Archive for October, 2007

Why Pay Dusty Baker $3.5 Million?

The Cincinnati Reds just signed Dusty Baker to a three-year contract worth $3.5 million per year. Why do this? The mean and median manager salaries in 2007 were $1.45 million and $940,000. Yes, Dusty Baker has a lot of managerial experience, and because his broadcast position is opportunity cost is higher than some other managers. However, I don’t see why the Reds would fork out this money for a manager. Is this the main problem? Both the hitting and pitching are below league average when controlling for the ballpark. I would think the team could use is resources in a better way and just hire an unproven bench coach for less.

It is possible that Baker gets more out of his players than other managers, but I don’t think that is the main reason for this hire. I suspect that the Reds are trying to signal to fans and free agents that this team is going to make a major effort to turn the team around. A big-name manager may help keep some season-ticket holders in the fold. Plus, free agents who want to play on a competitive team may see the Reds as changing course. I would not be surprised to see the Reds make a play for some big-name free agents this offseason, including A-Rod.

PC Magazine’s Top-100

Thanks to PC Magazine for including Sabernomics on its “Our 100 Favorite Blogs” list of 2007.

PC Magazine

Sabernomics’ tagline, “economic thinking about baseball,” doesn’t make all that much sense on paper. But the concept has yielded the blog’s author, J.C. Bradbury, a book titled, The Baseball Economist, and makes for some of the most clever and original sports blogging on the Web.

O’s Dump Mazzone

The first baseball game I ever attended was a Double-A Charlotte O’s game when I was five. I actually threw out the first pitch at Crockett Park and Cal Ripken, Jr. was on the team. When the Orioles hired Mazzone, I thought it would be fun to follow the Orioles again.

Today the Orioles fired Mazzone as their scapegoat. What an awful, AWFUL, organization. The firing of Sam Perlozzo, then courting of the flavor-of-the-month Joe Girardi, only to lose out and hire Dave Trembley. Now, the O’s are blaming their woes on Mazzone? Give me a break!

How quickly people forget that Orioles pitching was good for most of the season…that is until Mazzone’s good friend Perlozzo was fired. On June 17, the last game Perlozzo managed, the O’s pitching staff had an ERA of 4.27–that would have put them second in the American League at the end of the season. Erik Bedard and Jeremy Guthrie were having fantastic seasons. After Dave Trembley took over on an interim basis–you know, he didn’t know if he was going to be the long-term boss—the O’s continued on with an ERA of 4.61. Once Trembley got the permanent job, things went south fast. After giving up 39 runs in a double-header on August 18, the Orioles produced an ERA of 7.61 for the remainder of the season.

Now, I’m not saying Mazzone is blameless in all of this, but it is pretty clear that pitching wasn’t the real problem with the O’s until the guys up top decided the guy calling games on Fox was really smart. Instead they ended up with their bullpen coach. I don’t see how firing Mazzone is going to fix anything with this club. This team clearly fell apart when the brass up top gave up on the team. Guys got traded, and some shut it down. Yeah, the pitching was pretty bad by the end of the year. One thing is very clear from his time with the Braves, even if you don’t believe he was responsible for any of pitching success in Atlanta: Mazzone was not the problem.

I really don’t understand the impatience of people who run sports teams. How can you expect any rebuilding when you demand immediate results? Talk about bad incentives.

It’s been a rough ride for Mazzone in Baltimore, but I have no doubt that he will bounce back. It’s good to hear that he’s not intimidated.

Mazzone has no intention of being idle during the 2008 season.

“He’s not going to sit out a year. He has no desire to do that,” said Brad Steele, Mazzone’s business manager. “He will have plenty of time to do that after he retires.”

The Braves were a fixture in the playoffs when Mazzone was there. In contrast, the Orioles lost more than 90 games in each of his two seasons with the club.

“I think Leo still has a lot of fire in his belly. He wants to be part of a winning organization,” Steele said. “But he’s not opposed to doing what he did in Atlanta, taking a team from last to first. Either way, we suspect there will be a lot of interest in him.”

Schuerholz’s Legacy

According to reports, John Schuerholz is stepping out of the GM role with the Atlanta Braves to become the team’s president. What is Schuerholz’s legacy with the Braves? No doubt, the record of the Braves on his watch is amazing: 14 Division titles, 4 NL Pennants, and 1 World Series in 17 seasons.

Here is a list of three numbers by season during his tenure: winning percentage, percentage above the mean league payroll, and payroll rank.

Year	W%	% > Lg. Mean Payroll	Payroll Rank	   
1991	58.02%		-21.70%		18	   
1992	60.49%		11.61%		9	   
1993	64.20%		29.19%		4	   
1994	59.65%		49.24%		1	   
1995	62.50%		38.82%		3	   
1996	59.26%		45.32%		3	   
1997	62.35%		29.78%		6	   
1998	65.43%		43.66%		3	   
1999	63.58%		46.79%		5	   
2000	58.64%		52.25%		3	   
2001	54.32%		40.52%		6	   
2002	63.13%		37.63%		7	   
2003	62.35%		49.51%		3	   
2004	59.26%		30.72%		8	   
2005	55.56%		18.49%		10	   
2006	48.77%		16.54%		8	   
2007	51.85%		5.69%		15	   
Mean	59.37%		30.83%		6.6	   
Median	59.65%		37.63%		6	 

He deserves a lot of credit for keeping a winning team on the field, with only one losing season in 17 years. In terms of payroll, only during his first season did the Braves have a payroll below the league average. Now money alone is not enough to be successful on the field, but it doesn’t hurt your chances.

My verdict on his Braves tenure: good, but not great. I’m somewhat sorry to see him go, but I’m not as worried as Twins fans have to be with the departure of Terry Ryan. To be fair, I’m not too fond of his public persona—he might be a nice guy in private, but comes off as a bit smug in interviews—but I cannot deny that he got the job done.

Why Do Economists Study Sports?

If you haven’t been following Marginal Revolution this week, Justin Wolfers is guest blogging there and seems to be a natural. Let’s hope he decides to blog full time.

Wolfers has used sports as a laboratory for several studies (point-shaving and racial bias) and yesterday he asked, “why is it that economists study sports?

  1. Sports provide unique opportunities to test economic theories.
  2. Sports shapes broader national debates.
  3. Professional sports are an important part of the economy.
  4. Sports participation is an important activity.
  5. Sports provides a useful teaching metaphor.
  6. Doing research on sports is fun.

I agree with all of these, but I think he is missing one. Sports markets are themselves unique and interesting. For example, Simon Rottenberg’s curiosity about baseball’s reserve clause—how it affected the allocation of talent across a league—led him to discover (nearly) the Coase Theorem before Ronald Coase. Mohamed El-Hodiri and James Quirk were the first model the unique structure economic structure of sports leagues, which I think economists still do not fully understand. (There are other examples, but I am on my way to a meeting.)

Economists like to study interesting puzzles; because there are many unanswered questions in sports, and many economists follow sports, you are going to see a lot of study in this area.

So Long, Andruw

As optimistic as I tried to be, deep down (and not really all that deep) I knew Andruw Jones was a goner. I got my hopes up a few times, but it’s hard to make a good argument for keeping Andruw on the Braves. Terence Moore tried by making the bizarre claim that Andruw was responsible for the Cy Young awards of Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz. Maddux finished winning Cy Youngs while Andruw was in A-ball; Smoltz picked up his only award during Andruw’s first season, when he appeared in 20 and 12 games in right and center; Glavine won one award (1998) when Andruw was the team’s everyday center fielder.

The reason Andruw had to go is obvious: the Braves have another need to fill before they can consider paying Andruw what he is worth on the free agent market. The Braves did a good job with their pitching this year, but the long-term prognosis is not good. Tim Hudson is a good pitcher, but he overperformed in 2007 (there is no way he gives up as few as 10 HRs in over 200 IPs again). John Smoltz is old—more than once this year I feared that he was down for the season. The youth movement consists of Chuck James and Jo-Jo Reyes. There is nothing on the farm to get excited about, especially after the parade “young gun” flame-outs—Kyle Davies, Anthony Lerew, Dan Meyer, Jose Capellan—that have come through the system.

On offense, the Braves are stocked. Even with Andruw’s horrible year at the plate, the Braves were third in the NL in runs scored. Now, I have little doubt that Andruw will rebound (more on that below), and that runs scored can offset runs allowed, but I think the risk-minimizing move is to take money that could go to a good outfielder and put it into multiple pitchers. Also, it makes sense to shed some big contracts and try to improve on the farm to grow some young cheap talent.

How will the Braves replace Andruw? I believe the smart move is to look internally, even though it will mean a significant drop-off on defense. Jeff Francoeur, Brandon Jones, and Brent Lillibridge have all been mentioned as internal options. I like the idea of moving Francoeur, even though I don’t think he’s all that spectacular on defense. Jeff is an athlete, and I think there are greater gains to working on his defense than offense at this point. I expect Jeff will top out between .800 and .820 OPS at his peak, and while this offense is below average for a right fielder, in center he’d look pretty good.

I hope that the Braves will move Kelly Johnson to the outfield. The Braves have a lot of infielders, and Kelly is too good to platoon. In a radio interview yesterday, I was delighted to hear John Scheurholz correct Buck Belue for not including Johnson as part of the Braves core of young talent. In fact, he stopped for a minute to emphasize Johnson’s ability. By moving Johnson to the outfield, the Braves can play Edgar Renteria and Yunel Escobar every day, and can use Willy Aybar and Martin Prado as back-up infielders. But, the Braves may choose to remedy the log-jam with a trade.

As for Andruw’s future, I have no doubt that 2007 was just a bad year. His batting average was way down, but his OBP and SLG were approaching 100 and 200 above his AVG. Give Andruw 40 points on his average (his career norm) and he’s an .800 OPS player. That is still a down year for Andruw, but it’s not nearly as ugly as what we witnessed. If his isolated power and walks had dipped significantly from the past, I would be more concerned. Luck, injuries, and some poor play combined to make this year a disaster. I expect Andruw’s problems this year will not continue. And this is part of the reason why the Braves are letting him go: there are plenty of teams that see Andruw as a valuable player for many years to come. He’s going to get a monster contract.

I really hate the way that Andruw went out. Fans gave this guy too much grief. I certainly wish him the best, and I will root for him where ever he plays.

Bring Back Glavine?

Mark Bradley writes in the AJC that the Braves should not bring back Tom Glavine. I’m not too sure about his logic. I can see some pros and cons. It’s time for a Fisking.

In a purely professional capacity, he’s my all-time favorite athlete. I was sorry when he left and happy when he won No. 300. It’s always a pleasure to see him wherever and whenever. That said …

I wouldn’t bring back Tom Glavine.

I feel the same way, not necessarily about bringing him back, but he gets a lot of undeserved heat from Braves fans for leaving. So, this isn’t an “I demand loyalty” rant.

The Braves shouldn’t try to reassemble the glorious rotation of old. They need to build a new rotation.

I agree. Just because Glavine was once good in Atlanta doesn’t mean he will be again.

Smoltz and Tim Hudson are great places to begin, but the reason this team, which statistically was good enough everywhere but in starting pitching, didn’t reach October was because everything began and ended with those two.

Well, there is no doubt the Braves ought to improve their pitching, even though it wasn’t really that bad this year (ERA+ of 106). There is not much on the farm, so the Braves are going to have to get some arms from somewhere else. Couldn’t Glavine be a part of that?

Some Braves made the case last week for Glavine as the missing No. 3 starter. But is Glavine even a No. 3 anymore? He was 13-8 with a 4.45 ERA this season. (Chuck James, who spent the year proving he isn’t a No. 3 starter, was 11-10 with a 4.24 ERA.)

Glavine’s 2007 ERA+ was 96. His strikeouts were down over 2006, more in-line with what he had accomplished during his previous seasons with the Mets. His walk and home run allowance were about the same, so the 96 may be a bit of an overstatement of his ability. I’m not sure what a “No. 3” really is, but I normally look for a player who is putting up near league-average performance in the middle of the rotation. I want my 1 and 2 to be above that, and I can live with 4 and 5 below. So maybe Glavine’s a 4, but he is better than the Braves other options at 4.

And what is with all of the Chuck James hate. He’s not that bad. His ERA+ was 103, which is almost by definition a No. 3. Now, this does not mean that James lacks weaknesses. He’s not all that durable and has a serious problem giving up home runs, but he was a strength in the Braves rotation. Maybe that speaks to the weakness of the starting five, but the guy deserves more credit than he’s been getting. Remember the Kyle Davies show?

The more Glavine worked, the worse he got: He didn’t win any of his last three starts, and he yielded 17 earned runs over his final 10 1/3 innings.

Again, I’m not saying Glavine has a shot at the Cy Young, but judging a guy on three starts at the end of the season is putting a lot of weight on a small and biased sample. I think it’s better to say that if he pitched next year, he’d be a slightly-below-average starting pitcher.

And that’s the greater point: Always a finesse pitcher, Glavine is less precise now than he was when he left for the Mets.

I’m not sure anyone thinks that this is 1991-Glavine. The Braves are looking for produces-more-than-we-have-to-pay-him-thanks-to-an-I-want-to-retire-as-a-Brave-discount-Glavine.

It’s thought that Glavine, who can buy himself out of his Mets contract, would accept $10 million to return to the Braves next year.

1) He might take less to pay for the Braves.
2) Starting pitchers are expensive. I have Glavine valued at over $11 million in 2006 (I haven’t calculated the 2007 numbers yet) and league revenues are climbing. $10 million doesn’t buy what it used to.

The Braves need to take a longer view. They need younger arms, power arms. They need guys who’ll be starting here after Smoltz and Hampton are gone.

I agree. The pitching situation could get really bad really quick. I think Tim Hudson over-performed this year and John Smoltz is old. I’m all for getting younger talent, but younger talent is going to be more expensive than Tom Glavine. This team isn’t that far away from competing next season, it might be worth adding another piece.

They need a Nate Robertson (who had a bad year for Detroit but who still has gobs of potential), a Joe Blanton (who was mentioned in trade talks before the deadline and who won 14 games for the A’s), even a Shaun Marcum (who’s 26 and who won 12 games for Toronto but who’s facing minor knee surgery).

Nate Robertson is 30, and he’s only got only two more years of arbitration. He didn’t have a bad year in 2007; he had a good year in 2006 (thanks to some great luck—K, BB, and HR rates have been stable) and returned to normal this season. Normal is an ERA+ of mid-90s, about the same as what Glavine put up last year. But, in order to get Robertson and his below-market salary, the Braves would have to give up something equivalent.

I love Joe Blanton, and so do the Oakland A’s and every other team in the league. The question is, “what do you have to give up to get him?”

Why praise Shaun Marcum and complain about Chuck James. They are nearly identical. Both guys have decent strikeout-to-walk numbers , give up a ton of home runs, pitched about 160 innings in 2006, and were born about one month apart.

I’d be happy to add all of these guys, but you can’t judge whether or not it’s a good idea to add these players until you know whom the Braves have to give up in order to get them.

There was a time when any rotation would have been fortified by the addition of Tom Glavine. That time, sad to say, is past. He’s not what he was. He’s not what the Braves lack. He’d be more of what they already have.

Well, what the Braves have is are Buddy Carlyle (83 ERA+), Jo-Jo Reyes (70 ERA+), and Lance Cormier (61 ERA+) filling out the last two slots of your rotation going into 2008. Tom Glavine doesn’t look like such a bad option, especially if he is willing to play for a discount.

I must admit, the idea of Glavine coming back to Atlanta scares me, and I’m a Glavine fan. Bringing a guy back who was successful in the past seems like doing something for the wrong reasons. But, the Braves don’t have a lot of options here. They want a stronger rotation, and Glavine may be a relatively cheap option. We will just have to see how the free agent market shapes up. I expect that the Braves will be making some trades, and that the composition of the team could could change quite a bit before Openning Day 2008. I would not be surprised to see Glavine in Atlanta, and depending on the price the team pays it could be a good or a bad thing.

Freakonomics for Kids

Well, maybe not pure “freakonomics,” but Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner has just published a new children’s book The Boy with Two Belly Buttons. Dubner writes more about it here.

As a parent of two daughters to whom I read to daily, I’m always looking for something new. I like a good story and illustrations, not too long, and lessons are good as long as they are subtle. I like what I have seen so far, and I will be picking up a copy soon. I think other parent-readers might find it interesting as well.