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Part 3 - How the Cardinals drafted-and-developed compared to the entire NL


Introduction

This past May, after the Cardinal’s season fell apart, I found myself accepting the consolation that at least the pipeline (ie. 2020 draft) was strong, plus we’d be getting a really good pick in the upcoming 2024 amateur draft.

Then I began to wonder about those narratives … is the Cardinal "draft and develop" model as good as people say it is? And can they really benefit from a top-five draft position? How much of this is hype and how much of it is based in reality?

I couldn’t really find any data to support or refute, just a bunch of opinions from pundits, which I generally discount as more hype than substance. I look no further than the idea that the NWS can’t forecast next Tuesday’s weather accurately, so how can a pundit forecast how a draft will turn out six years from now?

I set out to build a dataset to measure how the Cardinal’s actually do in draft-and-development. Here is a piece I did months ago that describes what I found about the Cardinal’s history and the methods I used to select and evaluate data. I added to that with a piece that compares the Cardinals to just their NL Central rivals. I got some good questions back from these initial pieces.

This piece adds to that the context not only about how the Cardinal’s do, but how that stacks up against all the other teams in the National League (including the Astros who were in the NL during half of the time period). Ultimately, I will add the American League teams to the mix, but that will take more time.

In the meantime, will float this 3rd installment out there and see if any interesting questions get asked that I can add to the analysis as I do the AL teams, and if people think the methodology itself is fair, balanced and representative of reality, unbiased by hype.

The National League

Based on the methods described in the earlier article, below is a chart that shows how the NL teams rank in terms of draft-and-develop. The 20 year historical data tells us the Cardinals are very good compared with other NL teams, but quite a bit behind the Dodgers. Although not shown, I can tell you that over just the last 10 years, the Cardinals have closed the gap with the Dodgers by quite a bit (moved from 3rd to 2nd ranked in 2010-2019, and from 31 to 22 points). In this case lower points is better.

For those who covet the high draft choices, be advised that of the top 7 draft-and-develop teams in the NL, all 7 draft regularly in the lower part of the rounds. As you read each team’s synopsis, notice how regularly each team’s worst draft is when they drafted high, and equally regularly how their best drafts tended to be middle-ish. There are a few exceptions to this, as a few teams over the 20 years turned a high draft position (1-5) into a really great draft haul. But only a few, and quite a few more who did little to nothing with high drafts.

Another way of looking at this … the 3 teams that have performed worst at the MLB level over 20 years and received the highest draft picks all finished in the bottom half of rankings. With Pirates and Padres at the very bottom (14th and 16th respectively).

Where to next?

I still have more work to do. I need to finish and incorporate the American League before I can begin to evaluate the relative strength of each draft year and also determine a more granular means of weighting for draft position (such as developing an "expected WAR") for each drop spot 1-30.

The research has piqued my curiosity about farm system rankings such as Baseball Prospectus. I’ve randomly sampled a couple of years of rankings to see how they compare with actual results. First blush suggests that farm system rankings are in no way predictive on how a farm system will actually perform in producing WAR for the MLB team.

Conclusions

Subject to verification and further improvement that will come with adding the remaining teams, and subject to peer review, I have updated my set of "rules of thumb" for identifying a good or bad draft.

1. The average draft is defined as: 40 players drafted, maybe 30 sign, around 7 make a MLB appearance and about 1.2 go on to have a notable career. An average draft class will accrue around 27 WAR (12 with home team, 15 with other). About 25 of the 27 WAR will accrue with 1 or 2 of the 7 players, and the others will perform near replacement level for their cameo.

2. Every 5th year or so, the average team will augment their draft with signing of a notable International FA.

3. A draft success can’t be defined by the number of players that make an MLB appearance. This number is all over the board and seems more defined by the quality of the MLB team than the quality of the players coming up.

4. A draft is OK if it meets this average.

5. A draft success can occur when a team gets 2 or more "notable" players out of it.

6. A successful draft-and-develop team is able to string together a run of average or better drafts and significantly limit the below average drafts (no more than 1 or 2 per 20 years).

7. A generational success can occur when a team acquires 40 or more WAR from a single player drafted or gets over 70 WAR for multiple players drafted AND the drafting team retains the talent. These generational successes tend to precede sustained runs of MLB success.

8. The lag time between reliable, repeating drafting success and MLB success looks to be closer to 7-10 years, more than the anecdotal 3-5 years I’ve seen suggested. For example, Houston started drafting reliably well in 2007 and began experiencing MLB success in 2016. Nine years.

9. High draft picks do not closely correlate with draft success. Sometimes it does, often it does not. Only 1 team had a #1 draft pick turn out as their best. Multiple teams had their #1 draft pick turn out to be their worst draft.

Ask questions. Challenge the methodology. I will continue to add to the dataset. It’s a good hobby to have when the nights are long and the air is cold.

Team-by-team breakdowns follow:

National League – West

The NL West has one good drafting team (Dodgers), two middling drafters (Rockies, Giants) and the Diamondbacks and Padres lag the whole field.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Over 20 year period, 674 total WAR drafted/signed is highly ranked (#3 in NL). Much of that occurred in first 10 years, with last 10 years near the bottom in every metric. Dbacks appear very prone to divesting acquired talent before WAR starts to accumulate, with a league worst 464 WAR accumulating with other teams. Kinsler, Scherzer, CarGo, Justin Upton, Max Scherzer, Dansby Swanson, Trevor Bauer all are players the Dbacks drafted that accumulated notable status with other teams. Even Goldschmidt falls into the category of notable career for OTHER, at 21 WAR with Cardinals. Drafting pitching has never been their strong suit.

Draft results 2011 and prior are starkly different that after 2011. Intriguing, perhaps, to a Dback fan.

Best draft – 2001 - #22 – Total accumulated WAR 113 (Kinsler, Uggla, Montero, Seth Smith)

Worst draft – 2014 - #15 – Total accumulated WAR 2

San Francisco Giants

Overall, not a great draft and develop team. Had much more success in the 2000-2009 era (317 WAR), and much less after 2010 (a modest 107 WAR). Although they’ve drafted some notable players recently (Luis Castillo, Brian Reynolds), they haven’t had a notable player impact their roster since Brandon Belt was drafted in 2009. That is a long drought.

Lincecum, Bumgarner, Crawford and Posey in consecutive years in the mid 2000’s really set up their success in the 2010’s, with 3 World Championships to their credit. An unusual team in that they turned a high draft pick (#5 in 2008) into a great draft year.

Best Draft -2008 - #5 – Total accumulated WAR 74 (Crawford, Posey)

Worst Draft – 2004 - #29 – 0 WAR accumulated WAR

Colorado Rockies

Over the years, the Rox have been middle of the road in identifying talent and have done a good job of retaining their own talent and not having them accumulate notable WAR with other teams. The Rox have not done well in turning their drafted talent into notable careers, suggesting their development program is sub-standard. They also have not fared well in the international market as compared to other more successful teams. The last notable player drafted was Kyle Freeland back in 2014, so they appear to be going the wrong direction in the draft-develop model. It probably should be noted that the Rockies had higher draft picks across the 20 years than everyone but the Padres and Nationals.

Best draft – 2005 - #7 – 39.5 total accumulated WAR (Tulowitski)

Worst draft – 2016 - #4 – 0 Total Accumulated WAR

San Diego Padres

What can be said for the Padres? They significantly under-perform in draft-and-development. Over the 20 year cycle, they have drafted and retained a grand total of 95 WAR. In the 2010’s, they trended worse at 25 WAR. The number of players they drafted who made the MLB (159) isn’t outside the norm. It appears that they are quite good at selecting players who perform between replacement level but below "notable" (10 career WAR or more). Cardinal fans can think Jedd Gyorko as a proxy for the standard type of player the Padres draft. They have a new management team and years 2020 and beyond might work out to be different, but early returns on 2018 and 2019 draft suggests that the Padres vaunted farm system may be more hype than reality.

Best draft – 2005 - #18 – Total Accumulated WAR 52 (Venable, Tomlin)

Worst draft – 2003 - #4 – Total Accumulated WAR 6.9

Los Angeles Dodgers

No shock that the Dodgers are the best drafting team in the NL, with a total of 719 WAR drafted over the 20 year period. They do show a tendency to divest internal talent too soon (362 of those WAR accumulated with other teams), that brings them back to the pack (somewhat) when ranking draft-and-develop models, but still a top draft-and-develop team. 29 notable careers amassing 357 WAR (for the Dodgers), all the while drafting, on average, 20th. They sell off talent so much so that the accumulated WAR of players they have given away to accumulate WAR with other teams (362) would alone be the best drafted team analyzed. Their past success in the Asia market (Maeda, Saito, etc.) has given them a leg up on their competition.

Best Draft – 2006 - #7 - 162 Total WAR (Kershaw, Goldsmidt, Saito)

Worst Draft – 2000 - #17 – Total accumulated WAR 2.2

National Leage East

The NL East has one good drafting team (Braves), one mid-tier drafting team (Mets) and 3 lowest tier (poor) drafting teams.

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies have had two good draft runs, with very little in between. From 2000, they drafted in consecutive years Utley, Howard, Hamels, Bourn and Happ. This was a good run that fed MLB success in the late 2000’s. Then another draft run starting in 2011 where Neris, Giles, Suarez, Hoskins and Nola were selected in consecutive years, aiding to another good MLB run in the early 2020’s. Phillies are very good at NOT giving away talent to other teams, ranking 2nd best at keeping the talent they acquire.

Best draft – 2000 - #16 – total team WAR of 62 (Utley)

Worst draft – 2016 – #1 - total of -.6 WAR (yes, negative).

Miami Marlins

Over the 20 year period, the Marlins drafted a middling 462 WAR, but made that a lot worse by letting 285 of those WAR get away to other teams. Their drafting in the 2010’s shows some small improvement, but still a tendency to give away too many WAR. Divesting Stanton, Ozuna and Yelich in the same year will do that. The loss of Jose Fernandez was enormous. You don’t have tell Cardinal fans what the early loss of an elite-bound player feels like.

Best draft – 2010 - #22 – total of 102.7 WAR (Treinen, Yelich, Realmuto, Canha). Note that only 42 of the 103 WAR accumulated by these players occurred with the Marlins. This should have been a generational draft for the Marlins.

Worst draft – 2013 - #6 – total team WAR of .7

Atlanta Braves

The Braves have been consistently in the top 3 in drafting talent over the 20 year period. They do have a league leading 420 WAR that accumulated with other teams, and that leakage has tempered the overall ranking. Like the Dodgers and Cardinals, two other top draft-develop teams, the Braves consistently draft lower and draft better. It is a bit early to evaluate, but it appears that drafting acumen has dropped off 2016 and later. This may be worth additional exploration.

Best draft -2007 - #14 – total of 133 WAR (Belt, Heyward, Freeman, Teheran)

Worst draft – 2016 - #3 – total of .2 WAR

New York Mets

The Mets fall into the middle tier of drafting, drafting 25 notable players accumulating 241 home town WAR and 230 WAR that accumulated for other teams. The 230 "other WAR" is actually quite good, 3rd lowest in the NL. In the 2000’s, the Mets did well (tops) in the International Market in the NL, but have fallen off quite a bit in the 2010’s (only 1 notable INT player in this decade). I haven’t tallied figures by position, but anecdotally it appears that the Mets strength in drafting has consistently been pitching. Of their draft picks, you could cobble together a 2024 rotation of Matz, DeGrom, McClanahan, Lugo and George Kirby. Not a bad group. It’s early, but the 2017-2019 drafts don’t look promising.

Best draft – 2006 - #18 – total of 72 WAR (Smith, Murphy, Quintana)

Worst draft – 2004 - #3 – grand total of 3 WAR

Washington Nationals

I analyzed this team last (in the NL). Good thing I did because they are a head scratcher. Overall, they finish in the bottom third of draft-and-develop. They draft ok (543 WAR, 7th), but they give away most of the best players they do identify as talented. To wit, of the 21 notable players the Nationals have drafted (a below average number by itself), only 6 have gone on to make notable contributions to the Nationals team, and of those six, 2 (Soto, Harper) will end up with more WAR with "other" than the Nats. If they didn’t have the 2000 draft (as the Expos) where they drafted a whopping 144 WAR, they would be dead last in draft-and-develop with a measly 399 WAR compared to NL average of 538. That 2000 draft gets special mention below.

Best Draft – 2005 - #4 – 73 total accumulated WAR (Stammen, Estrada, Ryan Zimmerman)

Worst Draft – 2001 - #4 - -1 WAR total.

Most unique Draft – 2000 - #5 – 144 total accumulated WAR, 1 of which occurred with the Expos/Nats. Talk about giving away a generational draft. This one could have been classified as both their best and their worst draft ever.

National League Central

The NL Central contains 2 good draft-and-develop organizations (Cubs, Cardinals). Who knew the Cubs would rank highly? The Reds are middling, Brewers and Pirates lag in the bottom third of the league.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are consistently in the first tier of drafting teams in the NL, and tops in the NL Central. Better in the 2010’s than the 2000’s. Each decade contained a completely lost draft year (2007, 2017). Their strength has been acquiring players with notable careers (35 notable players over the period is tops). They don’t necessarily acquire HOF talent at the rate others do, but the "good" player model appears to contribute to sustained success. One must note that the evaluation period (2000-2019) was deliberately chosen to exclude Pujols, 1999 (100+ WAR) and the 2020 draft. Move this analysis period a year or two and the Cardinals look even better.

Best draft – 2003 - #28– total of 121 WAR (Scherzer, Kenney, Motte, Ryan).

Worst draft – 2007 - #18 – total of -2 WAR. Ugh.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs rate as a surprisingly good draft-and-develop team over the 20 year period. They draft well (570 WAR), they don’t give away talent to other teams and have a stronger than average presence in the International marketplace. The Cubs are one of the rare teams that drafts consistently well when they have high draft choices. Their related inability to draft well in the lower part of the draft results in up-and-down results both in drafting and at the MLB level.

Best draft – 2001 - #2 – total of 68 WAR (Prior, Nolasco, Soto, Chavez).

Worst draft – 2005 - #20 – Nothing. 0 WAR.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates have consistently ranked in the top third of drafting in terms of identifying and drafting talent (total WAR of 565 is 5th overall). Plus, they are ranked 4th in identifying notable career talents, indicating they know how to spot talent. However, they appear to have difficulty retaining their talent, giving away over 2/3rd of the talent to accumulate WAR with other teams. Plus they do NOT have a strong international presence, with only 1 notable International player in 20 years. So their overall draft-and-develop rank is bottom third. Take a look at their best draft below (2011). How they couldn’t turn that into a generational draft is … puzzling? 2009 is the only Pirate draft that didn’t produce at least one notable player. Stunning consistency for a team that has not performed well at the MLB level.

Best draft – 2011 - #1 – 96 WAR (and counting) for Trea Turner, Tyler Glasnow and Gerritt Cole.

Worst draft – 2009 - #4 – total of 15 WAR, no notable players.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds draft performance has definitely been mid-tier over the years, slightly worse in the 2010’s than the early 2000’s. Joey Votto alone brings their numbers up (64 WAR out of 525 total drafted). They’ve been OK at everything (identifying talent, international space, not giving away talent, drafting higher and lower), but not good enough to sustain winning that a low payroll team like the Reds need. Drafting pitching is not their strength, as Mahle is 2013 is last notable pitcher taken.

Best draft – 2000 - #3 – 75 WAR (Votto, Denorfia)

Worst draft – 2016 - #2 - -3 WAR (Plus, right now I’m not convinced a single player they took is even on a 40 man roster). This one looks bleak.

Milwaukie Brewers

Following the metrics, the Brewers have been a poor drafting team over the 20 years at 12th ranked overall. They have identified 528 worth of talent, which isn’t awful, and turned that into 27 notable careers (4th best in NL), but they give too much talent away (over 60% of their drafted WAR accumulated with other teams) and they really don’t have much success in the international market, with but one notable career coming from this source. What seems to sustain their success is that they reliably produce a notable player almost every year, except 2010 and 2017 (and it’s a bit early to close the book on 2017), and they do tend to pick good pitchers (Burnes, Woodruff, Rodon, Williams, Suter, Odorizzi, etc.).

Best draft – 2005 - #5 – total of 111.6 is a VERY strong draft (Braun, Brantly, Arrieta, Bailey)

Worst draft – 2010 - #14 – total

There you have, it until the next iteration, which I have to get done before next season.