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Saturday, July 2, 2011
Global WARfare

By Logan Burdine

Earlier this week, FanGraphs ran a post called, “The Determinants of Foreign Talent.” The author, Bradley Woodrum, was trying to find answers as to why two tiny countries -- Venezuela and the Dominican Republic -- account for roughly 66 percent of all Major League Baseball’s foreign players and made up 17.5 percent of Opening Day rosters.

Certainly, young players in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela receive a lot more attention than those in the rest of the world. Basically all of MLB's foreign academies exist in these two countries. But all of those academies and the money that goes with them wouldn't have been established if the talent wasn't already in place. Some would say that it is a cultural thing, something I cannot really speak on. But whatever it is that makes the Dominican Republic and Venezuela special, it is very difficult to completely quantify. If anyone ever figures out how to spread the baseball success of those two countries to the rest of the world, no doubt that person will make a lot of money.

Obviously, it is important for organizations to farm foreign markets, but the FanGraphs piece made me wonder which team is currently getting the most out of foreign talent. Naturally, I turned to wins above replacement, WAR, for some answers. By totaling the WAR for each team’s foreign players I found some interesting results. An abundance of foreign talent has turned some teams into contenders. However, other franchises are struggling, even though their foreign players are producing at a high level. And then there are teams like the A's and Padres -- their foreign players aren't producing, but neither are their other players. In the end, like everything else in baseball, this mostly comes down to the efficient use of money.

For my calculations I used FanGraphs' WAR from June 29th. I only used players that were born on foreign soil, have played this season (obviously), and were on their team's 40-man roster as of Wednesday night. Guys that are on the 60-day DL, e.g. Jorge De La Rosa, or have been designated for assignment weren't counted. Also, in order to compare and contrast Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, I tallied the WAR of every player from each country. (For a full team-by-team breakdown, you'll find it over at the Blake Street Bulletin by clicking here.

Some teams, like the Blue Jays and Mets, have impressive totals because of one dominant player. Other teams like the Cubs have a high foreign WAR total because they've spent a ton of money on free agents that were brought up by other organizations. That's what makes the Indians’ tally so remarkable -- Shin-Soo Choo's thumb injury notwithstanding. Not only are they receiving the most contribution from foreign players, they didn't have to spend a bunch of money to assemble all of that talent.

Interestingly, even with their immense resources, the Yankees and Red Sox don't seem to have any advantage in the foreign talent race. The Yankees have done well for themselves, but seeing as how they can have any player they want, I expected them to be getting a little more. It seems that simply making an effort in the DR and Venezuela will inevitably pay off. However, while most of the league can keep pace in the foreign market, the truly broke seem to be at a major disadvantage. Teams with tight pocket books, like the Pirates, Rays, Padres and A's, are receiving very little help from guys born outside of the United States, leaving them to fight an uphill battle. Being unable to reach a quarter of baseball's talent pool is an enormous shortcoming.

As far as comparing the Dominican and Venezuela, it's an exercise in futility. Right now, Dominican players have a slightly higher cumulative WAR, but there are also more of them. On the flip side, the Dominican Republic usually gets a monster contribution from Albert Pujols, and he has been less than machine-like this season. In reality, there isn't much difference between the two baseball-mad countries. Both places are factories for top-notch baseball players, and probably will be perpetually. Some look at countries like Colombia and see endless potential for baseball talent. Perhaps they are right, but it’s difficult to foresee how any place will ever produce the remarkable amounts of talent that come out of Venezuela and the Dominican.

Several franchises, whether it’s because of a lack of resources or simple incompetence, aren't taking advantage of the global market. However, the mid-market teams that are able to utilize this vast resource, e.g. the Indians and Rockies, have been able to somewhat level the playing field against baseball's giants. With the exception of the Rays, there aren’t any teams competing without significant help from foreign players. It’s no longer just a good idea for teams to develop a global scouting presence; it’s now a requirement.

Logan Burdine is the founder and site editor of Blake Street Bulletin. His Twitter feed will change your life.