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 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).
|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.
|1||RAYS||Delmon Young||17||Twins||1918 PA||-0.6 WAR|
|5||ROYALS||Chris Lubanski||18||AAA (Jays)|
|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.
|04||RAYS||Jeff Niemann||21||Rays||218.2 IP||+3.2 WAR|
|15||ROYALS||Billy Butler||17||Royals||1606 PA||+3.4 WAR|
|22||TWINS||Glen Perkins||21||Twins||281.2 IP||+2.3 WAR|
|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.
|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|
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.
|1||ROYALS||Luke Hochevar||22||Royals||312.2 IP||+4.0 WAR|
|3||RAYS||Evan Longoria||20||Rays||1279 PA||+13.9 WAR|
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.
|1||RAYS||David Price||21||Rays||171.0 IP||+2.5 WAR|
|2||ROYALS||Mike Moustakas||18||AA||BA #80||KL#69|
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.
|1||RAYS||Tim Beckham||18||A+||BA #67||KL#29|
|3||ROYALS||Eric Hosmer||18||A+||KL #34|
|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.
|12||ROYALS||Aaron Crow||22||AA||BA #40||KL#87|
|30||RAYS||LeVon Washington||Did not sign|
We'll see how this plays out. The Rays will get a compensatory pick in this year's draft for failing to sign Washington.
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|
|22||2004||Glen Perkins||27||Twins||281.2 IP||+2.3 WAR|
|25||2005||Matt Garza||26||Rays||555.2 IP||+9.3 WAR|
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|
|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|
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.
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.