Drafting well in the first-year player draft will make sustaining a competitive roster easier for any team, all other things being equal. Yes, payroll can overcome some draft deficiencies, but the best way to build a sustainable roster is through drafting well and developing those players.
With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to see what draft trends, both league-wide and by team, have looked like over the last 10 seasons. The data pulled for the investigation were from the first 10 rounds of the drafts from 2001-2010.
High school versus college
The traditional draft debate is whether it is better to take players out of high school, which are generally characterized as high-risk/high-reward, or players out of college, characterized as safer picks. Keith Law had a nice write-up on the subject here. The following graph shows how many players have been chosen—though not necessarily signed—in the draft from the various levels of school over the span of the data discussed above.
First a quick explanation of the terminology. High school draftees are represented in the chart with HS, four-year collegians with 4Y, junior college players with JC and others—independent league players as an example—with OT. The numbers represent the total number of players of that type picked. Clearly, the majority of players selected were from four-year universities; however, there was still a significant number of high school players taken.
This chart, as it is from an aggregate perspective, sets the stage for the rest of the analysis. Further analysis will slice the above data by team and round. The following table breaks the data out by team, sorted by percentage of players drafted from high school.
My first observation when going down that list was that the teams that were picking the most high school players were located in the states that generally produce a large chunk of the amateur talent. Could it be that those teams were simply able to more efficiently scout high school talent because it was in their back yard?
The observation that quickly counters that theory is that the bottom five is made up of three California teams and one Arizona team.
The final observation is that the A’s draft philosophies touched on in Moneyball were held to across the decade investigated, as Oakland drafted the most four-year college players in the league over the ten years studied.
As stated, the previous data was based on the first ten rounds; however, it is also interesting to limit the search to just how teams spend their first-round picks (For the next chart, I will define first-round as the first round plus first-round supplemental picks ). The league aggregate graph looks like this:
On an aggregate level, a higher percentage of high school players are taken in the first round than in subsequent rounds. The same data broken out by team looks like this:
The Phillies stand out the most when compared to the previous list with an astounding 90 percent of first-round picks being high school players after being only moderately high in the overall list. Another team that is interesting to compare is the Giants. In the first ten rounds, they hardly draft any high school players, ranking near the bottom of that list. However, in the first round they have taken a decent amount of high school talent. Finally, the A’s, as expected given the information presented in Moneyball, reside at the very bottom of the list.
So far I have shown data aggregated across the first ten rounds and zoomed in on the first round. What about everything in between? Are there any interesting trends buried in that data? The following table looks at league-wide data for each individual round:
There is a clear trend that, as the draft gets deeper into the first ten rounds, teams shift from high school players to four-year college players. The observed gradual decline in high school players is not a surprising result.
As the draft gets deeper and expected bonuses get lower, there is a higher incentive for high school players to attend college and improve their draft stock (along with getting an education). With the incentive there for high school players to attend college, teams have an incentive to draft players they will have the ability to sign and, thus, drift towards players from four-year colleges.
Clearly there is context—that is not explored in this article—behind all of these picks, as the best player available at the time a team picks could clearly be a high school player some years and a college player others. That said, general trends do exist for specific teams as to whether they prefer drafting collegians or high school players, as do general trends from round to round.
To this point, the focus has been on the type of school the draftee attended, with a minor reference to the states the players came from. This section will look at that geography in additional detail. First, in general, where state are players drafted from? The following table shows the unsurprising top five for players drafted in the top ten rounds.
The state represented in the table above is the state the player went to college in, not necessarily the one in which he was born. An interesting note from the data is that these five states make up nearly 50 percent of the players drafted in the first ten rounds. If we cut the data to just the first round and the first-round supplemental, the list only changes slightly, with Tennessee replacing North Carolina and the order shifting around slightly.
One final interesting tidbit from the geographical data, the Braves’ fondness for Georgia-based players has been discussed before. The data back up the statements, as they have selected 22 players from Georgia over the last 10 seasons with the next-highest total from any other team being nine (the Rangers and Red Sox). They also lead in drafting players from Georgia in the first round with five over the last ten years.
This article was not meant to be a study on how successful drafting teams went about their business at draft time. It set out to investigate trends in types of players that were being drafted both in relation to types of schools and geography.
To that end, I found the teams on the extremes, especially with their first-round picks, to be very interesting. The A’s have spent one lone pick on a high school first rounder in the years investigated—Jeremy Bonderman—while the Phillies used nine of their 10 ten first rounders on high school players. In the geography section, I found the data on the Braves and players from Georgia to be fascinating.
References & Resources
All draft data were pulled from Baseball Reference.