Friday, June 8, 2012

Recent Dodgers drafts attempt to catch up after past

We like to think of the Dodgers as a traditional operation that builds its teams the old, homegrown way, but we can think that way only by forgetting the organization's terrible drafting performance during the 1990s. The Dodgers aren't doing an awesome job with the draft since then, but they've had a couple good ones.

By BILL PETERSON
Big Leagues in Los Angeles


A couple days ago, we examined the Angels' draft record during the 21st century and came out of it a little less than impressed. But now that we're working through the same exercise with the Dodgers, we probably owe the Angels an apology.

The Dodgers are beating the Angels in the war for WAR (wins above replacement) during this century. Players drafted and signed by the Dodgers starting with 2000 have produced 102.1 WAR, compared with 98.6 for the Angels. However, the Angels have a much better rounded performance. The Dodgers have produced more impact players and much better pitching, but, overall, lack breadth and depth in their draft results.

For example, using only players with positive WAR who the Angels drafted, signed and developed in this century, we were able to put together an entire starting lineup with everyone in position, as well as a complete bench and a complete pitching staff. Starting with 2000, the Angels have drafted and developed 24 players with positive WAR, not quite enough for a complete major league roster.

However, the Dodgers have produced only 20 such players during the same period. Of those, 13 are pitchers, meaning the Dodgers haven't drafted and developed enough producing hitters this century to even complete a starting lineup. The Dodgers have drafted and developed another 13 players who qualified for big league WAR but don't have positive numbers, meaning they have produced a total of 33 big leaguers through the draft this century. The Angels have generated 46. Advantage: Angels.

To make an All-Star team of the Dodgers' draft signings from 2000 on, we would have to cheat. At the least, we would have to fish for one player without positive WAR, and we would have to play one catcher out of position. And we still would have no bench.

Thus, we would have James Loney (8.3 career WAR) at first, Blake DeWitt (1.5) at second, Dee Gordon (-0.1) at short, A.J. Ellis (2.5) at third, Jerry Sands (0.1) in left, Matt Kemp (17.4) in center, Justin Ruggiano (0.6) in right and Russell Martin (18.1) catching. Gordon is the ringer with a minus-0.1 WAR. We figure he's close enough and should reach positive territory soon. If you'd rather catch Ellis and put Martin at third, go ahead. Anyway, this is all we get.

At the same time, this pitching staff isn't bad at all. Your bullpen has Jonathan Broxton (6.6), Joel Hanrahan (3.8), Eric Stults (1.1), Scott Elbert (0.6), Javy Guerra (1.5), Cory Wade (3.2), Jon Meloan (0.1) and Josh Lindblom (1.1). The starting rotation begins with Clayton Kershaw (19.4), then goes through Edwin Jackson (11.4), Chad Billingsley (14.1), James McDonald (3.5) and Nathan Eovaldi (0.7). It quite resembles the Dodgers' starting rotation at this moment, and it might be a little better. Just a matter of swapping Chris Capuano (8-2, 2.82 in 2012) and Aaron Harang (5-3, 3.95) for McDonald (5-2, 2.14) and Jackson (2-3, 3.11). Would you make that trade?

Jackson came to the Dodgers out of high school in the sixth round of the 2001 draft, the final draft of Kevin Malone's ill fated run as the sheriff in town. Malone actually was gone by then, resigning after a verbal altercation with a fan in April. The scouting director for Malone (1999-2001) was Ed Creech, who also has directed scouting for Montreal, St. Louis and Pittsburgh.

Creech's three drafts in Los Angeles, unfortunately, still haunt the Dodgers, not just because they produced so little, but because the little they did produce has gotten away for nothing in return. Those three drafts (counting only players the Dodgers actually signed) generated three players with a big league WAR of 1.0 or higher. Between them, Jackson, Hanrahan and Shane Victorino have combined for 37.2 WAR since leaving the Dodgers, who, in return, have received less than zero WAR.

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti certainly isn't the only guy to ever trade Jackson, but no one else who has traded him received less in return. In January 2006, Colletti, on the job for two months, dealt Jackson and Chuck Tiffany to Tampa Bay for Danys Baez and Lance Carter, two relief pitchers.

Jackson has since produced 11.9 WAR. The Dodgers got -0.3 WAR from Carter, who was out of the big leagues after the 2006 season. They got -0.1 WAR from Baez before flipping him later in the year, with Willy Aybar, to Atlanta for Wilson Betemit. Since that trade, Baez and Aybar have combined to generate -0.5 WAR. The Dodgers played 0.5 WAR out of Betemit, then traded him to the Yankees for Scott Proctor, who was -0.5 WAR for the Dodgers before he went free agent. Net loss to the Dodgers: 12.3 WAR. And Jackson is still pitching.

At the time of the trade, Jackson was entering his age 22 season with 19 big league games in his past. Baez, with 71 saves in the last two years, was going to be the Dodgers' closer and Carter was going to be an arm for the bullpen. Both fell way short. Baez had nine saves and seven blown saves when the Dodgers traded him for Betemit on July 28 that year. The Dodgers were 7 1/2 games down at 47-55. At that very moment, the Dodgers began a miracle 11-game winning streak, to which Betemit contributed three homers and an .846 OPS. With Takashi Saito emerging as the relief closer, the Dodgers rallied to tie for the division lead and went to the playoffs as a wild card, losing in the first round.

Victorino and Hanrahan never suited up for the Dodgers. After he had pitched in the system for six years, the Dodgers couldn't find a place for Hanrahan, their second-round pick in 2000. He took his minor league free agency following the 2006 season, since then added five MPH to his fastball and went to the All-Star game as Pittsburgh's closer last year. The Dodgers picked Victorino in the sixth round in 1999 and lost him twice in the Rule 5 draft, the second time to Philadelphia in 2004. Victorino is having a nice career (21.4 WAR) in Philadelphia, which has won five divisions, two pennants and a World Series with him in their outfield.

So much for the Creech drafts. Logan White came in as the new scouting director with new general manager Dan Evans in 2002. Evans only lasted a couple years as the general manager's office entered a period of turmoil. By the end of 2005, White was working with his third general manager, Colletti. In between, of course, the general manager was Paul DePodesta (2004-2005). White has persisted through all that, and he runs the Dodgers scouting operation to this day.

The Logan White drafts under Evans in 2002 and 2003 are, by far, the deepest and best drafts the Dodgers have produced since Al Campanis ran the operation, with scouting director Ben Wade, back in the 1980s. That’s actually saying very little, because the Dodgers drafts in the 1990s, mostly under scouting director Terry Reynolds, produced a grand total of 117.9 WAR. The only Reynolds draftees amounting to  anything were Paul Konerko and Ted Lilly.

The 2002 draft brought in Loney, Broxton, McDonald and Martin. The 2003 draft produced Billingsley, Kemp and Ellis. So far, the 2002 draft has generated 35.8 WAR and the 2003 draft has produced 31.5 WAR. That already makes these two drafts the seventh and eighth best for the Dodgers since the common draft began in 1965, measured strictly by WAR.

The 2004 draft under DePodesta has produced lesser lights such as DeWitt, Elbert, Guerra and Wade. And the 2005 draft under DePodesta has really stunk up the joint, producing a net WAR of minus-2.8 among players the Dodgers signed and developed.

With Colletti in the general manager's office in 2006, White scored big with Kershaw as the club's first pick, but that draft has produced nothing else. And of the Dodgers last five drafts before this year, only the 2008 draft has produced even a moment of big league playing time. That draft has brought Gordon, Sands, Eovaldi and Lindblom to the Dodgers.

Since 1970, the Dodgers have drafted and developed ten players who finished their careers with 20 or more WAR -- Mike Piazza (56.1), Orel Hershiser (52.7), Bob Welsh (40.4), Rick Rhoden (31.2), Rick Sutcliffe (31.2), Sid Fernandez (30.7), Paul Konerko (26.4), Ted Lilly (24.6), John Franco (22.3) and Victorino (21.4). Of those players, only Piazza, Hershiser and Welsh expended at least half of their WAR for the Dodgers, and the rest did virtually all of their WAR elsewhere. Thus, the Dodgers have had a tendency to lose out on their top prospects.

Perhaps, the Dodgers are improving that phase of their operation. Kemp and Kershaw are on the verge of 20 WAR, and Billingsley is likely to reach it. Then again, Martin is gone, though the Dodgers used most of his value before he left for nothing. McDonald’s future could be interesting. Since the Dodgers dealt McDonald to Pittsburgh for Octavio Dotel in a trading deadline panic move back in 2010, McDonald has 4.3 WAR. Dotel pitched so poorly for the Dodgers that they shipped him to Colorado for minor league outfielder Anthony Jackson before the 2010 season ended.

Thus, the Pirates now have a 27-year-old starting pitcher making a bid for the National League All-Star team, while the Dodgers have a 27-year-old outfielder who can’t get off the bench at Rancho Cucamonga. Stories like that just seem to be part of the Dodgers recent drafting history. But the book isn’t by any means closed on that history.

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