Saturday, February 1, 2014

Thoughts on Drafting Part I

We've recently had some discussions come out of the Top 50 Prospects rundown that probably deserve a little more in-depth discussion.  One is a complaint that we see crop up in internet discussions of the failure of the Giants to draft and develop homegrown OF's.  The other, mostly by one commenter, involves a comparison game where you take player X, a successful MLB player or prospect with another organization that compares favorably with someone the Giants took with an earlier pick, then wonder why the Giants did not take player X instead of the guy they took.  Let's take a look at these two issues one at a time.

First, Shankbone has written a series of in-depth draft analyses over on his excellent site, You Gotta Like These Kids.  I would heartily recommend checking out his site if you haven't already.  He goes into much more detail than I will here.

I cut my teeth as a Giants fans listening to Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons describe the wonders of Willie Mays playing CF and excelling in all facets of the game.  After Mays' career came to an end, I spent the next decade or more combing The Sporting News minor league reports and stats searching for  the guy who would be the next Willie Mays.  I finally came to the conclusion that guy was not coming and there would never be another Willie Mays and made my peace with it.  Still, I sometimes find myself looking at profiles of draft prospects and dreaming of what those 5 tool OF's might become.  Believe me, I would like nothing better than for the Giants to draft and develop one or more 5 tool OF who become half the players Mays was.  You know, it might actually happen someday!

Sometimes I get the feeling that in some circles, the fact that the Giants have not drafted and developed any all-star OF's in the Brian Sabean era(I will not refer to it as a failure) is an indictment of his entire scouting, drafting and player development program.  The argument goes, "well yes, they are great at finding pitching and they have gotten lucky on a catcher and a few infielders, BUT THEY HAVEN'T DEVELOPED ANY OUTFIELDERS!

Here's the thing, team.  Much as I would like the Giants to draft and develop an OF like Willie Mays, or even Bobby Bonds, there are other ways of acquiring players.  If I remember correctly, they got a pretty good one a few years ago named Barry Bonds in free agency.  They have acquired others through trades.  Much as I would like every draft pick to pan out, the reality is that an organization is doing fantastically well if they average one contributing player per draft.  No team is going to field a starting 8 plus a rotation and closer of all homegrown players.  Free agent signings and trades will always be essential components to team building.  What you are hoping for is a reduction in dependence on those routes so you are not held hostage by the market.  Even the Cardinals, who get deservedly lauded for their drafting acumen, signed a pretty expensive FA shortstop because, well, for some reason the Cardinals just don't develop shortstops!

If you think about it that way, it really doesn't matter what positions you fill with homegrown players.  You still have to fill out the rest of the roster with free agents or players you trade for.  It really does not matter if you have to go out on the market for a CF or for a catcher.  The price is still going to be approximately the same for approximately the same quality of player.  Think of it this way.  Would you really want to trade Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey for three 5-tool OF's?  Now, don't tell me you want all 6 players to be homegrown!  The odds tell you that is highly, highly unlikely to ever happen!

I am not ready to write off the Giants future chances of producing a homegrown starting OF.  Runs of bad luck that appear to be due to incompetence happen all the time in baseball and can go on for surprisingly long periods of time.  Remember AFW?  It would have been very easy to conclude after the failures or Ainsworth, Foppert and Williams that the Giants just couldn't develop homegrown pitching!  On the other hand, if the Giants are, in fact, better at drafting and developing pitchers, catchers and infielders than they are outfielders, then I am more than satisfied to have them just keep right on doing that and continue to acquire their OF's via free agency or trade.

Looking at it from another perspective, if you dwell on what a team does poorly, you may miss what they do well!  Yes, the Giants have not developed any homegrown OF's, but they have developed 3/5's of a starting rotation that has won 2 championships.  They have developed 4 out of 8 starting position players who have contributed to one or both championships(plus Jonathan Sanchez).  They have also developed 2 closers who pitched the final out of one championship each.  I will happily accept them never developing an OF again if they keep on doing what they have done well!

In Part II, we will take a look at the draft comparison game.


  1. I do want to raise issue with one of your statements:

    "the reality is that an organization is doing fantastically well if they average one contributing player per draft."

    What is the definition of a contributing player? For example, on a team of 25 players, how many are considered "contributing"? Also, what would be the average career length of such a player? Looking at it from a different perspective, for a team of 25 players, if a team drafts or obtain via IFA one major league player a year, then it'll take 25 years to replace a roster. FA from other teams don't count since that other team would then need to draft or acquire via IFA an additional player to replace the one lost to you.

    If the average major league career is not 25 years, but say 8 years, then an average team would need to draft or acquire thru IFA 3 major league players per year. The reality is that a solid, or "contributing" player would have a career closer to 10 to 12 years. In which case, if you want a team of all solid players, an average team would need to draft two "solid" major leaguers per year.

    Of course, a team is make up of probably 10 solid players, and 15 other "fillers". These fillers might have a career that average say 5 years (think Ishikawa/Andre Torres). So the average team would need to draft 3 "filler" types every year.

    So, an average team would need to draft or acquire thru IFA one solid player, and three filler type every year. I use to think that is overly aggressive. BA have a report that shows 1 in 6 draft picks makes the major. I was initially surprised by the high number, but then realize that it is consistent with my thinking - 1 solid, 3 filler, and a couple of cup of coffee types (roughly 6 players per draft class).

    Think about this when grading the Giants' drafts. My feeling is that the Giants have done a good job. I think the Giants have graduated more than their share of solid players, but don't think they graduated 17% of their draft picks.


    Anon #1

    1. Reasonable analysis - I was going to say something similar.

      This is my take.

      To me, everyone on the team should contribute and so I take contributing member to mean a spot on the 25th man roster.

      Excluding international free agents who go straight to the big leagues, on the whole (the entire two leagues) are all from prospects who graduated in the past. Assuming the IFAs who go straight to the show to be a small percentage, using 8 year career as the average (for analysis now), it still shows that, on average, a team graduates 3.1 players per year (for the entire leagues, trades and domestic graduated free agent signings have no bearing).

      You can adjust that number, (roughly) 3 players, by changing the expected big league career years.

      Now, that number (roughly) 3, is to be counted by including players you traded away.

      That is to say, on average (and teams go through cycles), a team should have 3 players (assuming average major league career of 8 years) graduating to its own big league team or some other big league team(s) - based Anon #1 analysis not on one team, but on the 2 leagues as a whole.

    2. I don't count the numerous players that drift in an out of roster over the course of a season, I guess you would refer to them as "filler." Again, at any given time, there are numerous "dumpster dive" FA's out on the market. Those are guys who would not count against another team's roster because they are adrift out there and not on anybody's roster. The Giants have been particularly adept at filling roles with guys like that. Just the current roster alone has Arias, Abreu, Blanco, Vogelsong, Casilla, Petit and Machi who were acquired this way. That's 7 out of 25 which leaves 18. Then there are a couple more that will be filled with guys who may or may not stick long term. They may be just part of the revolving door of AAAA guys who come and go. Juan Perez and possibly Adrianza fit this bill as well as 1 or 2 of the relievers. That gets it down into the 14-15 range.

      Rebuilding teams and low payroll teams will probably depend more heavily on bringing up prospects and playing them. It's less pronounced now than it used to be but the lower budget teams still serve as a secondary farm system for the higher budget teams so a team like the Giants does not have to graduate as many prospects and shouldn't.

    3. If you take Matt Cain's MLB debut in 2005 as a starting point, over the next 9 seasons the Giants have graduated at least 14 "contributing" players if you include guys who also contributed to other organizations:

      Matt Cain, Brian Wilson, Tim Lincecum, Sergio Romo, Pablo Sandoval, Kevin Frandsen, Madison Bumgarner, Jonathan Sanchez, Hector Sanchez, Nate Schierholtz, Travis Ishikawa, Conor Gillaspie, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford.

      This does not count the numerous "bus riders" who shuttle between Fresno and SF and never quite stick. You might count Brett Pill, but I would count him as a "bus rider." Are there any I missed?

    4. The one obvious omission is Posey.

      So your list does match the hypothesis that a team will "graduate" roughly 1 to 2 contributing players per year. What is funny about your list is that the Giants have graduated more contributing position players than pitchers during this period.

      Anon #1

    5. Dang! How could I forget Posey. I know I had him in my mental list and he just got lost in the shuffle. Yup, 15 "contributors" in 9 seasons. It might be helpful to divide it up into major and minor contributors. For major contributors, I would go Cain, Wilson, Lincecum, Romo, Sandoval, Posey, Bumgarner, Belt and Crawford. You might consider Jonathan Sanchez a major too. That would be 9 or 10 in 9 seasons. I believe Sabes himself has said his goal is to graduate 1 starting player from the minors on average per season. I think that is about right. 8 position players, 5 starters, closer and maybe 1 non-closing reliever, 14-15 total. Fill a few with free agents and trades and 1 major contributor from the farm per season is more than enough to keep your team in good shape and renewed each season.

    6. This is one aspect of BA that I have hated, though this latest analysis is getting better with the addition of 3 years: who cares how many "major leaguers" a team has produced with their draft? Does anyone care that Brian Dallimore was drafted and signed by the Giants and he played in the majors for us (apologies to Brian and his fans, just needed an example, and we'll always have his grand slam)? So the "1 in 6" don't really resonate with me. The better stat is the 5.5% or one in 18 who played at least 3 years. However, that's not the best either, Frandsen probably qualifies under that as well (again, no slight intended, just need an example; I'm still rooting for him to do well in Philly). We want to know what the odds are of finding a Posey, a Cain, a Lincecum, a Bumgarner, a Belt.

      That's why when I did my draft study about ten years ago, I tried to separate out the good players vs. the useful ones vs. the busts. Good players are very few and far in-between once you get past the first 5 or so picks overall. I came up with roughly 20% for picks 6-20, 10% for 21-30, 4% for 31-90, 1.5% for 91-100. Mario Mendoza's line would be great if you were able to do that drafting prospects. The odds are so low that people just are not used to dealing with such small odds, I don't find that most people can wrap their heads around it. (and DrB gets to this in the second part of his excellent series)

      Still, even with that, there is a huge difference between finding a Buster Posey (don't worry DrB, everyone forgets sometimes the most obvious, as Ryan noted, you know your snuff, your regular readers here know that) and say, Randy Winn, who would probably also qualify as a good player, I don't think the odds are the entire picture of trying to evaluate how well a team has drafted.

      What I like to do is look at the roster the team has assembled with the draft/IFA. The Giants core players are mostly home-grown. Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum in the rotation (with a huge mass of possibles getting close to the show). Plus Sanchez was good for a while. Wilson and Romo as the closers. Posey, Sandoval, Belt, Crawford (I think he's on the verge) represents half the lineup. Most teams would not mind a lineup 2-5 of Crawford, Belt, Posey, Sandoval (if you get the other three, I think they can accept BCraw batting second). How many teams can boast of this level of homegrown players, not just on the roster, but being the core of the team (8 currently, but as high as 10 in 2010 I think)? And the great thing is that Cain and Lincecum are just turning 30, and the good ones generally last at least another 5 seasons of productive work and the greats into their late 30's, so we still have a pretty big window with these guys going forward, with interesting prospects in the minors who could join the conga line towards our next championship.

    7. To DrB's list, I would go back one year and include Noah Lowry to the list. I think if Ishikawa is included, then Fred Lewis and Brian Buscher can also be included. Carlos Villanueva has been pretty OK after we traded him to Brewers, and Clay Hensley did OK for Padres after we traded him, but they might have been pre-Cain as well. Kevin Correia I think got in before Cain but was drafted the same year? And what about Brad Hennessey? Or John Bowker? Accardo and Aaardma? And we probably can add Wheeler to the list as well, he did very well for the Mets, probably the only major omission here on my list, and I had to dig deep for some of these names.

  2. Great post. If I have somehow been a grain of sand in your shell that produced this pearl, then alright!

    Focusing on pitchers is a great draft strategy. The 25 man usually has 12 pitchers, 4-5 outfielders, 3-4 middle infielders, 2 catchers, and 2-3 corner infielders. Makes sense to really focus your scouting and draft capital on arms. If they miss out on outfielders, it's probably just a matter of the odds. Becoming an MLB caliber hitter is really hard and that's mainly what outfielders are plucked to do. Had they been more keen on getting an outfielder, they may have missed out on Kyle Crick.

    As for the "why didn't the Giants draft Joc Pederson?" comments. That's mostly irony as he played HS ball in Palo Alto. Say, why didn't the Giants draft Dustin Pedroia? He played H.S. ball in Woodland! Right up the road! Sheesh! ;-)

    Great post though, Doc.

  3. Part II preamble:

    There are plenty of pseudo-Giants experts on the inter-nets. Dr. B is not one of them. He knows his shit. Honestly, the most go-to site I can think of if I want some insight on the Giants system. I know he is a dedicated fan who has done his homework and then some. Three cheers to Dr.B! And I apologize any disrespect in the past.

    In a roundabout way, I was trying to make a point about the irrelevance of geography when it comes to scouting and drafting, Just because a guy is close by the home park, doesn't mean the organization will have a better evaluation of the guy than the guy in Florida.

    The Giants went big for HS players last year with Arroyo in the first and Jones in the second. Doc, I'm hoping you can work towards a part III in this series about how the Giants have historically approached drafting HS athletes. Thanks for all your hard work here, Doc.

  4. Thank you, Ryan. You are always welcome to post your comments here. I do delete individual comments that I deem to be non-contributory. I know some folks don't like it, but I believe that policy has helped kept the discussion from degenerating into the mess you see on some sites. I have never "banned" anyone. I don't care who you are or what issues I may have had with you in the past, if you post a constructive comment, it will stay.

    The Giants have historically taken quite a few local players. The MLB draft is so huge, they obviously cannot take every local kid and most certainly need to scout and draft nationally to be competitive.

  5. " Doc, I'm hoping you can work towards a part III in this series about how the Giants have historically approached drafting HS athletes."

    I'd really dig that too, if you're up to it DocB.

  6. I was checking out the Brew-Crew's ranking at Sickels, and some comments brought up the Cards versus Brewers systems, and there was some smack talk here and there as division rivals actions tend to bring out. The term "impact" gets thrown around a lot. A guy got frustrated, posted up a chart of 10 WAR players currently from 2000-2009, there are 159 of those in the Show. The team with the most is Boston and Arizona with 9, the A's, Rays, Bums and Bucs with 8, Braves, Angels and Rockies with 7. The Giants have 6, along with the Cubs and Twins. In short - its pretty random as a predictor as success. The Tigers have 2, the Yankees have 3. As per your point, there are different ways to acquire players. But overhyped Saber FOs (or fake Saber as it might be) the Jays and Mariners also have 2 in the period. Of course, that specific time period might skew results, I believe the guy tried to take a sample up to the point of where you can have results on the top at 2009, and still have MLB'ers playing with 2000.

    A lot of press has been given to the Cards and all their home growns. This might go into role players versus stars. I'm not going crazy that they've got these guys like Alan Craig or John Jay. The young pitching is pretty cool though. I comped the Cards and Giants drafting and you'd be surprised that even in the dark days of punting picks the Giants STILL beat the Cards up in those years.

    The other thing is draft position. A superficial analysis of the Giants makes for a failure on the position prospect front for a long time, but you have to look where they invested their picks. Sabean has always prioritized up the middle (from his first trade - lucky as always) over corner bats, he has always prioritized infield versus outfield. And famously he's prioritized pitching over hitting. Hitting stats are more fun to discuss, easier to quantify and get the most noise from fans. The short hand for that is chicks dig the long ball.

    On the OF front, I just like to joke that Peter the Pink's karma is paying the price for firing George Genovese, the guy who got Bobby Bonds, Jack Clark, Gary Matthews, Garry Maddux, Dave Kingman and the last 10 WAR OF to wear orange (including those spiffy new orange throwback jerseys they just unveiled) Chili Davis. He seems like he's a good hitting coach, but I'm happy with Bam Bam as well. But the joke aside, I think most of it is that it hasn't been a good opportunity (slam dunk draft pick when they are on the clock) nor a big priority.

    1. Thanks, Shankbone. The Giants tried to go the OF route in 2010 with Gary Brown, and he might still pan out, but appears to be in a lot of trouble as a prospect. A lot of people would say the Giants just took the wrong guy there, but then you run into draft position again. I have looked at the names taken after Brown in that draft and it's pretty much a wasteland until you get to Taijuan Walker at something like #46 or so.

    2. Even the bitter critics pull their punch on Gary Brown and don't really second guess the pick. You could point to Nick C from Detroit, but a ton of teams passed on him until the Tigers spent 3.5MM to land him.

    3. Nick C was one guy I had my eye on and I was disappointed we didn't get him. I think that was the Gyorko draft too?

      Still, I like what Gary Brown had to offer, if he could develop, and I still think that he can pull things out. He's still not that old, and prospects even in the first round sometimes takes the full 4-6 years to figure out everything and make the majors. I'm hoping this year he figures it out, but I'll probably give him 2015 if he needs it. After that, I'll see where he's at, sometimes it just don't work out.

      Great summary, Shankbone, I'm going to copy it for emphasis:

      The other thing is draft position. A superficial analysis of the Giants makes for a failure on the position prospect front for a long time, but you have to look where they invested their picks. Sabean has always prioritized up the middle (from his first trade - lucky as always) over corner bats, he has always prioritized infield versus outfield. And famously he's prioritized pitching over hitting. Hitting stats are more fun to discuss, easier to quantify and get the most noise from fans. The short hand for that is chicks dig the long ball.

  7. Belt Wars 2.0
    Make Belt a LF and we'll have drafted a 10 WAR outfielder.

    Apologies for the snark, but there's a reason Sabean drafts pitchers, and then has a priority order that degrades the corner OF position. He has drafted a number of high-tool youth: Copeland, McBride, RafRod, Fairley, Brown, Parker. I think Sabes and Co see the corners as the easiest to transfer people into, or find on the big league scrap heap. Add in a preference that in ATT they'd like the corners to be filled by athletic CF types if possible.

    1. It's not snark, Kennv, even if you meant it that way. Sabean clearly wants players who are capable of playing CF covering the OF corners and is willing to sacrifice offense to achieve that. The Morse signing goes against that grain, but it's become pretty clear that Morse was signed at Bochy's insistence.

    2. Great points kennv, great snark. Totally agree that corner OF is seen as a potential landing spot for CF tweeners, generally, for the Giants.

  8. Great series of posts DrB, keep up the good work.