Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Benefits of Drafting Too High

It was as if a big new market-moving Wall Street money manager had sprung into being, and bought shares only in vegetarian restaurants, or electric car manufacturers. With a difference. A revaluation in the stock market has consequences for companies and for money managers. The pieces of paper don't particularly care what you think of their intrinsic value. A revaluation in the market for baseball players resonates in the lives of young men. It was as if a signal had radiated out from the Oakland A's draft room and sought, laserlike, those guys who for their whole careers had seen their accomplishments understood with an asterisk. The footnote at the bottom of the page said, "He'll never go anywhere because he doesn't look like a big league ballplayer."

- Michael Lewis' Moneyball

I am re-reading Lewis' 2004 classic, which explains how the Oakland A's had so much success in the early 2000s despite a paltry payroll because they evaluated players differently. The A's won with misshapen players who couldn't run or field very well but who had a knack for getting on base.

Many of the players the A's were interested in before the 2002 amateur draft didn't see themselves getting drafted until the fifteenth round or later. One could argue that the A's should indeed have waited till these later rounds to draft these kids, because no other team was going to take them anyway.

Instead, the A's called these kids and told them how well they would fit into the Oakland system, so much so that the A's would be selecting them in the first or second rounds. They would be offered a signing bonus that was absurdly higher than what they were expected yet up to a million dollars less than other high draft picks would typically receive.

Either method would help the A's acquire valuable players that no one else really wanted, but it's clear that the latter gave these youngsters a credible reason to believe in themselves and thus devote the effort to becoming big league ballplayers.