Time from Draft Until Majors

Yesterday, Nate Andrews asked the following question on Carson’s Instagraphs post 

I’m jus a little curious of the idea of length to reach the major leagues though. It’s definitely interesting to see the difference between high school and college draftees, but I’d be interested in looking at say, the average length to reach the major leagues (especially in first round draftees, considering they make it more often). On average, does it take a high school kid significantly longer to compared to someone who went to a 4 year college? I’d assume yes, but just something I would find interesting to see.

To answer that question, I did a very quick analysis. I compiled all first-round draft picks including supplemental first-rounders from 2008-2011 (dates arbitrarily chosen). Of those 200 players, 87 of them have reached the majors. Ignoring the three JC players, we are left with the following average time to majors:

HS: 3.8 years
4 Year: 2.5 years

So from this it appears that it takes high-school players a little over a year longer than college players, at least for those taken in the first round.

Of course, this analysis has a huge flaw, namely that I’m ignoring those 113 players that haven’t reached the majors. Many of them never will, but several will get there, thus biasing my numbers too low.

To deal with issue, I turned to something in statistics known as survival analysis. The name stems from biostatistics, where as the name implies, they are interested in the time until an individual dies. However, many medical studies are only run for a few years, and inevitably some individuals do not die in the period. Thus the idea of ‘censoring’ was born, where we know that someone survived until some time, but we do not know when they will actually die. These individuals still provide information for the researchers, which is modeled using a censoring mechanism. If anyone is interested in survival analysis, there are tons of references, but you can start with Wikipedia.

However, in biostatistics, we typically know that the event will eventually occur. However, in our context (time to reach majors), an event may not occur. There are good ways to deal with this, but I am going to be lazy. Instead, I just dropped the four players from my group that have not played professionally since 2002. This will likely bias the numbers too high, but still provides a fun exercise.

Once we account for censoring, the average time to majors is now:

HS: 6.5 years
4 Year: 4.5 years

While biased high, the difference between high school and college should not be affected. Now we have evidence that it takes high-school players about two more years than college players, at least on average. For those interested, JC players come in at 4.7 years (extremely small sample size warning!).

Just for fun, I did a similar analysis for draft position and position. Again, these numbers will be biased a little too high, but are interesting nonetheless.

The first overall pick is expected to reach the majors in 3.6 years. For every pick after that, we expect an additional 0.07 years, on average, to reach the majors. Thus the 10th overall pick should reach the majors in ~4.3 years, the 30th overall in 5.7 years, and so forth.

For position, a player’s position is whichever position is assigned to him on Baseball Reference’s draft page. I have no idea if this represents their position on draft day, or something else. Left fielders and right fielders are lumped together here. The results are as follows:

C: 5.0 years
1B: 3.1 years
2B: 4.5 years
3B: 3.9 years
SS: 5.1 years
LF/RF: 6.3 years
CF: 5.6 years

RHP: 5.9 years
LHP: 5.5 years

It should be said again that these numbers are a bit high. Furthermore, I am well aware that the sample size is low, so expect rather high uncertainty on these numbers. If anyone wants to further this analysis, I highly encourage it!

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Fuzzy Zoeler
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Fuzzy Zoeler

I wonder why outfielders take twice as long as first basemen? It seems like they would be fairly similar player profiles.