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.

8 Responses “Schuerholz’s Legacy”

  1. pawnking says:

    I thought more of him before I realized that 1) he had a lot of $$$s to work with, and 2) During most of his tenure, his opponents (the NL East for the most part) did not.

    Click my name for a database of salary and wins from 1997 to 2006. This leaves off some of Schuerholz’s years in the NL West, but includes some of the great late 90s teams.

    Just playing with the numbers, we can see the Braves have been the top spenders, or neck and neck with the Mets, every year over this time. While over this time they have in fact won more games, their percentage of salary has been larger than their percentage of wins. That is, in 97, they had 27% of all of the NL East salary, but only 24% of the wins.

    Going further, during this run there have been some historically bad teams the Braves got to beat up on regularly. The Expos/Nationals and (other than their 2 WS years) the Marlins have been very poor in terms of wins and payroll. The Phillies, also, have lagged far behind the Braves in terms of both payroll and wins until 2004.

    Although the Braves had a wonderful run, and Schuerholz deserves some praise for it, the fact is the Braves’ open checkbook combined with a generally weak division allowed them to be the prohibitive favorite almost every year, no matter who was the GM.

  2. Marc Schneider says:

    That analysis seems a bit harsh, although I generally agree with the tenor. I got slammed for saying this on Centerfield but, with the exception of the three divisions they won in the NL West early on, their competition was generally not all that great. But to defend JS, the table shows that, while they had large payrolls, they were rarely THE highest but they had the best record in the league for most of those years. So, it wasn’t ALL payroll. I also think it’s a bit unfair to say that the playoffs stopped when payrolls dropped. That’s true to an extent but consider the context. First, they still won in 2004 and 2005 after the payrolls dropped. Second, the precipitate drop in payroll left the Braves poorly structured to adjust with several big salaries that took up a large portion of the budget. I guess you can argue that JS should have anticipated the lower payrolls, but he would have certainly been slammed if he had spent less than he had. And I don’t think you can really argue that signing Chipper, Smoltz, and Andruw to long-term deals were bad ideas at the time.

    JC says JS’s performance was good but not great. He won the division EVERY YEAR for fourteen years, generally by a large margin and usually won well over 90 games. I’m not sure what great would have meant in this context other than winning more World Series. But it’s pretty clear that winning in the playoffs is more or less a crapshoot.

    That said, I was never enamored with the way JS put teams together (or at least the way I perceived it); ie, over-reliance on starting pitching, inconsistent offense, weak bench, and often erratic bullpen. I think this cost the Braves in the playoffs. And, perhaps he can be blamed for the Braves recent inability to produce pitching.

  3. Ron says:

    I don’t see how Shuerholz can be rated anything other than great. What more do you have to do than to take a perennial loser and win 14 straight divisions with it? Certainly there are specific decisions he made that can be second guessed, but you can’t blame him for Lonnie Smith failing to score on a double, Jeff Reardon blowing 2 saves, Mark Wohlers giving up a 3 run homer to a backup catcher, or Mike Hampton blowing out his elbow twice and missing 2 1/2 full seasons. It’s fair to say that he undervalued bench players and relievers and if he had put more effort into strengthening those spots on the roster, maybe the Braves might have won a few more championships. But that’s nitpicking. Shuerholz gave the Braves a chance to win for a decade and a half. What more can you ask from a GM?

  4. JC says:

    My assessment is based on the relatively large budget he had to work with.

  5. Bill H says:

    Okay, sorry to stray here, but I am sick of Lonnie Smith getting the blame for his “blunder”.
    Sure, he should have scored, but, remember, he was on second with the meat of the lineup coming up. He is not responsible for the Braves to choke in the clutch, battingwise, which was a standard in the 90s.

    Sorry for the tangent.

  6. Shaun says:

    Now that I think about it it seems certainly possible that Schuerholz is slightly overrated by many. He had payroll to work with and he complained often about the economics of the game in recent years when GMs with less money to work with hardly made a peep.

  7. Marc Schneider says:

    Bill H,

    I agree. He was betrayed by the lights in the stupid Metrodome. And, what would people have said if he got thrown out with the heart of the order coming up?

  8. mraver says:

    Undervalued bench players and relievers? Over-reliant on starting pitching? You’ve got to be kidding me. Not to sound shrill, but those are about the weakest criticisms of a GM I’ve ever heard. Just look at how much the Orioles spent on relief pitching last off-season and see where it go them. Perhaps if the Cubs had gone out and got a SS instead of spending tons of money (and foregone draft picks) on relievers they would have made it further this year. Or made it anywhere last year.

    If anything, the Braves’s biggest failing in Schurholtz’s tenure has been the development of front-line starting pitching. They’ve had Millwood and Wainwright (who, of course, was traded well before he reached the majors) and Chuck James. Both Smoltz and Glavine were in the system before Schurholtz arrived.

    Other than that, he’s generally fielded above-average offenses, in large part because he’s been able to develop offensive talent through the minors. The ‘pen has had up-and-down years, but I generally agree with the “don’t sign a big-name closer” philosophy. And there have been more than a few gold-from-lead transformations in the Atlanta pen, though you can credit JS or Mazzone (or a combination) at your own discretion.

    Anyhow, the old saw is, “defense and pitching wins in the playoffs”, and if that’s the case, then you’d think the Braves would have done much better than they really did. Almost annually they’ve had top defenders at SS and CF (probably the most important defensive positions). And in trades, he’s probably got a better record than anyone.

    As for the payroll argument, I’d counter by pointing out that, while nearly every other “high-payroll” team (the Red Sox may be an exception) have been saddled with large, “albatross” contracts. The Braves really haven’t. Smoltz, Chipper, Maddux, Andruw were all good investments. Hampton maybe, but because of the way it was pro-rated and the help from other clubs, it hasn’t been that bad. Either way, Schurholtz seems to have spent his money well, which is probably more than you can say of other GMs in similar positions.

    Oh, and he kept the farm system strong to this day. (It’ll be in the top half of MLB, even after the deadline trades.)

    In final assessment, I’d say that Schuerholtz was one of the top 5 GMs in baseball throughout his tenure. Terry Ryan is probably the only one close IMO. Jocketty did alright, but I’d take Schurholtz over him any day…. So yeah. I think “top 5” over 17 years qualifies as “great” not just “good”. 🙂 But guess some might disagree with that; I mean, there’s people out there who don’t think Blyleven should be in the hall. 🙂