With Friday’s signing of free agent center fielder Dexter Fowler, the St. Louis Cardinals forfeited their first-round selection in the 2017 First-Year Player Draft. It will be the first time the club will not make a pick in the initial round in a decade and a half. Back in 2002, St. Louis lost its first pick for signing free agent closer Jason Isringhausen.
Despite the Cardinals’ on-field success consistently placing them among those picking in the later part of each round of the drafts in recent history, the team has still been highly successful in finding valuable players throughout the drafts and developing them into major leaguers. By the way, drafts were once were 50 rounds long, but in 2012 were reduced to 40.
Though various round groupings are highlighted below, in the overall view, the Cardinals are third in most WAR earned from those drafted players who accrued at least 10 WAR each over the last 52 years.
If the past is any indication, the Cardinals should continue to prosper through the draft. Though as you will see quantified at the very end of this article, well over a third of the wins over replacement (or WAR) value over time across MLB has come from first-rounders.
A member of The Cardinal Nation’s message board community, SoonerinNC has taken on an exhaustive review of the MLB results of every player taken by every team in the draft back to its inception in 1965. A summary of his findings follow. – Brian Walton
The study summarized below covers each major league team's performance in the 52 June regular drafts. As a cutoff, I listed each player with a career WAR of 10.0 or more according to Baseball Reference. Some Cardinals making that cut are Brendan Ryan, John Jay, Lance Lynn, Todd Worrell and Vince Coleman. Included were only players drafted and signed by the drafting team.
One conclusion is that the Cardinals had strong scouting but avoided the high dollar players in the early rounds. The current slotting system seems to have changed that, however, as the Cardinals are now spending more than their slot allowance and much more than in earlier years.
St. Louis had selections among the top 10 overall picks 10 times. Two of them did not make the majors and only four (J.D. Drew, Dimitri Young, Andy Van Slyke and Terry Kennedy) exceeded a career WAR of 10.0. Picking Pete Kozma with 2016 Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello still on the board in 2007 is a good example.
The Cardinals’ success was more about quantity than Hall of Fame quality. Ted Simmons at 50.1 WAR is the top Cardinal drafted in the first five rounds. Only the top player from three recent MLB team additions (Rays, Marlins and Diamondbacks) has a lower WAR than Simmons.
The Cardinals lived up to their reputation as making good late round choices as they had the highest total WAR (324.1) and fifth-highest number of players making the list from rounds 11 or higher. Half of the WAR came from two players, Albert Pujols and Keith Hernandez.
The Cardinals were tied for third in number of first round players (24) but 13th with 353.0 WAR. In the 52 drafts, the Cardinals were among those with the top 10 overall picks 10 times, with their top choice Braden Looper at #3 in 1996. Only the Yankees and Red Sox, also very successful franchses, had fewer top 10 picks with seven each. The Yankees drafted Ron Blomberg at #1 overall in 1967.
Over the 52 years, the Brewers led the first round with a total WAR of 429.0. The Red Sox were tops over the first five rounds at 894.9. They also led rounds 6-10 with 269.5 and overall with 1321.4 WAR. The Cardinals’ overall total was 1048.4, good for third place. The Cardinals’ total of 39 players with a career WAR of 10.0 or more was second only to the Rangers with 40.
It is important to note that we are not comparing apples to apples, as the initial draft consisted of 20 of the current major league teams with four others joining in 1969. The Blue Jays and Mariners have the best performance of the post-1969 added teams. Overall the White Sox, Padres and Giants had the poorest performance of the early 24 teams. The Yankees also had less than average success.
The top three teams, the bottom ones and the Cardinals’ total WAR for the First Round, Rounds 1-5, Rounds 6-10 and 11 and higher are listed below. The original 20 teams make up each population and the top players in each team’s total are listed alongside.
|Round 1||WAR||Top players|
|3||Athletics||427.1||McGwire||Chavez||Chet Lemon||Reggie Jackson|
|1||Red Sox||894.9||Clemens||Bagwell||Dwight Evans|
|3||Athletics||771.3||Henderson||Jason Giambi||Vida Blue|
|1||Red Sox||269.9||Boggs||Cecil Cooper||Brady Anderson|
|3||Dodgers||236.1||Charlie Hough||Doyle Alexander||Bill Russell|
|6||Cardinals||149.6||Lance Johnson||Coco Crisp||Terry Pendleton|
|2||Rangers||307.4||Kinsler||Kenny Rogers||Mike Hargrove|
Final note – the first round does matter
Total WAR for all the qualifying players was 23,718.0. Of that, 15,156.5 or 63.9% was accrued by players drafted in the first five rounds, including 8,444.9 or 35.6% in the first round alone.
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