Identifying Talent: A Glance at the History of the MLB Draft

Major League Baseball wrapped up its draft a few weeks ago, and we’re deep in the heart of the signing period. It was the 50th anniversary of the exercise. With 49 prior years of data, it seemed like a great time to dig into the history of the draft. Specifically, I wanted to know what constitutes a good draft year for a team. And then I went down the rabbit hole.

Thanks to Baseball-Reference, there is a lot of info out there. BR allows visitors to sort entire drafts by team and year, and lists the total WAR drafted by each team at the bottom of the sample set. Using that info, I accumulated the WAR by draftees for each team and each year of the draft. I then added the General Manager data listed in the tremendous Baseball America Executive Database. Here is an infograph detailing what I found. As always, click on the image for the full-res version.

WAR Chart A few notes about this infograph:

-You’ll note that I’ve created “WAR+”, defined on the infograph. It’s my best imitation of BB-Ref’s OPS+ or ERA+. It’s only right to compare teams and GMs to their peers, and basing that info on the available talent in each individual year.

-Similarly, you’ll note that I’ve omitted General Managers who started their careers after 2006 in the Best and Worst categories. This is because the WAR+ data is weighted heavily towards recent seasons. Players drafted since 2006 haven’t had much of a chance to build a career. A team who drafts fast-comers, guys who reach MLB very quickly, will look much better than their peers. That may stay the same down the line, but the results could obviously be very different 10 years from now. As such, I chose to avoid those numbers altogether.

-This data does not differentiate players who did or did not sign with the parent club. That’s why it’s titled “Identifying Talent” and not “Signing Talent” or “Developing Talent”. It’s purely an exercise that looks at which teams’ scouting departments identified the correct players, and then squeezed the trigger by drafting them.

-Last but not least, I realize the GM exercise is unfair. After all, there are so many front office members whose work goes into the draft and development process. It’s like the auteur theory in film. Unfairly, the GM (or director in movies) gets more credit than they should. Unfortunately, there wasn’t quite enough Scouting Director info in the Executive Database to make it work. And that’s why I’ve arrived at the solution of only listing GMs.


2 thoughts on “Identifying Talent: A Glance at the History of the MLB Draft

  1. They had a really great run of killer drafts there in the 80s. Cashen popping up at #3 was no surprise. In fact, when compiling the numbers, I almost assumed he’d be #1.


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