Former Indians GMs had varying success in the draft
By Jeff Ellis
October 9, 2013
Over the past few years a lot has been made of the Indians draft record of late. I have heard many fans lament the bad drafts and wish for the good old days of John Hart when the organization was loaded with talent and seemed to always produce new players to fill a hole or to be trade bait to fill a need.
This led me down the rabbit hole of drafts and I looked at every draft for a quarter of a century. The problem with just taking raw data - especially for the Mark Shapiro era - is that many of the players are still performing and putting up numbers, so I quickly decided just raw averages would not be fair. I had to find an approach that was based on statistics, projection, and future outcomes.
In the end I figured the best way to compare these general managers was on their best picks. I found the ten best picks, for Hart and Hank Peters using a straight WAR total since for both of them the players they drafted have for the most part retired. As stated before, with Shapiro I did use WAR, but also projected too. Jason Kipnis and Chris Archer in particular seem like candidates to really put up some great numbers over the next few years.
Here is the table of the top picks for each GM, only counting those who actually signed with the team.
|Hank Peters (1988-1991)||John Hart 1992-2001||Mark Shapiro 2002-2010|
|Jim Thome 72.8||CC Sabathia 55.3||Jason Kipnis 10.8|
|Manny Ramirez 69.1||Richie Sexson 17.9||Jeremy Guthrie 18.8|
|Brian Giles 50.8||Sean Casey 16.3||Chris Archer 2.1|
|Charles Nagy 25.3||Luke Scott 12.2||Vinnie Pestano 4.5|
|Paul Byrd 16.3||Russell Branyan 11.5||Cody Allen 1.7|
|David Bell 15.3||Steve Kline 10.2||Kevin Kouzmanoff 6.8|
|Curt Leskanic 12.4||Ryan Church 9.7||Lonnie Chisenhall 2.6|
|Greg McMichael 6.8||David Riske 7.5||Ryan Garko 3.7|
|Damian Jackson 6.7||Paul Shuey 7||Aaron Laffey 2.4|
Hank Peters: Kingmaker?
I have not heard anyone ever reference Peters and his time with Cleveland. Still when you look at that top ten, he had some amazing drafts. He had only four drafts which is half as many as Hart and Shapiro.
The other interesting thing to me from this list, is how many of the players on the list became trade pieces during the Hart years. So not only did Peter’s draft the core of the great teams, but the other players he drafted helped to solidify the team’s future through trades.
The 1989 draft in particular was a draft that might be Peters greatest legacy. They drafted fourteen future major league players. Fourteen of the first thirty three picks made the majors for a total of 42%, a percentage we might never see again from any draft. The Indians first four picks made the majors, in the 13th round they landed future Hall of Famer Jim Thome, and a multi time All Star in the 17th round with Brian Giles. They also took a future GM with Jerry Dipoto in round three. Other familiar names of note would be Jesse Levis, Alan Embree, Curt Leskanic,Kelly Stinnett, and Billy Brewer. Leskanic was later used as a centerpiece to acquire Paul Sorrento.
In general most of the talent that came in during the Peter’s era was thanks to the draft - though trades did bring in some other players.
This review gave me a much greater appreciation for Peters who also traded for Sandy Alomar Jr. and Carlos Baerga. Outside of Albert Belle and Kenny Lofton, every piece of talent that came up through the minors during the 90’s run was thanks to Hank Peters who never got the appreciation he really deserved.
John Hart: Man or Myth?
In the city of Cleveland, sports are almost a religion and to this town Hart is a borderline demigod. He was the boss when the Indians went through the most successful sports stretch this city had seen in 50 years. They never won it all but made the big one on two occasions, and had one of the most entertaining lineups of all time.
Hart gets most of the credit for the 90’s from most fans. While he did make a lot of great free agency additions likeOrel Hershiser, Dennis Martinez, Eddie Murray, Robbie Alomar, Ellis Burks, etc, his draft record was not strong. The stars of the 90’s outside of Alomar and Lofton were largely already in place when he came in.
His first pick was Paul Shuey, number two overall (Derek Jeter was 6h), but far and away the most successful pick was C.C. Sabathia. I think David Riske was the pick that shocked me the most as I would have never expected he had been that valuable. Not bad for a guy taken in round 56th round, which doesn’t even exist anymore.
I think the most interesting thing about this list of Hart’s is that every single player on it was traded by the Indians at some point. Most of them were traded by Hart in his quest to win that elusive title.
Hart was a great general manager. He excelled at finding aging players to help keep the Indians going. If Peter’s strength was his ability to draft, then Hart’s was the ability to find useful players in free agency. Hart’s ability to find those aging veterans was a necessity at the time. The minors leagues failed to produce much help, which was due to the front office’s drafting failure. Still, the drafting at this time was still better than what we would see in the years to come.
Shapiro: The Draft Failures
When it came to the rankings, I had to do some projection here. I figured certain players still have time left in their careers where they still have a lot of good years left to put up numbers. My hardest debate was who should go second, but for now I stuck with Jeremy Guthrie and his established value over the mostly projected value of Chris Archer.
The data for Shapiro is not pretty. When Aaron Laffey is the 10th best player you drafted it is a sure sign that things did not go well. It’s a list full of part time players or players who had really bad careers. Arguably the two best players Shapiro drafted were never signed in Tim Lincecum and Desmond Jennings.
The worst part about this is the Indians not only had a lot of picks but many were high round picks during this era. There was one horrible stretch where the Indians had seven first round picks over two years and managed to land just a single first rounder. That one player was Jeremy Guthrie who never brought any value to the Indians.
There is no way to defend the drafting of the Indians during Shapiro's tenure. It was not very good.. There is no sugar coating it, but it was a systematic failure to scout, draft, and develop. It was bad under Hart, but under Shapiro they would have been better off just using Baseball America’s draft list every year. It would have saved a ton of money on scouts as well.
The Indians teams under Shapiro were built almost entirely on trades. Fans tend to fixate way too much on the Sabathia and Cliff Lee deals. The fans that do so often have an axe to grind and by doing so they miss the deals for Asdrubal Cabrera, Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, Lee, Carlos Santana, Shin-Soo Choo and others. The value the Indians got in trades during the Shapiro era, ended up being a much better return than what they gave up.
As I dug into this article, I just kept feeling worse and worse as a fan. The Indians haven’t drafted well in over 20 years now. They have had a few nice picks, but overall the results have been subpar when compared to the rest of the league. The first round picks in particular have been disappointing as the top five over the last 25 years are Sabathia, Guthrie, Manny Ramirez, Shuey, and Charles Nagy. If you were curious the 10th best first rounder of the last 25 years is currently Drew Pomeranz. Yes, it’s been that bad.
The other interesting thing is how each GM seemed to have a particular skill; Peter’s was the strongest drafter. Hart did the best in free agency. Shapiro managed to make the best trades.
In the end a team’s life blood is the draft. For the Indians this will be especially true as they have been taking a less active approach in Latin America the past few years. Tampa has not drafted well of late, but it was their ability to draft well for about five years which built the core they have today.
The Indians have failed to produce many major league players from the draft, and that is why they have not been able to compete year in and out. The worst part is that after some changes, the draft is still failing to produce. There has been some improvement, but look no further than the 2010 draft were the Indians picked high in every round and might not get a single major league player for it, or the 2009 draft which produced Kipnis and Preston Guilmet and that’s it.
Next season should be a HUGE draft year as this team could have three first rounders. They cannot afford to fail. They made the playoffs and could still restock their system which could set them up for a bright future.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffmlbdraft, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
There were more than just ironmike going on about Peters :P
I would argue that he drafted four times as well as Hart, who was abysmal. When Luke Scott and Russell Branyon are your 4th and 5th best picks in nine tries, that's about as bad as it can possibly get.
I am with OB, and I do often wonder if the issue is scouting or development because something clear was wrong and might still be.
Thanks for the all readers and comments, this was a fun one to write
Do you not remember ironmike? He was constantly called out for repeating the same points ad infinitum.One of those points was how valuable Hank Peters was in developing the 90's Tribe teams. I enjoyed his posts. He reminded me of a grouchy old neighbor I had as a kid.
OB, I agree that player development is key but the scouts have to supply developable (is this a word?) material. I loved the story of the Angels scout who was basicallly willing to hold a gun on the GM to get him to draft Mike Trout. Still, you're right, we didn't develop squat for a long stretch.
MLB isn't like the NFL or NBA where you draft someone and they're on the team. Baseball players spend YEARS in the minor leagues before making the bigs and it's for a reason -- they have to be developed. NFL and NBA players need to be developed, too, but it takes a lot longer time period for most baseball players to reach their potential.
I firmly believe that there isn't a pre-determined group of players before each draft that are destined to be MLB All-Stars. You have to have good baseball people in place to develop the raw baseball talent, not just a good scout to identify talents.
A scout will sign a player at age 18 and then have very little to do with the player for years. If at 24 years old, he's an All-Star, it's not really just because you have a good baseball scout, it's that you've got good instructors in your minor league system that developed him well.
As per Hart and his role as GM, his strength was far more than the aging vet theory.
He and Peters as well developed the blueprint used by most small market teams then and after...when he signed his arbitration eligible and team-controlled players to long term deals that went past their free agent years. It way brilliant, and it kept the the core of the 90s team together. He also wasn't averse to dealing stars for needs.
He also built a front office of superstars, in which he's created a sick GM tree from those hires.
Belle was drafted in the 2nd round in 1987 under Joe Klein.
Archer....was drafted by the Indians and Shapiro ;)
But yeah, the drafting hasn't been good...for a long, long, long time. Hart basically got a free pass due to CC. Somehow that made up for that fact that over 50% of his first round picks never even made the bigs.