How BABS Optimizes the First Round

Sections of this article appear in The BABS Project.

As we start inching our way into the 2017 draft season, one of the hottest topics will be the handling of the first round in snake drafts.

Intuitively, you would think that first round players are the most projectable. We obsess over our draft slot positioning. We use this pick as an anchor to determine how the next few rounds need to progress. And we need this pick to return fair value.

That’s a lot of pressure on these players to perform.

But history shows that first-rounders – our top 15 picks – are largely disappointments. According to the Baseball Forecaster, only 35.5 percent of first round picks finish with earnings ranked anywhere among the top 15 players. Only 52.8 percent of first-rounders earn value ranked anywhere in the top 30 players.

BABS knows that we attach high expectations to these top players and sometimes it is not justified. Those expectations do not take into account the risks that come bundled with the numbers we are hoping for. The conservative player should reject risk in the first round.

The 2016 season is a good example. Here is what the first round ADP ranking looked like coming into last season:

ADP      Player                  Assets        Liabilities
1        Mike Trout              P+,s,AV
2        Paul Goldschmidt        P+,AV+
3        Bryce Harper            P+,AV+        inj-
4        Clayton Kershaw         E+,K+
5        Josh Donaldson          P+,AV+
6        Carlos Correa           p,AV          EX,Rg
7        Nolan Arenado           P+,AV
8        Manny Machado           p,AV          inj-
9        Giancarlo Stanton       P+,AV+        inj-
10       Anthony Rizzo           PW,AV+
11       Kris Bryant             P+,s,+        e
12       Jose Altuve             SB,AV         Rg
13       Andrew McCutchen        P+,AV+
14       Max Scherzer            ER,K+
15       Miguel Cabrera          PW,AV+        inj-

There are a variety of skills pockets within these 15 players. Some are legitimately worthy of first-round consideration; some not so much. In fact, there are a good few players drafted after this group that would have been better considerations for the top 15.

I approached the above list in two stages: first screening out the players with major Liabilities and then focusing on the remaining best Asset profiles.

I am risk-averse when it comes to first-rounders so I immediately passed on Harper, Correa, Machado, Stanton, Bryant and Cabrera. That would have filtered out some of 2016’s biggest disappointments, even though I would have also missed out on a few good performances. There’s always that risk of collateral opportunity cost.

The remaining players would have been considered in order of best to worst Asset profiles, favoring batters over pitchers. My first round draft list would then have been:

  1. Trout
  2. Goldschmidt
  3. Donaldson
  4. McCutchen
  5. Arenado
  6. Rizzo
  7. Altuve
  8. Kershaw
  9. Scherzer

The only real miss here was McCutchen. To fill out the rest of my draft list (assuming those nine players got drafted before my pick), I could pull up some low-risk second-rounders, like Edwin Encarnacion and Starling Marte. But by filtering out the bigger Liabilities up front, BABS increased my odds of avoiding a first round bust.

An early look at the 2017 first round ADPs looks like this (final 2016 ratings shown):

ADP      Player                   Assets                
1        Mike Trout            P+      s        AV
2        Mookie Betts          p       SB       AV
3        Jose Altuve           p       s        AV
4        Kris Bryant           P+               AV
5        Clayton Kershaw       E+      K+
6        Paul Goldschmidt      p                AV
7        Nolan Arenado         P+               AV
8        Manny Machado         PW               AV
9        Max Scherzer          ER      K+
10       Bryce Harper          p
11       Josh Donaldson        P+               AV
12       Trea Turner           P+      S+       AV
13       Anthony Rizzo         PW               AV
14       Charlie Blackmon      PW               AV
15       Madison Bumgarner     ER      KK

There are already several players who appear to be head-scratchers. The first pass of 2017 ratings will be out next week at which time we can begin the process of fully evaluating what this year’s drafts will look like.


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13 thoughts on “How BABS Optimizes the First Round

  1. Richard Lando

    Interesting you have taken away the speed (s) asset from Blackmon. Although he did not run as much as in previous years, he still stole 17 bases. Was it because he was caught 9 times? Just curious.

    1. shandler Post author

      Those grades are just reflective of each player’s actual performance in 2016, not their overall underlying skill, which is what the 2017 ratings will reflect. That said, Blackmon’s pure speed skill was actually below average last year. Refer to the ebook for a description of what goes into each rating. SB and CS are just a part of it.

  2. Stephen Rayburn

    Just met BABS so bear with me, but was a little surprised to see no speed credit for Goldschmidt. Obviously I’m not expecting a repeat of last year, but other than shortened 2014 season he has reached or exceeded 15 since 2012. Doesn’t make him a speed demon but I thought it would’ve placed him in the top 50% and warranting a little “s”. Thanks, and can’t wait for the release of full 2017 ratings.

    1. shandler Post author

      Goldy is a bit of an anomaly. Despite the bags he’s been racking up, he has below average inherent speed skill. BABS measures speed using a variety of criteria beyond SB (using BaseballHQ’s statistically scouted speed rating), which includes triples, infield hits and body mass index. His numbers are mostly driven by opportunity (green light). Although BABS doesn’t consider position, Goldy is also the first 1Bman to steal 20+ bases in back-to-back years since Ryan Klesko in the early 2000s. He’s a real outlier.

  3. Curtis Brooks

    Curious about Trea Turner at #12, considering he is the only hitter with P+, S+ and AV, higher ratings overall than even (dare I say it) – Mike Trout? Is there a liability issue that’s not shown in this list that is forcing him down? (For example, “EX”)?

    1. shandler Post author

      First of all, you are looking at 2016 final ratings (and they do not reflect the playing time associated with those ratings). The 2017 set will undoubtedly be different. And there is no question that Turner will have a big fat “EX” in the Liabilities column. I will have plenty to say about Turner in the coming weeks.

      1. Curtis Brooks

        Many thanks, Ron, and I look forward to your upcoming thoughts.

  4. Michael Lucey

    Does your system undervalue someone like Blackmon or do you expect a Machado SB drop? Even at 17 SB’s last year he should be a contributor to look at if the category is truly deprived of talent and last year was not an anatomy.
    I still see him as a 20/20 guy and my projections for this year mirror BBHQ which are very similar to Betts in HR and SB’s.

    1. shandler Post author

      Despite his 17 SBs, Blackmon demonstrated below average speed skill last year. His early BABS rating for 2017 is (p,s,AV | inj-). I could see that recovering to (p,SB,AV) before long. That was his grade coming into 2016.

      1. Kstan

        why would it change?

        1. shandler Post author

          The current rating is a first-pass, preliminary look. I’m not done with the analysis yet.

          1. Michael Kuhn

            Do you have a release date for the BABS database?

            1. shandler Post author

              I had hoped it would be available before the end of this month but we’ve run into some technical issues. I’d like to say Feb 15, but don’t hold me to it.

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