October 16, 2013
One of These Things is Not Like the Others
I first thought of making this chart with Craig Goldstein when I heard that the Cardinals playoff roster comprised 17 homegrown players. It seemed like a big number, and I wanted to see how that compared to the other LCS teams. I decided to use the LCS Game 1 rosters because they seem to be the best reflection of who the manager thinks give him the best chance to advance to the World Series.
The Cardinals clearly stick out for a variety of reasons. We’ve heard that St. Louis is adept at identifying and developing talent, but the gulf between them and the other three teams is staggering to see.
Boston, Detroit and Los Angeles combine for 17 drafted players on their LCS playoff rosters, which St. Louis matches on its own. St. Louis also has the lowest payroll of the four teams by a wide margin. The Dodgers’ trade acquisitions earn more than the entire Cardinals roster ($85 million to $74 million).
The difference between the four teams really comes out in how impact talent was acquired. If we look at the top four WARP contributors we see a mix of strategies and contributions. The Cardinals relied on the draft and trades to get their top four of Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday.
The Dodgers represent the only true mix of the four in that they acquired each of their top four contributors a different way. Hanley Ramirez was a trade, Clayton Kershaw was drafted, Yasiel Puig was an international signing, and Juan Uribe was signed as a free agent.
Detroit got their top contributions almost exclusively via the trade. Justin Verlander was drafted but Miguel Cabrera, Anibal Sanchez, and Max Scherzer were all acquired via trade. In fact, if we extend it out we see that seven of the top 10 Tiger WARPs were acquired via trade.
Then there’s Boston, which made a series of shrewd offseason moves. Shane Victorino was a criticized free agent signing but he worked out nicely. David Ortiz was a free agent signing from ages ago; Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury round out the top four Boston WARP leaders as draftees.
I suspect that if I do this chart in five years the player distribution will look fairly different. Given the current CBA it would appear that we’re in an era when good young talent gets locked up early and often.
It doesn’t mean that you can’t still find solid contributions via free agency, but it does put pressure on front offices to be on top of their pro scouting departments. This chart shows how important it is to have a base of drafted talent to work with, but it also shows that the Cardinals are the outlier, and there’s no one avenue to successful team building.
Mauricio Rubio is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @MRubio52