Pirates Missing The Point On Draft Day
Once upon a time, a book entitled Moneyball hit the shelves, and with it came a storm of debate over the relative merits of college vs. high school prospects. Michael Lewis’ bestseller, though a tad sensationalistic in tone, uncovered a market inefficiency that the A’s were expoliting- the drafting of college players over high school players produced a higher return on investment. A study by Rany Jazayerli of Baseball Prospectus concluded as much. In a study of drafts between 1984-1991, Jazayerli concluded that the average return on investment for a college player was substantially higher than that of a high school player.
However, that same study by Jazayerli concluded that as the years have passed, the gap between the college and high school players has become nonexistent:
“I’m man enough to admit it: I’m completely befuddled by these results. Not only did the gap between the value of college and high-school players shrink to almost nothing in the 1990s; this has occurred even though the pendulum swung back towards taking more high-school players. ”
In other words, the market inefficiency of college talent that once existed is now gone, even though more high school players have been selected.
Which brings us back to the Pirates. Since Dave Littlefield took over as General Manager in July of 2001, the Pirates have had 7 amateur drafts. The distribution of players taken in the first 10 rounds is as follows (for the sake of this study, I have omitted the 2001 draft; it’s unclear what role Littlefield played in the draft process. We are looking at 2002-2007 here.)
College Pitchers: 22
College Position Players: 18
Total % College Players: 66.7%
High School Pitchers: 9
High School Position Players: 11
Total % High School Players: 33.3%
The trend toward college prospects has been even more pronounced the past three years, as 83.3% (25 out of 30) top 10 selections have been of the college variety.
In a time frame where the effectiveness of focusing primarily on college talent has been lessened, the Pirates continue to heavily draft collegians, many of the “safe”, low-upside variety. The results have pretty much been what one would expect: a gaggle of of future utility infielders, fourth outfielders, and middle relievers.
Suffice it to say, when you can’t afford to acquire stars on the free agent market, your player development goal shouldn’t be to produce the next Tony Graffanino. The Pirates appear to be trying to exploit a market inefficiency that simply doesn’t exist anymore.