Recent Headlines

MLB Teams with the Best and Worst First-Round Track Records

Hey! Like the article?
← Do us a solid and give it a share. Everyone wins, especially you!

Using sabermetrics, three teams have done a great job with their first-round picks over the years, while three teams certainly have not.

Drafting amateur baseball players is hard.

The first round, however, is where you're supposed to have the most success because, presumably, you're selecting from the very best amateur players in America. These are the players who are scouted the most, and these are the players that are expected to become stars.

That doesn't mean it's easy. Injuries, bad luck, and a baseball team's inability to develop raw talent can sometimes turn a good draft pick into a bust. And the difference in draft philosophies, taking more polished college players versus raw high school guys with tremendous "tools," has a lot to do with the bust versus success rate in the first round.

So as Major League Baseball gets set for the 2014 MLB Draft on Thursday, here are the three teams that have had the most, and least, success in the first round since 2004.

The metric used to tabulate "success" was Baseball Reference's WAR formula and our very own nERD data.

Three Most Successful First-Round Franchises

TeamNumber of PicksWARWAR/pickBatting nERDPitching nERD
Diamondbacks2274.43.3817.7325.78
Nationals1563.64.2415.222.04
Rays2260.42.7510.1219.85

Since 2004, the Arizona Diamondbacks have gotten 74.4 wins above replacement from their 22 first-round draft picks, for an average of 3.38 wins per pick. Of course, 22 picks is a lot, trailing only the Blue Jays' 27, the Padres' 26, and Red Sox' 25. Of course, most of the big-name draftees are no longer with the team, like Stephen Drew (2004), Justin Upton (2005), Max Scherzer (2006) and A.J. Pollock (2009), which has got to be kind of a bummer for D-Back fans.

The Washington Nationals are second, getting 63.6 wins above replacement from their 15 first-round picks, good for an average of 4.24 wins per pick. Most of that production has been generated by some easy, no-brainer selections like Stephen Strasburg (2009) and Bryce Harper (2010). Talk about getting lucky. The Nats also hit it big when they drafted Ryan Zimmerman (2005), and appear to have a star-in-the-making in Anthony Rendon (2011), the man who has taken over third base for Zimmerman.

Finally, the Tampa Bay Rays are third, getting 60.4 wins above replacement from their 22 first-round picks since 2004, an average of 2.75 wins per pick. However, that number is weighted heavily by two selections, Evan Longoria (2006) and David Price (2007), who have accounted for 93% of that overall total. The Rays have not had a first round draft pick appear in a Major League game since 2008 first-round pick Tim Beckham.

Three Least Successful First-Round Franchises

TeamNumber of PicksWARWAR/pickBatting nERDPitching nERD
Phillies12-2.3-0.19-2.151.47
Padres262.80.11-0.445.32
Indians115.40.49-0.1112.73

I'm not sure "least successful" can accurately describe the wasteland that has been the Philadelphia Phillies' first-round selections over the last 10 years. They're the only team in baseball to receive negative wins above replacement from their first-round draft picks over the last decade, 12 selections in all. Their -2.3 wins above replacement averages out to -0.19 per pick, a staggering failure to both draft and develop young talent.

Part of the Phillies' lack of success is due to their five-year playoff run from 2007-2011, which had them picking near the tail end of the first round. They didn't have a pick higher than 16th (last year's selection of J.P. Crawford) over the last 10 years, and didn't have any first-round picks at all in 2005 and 2009. There's reason to hope that Crawford and Jesse Biddle (2010) can be decent contributors in the next few years, but other than that, it's been a real tire fire.

The San Diego Padres' selections have been almost as bad, and they've had more than twice the picks the Phils have. Their 26 first-round selections since 2004 have netted them 2.8 wins above replacement, or just 0.11 wins per pick. And whereas the Phillies made the playoffs five years in a row and won a World Series, the Padres have made the playoffs just twice (2005 and 2006) in the last decade.

San Diego has had just four first rounders drafted since 2008 play in the big leagues (Jace Peterson, Jaff Decker, Logan Forsythe and Cory Luebke), with Luebke being the most productive (2.4 rWAR). There is some hope, though. The Padres' most recent first round selections, 2012 draftee Max Fried, and last year's first round pick Hunter Renfroe, were ranked in Baseball America's pre-season Top 100 Prospects.

Finally, the Cleveland Indians have had the third worst success rate with their first-round picks, getting just 5.4 wins above replacement with their 11 first rounders since '04, an average of 0.49 wins per pick. Their most productive first-round pick over the last decade so far has been third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall (2008), who has generated 4.0 wins above replacement. But like the Padres, a few recent first round picks are among Baseball America's Top 100, including 2011 first-rounder Francisco Lindor and 2013 first-rounder Clint Frazier, so hopes are high for those two.

Of course, success in the later rounds can make up for first-round misses. But the stars of tomorrow are expected to be taken out of the first round, and many a general manager has lost their job thanks to too many misses there.

On Thursday, they all get another chance to find their next franchise player.

Stay In Touch

In This Article

David Price
SP, Detroit Tigers

Evan Longoria
3B, Tampa Bay Rays

Justin Upton
LF/RF, Atlanta Braves

Max Scherzer
SP, Detroit Tigers

Ryan Zimmerman
3B/LF, Washington Nationals

Stephen Drew
SS/2B, New York Yankees

Stephen Strasburg
SP, Washington Nationals

Bryce Harper
LF/CF, Washington Nationals

Hey! Like the article?
← Do us a solid and give it a share. Everyone wins, especially you!

Have Your Say

comments powered by Disqus