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How Do Drafts in the NL Central Compare During the Neal Huntington Era?

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Neal Huntington’s front office has conducted 11 drafts since he became the General Manager of the Pirates, starting in 2008.  I thought it’d be interesting to see how his drafts during that time stacked up to those of the Pirates’ closest rivals, i.e., the other NL Central teams.

To do this, I simply took the Wins Above Replacement compiled by each team’s draftees from those 11 drafts.  I used the baseball-reference.com version, generally abbreviated as bWAR.  I tend to think the FanGraphs version is a little better, but since this is a simple comparison teams using the same measure, it shouldn’t matter much.  I used all bWAR compiled by a team’s draftees regardless of the team(s) they played for, since the idea is to evaluate drafting.

To deal with one common objection up front, yes, many players from these drafts can’t be evaluated yet.  Nobody from the 2018 draft from these five teams, for instance, has even reached the majors.  I don’t see that as a significant issue, because it’s been 11 years.  That’s more than long enough for the general quality of a GM’s drafting to exert a significant impact on the fortunes of the major league team.  That’s especially true in the case of the Pirates and all of the other NL Central teams except the Cubs, because none of them are among the top spenders.  Saying you can’t evaluate a GM’s drafting after 11 years is literally the same thing as saying you can’t evaluate his job performance at all in that time, given the impact that drafting has at the major league level.  Yet probably a large majority of GM tenures don’t even last 11 years.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Pirates’ earliest picks came in the earlier part of Huntington’s tenure.  In his first six drafts, they picked first once, second twice, fourth once, eighth once and ninth (plus 14th) once.  The Cards, by contrast, picked 13th once during that period and otherwise never earlier than 19th.

Another point:  I only counted players the team actually signed.  I categorically reject the notion that a team should get “credit” for drafting a player it failed to sign.  If you read Baseball America, their writers many times have made the point that a key part of the scout’s job is to evaluate a player’s price tag and signability.  I see no sense in, for example, “crediting” the Pirates with Trea Turner or Paul DeJong.  Their failure to sign those players shows they failed to judge the players’ value and signability correctly.  In Turner’s case, for instance, according to BA the Pirates offered somewhere in the mid-six figures.  Turner eventually got $2.9M and he was worth every penny.

So here are the 11-year bWAR totals for the NL Central (stats are current through May 22):

St. Louis — 134.7
Chicago Cubs — 101.6
Milwaukee — 82.4
Pittsburgh — 68.3
Cincinnati — 57.7

Here’s the yearly breakdown, with highlights (with more for the Pirates):

Cubs

2008:  23.5 (Josh Harrison–13.2 bWAR, Andrew Cashner–10.3)
2009:  26.6 (DJ LeMahieu–19.1)
2010:  -1.0
2011:  16.5 (Javier Baez–14.8)
2012:  6.3
2013:  25.0 (Kris Bryant–23.6)
2014:  2.4
2015:  2.3

Reds

2008:  7.3
2009:  30.7 (Mike Leake–16.0)
2010:  13.8 (Yasmani Grandal–14.7)
2011:  1.8
2012:  -0.8
2013:  5.9
2014:  0.3
2015:  -1.2
2016:  -0.1

Brewers

2008:  26.0 (Brett Lawrie–15.1, Jake Odirizzi–11.3)
2009:  33.9 (Khris Davis–13.0, Scooter Gennett–11.5)
2010:  7.1
2011:  0.7
2012:  13.7 (Mitch Haniger–10.7)
2013:  -0.8
2014:  2.7
2015:  -0.1
2016:  -0.9
2017:  0.1

Pirates

2008:  22.2 (Pedro Alvarez–6.4, Jordy Mercer–7.4, Justin Wilson–5.7, Robbie Grossman–4.4)
2009:  5.6 (This draft was in the negative except for Brock Holt–6.5)
2010:  6.1 (Jameson Taillon–7.7)
2011:  22.1 (Gerrit Cole–17.6, Josh Bell–4.1, Tyler Glasnow–0.8)
2012:  2.1
2013:  11.3 (Austin Meadows–1.2, Adam Frazier–5.8)
2014:  -0.8
2015:  -0.4
2016:  0.1

Cards

2008:  22.1 (Lance Lynn–15.9)
2009:  48.2 (Matt Carpenter–26.2, four others with 5+)
2010:  3.4
2011:  17.8 (Kolten Wong–12.7)
2012:  17.9
2013:  5.2
2014:  4.5
2015:  15.3 (Paul DeJong–9.4)
2016:  0.3

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Wilbur Miller
Wilbur Miller
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.

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