Indians, tech, and Antonetti
You may recall that we’ve mentioned Cleveland’s Chris Antonetti as a possible GM candidate, and in general we’re fans of what that front office has done. Check out this article for some detailed info on the kind of information advantage they’re working with.
It does contain this:
This information, plus another computer analysis that showed no one player’s salary had exceeded 15 percent of a team’s payroll on any World Series champion club since 1985, overrode the Tribe’s emotional instinct to pay Thome the guaranteed salary he wanted for six years to allow him to finish his career in Cleveland.
I can’t believe that that really swayed anyone, it’s such an obvious failure of reasoning. It’s been circulated so widely it’s worn thin, but that doesn’t make it worth anything. I wonder if they spread that because it’s accepted wisdom by many of baseball’s writers and analysts so it can be used to justify unpopular moves, whether or not it’s true.
And yet, there’s a lot about it, including this :
Back in 2000, when the Indians were preparing for negotiations with then-Indians slugger Manny Ramirez, Antonetti examined championship teams’ player salaries. He found that no World Series champion between 1985 and 2000 allocated more than 15 percent of its payroll to a single player. In addition, he determined the higher percentage of payroll a team spent on one player, the lower its winning percentage.
For example, teams that spent 17.5 to 20 percent of their payroll on one player won 47 percent of the time. Teams that spent 7.5 percent or lower on one player won 53 percent of the time.
Antonetti concluded there was a significant decline in a team’s chances to make and advance through the postseason if it allocated more than 15 percent of its payroll to a single player. On average, his analysis found, successful teams spent a little more than 12 percent on their highest paid player.
Not surprisingly, then, Antonetti recommended that Thome’s contract should not exceed 15 percent of the Indians’ team payroll in any season in which management felt the club had a “legitimate” chance to contend for the playoffs. Why? Because they needed the salary flexibility to acquire other players to put together a winning team.
Ideally, Antonetti said, Thome’s salary should make up about 12.5 percent of the payroll.
To refute, briefly: this is the logical fallacy “Cum hoc ergo propter hoc (with this, therefore because of this)”. It’s like discovering the Mariners only contend for division titles when Lucent and Cisco stock is highly valued. Should the Mariners use their huge bank balance to buy up those stocks in an attempt to drive up their price?
Of course not. While “salarly flexibility” sounds good as an explanation (and, I’d argue, roster flexibility is a huge boon to a team) the issue is much simpler than that.
– Teams with high payrolls generally win more.
– High payrolls mean that one player with a big contract does not consume so much of the team’s total salary.
That’s it. Take the Angels, for instance. They have a $95m payroll, and they’re paying their star player Vlad Guerrero $12.5m this year. 13% of payroll.
Now say that he plays on the Royals, or the Devil Rays, or the Pirates. He’d still be the same player, but now he’s make up about 26% of the payroll and the team would be terrible.
It’s the same deal with the Cardinals and Pujols (and, for them, Walker-Rolen-Edmonds).
You can look at examples of teams that have one player who makes a ton of money. They’re bad to awful teams who’ve retained one marquee player, or someone who had a horrible contract they couldn’t dump off on anyone, or even a modest veteran picked up to plug a huge hole in the roster.
Or think about it this way: at a 40m payroll, the threshold for consuming 15% of payroll is only $6m. At the mid-point for teams, it’s about $10-11m. At $90-something, it can be about $13-14m, and at the Yankees’ level, they can have players making $30m without exceeding 15%. It’s not about proportion of payroll consumed at all, and it never has been.
I’m surprised to see someone as smart as Antonetti spending any signficant time researching this.
Still, it’s a good article, and intersting food for thought.