Do The Rays Favor Floridians in The Draft? | The Process Report

Do The Rays Favor Floridians in The Draft?

Big K.R.I.T. has dominated my musical tastes lately. He has a song (aptly named) Hometown Hero, in which discusses his Mississippi roots and throws around some athletic references (namely to Boobie Miles), which got me thinking about the meaning behind hometown heroes. Each of the Rays’ last three positional player moves have involved someone who could be described as a hometown player. Johnny Damon and Felipe Lopez went to high school in Orlando while Casey Kotchman perfected his defensive game at Seminole High.

People love hometown players for the reasons you would expect. Baseball itself carries an inherent sense of nostalgia and home, and knowing that the little tyke on the block turned into a slugger is romantic Americana. You often notice the marginal players who grew up in the area better than the stars because the ballplayers of lesser talent lack interesting information look at on their Baseball-Reference pages, so you wind up glancing at their birth state and high school.

Being located in Florida gives the Rays a never-ending wave of potential birth state players to entertain employing. . Since the Rays began operations in 1996, roughly 6% of active major league players have hailed from Florida –third only to Texas and California amongst states—an impressive distinction since Florida holds about half the population of California and two-thirds of Texas. Florida exports baseball talent with the best of them. Because Florida is a proverbial hotbed, one has to wonder whether the club takes advantage of its location when scouting and drafting.

A few years ago, Nate Silver examined the percentage of high school draftee relative to the youth across the states. His work found Florida to be the most overscouted state in the country. Whether that remains true or not is beyond my purpose. Instead, I pulled the data for each of the draft classes since 2001 –giving us five draft classes under the old regime and five under the new regime. From there, I also pulled the data on the Floridian picks.

Nearly 1,700 Floridia-based players have been selected since 2001. Of those, more than 700 have been of the high school variety, which usually implies roots within the area. If we assume that each player had an equal chance of being selected by every team (in this case 1/30) then the player has a 3.33% shot of becoming a Ray. The exact percentage per player depends on the multiple variables that go into draft stock and status, but the assumption is it equals out over such a large sample size.

From that, we’d assume that a little over three percent of those players would be popped by the Rays. In reality, the team has selected a smidge more than 2% of drafted Floridians. What’s more is that the team selected 15 of its 39 players under the watch of Andrew Friedman –including eight players over the past three drafts, whereas the Rays selected eight Florida-based players in the 2001 draft alone. There have been nearly 800 Florida-based players drafted since 2006, and the Rays have selected roughly 1.9% of them and 1.7% over the last three seasons.

So, where from are the Rays selecting their players?

The Rays have been aggressive in plucking players from the west coast. Scouting director R.J. Harrison is familiar with the western region and has selected nearly 100 players from California (51), Arizona (21), and Texas (19) during his reign. The team has also swiped 17 Georgians and 14 Washingtonians. It’s hard to believe that California could be underscouted, but that’s exactly what Silver proposed in his article, while also suggesting Texas, Arizona, and Washington were overscouted –albeit less so than Florida.

The Rays have taken a considerable amount of talent from Illinois (nine) and New York (five) despite those states being listed as underscouted. Meanwhile, Silver’s data has Utah and Oklahoma as hotbeds, but the Rays have taken a combined four players from those states.

It’s premature to suggest the Rays have stumbled upon a geographical inefficiency as many questions must be answered first. Besides the obvious (are the players they’re selecting any good?), are players predisposed to high levels of competition more likely to become worthwhile prospects than players of similar tools in weaker environments? High school data is nearly impossible to gather, so running queries similar to Jeff Sackmann’s here are impossible. There’s also the chance that the team isn’t picking players solely on locale, but rather talent. In which case, the number of Florida hometown heroes appear to be dwindling.

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