Archive for March, 2008

What are Managers Worth?

This was the question asked to me by Darren Everson of the Wall Street Journal for a story he was doing on Joe Torre’s $4.3 million per year contract. It’s a question that has interested me, and other economists, for some time. There are many inputs into winning, such as playing talent, medical treatment, coaching, and roster management. Managers have a large say in coaching and roster management, but separating these contributions from others is difficult. A manager who has good players may look good, a manager with bad players may look bad. But, do good teams win because of or despite their skippers?

Currently, I am working on a project to evaluate manager contributions. It’s a long way from completion, but I’ll report some preliminary findings. I looked at how hitters performed under different managers while controlling several relevant factors, such as inherent talent, aging, and ballpark effects. For Joe Torre, the main subject of Everson’s article, I did not find an impact that was significantly significant. In fact, no manager stood out as being particularly good or bad when it came to hitting. The best managers were Don Baylor, Dick Williams, and Davey Johnson. The worst were Bob Boone, Terry Collins, and Hal McRae. But, even at the extremes the impacts were not statistically significant.

Thus, Everson quotes my conclusion in the story.

“I think managers are a bit overrated in terms of the impact that they have on their players,” says J.C. Bradbury, an economist and associate professor at Kennesaw State University and author of “The Baseball Economist.” To make a team better, he says, “get better players.”

This does not mean that managers don’t serve an important function on teams. I think it is quite clear that managers are needed; however, if no manager is superior to any other, then why spend big money on manager with a good reputation like Torre?

A team might choose to spend big bucks on a manager is to signal to fans that the team is making a serious commitment to winning, which causes fans to pay attention and come to games. Managers like Lou Piniella, Dusty Baker, and Joe Torre are household names whose reputations as well-known public figures may combat fan outrage over a team’s previously poor performance. Also, these managers may also be adept at working with the media (Piniella and Baker have done a good bit of media work) and might be able to manage PR in a way that keeps more fans in tough times. This certainly can affect a team’s bottom line. Managers might also be able to recruit better players through free agency for less. My guess is that some players would be willing to take a little less to play for Torre.

What Can We Take Away From Spring Training?

Before anyone freaks out, I just want to make it clear that I don’t put much stock in spring training statistics. However, it is fun to see what the first month of quasi-baseball games has produced, especially given the fan/media perceptions from the pre-season. Here are my thoughts on a few Braves players and what their spring stats say to me.

Jeff Francoeur (.242/.266/.371): None of these numbers bother me, even though they are not good. They are well within the variation we would expect based on past performance. What worries me is that Francoeur suggested that he was working on increasing his walks and homers. So far he has homered and walked once. I would rather see Frenchy bat .100 and walk five times than what he put up. Homers are a bit harder to come by, so you can’t read much into his one homer in 62 at-bats. Still, I’m not buying the break-out hype. I see no reason to change my expectation that Francoeur appears to be settling into a career as an adequate right fielder, not an All-Star. If he was working on something in spring training, it didn’t take. If he can’t walk more than once in the spring, his goal of 60 is probably out of reach.

Yunel Escobar (.361/.394/.508): He continued his hot play from last season. It’s certainly not a bad sign, but I still expect a sub-800 OPS.

Gregor Blanco (.326/.464/.442): Probably the biggest surprise in camp. No one thought he had a chance to make this club going into spring training. If he could add any power to his game, he’d be a useful player. He’ll be gone soon unless he pulls a Willie Harris.

Jair Jurrjens (5.03 ERA): Jurrjens has been praised highly in the Atlanta media, and he has made the team’s starting rotation. There is no denying that the kid has potential, but it is way too early to expect his arrival in the big leagues to be permanent. In 19 2/3 innings pitched he struck out nine, walked nine, and gave up no homers. Based on his minor league numbers, I don’t think he’s quite ready for the big show. It will be interesting to see how long he lasts. If Chuck James is healthy, expect him to replace Jurrjens before the All-Star break. I like Jurrjens, but he needs more time in the oven.

Jeff Bennett (1.93 ERA): The ERA is pretty but there is nothing special to see here. Five strikeouts, six walks, and a hit batter in 14 innings. At least he didn’t give up any home runs.

Anyway, I’m glad that the regular season is finally here. I think the Braves have a team capable of making the playoffs. It should be a fun season. Go Braves!

Sabernomics Is Four Years Old

It’s hard to believe, but I started Sabernomics four years ago today. Here is what I had to say in the very first post.

So what is sabernomics? Simply put, sabernomics is the study of economics in and of the game of baseball. I very much enjoy sabermetrics and economics. Sabermetricians strive to find objective knowledge about baseball, often using mathematics and statistics as tools. Economists study human beings striving to maximize utility subject to constraints on action, also often employing mathematics and statistics. In other words, economists concentrate on how human beings respond to changes in the rules of the game. Baseball, like all sports, provides a natural laboratory for economic study as a result of the obvious goals of participants and constraints on action imposed by its rules and institutions. This is what interests me. Sabermetricians are also interested in such issues, but the scope of sabermetrics is much broader than the economics of baseball. MLEs and UZRs interest me as a fan, but not as an economist; therefore, I probably will not use this site to debate the usefulness of these statistics. You might say that sabernomics is a subfield of sabermetrics, a subfield of economics, or maybe it is just a domain name that was available for purchase at a low price. Regardless, I will use this site to post my thoughts on baseball that interest me as an economist.

It’s been an enjoyable endeavor. Thanks to all of you who read and contribute to the site.

Gwinnett’s New Naming Rights Problem

Gwinnett County’s attempt to set a new naming rights record for the Braves Triple-A stadium has suffered setback. The Braves want some control over who can purchase the naming rights.

According to contract drafts obtained under Georgia’s Open Records Act, the Braves are seeking the right to block the county from selling stadium naming rights to competitors of some companies, like Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, that have exclusive sponsorship deals with the team.

Gwinnett has resisted the Braves’ pitch on this point because it could result in lower naming-rights revenue for the county. Negotiations continue.

“It’d be difficult for us to agree to a [conflicting] deal in the soft drink category — with Pepsi, for example,” Plant said. “We have a long-term and very substantial relationship with Coke.”

Plant would not name other sponsors the Braves seek to protect. “It’s a small list,” he said, “and one that we have said to [Gwinnett] we have to protect now that a [minor-league] team is going to be 35 miles north of us.”

From Gwinnett’s standpoint, reducing the field of potential naming-rights partners is problematic because the county is counting on that revenue stream to help pay stadium debt. “The most important point is, we want to be able to market naming rights to the stadium to as broad a pool of partners as possible and to generate as much from the sale of naming rights as possible,” Tucker said. “The concern would be that to the extent you limit the pool, that potentially limits the [value].”

It all sounds so innocent. It’s understandable that the Braves wouldn’t want its stadium named for a product like Pepsi, which competes with one of the club’s biggest sponsors, Coke. But, is there really any danger of naming the field after Pepsi? This is Coca-Cola country, and it would be difficult for attendants to have to tell customers “we only have Pepsi” when they order a Coke.

The county has unrealistic expectations about naming rights revenue. The country expects $850,000 when $400,000 is probably at the very high end of reasonable expectations. The Atlanta club gets $350,000 per year of any naming rights deal. In reality, what is going on here is the Braves flexing their muscles again to squeeze out a few more dollars. With veto power, a sponsor willing to spend a significant amount of money for naming rights could be courted by the Braves who might suggest moving/increasing their sponsorship 30 miles south to Turner Field. Why take $350,000 when you could get a lot more? The Braves have a good idea of who these potential sponsors might be, so this “small list” likely includes some of the most likely sponsors.

The Braves are in an excellent position to protect this option. Gwinnett County has already agreed to build the stadium: the land has been purchased; architects, engineers, and construction crews are getting organized; and bonds are about to be issued. And let’s not forget the politicians’ obvious desperation to give the Braves whatever they want. If the Braves pull out, the county will have a tenantless stadium for which the Braves could block any MLB-affiliated minor league club from inhabiting.

Gwinnett officials went about this deal the wrong way, and they are getting burned in spectacular fashion. Any local governemnt than plans to court a sports franchise should pay attention to Gwinnett’s example of what not to do. The negotiation skills of Gwinnett officials rival those of Homer Simpson.

Lisa: Do you really think you can get our dental plan back, dad?

Homer: Well, that depends on who’s the better negotiator, Mr. Burns or me…

Bart: Dad, I’ll trade you this delicious doorstop for your crummy old Danish.

Homer: Done and done!

Who is Canseco’s Friend Max?

From Vindicated, via Deadspin:

Right around this time, I ran into trainer that I knew from Canada, from my old days with the Toronto Blue Jays. I’ll call him Max, because I’m going to leave it to him if he wants to go public….The trainer was a fan of steroids, and he had connections with local steroids suppliers—we often traded information on where we got our stuff—and he knew almost as much about the subject as I did.

Blue Jays, trainer, steroids, and Max…. Could “Max” be “Mac”, as in former Blue Jays trainer Brian McNamee? I think it that is what Canseco wants us to think, even if it isn’t the case.

New Oversight Committee Report Supports Clemens

From ABC:

A month after House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., released a memo questioning whether former ballplayer Roger Clemens lied to Congress about his alleged steroid use, Republicans fired back Tuesday, releasing a report of their own that disputes some of the Democrats’ prior conclusions and likens the Democrats’ report to a “prosecutorial indictment” of Clemens.

The Republican rebuttal dismisses as irrelevant the Waxman memo’s outline of “seven sets of assertions, made by Mr. Clemens in his testimony, that appear to be contradicted by other evidence before the committee, or implausible.”

“The Democratic staff memorandum’s characterizations and conclusions regarding these other matters is simply not relevant to the core question of whether Clemens knowingly lied about using anabolic steroids and human growth hormone (HGH),” the minority report said.

The 109-page Republican report includes new testimony about Clemens’ former trainer Brian McNamee’s allegations that Clemens attended a 1998 party at then-teammate Jose Canseco’s house, Clemens’ statements that he received vitamin B-12 injections from McNamee, and McNamee’s accusations that Clemens developed an abscess on his buttocks, an injury that could have been the result of steroid injections.

When I first heard news of this yesterday, I scoured the web for the actual 109-page report. I figured it would be up by this morning, but I still cannot find it. If you know of a link, or if you have a copy of the report that you could pass along, please let me know. I am eager to read it.

UPDATE: The report is now available online here.

In a “related” story, President George W. Bush pardoned 15 people yesterday. What does this have to do with Roger Clemens?

Most of those on Bush’s most recent pardon list were convicted of white-collar or drug offenses.

One name notably absent from the list was star pitcher Roger Clemens. The FBI is investigating whether Clemens lied to Congress about steroid use. An attorney for his trainer has predicted Clemens will be pardoned because of his friendship with the Bush family.

Clemens has not been charged with a crime.

What on earth is this line doing in this article? Why would anyone expect Bush to pardon Clemens? Because Brian McNamee’s lawyer suggested it might happen? Come on. In other news, the Trilateral Commission has yet to enact its plan to whisk Clemens away to an unmapped island aboard a black helicopter. I wish reporters would follow the story instead of the propaganda.

Bill James at Freakonomics

Bill James is taking questions at Freakonomics. Submit your question in the comments and he may answer it.

Canseco’s New Allegations

As has been reported on Deadspin, Baseball Primer, and soon-to-be everywhere on the internet, Jose Canseco’s latest list of names in his new book Vindicated has been leaked by Joe Lavin. The big names are Magglio Ordonez, Roger Clemens, and Alex Rodriguez. Even by Canseco’s standards, the evidence is weak. Ordonez is the only player whom he claims to have witnessed use, but we already knew about this story from Ordonez’s side. He accuses Clemens of telling jokes about steroids, and he says he introduced A-Rod to a steroids supplier. Basically, it’s a big bunch of nothing.

In light of these new claims, I want to point to a study that I did of Canseco’s influence on steroid dissemination throughout baseball (Was Jose Canseco the Johnny Appleseed of Steroids?). Canseco claims to have helped many players learn how to use the drugs. The problem is that there is not a lot of evidence that his teammates improved when playing with him. After reading a study by two economists that claimed to show Canseco’s teammates improving, I decided to look at the evidence and reached the following conclusion.

After reading the study, I am not convinced by the authors’ conclusions. It’s not just one thing, but a collection of issues that form my opinion. I have problems with both the study’s design and the interpretation of the reported results. My disagreement does not mean that the effect does not exist, only that I do not see a pattern consistent with Canseco spreading steroids to his teammates….

To concur with the conclusions presented in the study you have to interpret the findings in a way that I do not believe is correct. Upon further examination, I believe the significant effect on home runs after playing with Canseco identified in the Gould and Kaplan study is a product of spurious correlation, and thus this tells us little about Canseco impact on disseminating steroids throughout baseball.

Of course, there are many possible reasons why the data don’t indicate an influence even if he did transmit his steroid knowledge to others. Still, when evaluating he-said-he-said allegations, it’s nice to have some other corroborating evidence.

The real bad news for Canseco: as of 11:22am his Amazon sales rank (16,302) is not as good as mine (14,548), and no one is booking me for television interviews.

2007 Player Values, Baltimore Orioles

Here is a list of 2007 marginal revenue product estimates for the Baltimore Orioles.

Hitters

Player			MRP
Nick Markakis		11.29
Brian Roberts		10.38
Miguel Tejada		7.55
Kevin Millar		7.25
Aubrey Huff		7.02
Melvin Mora		5.76
Ramon Hernandez		3.62
Corey Patterson		3.58
Jay Payton		2.81
Chris Gomez		1.79
Tike Redman		1.78
Jay Gibbons		1.02
Freddie Bynum		0.85
Luis Hernandez		0.40
J.R. House		0.37
Jon Knott		0.26
Scott Moore		0.13
Paul Bako		0.04
Gustavo Molina		-0.01
Alberto Castillo	-0.04
Brandon Fahey		-0.41


Pitchers

Player			MRP
Erik Bedard		12.40
Jeremy Guthrie		8.61
Daniel Cabrera		7.98
Chad Bradford		4.75
Brian Burres		4.73
Steve Trachsel		4.48
Jamie Walker		3.43
Chris Ray		2.21
Kurt Birkins		1.92
Rob Bell		1.80
John Parrish		1.77
Jon Leicester		1.44
Adam Loewen		1.18
Danys Baez		1.12
James Hoey		0.86
Scott Williamson	0.82
Garrett Olson		0.67
Todd Williams		0.64
Paul Shuey		0.63
Radhames Liz		0.49
Victor Zambrano		0.36
Jaret Wright		0.22
Rocky Cherry		0.07
Jim Johnson		0.07
Fernando Cabrera	0.01
Cory Doyne		-0.07
Victor Santos		-0.51

Estimates from The Baseball Economist (updated paperback edition).

Valuing Joe Nathan

Yesterday, Joe Nathan agreed to a four-year, $47 million extension with the Minnesota Twins. I’ll get right to the point, I have him valued at $27.31 million over the life of the contract—$20 million less than what he is actually getting.

What is going on in the reliever market? I think high-end relievers/closers are getting way more than they are worth in the free agent market, as I have stated before (also see here and here). When I see one of my projections differ from the market outcome, I normally err on the side of thinking my projection is incorrect. But, in this case, I cannot fathom why teams are paying such a premium for closers, when there are decent set-up men out there making a lot less who could pitch in the same role.

I don’t get it. A guy who pitches a third of the innings of starters is getting decent starter money. And it’s not like the Twins are one piece of way from being something special. If he is so valuable, why not trade him and his $6 million salary to get some prospects with the surplus value?

Note: Please don’t bring up leverage in the comments unless it relates to a new take on the issue that I haven’t previously discussed. I’ve addressed this possible explanation in my previous posts, and why I don’t think it is sufficient to justify these contracts.