Major League Baseball's amateur player draft is the primary source of talent for the major leagues. While there is a growing number of players coming from other countries, over 75 per cent of major league players come from the United States, Canada, and US territories, where players are subject to the rule 4 amateur player draft.
The Detroit Tigers have 15 players on the 25 man roster, plus another 12 of 15 on the 40 man roster coming from North American countries subject to the draft, but the Tigers have relied, perhaps more than any other team, on getting their players- particularly their most productive players- by means other than the draft.
BYB recently looked at how the Tigers built their major league roster. Of 27 players on the opening day roster or the disabled list at that time, just four players were drafted by Detroit. Six players were acquired as minor league free agents and developed in the system, one via the rule 5 draft, and 16 players via trade or free agency.
The four who were drafted by Detroit are Justin Verlander, Alex Avila, Nick Castellanos, and James McCann. Verlander stands out as the biggest producer, with 41.4 wins above replacement (rWAR) according to baseball-reference. Alex Avila has contributed 11 rWAR while Castellanos and McCann are just getting started. Verlander, McCann, and Castellanos were all first round draft selections. We use baseball-reference's rWAR for comparison purposes here, because we are comparing pitchers with position players across multiple seasons.
Two seasons ago, BYB analyzed the return that the average team got from an average draft, giving the players five years or more to produce at the major league level. Over five draft years, from 2002- 2006, here is what we found:
MLB drafts, 2006- 2010, Rounds 1- 10
|2002- 2006 Avg year
||Made it to MLB
||1+ rWAR||5+ rWAR||10+ rWAR
|Avg per season, MLB
The numbers above show that about one in three players drafted in the first ten rounds makes it to the major leagues. In the first round, over 80 per cent of players drafted make it to the show. But making it doesn't mean a whole lot to the team, as 40 percent of those players produced less than replacement level, and only 14 percent produce at least 1.0 rWAR in five plus years after being drafted.
The average team gets 3.6 players per draft who produce at least 1.0 rWAR. If a team can draft one player per draft who produces 5.0 rWAR or more, they're ahead of the curve. If they find a player who produces 10+ rWAR, they're in the top third or teams for that draft.
Now let's look at how the Tigers have fared. The following chart shows the sum total of all Detroit Tigers' drafts from 2002 through 2013, with the number of players "making it" to the major leagues and those with 1.0+ rWAR according to baseball-reference.com
|Draft year||MLB||1+ rWAR||5+ rWAR||10+ rWAR||Total rWAR||Notable|
|2008||5||2||1||1||14.8||Avila, Dirks, Perry|
* Ten year average through 2011
These figures show that Detroit has drafted fewer players who have made it to the major leagues than the average team, and fewer who have produced at various levels, using rWAR as a barometer. 2005 was the most prolific draft for productive players. 2002 and 2004 were overall most productive, due to one player each draft.
Here are the top ten players drafted by Detroit since 2002.
The Tigers have not drafted a 10+ win player, and just one 5+ win player since 2008. The odds of a player selected producing even 1.0 WAR after five seasons drops from over 50 percent in round one to just 16 percent through round four, to just 6 per cent after that.
The Tigers forfeited their first round draft selections in the 2010, 2011, and 2012 drafts, as compensation for signing Jose Valverde, Victor Martinez, and Prince Fielder. This is a significant factor in explaining the lack of premium talent coming from the farm system recently.
It's too soon to tell what value players drafted after 2010 will produce, but if players drafted by that time haven't made it to the major leagues by now, the odds are strongly against them. The list of potential 5 or 10 win players from 2007- 2010 is a short one. There are a few players such as McCann, drafted more recently who could thrive.
Chances of drafting a Valverde, Fielder, or Martinez are very slim, even in the first round. There are few, if any instances, where one can say that Detroit clearly should have hung onto a certain prospect, rather than trade him.
The on field results defy one to challenge the Tigers' strategy in building a roster. Free agent signings and trading prospects have worked out well for the Tigers. But it's an expensive model to sustain without more help coming from the amateur player draft.