At the Phillies site The Good Phight, we recently published a series on the success (or lack thereof) of the Phillies' drafts and international signings over the years, as well as a more general overview of player selection. Since I hadn't seen the comparison of international signings in particular anywhere else, I thought I'd do a brief version of that for each team.
About a quarter of all current production in MLB (by WAR) is generated by players who were signed as international free agents (IFAs) — either as teenagers who then rose through farm systems, or established pros ready to step directly onto major league rosters.
This piece looks at an arbitrary time frame of 30 years, 1990 through 2019, and uses WAR (from fangraphs.com) as a quick and handy measure of major league value. The WAR shown represents a player’s total career production to date, regardless of what teams he was with at the time. All of a player's career WAR is counted for the team that signed him, in the year they signed him. Any kind of ranking like this will tend to favor the teams who were successful earlier in the period, since those players have had a chance to produce all or mostly all their career WAR.
We started with the team ranked 30th in WAR produced by its IFAs over this time period, and are working our way up. The A's are 16th, with 112 total WAR produced so far by their international signings since 1990.
The first graph shows where the A's IFAs rank for each year’s class: the green line is the team whose signings from that year have produced the most WAR so far, yellow is the team with the lowest WAR produced from that year’s class, and black is the average for the 30 teams.
Again, each point along a line represents the total career WAR produced by players who were signed that year. As an example to illustrate, among the players the Dodgers signed in 1994, four would go on to make it to the majors, and they produced a combined total of 107 WAR (Adrian Beltre 84, Chan Ho park 23, Luke Prokopec 0, Franklin Nunez 0).
The next graph is similar to the above, except at each point we look at all the signing classes combined, from that year through today. So for example, for all years since 2000, the team whose signings produced the most WAR over that time is the Mariners, with 237. The average team's signings have produced 70 WAR, and the A's IFAs over that time have produced 29 WAR (which is 24th most over that time).
The graph includes the A's ranking for all IFAs since 1990 (i.e. 1990 through 2019), and then we cut the time frame in half and rank total WAR for all signings since 2005, where they're 23rd in MLB.
For those who prefer numbers, these are the tables behind the graphs:
Below is a graphical view of their best signings of the last 30 years in terms of WAR produced to date. The heights of the columns correspond with the red line in the first graph, but we zoom in to show the individual players that make that up. The more successful ones are broken out, and any remaining ones are included in the light green boxes:
The A's were fairly successful in the international market in the early '90s, landing infielder Tony Batista (1991, 12 WAR), catcher Ramon Hernandez (1994, 22 WAR), and especially 2002 MVP Miguel Tejada (1993, 40 WAR). That was followed by solid pieces in Miguel Olivo and Joel Peralta in '96, and Alexi Ogando in 2002.
However since Ogando, the only significant signing has been Yoenis Cespedes in 2012, at least until some of their prospects start producing in the majors.
This is the complete ranking of the 30 teams (plus the average), and we'll reveal team names as we go up: