MLB Power Rankings
It’s time for another week of the Talk Back Fans MLB Power Rankings. Today we’re going to take a look at where in the draft teams committed highway robbery. Every sports draft is a crapshoot. But none more so than the Major League Baseball draft. First, we’ll no nothing about any of the current year’s picks for at least two years, most likely more. Second, baseball has so many rounds that players come out of the woodwork all the time. Third, no one really knows how a player will develop through the minors. So this week’s power rankings will also include the best steal in each team has ever drafted. The formula – for the sake of ease – is simply baseball-reference’s WAR times the round in which they were taken as long as they were signed by the team they were drafted by (for tie-breakers, add the overall pick to the score; there were no tie breakers needed).
#30 Baltimore Orioles (19-45, -108, LW: 29)
Best Steal: Steve Finley, 13th round in 1987 (575.9). Why did the Orioles only make two playoff appearances in 30 years? Because they would trade away a player like Steve Finley along with Curt Schilling and Pete Harnisch for Glenn Davis. Some teams constantly make me shake my head.
#29 Kansas City Royals (22-44, -110, LW: 27)
Best Steal: Al Cowens, 75th round in 1969 (1147.5). Cowens came to the Royals big league club right at the time that the team came of age, winning three straight division titles from 1976-78. In 1977 he finished second in the AL MVP voting and won a Gold Glove. His bWAR isn’t a great number (15.3), but when you get an everyday player (812 games in six years) who gives you a 103 OPS+ while you consistently win a lot of games (averaged 90 wins in those six years), you have to admit that’s a bargain.
#28 Miami Marlins (23-42, -108, LW: 30)
Best Steal: Josh Willingham, 17th round in 2000 (319.6). The Marlins are more noted for who the sign in free agency than who they draft and keep. Willingham was a solid player for 11 total seasons. In Miami he hit .266/.361/.472 in 416 games.
#27 Cincinnati Reds (23-43, -75, LW: 25)
Best Steal: Ken Griffey, 29th round in 1969 (1000.5). His kid got the sweet stroke and the awesome endorsement contracts, but the old man was nothing to sneeze at. The right fielder for the most balanced offense of all-time, he stole 200 career bases, had nearly 500 career extra base hits, and made three All-Star teams.
#26 Texas Rangers (27-41, -70, LW: 23)
Best Steal: Ian Kinsler, 17th round in 2003 (943.5). No. 2 on this list is Travis Hafner and No. 3 is Rich Aurilia – they haven’t done great in the draft, at least as far as with those they kept. Kinsler gave the Rangers a .273/.349/.454 line in eight seasons and made three All-Star teams in his time with Texas, including the only two times they’ve reached the World Series.
#25 Chicago White Sox (22-41, -78, LW: 28)
Best Steal: Mark Buehrle, 38th round in 1998 (2253.4). In 12 seasons with the South Siders Buehrle pitched 2476.2 innings with a 3.83 ERA (120 ERA+), made four All-Star teams, won a Gold Glove, and finished fifth in the 2005 Cy Young voting, their World Championship season. Afterwards he pitched four more seasons with Miami and Toronto.
#24 Colorado Rockies (32-33, -42, LW: 21)
Best Steal: Matt Holliday, 7th round in 1998 (312.9). In five years in Denver he hit .319/.386/.552 (131 OPS+), made three All-Star teams, and finished second in the NL MVP voting in 2007. Last year he collected his 2000th career hit.
#23 Pittsburgh Pirates (32-33, +7, LW: 20)
Best Steal: Jose Bautista, 20th round in 2000 (684.0). Not the best selection here, since he was traded and then returned to Pittsburgh for five non-descript seasons. If you want a better pick, go with Dave Parker (561.4).
#22 Tampa Bay Rays (29-35, -14, LW: 15)
Best Steal: Kevin Kiermaier, 31st round in 2010 (651.0). Not a lot to choose from for this team, but Kiermaier has won two Gold Gloves. The WAR departments seem to like him more (21.1 career baseball-reference WAR, 14.0 fangraphs WAR, and 14.2 Baseball Prospectus WARP) the Win Shares market (54 total Win Shares, meaning about 18 total wins), but hey, that’s why we have them.
#21 New York Mets (29-32, -31, LW: 24)
Best Steal: Nolan Ryan, 12th round in 1965 (981.6). Ryan was traded by the Mets to the Angels for shortstop Jim Fregosi. People forget this, but Fregosi was probably the best hitting shortstop in baseball. From 1963-70 Fregosi put up a .751 OPS. At the time it looked like a good trade for the Mets. But back problems made it a win for the Angels.
#20 Toronto Blue Jays (30-35, -19, LW: 26)
Best Steal: Orlando Hudson, 43rd round in 1997 (1328.7). I was surprised, but you know what? He had an 11-year career, hit .273/.341/.412 (97 OPS+, basically average), made two All-Star teams and won four Gold Gloves. Yes, most of it was away from Toronto, but that has been the case for them.
#19 Philadelphia Phillies (33-30, +12, LW: 14)
Best Steal: Ryne Sandberg, 20th round in 1978 (1360.0). Here’s one to make Philly fans sick. Sandberg was basically a throw-in for what was a trade of Larry Bowa for Ivan DeJesus. Yes, the future Hall of Famer was a throw-in with two aging no-hit shortstops.
#18 Minnesota Twins (28-34, -11, LW: 19)
Best Steal: Kent Hrbek, 17th round in 1978 (656.2). In 1984 Hrbek was runner-up in the AL MVP voting, despite being about the tenth best player in the league. Had a grand slam in Game 6 of the 1987 World Series to put that game away (the won the series the following night), and averaged 27 homers per season over the course of his career, all with the Twins.
#17 Detroit Tigers (31-36, -31, LW: 15)
Best Steal: John Smoltz, 22nd round in 1985 (520.2). Yes, I know, this isn’t a great selection because he never pitched for the Tigers. In the mid 70’s the Tigers drafted Lou Whitaker (5th round), Jack Morris (5th), Alan Trammell (3rd), Lance Parrish (1st), and Kirk Gibson (1st), all of whom made major contributions to their success in the 80’s, winning the World Series in 1984 and the AL East in 1987. But in 1987 they traded Smoltz for Doyle Alexander, who pitched brilliantly down the stretch, but the team stunk for the next 20 years, mostly because of moves like trading a young arm for an aging veteran.
#16 San Diego Padres (31-36, -46, LW: 17)
Best Steal: Jake Peavy, 15th round in 1999 (594.0). Peavy won the Cy Young in 2007 and made two All-Star appearances, but did very little after leaving the home of Ron Burgundy.
#15 St. Louis Cardinals (35-28, +19, LW: 10)
Best Steal: Keith Hernandez, 42 round in 1971 (2536.8). The second biggest steal of all time, behind only Mike Piazza. Similar to Mark Grace, he hit .299/.385/.448 in his time with the Cardinals, won five Gold Gloves, split the 1979 MVP with Willie Stargell, made two All-Star teams, and was a part of probably the best defensive infield of the 1980’s (the 1982 Cardinals won the World Series with Hernandez at first, Tom Herr at second, Ken Oberkfell at third, and Ozzie at short. Not a lot of baseballs getting by those guys). Famously traded in mid-1983 (when Whitey Herzog had a problem he solved it), and was on another World Series champion in 1986 with the Mets. Tribe fans would like to forget his 145 plate appearances here in Cleveland, and please do so and remember how good of a player he really was.
#14 San Francisco Giants (33-32, -27, LW: 22)
Best Steal: Jack Clark, 13th round in 1973 (690.3). Clark was drafted out of high school as a pitcher, but turned out to be a great hitter. At age 21 he was a regular and from 1979 through 1984 he hit .282/.366/.490 in San Fran (141 OPS+). Often injured, he never won an MVP but finished in the top ten four times. Bill James described him as “Perhaps the best hitter in baseball in the early eighties, other than Pedro Guerrero” (In his “Historical Baseball Abstract”, updated in 2004; he had Clark ranked as the 27th best right fielder of all time). He was traded for four players to the Cardinals before the 1985 season, giving the Cardinals an actual power hitter. The 1985 Cardinals hit 87 homeruns – Clark had 22 of them. In 1987 the Cardinals hit 94 homeruns; this Clark had 35 of them. In 1986 he was injured but still managed to hit nine of the Cards’ 58 total homeruns. Generally during those years the Cardinals lineup was the pitcher, seven leadoff men, and Jack Clark. He signed a big contract with the Yankees and didn’t put up good enough numbers (.242 average meant everything, ignoring his .381 OBP) and was gone to San Diego. With the Padres he led the league in walks both years, posted OBP’s above .400, then went to Boston for two seasons before hanging them up. In his ten years with the Giants, though, he hit .277/.359/.477, numbers that are even more impressive when you consider the ballpark and the era. And since I love Guerrero’s reaction, here’s Clark’s homerun to clinch the 1985 NLCS. Enjoy.
#13 Oakland Athletics (34-32, +10, LW: 11)
Best Steal: Gene Tenace, 20th round in 1965 (936.0). I’ve written about him before. The Athletics had the first ever draft pick in Major League history in 1965 and took Rick Monday. In the sixth round they took Sal Bando. Not terrible. Gene Tenace was a World Series hero, drew a ton of walks, and hit for power. My favorite stat: Despite having a batting average 97 points lower than Tony Gwynn’s (.241 to .338) they have identical OBP’s (.388).
#12 Atlanta Braves (37-28, +59, LW: 8)
Best Steal: Brett Butler, 23rd round in 1979 (1143.1). For more, go here. Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines, Paul Molitor, and Brett Butler were the best leadoff men of the 1980’s. I want to take a second to thank Ted Turner for feeling the desperate need to make a move to counter the Dodgers acquisition of Rick Honeycutt (you read that right). Thanks to that the Indians got Brett Butler and Brook Jacoby for Len Barker. Oh what didn’t the coke years provide?
#11 Arizona Diamondbacks (35-29, +36, LW: 13)
Best Steal: Adam Eaton, 19th round in 2010 (317.3). This will likely become Paul Goldschmidt (should he return to form), but for now it’s the kid who showed some promise in Chicago and now is struggling to stay healthy in D.C.
#10 Los Angeles Angels (37-29, +32, LW: 18)
Chad Curtis, 45th round in 1989 (630.0). Would not be the most popular selection, but a 10-year league average career is nothing to sneeze at for a 45th round pick. In those 10 years he hit .264/.349/.396, he famously told Jim Gray he wouldn’t speak to him after his walkoff win in the 1999 World Series because of the way he handled the Pete Rose situation, he was in Cleveland long enough to get into a clubhouse fight, and he had two homeruns in six World Series at-bats; his 1.333 slugging percentage in World Series play is actually better than Barry Bonds’ 1.294.
#9 Cleveland Indians (34-29, +32, LW: 12)
Best Steal: Buddy Bell, 16th round in 1969 (1060.8). I wrote about Buddy here if you’re interested, but I have Bell as a fringe Hall of Famer (60.46 rating). Don’t let the managerial career fool you – Bell was a helluva player.
#8 Washington Nationals (33-25, +46, LW: 7)
Best Steal: Andre Dawson, 11th round in 1975 (712.8). Oh, if the Expos could have had just SOME postseason success. In 1972 the picked Gary Carter in the third round and in 1977 they picked Tim Raines in the fifth round. By the way, I am currently typing this list out reverse alphabetically by team name and I have four Hall of Famers. Two played considerable time with the team that drafted them and two were given away for nothing.
#7 Milwaukee Brewers (39-26, +42, LW: 6)
Best Steal: Lorenzo Cain, 17th round in 2004 (494.7). The Brew Crew traded him to the Royals (where he played his best ball) after only 158 plate appearances to get Zach Greinke (little did anyone know that was the start of the Royals’ championship run). But he does rank as the best. Of course, he is now back with the Brewers and apparently is having positive effects on their success.
#6 New York Yankees (40-20, +83, LW: 4)
Best Steal: Andy Pettitte, 22nd round in 1990 (Draft Score: 1326.6). Two rounds later the Yankees drafted their second biggest steal, Jorge Posada (1027.2). Two years later they drafted Derek Jeter. One thing that seems obvious was clear in this study: Teams that have several good draft picks within a few years of each other follow it up with a good run of success.
#5 Los Angeles Dodgers (33-32, +48, LW: 9)
Best Steal: Mike Piazza, 62nd round in 1988 (3695.2). Duh. This was the basis of the entire project. So instead on going through his Hall of Fame career, let’s note all 18 of the Dodgers Rookie of the Year winners (out of 72 NL winners; that’s 25%):
1947 Jackie Robinson
1949 Don Newcombe
1952 Joe Black
1953 Jim Gilliam
1960 Frank Howard
1965 Jim Lefebvre
1969 Ted Sizemore
1979 Rick Sutcliffe
1980 Steve Howe
1981 Fernando Valenzuela
1982 Steve Sax
1992 Eric Karros
1993 Mike Piazza
1994 Raul Mondesi
1995 Hideo Nomo
1996 Todd Hollandsworth
2016 Corey Seager
2017 Cody Bellinger
Half of them were managed by Tommy Lasorda (and four by Walter Alston; he and Lasorda managed non-stop between the two of them a combined 43 seasons), but this also goes back to a bigger point about what the Dodgers were under O’Malley (and moreover, the way Branch Rickey ran a baseball organization): It was a true ORGANIZATION. There was a certain way to play. It started at the top and went all the way down to Class D. Their decisions were as a committee, so a lot of times they would make a decision to play a young player and stick with him a lot longer than others would. How else would you explain Jose Offerman at short? He came up as a rookie in 1990 and made four errors in 149 innings while making fewer plays than the league average. The following year he played 351 innings at short while making 10 errors. The Dodgers made him their fulltime shortstop in 1992 and in 1290 innings he committed 42 errors. In 1993 he committed 37 errors in 1406 innings. In1994 he committed 11 errors in 610 innings (Woo Hoo!! A league average fielding percentage!!!) and followed that up in 1995 with 35 errors in 988 innings. After the season the Dodgers traded him to the Royals for Billy Brewer and put 34-year old Greg Gagne at short. Now granted, after that run I probably would have put 77-year old Pee Wee Reese back at short and been fine with it, but the bigger point is that they were willing to have him play nearly 4800 innings while committing 42 errors per 1458 innings (162 games at nine innings per). Could you imagine what Tribe fans would have thought if Jhonny Peralta had played THAT bad in the field? There are other examples of that, too, like Pedro Guerrero and his battles at third, or giving Franklin Stubbs at-bats despite a sub-.300 OBP (this from a team that practically INVENTED OBP), and on and on. Obviously they had their successes and it has a lot to do with their organizational philosophy. But it also led to some epic failures, too.
#4 Chicago Cubs (37-25, +89, LW: 3)
Best Steal: Mark Grace, 24th round in 1985 (1113.6). A guy who really should’ve been a No. 2 hitter in the Cubs lineup but second basemen hit second, first basemen hit in the power spots in some people’s eyes. He never hit 20 homers in a season, always drew more walks then he struck out, hit .308/.386/.445 for the Cubs in 13 seasons, made three All-Star teams, won four Gold Gloves, finished second in the 1988 Rookie of the Year voting (Chris Sabo, anybody? He did lead the NL rookies in bWAR) and four times received MVP votes.
#3 Seattle Mariners (41-24, +20, LW: 5)
Best Steal: Raul Ibanez, 36th round in 1992 (734.4). The Mariners absolutely nailed two number one overall picks with Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr., but otherwise have been very thin in the draft. Ibanez can best be described as a late bloomer. He never really hit in his first stint in Seattle (.241/.295/.383 in 518 PA’s), and didn’t get any fulltime work until he was 30 in Kansas City. Of course the Royals would give him playing time. The Royals were terrible, and giving 30 year olds at-bats despite being unproven was there M.O. But it worked. With the Royals he played well, hitting .291/.347/.492 in his three seasons there. He went back to Seattle and hit .291/.354/.477 and at age 34 received MVP votes, then a few more at age 36. Then he went to Philadelphia and at Age 37 made his only All-Star team, helping the Phillies to their second straight NL Pennant. In 2012 – at age 40 – he went to the Yankees and received an MVP vote, playing 130 games and hitting .240/.308/.453. He went back to Seattle for a season and hit 29 homers, the last one being his 300th career homer. In 2014 he collected his 2000th career hit. He accomplished this while not playing 100 games in a season until he was 29. He hit .272/.335/.465/.801 (111 OPS+). He collected 2034 hits and 305 homeruns. He scored over 1000 runs and drove in over 1200. And about 95% of his career was collected from his age 29 season on.
#2 Boston Red Sox (41-19, +90, LW: 2)
Best Steal: Wade Boggs, 7th round in 1976 (639.8). The score should have been higher, but despite hitting .322/.418/.416 at AAA, they kept him there for two full years (he also hit .318/.411/.374 in two AA seasons), and he didn’t reach the big leagues until he was 24. Regardless, he still collected 2000 hits, peppered the wall at Fenway (hit 412 career doubles with the Red Sox), and made eight All-Star team in 11 seasons in Boston.
#1 Houston Astros (37-24, +122, LW: 1)
Best Steal: Kenny Lofton, 17th round in 1988 (1161.1). The biggest question about Kenny Lofton was if he would ever hit. He did. In a 17-year career he hit .299/.372/.423, made six All-Star teams, won four Gold Gloves, and stole 622 bases. And he played only 20 games for the Astros. His trade to the Indians for Eddie Taubansee has been the gift that keeps on giving. After a brief tenure in Cleveland he was traded right before the 1997 season to the Braves for David Justice and Marquis Grissom. He came back the following season, but Justice was still here until 2000, when he was traded to the Yankees for Ricky Ledee and Jake Westbrook. Then in 2010 Westbrook was traded to the Cardinals in a three team trade. In that trade the Indians acquired Corey Kluber. Not bad.
This week’s TBF Stat is Fielding Independent Pitching, or FIP. For those of you already aware of this statistic, please bear with me. People have tried to separate pitching from fielding since the earliest days of baseball, which is why Earned Run Average was developed. But there are some inherent flaws in that statistic as well. Starting with the basic premise, when an error is committed and runs score afterward, one goes about the inane process of recreating the inning without the error to determine if the run would have scored. Let’s use this game between the Expos and Mets on April 19, 1984 and this game between the Braves and Phillies on May 5, 1996 to explain the issue.
In the Expos/Mets game, Angel Salazar led off with a single off of Dwight Gooden. After a ground out moved Salazar to second, Gooden walked Pete Rose, then gave up a single to Bryan Little to load the bases. Tim Raines lined out to shortstop Ron Gardenhire. Then Gardenhire committed an error on Andre Dawson’s grounder allowing Salazar to score. Then Gary Carter singled to score Rose and Little. Gooden then hit Tim Wallach, and then walked Terry Francona to force in Dawson home. Gooden got Salazar to line out to end the inning, but four runs had scored, none of them earned. Um, Gooden did hit a batter and walked a batter (a guy who walked 65 times his entire major league career) and gave up a single, so how are they completely NOT his fault?
In the Phillies/Braves game Mike Lieberthal reached on Mark Lemke’s error to start the top of the seventh. John Smoltz then struck out Mark Whiten and Todd Zeile, so the inning should have been over. Jim Eisenreich and Pete Incaviglia both singled, though, to extend the inning, the second one scoring Lieberthal. Then pinch hitter Benito Santiago homered, Kevin Stocker walked, Kevin Jordan singled, then Mickey Morandini doubled in a pair, ending Smoltz’s night. Brad Clontz relieved Smoltz and got the final out, but six runs had scored, none earned. Now, let’s say Lemke makes the clean play and Smoltz retires the side, comes out for the eighth and the remainder of the seventh happens in the eighth. Now that’s five runs instead of six, but all five are now earned.
Runs are runs, and while ERA isn’t terrible at separating pitching and fielding, we can do better. Fielding Independent Pitching is one way of going about that. FIP is based on four things that a pitcher basically has control over – strikeouts (SO), walks (BB), hit batsmen (HBP), and homeruns (HR). Voros McCracken came up with his DIPS theory (Defensive Independent Pitching Statistics) and found that there is very little consistency with a pitcher’s batting average on balls in play from year to year. Bill James pointed out in “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract” (and by the way, if you’re a baseball fan and do not own this book in some way, shape or form what is wrong with you?) he points out the importance of a pitcher’s strikeout rate correlating to long term success. It’s pretty obvious that pitchers that are more prone to count on their fielders are less likely to have long term success (Jeremy Sowers, anyone?).
Over at fangraphs.com they developed FIP, the formula:
(HR x 13 + (BB + HBP) x 3 – SO x 2) / IP + K
K is a constant, which is derived from taking the difference between the league ERA and the league (HR x 13 + (BB + HBP) x 3 – SO x 2) / IP, and is usually right around 3.1. In other words, the league ERA and league FIP will equal each other, so when you see a pitcher with a huge gap between his ERA and his FIP you bet they will close in on each other, one way or another. Let’s use Kevin Millwood. Millwood won an ERA title with the Indians (with a losing record; we’ll get to the W-L record another day), but his FIP fluctuated half as much, and by the end of his career his career ERA (4.11) wasn’t too far off from his FIP (3.99). And remember when Josh Tomlin was 9-1 (Oh, I remember, everyone thought that I was nuts!!!!)? Well, here are his splits from when he was 9-1 to the remainder of the season:
IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA FIP BIPA
9-1!!! 89.1 87 40 33 8 56 18 2 3.32 4.80 .252
After 84.2 100 57 52 12 62 18 1 5.53 4.86 .308
For the season Tomlin ended up with a 4.40 ERA and a 4.83 FIP. Why? I mean, his line drive rate was similar, his other rates were similar, but those balls that were finding gloves were suddenly finding holes (no fault of his), and those solo homers became two- and three-run homers. Let’s look at the team numbers (through June 9):
Team FIP ERA
Orioles 4.61 4.84
Red Sox 3.44 3.51
White Sox 4.71 4.82
Indians 4.10 4.17
Tigers 4.45 4.23
Astros 3.16 2.88
Royals 4.79 5.32
Angels 3.93 3.56
Twins 4.26 4.20
Yankees 3.60 3.59
Athletics 4.30 3.90
Mariners 3.74 3.85
Rays 3.85 3.98
Rangers 4.67 4.72
Blue Jays 4.46 4.59
Dbacks 3.95 3.43
Braves 4.00 3.62
Cubs 3.98 3.15
Reds 4.86 5.05
Rockies 4.28 4.81
Dodgers 3.51 3.74
Marlins 4.64 4.92
Brewers 4.00 3.52
Mets 3.91 4.10
Phillies 3.54 3.73
Pirates 3.99 4.25
Padres 4.03 4.26
Giants 3.97 4.38
Cardinals 3.81 3.56
Nationals 3.38 3.28
American Lg 4.14 4.14
National Lg 3.99 3.99
MLB 4.06 4.06
Tune in next week for another installment.