Analysis: Dombrowski's Draft Performance

The Tigers' farm system hasn't rated very well during the last several years, but a system ranking is the product of many factors. Scouting, drafting, player development, and trades at the big league level all work to augment the system. With the Rule 4 Draft coming up this week, let's take a look at how well the organization has stacked up in the Dave Dombrowski era; the results may surprise you.

The conventional wisdom on the matter suggests a team is likely to find one major league regular and one role player on average in a given draft and this conventional wisdom is surprisingly spot on. I took a look at each team's draft from 2005-2007 and the average number of regulars and role players per team sits right around one each. This is obviously going to vary based on how you define "regular" and "role player," and also how you handle drafted players who chose to go or return to college, but the categorization holds up pretty well.

It's probably most accurate to expect the average team to draft between zero and one big league regulars and zero to two big league role players in a given draft with the understanding that some of those regulars are going to be Troy Tulowitzki and some are going to be John Jay. The value of the first pick, or the first ten picks, are much higher than the last ten picks of the first round, but over the course of a draft, the averages work out pretty well.

So how have the Tigers done in the Dombrowski era, 2002 to present? And also, how have they done with Dave Chadd since he came on board for 2005? Drafting and developing good players is absolutely a team effort, but it's a team effort directed by a couple of individuals who outline the organizational strategy.

Here's the high level data looking at 2002-2008, stopping here given a lack of substantial performance at the MLB-level from classes from 2009 on:

Tigers Year by Year Draft Results
YearTigers WARMLB Avg WARAvg DifferentialMLB Median WARMedian Differential
2002 42.41527.4834.4
2003 -1.815-16.88-9.8
2004 40.31525.3832.3
2005 36.31521.3828.3
2006 2.915-12.18-5.1
2007 10.915-4.182.9
2008 13.715-1.385.7
Totals 144.710539.75688.7
Notes: Uses bWAR, benchmarks guided by 2006 analysis of all draft picks and their performance, includes all players drafted, even if not signed


The 2002 draft was easily a success, with the Tigers drafting Curtis Granderson and Joel Zumaya. Granderson was not only an above average player during his Tigers years, but in conjunction with Edwin Jackson (whom they got for Matt Joyce), Granderson became Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, and Daniel Schlereth. Zumaya was a nice contributor for a couple of seasons, but the fruits of the Granderson pick are still felt 12 years later.

If 2003 was a disaster on the field, it might have been even worse in the draft room. The club drafted 50 players who collectively produced -1.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) using Baseball-Reference with no single player even reaching 0.5 WAR. You'll recall names like Kyle Sleeth, Tony Giarrantano, Virgil Vasquez, and Jordan Tata, but you won't exactly recall their great moments because they did not exist.

The bad news is that the Tigers didn't draft a single useful role player in 2004. The good news is Justin Verlander.

The 2005 draft looks great if you take the long view. Cameron Maybin, Matt Joyce, Casper Wells, Burke Badenhop, Clete Thomas (and also technically Alex Avila, who would sign in a later draft) were never key players for the Tigers, but think about the implications. Maybin and Badenhop were about half of the Cabrera trade. Joyce got Edwin Jackson who played a role in getting Austin Jackson and Max Scherzer, and Wells was part of the package the brought Doug Fister to Detroit. The Tigers didn't necessarily draft a great group in 2005, but they absolutely made the most of it.

The next year, 2006, didn't produce any solid major leaguers, but Andrew Miller led to half of Miguel Cabrera and Brennan Boesch was a useful player for some of his time in Detroit while Casey Fien eventually developed into a usable reliever after his time in Detroit. It wasn't a great draft, but dealing Miller ended up working out okay.

In 2007, the Tigers nabbed Rick Porcello as their solid regular and picked some collection of players that fit the role player model, even if they are a little light. Danny Worth, Luke Putkonen, and Charlie Furbush were 2007 draftees, which two of them potentially having major league positions in Detroit and one of them playing a role in the Doug Fister trade and winding up in another MLB bullpen. The club also drafted D.J. LeMahieu, who did not sign.

There aren't a lot of great names on the 2008 board, but Alex Avila and Andy Dirks have clearly panned out. Avila is unquestionably a major league regular and Dirks is no worse than fourth outfielder, and is probably a little bit more.

The 2009 crop doesn't look impressive, but Jacob Turner brought back Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante and Giovanni Soto gave the Tigers Jhonny Peralta. In addition, the Tigers drafted Mark Appel that year and couldn't sign him while also grabbing a couple of players who are still coming through the system like Daniel Fields.

By the time we reach 2010, it become a little too early to tell what the Tigers were able to do. Nick Castellanos certainly seems like he's going to be a solid regular, but we haven't necessarily confirmed that. The same is true for Drew Smyly, who looks the part of a back of the rotation arm or elite bullpen piece. The club also took Bryan Holaday in the 6th round, and he figures to have a future in a backup role if nothing else.

In 2011, the Tigers picked up James McCann, the 5th ranked TigsTown prospect, as well as guys like Aaron Westlake, Tyler Collins, Brian Flynn, Tyler Gibson, and Curt Casali, two of whom have moved to other organizations. We'll have to wait and see on some of these guys, but it doesn't look like a hugely successful class at this point.

For 2012, it's way too soon to tell. Jake Thompson, Austin Schotts, Drew VerHagen, Jordan John, Devon Travis are all names to know from two summers ago, but no one from the Tigers 2012 class has made it to the show yet. There's certainly big league potential there, but plenty of uncertainty as well. Jonathan Crawford and Corey Knebel lead the 2013 class, but the jury is still out.

Compared to average, of the 12 Dombrowski drafts, the Tigers have done pretty well for themselves. There are four easy wins, four drafts in which the Tigers used their picks to acquire major contributors or seem to have drafted players who are going to work out, one clear failure, and three that are too soon to judge. That's at least eight good drafts in the nine years that we feel confident about and they should hit on at least one of the three seasons since 2011. Since David Chadd took over, they're six for six.

Now this doesn't consider the players they could have drafted but didn't or the precise expected values of each pick. Nor does it consider the value per dollar of each signing. The reality is that the Tigers are producing an average amount of major league talent or better from their draft classes, even if sometimes that's because they're dealing away their homegrown talent.

The right way to look at this is probably that the Tigers don't typically have strong farm systems because they use their bullets as soon as they're ready. The Tigers either promote a quality player to the big league level or they trade a prospect for a big league player before their value can fall.

Baseball teams draft 30 or more players in most drafts and very rarely do many of them play a serious role at the major league level. In that context, the Tigers have done quite well for themselves over the last decade. They haven't necessarily developed the most talent or gathered the most depth, but with respect to major league success, they've done a very solid job.

Neil Weinberg is a Senior Analyst for TigsTown. He is also the Founder of New English D, a contributor to Gammons Daily, and the Associate Managing Editor at Beyond the Box Score. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @NeilWeinberg44


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