Is draft nepotism really a big deal?

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I hate nepotism. I’d probably still hate nepotism even if I ever had a relative who could do me a favor, which I didn’t (damn). I’d probably still hate nepotism even if my first job in the law hadn’t been working for a guy who hired his son a couple of years later and treated him like a full partner while I reviewed documents all day.

Nepotism is bad for institutions because it favors relationships over competence. Or, when the relative just happens to be competent anyway — which does happen, you know, because not all nephews and favored sons are simpletons — it’s not fair for the relative because no one else will ever believe they earned what they got.  And of course, nepotism is totally depressing for non-nepotees.

The subject of nepotism has come up in connection with the baseball draft for years, as teams have frequently drafted sons and — in at least one case a daughter — of team executives and dignitaries. It happened this year, with a couple of teams drafting sons of favorite sons and, depending on who you believe, the White Sox’ not drafting Ozney Guillen bent Ozzie Guillen’s nose out of shape.

Against this backdrop, David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune writes the following:

Baseball teams routinely draft their favorite sons with throwaway picks, and that’s a problem Commissioner Bud Selig can’t ignore before next year’s Nepotism Seminar reconvenes … To make everybody more comfortable, the league needs to impose late-round restrictions and shorten the draft — and not just to save the Guillens from acting like the baseball Kardashians every June. Tweaks in the rules also would ease the burden of baseball executives who likely feel pressure they never will acknowledge publicly to draft sons or nephews or buddies on the final day.

My above-stated stand on nepotism notwithstanding, this is silly. This is certainly a problem Bud Selig can ignore. It’s almost the perfect definition of that which is ignorable. “To make everybody more comfortable” is the standard for new rules now?  If that’s the case, boy howdy, do I have a list of demands, because I know from comfort.

Baseball teams can and should draft whoever they want. I’d love if the Braves took me in the 49th round next year simply so I could say I was unhappy with my bonus and decided to go to junior college.  I hope the Rangers find some long lost relative of Mickey Rivers and pick him on day three.  There are a zillion rounds and a zillion non-draftee signings after that with which teams can stock their system.  If a team executive wants to burn a pick on junior simply so he can have some inside joke/memento to share with relatives next Christmas, who are we to judge?  Well, we can judge, but why should we care?

Let ’em draft who they want to draft. If the organization is so dysfunctional that a pick or a non-pick is going to upset team morale, there are likely other, much bigger problems swirling around the front office. If a team is drafting poorly with its legitimate picks, the GM is going to be out of a job soon enough anyway. As long as the guy isn’t picking his sister’s kid while leaving a solid middle infielder with good on-base ability on the draft board, I can’t think of anything I care less about.

Must-Click Link: Sherri Nichols, Sabermetic Pioneer

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If you are old enough and lame enough as I am, you may have lurked around on sabermetic message boards in the 1990s. If you did, you may have heard of Sherri Nichols, who back in the day, was a significant contributor to the advancement of statistical analysis, particularly defensive analysis.

While it’s probably better that not everyone is as old and nerdy as me, the downside of it is that most people haven’t heard of Nichols and know nothing about her contributions. That changes today with Ben Lindbergh’s excellent analysis of Nichols and her work over at The Ringer, which I recommend that you all read.

The short version: Nichols is the one who planted the seed about on-base percentage being valuable in the mind of Baseball Prospectus Founder Gary Huckabay, back in the late 80s. She’s also the one most responsible for the rise of zone-based defensive metrics in the 1990s, such as Defensive Average, which she created and which served as the basis for other such metrics going forward. She also played a critical role in the development of RetroSheet, which collected almost all extant box score and play-by-play information going back to the turn of the 20th century, thereby making so much of the information available at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs possible. A key contribution there: making the information free and available to everyone, rather than closing the underlying data off as proprietary and either charging for access or keeping it in-house like some recent data collectors have chosen to do. Ahem.

A larger takeaway than all of Nichols’ contributions is just how loathe the baseball community was to listen to a woman back then. I mean, yeah, they’re still loathe to listen to women now, as indicated by the small number of women who hold jobs in baseball operations departments, but back then it was even worse, as evidenced by Lindbergh’s stories and Nichols’ anecdotes.

A great read and a great history lesson.