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Who won the 2012 Draft? Part I

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It’s considered the cornerstone of the Astros transformation from worst to first. But did the Astros really win this draft?

MLB: World Series-Los Angeles Dodgers at Houston Astros
 Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager (5) dives back into second base on a pick off throw to Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (1) in the fifth inning in game five of the 2017 World Series at Minute Maid Park. 
Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

In 2012, the relatively unknown first-year GM of the last-place Astros, Jeff Luhnow, made one of his most lasting marks on the Astros with one of his very first decisions.

“With the first pick in the 2012 amateur draft, the Astros select...Carlos Correa.”

It was a bit of a surprise. The kid who played his High School ball in Puerto Rico wasn’t that high in anyone’s draft projections. He was generally considered a fifth or sixth selection.

The Astros signed Correa under slot and used the extra money to sign the highly regarded high school pitching prospect, Lance McCullers, who was a supplemental first-round pick drafted #41.

This turned out to be a draft coup for the ages. These two cogs, added to the pre-existing core of Jose Altuve, Dallas Keuchel, and George Springer, plus the later additions of Alex Bregman and Justin Verlander, became the core of the 2017 championship Astros.

This was possibly one of the most productive first-round draft tandems in history, and it's safe to say that without the success of these two players the Astros would not have become champions. But were the Astros the biggest winners of the 2012 draft?

Yes and no, depending on how you look at it. I’ve decided to look at it five ways.

  1. Who picked the best player?

According to the Baseball Reference’s draft Index, Carlos Correa was the most successful player drafted in 2012, accumulating 26.3 bWAR. Second best was 18th overall pick, the Dodgers’ Corey Seager with 17.8. If you prefer the Fangraphs fWAR model, Seager actually beat Correa, 20.1 to 17.8. Keep in mind that Correa has had over 200 more AB’s than Seager and Seager's OPS at .863 is .30 points higher than Correa's.

Still, arguably Correa could be considered the best player drafted in 2012. But isn’t the overall #1 selection supposed to be the best? Actually, that rarely happens. Between 2008 and 2016 it has only happened once, with Correa. Two #1 overalls haven’t even reached the Bigs. (The two post-Correa Astros picks) And remember, Correa was drafted as part of a gambit. That is, to draft him above his expected slot, pay him less than a normal #1, and use the extra money on the supplemental #1 pick who wouldn’t have otherwise signed without the extra money.

That pick was Lance McCullers. Drafted #41, His 10.9 fWAR is 8th in the 2012 class by Fangraphs’ calculations, and 15th according to Baseball Reference, which gives him 6.8 bWAR. Only one player drafted after him, Matt Olson, another 1st round supplemental draftee, has acquired more bWAR.

Not bad. Exactly 30 of the 60 players drafted in the first round in 2012 have zero or negative WAR ratings. The average WAR per major leaguer drafted in 2012 in the first round was 4.9. Times two is 9.8. Compare that with the combined Correa/McCullers bWAR of 33.1.

But wait...There’s more. Twenty of those drafted have not even made the majors. When you count those players in the player average, the average WAR per player is 3.3, or 6.6 expected WAR for two players. Correa/McCullers exceeded that by 26.5 wins!

Of course, a #1 overall pick should exceed that 6.6 bWAR all by himself. According to a Fangraph analysis picks 1-5 average 9.2 bWAR after six years. (Correa has five years) The top five in the 2012 draft average 11.2, with Correa’s total skewing the number higher. The next five after Correa average 6.5. Compare this to Correa’s 26.3, or even McCullers’ 6.8 acquired in four seasons. (Six year average for picks 41-45 is 2.3 bWAR according to the graph)

So despite the fact that, at times, due to injury or occasional slumps, Carlos Correa sometimes disappoints, stop whining. Big picture says, great pick. Astros win. McCullers too.

2. Best team draft by bWAR

Here I want to look at how well a team drafted by looking at the total bWAR of all the players the team picked. I do not deduct from the total team WAR players whose brief time in the big leagues resulted in negative WAR.

Also, I only include drafted players who signed with the team. For example, Alex Bregman was originally drafted by the Red Sox, but his WAR would go to the Astros because they signed him (in 2015). Even if the player signed with the team but played elsewhere, in this category the team that signed him gets credit for the WAR.

According to this criterion, the A’s won the draft at 39.6 bWAR with four players with more than 2.0 WAR: Addison Russel, 10.7...Daniel Robertson, 3.3...Matt Olson, 13.6...and Max Muncey, 9.8

But don’t lose faith, the Astros came in second in this category with 36.4 bWAR and three players over 2.0: Correa, McCullers and Brett Phillips at 2.7. The 2012 Astros draft actually produced 10 major leaguers, but only these three have made significant contributions.

Other teams that drafted 20 or more wins include the Mariners (27.9, with Mike Zunino, Edwin Diaz, and Chris Taylor), Twins (25.5, with Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, and Taylor Rogers), the Dodgers (25.4 with Corey Seager, Paco Rodriguez, and Ross Stripling), the Orioles (21.8 with Kevin Gausman, Christian Walker, and Josh Hader) and honorable mention, the Cardinals (19.8 with Michael Wacha, Stephen Piscotty, and Kyle Barraclova).

In case you’re wondering, the biggest dud teams of the draft (less than 5 WAR) were the Pirates, 4.7, the Red Sox, 4.2, The Reds, 3.1, the Phillies, 2.0, the Angels, 1.9, the Yankees, 1.6, and the White Sox, 0.7. Ouch!

According to my calculations (these are all manual calculations from the Baseball Reference Draft Index) and according to my criteria, there were 382 total WAR drafted in 2012, meaning the average team added 12.73 wins above replacement to the league total from this draft. The Astros total of 36.4 again shines, even if in this category it is merely second place.

3. Team utilization of indigenous draft.

What this refers to is how much did the drafted players actually help the team that drafted them. If the player was traded I will deduct his WAR from the team total but also add the WAR for the player traded for.

The draft looked upon as how well the players are utilized by the team that drafted them gives different results. The A’s no longer lead. They gave away Addison Russell for a rental of Jeff Samardzija, a net loss of 8.9 bWAR. They also traded Daniel Robertson for a net loss of 1.7 WAR, and released Max Muncy outright, a loss of 9.8 WAR.

On the other hand, The A’s got 1.2 bWAR by purchasing Danny Couloumbe from the Dodgers. Readjusting WAR for all the trades and releases yielded the A’s only 21.2 bWAR, mostly from Matt Olson.

The Mariners, who seldom draft as well as they did in 2012, also frittered away good talent. They gave Chris Taylor’s 12.5 bWAR to the Dodgers for Zach Lee, who hasn’t played for the Mariners and who has only 12 career innings. With the WAR of the fifth-rounder Taylor deducted, plus the trade of Edwin Diaz, the Mariners only got 14.6 bWAR from the 2012 draft.

Another 20+ WAR drafter that squandered its wealth is the Orioles, who traded Josh Hader’s 7.1 WAR to the Astros for the .5 WAR of Bud Norris. That brings the Orioles’ utilization of the draft down to 16.2 bWAR.

The Astros traded Brett Phillips and his 2.7 bWAR (with Hader) for nothing and less than nothing (Does Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers ring a bell, or would you prefer amnesia?) Basically, the only contributors to the Astros from the 2012 Astros draft are Correa and McCullers and their combined 33.1 bWAR.

Although it all came from only two inextricably tied players, in terms of team utilization of the draft the Astros win in this category.

4. Team exploitation of the entire draft

What this measures is how well a team was able to acquire 2012 draft picks in an advantageous way other than the ones they themselves drafted. It’s the flip side of category #3.

One team stands out as the big winner in exploiting other teams’ draft. The Dodgers got 17.8 bWAR from their direct draft of Corey Seager, 2.1 bWAR from the draft of Paco Rodriguez, (a great prospect who has had unfortunate, career-threatening injuries) and 4.0 bWAR from the draft of Ross Stripling. So the Dodgers already utilized 23.9 bWAR from their indigenous draft.

Then they got 2012 draftees, Alex Wood, Chris Taylor, and Max Muncy from other teams, all for nothing or next to nothing. In a very complicated three-way trade, the Dodgers basically traded Rodriguez to the Braves for Alex Wood. Rodriguez has not played in the big leagues since leaving LA, but Alex Wood has contributed 5.0 bWAR for the Dodgers in about four seasons.

As previously mentioned, Chris Taylor was acquired from the Mariners by the Dodgers for Zack Lee, basically giving the Dodgers 12.3 bWAR since late 2016.

Also as previously mentioned, the Dodgers simply claimed Max Muncy off waivers from the A’s in 2017. In only 336 games since then he has added 10.3 bWAR to the Dodgers.

So when you add the production of players the Dodgers drafted in 2012 to the players the Dodgers acquired from the 2012 draft later, the Dodgers have gotten 51.5 bWAR from 2012 draftees while on their roster.

The Dodgers may not have drafted quite as well as the Astros in 2012, (although using fWAR it was very close, 33.0 to 27.0)) but they have taken advantage of that draft better than anyone. Just as the Astros probably couldn’t have won the 2017 World Series without their 2012 draftees, the Dodgers couldn’t have competed for it as they did without theirs either.

In part II next week we’ll discuss the fifth criterion for judging the success of the draft, a measure I call Wins Above Average Slot.