If you’ve paid even a modest level of attention to the MLB Draft over the past decade, that headline is not altogether shocking to you. But, for the most part, it was just a feeling and a trash can on the receiving end of your boot.
Now, thanks to a study by FanGraphs, we can put some ugly, ugly numbers on just how terrible the Cubs have been at the Draft.
Here’s a chart of the accumulated WAR of homegrown players drafted in the last decade for each team (i.e., the total WAR that the draftees contributed to the team that drafted them), together with the average WAR per homegrown player (to account for outliers):
And there are the Cubs, fourth from the bottom. Worse, their accumulated WAR is just 1/3 of what the *median* team totalled. In a writeup about the Cubs’ woes, FanGraphs was unsurprisingly unkind:
If the Astros have only developed one stud player since the 2002 Draft, the Chicago Cubs have developed no one significant. They have been relatively successful at drafting and developing minor role players — Tony Campana, Rich Hill, Darwin Barney, Tyler Colvin, etc — but the homegrown talent is lacking star power. The best the Cubs have done is Sean Marshall, who found success as a dominant set-up man — which, while nice, has little overall value for creating a homegrown core to build around. Perhaps the 2005 Draft personifies the Cubs’ developmental success over the past decade. The 2005 Draft saw one Chicago Cub draftee make the big leagues (thus far), and that was left-handed reliever Donnie Veal, who pitched 16.1 innings for the Pirates in 2009 and compiled a 7.16 ERA.
That feels about right, and a look back the the Cubs’ first rounders, for example, over the past decade (Bobby Brownlie, Ryan Harvey, Mark Pawalek, Tyler Colvin, Josh Vitters, Andrew Cashner, Brett Jackson, Hayden Simpson, Javier Baez – the range for the study missed Mark Prior by one year) makes it feel even more right.
There are at least two caveats here, and they aren’t insignificant. First, this is solely about the Draft. In other words, it doesn’t consider international amateur signings, which have contributed a significant amount of value to the Chicago Cubs’ big league team over the past decade (and, if Starlin Castro continues to progress, that figure will explode).
A second caveat is that the list doesn’t consider drafted players who didn’t become “homegrown” players – i.e., players that were traded away. That’s why a team like, for example, the Yankees doesn’t fare terribly well – they frequently trade top Minor League talent to acquire ML-ready players.
Were you inclined, you could add a third caveat that the Cubs, during the last decade, have been relatively unwilling to spend big on the Draft (last year was a notable exception). They also lost a number of high picks after signing free agents. I say you could call that a caveat to the study – I call it yet another symptom of an organization that is terrible at the Draft.
If there’s any solace to be taken from this list, it’s that team up at the top, whose drafts, during the time period, were mostly run by Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod.