Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Archive for the ‘nick swisher’ tag

Useless Facts: Team Payroll versus World Series success

9 comments

 

The powers that be in baseball have long rung the bell of anti-competitiveness w/r/t payroll and success.  In fact, its the salient driving early topic of Michael Lewis‘s seminal book Moneyball ….

Tangent.  Moneyball has its faults, don’t get me wrong.  I may have gone on this rant before, but having recently re-read the book, I was reminded of these issues:

  • A huge part of the Oakland A’s success in the 2002 103 win season was due to their two best hitters (Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez) being home grown talents that pre-dated Billy Beane‘s tenure as GM.  Tejada was an IFA signed in 1993, Chavez drafted out of HS as the 10th overall pick in 1996.  Beane did not ascend to the job til 1997.
  • An even huger part of the A’s success was due to their rotation; three Ace-level arms under the age of 26 that season in Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, none of which was paid more than $875k that year as pre-arb guys … and in fact Zito wasn’t even to arbitration yet.  Combined bWAR for these three: 15.8.
  • The much-ballyhood 2002 draft, which is the subject of most of the book and is the center of the movie’s conflict?  The one where the A’s had 7 first round or supp-1st round picks?  It was an abject failure.  Of the 7 guys they drafted in the 2002 1st round, 3 never made the majors and a 4th (the much-argued-about Alabama C Jeremy Brown) had a MLB career that consisted of 5 games.  A 5th player (Mark Teahen) had a combined career MLB bWAR of 2.6.  The remaining two players (Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton) had long careers of course … but Blanton had just 11.8 career bWAR across 262 games in 13 years, finishing his career with none other than the Washington Nationals and never once making an all-start team or gaining a single Cy Young vote: career ERA+?  95.  I’m sorry, but good drafting teams hit on their first rounders more often than not and the “bar” is MLB regular.  They got perhaps 1 and a half out of 7 picks right in this year, for all of the
  • That whole guitar-playing daughter movie BS?  Non-existent in the book.  Hey I get it; you gotta make Brad Pitt look likeable.  By all accounts in the book, Beane is … not likeable.  There were stories of him screaming in meetings, throwing furniture in the draft room, being incapable of watching the games with others because he got so worked up … to say nothing of his exploits as a professional hitter self-destructing in rage.  Pretty sure these behaviors wouldn’t fly in today’s climate.

I digress.

As pointed in Moneyball … during MLB’s investigation a pesky economist kept asking questions like, “If there’s a direct correlation between payroll and success, then  how does Oakland keep winning with these low payrolls?”  And nobody had a good answer. It got me thinking, in the wake of Washington’s well-funded World Series victory in 2019, what exactly was the history of payrolls to WS wins.  Well, here it is in tabular format.

Yearteampayrollhighlowmedianpayroll ranknotes
2019Washington197236601264
2018Boston23323365134133m more than #2
2017Houston124m2416313917Result of bottoming out strategy in 2013
2016Chicago Cubs171m250631316
2015Kansas City112m2826911817LA = 282; just crazy
2014San Francisco149m236451077
2013Boston150m22926934Houston = 26m
2012San Francisco131m21351946
2011St. Louis109m207399210
2010San Francisco97m212378411
2009New York Yankees203m2033781150M more than #2
2008Philadelphia96m213257813Miami = 25
2007Boston147m19525872
2006St. Louis89m201168311Miami = 16
2005Chicago White Sox75m209306713
2004Boston128m18527632
2003Florida47m153196925TB = 19
2002Anaheim61m126346115
2001Arizona85m11123648
2000New York Yankees92m92165815m more than #2
1999New York Yankees91m111m more than #2
1998New York Yankees73m2
1997Florida52m5
1996New York Yankees61m16m more than #2
1995Atlanta47m4

Some thoughts looking at 2019 and going backwards:

  • 17 of the 25 WS winners since divisional play started had payrolls in the top 10 of the league
  • 14 of these 25 winners were top 5.
  • The Los Angeles Dodgers have spent an amazing amount of money to win nothing over the past 5-6 years.   They’re the “high” payroll for most of this decade, peaking at $282M in 2015.
  • The Nats just won the WS with the 4th largest payroll in the game, basically at the top of the luxury tax line.
  • Boston won it last year with easily the highest payroll in the game, fully $33M more than the 2nd highest payroll. Now that’s buying a title!
  • Houston’s 2017 title comes on the back of them absolutely bottoming out in 2013 and having successive 110+ loss seasons, so its status as an outlier doesn’t exactly hold water.
  • You have to go back to Kansas City’s 2015 run to see our first outlier … and it should be noted that Kansas City completely bottomed out their farm system to achieve those two years of success, immediately dropped to a .500 win team the year after and now have two straight 100+ loss seasons AND have by some accounts one of the worst farms in the game.
  • Before that you’re in the 2010-11 time-frame, where a 90-win St.Louis team with the 11th highest payroll went on a magical run to take out a bunch of teams with better records.
  • The 2008 Phillies were only the 13th ranked payroll; they were driven by career years of home-grown stars still confined by arbitration; within a couple of years Philly would be at the top of the league payroll list too.
  • Clearly 2003 Florida is the huge outlier; the only team with a payroll not at least in the top half of the game to take a series.  And I think we all know about that year…. i’m sure Dusty Baker and Steve Bartman remember it well.

So, does this data tell us anything?   Is it correlation or causation?  Or coincidence?

My 2013 Fantasy Baseball Team

3 comments

Kemp reacts to being Boss' first round pick in my fantasy league for the 2nd year running. Photo unknown via ladodgertalk.com

Editor’s note: feel free to stop reading now if you don’t want to read 4,400+ words on my fantasy baseball team.  I won’t blame you for it.  For those of you who do play fantasy, as I made picks I wrote down who I was considering and who was available per each pick to try to give some context for the pick.  I’ll insert a “jump” line here so that RSS readers don’t have to see this whole massive post :-)

Read the rest of this entry »

Ask Boswell 11/26/12 Edition

22 comments

The Nats entire off-season plan revolves around what Adam LaRoche does. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

I havn’t done a “how would I answer this chat question” from The Washington Post’s Tom Boswell in a while, but on the back of his 11/26/12 “Stay the Course” opinion piece in the Washington Post (where he basically advises that the team should stay out of the major FA market this off-season), I thought I’d chime in and read/respond to his 11/26/12 chat.

My opinion on Boswell’s piece; I don’t think you can stand pat in today’s baseball world.  Yes this team won 98 games last year.  But does anyone think we’ll win 98 games again by doing little to nothing to address the team’s needs?  Trying to replace Adam LaRoche and Edwin Jackson‘s departures internally has a large chance of weakening the team, and I believe we need to explore a significant FA purchase (or a trade) this off-season.  Now, inarguably TV deals and the rising revenue streams are fueling the FA market, and we’re already seeing contracts that heretofore would have been immediately labeled as “over pays.”  Therefore, even if the Nats go after a 2nd or 3rd tier player in free agency, they’re going to be compensated far more than we ever thought their value represented.  But this is just the way the baseball world is going; we can no longer say that someone is “overpriced” … we need to remember that everyone is going to be “overpriced.”  Perhaps Jayson Werth‘s $126M/7yr deal will look like a bargain in a few  years.

And this is before even addressing the impact that the amazing new Los Angeles Dodger’s TV deal, reportedly worth between $6 and $7 billion dollars over 25 years, will have on the baseball world.  Even at the low-end estimate, that’s $240M a year in RSN revenue.  $240M a year!  They could field a $200M team, pay luxury taxes and still have money to spare under this deal, and that’s before a single dollar in gate, game-day revenues, suites, parking or merchandising comes in.  To call this a “game-changer” is an understatement; I think this could be a serious issue facing Baseball in the coming years.  We’re already seeing what the new ownership group is capable of doing in terms of acquiring talent without much regard to payroll.  What happens if they also acquire the likes of Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke this coming winter?  A quick check of Cot’s page shows that Los Angeles has $169.5M committed to its top 14 players right now, with three guys making > 20M and nine total with pay > $11M/year.  And they’re reportedly in the mix for the top FAs this off-season, potentially adding 20-30M more to that base number.  That’s amazing.  Just more revenue sharing for Jeffrey Loria to pocket I guess (Thanks Bud!).

Anyway, back to the chat responses.  As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions here for clarity/conciseness.  I’m only answering baseball-related questions, ignoring the slew of Redskins issues.

Q: Are the Nats positioning themselves to make a strong push in the next two drafts?

A: This is what I whittled down a long-winded, rambling “question” to.  The gist is that a comp pick from Adam LaRoche leaving, plus another potential comp pick if Michael Morse leaves next year could help re-stock the farm system.  I’d tend to say, “maybe.”  The Nats are no longer where they were in 2009 and 2010, getting franchise players by virtue of back to back awful seasons.  So the likelihood of finding an impact player is far less.  That being said, having multiple first and supplemental first round picks is a great way to find players and to get guys who “slipped” due to signability/injury issues (as Lucas Giolito did this year).

The Nats farm system has taken some hits in the last two seasons; one from trade (losing 4 top-10 players in the Gio Gonzalez trade) and then another from injury concerns for its top guys (Sammy Solis, Matthew Purke, Lucas Giolito, and Anthony Rendon all representing 1st and 2nd round talents who suffered either season-ending injuries or significant injuries curtailing their progression in the last calendar year, to say nothing of injuries to lower-level guys like Taylor Jordan who will provide depth rising up).  This thinned farm system may prevent Rizzo from making the kind of deal he made last summer, and he may want to focus on getting some more depth in the 2013 draft, as much as is possible from drafting so low.

Here’s the issue writing my own response before reading Boswell’s: he didn’t even talk about the draft portion of the “question,” instead talking about the FA pitcher angle.

Q: What do you think the team is planning on doing to replace Edwin Jackson?

A: I’d guess the team is working on two fronts: one looking at possible trade angles with teams that have surplus starting pitching (Arizona, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Los Angeles Dodgers and perhaps even Atlanta) and seeing if he can swing a deal.  Then I’d guess he’s looking at a 2nd tier of starters, looking to avoid the Greinke sweepstakes (despite his affinity for the hurler).  I do NOT think the team is going to tender John Lannan, instead looking to get a better pitcher for slightly more money than the $5M he’d likely earn at a minimum in 2013.  Of course, with the prices we’ve seen for lefties already perhaps we will tender Lannan and consider another $5M insurance policy a bargain.  Boswell scrolls through the same 2nd tier of starters, noting that there’s definitely someone out there who could work.  He also mentioned the team may look at re-signing Zach Duke, though I’d be surprised by that.  Why would we re-sign Duke but non-tender Lannan, if Lannan clearly is a better pitcher?

Q: Is the lack of a MASN deal hindering the Nats FA plans?

A: You have to think it is.  If the Nats knew what they were getting next year, they’d certainly have a better idea of how much they could spend.  The fact that Bud Selig has allowed Peter Angelos to hijack this MASN revenue negotiation for this long is deplorable.  Of course, by waiting this long with the negotiations Angelos has only cost himself money, as the price we can command as a franchise certainly skyrocketed between the end of 2011 and now.  So there’s that.  But its clear the team is getting a pittance as compared to other comparably sized markets (Houston, Philadelphia) and needs a larger share.  Boswell doesn’t think the lack of a deal is affecting the team’s plans, mostly because there’s not a $250M player on the market this year as there was last year.

Q: Were you invited to any of the seven off-season Nationals player weddings?

A: I wasn’t.  Boswell wasn’t either.  :-)

Q: Why did the MLB allow the Marlins trade to go through? It poisons Miami against baseball probably for a decade and will surely be seen as a cautionary tale for city governments for at least as long.

A: Simple reason: Selig is buddies with Jeffrey Loria and has enabled his crummy behaviors for nearly 2 decades.  More complex reason: on the face of it, from a purely baseball sense this trade was little different than the Boston-Los Angeles trade, and I’d guess you would have a hard time accepting one and denying the other.  Loria’s position with Miami is not Selig’s concern; he got the new stadium that Selig claims is necessary in every market and Loria clearly will continue to profit from the team.  To an owner, that’s the primary concern.  And Selig works for the owners.  All of us bloggers and columnists to deplored the trade and Loria in general (including me, in this space in September and again in November) and talk about the sanctity of the game are just blowing hot-air.  Selig doesn’t care.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just saying that baseball is dead in Miami for a long, long time.  Hey, it only helps the Nats to have a 110 loss team in the division, right?

Q: Is Adam LaRoche destined for the AL as an aging 1st baseman?

A: I don’t think so; the questioner compared LaRoche to Adam Dunn, who can DH and is more valuable in the AL.  Inarguably aging sluggers fare better in the AL … but LaRoche just won a gold glove for his defense at first base.  He isn’t exactly a plodding first baseman slowed by age.  He should be able to capably play the position for several more  years, through whatever contract he’s about to sign.  Boswell agrees that this is the trend, and says that Baltimore is a possible destination … but mentions nothing about LaRoche’s plus defense.

Q: Why aren’t the Nats making a bigger play for Edwin Jackson?

A: A good question.  I questioned the Nats lack of a Qualifying Offer being extended to Jackson and surmised it was because the team was afraid he’d take it (having a history of working on one-year deals).  So clearly the lack of the Q.O. indicates a new direction for the team.  I don’t think its related to his meltdown in the post-season; that can happen to anyone (see most of our pitching staff not named Ross Detwiler).  I’d guess that it relates somehow to Jackson’s maddening capabilities; shutdown power pitcher one night, gopher-ball machine the next.  I think they’re just going in a different direction.  Boswell says Jackson wants a 5-year deal … which if true even more reinforces my questioning of the lack of the Q.O.  I disagree with his sentiment that the team is “saving room” for the rising farm system arms; to me a prospect starter is not a solution until the day he arrives in the majors and gives you 30 starts.

Q: Why did Tampa extend Evan Longoria?

A: The team had him under baseball’s most team-friendly contract (6yrs, $17.5M with three team options, locking him to Tampa from 2008 til 2016).  One of baseball’s best players, he made just $2M and $4.5M in the last two seasons.  Which is just ridiculous.  I feel Tampa did the extension to show good faith to the player who was just so woefully underpaid.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just saying its a good move because hitters come back from injury better than pitchers.

Q: Should the team be worried about losing LaRoche and his lefty power?

A: Yes absolutely.  Which is why the team should either try to get him to sign a reasonable deal (3 years max) OR the team should let him walk and try to replace the lefty power on the FA market (perhaps in the form of someone like Nick Swisher, who won’t be cheap but also can stick in LF for a while and should fit in nicely to the clubhouse).  Or maybe the team swings a deal for a lefty outfielder in trade and sticks Morse at first.  Boswell agrees, thinking that LaRoche’s hot FA market will get him a 4 year deal for more money than the Nats are willing to pay.

Q: Is there any chance that MASN just cuts ties with the Nats and frees us from the awful deal?

A: No. Chance. In. Hell.  Angelos stands to get such massive, major profit from this deal that he’ll die before giving in.  There is just no way.  And more and more its looking like this pact with the devil, which enabled the team to move here, will be a limiting factor in the years to come.  People talk about how Atlanta has the worst TV deal in the MLB?  Well what about the Nats?  Boswell asked Selig about this and was told that “everything is on the table.”  I highly doubt that, but I’m not going to call Boswell a liar.  I’ll just say, “Don’t hold your breath” that the Nats will be allowed to extract themselves from MASN and create their own RSN.  This would be the absolute dream scenario, but I just cannot see Selig backpeddaling on this deal less than a decade after it was signed.

Q: Will the Nats learn the lessons heeded by other big-money teams who got saddled with old, expensive players?

A: Hopefully so.  Not giving LaRoche 4 years would be a signal to that end.  But it can be difficult; what happens when the whole core of our young team hits free agency?  That’s a lot of big checks to write, and the fan base will bemoan every star that is allowed to walk.  Boswell thinks LaRoche is consistent enough to warrant the contract, but also notes that he’s several years past the typical hitter prime.

Q: Is Morse really the better choice at 1B if it’s between him and Moore? Is he really just that bad in the OF?

A: I’m convinced this narrative is overplayed.  Morse was a shortstop coming up through the minors, so he’s not exactly immobile, and suddenly nobody remembers that Tyler Moore was a plodding minor league first-baseman who only tried LF for the first time in spring training of last year.  Now suddenly Morse isn’t the better LF option?  I don’t buy it.  Neither are great LF choices; Morse had a -23.3 UZR/150 in 493 innings while Moore had a -22.7 in 229 innings this past season (small sample sizes both).  So it seems they’re both awful out there.  But then again (as I’ve said many times) you can “hide” guys in LF if they’re big bats.  You take the lesser defense in order to get a middle-of-the-order hitter.  The last thing you want is a #8 hitter (think Xavier Nady) bumbling around in LF and hitting .190.  If we lose LaRoche, I think the team should put Moore back in his natural position at 1B and let Morse get one more season out there.  Boswell didn’t answer the question, instead rambling about something else.



My Answers to Boswell’s Chat questions 9/26/11 edition

2 comments

After a week’s break (vacation?), Tom Boswell was back with his weekly chat on Monday 9/26/11 on all things DC sports related. He went at it for hours, starting around 9:30am and still taking questions well into the 1pm hour.

Here’s how I would have answered his Baseball/Nats related questions, with the “questions” edited for clarity here and with me answering prior to reading down to see his answer.

Q: Did Davey Johnson pull some bush-league moves by replacing his pitcher with 2 outs in the 9th inning of a 6-0 game?

A: Yeah, probably a little.  There had to be some context to the move unknown to the casual viewer.   Boswell didn’t know either, but will follow up.

Q: Is our young pitching going to be another Braves 1989 situation?

A: Man one can only hope so.  They say to “beware of results in September” and I agree, but man it isn’t hard to get excited watching 4 guys who were pitching in the minors in April throwing quality starts night after night.  And not just Quality starts, but 5-6 innings of shutout ball.  2012 looks to be more and more interesting by the day.  Boswell chides not to get tooooo excited, and quotes the FIPs of all these pitchers.  Fair enough.

Q: Just how close is this team, given its recent run over teams like Atlanta and Philadelphia?

A: Closer than we may have thought.  I think most of us were predicting 72-75 wins.  78 Wins with a hot baseball team going down to visit a not-so-hot one to finish out the season could very well end up with an 80-81 season.   Here’s this team’s record since arriving here:

  • 2005: 81-81
  • 2006: 71-91
  • 2007: 73-89
  • 2008: 59-102
  • 2009: 59-103
  • 2010: 69-93
  • 2011: 78-80 (with 3 games left)
The team improved 10 games from 2009 to 2010, and looks set to improve another 10 games or so in 2011.  If you turn in another 10 game improvement in 2012 suddenly you’re a 90 win team and you’re challenging for a wild card spot (The Braves are 89-70 and lead the NL wild card race by 1 game as of 9/25/11).  Now, improving from a .500 team to a .560 team is much tougher than going from a 59 win team to a 69 win team.  So 2012 may be really promising.  Teams can vastly improve; The Brewers may improve 20 games over last year.  But generally its a slow moving process.  Boswell talks about the vast pitching improvement and spends a lot of time talking about average mph of fastballs over the years.

Q: Thoughts on Moneyball?
A: Havn’t seen the movie but read the book.  I concur with a lot of Buzz Bissinger‘s anti-moneyball rant.  The book and its premise fail with two basic facts:
  1. There is scant credit given to the real source of the early 2000 A’s success; Their starting pitchers of Zito, Mulder and Harden Hudson.  All three home grown sure, but all 3 predating Billy Beane.
  2. The 2002 A’s “moneyball draft” was an abject failure, resulting in one decent-to-good player (Nick Swisher), one mediocre starting pitcher (Joe Blanton), one utility player (Mark Teahen) and 4 guys who never even made the majors (I am including Jeremy Brown here, who did make the majors and had a grand total of 10 at-bats).  I’m sorry; 7 first rounders or supp-1sts should have resulted in FAR more than what it did.  If anything the money-ball approach they took in this draft was proven to be absolutely wrong.

Thankfully, Boswell agrees.

Q: Can players like John Lannan be perpetual exceptions to stats guys, not the rule?

A: In certain cases sure.  Nyjer Morgan (a heavy bunter) will always have an artificially high BABIP.  Mariano Rivera (because he’s so frigging good) will always have artifically low BABIPs.  John Lannan?  Its hard to explain.  Year after year we have watched him put together decent-to-sneaky good seasons of > 100 ERA+, sub 4.00 ERAs.  But what about his advanced pitching stats?   Year after year his FIP has been a point or more higher than than his ERA.  This year is lesser so, but still the case where his Fip and xFip trend higher.  His k/9 is up, his bb/9 is up, his BABIP is normalized for the league (if anything slightly high).  I’m agreeing with the questioner; Lannan seems to be an exception outside the normal rules of FIP.  Boswell says that stats don’t get ground-ball pitchers who get a lot of GIDPs.  Hmm good point.

Q: Will the Nats win the World Series in 2013?

A: That’s a bold, bold prediction.  My personal prediction is just playoffs in 2013.  World Series is a tough draw; the first time this team hits the playoffs you’re going to see some starry-eyes, some “just happy to be here” moments.  It usually takes the 2nd time through the post season to give guys some stability.  Boswell agrees, and later on says that the team needs to extend Ryan Zimmerman.

Q: Would the Nats consider trading Clippard and/or Storen?

A: I personally hope not as a fan; these two guys are a huge part of why the bullpen has suddenly become one of the game’s best.  But, the truth is relievers are fungible assets that can be replaced rather easily (especially on the FA market, where there’s a TON of closers available this off season).  Boswell didn’t answer this part of the question.

Q: If Strasburg is going to have an IP limit, why not just wait to start him in June?

A: Because if you’re already 10 games under .500 by June, you’ve wasted your season anyway.  Boswell’s answer made me laugh: “you really need to become a Redskins fan.”

Q: Predict the Nats infield in 2013?

A: Morse at first, Rendon at 2nd, Espinosa at short and Zimmerman at third.  I’m guessing that Espinosa can ably cover shortstop while hitting 20-25 homers consistently, while Desmond will fetch a decent trade return.  Boswell predicts the exact same lineup.

Q: What do you make of David Ross (Braves catcher) quitting against Henry Rodriguez? [facing an 0-2 count, he attempted a bunt, tacitly admitting he had no shot of actually hitting his fastball]?

A: I don’t know what to make of it.  A major league hitter should be able to hit a 100mph fastball, and shouldn’t be playing if they couldn’t.  Maybe not hit it consistently, but at least have a puncher’s chance.  I havn’t seen someone so blatantly give up against a pitcher since high school (when we faced Pete Schourek and our lowly #8 and #9 hitters just flailed at his upper-80s fastball).  Boswell agrees.

Q: Comment further on Harper’s “being slowed” by AA pitching in the latter half of 2010?

A: I’d say that he finally got promoted to a level commensurate with his skills.  It makes you wonder if he started in the wrong level of A-ball.  AA pitchers are generally your team’s rising stars, your best prospects.  They’re the cream of the 4 levels of minor league ball below it.  It isn’t that big a worry that Harper struggled; lets just see how he adjusts next spring.  There could also be some fatigue factor going on; day in and day out baseball grind can be awful tough to adjust to for younger guys who are used to playing (at most) every few days in high school, or weekends only in amateur/traveling leagues.