For the better part of a decade the Tigers have been among the best in baseball, but their success has largely been due to free-agent signings and shrewd trade acquisitions. The current 40-man roster features just nine players drafted and signed by the Tigers, and with Justin Verlander on the DL, the only Tigers draftees currently on the active roster are Alex Avila, Nick Castellanos, and James McCann.
There are dozens of different ways to measure draft success, but for this exercise I decided to look at Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Replacement numbers and record every drafted player with 1.0+ WAR (Contributors) and every drafted player with 10.0+ WAR (Impact Players). I narrowed the focus to the years 2002-2010, a window that begins with Dave Dombrowski’s arrival in Detroit, and ends with the last draft class we can reasonably expect to be in the majors by now. Here are the results for that nine-year span:
440 total players drafted
Average Draft Position – 14th
15 players with 1.0 WAR
5 players with 10.0 WAR
|Player||Draft Year||Total WAR|
That’s information all right, but it doesn’t do us a ton of good without context, so I applied the same process to every other team in baseball over the same span. That ended up being a hefty list (check the chart below, or click this LINK for full details), but I figured I’d summarize it here:
The average MLB team drafted 50 players per year from 2002-2010, and in that span they averaged about two Contributors per draft, and roughly one Impact Player every two-to-three years. The Tigers are on the low end of the Contributors list, ranking 24th in MLB in total number, and 22nd in percentage when it comes to drafting players who have produced at least 1.0 WAR. However, the team tied for 5th in terms of total Impact Players, and ranked 6th in percentage of players who have produced at least 10.0 WAR.
This is an admittedly limited view of drafting prowess. It doesn’t take into account the round in which players were drafted, or give any consideration to MLB’s old slotting guidelines that allowed some teams to spend as much money as they wanted on the draft. The sample sizes are small enough that one or two more Contributors or Impact Players for any team would dramatically skew the results, and most teams went through a variety of changes to their front office during this time period.
I would caution against using this data to make any concrete assertions, but it appears the Tigers are both bad and good at drafting. They missed on an awful lot of players over the years, but when they hit, they did damage. There is perhaps no better example of this than the much-maligned 2008 draft. The organization took eight relief pitchers with their first ten picks, none of whom made a positive impact in the majors. But the two position players they drafted in the first ten rounds were Alex Avila and Andy Dirks, who have combined to provide 16 WAR for the Tigers.
The Tigers are on the low end of the Contributors list, ranking 24th in MLB in total number... However, the team tied for 5th in terms of total Impact Players.
No organization managed to turn even 5% of their draftees into Contributors (the Dodgers came awfully close), and just eight teams, including the Tigers, were able to crack the 1% mark in terms of Impact Players. Baseball is hard, and so is drafting baseball players, so perhaps fans should be a little more forgiving this June when the Tigers draft their usual assortment of Vanderbilt Commodores, right-handed SEC pitchers, and gritty, low-ceiling college outfielders from the Midwest.