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Just how important are homegrown players to a successful rebuild?

The Royals, Cubs, and Astros have completed what the White Sox wish to: A successful teardown and rebuild. How much will the homegrown White Sox need to contribute to a title?

MLB: Chicago White Sox-Workouts
Eyes on the prize: Rick Hahn took over the rebuild, and only a World Series can bring closure to what has so far been an unsuccessful reign as GM.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to a series of comments over multiple posts last week, I embarked on a project to find out how the Chicago White Sox will need to construct their World Series-winning roster.

It all sprouted out of a discussion about how the White Sox have drafted lately, and how many homegrown players the Sox would need to win a title.

In short, of course, the White Sox will need homegrown players to help, whether they survive long enough to play on the World Series roster or are traded on the White Sox’s way there. My research can be found here (sorry, you cannot edit on the page but feel free to make comments and suggestions on the page), but before we begin, let me fill you in on some of the parameters.

First off, I’m only looking at the three World Series champions that “rebuilt”: the 2015 Kansas City Royals; 2016 Chicago Cubs and the 2017 Houston Astros. Since the White Sox are in the midst of a rebuild, it is only fair to look at other teams that took a similar, and recent, course of action.

Second, I used Baseball-Reference exclusively. Their site makes it easy to track trades, so I also used their WAR statistic. On top of that, I only used the World Series roster of the three respective teams, not all players who were active in the regular season or previous playoff rosters.

Third, I left a note on each team’s roster on how I calculated the WAR of a player who was acquired via trade. If a player was acquired in exchange for one homegrown player and one non-homegrown player, I only counted 50% of the acquired player’s WAR in my calculations. The same thing if it was 40% or 80% — probably not the best way to calculate the impact, but the point will probably still stay the same.

A quick fourth point, the Royals had Adalberto Mondesi and the Cubs had Kyle Schwarber on their rosters. Mondesi did not play in the regular season for the Royals and Schwarber only played in two games. In calculations involving those players, I did not include them, besides the head count of who was homegrown and who was not.

Finally, when I say homegrown, that means the team drafted or signed that player to the organization as an amateur free-agent, domestic and international. Any other type of acquisition is considered non-homegrown.

2015 Kansas City Royals

The Royals had 11 of their 25 players come from their own organization. However, those 11 players accounted for 48.2% of the team’s total WAR from the World Series roster. Why? Well, the average homegrown player had a 2.1 WAR, and the average WAR of a non-homegrown player was just 1.6. The leader for WAR on the homegrown side was Mike Moustakas at 4.4, while Lorenzo Cain led the non-homegrown players, and the entire team, with a 7.2 WAR. Where the non-homegrown players were really hurt was with two negative-WAR players, Drew Butera and Alex Rios.

Within all of that is a vast breakdown of where the Royals spent their resources for homegrown players. It was clear that Kansas City considered position players important to build around via the draft and amateur signings, as 59% of their position player WAR was purely homegrown. Homegrown starting and relief pitchers added up to less than 50% in their WAR impact.

However, Cain was actually traded to the Royals, along with six other players. Those six players accrued 9.3 total WAR. Including those seven players, the total WAR involving Kansas City’s homegrown players jumps from 48.2% to 66.1%. So for the Royals, being able to draft and sign amateurs was essential, though, they were picking near the top in the draft for a long time.

2015 Kansas City Royals WAR breakdown by positional average and median.

As you can see above, the outfield was essential to success for the Royals, though, their positional breakdown is fairly even. Also, out of the three teams, the Royals, had the best relievers, led by Wade Davis. So what should you take away from the Royals? Well, they were a very balanced team in every way possible, including the amount of purely homegrown players they had, 11, which was the most of the three teams. Of course, when you lose as much as they did, they should have good talent eventually.

2016 Chicago Cubs

Sorry, this might be painful for some:

[Whoops, sorry DJ, that’s not the right video ... hold on ... — BB]

[Dadgummit, sorry DJ, I can’t seem to get the video you wanted to work. Hang on.—BB]

[Shoot, well, sorry DJ, that “Cubs win World Series with Game 7 win” video you hoped to embed apparently is unplayable on South Side Sox. Oh, well.—BB]

With the Cubs, all we hear about is Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Kyle Schwarber and how they fell into the Cubs’s lap. Well, The Cubs only had three purely homegrown players beyond that trio: Jorge Soler, Albert Almora Jr., and Willson Contreras. That is good for just 24% of the World Series roster. If you were paying attention to those six names, none of them are pitchers. Of the 11 pitchers that made the World Series roster, they all came from other teams, led by Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks.

On top of that, only 38.5% of the WAR from position players came from the six homegrown players. Though Bryant led the entire team with 7.4 WAR, four non-homegrown players (Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Dexter Fowler, and Ben Zobrist) had more WAR than Baez, who was second for WAR for homegrown talent.

However, the players acquired via trade accounted for 41% of the WAR for the entire team, which was a good job by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Once trades were factored into the total for homegrown involved WAR, the percentage almost doubled, from 24% to 43.5%. However, that total is the lowest of the three “rebuilt” champions, by a wide margin.

2016 Chicago Cubs WAR breakdown by positional average and median

The Cubs were did not have as even a roster compared to the Royals, but they were top heavy with starting pitching and in the infield. This does make sense because, besides Aroldis Chapman, the bullpen was not overly threatening. Also, besides Dexter Fowler, there was not much of a threat from other outfielders during the regular season. So what should we take from the Cubs? Homegrown players are important, but trades and adding via free agency is also very important (cough Machado cough don’t be cheap Jerry cough cough). Also, a well-rounded team is not of the essence, but having perennial all-stars in two position groups sure does the trick if a complete roster is not available.

2017 Houston Astros

Last come the Astros, who seem to be a combination for the 2015 Royals and the 2016 Cubs. Of the 25 players on the World Series roster, eight Astros were purely homegrown. However, those eight players were pretty good, averaging 4.0 WAR per player. Those eight players, led by Jose Altuve, accounted for 58.3% of the total WAR on the team. Most of that was on the position player front, as 72.6% of the total WAR for position players was purely homegrown. Starting pitching only accrued 38.6%, and all relief pitchers were non-homegrown.

Since 58.3% of the total WAR was already purely homegrown, trading was not as essential for Houston as it was for the Cubs. Including trades, the Astros total WAR by homegrown involved players only saw a 10% bump, to 68.6%, which is the highest of the three teams.

2017 Houston Astros WAR breakdown by positional average and median

Like the Royals, the Astros heavily relied on their homegrown core and like the Cubs, they had an elite set of talent on the positional side. Although, they were not as top heavy as the Cubs, nor were they as well-rounded as the Royals. So what is the takeaway? Well, the Astros had a Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, and Jose Abreu like core four. However, they were able to have multiple other players contribute at an all-star level and the bottom half of their roster was still productive which is what the Sox did not have.

Chicago White Sox 2???

Well, let’s be honest, the White Sox are still a couple of years away from World Series contention, and some players who are in the organization today presumably would be on that championship team.

Carlos Rodon and Tim Anderson fit the mold of a purely homegrown player, as first round selections. Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, and Luis Basabe would fit the role of homegrown players, thanks to their acquisition in exchange for homegrown player Chris Sale. Meanwhile, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning would be non-homegrown players through and through, because they were acquired for non-homegrown player Adam Eaton.

But more importantly, to up the homegrown production, steps forward will need to come from Zack Collins, Zack Burdi, Luis Robert, Micker Adolfo, Jake Burger, Gavin Sheets, Nick Madrigal, Steele Walker, and other draft picks from 2016-18, as well as upcoming draft or international free agent signings. At the very least, as the 2016 Cubs showed us, 40% of the team’s WAR needs to come from homegrown players, and the Sox are not near that yet.

Of course, the White Sox rebuild is different than the other three. The Sox had very good players who helped kick-start their rebuild, with the trades of Sale, Eaton, and Quintana. They also got very lucky Tommy Kahnle was lights-out for half a season, as he helped Rick Hahn and Co. nab Blake Rutherford. Because of that, the White Sox should be ahead of these other teams that had to start near the bottom — or in the Royals case at the bottom —and build through the draft and international free agent signings.

However, one thing all three teams did was trade prospects and spend money ... here’s looking at you, Jerry. The day the White Sox do is the day everybody will be happy, and maybe we can start really working toward experiencing see a more recent title celebration than this: