MLB: Anatomy of a Championship Team- A Guide To Building a Contender (Part 2)

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MLB: Anatomy of a Championship Team- A Guide To Building a Contender (Part 2)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Back in early December I wrote Part 1 of Anatomy of A Championship Team: A Guide To Building A Contender, which gave statistical proof that previous World Series Championship teams were built more around pitching than hitting. Now, in Part 2, I will look at "homegrown" players versus free agent signings, salaries of winning teams, and, finally, a real example that illustrates the validity of both Part 1 and Part 2 of this article. 

In order to analyze the choice between homegrown talent and acquired talent, there must be a definition for what constitutes a "homegrown" player. In this article, I've defined a homegrown player as any player who has spent no more then one full MLB season with another club, at the Major League level. 

*The table below shows the number of homegrown talent, from the combining of all 16 championship teams, broken down by position. (It is important to note that bench players are not included and pitchers, both starters and relievers, were based on the teams' depth charts, playoff rosters, and number of games pitched). Furthermore, the bolded numbers show positions where at least half of all championship teams had a homegrown player in that position. 

C

1B

2B

3B

SS

LF

CF

RF

 

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

 

CP

RP

RP

RP

RP

13

6

8

5

11

8

8

4

 

10

4

8

9

10

 

11

9

6

5

4

 

A quick glance over the table and it becomes obvious that a majority of championship teams' starting roster was filled with homegrown players. In fact, 11 of the 18 positions on the list show at least half the time the spot was filled with a team's own talent. 

Another eye-popping statistic the table shows is that, at five positions in particular, championship teams have an overwhelming majority of homegrown players starting there. Of a total possibility of 16, championship teams, since 1995, have combined for homegrown talent with: 13 catchers, 11 shortstops, 10 Ace (No. 1) Pitchers, 10 No. 5 Pitchers, and 11 Closers. I would argue that, excluding the No. 5 starter, these are the most important positions in baseball! (Centerfield is the only position not on this list that I'd include). 

Finally, the table also shows that four of the five pitchers in the starting rotation were homegrown at least half the time. Also, the closer and set-up relievers were commonly developed within the organization as well.

Okay, so World Series winning teams have a lot of homegrown players on their roster; does that mean that the General Managers of my favorite team should just call up the entire AAA squad and then we'll win? That would be nice, but not quite. 

While some deserving players get snubbed and other players are granted the honor despite not earning it, an All-Star selection can indicate a certain level of talent. By no means is it 100% foolproof, but it does give a general idea of players' abilities. 

The chart below shows the number of homegrown talent on the 16 championship teams' roster, the number of All-Stars that team had their winning year, and how many of those All-Stars were homegrown.

*Note: September call-ups are not included for the number of Homegrown Players on the roster.  

Year

Team

Homegrown Players

 

All-Stars

Homegrown All-Stars

1995

Braves

15

 

2

1

1996

Yankees

4

 

3

1

1997

Marlins

10

 

2

1

1998

Yankees

8

 

5

2

1999

Yankees

9

 

4

3

2000

Yankees

8

 

4

4

2001

Diamondbacks

6

 

3

0

2002

Angels

14

 

1

1

2003

Marlins

9

 

2

2

2004

Red Sox

4

 

3

0

2005

White Sox

7

 

4

3

2006

Cardinals

5

 

4

1

2007

Red Sox

9

 

6

2

2008

Phillies

11

 

2

1

2009

Yankees

11

 

3

2

2010

Giants

10

 

2

2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Average

(About) 9

 

3

(About) 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The chart clearly illustrates that, on average, a championship team had nine homegrown players on the roster and about three All-Stars, two of whom were homegrown. Only twice, the 2001 Diamondbacks and the 2004 Red Sox, were none of the selected All-Stars from team homegrown. 

This lends further evidence that a championship team is best off being built rather than bought or traded for. Although having big names on a team gets an organization more media attention, so will winning the World Series, and, as we've just seen, good homegrown talent is the best way to accomplish that.

Now you may be asking yourself why teams like the Kansas City Royals don't win more often when they stay out of the free agent market and, instead, fill their team with mainly homegrown talent. The answer is timing. 

Baseball is a team sport and no one player can carry a team to a championship. In the case of the Royals, or any smaller market team like them, they suffer from the law of time. A championship team needs more than just a couple of good homegrown players but rather a large group of good homegrown players who, most importantly, are developed around the same time. 

Take the classic course of action for a great player on a small market team: the team develops the great player within their own system, promotes that player to the Major League Club, sees that player become an All-Star, and then watches the player leave to sign with another club when he becomes a free agent. (Nowadays a team will trade the player a year or two before to ensure maximum, and more immediate, return). 

Let us look at another common situation involving this great player: Player A is a 25-year-old star outfielder. He's a lock for an All-Star selection and constantly competing for the battling title and Gold Glove Award each year. Player B is an 18-year-old shortstop; the best shortstop prospect in all of baseball.

Three years down the road both A and B are still considered to be the best but, now 28, Player A can test the free-agent market for the first time. Although Player B, who is 21, is only a year or two away from being called up and having a huge impact on helping the team win but, nevertheless, Player A decides to sign with another team. Now, instead of having both Player A and Player B on the team in a year this team has Player B and must wait for Player C to develop and be promoted. Unfortunately, by the time Player C is ready, Player B will have signed elsewhere. 

This is a common tale among smaller-market teams: their All-Stars leave before the next wave of talent can make it to the big leagues. So instead of having six or seven really good homegrown players a team has two or three. And, while these two or three players are good, baseball is a team sport and requires more than just a handful of guys to win a World Series. 

Just look at the K.C. Royals in present day: they have some great prospects coming alongincluding Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Mike Montgomerybut, by the time they reach the MLB team (and their potential, to boot), the other great Royals players would have been gone. In fact, it's already happening with the trading of Zach Greinke and the inevitable trading of Joakim Soria. I'd bet that if the Royals could have kept Soria and Greinke, and these new prospects meet their potential, the Royals would have been competing in the playoffs in a few years. 

Now, look at the Tampa Bay Rays of the last few years to see what happens when a team can keep see their second and third wave of good prospects (David Price, etc.) make the MLB team while the first wave of prospects (James Shields, Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, etc.) were still on the team. They were competing for the championship! Now, as these players leave, their chances of competing have declined greatly. 

With all that said, the chart beneath examines the salaries of all championship teams since 2000.

*Note: allow for a slight variation in payroll, and thus ranking, numbers as the exact amount paid to players is not always known given options and incentives. 

Year

Team

Salary ($)

Rank

2000

Yankees

113,365,877

1

2001

Diamondbacks

81,206,513

8

2002

Angels

61,721,667

15

2003

Marlins

48,368,298

26

2004

Red Sox

125,208,542

2

2005

White Sox

75,178,000

13

2006

Cardinals

88,891,371

11

2007

Red Sox

143,026,214

2

2008

Phillies

98,269,881

13

2009

Yankees

201,449,189

1

2010

Giants

98,641,333

9

 

 

 

 

 

Average

103,211,535

9

 

 

 

 

 

Top 3rd of League

Middle 3rd of League

Bottom 3rd of League

 

6

4

1

 

This chart displays that while building a championship-winning team on a small payroll is often not done, it also shows the lack of success in buying a team that can compete for a World Series. 

For example, even with the high salary teams a lot of that salary can be attributed to retaining homegrown players. This is where smaller market teams see their championship hopes die because they don't have the financial means to retain their best players once they get to free agency.

Before moving on to a real example, let's sum up what has been discussed: in Part 1 we saw the importance of pitching and, just now, we've discovered the necessity of developing, and keeping, homegrown talent. Moreover, we've discovered that high payrolls do not always equal great success. 

Now let's turn the clock back to 1999 and see these ideas in a real world example. 

The 1999 American League Division Series was between the Cleveland Indians (97-65) and the Boston Red Sox (94-68). The Indians had six All-Stars that year (four homegrown) that included: Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Roberto Alomar, Omar Vizquel, and Charles Nagy; the Red Sox sent three to the All-Star game (one homegrown) who were: Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, and Jose Offerman.

So the Indians have an advantage in homegrown All-Stars but now let's look at how the teams ranked in the AL in our most important pitching and hitting categories.

Year

Team

ERA

IP

H

SO

HR

BB

 

R

H

SB

SO

OPS

HR

1999

Indians

6

1

5

2

9

10

 

1

2

1

2

1

6

1999

Red Sox

1

6

1

1

2

1

 

9

8

14

12

7

9

 

What the chart above shows is that this playoff matchup was a classic hitting versus pitching series. The Indians were one of the two best teams in all hitting categories except one while the Red Sox were one of the two best teams in all but one of the pitching categories. 

Ultimately, the pitching beat the hitting as the Red Sox took the series in five games. 

Advancing to the American League Championship Series, the Red Sox faced the New York Yankees (98-64). The Yankees had four All-Stars that year: Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, and David Cone (the first three were all homegrown). 

Just as we compared the hitting and pitching ranks for the teams in the Divisional round, the same is done below for the Yankees and the Red Sox.

Year

Team

ERA

IP

H

SO

HR

BB

 

R

H

SB

SO

OPS

HR

1999

Yankees

2

2

2

3

1

6

 

3

6

10

8

3

8

1999

Red Sox

1

6

1

1

2

1

 

9

8

14

12

7

9

 

Unlike the previous matchup we examined, the chart above shows us that this series was a contest between two of the best pitching teams in the American League (surprised that the two best pitching teams met in the ALCS given what we've learned?). 

Although the Red Sox's pitching was ranked better, the difference is almost negligible since the Red Sox ranked first in most categories with the Yankees ranking in the immediate second. 

Also, while the Red Sox only had one homegrown All-Star, a shortstop, the Yankees had three homegrown All-Stars, a shortstop, a centerfielder, and a closer. 

Furthermore, in the two most important hitting categories (Runs Scored and OPS) the Yankees ranked third in each while the Red Sox ranked ninth and seventh, respectively. 

So..pitching, the most important factor, was even, the Yankees had more homegrown All-Star talent (all of whom played very important positions), and of the most important hitting categories the Yankees were better by in both of them. From what we've learned who do you think won this series?

...The Yankees...

Stats do not lie. If we take the time to look at them, and learn from them, we may discover some extraordinary things. Like the key ingredients of a championship-winning team that is consistent over the past 16 seasons...

So how about now? Becoming convinced? Starting to wish your favorite team would focus on pitching and putting more money into the scouting department? Yeah, me too. 

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