FanPost

The Difference between the Royals and Rays is not Draft Busts


It seems that everyone's frustrations with the Royals, and especially Dayton Moore, have come to a boiling point this weekend.  I know mine have. A combination of events have brought the ghosts of Royals Past, Present, and Future have come to visit, and the visions have been ugly.

To briefly recap, there's probably no American League team that more closely resembled the Royals in the recent past than the Rays.  A few years ago, both were perennial candidates for 100 losses.  In the present, though, there's no resemblance.  The Rays, two years removed from the World Series, have the best record in the AL.  For the second year in a row, the Royals have only the Orioles beneath them.  And this weekend brought another reminder that, instead of trying to build a better future for the team, the Royals management is going to let our most talented prospects rot on the bench so that we can give more playing time to washed-up players who aren't under club control for next season.

It's frustrating, and it doesn't have to be this way.  However, I think it's important that we correctly identify what's hurting us and helping the Rays.  I've seen a lot of posts that suggest that the Rays have made better use of their 1st Round Draft picks than the Royals have.  For my first FanPost, I decided to take a look at that criticism.  The criticism is wrong.  The difference between the Royals and Rays is not draft busts.  In fact, the Royals have been better first round pickers than the Rays. 

Since the Royals and Rays are both small-market (at least relative to New York; Tampa-St Pete is about 2.75M people while Kansas City is much smaller still at 2.07M) teams who can't compete on the free agent market for high-priced veterans, I looked only at the last eight drafts (2002-2009) so that the analysis was limited to players who would likely still be under club control in the 2010 season.  For another measuring stick, I added another successful small market team that regularly replenishes its major league club with players from its farm system, the Minnesota Twins

 

The Data

The tables below list 1st round (regular and supplementary) draft picks by the three clubs, the ages, of the players when drafted, the team they play for now, the number of plate appearances or innings pitched as a measure of time spent in the Majors, and the career Wins Above Replacement (all data from Fangraphs).

2002

Pk Drafting Player Age Current MLB Time MLB Production
2 RAYS B.J. Upton 17 Rays 2271 PA +11.5 WAR
6 ROYALS Zack Greinke 18 Royals 919.2 IP +22.3 WAR
20 TWINS Denard Span 18 Twins 1193 IP +6.7 WAR

This was a good draft for all three teams -- the best first round pick for the Royals, and the second-best pick for the Rays and Twins -- but the team with the overall #1, the Pirates, did not fare so well.  Their pick, Bryan Bullington, is currently at Omaha.

2003

1 RAYS Delmon Young 17 Twins 1918 PA -0.6 WAR
5 ROYALS Chris Lubanski 18 AAA (Jays)
21 TWINS Matt Moses 17 released
30 ROYALS Mitch Maier 20 Royals 548 PA +0.1 WAR

And this was a terrible draft for all three teams.  Mitch Maier is finally getting his shot, but none of the rest of the first-round draft picks have ever improved a major league roster.

2004

04 RAYS Jeff Niemann 21 Rays 218.2 IP +3.2 WAR
15 ROYALS Billy Butler 17 Royals 1606 PA +3.4 WAR
20 TWINS Trevor Plouffe 17 AAA
22 TWINS Glen Perkins 21 Twins 281.2 IP +2.3 WAR
25 TWINS Kyle Waldrop 19 AAA
29 ROYALS Matt Campbell 21 released
31 ROYALS J.P. Howell 20 Rays 322.0 IP +4.6 WAR

The two most productive players on this list -- Howell and Butler -- were drafted by the Royals despite Butler being the youngest of the seven picks. 

2005

2 ROYALS Alex Gordon 21 Royals 1398 PA +4.8 WAR
8 RAYS Wade Townsend 22 A+ (Jays)
25 TWINS Matt Garza 21 Rays 555.2 IP +9.3 WAR
39 TWINS Henry Sanchez 18 Released

Despite missing a season due to injury, Alex Gordon has already produced more than any of the three teams' first-round picks from the year before.  Wade Townsend was an incredibly bad pick.

2006

1 ROYALS Luke Hochevar 22 Royals 312.2 IP +4.0 WAR
3 RAYS Evan Longoria 20 Rays 1279 PA +13.9 WAR
20 TWINS Chris Parmelee 18 AA

This is the only year that the Rays clearly drafted better -- Longoria was a younger player, and he has been far more productive than Hochevar so far.

2007

1 RAYS David Price 21 Rays 171.0 IP +2.5 WAR
2 ROYALS Mike Moustakas 18 AA BA #80 KL#69
28 TWINS Ben Revere 18 AA

As we move into later drafts, most of the players have not yet reached the majors, so I've added their prospect rankings from Baseball America and Keith Law's 2010 preseason Top 100 lists.

2008

1 RAYS Tim Beckham 18 A+ BA #67 KL#29
3 ROYALS Eric Hosmer 18 A+ KL #34
14 TWINS Aaron Hicks 18 A KL#19
27 TWINS Carlos Gutierrez 21 AA
31 TWINS Shooter Hunt 21 A+
36 ROYALS Michael Montgomery 18 AA BA #39 KL#75

Obviously, this draft has yet to pan out, but the Royals prospects are moving up through the farm system as faster or faster than the other players on the list.

2009

12 ROYALS Aaron Crow 22 AA BA #40 KL#87
22 TWINS Kyle Gibson 21 A+ KL#89
30 RAYS LeVon Washington Did not sign
46 TWINS Matthew Bashore 20 R

We'll see how this plays out.  The Rays will get a compensatory pick in this year's draft for failing to sign Washington.

Some Conclusions

The Twins have been awful with their first round drafts. 

They drafted Joe Mauer with the first pick in 2001.  They followed him up with Denard Span in 2002.  Since then, their only really successful first-round pick, Matt Garza, is winning games for the Rays.  That the Twins have been able to sustain such a high level of success despite such crappy drafting is impressive but also perplexing.  It seems to suggest that drafting and player development is less important to small-market clubs than generally described.

Pk Year Player Age Now Curr Tm MLB Time MLB Prod
20 2002 Denard Span 26 Twins 1193 PA +6.7 WAR
21 2003 Matt Moses 24 released
20 2004 Trevor Plouffe 23 AAA
22 2004 Glen Perkins 27 Twins 281.2 IP +2.3 WAR
25 2004 Kyle Waldrop 25 AAA
25 2005 Matt Garza 26 Rays 555.2 IP +9.3 WAR
39 2005 Henry Sanchez 23 released
20 2006 Chris Parmelee 22 AA
28 2007 Ben Revere 21 AA
14 2008 Aaron Hicks 20 A KL#19
27 2008 Carlos Gutierrez 23 AA
31 2008 Shooter Hunt 23 A+
22 2009 Kyle Gibson 22 A+ KL#89
46 2009 Matthew Bashore 21 R

 

The Rays' secret has been high draft position

The Rays have had 3 #1 overall picks, and 6 top-four picks in the last eight drafts (in comparison, the Royals have had 1 overall #1 and 4 top fours) .  Every single major leaguer the Rays have produced in the first round has come from one of the first four overall picks in the draft.  Note that from 2004 to 2007, the Rays used top-10 picks on college juniors.  Drafting mature players with top picks ought to be as close as the draft offers to a sure thing, but neither Niemann nor Townsend has shown much results yet (and Townsend never will, for the Rays).   Just a reminder of how difficult drafting well is.

2 2002 B.J. Upton 25 Rays 2271 PA +11.5 WAR
1 2003 Delmon Young 24 Twins 1918 PA -0.6 WAR
4 2004 Jeff Niemann 27 Rays 218.2 IP +3.2 WAR
8 2005 Wade Townsend 27 A+ (Jays)
3 2006 Evan Longoria 24 Rays 1279 PA +13.9 WAR
1 2007 David Price 24 Rays 171.0 IP +2.5 WAR
1 2008 Tim Beckham 20 A+ BA #67 KL#29
30 2009 LeVon Washington Did not sign

 

The Royals have had productive first-round picks.

The Royals have had more, but lower, draft picks than Tampa Bay.  Although those picks have only produced one superstar to Tampa's two (assuming you're willing to give BJ Upton superstar status), the Royals have produced more and better major leaguers.  The Royals recent first round drafts focused on younger players who haven't yet produced at the MLB level but rank highly on the prospect lists.

6 2002 Zack Greinke 26 Royals 919.2 IP +22.3 WAR
5 2003 Chris Lubanski 25 AAA (Jays)
30 2003 Mitch Maier 27 Royals 548 PA +0.1 WAR
15 2004 Billy Butler 23 Royals 1606 PA +3.4 WAR
29 2004 Matt Campbell 27 released
31 2004 J.P. Howell 26 Rays 322.0 IP +4.6 WAR
2 2005 Alex Gordon 26 Royals 1398 PA +4.8 WAR
1 2006 Luke Hochevar 26 Royals 312.2 IP +4.0 WAR
2 2007 Mike Moustakas 21 AA BA #80 KL#69
3 2008 Eric Hosmer 20 A+ KL #34
36 2008 Michael Montgomery 20 AA BA #39 KL#75
12 2009 Aaron Crow 23 AA BA #40 KL#87

 

Rankings

When looking only at players still in the minors, the Royals drafts have clearly been the most productive, with four Top 100 MiLB prospects to Tampa's one, and Minnesota's two.  When looking at players who have made a positive contribution at the MLB level (that is, excluding Delmon Young), the list looks like this:

 

6 ROYALS Zack Greinke 26 Royals 919.2 IP +22.3 WAR
3 RAYS Evan Longoria 24 Rays 1279 PA +13.9 WAR
2 RAYS B.J. Upton 25 Rays 2271 PA +11.5 WAR
25 TWINS Matt Garza 26 Rays 555.2 IP +9.3 WAR
20 TWINS Denard Span 26 Twins 1193 PA +6.7 WAR
2 ROYALS Alex Gordon 26 Royals 1398 PA +4.8 WAR
31 ROYALS J.P. Howell 26 Rays 322.0 IP +4.6 WAR
1 ROYALS Luke Hochevar 26 Royals 312.2 IP +4.0 WAR
15 ROYALS Billy Butler 23 Royals 1606 PA +3.4 WAR
4 RAYS Jeff Niemann 27 Rays 218.2 IP +3.2 WAR
1 RAYS David Price 24 Rays 171.0 IP +2.5 WAR
22 TWINS Glen Perkins 27 Twins 281.2 IP +2.3 WAR
30 ROYALS Mitch Maier 27 Royals 548 PA +0.1 WAR

 

If you adjust for WAR/season (assuming 200 IP or 600 PA in a season), Longoria looks like the best of the pack, but otherwise the team rankings stay pretty consistent. Even just looking at MLB performance, KC is at least Tampa's equal.  When you add in prospects, the results of KC's first-round drafts seem clearly superior.

Conclusion

The people who blame the Royals poor performance on poor first-round drafting are wrong.  The Draft is too unpredictable for a high-level of success and the Royals seem to be doing as well or better than the teams they are directly competing against.  This doesn't mean that Dayton Moore is doing a good job.  He is not.  The second-best player (by WAR) that the Royals have drafted in the first-round is playing for the Rays (as is the best player the Twins have drafted in the last eight first rounds). The Royals clearly need to do a better job on development and properly valuing talent once we acquire it.  But the draft, which for so many years was a disaster for the Royals, is now one of our greatest strengths.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Royals Review community. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors and writers of this site.

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