Sunday, November 25, 2007

Santana and The Winners Curse

If you must have Santana, here he is.

The most valued commodity in baseball is low-salaried talent under your control, an approach that allows you to overspend for other areas of weakness. The Red Sox, the most successful of the Moneyball teams, clearly understand this. Spending money to make a splash guarantees nothing, and you may just lock yourself into both bad contracts and bad chemistry.

Among the Red Sox high value, low cost contracts include:
  • Kevin Youkilis
  • Jonathan Papelbon
  • Dustin Pedroia
  • Jacoby Ellsbury
  • Jon Lester
  • Clay Buchholz
Having these 'commodities', baseball's 'raw materials' as it were, is akin to having oil or gold in the ground, proven reserves, which almost certainly will rise in value.

Established players carry higher price tags for past production, and expected production at similar levels to the past. For example, with Mike Lowell, is he more likely to hit .320 with 25 homers and 120 RBI, or hit .290 with 20 homers and 90 RBI? I'd argue the latter, although quite content with the Lowell signing.

Most competitors underestimate the importance of The Winner's Curse. You can go the following website and experiment with a variety of applications.

Johan Santana, winner of a pair of Cy Young Awards, has a career on a trajectory to become a Hall of Famer. Rumor is that he has already turned down over 18 million dollars a year to pitch for the Twins. Rumor also has it that the Twins seek as much as possible for Santana (three to four upper echelon prospects including a couple of major league ready players), for ONE YEAR guaranteed of Santana. Only the richest clubs can afford to bid with both prospects and dollars, and the accompanying luxury tax considerations for some teams. Negotiating an extension would clearly be a precursor for any team willing to part with so many prospects.

We already know that no team has won the World Series with one player's salary dominating their payroll beyond a certain amount. Even with Santana's positive health history, no guarantees exist, expressed or implied that this will continue. His proven track record in the AL means a lot.

The Red Sox projected starting rotation for 2008 includes:
  • Josh Beckett (arguably the post-season MVP)
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka (seeking to meet higher standards)
  • Curt Schilling (twilight season)
  • Jon Lester (seeking breakout season)
  • Clay Buchholz (projected as a possible number one starter)
  • Tim Wakefield (possibly part of a rotation designed to allow more rest for the entire staff)
The two leading pitching prospects in the minors, Justin Masterson and Michael Bowden, both are not major league ready, from what we 'understand'.

To an extent, what transpires represents philosophy. I'd be inclined to continue the developmental pitching track, and try to avoid suffering the Winners Curse. Last year the Yankees suffered the Winners Curse with their abysmal Clemens bargain. Whether A-Rod and Mariano Rivera will continue that faux pas remains to be seen.

Whatever the Sox choose to do, I hope they educate themselves in the Winners Curse.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Silly Season Not Here

While the Red Sox bask in offseason glory, what burning topics should we discuss?

David Eckstein, free agent, seeks a contract in the Julio Lugo (four years, thirty-six million dollars) range. Eckstein was Dustin Pedroia before Dustin Pedroia. He's small, not especially fast, but has been a productive player. From a Win Shares perpective, it is what it is.

Eckstein's best OPS in the past four years was .758, and he averaged less than four home runs and forty RBI for the past four seasons. His big year had 8 homers, 61 RBI, and 90 runs scored. In 2005, his outlier year, he had 28 Win Shares, simply astonishing. The other three years, you're looking at 9, 12, and 11. Admittedly, he's a feisty 'overachiever', especially if you have a "Boras Book" focusing entirely on 2005. But anybody paying him nine million a year deserves the title, "former GM".

Carlos Silva is supposed to be the hot property starter this offseason? Yes, you may remember him on the Twins. He's not overpowering, has exceptional control, and gives up A LOT of hits. Obviously, the only way to survive giving up a lot of hits is not walking many guys. His win share total are 14, 14, 3, and 11 (total 42). Tim Wakefield's last four are 8, 16, 7, 10 (total 41). That shows you where we are in free agency.

You win with pitching and you cannot have too much. Signing Schilling made a lot of sense, especially if he comes back in shape (contract incentives) and has an impact mentoring the younger staff. In addition to Lester and Buchholz, Kyle Snyder still has potential to be a valuable pitcher.

Longer-term, the Sox seem set (via contract or player) at first, second, and short. I expect that Mike Lowell will have decided his future this week. Ellsbury and Drew will presumably be here for years, unless Theo loses his mind and trades all the young pitching for established, ridiculously priced pitching.

The Sox could obviously use reliable right-handed power. Some feel Matt Murton might be available from the Cubs. He hits at night, and better against left handers than right handers. He shouldn't require a king's ransom. Manny Ramirez has simply done what he was acquired to do, produce runs, and became the protector for David Ortiz.

Longer-term, the Sox will need to groom a replacement for Jason Varitek. As much as defense will always be the priority (managing the pitching staff), with the Sox correctly recognizing the head-to-head battle with the Bombers, offense will count.

The other 'matter' for management is recognizing the Francona Factor, his ability to deal with knuckleheads (professional baseball players, writers, and assorted media). A four year winning percentage of .579 and a pair of Championship Trophies deserve some respect and more dinero for the Sox skipper. I'd love to take him to lunch some day, and I'll buy.

A lot of factors account for a team's success, many beyond either manager or management's control. Guys get hurt, have statistical reversion to the mean (expect Mike Lowell to be more of a .290 than a .330 hitter), and breakdowns occur (bullpen efficiency is critical in one-run games). The Sox have won twice not by predominantly offensive achievement, but by balancing solid offense with superior pitching.

Sox fans can only hope they can continue the trend.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

$how Mike the Money?

I don't have a problem with baseball players, barkeeps, or barristers taking the biggest dollar. Maybe Mom would slap me upside the head for taking less.We do have core values, however, of which honor remains one.

Players, managers, and ownership have limited loyalty to each other, so our loyalty to branding (some say laundry) may be misplaced.If the Lowells (see Greenwells, Clemens, Pedros of bygone days) want to take the biggest buck, just do it. Do we need the reiteration of unrequited love for the Hub and its fans?

Maybe Dustin Pedroia should just say, "I deserved the award, I busted my hump and gave up my body, and nobody did it better." At least that's honest.

We like Mike. If he 'needs' the recognition and the considerable difference in money available from FA, then that's his right. But it would be refreshing to hear, "I simply took the most money." That's acceptable, but we'll probable not hear it...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Lowell, Sports, and Life

Mike Lowell stands perched on the opportunity of a baseball lifetime, free agency after earning the MVP in the World Series. More power to him, I guess. I believe in the free market, and if I could do what Mike Lowell can do, then I'd have the right to choose how much money I'd make and who would pay me. Will he be happier in Philadelphia with fourteen million a year and four years? If he is, then that's his right, earned, by Curt Flood, Catfish Hunter, and Andy Messersmith.

Yes, I got to see those dinosaurs play, Hunter dishing out those comfortable 0 for 4s when baseball games lasted two and a half hours on a long day.

As for A-Rod, Mike Lupica has a really compelling article about A-Rod's zero for twenty-seven in the postseason in the past few seasons with men on base. Signing A-Rod turns your team into a circus after your GM has become the puppet in Scott Boras' puppet show. Now I'm not saying Boras isn't the best at what he does. Look what he did for Barry Zito, today's contemporary Bill Lee, who won seventeen games thrice for Ye Olde Towne Team, when 'drug testing' meant something quite different to players.

I don't begrudge major league rookies more money than I can make as a doctor in a couple of years, because that's the market. If I wanted to move somewhere else and practice, I could probably make more money, but would that make me happier? And why should you care?

That is the point. Sports makes us care, fantasizing that we can go yard or get the two quick strikes busting the heat up and in, and then throw the disappearing slider on the outside corner. But we can't, so we watch Big Papi and Lowell deliver in the clutch, Josh Beckett become OUR Bob Gibson, and Jacoby Ellsbury conjure up images of Lou Brock torching the Sox on the bases in 1967.

So you probably don't remember those days, hearing of Jose Santiago's homerun in the series, Yaz drilling two, or Lonborg tossing a one-hitter against the mighty Cards. But you'll tell your grandchildren about how J.D. Drew hit the grandest slam of his life when it mattered, and when Jon Lester came back from cancer to clinch the World Series in Game four. And no one, not A-Rod, or Scott Boras, or Sam Levinson can take those memories from you.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Distributing the Credit: Under the Radar

Identifying heroes comes easily to sports fans. We have Josh Beckett, an unblemished 4-0 in the playoffs, Curt Schilling, the venerable warrior, pundit, and blogger. Who doesn't like Big Papi the lethal teddy bear DH and sometimes first baseman, or Jacoby Ellsbury, our latest answer to Ricochet Rabbit trivia?

You have ownership which has revitalized the team and the ballpark, bringing revenues to challenge the Yankees, introducing Nascar to New Englanders, and raising water prices to something only the MWRA can dream about.

We have local guy Theo Epstein, freed from the gorilla suit, now a 600 pound gorilla as Sox GM. And Terry Francona, who never has to buy a drink again, and can freely pass throughout the six-state region without echoes of "you suck, Francona", ever.

But buried somewhere in the bunker at Fenway lives a tall stat geek. Management embraced the lanky Kansas loner, who pores through baseball statistics looking for nuggets, advantages that can give the Sox the smallest edge. Where steroid and growth hormone laden behemoths seek to bash our collective brains in, he is our Minister of Defense. He surely can tell you the WHIP ratio per dollar, strikeout to walk ratio, runs created, isolated power, and zone ratings of Sox players, prospects, and opposition. He not only knows which statistics matter, but which don't, and how to help get the most bang for your buck. Which is more important, E.R.A. or strikeout to walk ratio in predicting future pitching performance? Ask Bill. Who has the most win shares per dollar salary? Ask Bill.

Does the player have a buyable trend? Is he about to fall off the radar into baseball obscurity, betrayed by failing eyesight, declining fast twitch reflexes, or some unforeseen toxicity from personal tragedy, alcohol, or something else? Ask Bill.

So while the Cavaliers have Lebron, the Red Sox have Bill James, and has a less-celebrated in this town nerd ever gotten less credit for whispering sweet baseball nothings in the ears of the powers that be?

Friday, November 09, 2007

Do the Math

In addition to having won a pair of World Championships in four seasons, the Red Sox have created payroll flexibility through development. Going into next season the Sox presumably can pony up a payroll of 150,000 dollars

Here's the 2007 Salary picture.

Let's just use some approximations to guesstimate 2008.

C - Varitek 11,000,000
C2 TBA 2,000,000
1B Youkilis 1,000,000 (presumes big raise, no long-term deal yet)
DH Ortiz 13,000,000
2B Pedroia 450,000
SS Lugo 8,250,000
3B Lowell 14,000,000 (a very big assumption, may not be true)
LF Ramirez 18,000,000
CF Ellsbury 400,000
RF Drew 14,400,000
Ut Cora 2,000,000
UO Kielty 2,000,000
UO Moss 400,000

13 Positions 86,900,000


Beckett 10000000
Schilling 11000000
Wakefield 4000000
Matsuzaka 7000000
Buchholz 400000
Lester 400000
Tavarez 3800000
Papelbon 1000000 (presumes raise, no long-term deal)
Snyder 600000
Okajima 1225000
Delcarmen 400000
Timlin 2000000
Donnelly 1400000
TBA 3000000

14 pitchers 46,225,000

Including Lowell, this brings the Sox to 133,125,000, leaving another 18 million or so in discretionary money. You can use some to lock up Youkilis/Papelbon to intermediate term deals (4 years), realizing that next year (2009) you have the option to take down money for Schilling, Ramirez (maybe), Tavarez, and Wakefield, let's say another 35 million.

What keeps the deal working is the salary of young, productive, or potentially-productive players such as Youkilis, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Moss, Papelbon, Lester, and Buchholz. Talk about trading young pitching for established pitching changes your salary flexibility dramatically. Trade a Lester, Crisp, and Masterson for Santana and you get a star, and an additional 17-20 million dollar a year in payroll. If you find out that Lester COULD win you 15 games, then you get a maximum of five more wins for 20 million dollars.

The Red Sox like to look at both Win Shares and trends. You can see the value of not only the bigger stars, but especially Youkilis, Pedroia, a pro-rated Ellsbury, and Crisp, especially when adjusted for salary. I'm sure the Sox have win shares/million data on every player in baseball, as well as projected data.

Here are the 3B win shares.

Here are the Lowell four year win shares. It's probably easier to argue that 2005 was an aberration, but that perhaps 2006 is the 'expected' outcome, or at best a blend between 2006-2007.

I'm not making an argument for Lowell or against A-Rod, only the importance of having a core of low-salaried productive players, which allows you to spend or even overspend on other areas.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Post-season Potpourri: Sox and More Sports Coverage

The Sox have exercised the options on Tim Wakefield and Yoyo Julian Tavarez. At four million dollars and less for Tavarez, this makes a lot of sense, especially with the free agency for Curt Schilling.

Will the Sox pony up the big dollars for Schilling and Mike Lowell? I'd guess that lowell has a better chance of returning than Schilling, but the latter gets a debt of gratitude for helping orchestrate a pair of championships.

Terry Francona can't get an MRI? Must be the horseshoe somewhere in his anatomy. Seriously, the Sox skipper kept the team going in one direction, deals with a myriad of complex personalities and kept the issues in house. Can't imagine that Coco Crisp was wild about being replaced by Jacoby Ellsbury in the ALCS and Series, but he didn't publicly complain.

The "starting bid" on A-Rod comes in at 350 million? Obviously, the American Peso has taken a hit under the weight of the Federal Reserve but are you kidding? That's why they call these bidding wars "The Winner's Curse."

The Sports Illustrated Commemorative issue had both great pictures and some quality journalism.

Elsewhere in Boston sports, one has to note the similarity between Bobby Bowden tonight and the emperor in Star Wars. The Living Legend didn't spend any extra time in makeup pregame.

Matt Ryan may have a great arm, but he does have a certain Bledsonian habit of throwing into coverage. That worries me. Last time I heard, it's five large per season for tailgating rights at BC. Whale pants not included.

The Celtics' home opener resembled March Madness, with PGA (Pierce-Garnett-Allen) getting heroes' welcome. Rajon Rondo knocked down a couple of open jumpers, which certainly wasn't the case too often last year. Nice touch with the pregame appearance of the World Series trophy, along with Wakefield, Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz (not John Lester), and local guy Manny Delcarmen on the Red Auerbach parquet.

People think that Bill Belichick is a sore loser? Belichick ranks as the paragon of grace compared with Auerbach, whose competitiveness would be hard to match. Red would do anything to win, short of poisoning the opposition.

Ex-Patriot coach Charlie Weis got a nasty dose of Midshipmen Pride today as Navy snapped an extended losing streak, beating Notre Dame in overtime. Weis did great work here, but has a 1-8 team in a town that ran Ty Willingham out of town.

And speaking of the Patriots, there's that game in Indianapolis tomorrow. I'll argue that the Patriots' fate rests with the defense. Will Corey Dillon be making a comeback with Sammy Morris going on IR?

Best new local sportswriter? We've got a pair, with Christopher Gasper (Patriots) and Amalie Benjamin (Red Sox) both carrying more than their weight this season. Haven't seen Amalie on Globe 10.0 but Gasper was outstanding.