Friday, December 19, 2008

Proof Positive: Jim Is More Sucky than the Lerners Are Cheap

Sky Kalkman over at Beyond the Boxscore has a post ranking all 30 teams on the marginal cost of each team's wins above replacement level.

The calculation is to take each team's payroll and subtract $12 million, which is essentially the least you can spend on a major league team's payroll. Then, take their wins, and subtract 48, which is about the number of wins a team made up of entirely replacement-level players would win. I didn't check his math on that part, but it sounds about right to me.

Sky then also penalized each NL team 2 wins and added 2 wins to each AL team to account for the overall superiority of the junior circuit.

The result is that the Nationals, even at a $54 million opening day payroll, are the third least efficient spending team in the league, with each marginal win over replacement costing a hair over $4.9 million. Only the Mariners and Padres spent worse. If you reject the AL/NL win adjustment (which I don't totally buy), the Nationals rise all the way to fifth least efficient spending team, ahead of the Mariners, Tigers, Padres, and Yankees.

And since it's generally easier to spend your first $10 million effectively than your last $10 million, it's quite something to spend so little money so inefficiently.

There's always been a camp of people out there who want to give Jim the benefit of the doubt because he's supposedly always been hamstrung by tiny payrolls. There are three reasons why I find this uncompelling. First, he did actually have top 5-type payrolls for his first few years in Cincinnati, and he still only made the playoffs once. Second, he's never once that I've found lost a good young player to free agency. It's not like he's Billy Beane or Terry Ryan developing really good players all the time and losing them to free agency. To the extent he's been held back on payroll, it's just that he's never been able to plunder the small-market teams. And since when is it unreasonable to expect a GM to develop some of his own talent?

But this is the most important point--what money Jim has had to spend, he's wasted. Dmitri Young instead of Milton Bradley. Paul Lo Duca instead of Kyle Lohse. These are the bad spending decisions that not only squandered money but put crappy teams on the field. These tables show the facts: just spending more money isn't going to turn the Nationals around. We need someone at the top who's going to spend well. It's about talent evaluation, not just writing big checks.
  • BTW I know we're all supposed to be talking about Teixeira and nothing else, but, sorry, I'm bored of that story. I'll comment again when there's actually something to talk about.
  • Commenter Cpt. Murdoch points out that based on this same methodology for calculating marginal cost per win, the Nationals were 5th most efficient in baseball in 2007. Consider it acknowledged. Of course, it's a lot easier to rank high on this metric as a small budget team, and it takes a special level of failure to ever get so close to the bottom of the list with a payroll the size of the 2008 Nationals. So I still think that the weight of the '08 data point is greater than that of the '07 result. But he's right it's worth recognizing for the sake of context and fairness (geez the fairness police are out in force this morning... must be a wave of goodwill for the holidays or maybe the Tex offer or maybe just people feeling the hope with Obama comin' to town...).


Cpt. Lance Murdock said...

Two things about this:

(1) If you're doing to dock Jimbo for 2008 using this kind of metric, it stands to reason that you should recognize that the 2007 season was the reverse image.

(2) The BtBS author himself acknowledges that "this analysis isn't actually a great way to judge the effectiveness of general managers." To that end, one would hope there's some sort of blogging equivalent to the legal rule that a party can't rise above its own evidence.

Anyway, while you make some good points about Jimbo's mediocrity or general ineffectiveness as a GM over time, I don't think this post comes close to "proof postive" of Jimbo being sucky more than teh Lerners are cheeeeepppp!!!!111!!! (or whatever) than 2007 demonstrated that the Lerners were cheaper than Jimbo was sucky.

Steven said...

When Sky said that this isn't a good way to judge GMs, his point was that this metric skews against the bigger payroll GMs. His comment was in defense of Brian Cashman, not Jim Bowden.

This is the point I made when I stated that it's hard to spend so little money so ineffectively.

Specifically, he said:

"Lastly, this analysis isn't actually a great way to judge the effectiveness of general managers. Spending the first $25MM over the leaugue-minimum (mostly money to first- and second-year arbitration players) is MUCH more efficient than the $100MMth dollar (mostly on free agents by that point). What we really want to do is ask, "Given a certain payroll level, how many wins would we expect a team to have, and which teams outperformed that number?" That requires a non-linear estimate of dollars-per-win, and another post. Stay tuned."

Steven said...

You are correct however that the Nationals were much closer to the top by marginal win per dollar in 2007. Consider it recognized.

Cpt. Lance Murdock said...

Fair enough, I suppose.

Kalkman can clarify what he's saying in his next post if he wishes, but the broader point is that it's not really an apples-to-apples comparison across all 30 teams when some are "trying" and some aren't. It is, in that sense, something of a defense of Cashman ("You paid a crapload of money, but at least you were pretty good") and something of a castigation of Bavasi ("You paid all that money for that crapbag team??!!!!"). The Nats are sort of ancillary to the discussion, since they're not really trying to win at this point -- or at least their payroll doesn't reflect such an immediate commitment.

Put another way, spending not a tremendous amount less in 2007 ($11M payroll difference), they were the third most cost-efficient team -- as opposed to the third least cost-efficient -- and that got them all the way up to 73 wins. You can certainly argue poor decisions on Bowden's part led to the decline to 59 wins (and thus a cost-inefficient result), but this is also a reflection that so little is put into this team on the MLB level at this point that the depth chart goes from inexperienced and injury-risk frontliners to replacement-level or sub-replacement reserves. So it's not really proof positive that Jim is more sucky than the Lerners are cheap.

That's why Maury Brown, for instance, categorizes these types of things along both an efficiency and an effectiveness axis. You might say that Jimbo was inefficient this past year, but without more resources put into the MLB team, his squad wasn't going to be terribly effective regardless.

(Yes, I realize that you were being glib with the title!)

((Think of this as more of the Vendetta Police than the Fairness Police!))

Moe Greene said...

Vendetta Police - I like it.