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Visualizing 21st Century Cardinal Drafts

18 seasons, 848 draft picks, 125 future Major Leaguers, one image

Another Major League Baseball draft is in the books. It’s the fourth for Randy Flores since taking on Scouting Director duties in August 2015 and only time will tell how these picks develop. Fortunately, we do have some proper time to evaluate Cardinal draft picks from a little further back. Building off of Ben Godar’s great work from earlier this week, I’ve attempted to illustrate 18 years of Cardinal drafts in visual form.

For each Cardinal draft since 2000, I’ve created stacked bar charts for each year, presented in small multiples. Together, these graphs illustrate:

  • The highest farm system level each draft pick reached
  • Whether or not that level was reached inside the Cardinals organization or with another franchise
  • Whether or not the player signed with the Cardinals out of the draft
  • How many Cardinal draftees reached the Major Leagues each year
  • The chronological order of each pick- their pick order goes from left to right. The Cardinals’ top pick in a given year is the furthest to the left, their last pick is furthest to the right.
  • And finally, if they reached the Major Leagues, how productive were they? I’ve used bWAR for that definition and you can see how it’s defined in the key at the top of the infograph.

The original version of this graph had green bars for minor league levels and yellow to indicate they had reached MLB. It was meant to look like a stalk of corn. Because it’s a farm system. GET IT?!? However, it didn’t really provide enough visual contrast and just generally looked weird. That bit of info isn’t really pertinent to the article. Think of it as very dorky director commentary on your five disc edition of Blade Runner. I digress.

One small note- if the player reached a level both with the Cardinals and another organization, I’ve assigned it to whichever team gave them their debut at that level. For a real example, you’ll see 2001 draftee Dan Haren’s MLB tenure in red (he’s the tall stack in 2001), indicating that he first reached MLB with the Cardinals. However, only 0.2 of his 35.0 career bWAR were amassed in St. Louis. There a few examples like that- Brendan Ryan, Adam Ottavino, Colby Rasmus, and Stephen Piscotty to a lesser degree all come to mind as others whose bWAR total is split amongst multiple teams after debuting in St. Louis. Haren is the most extreme.

Here’s how it all comes together. If you’re on a mobile device, you’ll likely need to zoom in:

It becomes easy to decipher once you get the hang of the key. The taller the red bars, the better. For instance, you can probably identify Matt Carpenter in the 2009 draft, Lance Lynn in 2008, and Yadier Molina in 2000. The more occurrences of red bars in a single year, the better. Using 2006 as an example, you’ll see varying sized stacks of red bars indicating production at the MLB level. From left to right, those bars represent Adam Ottavino, Chris Perez, Jon Jay, Mark Hamilton, Shane Robinson, Allen Craig, P.J. Walters, and eventually Tommy Pham. The most prominent navy blue blocks in 2006 belong to David Carpenter and Luke Gregerson.

Where you see a stack of all gray bars, that player was drafted by the Cardinals but did not sign. If it’s a combination of gray and navy blue bars, it’s a player the Cardinals drafted, did not sign, and eventually reached MLB with another franchise. A colorless bar with a gray frame represents a player who either didn’t sign with the Cardinals and subsequently was never drafted again, or signed with them but never played for whatever reason.

Let’s take a quick look at some observations.

The Back of the Draft

Since these are in chronological order from left to right, you can see they’ve done a fine job of finding value at the back of drafts, particularly from 2003-2011. Even in 2013, they identified Luke Voit in the 22nd round. Beyond 2015, time will tell- it’s still a little early to properly gauge those drafts and those graphs will fill out in the next few years.

2002 and 2004 Were Barren

The red bars in those two years were Brad Thompson and Kyle McClellan in 2002, and Jarrett Hoffpauir, Mike Parisi, and Mark Worrell in 2004. They collectively supplied 1.5 bWAR to the franchise. It’s little wonder a franchise reset was needed following the 2006 World Series.

2003: Missed Opportunities

There are plenty of players with one navy blue bar, meaning they made MLB with another club but didn’t contribute much. The stacks with the most blue bars are the truly painful non-signees, and the quantity in 2003 is jarring. The three giant blue stacks you see in 2003 are Daric Barton, dealt away for the last raspy gasp of Mark Mulder’s MLB career; 14th round draft pick Ian Kennedy, who chose to attend USC; and 43rd round pick Max Scherzer, who attended Mizzou and has been writing MLB history ever since. Kennedy’s career has seen its ups and downs, but he peaked with 7.8 bWAR from 2010-2011. Then... there’s Scherzer. Ouch.

2006 and 2009 Were Banner Years

I already rattled off the 2006 batch above. The 2009 group was equally impressive- Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, Ryan Jackson, Matt Carpenter, Travis Tartamella, Trevor Rosenthal, Matt Adams, and Keith Butler all reached St. Louis, with five of them supplying 5+ career bWAR. The 2006 bumper crop had four players supplying 5+ career bWAR, but Tommy Pham may well catch Matt Carpenter before all is said and done. As of Monday, the 2006 draftees had provided more career value, but Pham and Ottavino are the last two from that draft still providing significant value moving forward. Collectively, those two drafts supplied the backbone to the 2011-2015 run.

2007: Bountiful Cups of Coffee

An astounding 12 players drafted in 2007 made the leap to St. Louis. That sounds impressive, except the highest career bWAR for any of them belongs to Sam Freeman. The second highest is Daniel Descalso. The third highest belongs to Steven Hill, who earned 0.1 bWAR by hitting a homerun in one of his 13 at-bats as a Cardinal. Pete Kozma falls fifth, behind C.J. Fick. On the plus side, two of those 12 players- Clayton Mortensen and Jess Todd- were part of the packages dealt in 2009 for Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa.

2015 is Already Successful

Considering how little time has passed since the 2015 draft, the volume of red bars there- in four consecutive rounds, no less- is impressive. Those represent, left to right, Harrison Bader, Jordan Hicks, Paul DeJong, and Ryan Helsley. That quartet should continue to stack red bars on top of what you already see as they amass career value. Another 2015 draftee, Jake Woodford, is knocking on the door.

Moving Forward

Flores’ first draft (2016) is starting to bear fruit, with Dakota Hudson and Andrew Knizner represented by red MLB service blocks, but under 1.0 bWAR to date. In coming years, I suspect we’ll see some red added for at least Dylan Carlson and Tommy Edman, and some navy blue added for Zac Gallen. It’s far too early to gauge 2017, and I didn’t even include 2018 for the same reason, although Nolan Gorman- at least- should change that.