Update! I’m |this| close to buying a Mac. XP has been the Dave Fleming of my operating systems.
So my desktop computer can’t get on the network — something’s seriously wrong with XP’s networking — so I’m not going to be around as much until I wrestle this elephant down. Funny aside: when it starts up, Symantec throws an error up (“TCP/IP is not installed — Click here to go to Symantec Technical Support Knowledge Base” which opens up a web browser that can’t go anywhere.
I don’t have much to add to Dave’s comments except that I don’t think it’s a “sabermetric” error that leads to picking a ton of college players. The A’s made a conscious decision to do so in the past, knowing that while they may limit their upside, they feel that getting guys closer to the majors makes more sense for a team that can’s now and won’t for the forseeable future be able to retain players for long periods of time. Last year, they had a ton of picks and were probably limited on how much money they could spend as well.
As all the statheds look at what makes good drafts and what got teams good returns, we’ll get better. Stathead-ism learns. Or I hope it does, anyway.
With that said, even then we’re only looking backwards. The major league record of the last ten drafts of first-round players tells you nothing about whether this other Weaver kid’s going to make it. There’s no answer to the college v high school question.
My own opinion after reading everything I can get my hands on is that teams should draft college pitchers over high school pitchers, because I think you can mitigate health risks and college pitchers have just as good returns. I’d only draft high school position players that play premium defensive positions. As players go through the minors and develop, they almost never move up the spectrum, while they frequently move down as they develop more muscle and face stiffer defensive competition. And there is a point where an inability to play a position causes players to stall out in their advancement up the ladder.
That said, no one knows. The A’s had a bad draft, so did pure scouting teams. Drafting is a lot like gambling, I think — many people go to Vegas with a bankroll and a system, and after a couple of days they’re left in Vegas. Billy Beane thought he’d draft all college kids with good prep stats who’d also take low bonuses, and the A’s flopped. But pure scout organizations flopped, too. Take the Mariners. Ugh.
Reader Larry Haas asked if there was a way to judge just how much teams were paying for their wins, to help show just how poor the roster management has been this season. The late Doug Pappas invented just such a tool called Marginal Payroll/Marginal Wins. There is a great essay on this in Baseball Prospectus 2004, and you can read the archived works of Doug’s stuff (free of charge) at baseballprospectus.com.
Here’s a brief synopsis of MP/MW. It works on an assumption that a roster of major league minimum players could win 30 % of their games, finishing the season with a 49-113 record. Before last years Tigers, this was worse than any club had ever finished. Its safe to say that Doug’s assumption here is correct, and a team could theoretically win about 49 games on an $8.4 million payroll (28 roster spots at $300,000 each gives a full roster and 3 spots for injury replacements). Therefore, every win over 49 is considered a Marginal Win, and the team’s payroll minus the mandatory $8.4 million is their marginal payroll. Marginal Wins divided by Marginal Payroll gives us a number in dollars for how much each team paid for their wins. It’s a great proxy to realize just how well or how poorly teams spent the money they had. As Doug breaks it down in BP04, there are four groups of teams demonstrated by this method:
Low Marginal Payroll, Low Marginal Wins, good record: Efficient ballclub. (A’s)
Low MP/MW, bad record: not spending enough to win. (Devil Rays)
High MP/MW, good record: Spending its way to the top. (Yankees)
High MP/MW, bad record: Poorly run club. (Mets)
Obviously, the goal is to win games, and if you have more resources, its going to be nearly impossible to have as good an MP/MW as a low-revenue team who succeeds, and you can’t penalize teams like the Yankees or Red Sox for having money to spend. So, as long as we realize that MP/MW isn’t perfect across the board, but gives us a good idea of where to group a team, its a great tool.
Through the site and BP04, Doug ran the numbers from every team from 1977 through 2003. Obviously, with the way the game has changed, there are huge differences in the numbers. In 1977, Atlanta was the least efficient team, paying $1.1 million for 61 wins, or $95,337 per marginal win. 10 years later, in 1987, the Orioles were the least efficient club, spending $635,049 per marginal win, and every team spent at least $140,000 per MW. 1991 saw the big leap where 5 teams broke million dollar mark, led by Cleveland paying $2.1 million per MW. The Indians paid $18 million for 57 wins that year, while Atlanta paid $19 million for 94 wins.
With more recent history, we can look at how the ’04 M’s stack up in terms of financial efficiency. Last year, the M’s paid $1.77 million per marginal win, a pretty solid number for a 93 win team, slightly less than Boston’s $1.97 million for their 95 wins and far less than the Yankees $2.75 million for 101 wins. In 2002, the M’s paid $1.68 million per MW, again a solid number for 93 wins. The 2001 season brought a great $1.04 million per MW number. 2000 was $1.26 million per MW. So, the M’s during the Gillick regime had a pretty clear, consistent standard of performance. They would pay between $1-1.75 million per marginal win, and spend enough to turn that into a 90-95 win club.
So, how about those 2004 Mariners? Cover your eyes. Right now, the M’s are paying $6.87 million per marginal win, which is the second highest number in baseball history. Last year, the Mets were the most inefficient team, spending $6.11 million per MW, and the Rangers were a distant second at $4.25 million per MW. Only the 2002 Tigers, who spent $55 million ($49.5 million considered marginal payroll) to win 55 games (or 6 marginal wins), paying $7.33 million per MW, performed worse than the ’04 Mariners. As it stands now, the M’s are going to win 58 games, or 9 marginal wins, on a $73 million payroll, with $64 million of that considerd marginal.
$64 million bought the team 9 wins. Last year, $74 million bought the team 44 wins. That’s ineptitude of historical standards. Any rational analysis of how poorly the team managed their budget would lead to massive wholesale changes. Someone forward this to Howard Lincoln please.
With the draft Monday, I’m a little disappointed that I haven’t spent more time talking about draft philosophies and such, but really, we don’t pick until the third round, and I’m having a hard time getting excited about what the M’s might do with the 93rd pick. But I still find the draft itself fascinating, and have spent a good amount of time the past few years discussing the merits of traditional drafting vs a more statistical approach, especially since Moneyball took over the world. While I don’t have time to go into everything right now, here’s a few brief snippets of beliefs that I hold about the draft, and some of them might surprise you.
1. The A’s “college-only” philosophy is wrong, flat out. Ignoring high school players as an entity because of their risk fails to allow you to recognize the times when the reward does indeed outweigh the risk. Putting yourself in a box and refusing to see the limitations of a hard-and-fast set of evaluation techniques raises your likelyhood of making a mistake. And, this isn’t retrospective piling on, as I wrote a column about this last year, but the famed Moneyball draft was basically a disaster for the A’s.
2. That said, college players are significantly safer picks, and should make up the majority of early selections. The long range potential of college stars is not any lower than that of high school stars, and the reduced risk makes selecting a college player with your top pick usually the intelligent way to go. There have been numerous studies on the draft in the past year, none more thorough than the work done by a poster at Sons of Sam Horn, with a lot of interesting stuff revealed through his conclusions.
3. Repeatedly giving away first round picks is insane. As the research linked above shows, a huge percentage of major league stars come from the first round, and tossing away the opportunity to pick in one of the top 30 spots reduces your chance of getting one of these players down to nearly nil. Not surprisingly, since the Gillick regime started intentionally throwing away draft choices, the farm system has gone to hell in a handbasket.
While we’re basically branded as statheads here, this is one area where I think the sabermetric teams have been mislead by outdated information. Bill James work on the draft was good 20 years ago, but times change, and the newer research does not support his conclusions. Attempting to imitate the A’s or Blue Jays simply to be in tune with the statistical crowd would be akin to the blind following the blind. Hopefully, on Monday, the M’s draft the best players available. Just as they need to not focus solely on athletic bodies, speed, arm strength, and physical projection, they also need to not focus on college walk rates and on base percentage. Just as a team of nine Neifi Perez’ won’t get you far, neither will a team of nine Jeremy Browns.