The Houston Crime Syndicate

Baseball and basketball are very different sports. Even the things they have in common are very different. They both have an annual amateur player draft, but even that is very different.

In basketball, the overall number one pick can dramatically change a franchise, so much a sure thing that teams would tank games to ensure having the worst record.

In baseball, the overall number one pick is not a sure thing, generally taking several years to advance thru the farm system before ever contributing to the major league team.

Fielding a team of bad players in basketball gives you no chance of winning - Charlotte proved that this past season.

Fielding a team of bad players in baseball can still win some games - Kansas City proved that by winning 56 games in 2005.

To address the integrity of the game of basketball, the draft lottery system was implemented and tweaked over the years in an attempt to keep teams from intentionally losing games. Baseball has not acknowledged a problem (technically applies to many things in baseball, but just talking draft order in this post).

The Houston Strategy

Baseball has several ways a team can semi-intentionally lose games. At the trade deadline, teams can trade talented, experienced players in exchange for prospects. In September, teams can expand their roster and play prospects with no urgency to win games.

More losses result in a higher draft pick - worst record, first pick - that's the rule. Perfectly acceptable, within the rules, used by many teams.

As of writing this post on August 1st, just after the non-waiver trade deadline, the Houston Astros have the worst record in baseball - and, barring a late season surge in Colorado with Johnathan Sanchez, are in line to receive the first pick in the 2013 Amateur Draft. They received the first pick in the 2012 draft as well.

In the past three years, Houston has dumped key players for prospect at the trading deadline in July.

2010: Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt

2011: Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, Jeff Keppinger

2012: Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, Carlos Lee, David Carpenter, JA Happ, Brandon Lyon

As bad as the Royals have been, they have at least been fairly consistent at being below average - no obvious dumping of talent in order to rebuild (Soria, for example).

The Royals' down period resulted in four straight years of top-three picks from 2005-2008 - each of which are contributing on the major league at this point (Gordon, Hochevar, Moustakas, Hosmer).

A similar period of high draft picks from 1999-2003 only yielded one contributor (Snyder, Stodolka, Griffin, Greinke, Lubanski).

The Houston Crime

When you consider how talented the group of traded players are, it becomes clear that Houston has made trades that intentionally made their team worse in the present - accelerating their decline in exchange for higher draft picks and shedding major league salaries.

Each loss helps to improve the team's draft position, theoretically resulting in better, more impactful players.

If Houston receives the 2013 #1 pick, they will join two other franchises with back-to-back overall #1 picks: 2009/10 Nationals, 2007/8 Rays. The Rays have made the post-season, and the Nationals appear on course for post-season this year.

The lesson appears to be back-to-back really bad seasons lead to the playoffs.

Intentionally losing is a crime against baseball, and is not a victimless crime. By receiving a higher draft pick, the teams that are displaced lose out on the opportunity to select a better player, which ripples to a lesser degree through each round of the draft.

The Houston Rule

Just as basketball reached a point that required a change to their draft order rules, baseball has now reached that point.

For the integrity of the game, this system needs to change. You can no longer have a team dump talented players in order to improve their draft order - losing can not be allowed as strategy.

Here are two possible options.

First, draft order could be determined by using team records at the time of the trade deadline or All-Star break, instead of the full season. This would remove any incentive for losing during the final two months of the season - might as well try to win.

Second, draft order could be determined by using the combined win total over the past three seasons. In this option, teams could still tank the remainder of a season, but the effect would be significantly less when combined with the previous two season win totals.

Benefit: The three-year win total rule would keep a team from deciding mid-season to tank the remainder of the season for the number one pick. A team would need to be really bad for several years in order to get the first pick, and would receive higher picks for several as their win totals increase (theoretically, not based on my experience as a Royals fan).

By looking at the three-year win total in Table 1, the Royals would have selected ahead of the Astros in the 2012 draft.

Understanding Table 1: the Yankees experienced a dip in 2001 and 2008. The Royals had a dip in 2006 and have leveled off in the past four years. Houston experienced a steady decline since 2005 with a huge dip last year (and will again this year).

Table 1. Wins and Draft Picks, 1996-2012


What is interesting to note is the range of win totals during this period:

Table 2: Three-year Win Totals
















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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