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Did Kansas City Actually Catch a Break in the MLB Draft Lottery?

In the inaugural MLB Draft Lottery, Kansas City had the fifth best odds to select #1 overall at 10%. They ended up dropping out of the six pick lottery and fell to pick number eight, having been jumped by the Tigers, Rangers, and Twins. It would be easy to bemoan this as bad luck for our Royals, but is that actually true?

When MLB's new CBA went into effect prior to the 2022 season, one of the provisions added with the draft lottery was that a team who received revenue sharing could not pick in the lottery for three consecutive years and that a team who did not receive revenue sharing could not pick in consecutive draft lotteries. Furthermore, any team barred from picking in the draft lottery cannot pick in the top ten. This leads to some interesting results. In 2024, for instance, both Washington and Texas will be unable to pick in the top ten of the MLB draft. Although the only currently released iteration of ZIPS projected standings doesn't include free agent signings, it's still instructive to give a sense of how much talent is returning to each major league club and can give a very rough estimate of next year's draft lottery odds. Here, ordered in reverse by winning percentage, is how ZIPS expects next year's standings to look.

Team

Projected Winning Percentage

Washington

0.414

Colorado

0.42

Detroit

0.432

Pittsburgh

0.432

Cincinnati

0.444

Kansas City

0.457

Oakland

0.457

CHC

0.457

CWS

0.469

Baltimore

0.481

Miami

0.488

Texas

0.494

Minnesota

0.5

Boston

0.506

Cleveland

0.506

San Francisco

0.512

Arizona

0.512

Seattle

0.519

LAA

0.519

Mets

0.519

Philadelphia

0.519

NYY

0.525

Milwaukee

0.525

San Diego

0.537

Tampa Bay

0.543

Toronto

0.543

Houston

0.556

St Louis

0.562

LAD

0.562

Atlanta

0.593

A few quick notes: No, these projections do not include Trea Turner to the Phillies, Jacob DeGrom to the Mets, or Aaron Judge to wherever he is going to go. These also do not take into account that a lower winning% team might make the playoffs in the AL when they wouldn't in the NL or vise versa. Again, this is intended to be a very rough estimate.

Here, we see Washington with the worst projected record, the Rangers with the 12th worst projection (a fact surely changed by their FA activity this winter), and the Royals with the sixth worst projection. Having the Nationals out of the lottery significantly increases the likelihood that the Royals will have a top three pick (according to Tankathon, the odds of picking in the top three are 30.9% with the fifth worst record and 24% with the sixth worst record),

At this point, you may have noted that the Royals would be eligible for the lottery next season even if they picked in the top six this season. This is absolutely true, but it's in the 2025 draft where this could really pay dividends for Kansas City. You see, the Tigers, Pirates, and A's are projected for the third, fourth, and seventh best records, respectively, in 2023 without even accounting for the likelihood of an impending Sean Murphy trade. This means that all three of these teams will both be picking in the 2023 lottery and will be strong candidates for the 2024 draft lottery. These three teams winning the lottery for the 2024 draft would disqualify them for the 2025 draft lottery. On the other hand, if some of these teams did not win the draft lottery, it likely means that the Royals jumped up for the next lottery.

So, for the next draft lottery, Kansas City will likely either jump up, have much better odds in 2025, or both. Let's say these Royals follow a similar trajectory of the Royals from a decade ago. 2022 would be the equivalent of 2011 where all the prospects came up, 2023 would be a developmental year akin to 2012, and 2024 would be a year where the Royals make a push but come up just short of the playoffs. For the sake of argument, let's give them the 15th worst record in MLB. If the trio of Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Oakland all made the 2024 lottery, then KC would be picking with the 12th best odds to get in the lottery (they'd still pick 15th if they did not make the lottery) and if some combination of Detroit, Pittsburgh, or Oakland did not make the 2024 lottery, it's likely because KC jumped up.

I have two more things to add to this probably too long Fanpost. The first is that the difference between picks at the top of the draft is greater than the difference between picks lower down. In 2019, Fangraph's Craig Edwards assigned money estimates to get a sense of how valuable each of the first 70 picks was. The difference between the first and sixth overall pick was 16.2 million dollars, and the difference between the sixth overall pick and the 11th overall pick was 7.1 million dollars. I'll copy the chart here for the 18 lottery eligible picks:

Pick

Present Value of Pick ($/M)

1

$45.5 M

2

$41.6 M

3

$38.2 M

4

$34.8 M

5

$31.9 M

6

$29.3 M

7

$27.4 M

8

$25.9 M

9

$24.5 M

10

$23.3 M

11

$22.2 M

12

$21.1 M

13

$20.2 M

14

$19.2 M

15

$18.4 M

16

$17.6 M

17

$16.8 M

18

$16.1 M

As you can see, the upside from moving up in the lottery for teams picking later than around 5th or so is much greater than the downside of moving down. The last thing I want to address is the possibility that Kansas City misses the lottery again for the 2024 draft. This is a scenario which has to be accounted for. One reason they may miss the 2024 lottery is because the 2023 Royals are good, and it think that's a scenario everyone here would be happy to give up lottery picks for. On the other hand, it is possible that the Royals are both terrible and shut out of the lottery again. I would be much harder pressed to find a silver lining for missing the 2024 lottery given that I expect the Royals to actually be good in 2025, but for this draft I'm willing to accept a slightly lower pick in exchange for better odds in each of the next two drafts.

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