Milwaukee Brewers fans have an extreme relationship with GM Doug Melvin. Overall, Melvin’s tenure in Milwaukee is undoubtedly one of the most successful periods of baseball in Brewers history, regardless of any other critiques or concerns. Yet, those concerns are continually bubbling to the surface during a disappointing 2013 season.
From this 2013 campaign, several dichotomies can be placed in sharper light. While Melvin’s Brewers were one of the most competitive teams in the NL once his mid-2000s rebuilding ended, those competitive years were sprinkled with a few losing-or-.500 campaigns. While the club produced some of the best baseball in franchise history in 2008 and 2011, that productivity indicates a win-now ideology that arguably fell flat in 2009-2010 and 2012-2013. Perhaps most importantly, while the club boasts three of their most valuable first round picks during Melvin’s tenure, their recent winning ideology and draft flops leave top picks on other squads, or lost, as signing failures.
Over the weekend, the Brewers outrighted 2004 first rounder Mark Rogers, which sets up the righty for minor league free agency. Perhaps these dichotomies of Melvin’s tenure as GM appear no sharper than while considering Rogers, who served as the GM’s first top pitching pick with the Brewers organization. Now, I do not put any stock into arguments that Melvin cannot develop pitching prospects, given that the bats he develops have consistently been so good (or traded for even better pitching); it is extremely important to simply develop impact talent in general. So, in this regard, I don’t think Rogers’ outright release is noteworthy for that reason. Rather, Rogers’ release highlights a general issue, outside the picks of Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks: the Brewers lately have had issues developing any impact first round talent whatsoever.
Outside of Braun and Weeks, Rogers is Melvin’s most valuable first round pick that played in Milwaukee. While Brett Lawrie has had a few polarizing seasons in Toronto, his glove is compensating for some of his batting shortcomings, and he has produced a strong Baseball-Reference WAR during his first few years. By contrast, Matt LaPorta, Jake Odorizzi, and Jeremy Jeffress have yet to emerge as impact talent, but if they do, it will likely be with an organization outside of Milwaukee. Overall, seven of Melvin’s eleven first round picks from 2003-2009 have made the majors thus far, with four of those picks serving outside of Milwaukee for the majority of their respective careers.
Mark Rogers is not a Bust
In this regard, it is difficult to call Rogers a “bust,” and leave it at that. First and foremost, Rogers made the big leagues, and produced some valuable innings for the club in 2012. One might scoff at that, but that’s certainly better than the eight players from his first round that failed to make the MLB. Oddly enough, according to Baseball-Reference, Rogers’ 1.1 WAR is good enough for 17th of the 33 players that made the MLB from his first round. While the average WAR from that first round is approximately 5.1 per big leaguer, an awful lot of that value is tied into Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, Stephen Drew, Gio Gonzalez, Billy Butler, and Huston Street. 27 of the 2004 first rounders that made the big leagues are worth a combined 43 WAR, compared to those six players listed above, who are worth approximately 125 WAR. Mark Rogers is the median value of that 2004 first round class thus far, which says a lot about where the value of the “average” first rounder sits (Verlander and his gang have a lot of impact on that “average” value).
Even if Rogers represents the median value of his first round class, there’s something disappointing about adorning a fireballing arm with that title. Yet, here’s a key to recent drafts by the Brewers: Melvin’s scouting staffs, recently and in the past, have not had issues looking past some shortcomings in order to land an impact tool. With Rogers, the story was that corrected mechanics would amplify his already stunning fastball; more recently, looking past Victor Roache‘s injury and hit tool, the Brewers aggressively drafted his raw power. Here we might question the Brewers’ recent draft strategies; would an approach that valued something like “polish” or “balance” yield more impact talent than an approach that values “raw tools”? It’s obviously tough to find a direct answer for this, given the sheer number of teams that miss on impact talent in the first round (we’re not going to open the, “if the Brewers had only drafted….” game). Yet, it’s also difficult to ignore the first round trends within the Brewers’ organization.
First Round Developments
|Team||First Rounders In MLB||1990-2009 in MLB||2010- in Top 10||Median WAR|
|Giants||48||.703 (26/37)||4 of 5||Mike Phillips Jacob Cruz (0.7-0.4)|
|Athletics||47||.690 (29/42)||5 of 6||Lee Tinsley (1.7)|
|Rangers||44||.767 (23/30)||3 of 11||Tanner Scheppers Justin Smoak (1.8-1.5)|
|Angels||43||.792 (19/24)||3 of 6||Lee Stevens (2.1)|
|Cardinals||43||.667 (24/36)||4 of 11||Allen Watson (2.9)|
|White Sox||43||.647 (22/34)||3 of 5||Chris Knapp (0.4)|
|Twins||42||.722 (26/36)||4 of 8||Travis Miller Willie Banks (1.3-1.1)|
|Mets||41||.630 .630 (17/27)||3 of 6||Jason Tyner (2.3)|
|Nationals||37||.585 (24/41)||3 of 5||Michael Barrett (2.7)|
|Royals||36||.656 (21/32)||2 of 5||Luke Hochevar Mitch Maier (2.0-1.5)|
|Red Sox||36||.625 (20/32)||6 of 11||Mike Garman Sam Horn (2.5-2.3)|
|Padres||36||.486 (17/35)||2 of 11||Bob Owchinko Logan Forsythe (2.1-1.7)|
|Blue Jays||35||.778 (28/36)||4 of 15||J.P. Arencibia (3.7)|
In order to accompany the idea that Mark Rogers is a median first rounder, I surveyed each MLB club’s first round performance historically, while ultimately focusing on their “modern” drafts (1990-2009). I did not judge clubs on their 2010-present drafts in terms of how many picks reached the MLB, but I did judge their recent drafts based on how many of their recent first round picks are in their organizational Top 10 for BaseballAmerica>. There are obvious shortcomings to judging teams simply by how many first round picks made the MLB (for, like the Brewers, many clubs have first round players who served as trading chips rather than roster parts). Similarly, there are obvious shortcomings to judging teams’ drafts based on organizational rankings (for, not all rankings are created equal, and not all highly ranked players are impact players).
|Team||In MLB||1990-2009 in MLB||2010- in Top 10||Median WAR|
|Orioles||35||.563 (18/32)||2 of 5||Brian Matusz (2.1)|
|Cubs||35||.654 (17/26)||3 of 6||Ryan Flaherty (0.4)|
|Tigers||34||.667 (16/24)||1 of 4||Greg Gohr Ryan Perry (0.4-0.3)|
|Braves||34||.607 (17/28)||2 of 4||Mike Minor Brad Komminsk (3.4-2.2)|
|Phillies||33||.864 (19/22)||1 of 5||Dave Coggin (0.3)|
|Indians||33||.533 (16/30)||2 of 4||Drew Pomeranz (1.1)|
|Brewers||32||.607 (17/28)||4 of 6||Brett Lawrie Dion James (10.2-6.2)|
|Mariners||32||.739 (17/23)||3 of 4||Ron Villone John Mayberry (3.9-1.4)|
|Astros||30||.520 (13/25)||5 of 7||Don August Brian Bogusevic (1.8-1.7)|
|Reds||31||.720 (18/25)||3 of 7||Kurt Stillwell (3.1)|
|Pirates||31||.680 (17/25)||3 of 6||Sam Khalifa (0.9)|
|Dodgers||29||.600 (15/25)||3 of 5||Blake DeWitt (2.0)|
|Yankees||27||.556 (15/27)||1 of 6||Gerrit Cole Brian Buchanan (0.5)|
|Team||In MLB||1990-2009 in MLB||2010- in Top 10||Median WAR|
|Marlins||19||.773 (17/22)||3 of 5||Taylor Tankersley (0.7)|
|Rockies||16||.696 (16/23)||4 of 7||Ian Stewart Jayson Nix (3.7-3.5)|
|Diamondbacks||16||.739 (17/23)||3 of 7||Sergio Santos A.J. Pollock (2.9-2.2)|
|Rays||9||.692 (9/13)||4 of 14||Rocco Baldelli (10.2)|
In the modern era, a sizable percentage of first rounders are making the major leagues. From 1990-2009, MLB clubs average nearly 29 first round picks per team, and 17 of those picks make the MLB (on average). In recent drafts, the sheer number of first round picks has not yet cooled off, as 2010-2013 drafts resulted in seven teams with six picks, and twelve teams with more than six picks. In this regard, we can see a general issue with the modern Brewers drafts is their basic number of picks; from 1990-2009, the Brewers made 28 first round picks, just shy of the league average. Similarly, from 2010-2013, the Brewers made six first round picks, which again, is right at the league average. While it is a good thing that the Brewers are at least making an average number of first round picks, this also shows the club’s general inability to aggressively use labor methods to gain extra draft picks; the Blue Jays (15), Rays (14), and Red Sox, Rangers, Cardinals, and Padres (11) lead in first round picks from 2010-present. One might question whether the Brewers’ modest number of first round picks influences their decisions to gamble with raw tools.
Notably, the Brewers’ 1990-2009 first round-to-MLB success rate of .607 is below average. However, this fact is not necessarily attributed to Melvin’s drafts, but rather, the franchise’s rough early 1990s period. From 1990-1993, the Brewers failed to use a first round pick to produce an MLB player. Twelve other MLB teams boast notable first round droughts of three or more years during the “modern” draft era:
Red Sox, 1995-1997*
*one (supplemental) of six first round picks made MLB
**one (supplemental) of eight first round picks made MLB
#one of four first round picks made MLB
##one of four first round picks made MLB; two years without picks
With the draft becoming more of an ideological focus in the mid-to-late 2000s, it is notable that no club has yet to experience a first round drought from 2005-present.
Ultimately, Brewers fans are right to feel disappointed with the Mark Rogers campaign ending in Milwaukee. However, disappointment with Rogers’ overall performance should not necessarily be the focus of Brewers fans. Rather, Brewers fans and analysts ought to use this opportunity to address the organization’s recent draft picks and Melvin’s staff’s ideological approaches toward their drafts. If Mark Rogers serves as the “median” first round draft pick, how can the Brewers approach their drafts to land more impact talent?
BaseballAmerica. GrindMedia, LLC., 2013.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
IMAGE (Getty): http://www.zimbio.com/photos/Mark+Rogers/Washington+Nationals+v+Milwaukee+Brewers/q5HAgZe5uSU