Archive for October, 2010

What Is Jayson Werth Worth?

Phillies fan Joe Munley sent me the following question:

With the Phils season now over I’m trying to evaluate where we stand for next year. Jayson Werth, the only power, right handed hitter in the lineup is a free agent and has hired Scott Boras as his agent. The word on the street up here is that the Phils won’t be brining him back since he’s 31 and they have Dominick Brown waiting in the wings. Based on your model for valuing players what do think Werth’s true value really is and would it actually make sense for the Phillies to re-sign him?

Jayson Werth is a great example of how unique player careers can be. He was first-round draft pick who struggled upon entering the league and was plagued by a wrist injury. He’s been traded multiple times and was released by the Dodgers after the 2006 season. In Philadelphia, he played his way from an outfield sub, to a platoon player, to an everyday player and All-Star. He just had his best season at age 31, in a walk year.

I’m not sure whether the injury caused Werth to reevaluate his commitment to the game, he got better coaching, or he just finally figured things out; but, whatever he did, he has become a much better ballplayer in Philly. With the Blue Jays and Dodgers, he posted a .245/.333/.420 (AVG/OBP/SLG) line. With the Phillies, he’s batted .282/.380/.506. So, when projecting Werth going forward, I believe his Philadelphia performance is most relevant. Werth is also an above average defender and can steal bases.

If Werth was younger, a six- to eight-year deal might be feasible, but at age 32, I think five years is about as long as any team will be willing to go with him. And just because he’s baseball-old doesn’t mean he’s getting ready to head to the bench. Aging tends to be gradual. I’ve estimated that hitters tend to peak around 29-30. If Werth signed a five-year deal, by my estimates he’d be expected to decline by an average of 1.25% per year over the contract term. This lost value from aging will be counterbalanced some by the expected growth in league revenue. Even though his performance will still be diminishing, that diminished performance will be worth more in the future than it is today.

After combining all these factors, I estimate that Werth’s play would be worth approximately $80 — $85 million ($16 — $17 million per year) over a five-year contract to an average team, and worth even more to a contender. Is this something the Phillies are willing to shell out? I doubt it considering all the chatter seems to indicate that he is gone. But someone is going to give Werth a lot of money, possibly paying him more next year than he has received in his entire career up to now.

What Is Derek Jeter Worth?

That’s the question Stephen Dubner asked me for a Freakonomics Quorum. Here’s a tease:

I see the problem here as one of gathering information about what each party desires in order to foster agreement where there are strong incentives to hold out. I’d prefer to adjust the bargaining framework rather than directly attempt to reconcile revenue expectations that are largely invisible to the other side and the public.

You can read the rest of my answer, as well as the answers from Dave Berri and Maury Brown, at Freakonomics. Thanks to Stephen for asking my opinion.

The Myth of the Small-Market Series

Even when the current World Series match-up of Giants versus Rangers was just a possibility, I began to hear chatter to the effect of “Bud Selig and Fox are going to hate having two small-market clubs in the World Series.” But, I don’t think Major League Baseball or its broadcast partner are all that upset.

First, while Dallas and San Francisco may not have the historical cachet as big markets, they are not small markets. According to Nielsen, Dallas and San Francisco are the fifth and sixth largest television markets in the country. I didn’t hear similar complaints when eighth-ranked Boston was in the Series. Sure, Yankees-Dodgers would have a lot more households, but unless you want to radically alter the competitive balance of the league to guarantee these markets a place in the Series, a 5-6 match-up is an above-average pairing of media markets.

Second, I don’t think Selig has a preference for which teams make it to the World Series, except for the Brewers. The broadcast contract the League signed with Fox is already in effect. MLB’s television revenue stream is set. And having two new markets host the championship games gets two large and enthusiastic fanbases out spend more money on tickets and merchandise. What about future World Series? If Yankees-Phillies had drawn more fans, then maybe MLB would get more in its next contract. But, this requires quite a bit of naivety on the broadcasters’ part. When looking at the revenue-generating prospects of a World Series, I doubt that television executives blindly look at the the ratings without putting them in context. The rules of baseball make it likely that many “small-market” clubs will get to and advance into the playoffs. Another year of Phillies-Yankees wasn’t going to do much to fool anybody.

More Evidence for the Three-Man Rotation

Effects of varying recovery periods on muscle enzymes, soreness, and performance in baseball pitchers, by Potteiger, Blessing, and Wilson, Journal of Athletic Training, 1992; 27(1): 27–31.

From the Abstract

Results indicate that muscle damage, as evidenced by CK release, occurs in response to baseball pitching. However CK values, muscle soreness, and pitch velocity are not significantly affected by changes in the amount of recovery time typically scheduled between games.

The authors look at a sample of pitchers and how they recover after pitching different lengths of time. The results show a few things. First, the pattern of recovery indicates most healing occurs soon after pitching, and that further recovery occurs at a diminishing rate. After three days of rest, the measures of skeletal muscle damage were back to baseline values. Second, performance on two days of rest is only slightly worse than, and not statistically distinguishable from, performance on four days of rest. This is good news for the Phillies and Roy Oswalt. The results are also consistent with my analysis (with Sean Forman) of major-league pitchers.

You can get the gist of the results from the graphs in the pages below. The study is short, interesting, and it’s not even new. There a lot of studies in the fields of sports medicine, exercise physiology, and sports science that look at popular sabermetric questions. If you have a sabermetric question, it won’t hurt to do a PubMed search on the topic.

Inge’s Extension

Brandon Inge and the Detroit Tigers have agreed to an extension that will guarantee the third baseman $11.5 million over the next two seasons. The contract includes a club option for a third year at $6 million, with a $500,000 buyout.

Over the term of his contract, I have him valued between $7-$8 million per season. Good deal for the Tigers, and it provides some security for a veteran nearing the end of his career.

Gwinnett Commissioner Indicted for Taking $1 Million in Bribes

Two years ago, I reported that Gwinnett County Commissioner Kevin Kenerly owned a parcel of land near the new Gwinnett Stadium, yet he did not make this public nor did he recuse himself from votes relating to the project. Yesterday, Commissioner Kenerly was indicted for allegedly having much more than a minor conflict of interest in several County land purchases (the stadium plot was not part of this investigation).

A Gwinnett County grand jury on Wednesday indicted the county’s longest-serving commissioner, Kevin Kenerly, on charges of bribery and failure to disclose a financial interest in two properties the county rezoned.

If convicted of all counts, Kenerly faces up to 22 years in prison.

The indictment says that Kenerly “directly or indirectly” accepted or agreed to accept 20 payments of $50,000 — totaling $1 million — as bribes for arranging for the county commission to buy a piece of unnamed real estate. The deal benefited developer David Jenkins and settled a lawsuit, although specifics about the purchase were not mentioned in the indictment.

Kenerly also was indicted on two misdemeanor charges for failure to disclose a partnership with D.G. Jenkins Development Corporation, which successfully sought county rezoning on two properties.

“I am going to plead not guilty and I am confident when the jury hears the facts, I will be cleared,” Kenerly told the AJC in a statement after the hearing.

Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Charles Bannister was also questioned by the grand jury. He was not charged, but he abruptly resigned following his testimony.

What Will Cliff Lee Get?

That’s a question that I commented on in today’s Wall Street Journal.

[Cliff Lee] would be worth $21 million or $22 million a year from an average major-league team, according to J.C. Bradbury, author of the book “The Baseball Economist” and a professor at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

But over his eight career postseason starts, Mr. Lee is 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA, placing him among the most dominant October pitchers in major-league history.

So a big-market team that enters each season presuming it will reach the playoffs would be willing to dig deeper into its pockets to pay Mr. Lee, said Dr. Bradbury and Dan Rascher, a sports economist at the University of San Francisco.

Major League Baseball’s revenue grow by a rough average of 9% each year. Assuming that players’ salaries rise at the same rate, Dr. Bradbury said, Mr. Lee could command as much as $32 million in annual salary over a five-year contract from an elite franchise.

This estimate is based on Lee’s past performance during the regular season. His post-season performance might make him a little more valuable to an acquiring team due to his added star potential, but the main reason he’s going to get a big paycheck is that for the past three years he’s been good no matter when he’s pitched. The first number is based on his addition to an average club, the latter includes his added value to a winning club like the Yankees. The estimates are derived from the same method that I use in Chapter 7 of Hot Stove Economics to project C.C. Sabathia‘s worth at the time he signed his free-agent deal with the Yankees.

Many people feel that New York is Lee’s most likely destination; however, the Yankees face the hurdle of the luxury tax, excuse me “Competitive Balance” Tax.

If they do, the tax’s rate will be 40%. For every $20 million the Yankees might pay Mr. Lee, then, they’d actually be spending $28 million.

“Let’s say another team wants him and isn’t going to have to pay the luxury tax,” Dr. Bradbury said. “If they offer him a $22 million-a-year deal, they’re really paying less money out of their pocket than the Yankees. The Yankees [might] say, ‘To give you $22 million, we’re going to have to spend $30 million off our budget, so it’s not worth it.’ “

In Defense of the Three-Man Rotation

I used to be a fan of the four-man rotation in the post-season, but I have changed my mind. One of the key events that altered my opinion was last year when Joe Girardi successfully rode the three-man playoff rotation of C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Andy Pettitte all the way to a World Series title. At the time, I was skeptical that this was the right move, but I was impressed at how well it worked, which is why I am surprised that the Yankees are going with a four-man rotation in the ALCS.

Sometimes bad decisions turn out just fine, so I wasn’t completely convinced that the Yankees did the right thing in 2009. I was soon persuaded that the three-man rotation was the way to go in the post-season after a conducting a study with Sean Forman on the impact of pitches thrown and rest days on performance. In our analysis of games from 1988 — 2009, estimates showed that days of rest had very little impact on performance. On average, every rest day lowered a pitcher’s ERA by about 0.015; however, the estimate was not statistically different from there being no effect. It seems that most of the recovery benefits that pitchers receive occur in the three days of rest between starts. And though we found the impact of pitches thrown was small, one day of rest was worth throwing about two fewer pitches less than average in the previous game. If you want to get improved performance from managing pitcher workloads, fewer pitches is better than more rest. And the broader lesson is that small deviations in pitches thrown and rest days don’t seem to have much effect.

In the case of Sabathia and Hughes, they should be good to go in Games 4 and 5. In Game 1, Sabathia threw 93 pitches, for the season he averaged 105 pitches per start. Twelve pitches fewer than average translates to an improved ERA by 0.08 runs. And in his previous five and ten starts (where we found stronger effects than the previous game) his average pitches thrown was right on his season average.

In Game 2, Hughes threw 88 pitches, for the season he averaged 102 pitches per start. Like Sabathia, he pitched about the same number of pitches in his last five and ten starts, which included two one-inning relief stints on regular starters rest. According to our estimates, the reduction in pitches thrown lowers his expected ERA by approximately 0.10.

While I don’t expect Sabathia or Hughes necessarily to benefit from having a lighter load in Game 1, I believe each pitcher should pitch about like he has all season if they were to go on short rest. Now maybe the strain of the post-season and the quality of opponent puts a little extra strain on each pitch, but the loads these pitchers are bearing hasn’t been exceptionally high.

Of course, there may be factors affecting the Yankees decision that aren’t public, but if things don’t go well for the Yankees tonight, I won’t be surprised to see Girardi hand the ball to Sabathia in Game 4. Even if the Yankees do win, I think Girardi would be wise to move Sabathia up. The Yankee rotation has struggled as a whole lately, but I don’t think more rest offers much help. I think a tired trio of Sabathia, Hughes, and Pettitte is preferable to allowing Burnett to make a start.

Thoughts on Fredi Gonzalez

Today Tomorrow Today, unless all indications are way off, Fredi Gonzalez will be named the next manager of the Atlanta Braves. Is this a good move? Well, I don’t think it’s a horrible move, like Peter Hjort does. The post is a little vague, but in the comments he points to some examples of poor management by Gonzalez. But still , I’m not too worried. I think the choice reflects the fact that it will be hard to step into Bobby Cox’s shoes, and it’s clear that the front office wants to replace Bobby with a manger familiar with Bobby’s style and clubhouse culture. Gonzalez likely won’t have the autonomy and input that Bobby had, but he won’t be rocking the boat of a team that played well for the most part this year.

In my opinion, mangers don’t have much impact on how their teams perform. They handle the press, they keep order in the clubhouse, and make a few on-field decisions here and there—most of which are non-controversial. The most important thing is to keep the core of this team focused like it always has been. This is a team that was united for Bobby: a manager who loses this clubhouse would face a serious revolt. That’s the biggest danger with this club.

What are some positives that Fredi brings, maybe ones that Bobby didn’t have? Well, he attended SABR 40 in Atlanta this year. I read an article in which someone talked about why he was there (which I cannot find now, link would be appreciated) and he stated that he was looking to hear new ideas. Not sure if he found any (and he missed my presentation with Sean Forman!) but it’s nice to know he’s on the lookout.

I also have personal anecdote about Fredi. In one of my classes, I have the students read Moneyball for an assignment and write a paper about it. Several years ago, a student approached me and asked if she would mind if she got some advice from an acquaintance of hers who worked in baseball. It turns out that the acquaintance was Gonzalez. He worked out at the gym where she worked, and he was happy to talk with an undergraduate student about a school project. I don’t remember the specifics of her paper or the comments that Gonzalez gave her, but he didn’t rail against the book or offer over-the-top praise—after all it’s just a book. Overall, I was impressed that a sitting manager would take the time to discuss a school project with a virtual stranger. Whether that makes him a good manager, I don’t know, but I certainly consider it a positive.

Fredi will have a clubhouse behind him the moment he steps onto the field, which is something that few new managers can do. Let’s hope he keeps their trust and doesn’t screw this up. Welcome back to Atlanta, Fredi.

So Long, Bobby…and Thank You

Last night, the Braves 2010 season came to an end, along with Bobby Cox’s managerial career. I was a good fan this year, living on the hope that good things can happen, even as the odds tilted more and more against the team. Around the seventh inning of last night’s game, I had a moment of clarity: this team has no shot and never did. Sure, the team could lucky-bounce its way into the NLCS and maybe even the World Series, but that was highly unlikely. And deep down, I’d known this team was dead the moment that Martin Prado went down. Even before then, this team wasn’t capable of playing like a 91-win team in the post-season. When Melky Cabrera mercifully ended the season, I was angry and disappointed, but strangely relieved. The 2010 Braves died slowly, but they gave it all they had—not for themselves, but for Bobby. This has been one of my absolute favorite seasons to watch Braves baseball, but it was time to go. Their work was done. In a season that I watched my father die a slow and predictable death, it was strange parallel path to recognize in the the late innings of last night’s game.

Why was Bobby Cox such a good manager? Bobby is not just intelligent, but he likes people and understands them. I can think of exactly three players who didn’t get along with Bobby: Kenny Lofton, Tim Spooneybarger, and Yunel Escobar. There were probably more, but Bobby made sure that such problems didn’t spill out into public. Bobby was once a player, and not a great one. I think one of the reasons he wore spikes was to remind players that he was once were they are: he had walked, and continued to walk, in their shoes. He gave it all he had on the field, and he had never liked being showed up for lacking ability he didn’t have. Bobby had a positive role model, and an anti-role model. He took after Ralph Houck and was careful to avoid doing anything like Billy Martin had done. Bobby understood that to win with the players he had, he had to get the most out of all of them. That meant not just having good players play well, but have the bad ones play as well as they could, too. If a star got an ego and started problems with lesser players in the clubhouse, Bobby didn’t see it as player versus player, but as all players getting worse. He treated all players equally. The rules applied to everyone, and the team would win and lose together. If you didn’t like it, you were going to have problems. Probably the greatest testament to Cox’s ability to handle people is the fact that Gary Sheffield played for the Braves for two seasons, and he didn’t have a single problem. Controversy followed Sheffield throughout his career, but there was none of it in Atlanta.

Bobby also had an eye for talent and was amazingly patient. He would allow young kids to play everyday, and early failures were tolerated as growing pains. Being a general manager helped his patience. He returned to the Braves dugout in 1990s, he would be managing teams that he had built. He watched for long-run success and wasn’t going make snap judgements based on small samples. Sometimes his fondness, or lack of fondness, for a player would get him into trouble. But, I’m a big believer that sometimes the overall qualities that give us our strengths and weaknesses aren’t easily modified. The same stubbornness that allowed him to write Jeff Francoeur in the lineup everyday for far too long was the same thing that allowed him to stick by John Smoltz in 1991 when every one was demanding he be sent back to the minors. You can’t have one without the other.

How good was he has a manager? I recently examined how his players performed with and without Bobby as their manager. I found that the hitters were no worse, and that pitchers were much better (decreased their ERAs by approximately 0.25) when they played for Bobby.

I also have a personal observation of Bobby that made a lasting impression. At SABR 40 this year in Atlanta, Bobby graciously agreed to appear on a morning panel on the Braves rise from worst to first. It was the first session of the day, I think it was at 8am. The night before, the Braves had played a game against the Giants in the sweltering August summer heat and humidity of Atlanta. Late that day he would participate in the festivities surrounding Tom Glavine‘s number retirement, and he had a night game to manage after that. Bobby could have bagged the event and no one would have complained. The panel still had several former players, and we all know Bobby had a lot going on. Not only did he show up, he was in a suit and tie. He was as professional and polite as anyone could be. He answered every question, he signed autographs, and he never looked at his watch. At that moment, I understood why Bobby’s players love him so much.

Bobby Cox is a class act, and I will miss him. Good luck in your retirement, Bobby, and thanks for everything.