Fire Gardy

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GMs Join Bloggers in the Basement, Mainstream Sportswriters Remain Confused and Infuriated

For the past two offseasons, all the agents (and especially Scott “Ass Face” Boras) have been shouting about collusion between the teams — how else can you explain the fact that mid-30s veterans who were once getting 5/$75M deals have to choose between a 1/$3M deal and retirement? There’s simply no other explanation!

As it turns out, of course, yes there is another explanation. And it’s not “the economy,” which is fun to use as a scapegoat,* but rather it’s the fact that MLB front offices are hiring people who are willing to “think,” or “use a computer,” or other such things that we’ve been told are antithetical to the true essence of baseball.

* I was back in Minnesota for Thanksgiving, and my dad pointed out a tree in our neighbor’s yard which appears to be dying. I blamed it on the economy. Thank you! I’m here all week!

Matthew Leach of MLB.com discusses it — in very ownership-friendly terms, I might add, which is to be expected of anything posted on MLB.com — quoting Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash:

It’s a combination of things. Of course there are the general economic concerns, but there is also more data going around, like FIP [fielding-independent pitching statistics], and others that give you a better feel for a pitcher rather than the traditional wins and losses and ERA.

I suppose nobody should be surprised about this — we’re well passed the point where Wall Street analysts have abandoned a hunch and a handshake as a basis for their deals and moved to computer models. Baseball is big business too, and there’s no reason these large companies shouldn’t be taking advantage of whatever mode of analysis is a) the best, and b) currently available to them.

Increasingly, it seems that the only people still resisting the move to a more complete and quantifiable way of measuring and enjoying baseball are the sportswriters.* As Calcaterra notes:

compare [the quote from Gord Ash] to the aggressive dismissal of advanced metrics by the majority of your mainstream baseball writers and ask yourself if the statheads are really as out-of-touch as they’re made out to be. If anything, the geeks and the game’s movers and shakers are speaking the same language.

Well said.

* Also, the managers.

But this leaves me legitimately worried — the Twins front office continues to be a bastion of old-fashioned thinking, having missed several previous new movements in baseball (including “striking batters out is good,” “drawing walks is good,” and “home runs are good”) and continue to play the game like it’s the 70s.* Thus far, there has been no indication that they’re going to get on the “accurate player/value evaluation” boat any time soon.

* Oh, and also as if each team got to play several middle infielders at once. It remains important to have an abundance of utility infielders on your major league roster and throughout your minor league system, right? Additionally, I feel that it’s worth pointing out that back in the 60s and 70s, the Twins were actually pretty forward-thinking when it came to “striking people out” and “hitting home runs.” Too bad that all went away, right?

Is it time to start fearing that the Twins will start signing old, declining veterans to bloated, ill-advised contracts … especially as those same veterans find it impossible to find such contracts in their former pastures? Maybe this isn’t such a great time for the Twins to be boosting their revenue and payroll significantly.

29 comments

29 Comments so far

  1. Ragstoriches December 3rd, 2009 3:23 pm

    So salaries are down because GMs look at more stats now? Wouldn’t more rigid analysis lead to some players being more valuable than their “reputation” as well? Case in point the Nick Punto contract?

    Sorry, you’re trying a little too hard to sell yourself as someone who’s on the “cutting edge” of baseball analysis. We get it, you love stats.

    Unless you’re saying that your fancy stats show that all free agents are basically worthless?

  2. sirsean December 3rd, 2009 3:40 pm

    Um, that’s not what I said, and I think you’re projecting an opinion onto me that I never professed.

    The point is this: players in their mid-to-late 30s used to get long term big-dollar contracts, as if they were going to continue producing without declining. Average players used to get contracts that paid them like they were well above average.

    Teams have learned, however, that those assumptions are false. Players do decline with age, and many (if not most) teams are now doing analysis that says it makes much more sense to avoid those large contracts to older players.

    Teams have learned that giving 3+ year contracts to guys like Jon Garland is a mistake — and so they’ve stopped doing it. It’s not collusion, it’s just that teams are smarter than they used to be.

    Players like Kenny Lofton and Frank Thomas have claimed that they’ve been “forced out” of the league because teams are unwilling to give them a contract — but that’s not what happened. They were simply offered contracts that they felt were below what they were worth, and then teams didn’t offer them more money (ie, the teams refused to pay more than what they felt the players were worth).

    And my one worry is that the Twins are one of the few teams who are not doing this type of analysis, and now that they have money available, they might be more likely to make a big-dollar mistake in free agency. On the other hand, they might remain loathe to make any large free agent moves, and thus remain mostly protected from making mistakes.

  3. TT December 3rd, 2009 7:49 pm

    “The point is this: players in their mid-to-late 30s used to get long term big-dollar contracts, as if they were going to continue producing without declining. Average players used to get contracts that paid them like they were well above average.”

    I think you missed his point. It cuts both ways. The player’s agents have spreadsheets too and they out to busing them to crank out numbers justifying higher salaries for players who used to be considered well below average. And by iron logic there must be some of those if there were players being misjudged as above average.

    As far as I can tell, there is no evidence that new stats somehow cut against older, better paid players.

  4. sirsean December 3rd, 2009 7:54 pm

    Kenny Lofton and Frank Thomas would have gotten contracts if they’d been on the market in 2003 vs 2008. Bobby Abreu and Garrett Anderson were “forced” to take one year deals because the market they (and their agents) expected to be there never materialized.

    The money is still there — payrolls are not declining. But those dollars are being spent to lock up younger players like Braun and Longoria and Greinke rather than players on the downslope of their careers.

    I think there’s plenty of evidence that things are shifting, and that it’s not going in favor of older free agents. It’s not “stats” that are doing it; rather, it’s a change in analysis, ideas, and assumptions in play by baseball’s executives. Stats are only a part of this.

  5. joe December 4th, 2009 9:16 am

    It’s the economy, stupid.

  6. sirsean December 4th, 2009 9:25 am

    Clever. Probably false, but clever nonetheless.

  7. joe December 4th, 2009 11:00 am

    If it’s not the economy, then the overall amount of money spent on players would have gone up at the same rate it had been. The money would just be distributed differently. Unless you think that front offices started looking at numbers and decided that major league baseball players in general are not as good as their eyes told them, so they decided they didn’t deserve as much money. Without looking at the numbers, I’m going to guess that isn’t the case.

    This would be an interesting post if you would have made a more compelling case. You say “I think there’s plenty of evidence that things are shifting”. Well present the freaking evidence!

  8. sirsean December 4th, 2009 11:03 am

    The “freaking evidence,” as you put it, is the increase in money being spent in draft bonuses and international signings, and in locking up younger players before they reach arbitration or free agency.

    I believe that’s been presented repeatedly.

    And yes, I believe that you’re right that the overall amount of money being spent is either the same as ever, or increasing.

  9. joe December 4th, 2009 11:17 am

    The evidence would be showing numbers and deciding what the numbers mean. “What is spent on draft bonuses, how much was spent before?” rather than just making a statement that backs your argument. It may very well be true, but that’s the kind of logic you’re mocking. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the idea behind SABRmetrics is to use data to reduce the subjectivity in evaluation.

  10. sirsean December 4th, 2009 11:23 am

    You mean like this article that points out that the draft bonus record across MLB was set in 2008, and then re-broken in 2009? Is that some sort of indication that the money being spent there is increasing?

  11. Ragstoriches December 4th, 2009 11:35 am

    Good try sirsean, but read the comments:

    “While the two overall numbers are the same, if you look at picks #4 – #122 (end of the 10th round), the gap widens to about a $10M decrease this year.”

    Is it possible those overall numbers are skewed by the signing bonus of one of the most highly touted college pitchers in the history of the game? Or that maybe instead of taking numbers at face value we should dig a little deeper?

    My guess is you’ll say “nah.”

  12. FunBobby December 4th, 2009 11:44 am

    but what about international signings? and dollars spent to lock up young stars really early despite being under team control? I blieve there were 3 examples of “where is the money going?”

  13. FunBobby December 4th, 2009 11:47 am

    Longoria and Tulo being the prime examples of locking up young players really early.

  14. sirsean December 4th, 2009 12:03 pm

    I thought we were talking about MLB as a whole. No? We’re going down the list? Fine, let’s go down the list. You asked for it, and I know from your “researching ability” that you’re only going to find 3 week old articles that agree with you, let’s just go ahead and do the work ourselves, shall we?

    I’ll assume you just want to look at picks 4-22, for some reason. Probably because a random commenter on some other blog claimed that was important to look at without links or backup of any kind, and since I’m the only person that actually needs to back up an argument, I’ll take that. Fuck it, here we go.

    Pick 4, 2008: Orioles sign Brian Matusz to a $3.2M deal. He’s already reached the majors. Good signing maybe? Pick 4, 2009: Pirates sign Tony Sanchez to a $2.5M deal, just below slot.

    Pick 5, 2008: Giants sign Buster Posey to a $6.2M deal. He’s already reached the majors. Pick 5, 2009: Orioles sign Matt Hobgood to a $2.4M deal, at the slot.

    Pick 6, 2008: Marlins sign Kyle Skipworth to a $2.3M deal. Pick 6, 2009: Giants sign Zach Wheeler to a $3.3M deal, $1M over slot.

    Pick 7, 2008: Reds sign Yonder Alonso to a $2M bonus. Pick 7, 2009: Braves sign Mike Minor to a $2.4M deal, just above the slot.

    Pick 8, 2008: White Sox sign Gordon Beckham to a $2.6M deal. He’s already reached the majors and excelled. Pick 8, 2009: Reds sign Mike Leake to $2.2M deal, just below the slot.

    Pick 9, 2008: Nationals fail to sign Aaron Crow. Pick 9, 2009: Tigers sign Jacob Turner to $4.7M deal, $2.8M above slot.

    Pick 10, 2008: Astros sign Jason Castro to $2M deal. Pick 10, 2009: Nationals sign Drew Storen to $1.6M deal, $0.2M below slot. (This was widely presumed to be a signability pick, as Storen signed almost immediately and may reach the majors in 2010.)

    Pick 11, 2008: Rangers signed Justin Smoak to $3.5M deal. Top prospect. Pick 11, 2009: Rockies signed Tyler Matzek to $3.9M deal, $2.2M above slot.

    Pick 12, 2008: A’s sign Jemile Weeks to $1.9M deal. Pick 12, 2009: Royals fail to sign Aaron Crow. (What’s up with Aaron Crow?)

    Pick 13, 2008: Cardinals sign Brett Wallace to $1.8M deal. Pick 13, 2009: A’s sign Grant Green to $2.75M deal, $1.1M above slot.

    Pick 14, 2008: Twins sign Aaron Hicks to $1.7M deal. Pick 14, 2009: Rangers fail to sign Matt Purke.

    Pick 15, 2008: Dodgers sign Ethan Martin to $1.7M deal. Pick 15, 2009: Indians sign Alex White to $2.2M deal, above slot.

    Pick 16, 2008: Brewers sign Brett Lawrie to $1.7M deal. Pick 16, 2009: Diamondbacks sign Bobby Borchering to $1.8M deal.

    Pick 17, 2008: Blue Jays sign David Cooper to $1.5M deal. Pick 17, 2009: Diamondbacks sign AJ Pollock to $1.4M deal.

    Pick 18, 2008: Mets sign Ike Davis to $1.5M deal. Pick 18, 2009: Marlins sign Chad James to $1.7M deal.

    Pick 19, 2008: Cubs sign Andrew Cashner to $1.5M deal. Pick 19, 2009: Cardinals sign Shelby Miller to $2.8M deal.

    Pick 20, 2008: Mariners fail to sign Joshua Fields. Pick 20, 2009: Blue Jays sign Chad Jenkins to $1.3M deal.

    Pick 21, 2008: Tigers sign Ryan Perry to $1.4M deal. Pick 21, 2009: Astros sign Jiovanni Miller to $1.3M deal.

    Pick 22, 2008: Mets sign Reese Havens to $1.4M deal. Pick 22, 2009: Twins sign Kyle Gibson to $1.8M deal, $0.6M above slot.

    Total picks 4-22, 2008: $36M Total picks 4-22, 2009: $40M

    Doesn’t seem like a decrease.

    Did you want to start fact checking other random internet people, maybe? Or are you going to stick to just me?

  15. Ragstoriches December 4th, 2009 12:11 pm

    Read the comment. Picks 4-122. You better keep going.

  16. FunBobby December 4th, 2009 12:14 pm

    Is there a breakdown of this already done or are you just taking the word of the comment you read?

  17. Ragstoriches December 4th, 2009 12:22 pm

    Screw it, just do the 1st round. $70,984,000 in 2008, $69,340,000 in 2009. Seems like a decrease.

  18. joe December 4th, 2009 12:28 pm

    You just showed that MLB invested $4 million more in picks 4-22 from 2008 to 2009.

    Are you saying that MLB is taking the money they usually spend on overrated free agents and investing it elsewhere? If so, it’s interesting and seems like a logical thing to do. But all you did with this post is make unsubstantiated claims. Look at Ubelman, Jesse, Twins Geek, Gleeman, OtB. They make an observation and then provide supporting data. I’m not saying you can’t just write your opinion – it’s your blog. But it would be much more interesting and credable if you made it your own and provided the details.

    I suspect that the economy has a far greater effect on the free agent market than front offices “seeing the light” on metrics.

  19. sirsean December 4th, 2009 12:28 pm

    A huge decrease. Oh, wait, not huge?

    And I’m going to let you do the research that proves your point. I’ve just done a whole lot showing that there was an increase in picks 4-22 from 2008-2009, and you’re just picking which internet comments to believe based on what you personally believe in. I’m done with this ridiculous conversation.

  20. sirsean December 4th, 2009 12:31 pm

    It’s your comment, joe, so you can suspect something without backup or details, but it’d be a lot more credible and interesting if you hadn’t just said that you should always back up opinions with details and numbers.

    And yes, I’ve said about 50 times so far that teams are spending at least as much overall, and their putting the money into the draft, international signings, and locking up young players rather than spending on old, declining veterans. And yes, I’ve also said that it’s a good idea and is a logical thing to do.

  21. joe December 4th, 2009 12:32 pm

    Sorry to be such an ass, but I’m just compelled to be contrarian when I see something that is critical without sufficient backup information. This is why I hate KFAN baseball coverage.

  22. joe December 4th, 2009 12:35 pm

    You saying it isn’t supporting data. Are you kidding? It may be true, but you can’t quote your brain as supporting information.

    And I realize I’m not providing data to back up my comments. This isn’t my blog, and I’m not making the argument.

  23. joe December 4th, 2009 12:36 pm

    Also, if you’re a kid I apologize.

  24. Ragstoriches December 4th, 2009 12:43 pm

    Yeah sirsean’s taken a page from the Glenn Becks/Bill O’Reillys of the world. Say any old thing you want, and then yell and scream at those who challenge you.

  25. FunBobby December 4th, 2009 12:46 pm

    I think we also have to take into consideration the union. If the Yankees didn’t offer Abreu arbitration because they think their money is better spent elsewhere good for them. but the union might not be too happy about it so they are forced to say “we can’t afford it” and not “wasting a ton of cash on an old player isn’t prudent for business operations”. Because in the unions eyes guys like Abreu are entitled to a certain amount of money.

  26. sirsean December 4th, 2009 12:46 pm

    Does not compute.

    Also, I’ve had enough of this “one person has to come up with all the facts and prove every single point while multiple other people make things up and willfully refuse to back anything up while also demanding that the facts cited by the original one person don’t count for some reason.”

    If any literate person is foolish enough to have read this far, they definitely would have told me to stop wasting my time with you people long ago. So that’s what I’m going to do.

  27. shannon December 4th, 2009 11:22 pm

    To Whom it may concern:

    This is the first time I’ve read your Blog and as I read the comments,(that is what you want right? Someone to read your work and comment on it right, perhaps to further a debate even?) your response to someone raising legitimate questions to your hypothesis is “Fuck it”?!?! Really? I Got here from the Twins Territory link and now regret it. While I suspect this is some sort of non-profit writing experiment for you I feel compelled to offer you some business advice… It takes months to find a customer, but seconds to lose one.

    Have fun talking with yourself,

    Shannon

  28. FunBobby December 5th, 2009 11:29 am

    Customers pay for things. Nobody here is a customer.

  29. sirsean December 5th, 2009 11:39 am

    If they were, they would have clicked the “Shop Fire Gardy” link and bought some “Free Jason Kubel” t-shirts. But they didn’t. So FunBobby’s got it right on.

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