Organizational Rankings: #28

Today, we continue on with the organization rankings. Before we do that, though, a couple quick notes.

1. This is not a review of how teams have performed in the past. This is a forward looking exercise. You can disagree with the ratings all you want, but you should understand that we’re not retroactively grading how teams have done prior to 2009 – we’re talking about how well they are equipped to contend for a World Series title going forward.

2. The overall grade at the end of each piece is not an average of the four subsection grades. These problems compound on top of each other in a multiplicative effect. When you multiply decimals, the product is smaller than the average of the parts. Same thing here.

Rankings So Far

#30: Washington Nationals
#29: Florida Marlins

#28: Houston Astros

Ownership: C-

Drayton McLane is a well capitalized man, ranked by Forbes in 2008 as the 301st richest person in America, so the Astros have enjoyed the ability to spend liberally on their major league payroll during his tenure as the team’s owner. However, while he provides enough money for the team to have a contender’s budget, that financing comes with strings attached, as he’s simply too involved in the decisions that should be left up to the baseball operations department. Micromanaging ownership is a significant barrier to overcome, and until McLane takes a more hands off approach, the Astros are going to have to overcome his meddling.

Front Office:: C

In an era where almost every team with a GM opening has gone with a first time hire, looking for someone who can combine traditional analysis with many of the advances made in the last ten years, the Astros decided that Ed Wade was the man to lead their organization forward, despite a pretty mediocre track record in Philadephia and a decidedly old school philosophy. Wade has some strengths in talent evaluation, but his ability to put together a championship roster is in question. As baseball moves forward in analytical processes, the Astros current front office is getting left behind.

Major League Talent: C+

Lance Berkman is a superstar. Roy Oswalt is a very good pitcher. Carlos Lee can hit. Wandy Rodriguez is a solid pitcher who flies under the radar. Hunter Pence is one of the better 25-year-old players in the game. But the dropoff after the top tier of talent is pretty substantial, and half the team’s payroll is tied up in their four highest paid players. The lack of quality young talent on the roster is problematic going forward. Even if the team committed to rebuilding, it would be nearly impossible to trade Miguel Tejada, and the return for guys like Carlos Lee would be minimal in this economic environment. Berkman and Oswalt both have full no trade rights. The team is stuck, in a lot of ways, with the roster it has, and that roster is both not good enough to contend and declining in ability by the year. That’s a bad middle ground to be in.

Minor League Talent: F

The Astros farm system is the worst in the game, bar none. Jason Castro is the top talent in the system, but even his upside is limited, as he profiles more as a good catcher but not a star. Beyond that, it’s rough – Brian Bogusevic has made a remarkably quick transformation from failed pitcher to intriguing outfielder, but like with Castro, there’s very little star potential. Jordan Lyles is about as far from the major leagues as any team’s best pitching prospect in recent memory. The team just lacks impact talent on the farm, and since they overachieved in 2008, they won’t even have the benefit of high draft choices this summer. It could be years before the Astros have something resembling another home grown nucleus coming through their system.

Overall: D

Their desire to be perpetual contenders over the last decade is coming back to haunt them, as the club isn’t talented enough to contend for a World Series, lacks the ability to rebuild quickly, and has the worst farm system in the game. By all rights, they need to start over, but they’re limited in their ability to do so. Berkman and Oswalt are good enough to keep them from being utterly horrible, but there’s just not enough around them to make an actually good team, and the front office isn’t adept enough at adding undervalued talent to build a championship roster around their stars. As those two decline, so will the Astros organization, and it could be a while before we see them in October again.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


49 Responses to “Organizational Rankings: #28”

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  1. B says:

    I still just don’t understand how an organization like the Astros can be ranked ahead of the Marlins. The Marlins have a better MLB team right now (Houston had a better record last year but a negative run differential, while FL had a +3 run differential), way more talent in the farm system, and one of the best front offices in baseball…even without much financial support that combination should at least bring back some successful results. A team like the Astros though has limited hope for success now, and almost no hope for success for the foreseeable future. It’s not even a contest.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      The Astros want to win – they’re just going about trying the wrong way.

      The Marlins want to make a profit and blackmail a city into giving them a new stadium, and if they accidentally win 85 games in the process, nifty.

      But, this post is about the Astros. If you disagree with the Marlins placement, feel free to put your disagreements in the comment thread of that post.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        Do you have any reason to think that statement is true? I particularly enjoyed your rant on Jeff Loria yesterday, but I have to wonder if there is any basis for you thinking that he doesn’t care about the success of the team. I get the feeling that he wants a new stadium because his payroll is low because the team has no fans, because there stadium is terrible.

        Anyway, this post is about the Astros, so I would just like to express my sorrow for the state of that franchise. I believe that they are one (Berkman, Oswalt) injury away from being the worst team in the majors. There depth is just deplorable.

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    • alskor says:

      I think it comes down to ownership, really. Its been made clear this is more than an evaluation of major + minor league talents…

      Also, youre getting a little too concerned over not much of a difference… #28 vs. #29?? Its not like Houston got rated #15 and the Fish #29…

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    • Nathan says:

      The reason the Astros are ranked higher is because Uncle Drayton is four years older than Loria, and thus, four years closer to death.

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  2. Joe says:

    Dave,
    Do you have a strong opinion on JR Towles, and do you lump him in with the prospects or major league talent?

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  3. Joel says:

    McLane spends money. The Astros are in the top tier of spenders.

    The current Phillie stars are the result of Wade.

    I would say those two things are strong points.

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  4. Berkmaniac says:

    I mostly agree with your evaluation of the Astros. Right now, we have a terrible farm system. Tim Purpura had a lot to do with that. Ed Wade’s signings early this offseason are not looking that good right now. However, I think it is too early to pass any judgement on Wade’s time with the Astros. Joel is right in stating that the Phillies best players all came to the organization during Ed Wade’s time there. I like McLane, although I don’t know why he did not go after any decent SP this offseason. We have been a competitive for a long time; finished 1st or 2nd in our division in 12 of the last 15 years.

    This year, I can’t really defend the Astros that much, and our farm system is absolutely horrible.

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    • Nathan says:

      We have done nothing since Gerry Hunsicker was run out on a rail. Remember, that WS team was basically his.

      As far as Ed Wade; he never should have been hired. He was able to accumulate talent because the Phillies sucked under his watch. Burrell, Hamels, Utley, and Meyers were all first round picks and Rollins was a second rounder. Howard was a fifth rounder, but Wade tried to trade him twice to the Pirates for Kip Wells because he was blocked by the awful Jim Thome signing.

      Wade also traded away Schilling and Rolen for pennies on the dollar (remind anyone of the Lidge trade). He also publicly admitted that he traded the very underrated Placido Polanco because it would have been bad PR to play him instead of David Bell, who had been signed to yet another atrocious contract.

      Ed Wade’s stint in Philadelphia showed that he was not GM material. He left the Phillies as Zippi the Chimp, a man without dignity and has exhibited none in Houston (Shawn Chacon).

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      • Excalibur says:

        Maybe, but he did accumulate that talent. Perhaps at the expense of the major league team, but it happened. Many GMs have strung together bad major league teams without developing a solid core of minor league players. At the very least, Wade found most of the pieces that won a championship in Philly.

        I say all of this because our primary need is fairly simple: We need to rebuild our farm system. If it takes five or six years of mediocrity at the major league level, so be it.

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  5. Kevin says:

    “but his ability to put together a championship roster is in question.”

    I may be wrong, but didn’t Philly win a championship with players acquired and drafted by Ed Wade? Also, aren’t the Phillies going to present Ed with a championship ring due to his contributions to that organization?

    I’m not saying Ed Wade is a top manager, but slamming him like you did is completely off base.

    The Astros never should have made the Jason Jennings, Miguel Tejada, and Brad Lidge trades. We lost a quality CF, 2 Potential top of the rotation pitchers, and 2 other 4/5 slot pitchers. With Lidge we definately should’ve held on to him until the deadline and gotten a ransom from a contender for him.

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    • Jamie says:

      i wouldn’t say that ed wade won the phillies a world series. marti woelver and mike arbuckle are more responsible for the team having ryan howard/chase utley/shane victorino/rollins/etc. than ed wade.

      ed wades best move was not trading ryan howard.

      gillick did what ed wade coudlnt’ do. bring in quality relievers to strengthen the bullpen and have good deadline pick ups.

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    • Nathan says:

      Wade should get a ring for handing them Lidge on a platter.

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  6. Ann Ominous says:

    Even if you completely disregard the blatant ridiculousness of this statement – “When you multiply decimals, the product is smaller than the average of the parts” (when did you start flunking math anyway, the fourth grade or the fifth grade?) – your grading scheme makes absolutely no sense. Look at the grades you gave the Nationals, and use the standard four point scale. One C at 2.0, one C- at 1.5, and one D- at 0.5. Average those three numbers, and you get 1.333, a solid D+. Multiply them, and you get 1.5. (A higher number. Wow.) More like a C-. Your overall grade out of those three? An F. As I said in my comment on the Nationals thread, that’s the grade I’m giving your analysis. Multiply it or average it, you get a flat 0.0. A big fat F.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      Congratulations, you apparently don’t know what a decimal is.

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    • Ryan B says:

      C 0.75
      C- 0.70
      D- 0.60

      .75*.70*.60 = .315

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    • Nathan says:

      Unlike GPAs, baeball statistics are normally based on probabilities.

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    • Chris says:

      Ann – It’s simple really. Let’s look at it in baseball terms. Last year the Nationals were 28th in the league in run scoring and 26th in run prevention. So by your reasoning they were the 27th best team, right?…Wrong. Based on their Pythag record (and real record as well BTW) they were the worst team.

      Huh? Imagine that!

      A team can get an overall F grade even if no single aspect of their team is an F. Different teams have strengths and weakness, but if you are poor at all aspects you are still a BAD team overall and deserve an F, even if you are not necessarily bad at any one aspect. Make sense? Hopefully.

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      • Chris says:

        Wow, I didn’t realize that Dave Cameron had already explained this to Ann (in the nationals thread). Even used the exact same example of the Nationals’ scoring. Wow Ann! You really are dense.

        Seriously, everybody here respects Dave and we all are able to comprehend the scoring system which does make sense despite your denseness.

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  7. Evan says:

    This is why the Astros rank above the Marlins. The Astros spend money. They actually want their team to be good.

    They just suck at it.

    This is the same reason why 100 years of bad Cubs teams are still better than the one season of the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. The Cubs have at least been trying, so there’s a chance going forward that they’ll succeed. The Spiders were intentionally crippled by their owner in order to improve a different team – they never had a chance.

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    • B says:

      On the other hand, the Marlins have been very good at developing good players – something teams like the Rays, Phillies, and Red Sox have done recently…

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      • Evan says:

        Sure, but if the Red Sox had only those players, and non-tendered them after 3 years of major-league service, they wouldn’t ever finish above fourth in their division.

        A ceiling of fourth probably warrants a really low grade.

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      • B says:

        Apparently you can’t reply to a comment if it’s embedded too deeply…

        Anyways, Evan, I agree with you to a point. The Marlins are never going to be the best team in baseball. Unless they keep and resign some players, and spend some money in free agency, you’re right. They tend to get a lot of value when they trade their players though, so it seems their current model is sustainable for a decent amount of time.

        As I said earlier (in the Marlins thread), here are my thoughts: first, this is about winning the world series as Dave noted earlier. I would never pick the Marlins as the favorite to win the world series. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make the playoffs a couple times in the next few years, though. Once in the playoffs, anything can happen, and anyone can win, and there are statistics to back this up of course. Though the Marlins probability of winning the world series won’t necessarily be high, at least they have a chance. There are a number of teams out there that don’t have a chance of even making the playoffs, much less winning the world series. The Astros are an example of this – sure they spend money, but their MLB team right now isn’t a playoff team (negative run differential last year), and their money is locked up for years to come. They also don’t have a farm system. Thus, they have no chance of winning a world series as far into the future as we can see, unlike the Marlins.

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  8. Ann Ominous says:

    Oh yes I do.

    dec·i·mal (d?s’?-m?l) Pronunciation Key
    n.

    A number written using the base 10.

    Really, in all seriousness, whatever grading system you’re using here makes no sense at all. It’s like telling me that even though my team outscored yours in every single inning of the game, you still won. If you want your analysis to have any credibility at all, you need to abandon your Humpty Dumpty words-mean-whatever-I-say-they-mean approach and define whatever grading scale you’re using and how the overall grades are calculated. Otherwise, it’s just so much gibberish.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      That you can’t grasp a very basic concept tells me that I should be quite happy that you don’t agree with my rankings.

      Seriously, this isn’t hard. Everyone else on earth understands this. You might want to stop posting for a while until you figure out why you can’t connect the dots here.

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      • Ann ominous says:

        Look, I don’t care what kind of hifalutin math you’re putting behind it. If you’re using a standard letter grade system and it results in telling someone that they’ve passed all the tests yet still failed the course, then by definition it is WRONG. But don’t let me stop you. If you want to look like an idiot, look like an idiot.

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      • Nathan says:

        I can assure you that Dave does not look the idiot.

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  9. Ann Ominous says:

    “C 0.75
    C- 0.70
    D- 0.60

    .75*.70*.60 = .315″

    If this is how you’re doing it, then any team that gets an F in any one category would have to receive an overall grade of F. That hasn’t happened. Not once, but twice. I repeat: Your grading system makes no sense.

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    • Ryan B says:

      I don’t think that each grade is given an equal weight. For instance, Minor League Talent probably does not have the same impact on the final grade as Major League Talent does.

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    • Russell says:

      Think of the grades an qualitative and not quantitative — an A isn’t 4.0 on a 4 point system, it just means excellent (or top notch, elite, what ever.)

      Also, one failure can be debilitating for a team. Imagine a car with a good engine, a new transmission, leather interior, and NO TIRES! Yes its got some good parts, but, face it, its not going anywhere anytime soon.

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    • radiosurgery says:

      I really don’t think that Dave’s grades have some kind of decimal equivalent. It’s somewhat abstract, and more qualitative than quantitative. His decimal example, or at least how I took it, was an analogy, not an explanation of how the overall grade is determined.

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    • John says:

      You are digging yourself a very DEEP hole. This is getting more and more funny.

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  10. Jerry says:

    Ann Ominous, you are Hi Larious. I’m not sure what is so difficult about “The overall grade at the end of each piece IS NOT AN AVERAGE of the four subsection grades.” (emphasis added) It’s never going to make sense to you if you keep cramming it into your grading box. Stop trying to calculate and average them based on “the standard four point scale.” Dave’s not using the standard four point scale. There is no “hifalutin” math involved, because there isn’t ANY math involved. Your statement about decimals – coupled with your shot at Dave’s educational level had me laughing out loud at work. The only person looking like an idiot here is you, but at least you’re entertaining.

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  11. phil says:

    I LOVE when people get caught up in generalized ratings and miss the content. If you disagree with actual analysis then it would be worth discussing, if you disagree with the methodology by which an abstract letter grade is reached, then you are missing the point. Who cares what he calls it, the analysis reads the same way if it ends with an A or a B. But please get caught up in the semantics instead of just taking the actual evaluations for what they are worth. Maybe the grading system is ambiguous, but its mostly immaterial to the overall argument. And when he says decimals, he clearly means numbers less than 1 but greater than 0. Is that so hard to understand?

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  12. Ann ominous says:

    hey, if he just wanted to say that he comes up with an arbitrary final grade, I got no problem with that. But he doesn’t say that. He claims that there is some logical relationship between the intermediate grades and the final grade. If that’s the case, then the relationship needs to make sense. It doesn’t. Tell me how anywhere except bizarro world you can pass evey test but still have a failing overall grade, and then I’ll concede that this guy’s not an idiot. And if his so-called logical grading system is bunk, why should anyone think anything better about the rest of his analysis?

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    • Nathan says:

      Look at it like correlation and r-squared.

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    • Russell says:

      You can pass every test and still fail if your final grade is on a bell curve.

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    • Chris says:

      “Tell me how anywhere except bizarro world you can pass evey test but still have a failing overall grade, and then I’ll concede that this guy’s not an idiot.”

      Sounds like you’ve been in coddling academia way too long. In tons of aspects in life (Dating, job performance, athletics, etc.), if you are middling (a C or D) in all aspects you are a failure (F), even if you don’t fail at any one aspect.

      Welcome to the real world. It’s a lot harder than academia.

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    • ThundaPC says:

      I recommend you, or anyone else that doesn’t understand how an overall grade/score doesn’t equate to being an average of the individual parts to head over to IGN.com and browse over their video game reviews.

      IGN scores are on a 1-10 scale covering 5 categories. The overall score is on a 1-10 scale that’s not based on an average. The “not an average” thing is not some mysteriously new arbitrary system. Some parts of the sum are weighted more heavily than others and they’re not going to be the same for each target analyzed.

      Dave uses a simple letter grading system. You don’t need to know his precise definition. You can tell it’s simply based on common sense in the context of this series:

      A = Really Good/Excellent/Awesome
      B = Pretty good/gets the job done
      C = Some good stuff, some bad stuff
      D = Not very good.
      F = Bad/Really Bad/Garbage

      You can already tell, using the Houston Astros as an example, that C-level ownership generally properly funds a team enough to produce a winning ballclub but the owners like to have their hands all over the cookie jar.

      Based on the analysis of the Houston Astros we can see that they have the typical meddling ownership with a Front Office pushing ideas that are becoming more outdated by the minute. Add to this a really bad farm system that puts a damper on their future and you have a organization that’s heading backwards in a hurry.

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  13. Berkmaniac says:

    I think most people fail to realize that we have been competitive for the majority of McLane’s time as owner. 12 of the 16 years he has been owner, we have been 1 or 2 in our division. 2 of those years have come in 2007 and 2008, and yes, right now we are not in a good situation, but I know that through 2005 (13 seasons as owner), the Astros were #5 in winning percentage in the majors with McLane as owner. That’s pretty good.

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    • Nathan says:

      What did all of the winning seasons include?–Gerry Hunsicker. Why is Hunsicker no longer the GM?–Drayton drove him out.

      Our owner is responsible for ruining the only good thing our front office has ever had. I give Uncle Drayton very little credit for the ‘Stros success. They have won in spite of him, not because of him.

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  14. Berkmaniac says:

    Yes, I agree, that was definitely a mistake letting him go. However, I believe that one of the reasons/final straw was because Drayton was bent on keeping Biggio (who was definitely past his prime for his last couple seasons), and Hunsicker did not want to, and he was mad that Drayton undermined him.

    In this case, I was glad we kept Biggio, and I am glad he retired an Astro. I side with McLane on that one, but I know there were multiple events that led to Hunsicker leaving…most of them McLane’s fault. So yes, Drayton’s meddling has hurt the franchise over the past couple of years.

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