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How did the LCS teams find their talent?

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League Championship Series - New York Yankees v Houston Astros - Game Seven Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

After looking the other day at how young the hitters on the four finalists are this year, I thought I’d check to see exactly where those four teams acquired their talent, both hitters and pitchers. I added it up for each team by fWAR and broke it into these categories:

Draft
International Signings
Trades-Veteran (players who lost their rookie status before the trade)
Trades-Prospect (players who still qualified as rookies when acquired)
Free Agents (only those signed to major league contracts)
Other (waivers, Rule 5, minor league free agents)

As you’ll see, the big talent sources were the draft and trades. If you add together talent acquired in the draft and the international market, plus prospects acquired in trades, it’s clear that these teams all relied heavily on their farm systems for their success. (One caveat with the Dodgers: Many of their international signees were experienced Japanese and Cuban players who required little to no time in the minors.) Free agents played a meaningful role for all of these teams, but weren’t a primary source of talent for any of them.

Cubs

Draft: 12.2 fWAR
International: 2.8
Trade - Veteran: 9.8
Trade - Prospect: 8.8
Free Agent: 7.4
Other: 0.5

Dodgers

Draft: 14.8
International: 6.1
Trade - Veteran: 13.8
Trade - Prospect: 3.1
Free Agent: 9.3
Other: 7.2

Astros

Draft: 18.7
International: 9.7
Trade - Veteran: 5.4
Trade - Prospect: 12.9
Free Agent: 5.5
Other: 1.8

Yankees

Draft: 14.0
International: 13.2
Trade - Veteran: 15.7
Trade Prospect: 2.6
Free Agent: 6.1
Other: 0.6

Comments

  • This method inherently undervalues prospects because these teams traded numerous prospects for veterans. Trades for veterans (not all of which involved prospects), in turn, produced more value than any category apart from the draft. Teams gave up top prospects such as Eloy Jimenez, Willie Calhoun and Daz Cameron, as well as a surprisingly large number of lottery tickets and middling prospects. Lottery tickets such as Angel German and Oneil Cruz played a big role in teams filling holes with players like Tony Watson.
  • The Dodgers’ free agent total is skewed a bit by Kenley Jansen, who earned a whopping (for a reliever) 3.5 fWAR. I doubt there was ever much chance of him leaving LA, so it might be more realistic to include him with the Dodgers’ international signees.
  • The Dodgers’ “other” total is a product of their remarkable success with minor league free agents, specifically Justin Turner (5.5 fWAR), Brandon Morrow (1.6) and Andrew Toles (0.5).
  • The Yankees’ contribution from draftees is a bit misleading. It’s skewed downward by Greg Bird’s (-0.4) injury-plagued season and a couple prospects having unusually bad cups of coffee. The typical cup of coffee from a prospect, at least with these teams, at worst tended to produce about -0.1 or -0.2 fWAR, but Clint Frazier (-0.3) and Tyler Wade (-0.6) had a rough go of it. Austin Romine (-0.6) was also pretty awful. This category could be a lot better for the Yankees next year.
  • These teams didn’t get a huge contribution from free agents and what they got came mostly from pitchers. Counting Jansen, the four teams got 28.3 fWAR from major league free agents. Of that, 8.9 came from hitters and 19.4 from pitchers. The only free agent position player to produce 2.0 or more fWAR was Josh Reddick, at 3.5. The next highest total was Chase Headley’s 1.9, which was barely more than David Freese’s 1.6 at over twice the cost. (In fact, if you adjust for playing time, the difference disappears.) I don’t think this is all that surprising, as hitters tend to be passing their peak seasons right about the time they reach free agency. Pitchers’ career arcs are much less uniform than hitters’. There’s a reason the Cubs focused heavily on hitters in their rebuilding, figuring they could add pitchers through free agency.*

*You could argue here that the Pirates, with their focus on pitching prospects, have it backwards, but I think that’d be incorrect. The Pirates are never going to be signing guys like Max Scherzer, David Price and Jon Lester. They need to develop those guys themselves. Of course, this means that their farm system faces even more demands than those of other teams. It also makes their refusal to compete for the better international players all the more suicidal.