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The Giants Get High On Their Own Supply

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The Giants have taken a lot of heat the past decade for their inability to provide a steady stream of position players from their farm system. Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey have helped paper over some of the barren years, and now the Brandons have grown into solid contributors. But the reputation lingers.

So toward the end of August, prompted by a tweet by Grant making fun of a singularly wretched Astros draft, I got curious and started digging into the Giants' drafts using Baseball Reference's draft search tool. (I advise doing so only with ample stocks of food and water; you might be in there a long long time.)

I stopped myself at 2000 because it has lots of zeroes in it, but also because I wanted to compare the Giants' draft success to their NL West rivals and had to stop somewhere. Random endpoints or not, I think you might be surprised what I found.

(Three big caveats: The following analysis does not include foreign players and other non-draftees; it does not include players drafted but not signed; and I have not updated the numbers in September to reflect the roster expansions.)

First, of least importance, the Giants have drafted the most players who eventually saw major-league action:

Hooray? Sorry, not all major-league action is created equal. On sheer accumulation of wins above replacement (WAR) -- which B-Ref measures in a slightly different way than Fangraphs, if you need to know -- the Giants' draftees take a tumble:

Thanks to guys like Brandon Webb and Justin Upton, the D-Backs have crushed their division rivals in the selection of solid major-league contributors. Another way of looking at it:

C'mon, dude, you say. Tell us something new. The Giants have kinda sucked for a long time when it comes to drafting solid ballplayers. Duh. That division-leading "66" at the top of the first table is stuffed full of Billy Sadlers and Jason Ellisons and Lance Niekros.

Right. So let's filter out the chaff and set the threshold at 1.0 career WAR in the majors. No cup of coffee types, no egregious busts. One win over replacement isn't much, but it means a player either had a nice run for a month or two or had enough skills to keep getting chances without horribly embarrassing himself. Here are a few names and career WAR totals to help get your head wrapped around the 1.0 WAR bar:

Noah Lowry 9.5
Brandon Crawford 2.9
Jonathan Sanchez 2.5
Brett Pill 0.5
Jesse Foppert -0.7
John Bowker - 1.7
Todd Linden -2.1
Emmanuel Burriss -2.4

Ask John Bowker. It's not easy to reach that 1.0 threshold. Let's call everyone who has reached it (running totals to date) "useful players" and see who in the NL West is best at drafting them. Survey says...

The D-Backs are still in the lead with the rest tightly bunched. You might have guessed by now that this all turns out quite nicely for the Giants. Because it's not just about how many decent players you draft, or how well you develop them, it's about which ones you keep for yourselves. Can I have a drum roll, please, Madame Secretary?

Let me explain. The "home" column is the WAR accumulated by the useful players for their original teams. The "away" column is the WAR accumulated for other teams. The Giants are the best in each, and it's not particularly close. In other words, they've gained maximum value from the good players they've drafted, and the ones they've traded or let go have gone on to do something just north of Diddly Squat. The Giants' total is driven by Matt Cain (29.1 WAR), Tim Lincecum (22.4), and Buster Posey (11.3), but there are smaller reasons the Giants have done so well getting the most from their homegrown players. Here are two examples:

Kevin Correia accumulated 2.9 WAR as a Giant. He was a useful swing man for six years until he got too expensive. In the four years since he left, he's earned more than $8 million and posted -0.5 WAR, according to Baseball Reference.

Fred Lewis? 3.4 WAR as a Giant, 0.4 since.

Again, this list of "useful" players doesn't include those a team drafted but couldn't sign. If it did, the Giants would have Doug Fister count against them. (Drafted in 2003, 49th round, didn't sign, has tallied 9.6 WAR in the majors.)

All this confirms something many have noted for a long time. The Giants might not be the best drafters of position-player talent, but they're excellent at knowing whom to keep and whom to trade (or let walk). The AJ Pierzynski-Joe Nathan-Francisco Liriano trade aside, they rarely give away players of consequence. Perhaps the best way to encapsulate this blog post is with two names: Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson. Both highly touted pitching prospects drafted in the first round in 2007. One kept, one traded. How's that working out so far?  

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