The Rays, the A’s, and Seeing What Might Not Be There

Here are a couple things that we know:

  • The Rays and the A’s are lower-budget baseball teams
  • The Rays and the A’s have good ideas of what they’re doing

I suppose we can’t really prove the second one, but to the extent that results can serve as indicators, it’s hard to argue with how successful the teams have been despite their considerable financial disadvantages. Both front offices are thought of as intelligent, forward-thinking, analytical, and efficient, and they’re efficient out of necessity, because neither team can afford to flush money down the toilet. They need to try to get the most out of every dollar they spend.

Here’s another thing that we know: over the offseason, the Rays and the A’s have poured some millions into building up their bullpens. Relievers are often thought of as being lousy investments, and it seems easy enough to cobble a bullpen together on the cheap, so when the Rays and the A’s invest in late-inning vets, it gets attention. The temptation is to believe they’re exploiting some kind of inefficiency. The temptation is to believe we’ve been wrong about relievers for a while. Basically, the temptation is to believe that they’re on to something. And, you know, maybe that’s true. Maybe they’ve figured something out. Or maybe people are just looking for patterns in the sand. Maybe there’s nothing weird going on at all.

The Rays have picked up Grant Balfour and Heath Bell, while the A’s have picked up Jim Johnson, Luke Gregerson, and Eric O’Flaherty. There have been some other moves, but they’ve been minor, and these guys are the evidence people point to that the Rays and the A’s are up to something. And again, maybe they are, but you could make the argument this is more or less business as usual. You could make the argument the teams are just trying to invest wisely.

We can begin with Balfour, because, why not? What Balfour is is a veteran, proven closer. You might not think of the Rays as being the sort of team to target that sort of player. But if you look past the labels, you see that the Rays got him for two years and $12 million. When it looked like Balfour was going to the Orioles for two years and $15 million, Dave thought it was a fine deal. The Rays, then, wound up with a better deal. That is, so long as you’re not worried about his failed physical with Baltimore. Prior to signing Balfour, the Rays had a fairly mediocre relief corps. The last three years, he’s been worth 2.6 regular WAR, and 5.7 RA9-WAR. Relievers tend to beat their regular WARs, especially when they get strikeouts and fly balls, so Balfour deserves some benefit of the doubt. He projects to be pretty excellent.

Bell looks weird on the Rays, because he was a salary dump. But for one thing, the Rays are on the hook for only a fraction of his salary. For a second thing, Bell’s coming off his best park-adjusted xFIP since 2010, having significantly increased his strikeouts and reduced his walks. So he might be undervalued, if you assume last year’s dingers were mostly noise. And for a third thing, the Rays didn’t seek Bell out, exactly — he came over in a trade that also brought Ryan Hanigan, who the Rays immediately extended. In order to land a regular catcher, the Rays agreed to take on some millions instead of give up real prospect value. Bell can’t be looked at in isolation.

And now we can move to the A’s. It’s strange to have Johnson as the second-most expensive player on the team. It’s especially strange given that Johnson for one year will cost $2 million less than Balfour for two. But the A’s wouldn’t have known how low Balfour’s price would go, and the A’s also would’ve known that Balfour wouldn’t want to re-sign for one season. With Johnson, there’s no long-term commitment. It’s 2014, and then free agency. What the A’s happen to have, and what they had at the time, was a roster difficult to upgrade otherwise. They’re solid almost everywhere, and improving further could’ve come at a real long-term cost. Johnson came with no associated cost, and he’s been worth 3.5 regular WAR over three years. He’s also been worth 6.1 RA9-WAR over three years. Johnson stands to make the A’s better, throwing important innings, and they didn’t have to lose any future resources.

Gregerson was picked up in a trade that cost the A’s Seth Smith, who didn’t really have anywhere left to play. Now, granted, the A’s could’ve just non-tendered Smith, so they did in effect volunteer to pay Gregerson his $5 million. Over three years, he’s been worth 1.8 regular WAR, and 3.0 RA9-WAR. He was better in 2013 than he was in 2012, and he was better in 2012 than he was in 2011. For the fourth time in five years, he allowed a contact rate under 70%. And this is the same A’s team that isn’t easy to upgrade anywhere other than the bullpen. The bullpen was already strong, but it could be made stronger at no real long-term cost. Other positions, not so much.

Finally, there’s O’Flaherty, who’s something of an unknown given that he’s coming off Tommy John surgery and given that he won’t be available until May at the earliest. The A’s guaranteed $7 million over two years, with a much higher price in 2015. Since O’Flaherty reached the majors, he’s been one of the most effective pitchers in baseball against left-handed hitters. He’s also been able to hold his own against righties, and as a healthy pitcher between 2010-2012, he was worth 2.5 regular WAR and 6.4 RA9-WAR. He’s made a career of limiting hits and dingers, and for relievers that can be more of a skill. If O’Flaherty comes back healthy this season, he ought to provide surplus value over his $1.5-million base. And the A’s got him for two years, while Joe Smith, Javier Lopez, and Boone Logan signed for three. O’Flaherty got the same guarantee Matt Thornton got from the Yankees.

Absolutely, it’s interesting that both the Rays and the A’s will spend so much on the bullpens, at least relatively speaking. But the more that I think about it, the less I think there’s something unusual to it. The less I think they’ve found something out about relievers. I think they’ve just stuck with trying to build the best teams possible, without sacrificing longer-term resources. None of these guys really cost anything but money, and none of them cost money after 2015. Bell, Johnson, and Gregerson are gone after 2014.

The shorter the deal, the lesser the risk. The Rays and A’s have assumed little risk, and you figure that in order to get a short deal, you might have to pay something of a premium, to offset the lack of player security. Additionally, I’ve gone this far without even mentioning the win curve. The Rays should be right in the thick of things in the AL playoff race. The same goes for the A’s, and both teams are capable of winning their divisions. Because of their respective budgets, they in theory can’t afford market rates of $/WAR. But at the same time, each win is worth more to them, given their high-leverage positions. Each additional win provides a significant boost to their playoff chances, and that’s the whole point. So it makes some sense to invest in good relievers, because it makes sense to invest in good players.

We’re always watching the Rays and the A’s, on high alert. We look for them to provide signals of what might be undervalued in the given current market. After all, if there were something to exploit, those are the teams you’d expect to be all over it. But in this case I think some people might be staring at wallpaper thinking it’s a Magic Eye. I don’t think we’re being told anything new about bullpens. I think a couple baseball teams just wanted to get better.



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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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Pumpsie Green
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Pumpsie Green
2 years 4 months ago

Combined, the A’s and Rays have been involved in exactly one World Series in the last generation. They may know what they’re doing, but it isn’t winning championships.

TK
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TK
2 years 4 months ago

To paraphrase Billy Beane: A GM’s job is to get his team into the postseason, over 162 game season the best teams shake out. However, with a first round that is a best of 5, the post-season really is a crapshoot.

LaLoosh
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

add the ONE GAME PLAY IN and the playoffs outcome is even more ridiculously random.

Pumpsie Green
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Pumpsie Green
2 years 4 months ago

The post-season is hardly a crapshoot. Every year, MLB (owners, commissioner, players included) feeds us the same story about how you just have to get into the playoffs and anything can happen. But ‘anything’ is always the same thing. If you want to win, you must be at the top or very near the top of spending in your division. Giants – top spender in NL West in 2010 and 2012, Cardinals the same in their two past championships, Marlins, etc. Red Sox, near the top in their division and on aggregate league-wide. Not that I think all of the players are in on some conspiracy, but I do believe they sense the spoils should go to the victor, and that there is a fatalistic sense of resentment entrenched in many big-league players. As for what the A’s and Rays are doing, they’re grabbing the low-hanging fruit in the baseball world. They see that making a few gains in the bullpen is the easiest way to earn a couple of marginal wins. Not the wins that will end in champagne showers, but the wins that will ‘keep them in the hunt’ and maintain the loyal fan base. In short, they’re doing what they must to keep making money. They’re not doing what has been proven to win championships.

The Narrative Strikes Again
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2 years 4 months ago

You can’t say that spending more money is the only reason a team is good because the reverse can be true. The Yankees can spend 200 million and not make the playoffs. Sure, if you spend more then the probability increases your chances that you make the playoffs. But no amount of money spent can guarantee success. There are many other factors that explain why a baseball team wins and loses. This site is dedicated to figuring that out. With your logic then any money spent is always spent wisely and that’s just not the case.

Eric Feczko
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Eric Feczko
2 years 4 months ago

Number of WS appearances this millennium (since 2001):

angels 1
astros 1
cards 4
d-backs 1
giants 3
marlins 1
Phillies 2
rangers 2
rays 1
red sox 3
rockies 1
tigers 1
white sox 1
yankees 3

14 teams have made a WS appearance in the past 13 years. No team has made more than 15 percent of appearances, which is not significantly different from random chance. Of those 14 teams, nine of them have won a WS. Simply put, making/winning a championship in baseball is extremely variable.

30 percent of the variance in the WS appearances may be explained by the ranked 2013 MLB payrolls (R squared = 0.298), however, this includes the fact that making it to the playoffs will lead to bigger payrolls in the future. Therefore, the size of the payroll is not a strong predictor of future WS appearances.

I think it’s also important to compare this to other sports where payroll is strictly controlled. In football, where playoffs should be even more of a crapshoot due to its single-elimination format, 15 teams have made it to a superbowl, and 8 teams have won a superbowl in the past 13 years.

In light of a sport with a salary cap and strong revenue sharing, the same proportion of teams make the playoffs in the MLB. I’m not sure variation in payroll has much of an effect on playoff success.

Gabe
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Gabe
2 years 4 months ago

The Giants weren’t the best team in the league each year they won. You best position your team to win, and that’s all a GM can do. 5 and 7 game sample sizes. It’s not the best team or the team that spent the most and has the most star-power, it’s the team that plays best in 5 and 7 game stretches.

And not important wins? They are late-inning wins. Have you watched the Tigers win any WS recently with great SP and big hitters? No, they have had super shitty bullpens.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

No Gabe, the Giants were not. And they were ranked 23rd and 27th best front offices by these smart savvy writers on this joint to boot, so they obviously were very, very, very lucky. They also were outspent by the end of the year Dodgers via “the Trade”.

Eric Feczko
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Eric Feczko
2 years 4 months ago

Oh, and for the record. I did not down vote any of your posts.

I think the down/up voting system is a waste of time.

Bertrand Russell
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Bertrand Russell
2 years 4 months ago

Exactly! I don’t know why the “herd” is thumbs downing you. You actually praise the A’s and Rays for their efficiency, which is what I thought the clones on this site would like.

pudieron89
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2 years 4 months ago

@Eric Feczko uh, making even two appearances in 13 years clocks in at 15%. By that math, the Cardinals, Giants, Sox, and Yankees have all been there more than your random noise threshold. Not that it refutes your point, which I agree with, but it does make it weaker.

Reade King
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2 years 4 months ago

@pudieron89: Each WS has two teams playing in it, correct? So, the Cardinals have appeared in 4/26 of the available slots, or 15.3% of them.

It’s when you look at league champions that the numbers get stronger: 4/13 of the NL champions have been Cardinals teams, for over 30% of all the possible NL champions. Definitely not quite random. Still, compared to the highest NL payrolls, definitely not a correlation.

Eric Feczko
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Eric Feczko
2 years 3 months ago

@Readie & pudieron89:

You’re right in that I was calculating the percentage of WS appearances collapsed across both leagues (which is also how I calculated the correlation). It’s probably not right to do so, since a dependency exists between the two leagues (i.e. there’s one championship team per league).

Regardless, the question is whether 4 championships in 13 years is significantly greater than random chance, given the number of playoff appearances per team. Remember, pumpsie’s initial hypothesis was that playoff success is non-random. Therefore if we take the opposite assumption (that playoff success is random), and our observed values differ from the predicted values, pumpsie’s hypothesis would be validated.
The Cardinals have made the playoffs nine times in the past thirteen years, in those years, they have had two playoff series (division/NLCS) before the WS. Again, assuming an equal probability of success, the probability of making it to the WS is 25 percent (0.5*0.5). Therefore, in nine tries, we would predict that the Cardinals would make it 2.25 times.

While this seems to validate your point, keep in mind that predictions have variance. The problem here is that we are dealing with a small sample size of events, so this prediction has extremely large error bars. In order to be confident that the 4 times observed is non-random, this value would need to be on the tails of the distribution of outcomes. Our confidence that it is non-random can be measured by calculating the proportion of outcomes that are more than what we observed.

I don’t really feel like doing this right now, but suffice to say that at least 20 percent of outcomes have the Cardinals making it more than 4 times in those nine years. Therefore, we cannot really be confident that our observed 4 championships are different from random chance.

Wally
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Wally
2 years 3 months ago

A Poisson test is what you’re looking for here. If we assume that making the playoffs in non-random (so we don’t care how many times you made the playoffs) and only want to test if Card’s made the WS an expected number of times, then 4 is the observed times, and 2.25 is the expected number, the the p-value is .11.

Richie
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Richie
2 years 4 months ago

To pseudo-defend Pumpsie (very very pseudo), just because we haven’t identified what works come playoff time, doesn’t mean it’s thus a crapshoot. A bit self-serving for Billy to proclaim it so.

Richie
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Richie
2 years 4 months ago

Having just seen Pumpsie’s latest post, let me add a few dozen ‘very’s and ‘pseudo’s. Mainly because he’s arguing something ($$$ correlates with playoff success) that could be so easily researched if he wasn’t too lazy to do so, rather than just toss some favorable examples at us.

Pumpsie Green
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Pumpsie Green
2 years 4 months ago

Yeah, I did the research. Every championship team in the last 21 years has been either first or second in division spending. Usually first.

Pumpsie Green
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Pumpsie Green
2 years 4 months ago

Cheers to pseudo-defending me, Richie! But boos for calling me lazy! Every comment doesn’t have to come with an attached syllabus – my original point was plenty clear.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

Pitching and defense in the playoffs. Its old, 2006, but Nate Silver was on the case. http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=5541

The A’s famously were not a good fundamentals team during the moneyball era. And they got bounced right quick. Beane’s lazy proclamation may finally be getting a paint job.

Eric Feczko
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Eric Feczko
2 years 4 months ago

@Pumpsie:

I’m sorry, but that research is indeed lazy. Or you are just trolling.

The Marlins were 4th in their division in payroll when they won the championship in 2003.

http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20030722&content_id=439341&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=null

The Astros were 3rd in their division when they made it to the WS in 2005:

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/wire?id=2283212

The Rockies were last in their division when they made it to the WS in 2007:

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/wire?id=3210744

Ditto for the Rays in 2008:

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/wire?id=3324146

The rangers were 3rd when they made it in 2010:

http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/story/13162308/-baseball-payrolls-list

Now, they were 2nd when they made it in 2011, by about 5 percent of their payroll…

http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/story/16560459/final-baseball-payrolls

In the past 13 years, (26 teams), at least 20 percent of the teams that won a pennant were NOT first or second in payroll. I don’t want to say that you are wrong….but I’ve got no way of finishing this post otherwise.

Eric Feczko
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Eric Feczko
2 years 4 months ago

@Pumpsie:

Well, my comment is awaiting moderation because of too many links. However, you are plain wrong in saying that all Al/NL/WS championship teams in the past 21 years have been first or second in payroll within their division.

Antonio bananas
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2 years 4 months ago

Pumpsie, there is a bias in your study. Most teams in general who make the playoffs are richest or second richest in their division.

Big in Japan
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Big in Japan
2 years 4 months ago

I watched the Cardinals win in 2006 and 2011. And I’m a Cardinals fan. But you can’t tell me that was anything but extreme luck. Likewise, I saw the best Cards team of my lifetime get swept by Boston in 2004. Don’t tell me that wasn’t extreme luck, either. :)

Pumpsie Green
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Pumpsie Green
2 years 4 months ago

Hi, Eric – thanks for looking into it further; I look forward to seeing the links. Sorry for not clarifying, but by championships I meant WS winners, not just pennant winners. I haven’t done the research that far down. The last few years, all the LCS teams have been top spenders in their division. Again, I’m not saying who will win, obviously, I’m just pointing out what hasn’t worked in the past. Tinkering with your bullpen may help, but teams that were 3-4-5 in division spending have not been in the WS conversation. For Jeff to say it’s hard to argue with the success of these teams, I’d say it depends on how you define success. If your goal is to win the WS then outspending your division is a good start. At least, it has been in the past.

Eric Feczko
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Eric Feczko
2 years 4 months ago

@Pumpsie:
Ah. I assumed, given your initial post, that you were referring to pennant championships.

I think you made a mistake with the Marlins, who won in 2003. They were outspent by the Mets, the Braves, and the Phillies.

I only went to 2001, mostly because I was too lazy to look up payroll numbers before that time period. I wouldn’t go back before the Wild Card though. The differences in payrolls are much smaller before the 95/96 strike.

In any case, the thrust of my point still stands. If your goal is to win a WS, then your best bet is to build a playoff-caliber team, which is what the rays and athletics have done. While payroll correlates with regular season success, playoff success appears to be on par with the NFL. Since the NFL strictly controls payroll and revenue amongst its teams, it is unclear that spending more would necessarily equate with the same proportion of championships.

It would lead to more playoff appearances, however.

I think the reason why people are downvoting is because you are not separating regular season success (strong correlation with payroll) from playoff success (weak correlation with payroll). If you had argued that the best way to win championships is to field a strong team every year, and that the best way to do that is to outspend your opponents, I think you would have more support.

Pumpsie Green
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Pumpsie Green
2 years 3 months ago

I think Beane may have been taking a backhanded shot at ownership in his comments. At least, that’s how I read it. To me, organizations can build three main pillars to give themselves the best chance to succeed in baseball, and they each correspond to the familiar coach-GM-owner structure. These pillars are:
1. Sequencing – very difficult to get right, and the big reason I love baseball. The manager and coaches are the architects – putting the right people in the right places that give the team the best chance to succeed, when to steal a base, what pitches to throw and at which count. All of that fantastic stuff that happens on the field and in the dugouts over the course of 162-plus glorious games for each team every year.
2. Analytics – mostly in the realm of the GM. No need to go into it on this site, but also includes scouts analyzing players in and out of their organization and player development, all of the human factors that go into putting together a great team.
3. Money – ownership has to step up and provide the tools needed to build a winning club. At least, that’s the way it has almost always worked in baseball. Managers need to know that the players and the environment they work in are being taken care of. GM’s need to have the ability to pay for the players they want, and to have the depth and flexibility needed in the case of injury or unexpected performance.
Within the Sequencing, Analytics, Money triumvirate, or SAM, you’ll find all of the elements an organization can control. There are some critical things you won’t find, such as performance. But an organization has no control over individual player performance – they can do everything right in SAM, but the player ultimately controls performance.
If you were to put each of SAM on a 10-point scale, you would have great GM’s like Beane scoring a 10, but the total team score wouldn’t be 30. Great coaches like Joe Maddon, but still not enough. High-spending owners, but seasons that did not end in championships – not enough points on S or A due to unfortunate sequencing or analytics that missed the mark. To circle around to my original point, very rare is it that a team scores 5 in M and wins a title. So yes, Beane can be considered successful. And yes, to some extent the Rays know what they’re doing. Unfortunately, one of the organization’s pillars has been a little short and their fans have not been able to celebrate a championship. Yet.

Not Pumpsie Green
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Not Pumpsie Green
2 years 4 months ago

Why are people who are dumb post on fangraphs?

I thought this was a place for higher level discussion, yet we still get saddled with this drivel on a fangraphs comment thread. Jesus christ.

Pumpsie Green
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Pumpsie Green
2 years 4 months ago

An insightful contribution to the conversation would have been appreciated. As I said, the A’s and Rays may know what they’re doing. In fact, I’m sure they do. But they also know it hasn’t worked yet, and that it may never work. What does work, and what has been proven to work, is what the Red Sox, Cardinals, Giants, Yankees, Phillies, Marlins (unfortunately), Braves and Blue Jays have done in the past 21 years. Outspend your division, players will know you have a commitment to winning (read: paying them), and there is a greater likelihood championships will follow.

Jim Nelson
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Jim Nelson
2 years 4 months ago

You should’ve left it at “Outspend your division and there is a greater likelihood championships will follow”. I’m not sure you can take the available data and correlate it to that bit in the middle about player motivation.

Eric Feczko
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Eric Feczko
2 years 4 months ago

The cardinals and the cubs have been neck-and-neck in terms of spending. Not to mention that the Cubs have a significantly larger market than the Cardinals.

Three of the teams you mention are in the NL east, they cannot all outspend each other (and they don’t). When exactly have the Marlins EVER outspent their division?

jpg
Guest
jpg
2 years 4 months ago

Well since he’s using a 21 year sample, I’m assuming Pumpsie is referring to the 97′ Marlins who did have a huge payroll before conducting the fire sale the following offseason.

scatterbrian
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scatterbrian
2 years 4 months ago

Something about pots and kettles….

Matthew
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Matthew
2 years 4 months ago

Since 2002 The New York Yankees have won their division 8 times, won more than 90 games 10 times and made the playoffs all but twice. And they have only been to two World Series in that time, winning once.

I think the point might be that shrinking a team’s performance to 3-5-7 game series might not be the most helpful sample to determine the strength of a team or the quality of its build.

Eric Feczko
Guest
Eric Feczko
2 years 4 months ago

I agree with your point, but you clearly cherry picked 2002. Since the Yankees won the division and made it to the WS the year before.

To be fair, the Yankees are a strong outlier in this analysis. They’ve failed to make the playoffs 2 times in the past 20 years. Given that their payroll is TWICE the median, and likely 3-4 standard deviations from the mean, they should make the playoffs every year.

Now that being said, you can find comparable teams in the NFL that do this as well (Patriots, Steelers, Colts). Furthermore, you have counterexamples to the Yankees: the dodgers and the angels have been huge spenders and have reached the WS a total of one time since 2001.

I know it sucks to admit, but the Yankees are a fairly well-run team. They may spend a lot of money, but they typically have spent it well.

Shankbone
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2 years 4 months ago

6 playoffs before your cut off, 4 WS Titles and a game 7 loss.

Clearly A-Rod is somehow to blame for the drought.

Eric Feczko
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Eric Feczko
2 years 4 months ago

Alternative explanation:

The increased payroll from 2001 (100 million) to the present (200 million) is to blame for the drought.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

Their pitching peaked and fizzled by 2004. The new wave of pitching wasn’t as epic.

Also, I left NYC in 2002. That might have factored in.

Eric Feczko
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Eric Feczko
2 years 4 months ago

@Shankbone:

Their pitching has been excellent over the past 5-8 years. The problem is that they insist on paying aging players who can’t play defense more and more money.

Also, I think you’re right that your leaving caused them to fail. I blame you for their failure. Which is a good thing in my mind, since I’m a red sox fan.

Thanks :)

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

I’m going to gently disagree with you there Feczko. The current crop of starters can’t hold a candle to Cone, Wells, Clemens, Petitte, Mussina. Those guys were horses. You need 3 Strong SPs to go deep in the postseason. Sometimes you can get by with 2, but that’s been one of the biggest problems (and yes, the aging hitters definitely are a big 1-2 punch). But mainly its because A-rod brought bad juju, the moment he slapped Bronson Arroyo’s glove.

Eric Feczko
Guest
Eric Feczko
2 years 4 months ago

I can see where you are coming from. The peak years for the Yankees in the 90s had better pitching than the current crop.

I would like to point out that the current crop has been doing its job for the past few years, ranking in the top 5 in the major leagues if you go by WAR. Up until this year, Sabathia was the very definition of an ace.
However, you are right in that they have not had 3 strong SPs in a very long time.

In any case, I always thought varitek stole whatever good juju A-Rod had left when he slapped him in the face.

jpg
Guest
jpg
2 years 4 months ago

@ Shankbone I agree with what you say regarding the Yankees pitchers in the 90’s being significantly better than there more recent teams. But…

“You need 3 Strong SPs to go deep in the postseason”

That’s just not the case. Who were the three studs on the 03′ Rockies? Cleveland almost won the WS in 97′ with Charles Nagy, Dennis Martinez and Chad Ogea as there frontline starters. The Cardinals won a WS with Jeff Weaver and Jeff Suppan behind Carpenter. The 05′ White Sox had a number of good pitchers like Buehrle, Contreras, Freddy Garcia but I wouldn’t call any of them “studs”. The point being, you never know when a Suppan or a Kenny Rogers is gonna pitch like a god in a short sample. In 97 Chad Ogea beat Kevin Brown head-to-head. Twice.

gareth
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gareth
2 years 4 months ago

Its unfair to judge teams based on world series wins and appearances. Once a team makes the playoffs, its a crapshoot. Its all about who’s hot at that time of year. The best team in baseball in any given year occasionally the world series. Other times “the magic of October” plucks out a winner.

To me a true definition of a team is its record over the grind of a 162 game season.

Benjammer
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Benjammer
2 years 4 months ago

I know the current stance by most of the Fangraphs community is that the playoffs are a crapshoot, and I know that a big contributing factor to these two teams adding relievers like this is that they can more afford to give out short term contracts rather than long term ones.

However, I’d like to propose a theory that these two teams have found a link between playoff success and an above average bullpen. Please don’t flame me if this is a dumb idea that has already be refuted. Discuss!

Benjammer
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Benjammer
2 years 4 months ago

I meant to post this as a main comment, not in this thread, so please disregard this in favor of this comment farther down.

Eric Feczko
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Eric Feczko
2 years 4 months ago

You can actually calculate the proportion of playoff success explained by random chance alone using Bayes theory.

I’m too lazy to run the math right now, but in a 16 game series, the proportion of wins due to chance is 33 percent. In a 5 game series, it probably closer to 50 percent.

Playoff success depends, in part, on having a good team. However, a large part of who succeeds is indistinguishable from random chance.

Benjammer
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Benjammer
2 years 4 months ago

Eric, is there an article somewhere that applies the Bayes theorem to the baseball playoffs? Sounds interesting.

Eric Feczko
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Eric Feczko
2 years 4 months ago

@Ben:

Not that I’m aware of. There is an article applying the Classical test to the NFL season, however.

http://www.advancednflstats.com/2010/11/randomness-of-win-loss-records.html

In hindsight, I sort of misspoke when I said you can use bayes theorem, I really meant that you can use an exact probability test, which derives from the same logic as to how bayes formulated his theorem.

Sorry about that.

JD
Guest
JD
2 years 4 months ago

I can’t believe people continue to make this same, tired, irrelevant argument.

Oh, Beepy
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

Hi, you must be new here.
I’m Mike, nice to make your acquaintance.

Also you’re very very wrong.

Pumpsie Green
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Pumpsie Green
2 years 4 months ago

Minus 19! Seriously? Just pointing out that what the A’s and Rays are doing probably will not result in a year-end parade. This fiddling around the edges that they do is frustrating. Not that I hold a special place in my heart for Loria, but at least Marlins fans had those times when they could stand on the rooftop and shout “We’re Number One!” I wish every fan could experience that feeling, but I’m afraid the Tampa Bay model – and the fact they are revered for it – will perpetuate mediocrity. Spend the money! Take your shot!

Dave
Guest
Dave
2 years 4 months ago

sometimes it’s hard being right. Hey, I wish the Rays took more shots at adding that last piece. This year may well be their best chance yet, but it sure looks like a 1-year window with THAT good a shot (assuming they keep Price). If they are one bat short, would they trade prospects to add this year’s Marlon Byrd? They never have – only on the cheap. And I get it – they want to compete for 10 years, not 1, but I’d rather have that trophy.

LaLoosh
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

and they’re actually flirting with trading David Price. that is mind-blowing. And yeah, the Rays should have signed Byrd. That would have been a real nice fit for them.

LaLoosh
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2 years 4 months ago

there are a lot of sheep here. you never realized that??

KDL
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KDL
2 years 4 months ago

There’s some logic. If people disagree with the status quo (and more importantly you)they MUST be sheep!

Dave
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Dave
2 years 4 months ago

I’m not suggesting the Rays need to sign a bat now. I’m saying that if they need a bat at the trade deadline, don’t go cheap. They have pitching, they usually put together a good bullpen. They have a pretty good offense. Usually that’s their weak spot though. If they need an outfielder and Cuddyer (free agent at year-end) is having a big year, go get him. Or Jonny Gomes, or Mike Morse or Josh Willingham…

jasonbvt
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jasonbvt
2 years 4 months ago

Perhaps, the Rays and As have realized that the biggest financial value is simply in getting to the playoffs. Winning the World Series does cost money, and they don’t have money so they hope to find that playoff magic and ride it to a championship. However, if they don’t find any magic bunnies at least they got the money for making the playoffs.

Jim Nelson
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Jim Nelson
2 years 4 months ago

As an A’s fan, I will tell you that the final A’s game of the 2012 season was more exciting than any regular season game the Giants played that year. It was preceded by 161 A’s games that made that last-day victory the best come-from-behind win in my lifetime. The Giants sweeping the World Series generated a few of yawns around the city. A’s fans were still shaking their heads in amazement a year later. Baseball’s too good a game for any team or any season to be judged by a ticker tape parade.

And winning the AL West two years in a row doesn’t sound like “mediocrity” to me.

Bertrand Russell
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Bertrand Russell
2 years 4 months ago

Did anybody really think the A’s had a chance in the playoffs? I didn’t.

GiveEmTheBird
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GiveEmTheBird
2 years 4 months ago

Love it. O’s fans feel the same way about the ’12 season.

LK
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LK
2 years 4 months ago

You’re right, what the A’s and Rays are doing will probably not result in a year-end parade. What the Yankees are doing will probably not result in a year-end parade, what the Cardinals are doing will probably not results in a year-end parade, and what the Astros are doing will probably not result in a year-end parade.

Every single team’s odds of a year-end parade at the beginning of the season are much, much less than 50%.

Eric Feczko
Guest
Eric Feczko
2 years 4 months ago

Seriously? This comment deserves worse.

The rays/Athletics have put together a consistently competitive team and have at least tried to make the playoffs when they can. Despite winning, they have yet to establish a strong fan base that would support larger payrolls.

You seem to be claiming that you know better, so would be a better model for the Rays and the athletics?

LaLoosh
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

huh? This reminds me of responses I heard so many times about the Cards signing of Peralta for 4/53M every time questions were raised about it… the response was more or less always, “are you questioning the Cardinals?”

Good teams seem to avoid questioning bc of their success more than others. Then again there is also the Brian Sabean affect which is no matter how much success his teams have had, he doesn’t stop being skewered and labeled as lucky. Hah.

Eric Feczko
Guest
Eric Feczko
2 years 4 months ago

@LaLoosh:

My response was directed towards pumpsis, for I inferred from his post that he thought the athletics and rays could do better. Given their problems with raising a fan base, I requested an explanation for what model would work better for those teams.

Certainly, larger market teams can afford to spend more and they should spend well in order to win (i.e. not like the mets have).

You seem to have a chip on your shoulder regarding Brian Sabean. Well, when it comes to free agency, he has routinely made questionable decisions that don’t pan out.

Much of his success has to do with an eye for young talent (or an eye for when that talent won’t pan out). He made a number of great trades early in his time as GM that led to a successful giants team for about 8 years. His subsequent FA signings afterwards pretty much failed and led to a losing team from 2004-2008.

Ironically, the success of the giants was driven by his failure in the FA market. The mistakes made between 2004-2008 allowed him to stockpile early draft picks and develop of guys like Lincecum, Cain, Baumgartner, to name a few.

So yeah, questioning Sabean’s FA signings is reasonable, because they’ve rarely been good. That doesn’t mean he’s a terrible GM, he just has no sense regarding the FA market.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

Feczko, I’m going to have to politely disagree with you again. You’re glossing over some of Sabean’s game here, and as a Giants fan who has enjoyed his successes as well as criticized the bonehead signings I’m going to have to correct a little: first, ownership dictated that they punt the draft picks, so from 2003-5 FAs were deliberately signed early to “lose” the picks. Starting in 2006 they finally gave up the Win With Bonds and put money into the farm for the first time. (Tidrow wanted to draft Sabathia, they wouldn’t pay the bonus, as an example of how they rolled, the farm was basically used as a pitcher drafting trading post).

Sabean hasn’t made a few great trades early. He’s made two bad trades in his entire career, and they’re both semi-justified. I’m not rehashing AJ-Nathan or Beltran-Wheeler, it takes too long. Needless to say, way more time is spent on those two instead of the insane number of steals the guy has peeled off: JT Snow, Jeff Kent, Ellis Burks, Livan Hernandez, Rob Nen, Kenny Lofton, Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, Hunter Pence…

Most of the FA signing noise is about Zito/Rowand. Zito was completely ownership dictated for PR reasons. Since Rowand was signed, the Giants haven’t bothered with a big FA contract until Hunter Pence got re-signed. They’ve short termed the hell out of it. He actually has tremendous sense on the FA market now – its a wasteland and he avoides it for the most part.

Here are the mistakes – Ray Durham (early to “lose” a draft pick) – turned fragile quick. I’d note he’d most likely get love from Sabers, he had above league average numbers and a great OBP profile. The bad call was Alfonso – all of NY knew his back was screwed, he wasn’t the same player. He was signed without a physical – Ned Coletti bragged about that one. Armando Benitez was a bad bad signing – paying big money for a closer? And again, didn’t they have scouts at Mets games for crying out loud? Beyond that? I guess you can get mad about Randy Winn or Dave Roberts, or the old guy OF of Finley and Alou, but the cold hard fact is the ownership group wasn’t coughing up money to get Vlad or Sheffield. So he made due, hoped for the best and got crushed.

The Giants rebuilt quicker than any team, all the while burdened by the Zito/Rowand deals. Its actually a pretty unique circumstance, 4 years of drafting low and reaping immediate and complete benefits. No wonder it drives saber fans nuts, while they watch teams do it “the right way” and flounder, the way Toronto and Seattle have for many years. Wendy Thurm and the crew’s hatchet job was especially delicious after the 2nd ring.

BMarkham
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BMarkham
2 years 4 months ago

@LaLoosh

What are you talking about? I doubt anyone said “Are you questioning the Cardinals?”. Tell me, what would you have done to solve the SS problem if you were the Cards? Signed Drew and lose a draft pick? Trade away young MLB ready talent for someone with less control and higher salary? The Cardinals are WS contenders and they didn’t want to get rid of any contributors, and they didn’t want to hurt their future.

What they were willing to do, was spend money, since they were under budget at the time and signing Peralta (and Ellis) has them still at the same payroll level they were at last year (and Peralta’s deal is front loaded so the biggest hit is this year and next). It’s not the type of signing the Rays and A’s would make, but the Cards have more money and value building a world class team over staying under budget.

Being where they were on the win curve, and the fact that the Cards are really only paying him to be a ~2 WAR player, which he’s been worth more than in each of the last 3 years, what’s wrong with the deal? And with the black hole the Cardinals have at SS, all the WAR Peralta contributes is an upgrade over what they had their last year.

As a fan of the Cardinals, I loved the deal. Got to love an organization that says “We could trade for a SS, but let’s keep all our good players and pay extra to add another good player!”. Much better than the hand sitting that teams like the Reds and Orioles have been up to this offseason.

Eric Feczko
Guest
Eric Feczko
2 years 3 months ago

@shank:

The giants took 4 years to rebuild, during which they used early draft picks on guys like Lincecum, Cain, Buster Posey, and Bumgarner. Three of those guys were top-ten draft picks. So yes, the recent success of the Giants was dependent upon extremely bad losing seasons from 2004-2008.

Furthermore, other teams found bargains in the free agent market that the Giants did not. Instead they overpaid for quite a few mistakes between ’03 and ’06 (I count nine from the ones you mention; so about two mistakes a year).

That being said, I think you make a great point regarding the fans dismissal of a GM. We don’t know how much the owners meddle in the decisions of a GM, and in the case of Brain Sabean, the ownership may have muddled a great deal between 2003-2006.

In fact, if you look at most sports, it appears that meddlesome owners tend to impact teams negatively (see: every soccer franchise, Jerry Jones, Mike Brown). A strong franchise may stem from owners getting out of the way and letting the front office do its job. Even George Steinbrenner was only successful when he stopped trying to get every “star” and let the FO develop a solid core in the ’90s. When he started taking the reins again in the ’00s, the team started to fall apart.

Chickensoup
Member
Member
Chickensoup
2 years 4 months ago

You’re definitely going to get flack for this comment but it’s mostly by people who don’t look at the numbers i feel:

Looking at the numbers:

2000: Yankees and Mets, ranked 1 and 6
2001: Diamondbacks and Yankees, ranked 1 and 8
2002: Angels and Giants, ranked 15 and 10
2003: Marlins and Yankees, ranked 25 and 1
2004: Red Sox and Cardinals, ranked 2 and 11
2005: White Sox and Astros, ranked 13 and 12
2006: Cardinals and Tigers, ranked 11 and 14
2007: Red Sox and Rockies, ranked 2 and 25
2008: Phillies and Rays, ranked 12 and 29
2009: Yankees and Phillies, ranked 1 and 7
2010: Giants and Rangers, ranked 10 and 27
2011: Cardinals and Rangers, ranked 11 and 13
2012: Giants and Tigers, ranked 8 and 5
2013: Red Sox and Cardinals, ranked 4 and 10

There is of course no direct correlation between payroll and winning a world series. Noone should ever say that given the data. But I don’t really think that the bashing on Pumpsie is justified. Since 2000, a team in the lower half of payroll has won the world series one time. Only 4 times since 2000 has a team in the lower half of payroll even made the world series.

There are plenty of reasons for this, and obviously a much more rigorous and in depth approach to this would be justified, but in large, he is correct in his assumption. Winning in the regular season due to playing the averages just does not translate well into world series wins, which is just a different way of saying what Pumpsie stated. If it truly was a “crapshoot” then you would see more lower payroll teams who barely make the playoffs even getting to the world series thank do.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 4 months ago

It’s because high payrolls get you into the postseason, though.

Eric Feczko
Guest
Eric Feczko
2 years 4 months ago

The problem here is that there IS a correlation between payroll and regular season wins. The teams most likely to make it to the playoffs are teams that have large enough payrolls.

Furthermore, payrolls are dependent upon past success. A payroll will increase if the team is consistently winning. A payroll will decrease if the team is consistently losing.

Finally, I think using ranks, while an easy way of crunching the numbers, ignores the distribution of the data. Arbitrarily dividing the teams into “top” and “bottom” halves ignores the fact that a lot of teams may be clustered in the middle with outliers on the tails. To take 2011 as an example, the rangers were ranked 13, but only about 10 million from the number 16 team, and 10 million from the number 9 team. They were 50 million from the bottom 5 teams, and 40 million from the top 5.

I think it’s safe to agree that the effect of payroll on playoff success is complicated. There is certainly an effect, but the size is difficult to evaluate.

Chickensoup
Member
Member
Chickensoup
2 years 4 months ago

Since the NFL was mentioned a few times I’ll bring up a major difference between leagues.

In the NFL there are really 2 ways to be championship caliber. A stud QB and decent everywhere else (Manning, Brady, Rodgers) or a great defense (generally cheaper individual players so spending a lot on defense will yield a lot of above average players). It’s rare to see a team even make the playoffs with an average defense and QB but great RBs and WRs for instance.

The NFL is simar to the NBA in this regard. One elite player makes the team good (except in the NFL it almost has to be QB while in the NBA position matters less). Baseball is not like this (see the Angels for reference).

Bringing up the “parity” difference between baseball and the NFL/NBA is almost meaningless.

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
2 years 3 months ago

One elite QB does not make a team good, see for example the Saints who only won the Super Bowl when they supported Drew Brees and while good keep getting bounced, Peyton Manning winning when he gets team support, Dan Marino.

Keanu Reaves
Guest
Keanu Reaves
2 years 4 months ago

good job pissing everyone off GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS

Kenz
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Kenz
2 years 4 months ago

I believe there was a recent post somewhere (I forgot where) that mentions how WAR can underrate relievers, the best of whom have relatively high WPA scores.

yuniform
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yuniform
2 years 4 months ago
Kevin
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Kevin
2 years 4 months ago

WAR underrates and overrates everybody depending on what you want. Every players war can be off +/-2 games. Nerds in these comments get all particular about every little statistical detail and then live by a stat that can be off by 50%.

bjsguess
Member
Member
bjsguess
2 years 4 months ago

Spoken like someone who has no concept of stats.

skippyballer486
Member
skippyballer486
2 years 3 months ago

“WAR underrates and overrates everybody”

I’m struggling to work out how that could POSSIBLY be true. Last year Ian Kinsler had a WAR of 2.5. So was he simultaneously worth more than 2.5 wins and worth less than 2.5 wins?

Graham
Guest
Graham
2 years 4 months ago

Might there be something about relievers being worth more than their WAR in practical value, because of the high leverage situations they are constantly in?

jfree
Member
jfree
2 years 4 months ago

I’d argue that they are worth more than WAR because they have a higher trade value in late July. The growth of 1 IP max guys in the bullpen throughout the league means that they are getting burned out (more appearances hence less rest time between appearances). Teams expecting to go into the postseason – and facing short series as well – are generally going to need to shore that up.

Oliver
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Oliver
2 years 4 months ago

I think it comes down to the fact that if you want to spend some money, but not much, and not many years relievers are the only thing left to spend on. You can’t get a position player anymore for 2/10 million anymore.

KCDaveInLA
Guest
KCDaveInLA
2 years 4 months ago

The baseball world figured out that no reliever is worth Jonathan Papelbon money, and most relievers are getting paid about what relievers are worth; lo and behold, even the A’s and Rays can afford good relievers. They’re essential, and generally affordable because their salaries ‘regressed to the mean’, so why not?

LaLoosh
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

isn’t it funny that when the A’s or Rays do something that defies current established wisdom, the whole progressive community rushes in to figure out why they are ahead of the rest of the league. when everyone else does something similar all the “luddite” attacks come flying from every angle.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

Indeed.

JD
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JD
2 years 4 months ago

Yeah, that’s not actually what’s happened, and it seems you haven’t read the article because the EXACT CONCLUSION is that the A’s/Rays probably haven’t done anything here to be “ahead of the rest of the league.”

LaLoosh
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

you obviously missed the intentional exaggeration. the point was that if other teams were to load up to 25% of their payroll on RPing, they would be getting skewered.

pudieron89
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

when most of your talent is homegrown/traded-for pre-arb players, of course most of your $$$ is allocated to FAs. And $ allocated to FA RPing is <<$15m a year.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles
2 years 4 months ago

And the Rays and A’s should be getting skewered IMO. Both teams have limited resources and tying up a large % of said resources on disposable parts is silly. Balfour and Rodney came from nothing just like the next power armed RP who gets a chance to close. The Rays have a pile of power arms, why spend on Balfour?

LK
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LK
2 years 4 months ago

I think if other teams were able to build really good rosters while spending very little money, they would draw the same praise as the A’s and Rays do, regardless of how precisely they spent the little money they had.

You’re right that if a shitty team spent a quarter of its money on relievers they’d get skewered; which, yeah.

TheGrandslamwich
Member
TheGrandslamwich
2 years 4 months ago

So where exactly should the A’s and Rays, two small market teams who can’t afford to be burdened with big long-term contracts, spend to improve their teams? RPs are basically the only commodity that they can afford and wont become long term burdens.

Wally
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Wally
2 years 4 months ago

What grandslamwich said. The A’s are set at every fielding position and have a surplus of pretty good arms for the starting rotation as well. So, without spending $60M+ on one of the top line FA starters, or making an expensive upgrade in the field from someone that’s already giving you 2-3WAR to some FA that might get your 4WAR, what are they going to do?

Eric Feczko
Guest
Eric Feczko
2 years 4 months ago

Not really.

Both the rays and the athletics are truly small-market teams with limited opportunity for growth. In order to be successful teams, they HAVE to be finding undervalued players, because they are unable to outspend anyone.

The problem here is that the other teams have caught on, and are doing a better job of player evaluation. Therefore, the market has become more efficient. Interest in sabermetrics is driven by interest in market inefficiencies that arise from player evaluation. Because the rays and athletics are the likeliest to benefit by exploiting such inefficiencies, their moves are put under a microscope by fans who use sabermetrics.

TB
Guest
TB
2 years 4 months ago

Speaking as the guy who asked this question in Dave’s chat yesterday:

1. Thanks for expending way more words on it than he did.

2. I think you may have hit on something, though: “…none of them cost money after 2015. Bell, Johnson, and Gregerson are gone after 2014.” Is it possible that these teams have just given up on the idea of signing effective post-arb starters to long-term deals? In a world where Vargas gets four years, and on teams where a four-year albatross can really sink you, has the year-to-year volatility of RPs become more palatable than four years of a “safer” bet, even if you’re getting far fewer innings?

3. Is it possible that these teams believe that, with a smart on-field manager, leverage has become an opportunity to exploit? Put another way, would it make less sense for the 2013 Reds to give Dusty the same bullpen toys? Good pitchers are good pitchers, yes, but someone like O’Flaherty, who would figure to pitch fewer but higher-leverage innings, can have much more value extracted from him if utilized as close to “perfectly” as possible, no? Maybe I’m just stating the obvious, but if they’re really looking at leverage management as a possible advantage that they don’t really have to pay for, could they be seeking to maximize that advantage (albeit with things the do have to pay for)?

4. Is it possible that they’re looking at different factors around RP effectiveness than we are? Are they better at parsing out volatility? Can they avoid a Mitchell Boggs 2013 better than other teams? I ask this because Jim Johnson still seems to make little sense to me, if we look at the more obvious predictors of success.

Sorry, that was more than originally intended. Thanks again for the piece.

hahiggins
Member
hahiggins
2 years 4 months ago

Your #3 is very interesting and, I think, worthy of the attention of someone with the skills to parse it out and test it.

scatterbrian
Guest
scatterbrian
2 years 4 months ago

Agreed, especially considering how Oakland/Melvin have successfully employed platoons recently as well.

GiveEmTheBird
Guest
GiveEmTheBird
2 years 4 months ago

See the O’s ’12 playoff run and how they depended upon perfectly used (or super lucky) relief pitching to win a million 1 run games. It has made me wonder about replacing one or two mediocre starters with a few low cost guys who you can tell to throw hard ’cause they’re only going for 2-3 innings. If you creatively moved them up/down during the season (again, see O’s in ’12) you could have a lot of rested arms ready to go. Plus you could try and play matchup a much more often. Then again, there is a reason I’m not running a team.

CaliforniaJag
Guest
CaliforniaJag
2 years 4 months ago

Love point #3, and that’s exactly why I love the fact that Oakland did this. Bob Melvin is definitely one of the best in the league at putting his players in positions to succeed and taking advantage of matchup advantages and game situations.

JKB
Guest
JKB
2 years 4 months ago

#3 Makes perfect sense. The Rays had a surplus of lefties in the bullpen. They sought to optimize the matchups (maximize leverage) by trading a lefty to San Diego a week ago and signing a righty (Balfour). The thing I was puzzled about was why they went with Balfour instead of bringing back Rodney. Its probably about salary or length of contract, but maybe it is something else related to leverage as well. Maybe they didn’t want to go after the last guy left?

DevinM
Guest
DevinM
2 years 4 months ago

I will say this I believe investing good money into your pen is more worth it when your rotation is good. As a Jays fan we’ve often had really good pens that depending on the starters have been really bad or really good, based on workload.

I think it is sort of a holistic idea if your rotation is bad you might as well have some jobbers in the pen, cause your likely not going to the playoffs anyway. If you have a good pen you should spend on your pen and the whole pitching staff will likely greatly reward you.

hahiggins
Member
hahiggins
2 years 4 months ago

Speaking only from the Oakland side, I can definitely see why THIS Oakland team would benefit from a great bullpen more than another team might. It’s all a roster construction puzzle. Their starters are all decent to good, but none of them is a workhorse. You’ll get maybe one complete game out of Parker, and Griffin seems to occasionally dazzle into the eighth, but this is a team of guys who pitch six innings and get out. So to me it makes sense that, if you know the starts are going to be good but short, you’d want more (good) relievers than if you had a Shields or vintage-Sabathia type in front.

Oh, Beepy
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

I really think Jeff’s onto something in that one of the least effective uses of resources is to lock up a ‘star’ player for longer than you can reasonably expect him to be worth it. It’s less about their yearly salary and more about the ability to do as much as possible with that yearly salary each and every year.

The St. Paul Sieve
Guest
The St. Paul Sieve
2 years 4 months ago

Great article, though one technical point to quibble with:

Oakland’s plumbing challenges are well-known, so it’s doubtful they possess the ability to flush money down the toilet, even if they wanted to. At this juncture.
Just sayin’.

LaLoosh
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

I might take issue with the idea that the A’s roster was otherwise difficult to improve. They have John Jaso currently slated as DH iirc. Considering he’s returning from a lengthy concussion rehab, I think they could have chosen to allocate some of the pen budget on finding a DH reinforcement or upgrade. I think the A’s will have one of the weaker contender’s lineups.

Similarly, it seems as if the Rays are now planning to have Rodriguez & Forsythe in weak side platoons at DH and LF and neither would be considered lefty mashers. They could have done something there.

I think what both teams did was a lot about the marginal value of wins for contending teams. If contending teams feel that they can prevent a few more losses from leaking out of the bullpen, then it’s not hard to justify allocating more budget there. I don’t find it a particularly dramatic development. And yeah, if a team projected to win 72 games threw that much budget into their pen, it would prob be foolish. I just feel that if Kevin Towers does this (team that can reasonably expect to be in playoff range), he would get ridiculed. Ditto Jerry DiPoto, Brian Sabean, Dayton Moore, etc.

rubesandbabes
Guest
rubesandbabes
2 years 4 months ago

Yes to all.

Jaso is the Peter Brand pick for A’s DH, but adding Billy Butler (or even Nelson Cruz) would eliminate the need for the .370OBP/.420SLG vs. .320/.490 which is the better DH existential question. The A’s are putting a lot on Jaso’s shoulders.

billy
Guest
billy
2 years 4 months ago

U MAD?

Wally
Guest
Wally
2 years 4 months ago

Its set up as a straight platoon right now. Jaso vs. RHP, Callaspo vs. LHP, with some random shuffles of people like Cespedes or Moss coming in now and then. And both Jaso and Callaspo should produce something like 110-120 RC+ in that platoon. Kendrys isn’t better than that. Cruz isn’t better than that…

rubesandbabes
Guest
rubesandbabes
2 years 4 months ago

Okay, no one is saying Alberto Callaspo is the A’s DH against LHP.

The more likely scenario is that one of the four OFs DHes, and then Brandon Moss and/or Jaso both have every chance to play more than 150 games.

Callaspo will play 2nd base (and some 1st?), with Sogard going to the minors. But go easy when you tell this to A’s fans – the shock wave hasn’t hit yet.

For me, the original point about the A’s indeed having room to improve stands. Even if Jaso does give the .370OBP/.420SLG all year long, how does this compare to Big Papi’s production, or even the low OBP power of say Mike Morse or Nelson Cruz?

CaliforniaJag
Guest
CaliforniaJag
2 years 4 months ago

Point by point:

1. He probably is. Freiman probably goes to the minors.

2. Jaso does NOT have a chance to play more than 150 games because the A’s will face more than 12 lefty starters, and he will pretty much never be in the lineup against a lefty.

3. Nick Punto will probably play 2B against lefties (or SS and move Lowrie to 2B). There is approximately a 0.001% chance Eric Sogard goes to the minors. Go easy on what? You obviously aren’t very familiar with the team.

4. It wouldn’t be difficult to argue that a .370 OBP/.420 SLG player is better than the .320/.490 player you mentioned earlier, especially since OBP is worth approximately 1.8 times SLG. For math purposes:

(.370 x 1.8) = 0.666 + .420 = 1.086
(.320 x 1.8) = 0.576 + .490 = 1.066

rubesandbabes
Guest
rubesandbabes
2 years 3 months ago

CalifoniaJag

Okay, point by point.

1) What I said.

2) What I said.

3)Do the math on Sogard – Count the roster spots using three catchers (2 if you like) and 13 pitchers (12 if you like) and then add in Callaspo’s $5mil salary and Sogard’s minor league options.

Punto, Callaspo, and Lowrie = Three middle infielders, and A’s are still light at 1b and DH. Barton has a better chance to make the team than Sogard, but probably there will be a 5th outfielder, not yet on the horizon, and neither Barton nor Sogard will make the team until injury need.

4)When you attempt and on-high pedantic mathematical explanation on Fangraphs (a welcome home of this type of ‘fandom’), it’s better to first try and understand your own math. You are talking about a statistical tie in baseball terms (which was just my starting point, duh). 1,066, what a great year.

But rather than write in .370OBP/.420SLG for Jaso, just use his 2013 stats, .372SlG in a platoon role, same like all the projection tools for 2014, and wait what were you saying again?

Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption
2 years 3 months ago

There is no room for Punto, Callaspo and Sogard on the same team. Sogard has options, he will be at AAA, along with Tommy Milone.

Barton will most likely be on the roster too, Moss is a pretty bad defensive 1B and will be used a lot as a DH and a little in RF (his natural position he played his entire career at until last season) as well as 1B. The bench will most likely be Gentry, Vogt, Callaspo & Jaso.

Fred Schaefer
Guest
Fred Schaefer
2 years 4 months ago

Low payroll teams can’t take expensive risks. Relievers are generally all on short term, moderate salary (i.e. low-risk) contracts, which also them easier to trade if they bust.

Ivan Grushenko
Guest
Ivan Grushenko
2 years 4 months ago

A’s have spent on relievers before — Rhodes, Mecir, Dotel, Fuentes, Balfour, Rincon. Of those only Balfour was particularly good with the A’s. I guess if you have $5M left in your budget and your choices are signing Seth Smith, nobody or Luke Gregerson, it’s defensible to sign Luke Gregerson. On the other hand with so many relievers in this year’s FA class and even a potentially worthwhile starter in Ubaldo Jimenez, is it really a good use of funds to spend $20M on Johnson, Gregerson and Alberto Callaspo? The “smart” thing to do in this situation might have been to do what the Orioles may be doing, signing Fernando Rodney late and possibly AJ Burnett.

Erik
Guest
Erik
2 years 4 months ago

I read the piece, thought the writer came to a great conclusion, and it was smooth read.

I didn’t even need to look at the writer’s name to know it was Jeff Sullivan. Another great piece of writing and analysis.

The Narrative Strikes Again
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

Jeff does the best thought-provoking articles on Fangraphs. I love his pure stuff.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 4 months ago

It’s not pure; cranking out two of these a day makes me believe it’s performance-enhanced. I walked by his open locker the other day and saw 5-Hour Energy AND Folgers crystals.

Mr Mackey
Guest
Mr Mackey
2 years 4 months ago

Drugs…drugs are bad, mmmmmk?

Jessie from Saved by the Bell
Guest
Jessie from Saved by the Bell
2 years 4 months ago

That’s right. You don’t need those stimulants to succeed.

bdhumbert
Member
bdhumbert
2 years 4 months ago

I actually think they are following in the tracks of the Pirates – strong bullpen allowed them to get starters out early. The old wisdom was that this would wear on the bullpen and make for an ugly September with a bullpen full of tired. arms. But the Bucs had their relievers pitch 70 more innings than either the Reds or Cards – and got solid performance from the pen in Sept/Oct – indeed all year long. After getting over the Sanchez/McDonald early season disasters, the Pirates were pretty good at getting the starters out as soon as things started to deteriorate in the 5th or 6th innings. So a strong pen – which is relatively cheap to build saves starter arms for the end of the season The strategy was driven in part by the weak offense – keeping the opposition in range was very important.

Matthew Murphy
Member
2 years 4 months ago

I’ve thought that the Johnson trade (or at least the idea of signing a veteran closer) was partially to suppress the arbitration value of the A’s elite setup men. I ran some rough numbers and found that the A’s could save around $6M in arbitration costs by keeping Balfour’s successor (probably Ryan Cook?) out of the 9th for just one extra year. Was going to write up a community post on this but never got around to it, maybe I will now.

Matthew Murphy
Member
2 years 4 months ago

Granted this doesn’t explain why they decided to pay $10M for Johnson instead of re-signing Balfour (injury/age concerns or misreading his market?), just the idea of signing an established closer.

That Guy
Guest
That Guy
2 years 4 months ago

The A’s clearly dropped the ball by taking on Johnson for 1/10 instead of trying to sign Balfour, even at 2/14. Balfour for $4M in 2015 was too rich?

Established closer, success with team, and a deal that helps suppress the rest of the bullpen’s arbs? Win-win-win, right?

matt
Guest
matt
2 years 4 months ago

In the A’s defense it looked like Balfour would be a bit more expensive when they made the trade, which was time sensitive because the Orioles needed to decide whether to tender Johnson. If it was looking like 2/$16M I see not wanting to commit $6M to a reliever’s age-37 season and going with the more durable reliever on a one-year deal.

Ivan Grushenko
Guest
Ivan Grushenko
2 years 4 months ago

Or Rodney if not Balfour

rubesandbabes
Guest
rubesandbabes
2 years 4 months ago

The A’s are in a perfect position to go with a six man starting rotation this year.

But they won’t do this because it might adversely affect the trade value of their starters. In short, Sir Thomas of House Milone is out of a job.

Hence these extra good relievers to reduce young starter innings.

WAR vs. $ discussions really not applicable here. The last hour of the game is an inconvenience to WAR. Equally so, applying/comparing retail prices for pitching to the A’s and Rays bullpen rosters wont yield any understanding, especially starting from the ‘relievers are always overpaid’ viewpoint.

Supporting the author’s idea that there is nothing beneath the surface with the reliever signing. A’s are pitching and defense. Same as the Giants. Same as the old Twins.

Years later, the 1990 Reds pen remains the model.

Eric Garcia McKinley
Member
2 years 4 months ago

Well, the A’s at least can afford to flush money down the toilet because it will be returned to the dugout when the pipes clog again.

Philip Christy
Guest
Philip Christy
2 years 4 months ago

Someone already made that joke bro.

Benjammer
Guest
Benjammer
2 years 4 months ago

I know the current stance by most of the Fangraphs community is that the playoffs are a crapshoot, and I know that a big contributing factor to these two teams adding relievers like this is that they can more afford to give out short term contracts rather than long term ones.

However, I’d like to propose a theory that these two teams have found a link between playoff success and an above average bullpen. Please don’t flame me if this is a dumb idea that has already be refuted. Discuss!

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

They maybe read a 8 year old article by Nate Silver that was buried under a chair Billy Beane kicked over?

Benjammer
Guest
Benjammer
2 years 4 months ago

I just read the article you’re referring to. I know it’s pure coincidence, but It’s pretty amusing that the Cardinals won that year even though they had the worst chance, by Silver’s method.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

Some 24 year old kid in the pen named Wainwright. Pitched a pretty high leverage situation in the NLCS clincher you have to hear about from time to time…

Benjammer
Guest
Benjammer
2 years 4 months ago

I just want to be clear, I’m not disputing his findings based on one statistical outlier.

Jemile Weeks
Guest
Jemile Weeks
2 years 4 months ago

“Johnson stands to make the A’s better, throwing important innings, and they didn’t have to lose any future resources.”

Golly.

baycommuter
Guest
baycommuter
2 years 4 months ago

Jemile, you were more of a headache than a resource.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

Jemile, go make Billy Beane pay for giving up on you for an expensive closer.

David Freitas
Guest
David Freitas
2 years 4 months ago

What are we, chopped liver?

My echo and bunnymen
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

I just wanted to be the first one (quick scan of the comments) I have seen to post that I loved this article and hadn’t thought about it in this light. Thank you.

davecarlton412
Member
davecarlton412
2 years 4 months ago

Looking only at the A’s side of this, I know they have also had trouble getting good free agents to sign with them even when they offer the money (Furcal, Beltre, Berkman). RPs may be a place where they can actually acquire good talent in the FA market, even if it could be built more cheaply.

pft
Guest
pft
2 years 4 months ago

Stephen Drew and Kendry Morales say hi. Just move the injury prone Lowrie, an awful defensive SS to 2B. Of course, they value their draft picks too highly for that. The thing is if you set your free agent sights on only players who don’t cost a pick, you are bargain basement shopping for the most part

pft
Guest
pft
2 years 4 months ago

The Rays and A’s could spend more than they do. Accounting for revenue sharing, last year the A’s spent 20% of their revenue on payroll (incl benefits) and the Rays 25% (using data from Bloombergs and Cotts). League average is 47%.

That’s just being cheap.

Danmay
Guest
Danmay
2 years 4 months ago

I think you should consider the effects of overhead before jumping to conclusions about cheapness.

Ivan Grushenko
Guest
Ivan Grushenko
2 years 4 months ago

You’re saying they pay the GM and his minions generously in expensively decorated offices with nice views. OK.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 4 months ago

I so badly want to be a minion at some point in my life. JUST ONCE.

Bertrand Russell
Guest
Bertrand Russell
2 years 4 months ago

This is a strong point if true.

Wally
Guest
Wally
2 years 4 months ago

But to Danmay’s point, what if their are some more fixed costs that results in all lower revenue teams spending less as a percentage of their revenue on athlete’s payroll. For example, do stadium contract costs differ by a similar percent of revenue across all teams? What about minor league operating costs? Major league player payroll is just one component.

Pumpsie Green
Guest
Pumpsie Green
2 years 4 months ago

Yet these are the organizations lauded for their ‘success’ and for ‘knowing what they are doing’. But I’m sure ownership considers this highly successful – their ROI has been incredible. Someone certainly knows what they’re doing.

Jacob Jackson
Guest
Jacob Jackson
2 years 4 months ago

Relievers are easier to trade than position players.

If the A’s or Rays are out of contention, and/or end up below their revenue/attendance projections, they could trade a reliever to just about any contender. The same is not true of position-player trades, which require a more specific team fit.

DigBaseball
Member
DigBaseball
2 years 4 months ago

This is exactly my reaction to these moves. I assumed the A’s were picking up so many “name” relievers in order to use them as trading pieces later.

RossRoley
Member
RossRoley
2 years 4 months ago

1. One answer lies right there on the Fangraphs homepage. Take a look at the WPA leaders. With the exception of that freak Kershaw, the #2 reliever has a higher WPA than the #2 starter, same as the #3, #4, and so on down the line. I realized this several years and it’s been consistent every year. Relievers have more impact on the outcome of a game than starters do, despite pitching 1/3 the number of innings. I believe the Rays and A’s recognize this as well and are investing accordingly.

2. The playoffs are indeed a crapshoot. I did an analysis several years ago and clearly need to update it
http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2008/09/why_the_angels.php
but as of 2008 the data showed:
•The team with the better record won only 49% of all playoff series from 1995-2007 (43 of 88).
•In 2001, Lou Piniella’s Seattle Mariners won 116 games and failed to reach the World Series.
•12 other teams won 100 games from 1995-2007 and failed to play in the Fall Classic, including the Braves four times.
•5 more 100-win teams played in the World Series and 4 of them lost.
•From 1995-2007, only the 1998 Yankees became World Series champs with the best record in baseball.
•A wildcard team made it to the World Series 9 times in those 13 years, claiming 4 world championships including 3 of the previous 6 from 2002-2007.
•In 2006, the Cardinals won the World Series with only 83 regular season wins.

So there you go. Facts. Old facts, but facts nonetheless.

Wobatus
Guest
Wobatus
2 years 4 months ago

I don’t think that can be right about WPA. By that line of thinking, you’d rather have Luis Avilan on your team (WPA in the 3s) than Adam Wainwright (WPA in the 2s). Relievers have higher WPAs because of the types of games they get into. Closers and top notch set-up men get into games with the games on the line, and more of them, thus the high win probability added.

BTW, apropos of pumpsie’s comments above, since a hoary nostrum is that relievers are more important in the playoffs. At least TB and Oakland are bolstering their bullpens and perhaps that will make them more “playoff” ready. I doubt that’s a real effect but regardless the moves do improve their teams in areas where they can make small improvements, like Jeff says.

Matthew Murphy
Member
2 years 4 months ago

Because WPA is highly reliant on leverage, it isn’t necessarily predictive of future performance. While in any given year you’re likely to have more relievers in the top-10, it doesn’t mean that it will be the same relievers. Meanwhile, pretty much all of the starters in the top 30-40 are top-tier pitchers.
Also, while 7 of the top-10 are relievers, the top-40 is split evenly between relievers and starters. More than anything else, I think that this shows that having a few elite relievers to throw in high-leverage situations can be just as important for winning games as having a reliable rotation.

Matthew Murphy
Member
2 years 4 months ago

Also, relievers seem to rely on their rotation to put them in those high leverage situations. Of the top-10 relivers by WPA, 8 of them were on teams that had top-10 rotations by WAR. So, having shut-down relievers is only really helpful if you have the rotation that can keep them in games and give them high-leverage innings to pitch.

Liberty
Guest
Liberty
2 years 4 months ago

Woof! Woof! Dave just slid his raging 3 inch boner into my vulva. Little does he know when I bark, I’m really asking if it’s in yet.

LaLoosh
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

this thread is hilarious. dare to suggest anything remotely unflattering about the A’s or Rays and you better duck for cover. -92!?! Holy crap. For what? For saying that the A’s and Rays have weak playoff records? You’d think Pumpsie made some ad hominem attacks. Nope.

The irony is that a lot of people here who view themselves as open-minded bc they embrace modern analysis are in fact pretty closed-minded to views that fall a bit outside of their own.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 4 months ago

And likewise, you think that everyone who disagrees with a poster is “Drinking the Dave/Jeff/FG kool-aid” or is automatically closed-minded. Funny how that coin has two sides.

Pumpsie Green
Guest
Pumpsie Green
2 years 4 months ago

Thanks, LaLoosh. As a fangraphs fan (and particularly a fan of the writings of Mr. Sullivan) I do very much believe in advanced analytics. I’m just saying payroll PLUS analytics has a greater chance of success. The A’s and Rays haven’t gotten far on analytics alone. The Red Sox (hate the Red Sox, but a totally different story) clearly had the right combination last year. They did the player analysis AND spent the money, proving at the same time that you don’t have to lock into horrible back-loaded contracts to get the skills you desire. Analysis and payroll – not mutually exclusive.

Wally
Guest
Wally
2 years 3 months ago

“I’m just saying payroll PLUS analytics has a greater chance of success.”

Thanks for your insight Capt. Obvious.

Pumpsie Green
Guest
Pumpsie Green
2 years 3 months ago

Isn’t that what I said off the start? If it were a self-evident truth it wouldn’t have generated so many negative comments. I guess I could have said it more politely off the start and used that phrasing, instead of saying ‘analytics in the absence of payroll has never resulted in world series winner’.

Wally
Guest
Wally
2 years 3 months ago

They way in which you said it to start off this comment section implied so much ignorance and an aggressive distain for modern analytics. I’m sorry you feel attacked, or something, but we humans read tone just as much as the actual literal meaning of the words on the page.

If all you wanted to say was the money + advanced analyses > advanced analysis, few would have down voted you or even responded.

Pumpsie Green
Guest
Pumpsie Green
2 years 3 months ago

Good point, Wally. I guess I should have expected a strong reaction. Although, I really did have my own strong reaction to Jeff’s points about the success of the A’s and Rays. It does bug me that they are put on a pedestal when they haven’t provided their fans with that ultimate result. It really goes back to ownership and their ability to structure spending, find new revenue streams, and provide the GM with the resources needed to accomplish that ultimate goal. And yes, I do think there are other admirable goals in sport, but everyone in a professional sports organization should understand and strive toward that ultimate goal of winning a championship.

Brian Ichi
Guest
Brian Ichi
2 years 4 months ago

Let’s just keep in mind that every year the Marlins and Astros sweep a couple teams in a 3 game series. Therefore, the playoffs are definitely a crapshoot, otherwise the baseball playoffs would have to be the best of 15 or 21 in order to really get a grasp on which team is better, and that’s still a small sample size.

Plucky
Guest
Plucky
2 years 3 months ago

“Nothing to see here” probably has something to it- Like any teams they have a budget, they were a little bit under it, and adding good relievers on short-term deals is something they can afford now and won’t hurt them in the future.

There’s probably a little bit more than that though. “Relievers aren’t worth paying for” has become a widespread (but definitely not universal) belief. It may be true in general, and it’s definitely true that the Proven Closer is not worth much more than the Solid Reliever, but it’s also a sentiment that crystalized when the price of a WAR was ~2-3m lower than it is now. The Solid Reliever is worth something, and that something is more than it was 5 years ago.

I think the key element here with the A’s & Rays is not they they are spending money on their bullpen, but that they are doing it by paying for multiple good relievers rather than one dominant closer. Balfour & Bell together are 120-130 IP. Johnson, Gregerson, & O’Flaherty are 160-180. In both cases you’re getting up to a significant amount of innings even before considering the expected leverage. It’s worth paying money for that many innings to be pitched by people who are good at it.

“Closer by committee” earned itself a bad name because while in theory it was a fine, in practice it was always a euphemism for “no one in this bullpen is any good.” These may not be closer-by-committee situations, but rather the A’s & Rays saying that while a bullpen consisting of a dominant closer and the seven dwarves is a waste, a bullpen with all-around quality is not

Frank
Guest
Frank
2 years 3 months ago

I just recently realized I had been undervalueing the contributions of relievers in my fantasy baseball dynasty league. I believe this has zero correlation with the subject discussed in this article.

G
Member
G
2 years 3 months ago

back to top

Grant
Guest
Grant
2 years 3 months ago

The Indians did this with the John Axford signing as well.

Sixto Lezcano
Guest
Sixto Lezcano
2 years 3 months ago

While it’s true that the A’s and Rays are spending money on their bullpen, it’s also true that both of these teams have long believed that a strong bullpen was important. It’s just that they have generally had very strong bullpens without spending the money. I don’t think this is a change in tactic at all. They just don’t have the bullpen arms in their system or available at a cheap cost.

It is business as usual for both of these teams.

Bomok
Guest
Bomok
2 years 3 months ago

Say a starter usually pitches 6 innings. That means that the bulpen covers 1/3 of your innings. A starting position player has about 4 at bats a game thats 4/27. The Rays and A’s are building around overall pitching. instead of overall hitting. Its not the bulpen its pitching in general. Pitchers get payed less than position players usually. A team that has a big payroll usually spends most of it on hitting. You need 8 position players. if you get 4 great starters and a rock solid bulpen, it will cost less than a lineup and will be more effective. This is the major mistake that most teams are making.

Cole
Guest
Cole
2 years 3 months ago

The rays and As have been in the playoffs or damn close for the past 5-6 years, how in the world can you say they do t know what they’re doing?!? They do t have an option to drop $175 mil on a guy whose never thrown a pitch in MLB, those two organizations are top to me given. How much they can spend and how much they produce. Stop hating cause they’re keeping everyone’s million dollar darling out of the playoffs in a regular basis…

EB
Guest
EB
2 years 3 months ago

I thought that one of the arguments against investing in relievers is their lack of consistency and the injury risk. Is that actually the case?

Josh Shepardson
Guest
Josh Shepardson
2 years 3 months ago

“Hahaha. You dumb bastard. It’s not a schooner, it’s a sailboat.”

Please tell me someone else thought of this with the Magic Eye reference.

LaLoosh
Guest
2 years 3 months ago

-144 !!!!!!! hysterical if it wasn’t pathetic.

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