For most of 2017, the Phillies held the worst record in MLB, and along with that, the expectation of the #1 overall pick in the June 2018 draft. That all changed quickly in the final weeks — the Phillies, who had improved to around .500 ball since the All-Star Break, continued to play at that better pace, while the Giants and Tigers couldn’t buy a win down the stretch. The Giants’ fall to the worst record was not entirely unexpected, as they had been a bad team all year long. However the Tigers came out of nowhere after trading Justin Verlander, losing 24 of their last 30 games to lock up the #2 overall pick.
So, now that the Phils have gotten themselves the #3 pick, how likely is that to get them a future contributing piece?
We can look back at past drafts for an indication. The graphs below look at rWAR (“bWAR” to some) generated by each of the first 20 draft picks, over the 30 years from 1976 through 2005. That provided a nice round number of years, while limiting the number of players who are still adding appreciably to their career WAR.
The first graph shows the average total career WAR produced by each set of 30 picks (i.e. the total for the 30 players, divided by 30).
The second graph shows two percentages for each set of 30:
- how many went on to produce 10 or more WAR (i.e. at least hung around in the majors for several years, probably started for a few)
- how many produced 30 or more WAR (i.e. started for several years, possibly an All-Star)
So we see a couple of things here:
1) Even over a 30-year period, the results are “lumpy” and inconsistent enough that you don’t get a neat declining curve from left to right.
2) Unfortunately for the Phillies in this case, there does appear to be a drop-off from the 2nd pick to the 3rd, both in terms of average WAR (from 16 to 10), and in the percentages of picks finding success in the majors. For example, only one in 10 go on to generate 30+ WAR, as compared to one in five for the #2 picks.
Below is a list of the top 3 picks for each year. Worth noting that the median for the #3 pick over those 30 years is... 1.1 WAR, or essentially replacement level.
So, in summary, what does history tell us we can expect?
- There’s about a 50-50 chance that the player will be better than replacement level.
- A bit better than a one in three chance (37%) that he’ll amass at least 10 WAR.
- A one in ten chance that he’ll produce at least 30, and even a slim but real chance that they’ll follow Paul Molitor to Cooperstown.
1st round of the 2005 draft, where it’s easy to pick a different year or round