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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Reimagining The 1987 Draft

Geoff Young of Ducksnorts reimagines the 1981 draft at The Hardball Times. Excerpt:
8. Los Angeles Dodgers
Actual pick: Dan Opperman, RHP, Valley HS (Las Vegas, Nev.), N/A
Revised pick: Albert Belle, OF, Louisiana State U. (Baton Rouge, La.), 37.4 WAR

Drafted out of the same high school that produced Mike Morgan (en route to 17 losses for the Mariners that year) and Greg Maddux (then taking his lumps as a rookie for the Cubs), Opperman never reached the big leagues. He worked a tick over 300 innings in his minor-league career before retiring at age 23. Apparently there had been concerns about Opperman's elbow before the draft and the situation deteriorated from there.

Belle slipped to the second round. After a couple false starts, he made an impact with the Indians in 1991, hitting .282/.323/.540 (134 OPS+). Had he done that in Los Angeles, it might have made a difference.

The Dodgers went 93-69 that year, finishing one game behind Atlanta in the NL West. The Dodgers started Kal Daniels in left field; his WAR was 1.0. Belle's WAR in 1991 was 2.2. It is possible that Belle's presence might have been enough to lead the Dodgers past Atlanta and push them into the NLCS against Mussina's Pirates.

With Belle, the Dodgers almost certainly win the NL West in '96. Todd Hollandsworth enjoyed a fine rookie campaign, but there is no comparison between him and Belle that year:
Player         PA   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
Belle         715 .311 .410 .623 158
Hollandsworth 526 .291 .348 .437 113
Add in the fact that the Padres don't have Caminiti (who won NL MVP that year) or Finley, and it's looking good for LA. How well the Dodgers would have done in the postseason is another story altogether. They hit just .147/.204/.221 while being swept by Atlanta, and Hollandsworth is the only guy who contributed anything on offense.

Of course, if the Dodgers had drafted Belle, this would have affected another organization as well, although perhaps not as much as you might think. The Indians produced some terrific young talent in the early-'90s (Belle, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome), and although they would have taken a talent hit without Belle, they also ran away with the AL Central in 1995 (finishing 30 games ahead of the White Sox) and 1996 (winning by 14.5). After the '96 campaign, Belle signed with the White Sox, who—you guessed it—finished second to Cleveland.

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