Fire Jim Tracy

Friday, February 18, 2005

Beating A Live Horse

There has been so much written about the Dodgers' offseason, that any more about the details would be completely boring and repetitive. What do we not know? So don't get me wrong when I discuss Jayson Stark's latest article on ESPN. I don't really want to delve back into the merits, though I will to support the greater point -- which is, as usual around here, media non-objectivity.

Why is it that media figures completely lose any ability to think objectively about Paul DePodesta? What to do with a claim that the J. D. Drew contract is one of the top 3 "Most Outrageous" contracts signed this winter? This, on a list, where neither Richie Sexson's or Russ Ortiz's absurd contracts are even listed (Kris Benson? That one looks like a deal compared to the other outrages of the winter.). He makes the argument that Drew hasn't been an All-Star; but of course, that's precisely one less than the man receiving obscene and (Stark-approved, apparently) irrational money from the Mets. Certainly, one would at least have room for argument where a guy with 31 win shares the year before gets $115 million plus, and a guy with 34 win shares the year before gets $55 million, that the team that signed the 34 win share guy got a better deal.

At least, this appears to be the argument regarding Adrian Beltre, a guy everyone fell all over begging DePodesta to throw money at him, who before last year had never had 100 RBIs and still hasn't been an All-Star (though not of course, through any fault of his own). It appears that one year = Big Contract (and three weeks = super-gigantic mega-contract). Assuming that Los Angeles has doctors as competent as those in Seattle or New York, there appears to be very little distinguishing between Beltre, Drew, Beltran, etc. (But there's those five years of production in K.C.! -- ed. That's right. Pay for five years ago. Worked for the Orioles!)

Bottom Line: If my choices are Beltran at 110 and Drew at 55, that's not even a choice. It's Drew at 55. Well, it's anyone but Beltran at 110, but Drew at 55 is a nice effort to try and get Beltran-level production for half the price.

But I hope I haven't digressed from the point, because it's not that the Drew (or Lowe) signing is good or bad, because I sense that they will both end up bad in the long-term (but then it's likely that the Beltran, Beltre, Martinez, Ordonez, Glaus, and Sexson contracts will all end badly as well. So why worry about Drew and Lowe?). It's that these comparisons are fairly easily drawn and yet never seriously dealt with, except to make points that seem more political/ideological than anything. Taking the Sherlock Holmes maxim that if you eliminate all the possibilities but one, that one possibility is the solution, the lack of legitimate objective ways to distinguish between these contracts simply suggests a subjective look at the data, and a likelihood that the conclusion was reached before the data was analyzed.

This is especially surprising (I think) from Stark, who doesn't seem to have the aversion, and therefore bias, to Harvard-educated GMs that, say, a Bill Plaschke does. Perhaps Stark is grading on the "Moneyball curve," judging DePodesta based on his perception of the book. Whatever the case, the silly distinctions on which Stark rests his argument suggests that this is not fully an analysis piece; this is an agenda piece, and Stark should be more upfront with readers if he has a personal or ideological problem with Moneyball (Or conversely, the failure to utilize Moneyball tactics) or DePodesta. Which would be fine; a discussion of how DePodesta is or is not utilizing Moneyball would be interesting and informative -- a cut-and-paste job repeating the same arbitrary nonsense we're subjected to three times a week in the L.A. Times is decidedly misleading.


  • I have to disagree with some of the things you said about Beltran, that three great weeks = super-gigantic mega contract, which is clearly implying he hadn't been been good up until then, which is patently false. Did he deserve what he got? Probably not. Is that the expected going rate for his caliber of player. Probably. Is wasn't "five years ago" that the Mets are paying for production; it's more like the last five years. He is much more proven than Drew/Beltre.
    Regardless, Stark is a moron. Other great tidbits from his "evaluation" of the off-season: (1) SF as the #2 most-improved team in the NL; (2) Hideo Nomo as the #3 best FA signed to a minor league deal; (3) A's get the ultimate moneyball catcher in Jason Kendall (What!?! An aging catcher with Rafael Belliard-type power that makes $9m a year? Must've missed that chapter)...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/19/2005 10:02:00 AM  

  • I didn't mean to imply that Beltran had not been good up to three weeks ago, although the idea that Carlos Beltran represents some sort of separate market than players like Beltre, Drew, etc. is nonsense -- a product of Boras and Minaya's fevered imaginations. What I meant was that the going market rate for a player with 30 win shares (or at least 30 win share potential) appears to be in the range of 5 years and 60 million. It appears to be around what Beltran should have received. The 55 extra million he is getting appears to be a premium based on 1) the past five years performance and 2) the playoffs. Any premium at all for the 2004 playoffs is absurd -- $15 million for Carlos Perez's best three weeks being a prime example. So you would have to convince me here not that Beltran isn't a good player, because he is a fine addition to any club, but that it was worth 55 million to the Mets that Beltran had several good years with the Royals. That 55 million, of course, represents ANOTHER J.D. Drew, Adrian Beltre, or player of comparative quality on top of the one they would have signed at the market price. He's not worth it, particularly given the injury risks, etc., and it's not even close.

    The problems I have with the Beltran deal are that: 1) For some reason, no one in the mainstream media at least, is willing to analyze the Beltran contract in regards to value or wins and losses. It's always some absurdity about the new televison networks and Brand Excitement. The Subway Series was five years ago -- even if the Mets are successful in 2005, what about 2006, 2007, 2008? This leads me to believe that conventional analysis (either standard analysis or "weird" statistics) DOESN'T justify it, so something else must justify it in order to refrain from tubing Minaya, who appears to be far more popular in media circles than Beane or DePodesta, likely because of the Cliff Floyd phone call in Moneyball.

    2) For all of the hand-wringing about what a great GM Minaya is, it is not hard to out-bid your nearest competitor by twenty million dollars and close your contract. These deals (the Martinez deal also) had all the creativity of an Adam Sandler movie, and cost just as much. We had a GM who conducted business this way once. What was his name again? And Plaschke used to slather him with kisses weekly. Nothing like spending other people's money to get the press on your side.

    3) Minaya got cover from the bloody wreckage of the Ordonez signing, which made the Beltran signing look Highway Robbery, the Drew signing look like the Yankees buying Ruth, and the Beltre signing look like a minor league contract. Any analysis going forward of the Beltran signing will almost certainly include the line "Well, at least we didn't sign Ordonez." Well, yeah, at least. We didn't find you reading magazines at the Neverland Ranch either. So?

    I was going to rant about the Hideo Nomo line for awhile, but decided that it spoke for itself. The A's trade was not a complete disaster, if only because they got rid of Arthur Rhodes (I told my Seattle Mariner fan friend about him long one would believe me...but they paid). I chalked it up to a Beane attempt to make an "F'in A" trade and not get predictable.

    By Blogger Steve, at 2/19/2005 12:48:00 PM  

  • When I said market value, and I should have made this clearer or rephrased it, I meant that using all non-playing related factors as well, which includes the fact that his agent is Scott Boras, unwarranted (?) hype, and the point you brought up about Brand Excitement (building team and marketing around a "marquee player," which Beltran does for about every team other than NYY).

    "What I meant was that the going market rate for a player with 30 win shares (or at least 30 win share potential) appears to be in the range of 5 years and 60 million."

    Again, "market value" can be contingent on so many other factors other than WS potential, such as past performance, potential bidders, reputation, etc.

    You are completely right about Minaya's favorable press and the how the media has covered the Beltran signing. (Also the media pities Minaya for having to run the Expos and work for MLB, so that factors into the how they are convinced he is so smart because he must have singlehandedly kept them afloat.) But would you expect anything else from mainstream media?

    Also, using your market rate at 5/$60m for a 30-WS potential guy, what (if any) premium should Beltran deserve for his past success? Obviously not $55m, but should Beltran have a slightly higher value than Beltre/Drew because of this?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/19/2005 02:20:00 PM  

  • Agreed with everything you're saying, and that's a good point about Minaya and the Expos. Another factor is that Beltran is more valuable to the Mets than, say, the Tigers, because the Mets are closer to winning than the Tigers, and it is conceivable that a season worth $17 million could put them over the top in terms of getting to the playoffs (this is, I believe, the argument Tom Meagher made regarding the Lowe contract, if I understood him correctly).

    Admittedly, the Mets are in a position to overpay for success. The problem in the current fawing analysis is that 1) so are the Dodgers (Times' protestations to the contrary -- what, the D-Backs could afford 40 million for Troy Glaus? Please.) and 2) success has been redefined in terms of "buzz" and not "wins and losses." In short, what happens when Beltran lives up to his contract (like Rodriguez, for instance), and the team still goes .500? No one seems to be enamored with the Mets as a playoff club, particularly in a division with the Marlins and Braves. And even if Beltran lives up to his contract in '05, and they go to the playoffs, what about '06, '07, '08? Buzz comes and goes quickly. This reminds me of Bill Plaschke's ludicrous assertion that one World Series championship would justify the Brown contract. Easier said than done -- Billy Beane is right -- get there as many times as you can, then take your chances with winning one.

    In short, all of baseball seems to be running backwards right now. What teams should be doing is setting a certain level of expectation, then exploiting ways to beat those expectations. Instead, they are setting insanely high expectations, then basically praying that players live up to them. The Ordonez contract is a perfect example. That contract would be a bad contract if Ordonez was PERFECTLY HEALTHY!

    One reason why I like "Moneyball" so much is not because of any specific policy prescription it offers, but because organizations run best when resources are allocated rationally and to their optimum purpose. I understand that contract size has very little correlation to ticket prices and the like -- but there is a limited pie and to the extent that money is wasted on an Ordonez, that is money that could have gone to developing the minor leagues, paying for wooden bats in college, charitable good will, or player pensions. For this reason, I support one-year contracts and full free agency for every player, every year (and why when players like Beltre make the choice to leave, I feel pain, but only a little). Full freedom means free markets, which means more competition, lower prices, better efficiency, and product. This is also the reason why I have no sympathy for the players in labor negotiations; having been handed the goose that laid the golden eggs by the owners, they have exactly zero reason to squabble over the details. Free agency isn't the problem with modern sports; it's the market-manipulating system that now exists which is. But I digress. Bottom line: I would like to see someone defend the Beltran signing on its merits, but have not seen a single media figure do so, and I certainly haven't seen any serious reason why the Beltran signing should be considered one of the "best" signings of the winter and the Drew signing one of the "worst." If anything, they appear equally bad.

    By Blogger Steve, at 2/19/2005 04:43:00 PM  

  • I'm with you on all the essential points here Steve. However, a couple of quibbles, namely, isn't Beltran's contract for 7 years, not 5? Of course, Drew's got the 2 year out clause in his, so to a certain extent both you & Stark are talking apples & oranges. Also, I haven't seen any MSM bring up probably the most salient consideration in DePo signing Drew over Beltre- namely, the farms system is loaded with grade A third baseman. Outfield, OTOH, is probably their weakest area in the minors. The Mets of course, are having to move the game's best CF to a corner position or be forced to trade him. But yeah, Stark must have OD'd on the stupid pills before writing this, calling Steve Finley the "steal".

    By Blogger lloyd, at 2/20/2005 03:44:00 PM  

  • Yes and no. It is true that Beltran is seven years instead of five, but when considering how much guaranteed money they are owed, the years don't make any difference. Bobby Bonilla is still getting paid by the Mets. Those last years simply guarantee the player more income whether the player is even playing or not. This point would be more salient in football, it seems, where the only relevant provision of the contract is the signing bonus, since contracts are otherwise non-guaranteed. It might advantage a team to sign a player out to ten years (Mike Vick for example), since they can lock in cost certainty for a player who continues to perform (in fact, if I understand the economics correctly, longer contracts are better, because they allow proration of the signing bonus to be stretched, thereby meaning that less of the bonus counts against the salary cap year after year), and let go players that don't (the salary cap being a separate consideration that only seven people on Earth truly understand). But where all the money is guaranteed, the length of the contract appears to me to be no better than an agreement as to how many installments those payments will be in.

    I hate to criticize anything even having to do with Steve Finley, given how nice he was to me on my birthday and all. That contract didn't knock me out, but I didn't retch. Seems like Finley could have at least one more year in him, and at that point seven more million ought to be doable for Moreno even if the back goes out.

    One reason, I think, that the media has not caught on to Guzman, et. al. is that the Dodgers are clearly not interested in raising expectations on those players. That is probably wise on the Dodgers' part, given prior experience with the Dodger Hype Machine (Billy...Freaking...Ashley) and the natural pressure that comes with having shoes to fill. But then you have to wonder why those "hard-working" media types can't discover such things for themselves.

    By Blogger Steve, at 2/20/2005 06:02:00 PM  

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