Dan Duquette and Avoiding the Awful

So can we just go over this one more time? I know everyone knows about it, but it’s still freaking crazy. The Orioles are in the ALCS. That’s already pretty nuts. But Ubaldo Jimenez, who they gave a lot of money to, was bad. He’s not on the roster. Matt Wieters played 26 games before getting hurt. He’s not on the roster. Manny Machado managed half a season before getting hurt. He’s not on the roster. Chris Davis basically just sucked. He’s not on the roster. Even if, in March, you had a program of your own that predicted the Orioles would get this far, your program still would’ve been wrong about how it all happened. The Royals? Great story. The Orioles? Great story, too. There are so many reasons why so many people seem to find this year’s ALCS more compelling than its senior companion.

Clearly, the Orioles have gotten contributions from enough other people to make up for the missing or underperforming stars. Clearly, the Orioles assembled some depth. This all got me thinking about Dan Duquette, and a certain principle. One way to improve a roster is by adding more good players. Another way to improve a roster is by eliminating the bad players. Of course, you want to do both, but in theory you can either raise the ceiling or raise the floor. It seems to me the Orioles haven’t given much in the way of playing time to the truly bad. It seems to me that would be a credit to the organization. To what extent, though, is this actually true?

Duquette was introduced as an Orioles employee in November 2011. So, the team’s had three seasons under his control, so let’s use that as our window. We’ll examine data from between 2012 – 2014.

WAR and replacement level give us a really neat baseline. That baseline being: 0.0 WAR. No matter the playing time, a replacement-level player would be expected to generate a WAR of 0.0. And in theory, there’s never any excuse to play someone who’s performing worse than that. We know that some of that playing time is inevitable, but this is how I’ve chosen to test things. I looked at players who finished with negative WAR in each of the last three seasons. I then sorted them by team, and I did some basic addition. Following is a table with two columns. One’s got team names in it. The other’s got the three-year sum of negative WAR. Browse!

Team Negative WAR, 2012-2014
Rays -8.3
Athletics -10.4
Nationals -10.8
Braves -11.0
Angels -11.5
Orioles -12.6
Cardinals -13.3
Tigers -13.3
Rangers -13.6
Giants -14.2
Royals -14.5
Red Sox -14.5
Diamondbacks -15.3
Pirates -15.3
Yankees -15.5
Blue Jays -16.5
Brewers -16.6
Rockies -17.0
Reds -17.6
Mets -18.0
White Sox -18.3
Mariners -18.6
Indians -18.7
Twins -18.8
Dodgers -18.8
Padres -19.9
Phillies -21.0
Marlins -21.3
Cubs -22.4
Astros -28.1

Naturally, there’s a strong relationship between this and overall team success. And where do we find the Duquette Orioles? Sixth place, about four wins from the top. All the negative players the Orioles have played since 2012 have accounted for about -13 wins or so, or an average of a little over four a season. Our sample mean is just below -16 WAR. Our sample standard deviation is right around 4 WAR. The Duquette Orioles have been about one standard deviation better than average, in terms of avoiding negative contributions.

In 2014 in particular, the Orioles have shined in this regard. All the negative players combined for just -1.8 WAR. Orioles pitchers accounted for 1.7% of league-wide negative pitcher WAR. Orioles position players accounted for 0.9% of league-wide negative position-player WAR. Of course, the Orioles are 3.3% of major-league baseball.

And we can look at this a different way. The Orioles gave just 3.2% of their innings this year to negative-WAR pitchers. The league average, excluding the Orioles? 13.4%. And, the Orioles gave just 3.2% of their plate appearances this year to negative-WAR position players. The league average, excluding the Orioles? 19.4%. The Orioles, this season, suffered some hardships, and they lost possible star-level contributions. Surprising awesome seasons from guys like Steve Pearce and Nelson Cruz have helped to make up for this, but the Orioles have also been helped by a relatively strong bottom of the roster. The depth guys have been adequate, so the Orioles have been able to avoid spending too much time on statistical black holes.

Some of that, as always, is noise, but some of that is a testament to Duquette and the Orioles’ organization. As much as a lot of people get tied up in worrying about the top of a roster, Duquette hasn’t lost focus on the significance of the bottom, and gaining one positive win is no more helpful than avoiding one negative win. The Orioles of recent years have been deep, and this Orioles team has needed its depth the most, and as you’ve noticed, they’re still alive in the playoffs. In a sense, this year’s team captures Duquette’s philosophy in a nutshell. It’s effective even without too much star power, and it’s a handful of breaks away from being ahead 2-0 in the ongoing series. Duquette wanted to have the stars, too, but they’ve managed without.

To awkwardly change gears real quick at the end, there’s also something to be noted here about Andrew Friedman, Ned Colletti, the Rays, and the Dodgers. You see the Rays at the top of the table, with just -8.3 combined negative WAR. The Dodgers are at -18.8, toward the bottom. While the Dodgers, over the last three years, have combined for seven more positive WAR than the Rays, the Rays have been better by about 4 WAR overall, because they’ve been able to have better depth. Friedman has always accumulated talent beyond just the active roster, while Colletti had weaknesses on the active roster.

So with Friedman bolting for Los Angeles, this is an area where I’d expect pretty quick improvement. The Friedman Dodgers will be better prepared for emergency, and they should have plenty of decent players around if and when they need to go past the first 25. This is a way that Friedman had to stay a step ahead in Tampa in order to compete, but it’s not like that lesson will be forgotten just because he has access to a lot more money. No one wants injuries or surprising underperformance, but generally those things can’t be avoided, so the better prepared you are, the better your team’s chances of survival. Friedman and the rest of his staff will work to make the Dodgers more bulletproof. The Brandon League contract can exist for only so long.

To try to tie this stuff together, I guess, we can look to the AL East. There, one executive was held in high regard, and as he bolts for a far different market, he’ll take with him a belief in the importance of depth. And another executive remains, and though his reputation isn’t nearly the same, it’s beginning to look like he’s sharper than he was given credit for. At the top of the roster, the Orioles are decently strong. Yet the top of the roster’s just a fraction of the roster in total.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Alex
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Alex
1 year 7 months ago

Wasn’t a knock (of several) on Duquette in Boston that he built very top-heavy rosters?

tz
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tz
1 year 7 months ago

The biggest knock on him that I remember is the players complained about how often he churned the roster, which at the time was a lot compared to other teams – though not crazy if viewed against current GMs.

And if you do go with a stars-and-scrubs approach, it’s super important to be able to sift out positive WAR players for the back end of your roster, which Duquette has always been able to do. It’s interesting to see the Tigers just behind the Orioles on this list, with their stars-and-scrubs approach and fellow ex-Expo GM.

Finally, you have to avoid giving oversized contracts to guys who run the risk of becoming negative WAR players. Dombrowski really dodged a bullet for the Tigers when he unloaded Fielder, simply because he could easily become another Ryan Howard type albatross later on in that contract.

Oh yeah, another great article Jeff!

Ryan Sullivan Kelley
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Ryan Sullivan Kelley
1 year 7 months ago

After a cursory read, I really like this, and see this is a strong explanation-or for the Orioles recent success. And really for the Red Sox success in 2013.

I’d call it the Ego Factor. The more money you invest in free-agent talent that has accumulated an ego over time, the more you have to play bad players–especially if you’re a poor team that can’t just eat salary. The Yankees play a lot of expensive bad players, but they can also eat the rest of Kei Igawa’s salary.

Additionally, there’s the rebuilding factor, that leads managers to play a lot of below-replacement players in hopes that they’ll one day turn into superstars because they’re tall and they look good in tights.

MrKnowNothing
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MrKnowNothing
1 year 7 months ago

This seemed to the the A’s approach as well.

sb
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sb
1 year 7 months ago

@Alex: Not at all IMO.

Over Duquette’s tenure in Boston, finding cheap talent to shore up roster holes was one of his greatest strengths. He consistently brought in players like Troy O’Leary, Jeff Frye, Mike Stanley, Reggie Jefferson, Brian Daubach, and of course Tim Wakefield from other teams’ scrapheaps and turned them into league-average or better contributors with Boston.

His weaknesses were drafting and in occasionally over-committing to the various scrap-heap vets once he found them.

But probably his biggest mistake was in choosing a job where every year he was competing against a Yankee team with both a ridiculous young talent core and unlimited money to spend.

Rick Lancellotti
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Rick Lancellotti
1 year 7 months ago

re: sb
i always thought the best accolades from duquette’s time in boston were the varitek/d.lowe – h slocumb trade, and drafting garciaparra and youkilis

tz
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tz
1 year 7 months ago

@sb You said it way better than I did.

And your last point is huge. Duquette deserves a ton of credit from bringing the Red Sox from being a pathetic mess to being one of the top teams in baseball. If the Yankees were just their normal winning selves during his tenure, maybe he would have been the one to bring the championship to Fenway.

Arc
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1 year 7 months ago

Despite the fact that he didn’t know which arm Lowe threw with.

Some Dude
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Some Dude
1 year 7 months ago

Let’s not forget him trading for the best pitcher ever in his prime (whose time in Boston led me to first pay attention to baseball). Without the Duke, I’d never have felt the highs of 2004, 2007 and 2013.

Anonity
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Anonity
1 year 7 months ago

Interesting that the Tigers are near the top of the list, despite their stars and scrubs reputation…

Jim Price
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Jim Price
1 year 7 months ago

Tigers have been very fortunate avoiding injuries because there isn’t much depth on their roster. They wouldn’t have survived the same misfortunes that hit the Orioles let alone actually improve like the Orioles managed to do.

Shankbone
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1 year 7 months ago

I was curious, so I looked it up (B/R)

Worst six WAR scores for each org in the past 3 years.
Rays:
-2.0 Jose Molina 2014 (247 PAs/1.75MM)
-1.3 Hidecki Matsui 2012 (103 PAs/Min)
-0.9 Wil Myers 2014 (361 PAs/504K)
-0.8 Jeremy Hellickson 2013 (174 IP/503K)
-0.7 Sam Fuld 2013 (200 PAs/725K)
-0.6 5 players from 3 years, took Roberto Hernandez 2013 (151 IP/3.25MM) with IP as tie breaker (Balfour/Bell 2014, Brandon Gomes 2013 and Stephen Vogt 2012)

Dodgers
-1.5 Kevin Correia 2014 (25 IP/Trade)
-1.3 Brandon League 2013 (54IP/4.5MM)
-1.3 Skip Schumacher 2013 (356 PAs/1.5MM)
-1.2 Dee Gordon 2012 (330 PAs/485K)
-1.0 Matt McGill 2013 (28 IP/Min)
-0.9 Juan Rivera 2012 (339 PAs/4MM)

Not really seeing much that can be improved on here.

Players with negative WARs with 100 IPs or 300 PAs for 2012-14 Dodgers:
James Loney 2012 (-0.8/359 PAs), Juan Rivera 2012, Dee Gordon 2012, Chris Capauno 2013 (-0.6/105 IP), Schumacher 2013, Dan Haren 2014 (-0.6/186 IP), Andre Ethier (380 PA/-0.0)

Players with negative WARs with 100 IPs or 300 PAs for 2012-2014 Rays:
Hellickson 2013, Hernandez 2013, Yunel Escobar 2014 (529 PAs, -0.2 WAR), Myers 2014

I can’t see any reason to expect improvement. Especially on the margins of WAR scores where a few bad innings can produce a -1.0 WAR score for McGill or Correia. Friedman’s pitchers actually have more IP with the mediocre WAR scores, and you won’t see Juan Rivera or Skippy Schu round there no more. Dan Haren though? Yep, his option vested.

tz
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tz
1 year 7 months ago

Funny you mentioned Skippy Schu (lol). He is the leader on the Steamer projections for 2015 negative WAR:

http://www.fangraphs.com/projections.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&type=steamer&team=0&players=0&sort=22,a

And of course, the Reds have him with a guaranteed $2.5 million contract for next year, with a $500k buyout for his 2016 option. Typical of the kind of guy you don’t sign for guaranteed $.

will
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will
1 year 7 months ago

I think the purpose of the article was about the aggregate of all the negative war players and you only addressed the worst offenders.

Shankbone
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1 year 7 months ago

In the aggregate of 3 years, its basically meaningless. And the dialogue about Friedman being some WAR magician in LA is also without merit. WAR scores based on 20 IP? Who cares.

The Foils
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The Foils
1 year 7 months ago

Anyone who has ever had to watch Kevin Correia pitch, that’s who.

Josh
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Josh
1 year 7 months ago

I think you should have had a limit on the number of PAs or appearances by the guys with negative WAR. as is, there are probably a lot of “cup of coffee” types who get grouped in, while the ones who did okay will show a positive WAR and not get counted. basically, those small sample type players make your model more noisy.

pft
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pft
1 year 7 months ago

They also have a minimal impact because WAR is a counting stat and its hard to accumulate a significant WAR (positive or negative) w/o significant playing time. Alternatively, they could use a WAR/PA and WAR/OppPA to smooth it

Avattoir
Member
Avattoir
1 year 7 months ago

I can’t … resist. Nothing I do, no amount effort, prevents my brain-voice from lapsing into a Peter Lorre horror flick accent as my eyes roll down over that delist-iously repugnant descent into the inner circles of MLB hell. Who ARE these leperish cancker sores on the WAR body of every single team? Who is it who has been sucking the Win juices out of each venture? And who can we anticipate gnawing away at their respective keels next season, & the one thereafter?

And for every enterprise which has discharged at least one lucre-bloated Zito, yet it has cast the same curse upon its destiny by committing precious bullion to some WAR-sucking phantasm such as Lincecum, dooming itself to season after season of entire line-ups watching as his frail, ineffectual body drags its twisted chain of Cy Youngs, no-nos & past post-season triumphs both as a starter & a releiver, back and forth, forth and back, with all the anti-drama of a tidal bore, across the floor of their dug-out, in ceaseless representation of Marley’s ghost to the otherwise scroogy Giants.

Hmmm – nice to know the Rays have bleached their reef. Now the question is: can it support ANY useful life?

Jose
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Jose
1 year 7 months ago

Can the Orioles do it again? Cruz is probably a goner, and probably wont repeat this year’s performance. Can Pearce? Can Davis bounce back?

Birdlander
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Birdlander
1 year 7 months ago

Hopefully they won’t have to rely on them so much with a healthy Machado & Wieters.

Erik
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Erik
1 year 7 months ago

How much of this is actually luck (or possibly poor managing) though?
Look at the 2013 Blue Jays. They put up -5.5 WAR, primarily from Melky Cabrera(-0.9), Maicer Izturis(-2.2), JP Arencibia (-0.6), Josh Thole (-0.5), and Emilio Bonifacio (-0.5). Melky was just coming off 2 years which he put up 4.1 average, and followed that up with a 2.6 mark in 2014. Izturis had a BABIP 45 points below his career average, and also had by far the worst defensive year of his career. Arencibia had a 1.1 WAR in 2012, and was just entering his prime, but proceeded to get exposed in every aspect of his game. Thole was the only one of the group that had a negative WAR in the 2 years prior. Bonifacio left the Jays halfway through the season and put up 1.1 WAR with the Royals.
Contrast that with the 2013 Red Sox. They had guys like Ryan Lavarnway (-1.6 combined in 2012 and 2014), Mike Carp (-0.5) and Steven Drew (-1.4), put up a positive WAR, as well as guys that were positive last year but have put up negative WAR totals this year, such as Wil Middlebrooks (-0.8) and Jonny Gomes (-0.3).
So, while there is definitely some strategy to this, baseball is too unpredictable to say that someone is much better than anyone else at this.

Kenz
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Kenz
1 year 7 months ago

The most striking thing about that list is that the Diamondbacks are the only team in the top 15 to have never made the playoffs in this period, while the Dodgers, Indians (barely) and Reds are the only teams in the bottom 15 to have made the playoffs.

Vlad
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1 year 7 months ago

Just as a point of clarification, how do you handle pitchers’ batting WAR for the purposes of this study?

NYYfaninLAAland
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NYYfaninLAAland
1 year 7 months ago

While the Orioles on the surface suggest other wise, I wonder how this would correlate with a look at injury time lost. Seems to me that would have a significant impact here.

And the comment above pointing out what could be seen as “fluky” seasons – Melky’s negative WAR one – might also have an outsized impact.

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