How are great teams built?

Sean Forman on how great teams acquire talent. Forman's big finish:

The four primary ways teams acquire players are the draft; free agency; amateur free agency (which accounts for most of the players from Latin America); and transactions with other teams like trades and waiver claims.

If we look at how the players from the last 10 World Series winners were acquired and how much WAR they produced in the championship season, 24 percent of the teams’ WAR came from the draft. That is behind free agency (41 percent) and team-to-team transactions (32 percent) but far ahead of amateur free agents (3 percent).

The two most draft-dependent teams were the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies (54 percent) and the 2002 Angels (48 percent).

These percentages understate the importance of the draft to a certain extent, because many of the drafted players are used as chits in deals at the trading deadline.

But when you look at the field in October, it will be likely that few of the players on the field were drafted by the team they are playing for.

I'm not surprised that drafted players and amateur free agents come in third and fourth, because most big-winning teams are relatively old teams, which are (almost necessarily) composed largely of players who have been around for long enough to have played for more than one team. The largely home-grown 2008 Phillies are an exception here, but the numbers probably don't lie.

What does surprise me is the vast difference between drafted amateurs and amateur free agents: 24 percent vs. 3 percent? Last year, for example, the Yankees relied on onetime amateur free agents Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, and Mariano Rivera. Granted, we find a different story if we go back in time a bit. The '08 Phillies featured one amateur free agent (Carlos Ruiz) in a key role; one year earlier the Red Sox had zero. Same thing with the 2006 Cardinals and the '05 White Sox.

My one quibble with Forman's analysis is that we're talking about only 10 teams here. Wouldn't the results be more meaningful if he'd checked every league champion (20 teams), or every playoff team (80 teams) or every team that won 90 games (77 teams)? If we consider more teams, I suspect that percentage for amateur free agents would move up some.

Also, the caveat about drafted players later being used as trading chits is worth mentioning again, and should be extended to include amateur free agents.

Still, the general point here is well-taken: It's exceptionally difficult to simply draft your way into the World Series.