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    Sunday, December 4, 2011

    MLB's Borderline-Insane New Draft Gimmick

    So, did you hear that MLB has a new draft pick lottery thing? Yep, as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Selig made sure to fix that much-squabbled about problem of who gets the picks after the first round of the draft.

    I don’t want to say this is the dumbest thing in baseball history; baseball has had numerous dumb things in history. There’s this. These. Most of these. This and this (you’ll know them when you see them). Yeah, not to beat the point into the ground, but if you’re looking for dumb things, there are worse. But I’m not sure how many of them rival the Competitive Balance Lottery on things like poor planning, inexplicability, or sheer out-of-nowhereness.

    Granted, people had issues with the draft. The Free Agent type rankings were a mess, most of the owners wanted to curb spending on amateurs, some people wanted to add countries to the draft or remove them, and so on. Nowhere did I hear anything about teams needing more picks or less picks or anything like that.

    On top of that, even if you were trying to be charitable and say that it was a well-intentioned attempt at helping out teams who were bad or in need of money, this has to be one of the worst ways to go about curing this issue. The deal’s specifics say that the ten smallest-market and smallest-payroll teams are entered into a lottery (teams may only get entered once, although picks are weighted), with six teams drawn out. These teams are then given an extra draft pick at the end of round one, following free agent compensation picks. Six more will be given a pick at then end of round 2.

    So, for the 2013 draft, these thirteen teams have a chance at an extra pick: Athletics, Brewers, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Indians, Marlins, Orioles, Padres, Pirates, Rays, Reds, Rockies, and Royals. So, the first problem is rather obvious; as you may have noticed, four of those thirteen teams made the playoffs last year. Or, to put it another way, the World Champion-Cardinals, 96-win Brewers, 94-win Diamondbacks, and 91-win Rays may get an extra first round pick, but the 106-loss Astros, 99-loss Twins, 95-loss Mariners, and 81-loss Nationals (who haven’t finished above .500 since 2002, and 1996 before that) are immediately ruled out from those extra pick. Because, you know, in theory, they don’t need it.

    On top of that, though, the picks they’re raffling off are more or less worthless. As I showed the over the summer, the top pick in the draft is the only consistently-good pick, and the overall quality usually decreases rather sharply (I would estimate exponentially, but I didn’t do an exact study). What picks will these six teams be getting? Well, the last five first rounds (going backwards from 2011) have gone 60, 50, 49, 46, and 64 picks. So, after averaging those, lottery teams will get something like picks #55-#60. Who have these picks been in the past?

    Well, using Baseball-Reference’s draft database and sorting by WAR, we can look at the best picks through history from these specific slots. The results are not pretty...

    (name, bWAR, year)

    #55: Bert Blyleven, 87.6, 1969
    Todd Zeile, 15.0, 1986
    Brett Anderson, 6.0, 2006
    David Bush, 4.6, 2002
    Ron Romanick, 3.1, 1979

    #56: Jimmy Key, 45.6, 1982
    Richie Zisk, 23.7, 1967
    Pete Vuckovich, 15.6, 1974
    J.J. Hardy, 14.0, 2001
    Larry Herndon, 11.8, 1971

    #57: Jon Lester, 22.7, 2002
    Rupert Jones, 20.3, 1973
    Brandon Inge, 17.9, 1998
    Dan Schatzedar, 10.4, 1976
    Brandon Phillips, 9.5, 1999

    #58: Tony Gwynn, 68.4, 1981
    Jason Giambi, 53.7, 1992
    Rick Aguilera, 22.1, 1983
    Scott Baker, 14.3, 2003
    Rance Mulliniks, 14.1, 1974

    #59: Roger McDowell, 10.5, 1982
    Dean Palmer, 10.1, 1986
    Ryan Doumit, 6.1, 1999
    Brandon League, 2.9, 2001
    Jeremy Reed, 1.1, 2002

    #60: Lynn McGlothen, 12.9, 1968
    Ryan Ludwick, 8.9, 1999
    Jonathan Broxton, 5.7, 2002
    Brad Fullmer, 5.0, 1993
    Travis Wood, 1.5, 2005

    *Note: Todd Helton was picked at #55 by the Padres in 1992, but did not sign. He would have placed second in bWAR among #55s. Fred Lynn and Steve Garvey would top pick #60, except that neither of them signed (Lynn went in 1970 to the Yankees, while Garvey went in 1966 to the Twins; can you imagine any of these three with those teams?). All three has therefore been excluded.

    What information can we draw from this data?

    1) Jason Giambi was really good for a while there. Not that it's really relevant to this post; I just always forget just how good he was.
    2) At some point, someone thought it was okay to name their child “Rance”.
    3) This “Rance” fellow represents one of the better possible outcomes for these forlorn teams that the raffle is trying to help.

    Yes, this may look really good at first. Hey, Bert Blyleven and Tony Gwynn are there! They’re in the Hall of Fame! And there’s Jason Giambi, and Jimmy Key, and Jon Lester...

    But then realize: the draft has been going on since 1965. These are the 30 best picks out of 282. And Rance Mulliniks somehow sneaks on to this list. Yes, this is the top 10% of picks from these draft spots. 90% of the players drafted out of these spots are worse than this.

    There is the chance that these teams will pick a Tony Gwynn/Bert Blyleven-type player. But the same can be said for any spot in the draft. The drop-off after that historic pick is just steeper the later into the draft you go (for example, refer to pick #30). All these extra picks are doing is giving bad teams an extra chance to draft a Dan Schatzedar or a Brad Fullmer. Or Rance Mulliniks. And this is on top of the fact that no one player can make a bad team good. Let’s not even mention the uselessness of the second round lottery picks, which will likely fall on numbers around 91 through 96.

    Basically, all this is doing is giving a random set of below-average teams a slightly better chance to draft complimentary parts. (Or, using real world examples, your strategy to help supposedly "disadvantaged" teams is to give them a 1/30 chance or so to draft a Dean Palmer-level player or better. That will really turn around a losing franchise.) The team needs a good core to actually make any sort of use of these players. Though maybe that’s the point of adding good teams to the raffle, like the Cardinals and Brewers. They both needed an average middle infielder this year, so Rance Mulliniks could have really helped.

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