Open question for discussion: value of need
I don’t understand something in the current discussion and the many many comments about how the M’s “need” more power. I’m hoping someone can enlighten me on the theory at least, if not on the practice.
Say there’s an average team with no first baseman and no internal options. They have two options in free agency for exactly the same price: Doug the Defensive Guy, who would be five runs below average hitting and a wondrous +15 above average on defense. And they could sign Mike the Masher, to get a +15 on offense, -5 defense guy.
Everyone would argue it’s a coin flip in value, right? You’d start to look again for extremely fine differences like whether the team’s pitchers would particularly benefit (or cover for Mike), or if the park suits one or the other. But say you do all of that and those numbers are indeed the same. The average team picks whoever’ll sign first, or knows the manager from the minor leagues, or whatever.
Now what if the team is average by way of sucking defensively and good offensively. The return on both those guys is still +10. Is the theory that they should sign the defensive specialist for balance? How much extra value is that?
And conversely, if the team’s average by way of being terrible offensively and good defensively, does the reverse hold true? How much is that guy worth?
That’s one question: does improving something the team is bad at offer greater gains than improving elsewhere, and if so, how much?
And does it matter how bad they are? Is the return on improving defense more than 10 runs if they’re league-worst? Is there a kind of elasticity to returns, where only the average team values players based on overall contribution?
Because if that’s true, and there’s a value, then we could actually start to discuss this. Say Doug and Mike aren’t asking for the same price. Defense is so highly valued that Doug already has 4 offers on the hood of his gold Land Rover for $20m/year, while Mike is looking at $10m for the next year.
Does the defensively challenged team still want Doug at that price? Or are they better off picking up Mike?
We’ve laid out my (and I’d say Dave’s, to a different extent) view on this — I think all runs are created more or less equally, and you’re as well-advised to take them off the board as put them on, so improving on pitching, defensive prowess, and offense are all equally good. I don’t know of any evidence that if a team needs a first baseman, regardless of how they did last year and how they did it, that they shouldn’t take the player who is so undervalued.
There’s a big caveat to that, which is that (and I know I mention this over and over) in constructing a team you want to get into and through the playoffs there are some things you want to have in place and should think about paying for. But in general, for teams who aren’t budgeting for 85 wins, does valuation change?
What’s the opposing theory, and what’s the evidence for it?