The Random Number Generator (of Death, mwahahaha!) can be an owner’s best friend or worst nightmare come draft day. With a Top-2 pick you’re guaranteed a superstar in the form of Babe Ruth or Pedro Martinez, and with a 3-4 pick you have an elite list of players to pick from, be it Lady Baldwin for your staff or someone like Mickey Mantle to anchor a lineup and defense simultaneously.
But where is the trade off? Is it better to have an 8th pick and land a player like Rogers Hornsby, but then have to wait 22 rounds for a Dan Brouthers or Randy Johnson; or pick last and pick up a Ty Cobb and John McGraw back to back at the turn?
I ran some numbers on the past 5 drafts – the only in which we haven’t used any PC teams – and the results while not necessarily groundbreaking, can lead is to some potentially vital conclusions.
In general terms it makes little difference if you pick in the first or second half of the draft. Owners picking earlier in the first half have a cumulative .505 winning percentage and those picking in the latter have average a .495 winning percentage. Over 162 games, that works out to be a 2.4 game difference, appreciable for certain, but in the grand scheme of things the difference between an 88 and 90 win team is very small.
Note: I hit a bit of a snag in how best to compile the data. We have 16 round draft days as well as 24 round drafts, and the difference in 8 rounds is crucial. To mitigate these differences I decided to normalize the rounds by separating each draft into buckets of 10% increments, and comparing the results by each increment.
Digging deeper into the results, a dangerous trend emerges. Obviously with a Top 4 pick team success is all but assured, but as you approach the 7/8 picks, team success drops off the table before rising and eventually leveling off. This implies one should wish for a Top 4 pick, perhaps Top 5, but then anything else in the Top-10 is a hindrance and not a benefit.
We’ll come back to this point in a moment but first need to spend some time dissecting that 11-12 selection. With a .549 winning percentage sandwiched between a .479 and .484, this slot sticks out like a sore thumb. On one hand, the small sample size of just five drafts in the study needs to be considered since one or two abnormal teams can really skew the results. Similarly, it’s important to note that five historically great owners (Jason B, Justin P, Lou P, Mike S, Steve C) have just happened to have picked in this slot. Is the cumulative .549 winning percentage a result of the slot or of the general ability of the owners?
On first glance I assumed it was the owner base, but even if you take out the five, the balance of the teams have averaged a .528 winning percentage, considerably better than all but two other slots.
We can draw a simple conclusion: This spot is the best place to capitalize on another’s mistake:
- Last year Tip O’Neill and Greg Maddux were nabbed here? Why? Two other owners stumbled early and took Jimmy Foxx and Hugh Duffy ahead of them.
- In ATB XII again it was Tip O’Neill this time by Steve C, only available because Jimmy Foxx was again selected too early. The Chips ended with a .617 Wpct.
- ATB XI was infamous, as Ted Williams was passed on for Hugh Duffy, Roger Connor, Randy Johnson, Rogers Hornsby, Jimmie Foxx, and Fred Dunlap among others. Justin happily grabbed him and won 96 games.
- In ATB X Jason B selected Honus Wagner, only available because someone else thought Addie Joss was a Top 10 pick. Jason’s Fanclub won 95 games.
- Finally, in ATB IX yours truly ended up with Ted Williams by way of a too early Mark McGwire pick, my Red Eagles won 104 games.
Year in and year out owners make mistakes early in the draft. If you happen to land a draft pick immediately after these one or two gaffes, you can easily end up with Top 5 value while not having to wait so long for the Round 2 pick to come back.
Getting back to the original point of poor winning percentages immediately after pick 5. I believe this is occurring not because the talent after pick 5 is so bad; rather, the talent is not so obvious. Everyone knows what do with the Top 5 picks in the draft but once the superstars are off the board, owners are forced to think and mistakes can happen.
I am generalizing here, but my conclusions:
- A Top 4 or 5 pick is still the best place to draft, especially Top 2
- The rest of the draft is relatively equal – if you make a good pick
- However, the easiest place to make a mistake in the 1st round between choices 5-10, and making one here can kill a team.
- Conversely, the best place to capitalize on an owner's mistake are the handful of selections immediately after.