Next month the 30 Major League Baseball teams will gather for the annual MLB Amateur Draft. The Detroit Tigers, by virtue of the worst record in 2017, will make the first pick. To the losers go the spoils, in a sense.
The annual June draft had me wondering: which team had the best draft ever?
To answer that question I looked at every draft from the beginning (the MLB amateur draft started in 1965) and ranked them based on Win Shares, a statistical method devised by baseball statistics pioneer Bill James. Win Shares measures a player’s contribution to his teams’ wins. I have a list of every draft class for each team with the Win Shares that draft netted each team. I’m going to write a more detailed article on this elsewhere, and I don’t think it’s that important to dive too much into the details here. The majority of you are probably mostly interested in how the draft classes rank.
In ranking the team draft classes I looked at a few things: (1) How MANY major league players did the team get from the draft, and (2) How much value did those players give to the team that drafted them, and finally (3) Did the team win with those players?
It turns out that the number one draft class of all-time was very easy to find. It’s not all that close, really.
Here are the best team draft classes in MLB Draft history:
1. 1976 Draft, Detroit Tigers
This is the only time a team drafted two future Hall of Famers in the same draft. Both Jack Morris and Alan Trammell were elected to the Hall of Fame last December. The two played 14 seasons together for the Tigers, helping the team to one World Series title, two division titles, and the second-best record in baseball in the 1980s.
Trammell was the 26th overall pick, nabbed in the second round (Detroit picked left-handed pitcher Pat Underwood with the 2nd overall pick in the first round). They picked Morris in the 5th round, but also got a fine pitcher in the 4th round in righty Dan Petry. For much of the 1980s, Morris and Petry were the 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation for the Tigers. Morris won more games than any other pitcher in baseball in the 1980s and was 3-1 in the postseason for the club. He later went on to pitch for three more World Series winners.
The Tigers total of 627 Win Shares from this draft class is by far the highest total in baseball history. The next closest is 551 by the Orioles’ ’78 draft class (see below).
In this era the Tigers had three incredible drafts in a row from 1974 to 1976, setting the foundation for the success of the 1980s. In the ’74 MLB Draft the Tigs picked Lance Parrish and Mark Fidrych. In 1975 they got Lou Whitaker and Jason Thompson. Combined with Morris, Trammell, and Petry, that haul over three seasons is unprecedented in the history of the draft. Credit goes to the talented baseball lifer Bill Lajoie, the director of scouting for the team at the time.
Incidentally, the Tigers actually drafted THREE future Hall of Famers in the ’76 draft. In the 7th round they picked junior college shortstop Ozzie Smith. But Smith chose to stay in college and did not sign with Detroit. He was picked by San Diego the following June and entered professional baseball. One wonders what the Tigers would have done if they had both Trammell and Smith in the middle of their infield in the 1970s.
Overall Win Shares to the Tigers: 627
2. 1990 Draft, New York Yankees
The core of the Yankee dynasty of the 1990s and early 2000s was “The Core Four,” a quartet of homegrown stars that included shortstop Derek Jeter, relief pitcher Mariano Rivera, catcher Jorge Posada, and starting pitcher Andy Pettitte. The four played on five World Championship teams between 1996 and 2007.
In the 1990 amateur draft the Yankees selected two of those four: Pettitte and Posada. The duo were teammates for 13 seasons and appeared as a battery in the postseason more than any other catcher/pitcher combo in baseball history, regardless of team. Pettitte pitched more postseason innings than anyone in history, and Posada was an anchor for the Yankees while they dominated the league for more than a decade. Both were perennial All-Stars and rank among the all-time greats among Yankee legends.
The ’90 Yankee draft class ranks fourth all-time in Win Shares with 490 and first with five World Series titles together.
3. 1978 Draft, Baltimore Orioles
Like the Tigers, the Orioles had a series of excellent drafts in the 1970s. This one netted superstar Cal Ripken Jr., who played 21 seasons for the O’s starting in 1981 and set all sorts of records as a third baseman and shortstop. Baltimore also got pitcher Mike Boddicker, who finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 1983 and fourth in Cy Young voting in 1984. Both Ripken and Boddicker were integral in Baltimore’s ’83 World Championship, the franchise’s most recent title. The team also nabbed outfielder/DH Larry Sheets in this draft.
In total the O’s received 551 Win Shares, the second highest total ever.
4. 1965 Draft, Kansas City A’s
The ’65 Draft was the first of its’ kind, a new rule that was designed to help the lesser teams compete more quickly. That year there were 48 rounds of selections with the lowly A’s (still in Kansas City) picking first. The first selection ever in the MLB Draft was outfielder Rick Monday out of Arizona Statue University. Monday was a heralded talent compared to Mickey Mantle. Later in the draft the A’s picked two players who became cornerstones of their future championship teams: Sal Bando (6th round) and Gene Tenace (20th round).
Monday had a fine 19-year career in the majors, but only spent his first six with the A’s. Owner Charley Finley traded Monday at the 1971 winter meetings to the Mets for Ken Holtzman (more on that soon).
Meanwhile, Bando played third base and Tenace served as a catcher/first baseman for the (then) Oakland A’s when they won three consecutive World Series from 1972 to 1974. Holtzman was a valuable starting pitcher for those teams, winning 59 games in three years. Overall, the draft class of ’65, the first ever, proved to be pivotal in the history of the A’s.
Overall Win Shares to the A’s: 458
5. 1965 Draft, Cincinnati Reds
For the most part I did not select draft classes for this list where one player served as the bulk of the return. But this case is special. The Reds picked Oklahoma high school standout Johnny Bench in the 2nd round in 1965, securing the foundation for The Big Red Machine. Bench was the key cog of Cincinnati teams that won four pennants in the 1970s as well as back-to-back World Series titles.
The first round pick by Cincinnati in ’65 was Livonia’s own Bernie Carbo, a five-tool high school star from Michigan. Carbo had a long career, but most of that success came away from the Reds. Cincinnati selected Hal McRae in the 6th round, and like Carbo, McRae did his best work in another uniform.
Overall Win Shares to the Reds: 416
6. 1987 Draft, Houston Astros
The Astros have made some draft mistakes, most notably in 1992 when they used the overall #1 pick to take Phil Nevin, passing on Derek Jeter even though a famous scout strongly urged them to take the shortstop. To be fair, most teams have made draft boo-boos, but that one was a doozy.
In ’87, the Astros plucked Craig Biggio out of Seton Hall in New Jersey with the 22nd overall pick. Biggio was a catcher in college and a well-regarded prospect. He paid off, spending two decades in a Houston uniform and making the All-Star team as a catcher and a second baseman. Overall he supplied 427 Win Shares to the Astros.
Later (much later) in the ’87 Draft the Astros picked pitcher Darryl Kile out of junio college ball in southern California. The tall righthander moved quickly through the Astros’ farm system and by 1991 he was in their rotation. He eventually spent seven years as a rotation anchor and won 71 games for the ‘Strohs.
Overall Win Shares to the Astros: 504
7. 1973 Draft, Baltimore Orioles
Here are the Orioles again, with a great draft that netted them a superstar first baseman and a future Cy Young Award winner. Baltimore used their third round pick to take switch-hitting Eddie Murray out of high school in Los Angeles. It’s difficult to understand how the talented Murray lasted three rounds, but he ended up in the O’s lineup four years later, winning the Rookie of the Year Award. Of course he went on to more than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs and a spot in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
120 picks after taking Murray, the Orioles selected 20-year old college lefty Mike Flanagan. The crafty southpaw emerged as another Baltimore ace, winning 141 games for the team from 1975 to 1987. In ’79 he won 23 games and took home the Cy Young Award. He and Murray were key members of the Orioles’ teams that won the pennant in 1979 and the World Series in ’83.
Overall Win Shares to the Orioles: 440
8. 1990 Draft, California Angels
In Game Seven of the 2002 World Series between the Angels and Giants, the big hit was delivered by Anaheim left fielder Garret Anderson, a bases-clearing double that staked the Halos to a 4-1 lead. In the bottom of the ninth, closer Troy Percival came on to record the final three outs and nail down the first title in franchise history. Both Anderson and Percival had been drafted by the Angels 12 years earlier in the same amateur draft. Talk about a pair of good decisions.
Anderson spent 15 years in an Angel uniform, setting franchise records for games played, hits, runs, RBIs, and doubles. He was a three-time All-Star and had one of his finest seasons in ’02 to lead the team to the pennant and championship.
The high-strung Percival threw as hard and as aggressively as anyone in his era. He set franchise records for games pitched and saves and was a four-time All-Star. In 1995, Anderson and Percival were second and fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting. They played ten years together and teamed to help the Angels to their only championship. Pretty damn good draft, I’d say.
Overall Win Shares to the Angels: 342
9. 1989 Draft, Minnesota Twins
It’s rare for a team to get more than two players in one draft who go on to play a key role on the big league club. In the ’89 June MLB Amateur Draft the Twins got a trio of players who quickly got to the majors and helped win a World Series title. They also nabbed two more players who had decent runs of success with the team.
In the first round Minnesota picked infielder Chuck Knoblauch out of Texas A&M. Two rounds later they drafted lefty Denny Neagle, and one round after that they picked righty Scott Erickson. Less than two years later, all three were playing roles for the Twins as they won the AL West title and eventually won the World Series in seven thrilling games.
Later in the ’89 Draft, Minnesota selected third baseman Marty Cordova and pitcher Mike Trombley, who spent a combined 14 years with the Twins in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Overall Win Shares to the Twins: 362
10. 2008 Draft, San Francisco Giants
The Giants have won three World Series titles with their first round pick from this draft behind the plate. Buster Posey was the fifth overall selection in the ’08 MLB Draft and he’s still building a case as a Hall of Fame catcher in his tenth year with the Giants. Posey is one of only two catchers to win Rookie of the Year and MVP (the other is Johnny Bench). He helped the G-Men to titles in 2010, 2012, and 2014.
If that weren’t enough, the Giants netted Brandon Crawford in the fourth round. Crawford has been the Giants’ starting shortstop since 2011 and he’s won three Gold Glove Awards for his great defensive play. As of 2018 he’s having his best year with the bat. This duo is still adding value to this draft class for San Francisco.
Overall Win Shares to the Giants: 318 (and counting)
Honorable Mention: 1977 Expos (Tim Raines, Bill Gullickson, Scott Sanderson); 1976 Red Sox (Wade Boggs and Bruce Hurst); 1981 Padres (Tony Gwynn, Kevin McReynolds); 1978 Blue Jays (Dave Stieb, Lloyd Moseby); 1975 Tigers (Lou Whitaker, Jason Thompson); 1969 Red Sox (Dwight Evans, Rick Miller); 1972 Expos (Gary Carter, Ellis Valentine); 1985 Cubs (Mark Graces, Rafael Palmeiro); 1966 Dodgers (Bill Russell, Charlie Hough, Ted Sizemore); 1967 Orioles (Bobby Grich, Don Baylor).
A special thanks to Dan Hirsch of The Baseball Gauge who graciously provided me with the raw statistical data to start this study.