- The Royals should have walked away from the draft after their first selection of Donald Greinke, better known as Zach, who has since gone on to put up a total 29.2 career WAR. Meanwhile the rest of the Royals picks that year have amounted to a combined -4.4 WAR.
- The 2002 cumulative value of the total players selected is equivalent to a WAR of 571.3, or an average WAR of 19 per team.
- The value of first round of the draft was equivalent to a WAR of 220.5, or almost 40% of the total value of the draft.
- The three most valuable players of the 2002 draft were Zack Greinke taken 6th overall (29.2 WAR), Matt Cain taken 25th overall (28.6 WAR) and Cole Hamels taken 17th overall (25.7 WAR).
photo courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company Inc