When Alex Anthopoulos was hired as general manager of the Blue Jays in 2009 he announced an increased focus on scouting and that included a rebuild of the amateur scouting department. Jeff Blair, in his book Full Count, says one of AA’s first moves was to increase the size of the amateur scouting ranks from 28 to 54. Today the website of the Blue Jays lists 23 US amateur scouts, 6 cross-checkers, two Canadian scouts and 12 international scouts. I emailed the Jays Director of Amateur Scouting, Brian Parker, about the department size and he responded “I believe we still have the most full-time area scouts of any club in baseball. I know the philosophy that Alex started back then of having smaller areas is something that we still believe in and follow with our current staff. I truly believe it gives us an advantage.”
The objective of this increase in amateur scouting was to improve the Jays ability to find major league players, to up the “hit” ratio from the normal ratio of one established major leaguer per draft to two. Players drafted and developed by a club are the cheapest form of talent and one path to on-field success.
So I wondered how would the Jays decision to increase the number of amateur scouts impact the draft? Would it help more with the top picks or the lower picks? And how would we see that change?
What would be the expected impact of increasing the size of the amateur scouting department? In my opinion more scouts should help as follows:
- more views of the top picks, leading to more certainty around the choice
- more views at mid-round picks, again leading to better choices
- more views at lower round picks, to find the gems lower down in the draft
- a scout with more time should be able to get to know the player better, to get a good understanding of the players “intangibles” and as a result cut out players with personal issues that can get in the way of them realizing their potential.
One of the benefits of having more scouts is to get more views of a player. Will that help? For the top players in the draft an interested team will have a scout at every game they play in their draft year. The team can only get more scouts to see the player, they already will have seen all his games. But will those extra views help the process? Let’s say a regular team, the Royals just to pick one, were interested in Phil Bickford. Lets assume they have the local scout, two cross-checkers, an assistant GM and the GM see him play. That equals to five separate Royals employees seeing the player. Now assume the Blue Jays have the local scout, three cross-checkers, two assistant GM’s and the GM see the player. That equals to seven views. Will the seven views be better than five? Or to put it another way, will the Jays have more success with their number one choice than another team?
Once we get past the first round the number of views starts to decline but the Jays should still have more views than any other team. To put it simply:
More scouts = smaller territories = more views of a player = more certainty of selection
Brian Parker said in an email that he believes the big advantage to the Jays will come in those first ten rounds, unless the Jays punt some picks for strategic reasons. He also mentioned one other advantage to me. The Jays can afford to spend more time looking at “unsignable” guys to put a more accurate valuation on the player and to see if it’s worth meeting their price.
But more scouts does not necessarily mean better scouts. There was some talk, around the time that AA was hired, that other teams were offering better pay to their scouts to stop them jumping to the Jays. It is unclear to me now whether the Jays have better scouts, but they do have more.
A scout might want to work for the Jays if the pay was better, or if the territory was smaller so they could be home more often. But as I see it there might be reasons that a scout would not want to work for the Jays. For one, the smaller territory would mean the scout would have a lesser chance of having a selection in the draft. If you think of a team making 40 picks in the June draft, some scouts could have 3 or 4 players selected from their area, others might have none. It can be tough to work for a year and see no contribution from you to the team you are covering. Also signed players are a scouts resume, no signees means a weaker resume. If a scout works for the Jays he has a statistically lower chance of having a player drafted.
Draft Experts and Scouting
Over the last five years there has been an explosion of information on the web about draftable players. Baseball America used to have the field to themselves but now there are several competing groups that offer their top 200 or more lists. The top players in the draft are not a surprise by draft day, sometimes the order is, but draft pundits can usually forecast somewhere between 25 and 28 of the first thirty picks. We can always find the story of a Mike Trout who many teams passed over, and there are numerous stories of top picks who were not successful, but it is hard to find a hidden gem anymore.
The first thing to understand of the first round of the draft is that despite all the scouting that put on these players, there is a lot of uncertainty involved in their post draft performance. Some 1-1 picks are busts while some number 30 picks deliver better value. The question is this: is the uncertainty a feature, as in unfixable, or will better scouting reduce the uncertainty? I believe AA was trying to reduce the uncertainty when he increased the size of the scouting department.
Another change in the last ten years has been the proliferation of showcases to help high school players be seen. There are few high school players now selected in the top rounds of the draft who have not had this showcase exposure. The showcases let scouts see the player perform against better opposition, thereby increasing their confidence in their evaluation.
So, where are we?
The Jays hired more scouts to increase their draft success rate
That increased hit rate could come at all levels of the draft through increasing the success of the number one pick and being more successful all the way through the draft
The Jays decision to hire more scouts should mean that a scout should see a player more often, and a higher ranked player should be seen by more scouts and cross-checkers. It also means that the Jays amateur scouts should have more views of most players drafted
The draft still has a lot of uncertainty built into every pick
There are fewer surprises or unknown players in the draft today than there was ten years ago
Over the summer Baseball America ran a story where they had calculated the odds for players to make it to the major leagues. The chances of making it for at least one game, and for accumulating three years playing time, are as follows:
1st round - 73% chance to make it, 39% chance of getting 3 years worth of appearances Supplemental 1st round -52% and 16% 2nd round - 49% and 16% Rounds 3-5 - 34% and 10% Rounds 6-10 - 21% and 6% Rounds 11-20 - 13% and 3% Above - 7% and 1%
Players drafted in the top ten rounds have a one in three chance to make it to the major leagues but just over a one in ten chance to survive for three years. Getting to the big leagues is an achievement but staying there is the biggest achievement.
By hiring extra scouts the Jays expect to improve those odds and have more players reach MLB.
It takes five to seven years to evaluate a draft, particularly drafts where a lot of high school players are selected. When an 18 year old is drafted the normal expectation is that he could reach the major leagues at age 23 or 24, or to put it another way 5 or 6 years after he was drafted. That is why it takes such a long time to evaluate a draft. However we will press on regardless.
There has been a concern in my mind that the Jays drafting has not been good, at least not as good as we hoped with AA’s increased emphasis on scouting. The Jays have drafted several players in high rounds who have never got out of short season ball. Many prospects, in general, hit a wall at AA or sometimes high A. You expect a top 100 selection to get to Dunedin without too many struggles. They might struggle after the big jump to AA. That hasn’t happened with several Jays selections.
So lets get into details, who have the Jays selected in the first round since AA took control of the team?
2010 - Deck McGuire
2011 - Tyler Beede
2012 - DJ Davis
2012 - Marcus Stroman
2013 - Phil Bickford
Leaving Beede and Bickford aside, if the Jays were to equal the MLB averages, they would need to have two of their three draftees reach the major leagues and one to have a three year career.
Marcus Stroman seems to be the best bet at this time to meet both those qualifications bearing in mind the attrition rate for prospect pitchers. Deck McGuire has a decent chance to make it but would be considered a longshot to get three full years in. It’s early to say what will become of DJ Davis, he is raw but talented. He strikes out a lot. He could have an Anthony Gose type career if he can improve his hitting but that might be his upside.
In summary, although it is really too early to have a definitive opinion, it looks like the Jays might just about hit the mark for the MLB norms for a first round selection. Stroman needs three years and if he fails to do that the onus would be on DJ Davis.
But that ignores the Beede and Bickford non-signings. One of the objectives of having more scouts is to get a better feel for the player, and by extension his family. The fact that the Jays twice failed to sign their first round pick shows that the presumption that the Jays would have better information on the players to be drafted is false.
First Supplemental Round
What about the supplemental first round? The Jays picks were:
2010 - Aaron Sanchez
2010 - Noah Syndergaard
2010 - Asher Wojciechowski
2011 - Jacob Anderson
2011 - Joe Musgrove
2011 - Dwight Smith Jr.
2011 - Kevin Comer
2012 - Matt Smoral
2012 - Mitch Nay
2012 - Tyler Gonzalez
The Jays have signed ten first round supplementary picks in AA’s reign. Based on the BA expectations, we would expect 5 of these players would play in the major leagues and 2 would be three year players.
As of today, I would expect that Sanchez, Syndergaard and Wojo would be major leaguers and one or two of them to make it to three years. At this stage, as fans, we expect all these pitchers who are close to the majors to be successful but the rate of attrition for prospects is high. In addition one or two of Smith, Nay and Smoral might make it but it also could be zero. This is the challenge in trying to evaluate the draft early. I don’t see Musgrove, Smith or Gonzalez making it. Jacob Anderson appears unlikely to meet either of the categories, he was drafted two and a half seasons ago and still has not graduated out of complex baseball. So three players have an excellent chance to make it, four are very doubtful and that leaves three to make or break the Jays success for this round. On average just 1.5 of the remaining three would become a major leaguer. The Jays need two of the three to make it for this to be an average draft.
On a three year basis where the expectation is two three year players I could see the Jays doing somewhat better with Sanchez and Syndergaard as the anchors. The Jays should hit the BA level of two and just need one of the others to make it three.
Summary: The Jays could hit the BA expectations for major leaguers but seem unlikely to exceed them. The Jays could exceed on the number of 3 year players.
On another note, picks in the supplemental round have a 50% chance to make the major leagues. One has to expect some of these players not to be major leaguersl but I would expect players selected this high in the draft to fail in high A, AA or AAA. As of now four of these players have made minimal progress since they were drafted. Musgrove, Comer and Anderson have not played full season ball yet, they will all be 21 next season, time is running out and their lack of development must be a disappointment for the team. Tyler Gonzalez barely played in 2013 before being suspended for unspecified issues. Again that reflects poorly on the Jays drafting. However reports from instructional league were that he finally seems to be getting his act together but he has essentially lost two years.
Most supplemental round picks are top 50 picks in the draft. Those are premium picks. To see four of them struggle so early in their careers does not reflect well on the Jays drafting ability.
The chances of success in the second round are the same as the supplemental round, 50% reach, 16% for three years.
2010 - Griffin Murphy
2010 - Kellen Sweeney
2010 - Justin Nicolino
2011 - Daniel Norris
2011 - Jeremy Gabrzyzwski
2012 - Chase DeJong
2013 - Clinton Hollon
The Jays have drafted seven players in the second round, 3-4 should be major leaguers, one or two should be 3 year players.
Summary: The chances of three of these players becoming major leaguers is slim, I am talking about Murphy, Sweeney and Gabrzyzwski. That leaves four who have all started well in their careers. Nicolino is the most advanced, but the others, Norris, DeJong and Hollon, are all top 30 prospects. The Jays could hit the expected major leaguer levels if all of these pitchers reach the majors, it is too early to say whether the Jays will have 1-2 three year players. Remember that pitchers have a high attrition rate and all of these pitchers still have questions about their ability to be successful major leaguers. Expecting all of the remaining four to be major leaguers is unrealistic. As a result the Jays are likely to fall short of expectations with their second round selections.
Third to fifth round (BA - 34% and 10%)
2010 - Chris Hawkins, Marcus Knecht, Sam Dyson, Dickie Thon Jr
2011 - John Stilson, Tom Robson, Andrew Chin
2012 - Anthony Alford plus two throwaway senior signs
2013 - Patrick Murphy, Evan Smith, Daniel Leitz
The third to fifth round had 13 selections but two were senior signs as overdrafts as part of the draft plan of the Jays. In addition Andrew Chin did not sign, so we will say the Jays made 10 picks for our calculation. Per the BA expectations the Jays should realize 3 major leaguers and one 3 year player. Sam Dyson has already made it, John Stilson is close with Tom Robson as the next best hope. Knecht, Hawkins, Thon and Alford are all very long shots to reach the major leagues. The 2013 draftees have not shown much yet.
Summary: Four players are doubtful, two are likely. The Jays need one of the remaining four to make it to reach the BA averages. One of the pitchers could have a three year career, likely as a reliever, as stilson is the closest to that.
The Jays have had 20 picks here over the four years. Four should reach the majors with 1.2 having a three year career. Sean Nolin and Anthony DeSclafani seem to be the Jays only prospects with a chance at reaching the majors.
Out of 40 picks the Jays should find 5 major leaguers and one three year player. Andy Burns appears to be a good bet to reach the majors. The best potential to also reach are Dalton Pompey, Matt Dean, Jon Berti, Zak Wasilewski, Ryan Borucki and Shane Dawson. Most of these players have longer odds to reach the major leagues. It would be realistic to expect 2 to 4 to reach the majors.
Rounds 21 plus
The Jays have selected more than 80 players in these rounds although a lesser number actually signed. The Jays should find 4 major leaguers and one 3 year player here. The major leaguer and likely three year player is Kevin Pillar. The next best chance goes to Derrick Chung.
The Jays have had a lot of picks over the last five years. By my count the Jays have had 14 extra picks between the supplemental and third rounds. These are compensation picks for losing free agents. When we apply the BA metrics just to those 14 extra picks the Jays should produce seven extra major leaguers and 2.2 extra 3 year major leaguers.
Do you see seven extra major leaguers in the pipeline?
Here is a table of the Jays picks and their expected value:
Picks ML ML*3 Round 1 3 2.2 1.2 Round 1s 10 5.2 1.6 Round 2 7 3.4 1.1 Rounds 3-5 10 3.4 1.0 Rounds 6-10 20 4.0 1.2 Rounds 11-20 40 5.2 1.2 Rounds 21-50 60 3.6 0.6 Totals 150 27.0 7.9
The Jays would be expected to generate 27 major leaguers from the 2010 through 2013 drafts with 8 of them being three year players.
If we remember the introduction to this piece the Jays hoped to better their hit rate in the draft. Is there evidence that they have done that?
Round 1 - Jays might reach the BA average but missed on two picks
Round 1s - Trending between average and below average on MLB players with several early flame-outs. Big hits on Sanchez and Syndergaard mean the Jays could exceed on three year players if they can find one more
Round 2 - Jays are likely to be below average
Round 3 to 5 - Jays are between average and below average
Rounds 6 to 10 - Jays are likely to be below average
Rounds 11 to 20 - Jays are between average and below average
Rounds 21 to 40 - Jays are likely to be below average
If I run the above summaries through a mental filter I get 21 major leaguers and seven 3 year players. When AA has hired he expected to increase the Jays hit rate on the draft. As of today I find no evidence that the Jays will increase their hit rate and indeed it can be argued that the Jays have been below average drafters since AA was hired.
If we assume that the Jays have not exceeded the normal hit rate on the draft then why have they not had the success they hoped for? Those of us who are not insiders may never know but here are some potential reasons for the draft results.
First, an explanation of the drafting process. Over the course of a year the Jays scouts, cross-checkers and front office staff will turn in hundreds of evaluations. In the week before the draft the scouts, cross-checkers and front office get together to rank all these players from one to the end. There were 1200 players drafted last summer, the Jays likely ranked at least 600 of them. The ultimate skill in the draft is deciding between several equally ranked players. It’s like looking at a first round projection, deciding your favourite, and repeating several hundred times. Except it not just you, it’s you and forty of your co-workers. For any one pick, you can have half a dozen scouts arguing for their player, you can half a dozen cross-checkers also preferring their choice and maybe front office people with an opinion too. As scouting director how do you decide? Of course you will have your own opinion too. But ultimately how do you decide? It could be political, the first rounder is who the GM likes best. Or as scouting director you might have some on staff who you trust more. This level of uncertainty, the mastery of group decision making, is the cornerstone of the drafting process.
And now to the Jays possible draft issues:
The Jays have had three different Directors of Amateur Scouting over the last four years, Jon Lalonde, Andrew Tinnish and Brian Parker. Turnover does not allow teams to develop consistency. Each Director might have preferences for certain kinds of players. In addition a big part of the job of the scouting director is deciding which scouts judgement to believe. Turnover does not let you develop that knowledge base from year to year
All of the scouting directors had limited experience before being appointed. None had previously been a scouting Director. It would be sad if AA’s investment in scouting was undermined by under-investing at the top
It is possible the Jays have too many voices in the room. The Jays have several former GM’s on staff. They all look at amateur talent leading up to the draft. When they all have an opinion who does the scouting director listen to?
The wrong voice in the room might be too influential
Even though the Jays expected to do better the element of luck might be too strong
Some of the scouts might not have been that good. The Jays changed up some scouts over the
last year since Brian Parker was appointed with Bob Elliott leading the howls of protest. Maybe those changes were justified.
And finally, could the Jays have out-thought themselves? Many of the Jays first round selections have been unexpected. In some ways it seems that the Jays think because they have so many scouts they will know things that no other team will know. But as we have seen that expectation might be incorrect, the Jays might have done better by sticking with the wisdom of the crowd.
What are my take-aways?
I do not think the Jays have done a good job of drafting over the last four years
There is no evidence that the extra dollars allocated to amateur scouting by the Jays has led to a better hit rate
I think the Jays have squandered their extra picks
I think there is something wrong in the drafting process that sees so many high selections fail so quickly
I have not looked at a value for money analysis for free agents but I think the Jays prospects have been helped by some good latin talent that did not have to be drafted. The Jays top 30 includes Franklin Barreto, Roberto Osuna, Alberto Tirado, Dawel Lugo, Richard Urena, Jairo Labourt, Santiago Nessy, Miguel Castro and Adonys Cardona. That is a lot of contribution from free agents instead of the draft.
Some have said this is a development issue rather than a scouting issue. My opinion is that talent should get you through the first year or two or three and development becomes key when a player starts to struggle. The Jays don’t like to make any major changes to players until they have played a season, unless circumstances dictate it. As they say a player has to want to change, sometimes they need to hit a wall to have to want to change. Because many of the Jays draftees have struggled right out of the gate, I tend to put more blame on the drafting rather than on the development. We may never know, it’s hard sometimes to tell them apart, but in my opinion the drafting is the bigger problem.
Finally, from the pages of Moneyball, I leave you with a quote from Billy Beane. If you recall one of the key chapters in Moneyball revolved around Beane’s dissatisfaction with his scouts and Beane’s move, with Paul DePodesta, to look at college statistics to try and improve his success rate. Beane said “The draft has never been anything but a f*&^ing crapshoot. We take fifty guys and we celebrate if two of them make it.” Michael Lewis notes that Beane had come to believe that baseball scouting was at roughly the same stage of development in the twenty first century as professional medicine had been in the eighteenth.
Has anything with the draft changed since Moneyball?