Archive for December, 2006

Why Non-Tender Giles?

It’s no secret that the Braves don’t want Marcus Giles around anymore. You’d think it would be difficult to know this considering the team “never comments on potential player moves.” The team has been trying to move him since the season ended, and probably some before that. However, the team have not found any suitable deals. The word is that if the Braves can’t make a deal today, he will be non-tendered. This is interesting, because though Marcus Giles isn’t the world’s greatest second baseman, he’s an average major league hitter. This guy has value, so why doesn’t anyone want him?

In his four full seasons as the Braves starting second baseman, he’s posted OPS of .911, .821, .826, and .728. From those numbers, it looks like Giles is a low-.800 OPS player with a good year and a bad year. But, as I pointed out earlier this year, Giles has been one of the luckiest players in baseball. Here are his PrOPS by year and his difference from his actual OPS (OPS-PrOPS).

2003: .825, +.086
2004: .774, +.047
2005: .766, +.060
2006: .766, -.037

Now, it looks like Giles is a .770 OPS player, which is about the NL average. We knew 2003 was a fluke, but so were 2004 and 2005. But still, he has a good defensive reputation and he’s not embarrassing himself with his bat. What’s the deal?
It’s not that no one wants him, but that the Braves are in an awkward position. He’s entering his final year of arbitration and he projects to garner a salary of about $6 million. Because his stats have been over-measuring his true ability, he’s been getting bigger arbitration raises than he otherwise would have for the past two years. I estimate Giles dollar value to the Braves in 2006 to be $5.55 million (slightly more than Jeff Francoeur‘s value—where’s Marcus’s Delta commercial?). Using his PrOPS projection, he was expected to have generated about $5.9 million. This means that the projected $6 million he’ll likely get in arbitration is almost exactly what he is worth.

I think this explains what the Braves are having so much trouble moving him. Let’s pretend that Giles is a $10 million player. The team that acquires him will have to pay Giles $6 million. This means that a team wanting to acquire him would be willing to trade $4 million in assets to acquire Giles; and in return, the Braves would receive $10 million in return ($6 million freed up from not having to play Giles + $4 million in other assets). But, Giles’s value is equal to his salary. There is very little that a team would be willing give up beyond $6 million to get Giles—we’re talking a low-A weak prospect. Scott Linebrink was never an option. This is why the Braves can’t find any takers. When a player signed to an over-paying long-term contract a team will often have to pay part of the the traded player’s salary. But, in this case, the cash-strapped Braves can get his salary off the books by simply declining to offer him arbitration.

Any team that wants him will just wait until he hits the free agent market, which is exactly what will happen. San Diego can have Linebrink and Giles if they want to spend the money. I’m going to miss Marcus, because I liked watching him play. But Giles fans, don’t you worry, he will find a home very soon. And the reason that the Braves aren’t keeping him isn’t that he lacks value, but that the difference in his salary and his value is so small that it’s hard to find just the right deal. I expect he’ll sign a deal between $6-8 million in the very near future.

Update: Braves cut ties with Giles. (AP, AJC)

Monetizing Mediocrity: Meche, Marquis, and ‘Mirez

A big development on the hot stove this is year is the “over-valuing” of less-than-stellar starting pitching. Three not-so-spectacular pitchers have signed big free agent deals, so far.

Gil Meche: $55 million, 5 years
Jason Marquis: $21 million, 3 years (not finalized yet)
Ted Lilly: $40 million, 4 years

And Horacio (Ra)Mirez was swapped by the Braves for a good relief pitcher, Rafael Soriano. All of this has caused many to question the sanity of several GMs; in particular, Jim Hendry of the Cubs who signed both Marquis and Lilly. I can see why the reaction has been so strong. None of these guys are fantastic. And as a Braves fan who has had to endure Horacio Ramirez for several years, I was happy to see the guy go. However, when I look over the dollar value estimates that I have calculated for all of these players, I have found another similarity among these players: their recent performances have been worth about what the free agent labor market says they ought to be. And it’s not because of a market efficiency tautology. Here are my dollar value estimates for these players. All values are 2006, except Ramirez’s estimate is from 2005, when he pitched a full season.

Gil Meche: $10.17
Ted Lilly: $10.15
Jason Marquis: $7.6
Horacio Ramirez: $7.7

Now, I don’t wish use these numbers to say that these were good deals—I’d need a lot more time and information—but it demonstrates the deals are understandable, and that I don’t wish to commit any GMs to an asylum.

Where do my estimates come from? Well, I used the revenue generated by MLB teams to measure how much the things players do on the field translate into winning, and then estimate how much wins impact team revenue. It’s a modified version of the method Gerald Scully put forth in his classic 1974 article in the American Economic Review, “Pay and Performance in Major League Baseball.” I’m not going to go into the details of the calculations here, but I do so in my upcoming book. But anyway, one of the things that first caught my eye when I ran these numbers was how valuable some of these mediocre pitchers are. And there is a good reason for this. Though these guys are not world-beaters, they are all better than their potential replacements—it’s been a while since any of these guys have spent time in the minors for more than a rehab start. There’s a reason for this: their potential replacements are much worse—Braves fans, think Travis Smith or Jason Shiell. And all of these guys pitch many innings of work. Sure, you’d prefer better pitchers to have these innings, but that’s not the option because a lot of GMs want those same pitchers.

And then, there’s the starter versus reliever question. Why would the Mariners trade a good reliever for a mediocre starter like Horacio Ramirez? Well, the good innings that Rafael Soriano will produce are far less than what HoRam has been able to do. And though Soriano’s been better on a per inning basis, you get many more innings out of HoRam. At some point, HoRam’s quantity of inferior innings pitched must pass Soriano’s in terms of overall value. Is it after 50, 100, or 1,000 innings? Well actually, it’s a pretty low number. It just so happens that HoRam’s injury-plagued 2006 produced a dollar value of $4.73 million. Soriano, as a reliever, produced $4.03 million. Since, these are just estimates, let’s just say they were close to equivalent value with Horacio pitching about 25% more innings than Soriano.

Why not make Soriano a starter? That seems like a fine idea, but I don’t know if it’s as simple as upping a pitcher’s innings. Starters and relievers are quite defined roles, and it seems that some pitchers can’t do both for mental or mechanical reasons. It could be that teams should have more swingmen, or at least tinker with their starter/reliever designations, but I’ll leave that to them. My guess is that the M’s and Braves have their reasons for leaving these guys in their defined roles. In any event, I expect that a starting Soriano would pitch worse than he does as a reliever, which might cancel out his per-inning superiority over Ramirez.

The lesson here isn’t that these pitchers are good, or that relievers aren’t valuable. It’s that these pitchers have value. And while they might make fans curse and sweat when they hit the mound, they keep us from destroying furniture by limiting the innings of the quad-A replacements. Also, it’s important to judge these salaries in light of the increasing wealth of MLB. If fans are spending money on baseball, it’s going to increase the salaries of not just the very good. Teams might be spending too much, or they might also might be responding to the higher returns to winning. In reference to the past, $7-$10 million for a blah pitcher may have seem outrageous. But in a few years, this could be the norm.

Closing the Book on HoRam

As I write, the Braves and Mariners are supposedly finalizing a deal that will send Horacio Ramirez to Seattle for Rafael Soriano. As a Braves fan, I feel a huge sense of relief from this news. Finally, he’s gone. If you’re not a Braves fan, you probably view this trade as just a deal—some back-of-the-rotation starter for a decent reliever, both with histories of injuries. Most of what I have read—from M’s and Bravos fans—is that the Braves got the better end of the deal. From my perspective the deal isn’t that lopsided. I do think the Soriano is the more talented player, but even when he’s healthy, a reliever is covering about no more than half the innings of a starter. With a market that’s paying Tanyon Sturtze $1.1 million, pitchers like Horacio Ramirez have value. Like Kevin Gryboski, I didn’t like seeing HoRam on the mound; I had no confidence in him. But at the end of the year, when I’d look back on his performance I could definitely see he’s not good, but there were many worse options out there. Still, he wasn’t decent enough to make part of any long-term plan. He was the definition of mediocre, which is why I’m so happy to see him go.

The problem with HoRam was not so much with the pitcher, but that he has been viewed by the Braves as an important cog in the future of the team. For example, Braves mlb.com beat writer Mark Bowman wrote as recently as late August

But (and here’s where the bashing will begin), I believe next year’s rotation must include Horacio Ramirez. His injury-plagued season won’t allow him to receive much of a raise, and I’m not of the belief that his injury history means he’s a soft individual.

Injuries have wrecked two of Ramirez’s first four full Major League seasons. But it’s not like he’s not pitching because his shoulder or elbow is sore. He’s had legitimate ailments. When healthy, he’s shown why some believe he could consistently win at least 14 games per season.

This offseason could be a very busy one for the Braves. Along with Marcus Giles, I believe Chuck James is somebody who could draw some interest on the trade market. Although he is cheaper, I don’t believe James has the upside that Ramirez possesses.

In fairness to Bowman, he recanted a month ago, which is about the same time the Braves seemed to let out their lack of support for the guy. What support? Well, if you follow the Braves, you can spot the talking points the team leaks to the media. And the spin on Horacio has been nothing but positive and full of excuses.

  • Oh, he’s dropped his cutter, which was his big problem.
  • He’s good at night.
  • He’s good on the road.
  • This guy has the make-up of a Tom Glavine.
  • Now that Mazzone’s gone, he will flourish. (oh brother!)
  • Don’t look at his spring or rehab stats, he’s been “working on something.”
  • When you take out his bad starts he’s pitched well. (my favorite!)

Robert Downey, Jr. could asks this guy on advice for how to ask for second chance. The Braves have really gone out of there way to portray him as something special. Let me just say that Braves fans are tired of it; more so than seeing Jeff Francoeur hit pop flys to a kid in The Netherlands for Delta during the commercial break he just created. He doesn’t strike out hitters. He’s not particularly skilled at preventing walks or home runs. On top of this, he keeps getting injured, which has probably done more to prolong the team’s patience with him. Now, the team is finally moving on.

I want to reiterate that HoRam isn’t awful. He’s not close to sniffing Triple-A ball, but just don’t expect anything more than a fifth starter. My guess is that Seattle isn’t anywhere near his last stop. He’s the type of guy who will go from team to team to fill out rotations. I wish him the best.

The Poisson Distribution

Do you want to learn about the Poisson distribution the fun way? Read Doug Drinen’s post on the distribution of touchdown receptions in the NFL.

Zito: The $100 Million Man

I’m having a lot of fun with this year’s hot stove league, mainly because I’ve got a new system for analyzing what players are worth based on the revenue they generate. I’m not claiming it’s perfect, but I’m surprised when I run a number that matches what the system projects. For example, today Mike Celezik titles his column: “Zito a $100 million man? Ridiculous: Free-agent left hander is good but not worth $17 million a year”.

Well, it just so happens that I had been discussing how to value long run contracts in my sports economics class on Monday. To do so, I had set up a worksheet to calculate the size of contracts based on the players recent performance and marginal revenue product estimates. Then, if we assume salaries grow at the same rate they have for the past two decades (10%—a figure that still seems high to me, but history doesn’t support my instinct), then we can estimate the size of the contract for different lengths. It just so happens when I go down to the 6-year projected value of Barry Zito, the model spits out the ridiculous figure of $100.49 million. This is right in the neighborhood of a rumored 6-year contract offer from the Rangers. But that’s nothing: Zito isn’t even the best pitcher on the market. For a six-year deal, I have Jason Schmidt getting a cool $129 million.

Ridiculous? We’ll see. But, I have to admit, these numbers make me swoon.

Thanks to Repoz for the pointer.

What Does Tanyon Sturtze Mean?

So, the Braves have signed Tanyon Sturtze to a one-year $1.1 million deal. What does this mean? Well, one obvious knock on Sturtze is that he’s not very good. His career ERA+ is 87, with K9 of 5.42, BB9 of 3.76, and HR9 of 1.25—basically, he doesn’t do much of anything well compared to the average major leaguer. However, he’s still better than a lot of people, so $1.1 million isn’t too steep, even if he pitches same “quality” baseball as usual.

What gives me greater concern is that the Braves feel they need to acquire someone of Sturtze’s quality so early in the offseason. If the team acquired this salary at the deadline, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But, throwing away dollars on a guy this early scares me. This tells me that Schuerholz doesn’t have a lot of confidence in what’s on the farm. At his best, Sturtze will eat innings, and there ought to be plenty of candidates in the minors who can fill this role.

Read Between the Lines

From the AJC:

The Mets told Glavine they’d wait while he explored returning to the Braves, and he spent the past month discussing the decision with his family and later waiting for the Braves to make an offer.

“In the end, it wasn’t fair for anybody involved to drag it out any longer,” Glavine said. “I didn’t know exactly their payroll constraints and what’s going on with them. I guess there could have been ways around not formally making me an offer [but making an informal one], but none of that happened.”

“The Mets were first class the whole way. I’m going back to an organization I’ve had a lot of fun with, and they’ve been hugely respectful of me and my family, and a good team on top of that. We’ve got some things we’re trying to fix, but the team is committed to doing it.”

Ouch!

Upgrading WordPress

I’ve had enough of the spam attacks, so I’m starting the upgrade process. If it doesn’t work right, I may be down for a little bit.

Update: Looks like everything is up and running. Thanks to Sean Forman for bailing me out when I got in too deep.