Each player on the active roster was either drafted and developed by the team (homegrown), or acquired by trade, free agency, waiver claim, or rule-5 claim. Those numbers are different for each team. Those differences provide insights on how the teams made their active rosters.
Teams have different styles.
Every team had important influencers that drove how they made their active roster. Obviously, a big driver is player performance. On a deeper level, drivers are team payroll and team skill in drafting/developing players. This season, a few team styles stood out to me:
Homegrown Players. Guardian have the second most homegrown players (15) on the active roster. With only 5 free agents, their payroll is lower than average (and lower than the Diamondbacks). Their average pitcher age is the lowest in the Majors. Their young pitchers reflect their reputation for superior development of their pitchers (they ranked first in an MLB Pipeline poll of baseball executives.) After we look at some team styles, let’s circle back to reasons they excelled in developing pitchers.
Master Traders. The Rays have the most trade acquired players (17) on their active roster, and a below average payroll (below the Diamondbacks). They are heavily into analytics. A MLB Pipeline poll of baseball executives indicated they are the second best at developing pitchers. In 2020, they made it to the World Series. In 2021, they won 100 games. This season, they won their first 7 games of the season.
Let’s compare the five teams (Rays, Marlins, Brewers, Pirates, and Mariners) with the most trade acquired players to the four teams (Orioles, Rockies, Royals, and Cubs) with the least trade acquired players. In games through 7 April, the first group fared better (.666 vs .400 average winning percentage).
High Payroll with Homegrown Players. The Astros have the most homegrown players (17) on the active roster. Despite only 3 free agents, their payroll is very high. Although I’ll leave the banging trash can issue for other writers, perhaps the combination of homegrown players and high payroll is a recipe for winning. In the last 6 seasons, the Astros made four trips to the World Series, winning twice.
High Payroll with Monster Contracts. Another recipe for a winning team is sign the best players with high salaries including long term contracts and extensions. The Padres have the most players who were signed as free agents (15) and who are on the active roster. Their monster contracts include Fernando Tatis Jr ($340 Million), Manny Machado ($350 Million), and Xander Bogarts ($280 Million). In addition, it’s likely they will extend Juan Soto with a monster contract. There is speculation that they will reach the World Series for the first time since 1998, when they lost four consecutive games. This style contrasts with the Mets who have a higher payroll, but only one monster contract (Francisco Lindor $341 Million).
Acquire Hidden Gems. Another recipe for success is identify players with hidden potential and claim them on waivers and the rule-5 draft. On the active roster, the Orioles have the most (7) players claimed on waivers and via rule-5. Their hidden gems include Ramon Urias, third baseman who has earned 6 bWAR, Jorge Mateo, shortstop who has earned 4.4 bWAR, and starting pitcher Tyler Wells who has earned 2.3 bWAR (bWAR for the team that claimed the player through 7 April per Baseball Reference). Although this is not the Diamondbacks’ style, the Diamondbacks claimed Christian Walker on waivers, who so far has earned 9 bWAR for the Diamondbacks.
What is the Diamondbacks’ style?
They acquire young players by trade. On this season’s active roster, their trade-acquired players were acquired at the following ages:
- 22 Gabriel Moreno and Nick Ahmed
- 23 Ketel Marte and Nick Ahmed
- 24 Zac Gallen
- 25 Josh Rojas
- 27 Kyle Lewis
- 29 Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Why are the Guardians the best at developing pitchers?
The answer was elusive. A few clues were in a SportStorm video made by Ha-Seong King. Two points follow:
- The Guardians develop a plan tailored to each individual. The why of the plan is presented to each individual. That plan is retained with a smooth handoff between each level of the organization.
- The Guardians prefer to acquire pitchers who have very good control and a very good delivery. For the Guardians, fixing other weaknesses, such as needing another pitch, is easier with those strengths. Nevertheless, they know some secrets to a good delivery, such as avoiding a long extended arm towards second base.
Another clue was provided by Alec Lewis, who saw development of several pitchers who were the same age. “Don’t underestimate the benefit of having multiple guys of similar ages and competitiveness, driving each other.” — Alec Lewis, The Athletic
Most important is teaching players to improve in a balanced and sustainable way. My view is that this is hard because it makes the personal agendas of coaches less important than each player owning his improvements. Albeit, as in any organization, there are sometimes team messages/imperatives that the coaches must teach the players, but balanced and sustainable improvement should be a continuous focus.
“There’s definitely a balance to the psychological aspect in asking guys to go out of their comfort zone in a game setting for long-term development when they’re like, ‘Yeah, but I’m not gonna get to Double A or Triple A unless I perform here. “ — Matt Blake of Guardians
“You start putting this puzzle together. Players will always try to find ways to get better. We allow that to happen, so that they can self-discover and then become their own product.” — Ruben Niebla
How do the Diamondbacks compare to the other teams?
The red diamond shows the Diamondbacks’ position in the following scatter charts. They were very young in average batter age. They were near the middle of the teams in 2023 wins, payroll of active roster, active roster acquired by trades and free agency, and average pitcher age.
Teams have different styles to make their active rosters. One influencer is team payroll. Another influencer is player development skills. Possibly, the Diamondbacks style is to acquire young players by trade.
The Guardians are acknowledged as the best in developing pitchers. A few reasons are they have development plans for each individual, the plan moves smoothly between levels, they acquire pitchers with specific characteristics, and they teach the players to improve in a balanced and sustainable way.
As of 7 April, the Diamondbacks’ characteristics were near the middle of the teams in 2023 except their average batter age was very young.