Tanking and the Draft

With ~40 games left to play, the Jays find themselves in an unusual position. With a poor record in those final games, they could finish as low as 27th in the majors, which would give them the 4th overall pick in the 2014 mlb amateur draft. But a strong finish could see them drafting 8-10 positions later.

Under one school of thought, the value of draft picks (at least in the first round) is linear. So a 4th overall pick is more valuable than a 5th, which is in turn more valuable than a 6th. An alternate view is that each draft has a few "can’t miss" pics – the A-Rods and Harpers – and that the remaining players are best ranked in tiers, with the players in each tier being of roughly equal potential. Under this second view, a 4th overall pick might not be of significantly more value than a 12th pick.

I was curious. So I tested.

I looked at the mlb drafts from 1988-2007. A 20 year period, so I had a decent sample size while still remaining in the "modern era" of the draft. Ending in 2007, so the better players drafted would be in the majors by now.

For each year, I looked at three mini-tiers: players picked 4th-6th overall, 7th-9th, and 10th-12th. I then counted the number of players drafted who became "stars". For this purpose I (arbitrarily!) defined a star as a player who played in at least one all-star game in his career.

My goal was to see if the 4th-to-6th pick tier generated more "stars" over the 20 year period than the 10th-to-12th pick tier. The results were surprising.


18 of the players drafted 10th-12th became stars, compared to only 14 of those drafted 4th-6th. Of those drafted 7th-9th, 11 became stars. This finding supported the "tier" theory.

I thought I would dig a bit deeper.

Maybe my definition of "stars" was too lenient. After all, many players not commonly thought of as "stars" would meet my definition of one all-star game. So, as a second test, I redefined a "star" as someone who had played in at least *3* all-star games in their career.


Under the new definition, the 10th-12th picks still had more "stars" (6) than the 4th-6th tier (3).

But perhaps there were more super-duper stars drafted 4th-6th? After all, Derek Jeter fell into that category, and he handily led all of the players in my sample with an impressive 13 all-star appearances. So as a final test, I added up the total number of all-star appearances by all of the players in each tier.


Again, the results supported the tier theory. The 10th-12th tier generated 44 all-star appearances as a group, compared to only 36 for the 4th-6th tier. And that is despite the 13 Jeter appearances included in the 36.


These tests do not "prove" the tier theory. But the results are highly statistically inconsistent with the alternate view – that the 4th-6th pick is significantly more likely to produce a star (or a better star) than a 10th-12th pick.

Implications for the Jays in 2013? Perhaps their final standing is less draft-critical than people think (though a protected pick would be nice) and they should instead choose their direction for the remainder of 2013 based on what will best benefit the team in 2014 and beyond.

Play the kids? Give players like JJ a chance to re-prove themselves? Test J-Bau at 1B (3B?) . Let Lind play every day against both lefties and righties?

I welcome your thoughts

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