MLB Draft History: Finding Value in 9th Pick Has Been Difficult

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MLB Draft History: Finding Value in 9th Pick Has Been Difficult

Chicago Cubs

happy cubs old logoThe 2014 Cubs racked up 89 losses en route to a fifth straight season with a top-10 pick.

Cubs fans suffered for days like Monday, where patience with the organization’s rebuilding is rewarded by a high draft pick and a $7.2 million bonus pool — the 14th largest in baseball.’s draft site is a treasure trove of information. Among the most important data provided is the total calculated Wins Above Replacement for each pick.

Last year, the Cubs drafted fourth overall. Players drafted fourth have a WAR of 552 — the third highest collective number for any pick. And while the draft can be a crapshoot with team’s abilities to find value players with later picks in later rounds, there is no debating that the higher a team picks (and the bigger a team’s selection pool is) the higher a team’s chances are to draft a valuable player.

Couple that with actual penalties for overpaying in a slot has tightened the loophole teams would use to draft players who would drop in the draft who were deemed unsignable.

It was a loophole the Theo Epstein-led Red Sox were able to use repeatedly. Teams with tighter budgets that couldn’t draft players they felt they couldn’t sign allowed quality teams with bigger budgets who could afford to sign the aforementioned players to do so. It was a case of the rich getting richer.

The Cubs pick ninth in Monday’s draft, which if all goes well, would represent the last time the Cubs have a protected pick for the foreseeable future.

Unlike the fourth pick, the ninth pick comes with more risk and has more misses on its résumé.

Thirty-one of the last 50 players selected ninth have made the majors. At 64 percent, that represents the third lowest percentage of players in the top ten who made it to The Show ahead of only the fifth pick (29 of 50, 58 percent) and the eighth pick (30 of 50, 60 percent). As a point of comparison, 44 of 50 No. 1 overall picks (88 percent) have played in the big leagues.

Further, the top overall pick (937 WAR) has been worth 333 more wins than the No. 2 pick (604). How is that for perspective?

Here is a look at the 20 most productive draft slots:

1 937 44
2 604 42
4 552 40
6 514 36
3 512 41
10 455 41
22 388 33
20 382 28
5 367 29
19 364 38
30 349 28
7 313 35
13 302 26
12 297 31
16 282 32
17 281 34
14 276 34
15 269 23
9 259 31
29 254 26

With a collective WAR number of 259 (or 8.4 WAR per major leaguer), the ninth overall pick has proven to be the second least valuable pick among the top 10 and fourth least valuable among the top 20. Stunningly, the 11th overall pick has only accrued 178 WAR — the lowest among top-15 picks.

Six of the 10 most valuable No. 9 selections have been pitchers. Leading the group is Kevin Appier, who earned a 54.9 WAR in 414 career games with the Royals, Athletics, Angels and Mets. Appier is the gold standard of No. 9 picks as he had nine seasons in which he was a 3-WAR pitcher or better. And while he only made one All-Star team, he pitched to a 5-WAR (an All-Star by bWAR standards) in five seasons.

Barry Zito is a relatively distant second with a 32.9 career WAR over 14 seasons with the Athletics and Giants. Zito, the 2002 AL Cy Young winner and three-time All-Star, had six seasons in which he was a 3-WAR player or better — including two years in which he posted a WAR of at least 5.0.

Geoff Jenkins (21.9) has the highest WAR of the position players chosen ninth. Jenkins, drafted by the Brewers in 1999, had four years in which he posted a 3.0 WAR or better — three of which were 4-WAR seasons.

All in all, six of the 10 best players to be drafted ninth have had at least three seasons in which they reached 3.0 WAR.

Here is a look at the most valuable No. 9 selections:

Kevin Appier RHP 1987 2 2 5 54.9
Barry Zito LHP 1999 2 2 2 32.9
Geoff Jenkins OF 1995 1 3 0 21.9
Mark Kotsay OF 1996 3 1 0 21.5
John Danks LHP 2003 0 0 3 21.4
Ron Darling RHP 1981 0 2 0 20.2
Michael Cuddyer IF/OF 1997 1 0 0 17.1
Steve Buechele 3B 1979 3 1 0 16.5
Duane Ward RHP 1982 2 0 0 10.6
Jeff Francis LHP 2002 2 0 0 9.3

The Cubs have picked ninth three times in the franchise’s history. Most recently in 2011 when they chose Javier Baez.

While the jury is still out on Baez, the hope is that he can one day crack the organization’s top-10 WAR among draft picks.

Rafael Palmeiro OF 1985 71.6
Kerry Wood RHP 1995 27.7
Jon Garland RHP 1997 22.4
Josh Donaldson C 2007 19.6
Joe Carter OF 1981 19.3
Mark Prior RHP 2001 16.5
Shawon Dunston SS 1982 11.5
Doug Glanville OF 1991 10.9
Corey Patterson OF 1998 9.6
Mike Harkey RHP 1986 6.3

… preferably while playing for the Cubs, seeing as four of the top five WAR numbers from Cubs first-round draft picks played accumulated their respective numbers after leaving the Cubs.

Author: Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.