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Looking at Arizona’s Draft History by WAR - An Introduction

The Draft is important to the Diamondbacks. So what can we learn about strengths/weaknesses of the franchise historically?

Jeff Wiser

If you’ve been following baseball for the last decade and a half, you’ve probably found yourself more interested in farm system rankings, prospects, and MiLB park factors than ever before. This could be because MLB has made a concerted push to focus on marketing its young talent, or because the MLB product fielded in Phoenix over that time has left many things to be desired... Either way, I’d wager you know the names of more 18–25-year-old baseball players who’ve never sniffed an MLB game than you did in 2013.

There are three main ways to stock up a farm system: the Draft, International Signings, and Trades. As someone who lived in DEEEEEEEEEEEEP St Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals country for most of the last decade, I dove headfirst into “The Farm” during the 2010s. I was there in person when KC took their homegrown World Series Winning Teammates off the field for the final time in 2017. Before that, I’d steeped in “Cardinal Devil Magic” like a bag of tea. I became hooked on prospects. I wanted to know when/how Arizona would have their own Cain/Hosmer/Moose/Gordon group.

I’ve settled on the draft for this series since it’s the lifeblood of a “small market” team like Arizona. It’s also the easiest to track... There are about a gazillion international signings each year and they get lost in the shuffle A LOT, especially the farther back you go. And trades are... a touchy subject for sports fanbases because they often involve fan favorite players leaving (although sometimes coming as well).

There are myriad ways to evaluate a draft. Many are worthwhile. So how to track and quantify Arizona’s Drafts? I’m a proponent of taking the best player available and sometimes that means taking the big swing on a risky guy. Those guys don’t always turn into amazing players. But that type of evaluation is difficult to quantify, so for the sake of this series, I settled on using Wins Above Replacement or WAR.

There are two common WAR types, Fangraphs (fWAR) and Baseball Reference (bWAR). (Both these links lead to Position Player explanations, and Pitching can be found here and here) They calculate slightly differently, so I have also created an average of the two (aWAR). These three numbers will be the basis of my dataset.

My calculation of aWAR is simple: aWAR = (fWAR + bWAR)/2

One last thing to note before the meat and potatoes come at you: Obviously the more recent the draft, the more overall change it could still have. I’m going to have to put some additional context for modern drafts since the players will continue to add (or subtract) value. The following drafts are completely finished though with zero remaining players actively playing at the MLB level to accrue additional WAR: 1996-2004 & 2007. All other years have active players, with 2021-2022 having zero MLB players (hopefully yet, but technically ever is still possible). All WAR figured were last updated on May 31, 2023, so they are slightly out of date.

The goal here is to look at how each Scouting Director drafted and evaluate the draft, not necessarily the benefits Arizona reaped from said drafts. So, more importance will be placed on players’ career WAR than their Arizona WAR. I will touch on the Arizona WAR aspect as well, but Scouting Directors have far less say in that total given the nature of the job: talent leaving the organization is more on GMs or assistant GMs, whereas talent entering is the Scouting Director’s purview.

History of the Arizona Diamondbacks Scouting Directors:

  1. Don Mitchell (1996-1999)
  2. Mike Rizzo (2000-2006)
  3. Tom Allison (2007-2010)
  4. Ray Montgomery (2011-2014)
  5. Deric Ladnier (2015-2021)
  6. Ian Rebhan (2022-Present)

Weird factoid: Arizona has only ever had a Scouting Director for 4 or 7 drafts (excluding Rebhan who is in his second year and still in charge).

Over the next week or so, each of these men will receive their own article where I breakdown their Arizona Diamondbacks Draft histories. The lone exception is Ian Rebhan, because he’s only in Year 2 of his tenure and has no real data to compare to his predecessors. So here’s a snapshot for him:

Ian Rebhan (2022-present) - WAR totals: fWAR - 0.0, bWAR - 0.0, aWAR - 0.0

To judge Ian Rebhan’s Arizona Draft history would be the height of arrogance. He has overseen exactly 1, and it was last year. I can’t be that unfair to him. But based on the limited data we have for Rebhan’s tendencies, he likes to aim high.

  • Druw Jones: 2nd overall, arguably a foregone conclusion, but there’s still risk in an 18-year-old with some hit tool questions.
  • Landon Sims: TJS, may be a reliever if his body can’t hold up to a starter’s workload, at 34th overall this is also fairly risky (although that fastball/slider combo is chef’s kiss to dream on).
  • Ivan Melendez: 43rd overall, 1B/DH only bat coming off a career year, Can be argued either way as well - if you buy in, the floor is there, if you don’t, he needs to show much better than he did in his pro debut.

I’m intrigued by what I’ve seen so far and look forward to adding additional years of data to Rebhan’s evaluation. Talk to me in like 2030.

In the articles to come:

Best Draft: 2009

Best Individual Player Drafted: Max Scherzer

Worst Draft: 2014 (will constantly be in flux so long as baseball is being played - but man if another draft surpasses this one, we’ve got issues)

Please comment your thoughts, expectations, or personal experiences!

**Special shout out to Michael McDermott, ChuckJohnson56, and Nick Piecoro for helping me with who actually was Scouting Director in the years before Ladnier. Michael knew all of them post 2000, Nick and Chuck confirmed Don Mitchell for me (Chuck with personal experience working for the organization at the time!)**