Congratulations, your team has the #1 pick in the draft. You’re on top of the world. You’re giving strangers nicknames, wearing sunglasses indoors, ordering guac when you know it costs extra. You have it all. After a season (or likely many) seasons of futility, the clouds have parted, the rain has stopped and there’s a bright future ahead.
At least that’s what you want (have) to believe, right?
So, what are fans to do when their team is about to be on the clock first? It’s important to recognize three tiers of how this can go:
- Best of the Best – the players taken #1 you hope your team’s pick will become
- Worst in Show – the players you dread your top pick ends up like
- Mean Men – the players who represent the average performance of top picks
It’s these Mean Men who are the most interesting as they represent the floor for fans’ hopes with the #1 pick. If your team’s top pick performs at that level, then you really can’t complain too much.
Sure, you want the transcendent talent, but it’s still a positive if your top pick doesn’t appear in articles listing the biggest bust #1’s of all-time.
We covered NFL QBs taken #1 last time, and now we move on to the MLB draft. For this, we’ll be using the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stat from Baseball Reference. And we are looking at #1 picks from 1975-2005.
Best of the Best
- Alex Rodriguez (1993 #1 pick, 117.5 WAR, 3 MVPs, 1 World Series Ring)
- Chipper Jones (1990 #1 pick, 85.3 WAR, 1 MVP, 1 World Series Ring)
- Ken Griffey Jr. (1987 #1 pick, 83.8 WAR, 1 MVP)
Let’s ignore the elephant in the room that rhymes with smush-spencion and focus on these are three of the best players from their generation. A-Rod and Chipper each also won a Championship, while The Kid was arguably the most beloved MLB player of the ’90s and had a sick video game named after him.
Worst in Show
- Brien Taylor (1991 #1 pick, never reached MLB)
- Shawn Abner (1984 #1 pick, -1.3 WAR, 392 career games)
- Danny Goodwin (1975 #1 pick, -1.3 WAR, 252 career games)
Ok, having your #1 pick never make the league is pretty bad. But having your top pick make it, and be worse than a league-average player also hurts like the dickens.
The average WAR for a #1 pick from 1975-2005 = 27.7. And so, our Mean Men are…
- Mike Moore (1981 #1 pick, 27.9 WAR, #3 in AL Cy Young voting in 1989)
- Tim Belcher (1983 #1 pick, 26.7 WAR, #6 in NL Cy Young voting in 1989)
- Floyd Bannister (1976 #1 pick, 26.4 WAR)
Certainly not household names, but when you factor in the uncertainty that surrounds a minor league player’s development on the path to the majors this is fine. The key part for these three pitchers is their durability. They collectively pitched over 2300 innings in their career, and they have 22 seasons of throwing over 200 innings among them. I realize this workload was more common during this era, but the fact remains these guys were good enough to put “MLB pitcher” on their tax returns for over a decade.
It is a little creepy Moore/Belcher each had their best season in the same year though.
While the #1 pick is exciting and promising, it’s very far from a guaranteed step on the path to a championship, or even winning seasons. The top pick might be a generational Hall of Famer, and it could be a guy who’s out of the league in a few years and appears on “Biggest Busts Ever” lists forever. Come back soon when we look into the top picks in recent NBA Drafts.
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