Monday, February 29, 2016

Price and Performance: Of Lions and Asses

“An army of asses led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by an ass” - George Washington

The Red Sox must rely on their offensive leadership...but who exactly are they? The Sox are moving away from their recent Moneyball roots. But is the problem analytics or identifying and paying players most likely to produce? 

Establishing a cause and effect relation for statistics isn't easy. For example, we know that the most productive players invariably have productive statistics. But we can't a priori know that players who have had excellent statistics will continue to do so. 

Age, injury, illness, lack of motivation, personal problems (e.g. alcohol or substance abuse), or statistical variation can change productivity. 

Consider the complex decision-making surrounding free agent Jacoby Ellsbury. 

At the end of the 2013 season, the Red Sox had to decide their commitment to their free agent outfielder. In his "peak" (age 27) season, he was runnerup for MVP with a .928 OPS, 39 stolen bases and more than 100 runs scored and batted in. He had never done so previously and never duplicated those results again. 

His final three seasons with the Red Sox resulted in uneven production, with 14.8 WAR, but marked fluctuations. The Yankees backed up the truck to sign him, with more than ample love from certain Boston scribes, but his two New York season have been mostly a Bronx bummer, with a total of 5.2 WAR and declining runs, homers, RBI, stolen bases, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. And he's not even among the two highest paid Yankees. 

What was the difference in production between the two highest-paid players on each of the six last place division teams compared with the ten playoff teams? 

The highest paid player of the worst teams averaged 13.3 million dollars per win above replacement. The second highest was slightly less overpaid, averaging 10 million dollars per WAR, and the combination was about 11.7 million dollars per WAR. If we accept the fact that an All-Star player should be a five WAR player, then a '20 million dollar contract should yield about 4 million dollars/WAR. 

It's better but not spectacular for the ten playoff teams. Their top players cost 9.45 million per WAR, their second averages 6.38, and the combination 7.74 million per WAR. 

It shows that the playoff teams tended to spend slightly more efficiently than the cellar dwellars, but even they got underachievement. 

Shakespeare wrote, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” From an asset allocation standpoint, he had that partially right. Management owns overpaying for mediocrity, but the stars, excepting  Greinke, Kershaw, and Bautista have a lot of 'splaining to do on their own. Granted this is a small sample size and not assessed longitudinally. It certainly doesn't disprove the adage, "price is what you pay, and value is what you get." 

As for Jacoby Ellsbury, no matter how much love he got from the Boston media, he has plenty of company in the overpaid mediocrity class.

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