Do International Players Contribute More than Domestic Players?

I have always wondered what the contribution of international players, players signed as amateur free agents, was compared to that of domestic players, players who went through the Rule 4 Draft process. So much money is spent annually on academies in the Dominican Republic and, to a lesser extent, in Venezuela. Of course, each team has a different budget for these international operations. The Yankees’ complex in the Dominican Republic is much more extravagant than the Marlins’, for example. Regardless, a question I have always asked is what the return on investment (ROI) is for these teams, seeing as greater than 90% of the players that come through these academies don’t ever reach the big leagues or develop into true prospects.

A little background on why I am so interested in this topic: I spent a year in the Dominican Republic, initially volunteering at a successful amateur agency in San Pedro de Macoris (an hour east of Santo Domingo), then helping out with the Dominican Prospect League’s showcases and tournaments, eventually landing with the Yankees as a Player Development/Video Operations intern.

Without access to financial statements, it is nearly impossible to determine a ROI for each team. Instead, I decided to do something much more simple. I looked at the WAR contributions for each team from international players and from domestic players.

I used Baseball-reference.com for all my information, sorting position players by plate appearances and used an arbitrary minimum of 400PA in order to include players that had enough opportunity to contribute in 2013, either positively or negatively.

On the extremes, in 2013 the Cardinals, Orioles, Nationals, and Phillies all had zero international players with at least 400PA, whereas the Diamondbacks, Rangers, Tigers, and Brewers each had four international players with the minimum plate appearances. Overall, 48 international players with at least 400PA combined for 141.6 WAR in 2013. On the other side, 151 domestic players combined for 396.5 WAR. Translated into WAR per player, international players contributed a rate of 3.0WAR/player and domestic players at a rate of 2.6WAR/player.

While going through the players of each team, I realized that I am leaving out players who contributed a significant WAR even though they did not accumulate 400PA, so I decided to lower the minimum to 300PA and change the rate statistic to WAR per 600PA, instead of per player. Players such as Hanley Ramirez were previously left out due to injury. Also, players who were traded midseason and did not have sufficient playing time to post 400PA with one team were previously excluded, such as Alfonso Soriano, are now included with the lowered minimum. Here is what the new results show:

Table 1: WAR per 600PA for international and domestic players during 2013 season. Minimum 300PA. WAR values taken from Baseball-reference.com.

PA

WAR

WAR/600PA

Int’l Players

32851

154.1

2.8

Domestic Players

101805

432.8

2.6

 

 

 

 

The results show that international players contributed a slightly higher rate of WAR per 600PA in 2013. The 0.2 greater WAR/600PA is not significant enough to conclude that international players contribute more talent per PA than did domestic players.

The next question I had was to determine what percentage of players who had 300PA were international and what percentage of WAR they contributed out of the total players with 300PA. What I found was that 24% of players with at least 300PA were international and they contributed 26% of WAR out of a total of 586.9 WAR. The percentage of players that are international seem to have contributed a similar percentage of overall WAR in 2013.

One small issue I came across was that there were a handful of players that went through the draft even though they are international players. A few examples are Jose Bautista (Dominican), Edwin Encarnacion (Dominican), Yan Gomes (Brazilian), Pedro Alvarez (Dominican), and Yonder Alonso (Cuban). I decided to switch this group of players from domestic to international. Table 2 shows WAR per 600PA, while changing this group of players from domestic to international.

Table 2: WAR per 600PA for international and domestic players during 2013 season, taking into account international players who were part of Rule 4 Draft. Minimum 300PA. WAR values taken from Baseball-reference.com.

PA

WAR

WAR/600PA

Int’l Players

36495

171.9

2.8

Domestic Players

98161

415.0

2.5

 

 

 

 

The data from Table 2 shows that the gap between international and domestic players of WAR/600PA increased to 0.3, but this gap is still not significant. The question about percentage of WAR contributed changes slightly, but also not significantly. International players contribute 29% of total WAR while international players only make up 27% of total players who had at least 300PA in 2013.

In conclusion, from this short study, I cannot say that international players contributed significantly more WAR than do domestic players in 2013, but there was a difference of 0.3 WAR/600PA in favor of international players. Furthermore, 27% of players with at least 300PA were international and they contributed 29% of the total WAR in 2013 of all players with at least 300PA.

I did not look at pitchers yet, but am open to hear thoughts, criticism, and possible future directions to continue this brief study!




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13 Responses to “Do International Players Contribute More than Domestic Players?”

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  1. Catoblepas says:

    This is cool! My first thought upon reading it is that this might indicate a bias rather than systematically greater success for international players. Perhaps international players have to demonstrate more value or ability to advance to the majors than a similar domestic player would. That to me seems more likely than any actual difference that could be sustained over time, but like you said, 24% of the league contributing 26% of the wins looks pretty close to random variation.

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    • Tim says:

      Well, there’s definitely some systematic bias in that US-born players are very unlikely to play anywhere else, while some Japanese players who are good enough to play in MLB will stay in Japan.

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      • Tim says:

        And similarly, Cuba.

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        • Catoblepas says:

          those are good points, I hadn’t thought of that. This ties into what I said below, but it could be that to make the jump from another league to MLB successfully, the players has to be really good, otherwise the inertia of already being in Cuba/Japan/wherever is too great. The international players in MLB might over-represent the very good? I don’t know.

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  2. chrishobson says:

    I would be interested to look at the percentage of international vs domestic that are all-star level contributors. So are international players more likely to be either boom or bust? It makes sense in some way, since for an international player to move from the island (Japan, DR, etc) I would think they need to show star potential. Whereas domestic players may be more likely drafted and used as org filler.

    Thanks for sharing!

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    • Catoblepas says:

      yeah looking at peak rather than average performances seems like a more interesting way to do this potentially, and might find a stronger effect.

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  3. CLUTH says:

    Wouldn’t one expect for the vast majority of filler and mediocrity to be domestically provided? Even in a shrinking world, I believe this is still true.

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  4. reillocity says:

    Can you detect differences in WAR/600PA between Dominicans and Venezuelans, given that those two nationalities likely represent the majority of internationals? From an analytical standpoint, you may be able to conduct some simple unpaired t-tests in Excel (TTEST function) to quantify the statistical significance of the differences you’re seeing (provided that the WAR/600PA data has a roughly normal distribution).

    I’m not sure how you classified Puerto Ricans, but they might be a large enough population to evaluate as a unique group as well. And you could perhaps even break down US-state-borns by birth/highschool region (either of which you could get from Baseball Reference).

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  5. Richard Conway says:

    Thanks for all the comments!

    I do agree that there is systematic bias, but I thought it would be interesting to see the numbers regardless. I haven’t differentiated between which countries the international players are from, but that would be interesting. I classified Puerto Ricans and Canadians in the domestic category since they go through the draft, but you’re right, that could also be viewed as international, which may change some of the results.

    I’ll keep working ahead – thanks for the ideas and interest.

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    • Greg says:

      Good to hear.

      I want to echo an earlier statement that domestic players may be more likely to fill roles of low importance. I wonder if this is not a systematic bias against international players, but instead is a result of more domestic players being paid significant sums of money. If a team is looking between calling up a player who received a $500,000 bonus versus a player who received a $5,000 bonus, they are more likely to call up the former.

      Looking at an arbitrary cutoff, I wonder if more domestic players are signed each year that receive six figure bonuses versus the number of international players that receive a six figure bonus.

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  6. aascd says:

    Out of curiosity, what did you do with Canadian born players?

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