Saber / F-500 Corner

There's an old 2012 Hey Bill that goes to two local and critical sports questions.  One is the question of Earl Thomas.  Most people seem to think that at ages 30, 31, 32 a free safety is too old to play impact football; I read a study one time (as well as consulted my own common sense) that I thought convincingly debunked this.  The second question goes to Jerry Dipoto's aversion to signing $20M+ ballplayers, even when such players might put them over the top.

The question went:

A thought occurs to me: I see a lot of fan and press discussion of how much money players make. It seems to me that by having these discussions, the owners have scored a major victory. I mean, as a Phillies fan, I don't really suppose I care how much money the team spends on Cole Hamels. Just sign him. They aren't taking the money from me, and they aren't going to lower prices if they don't sign a bunch of players. (Why would they? If they can get the money for the ticket, they can get the money for the ticket.) They talk about how they want to avoid the luxury tax, and I am sure they would, but why should I, as a fan, care? Signing Ryan Howard to a contract doesn't seem to preclude them from also signing Cliff Lee. I think these salary discussions might be interesting on some level, but I have to wonder why I should care since I am not paying for it, and I really do not see how it affects ticket prices which are driven by the market. (A point you actually twenty years ago.)

Asked by: MikeChary

Answered: 3/12/2012
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Bill's answer went:
I think you've got a whole bunch of speculative points there, some of which may be right.  
 
1)   I know for an absolute fact that it was the PLAYERS who wanted the salary discussions to be more public.    Ownership, up to 1975, didn't want salaries in the newspapers because they didn't want the players to know what other players were making--or this, at least, is what the Union believed in the era that I was active in contract negotiations, 1975-1985.    The players felt that shattering the veil of secrecy that surrounded salaries was essential to moving the salary scale upward.
 
2)  In theory, as you say, player salaries are driven by one supply-and-demand market and ticket prices are determined by an independant supply-and-demand market.    But all of our theories are just simplifications of much more complicated realities, and you wouldn't want to insist too loudly that there is no nexus between the markets in real life.    
Escalating salary costs drove ownership to search frantically for increases in revenue, which was very good for the game, re-invigorated a slumbering game by forcing us to be more active in pursuit of our market, but it also probably created higher ticket prices--plus there is the issue of EXPECTATIONS; it is easier for ownership to increase ticket prices when they can easily explain WHY they are increasing ticket prices.    Lower salary costs would create an expectation of lower ticket prices, and the expectation would put downward pressure on tickets prices.
 
3)   In the real world, teams have some finite amount of money to spend, such that signing one big star (Howard Ryan) limits a team's ability to pursue another (Lee Clifford).    You seem to be saying that in some theoretical universe this is not necessarily true, but I don't really understand what the parameters of your theoretical universe are there.

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Unpacking this there is an interesting set of points there:

1) It's interesting to reflect on the fact that higher and higher salary costs --- > results in a "natural selection" impetus to refine the games so that they become better, faster, more entertaining.  The NFL, for example, is a passing league now and for me, it creates a dynamism in the strategy that wouldn't be there otherwise.

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2) Spending on "one big star" (say Robinson Cano or Khalil Mack) inhibiting the ability to spend on another ... I wonder whether it would wreck the Seahawks' salary structure to sign Thomas to a $16M contract.  It seems self-evident to me that a $18, $20M purchase of a Cliff Lee (or whoever) who have zero or close to zero impact on the Mariners.

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And so, once more, it makes me wonder what it is that Dipoto has against $16, $18, $20M ballplayers.  If anything.

BABVA,

Dr D

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Comments

1

Baseball fans (the sabermetric variety anyway) talk about salaries and WAR as if there is a cap like there is in football. If a team is allowed to spend only x amount of dollars, it makes a big difference whether or not to pay Earl Thomas. If there isn’t, then the fan shouldn’t care a whit, but should only wonder why the heck ownership doesn’t want to reward his investment in hard earned entertainment budgeted money by giving him a championship caliber team to root for. 

2

In baseball, the cap is arbitrary. Everyone seems to have decided to pretend the luxury cap is a hard cap, and I think that has indisputably been good for the game. But of course if someone (Yankee$, Dodger$) wanted to blow by it in the name of acquiring Mike Trout, they totally could. Which is bad for the game. There's a reason everyone hated the 2000s Yanks, and it's because they ruined competitive balance.

In football, the cap is hard. This makes it a HUGE deal. Why do you think the Legion of Boom fell apart so quickly? Because you can't keep that much talent assembled once they get off their cheap rookie deals. The Hawks two Super Bowl years were a direct result of having tons of stars on rookie contracts. ET had a cap hit of 2.9MM in 2013. Kam got 3.9MM. Wagner was at 1mm. Golden Tate 900K, Brandon Browner 800K, Russell freaking Wilson 700K. KJ Wright 700K. Sherm 600K. Baldwin and Maxwell 550K. It was freaking insanity. That's what allowed them to field such a complete team, with Civics like Zach Miller, Marshawn, Okung, Chris Clemons, Unger, Mebane, and Bennett.

In 2018 Russell Wilson's cap hit is $23.786 million. That's about $10MM more than all the scrubs I listed from 2013 COMBINED. That's why Sherm and Tate and Unger and Mebane and Marshawn and Okung and Bennett and Richardson and Graham are gone. The current 2018 team, full of potential holes and untested rookies? They've got 7MM in cap space. Earl makes about 8MM this year. So if you give Earl a raise to 18MM like Doc suggested, you're at -3MM. That's negative three million dollars. To get back to even, you need to cut, say, Bradley McDougald, starting Strong Safety. But wait! There's more. Every team needs to budget in about 5MM for injury replacements during the season. To do that, you need to cut, say, Justin Britt, Pro Bowl Center. Or maybe you wanna keep the star, and you cut two more civics like, say, Justin Coleman (slot CB) and Barkevious Mingo (starting OLB). So that's one starter and a Pro Bowler, or three starters. Now replaced with rookies. Bad rookies, probably. The Andrew Romines of the NFL. Yeah.

In other news, ETIII just swallowed his pride and reported to camp. The breaking point was apparently that the Cowboys offered a 2nd round pick (the best offer the Hawks could possibly get for a rental of an expensive Star FS) and they turned it down. This news appears to have broken Thomas' fighting spirit. So there you have it, Seahawks win the staring contest yet again. They always do. The secret to their success is that they never, ever, ever negotiate with terrorists.

3

I am only Seahawk fan I know who roots for the Patriots. Cheaters? Not if you get caught. Get caught? Big deal, it means you’re working harder than we are. Bad sportsmanship? What is this, grade school? I’ve decided I am not going to let my envy and frustration rule my sports fandom. If you excel at winning year after year, and kick our tails - be you the hated Yankees, the cheating Patriots, the despised Athletics, the loathsome Donald Trump (love all that winning), I’m going to admire you for caring enough to work your tail off and spare myself the bitterness. Haven‘t Got time for the pain. Who needs it. Heck, that’s why I am a Christian - nobody worked harder than Jesus. Did Satan die for my sins? Hell no.

Go Football Dawgs.

4

The last point seems to be conflating two separate issues: a team's overall payroll and how that payroll is distributed. If the M's increased their payroll by $20 million then they clearly could sign an additional player for $20 million without hindering the rest of the roster. Whether or not it is wise to spend $20 million dollars on one player rather than two or three is a totally different issue. I have shown that Dipoto's willingness to sign "stars" is perfectly inline with the rest of the league, and I have explained why we should not presume that signing a larger proportion of stars would be better (https://seattlesportsinsider.com/?q=blogs/is-min-maxing-optimal).

Then again, I may be completely misunderstanding what the argument is.

5

The money has been there to get a big star or two. Dipoto has spent (wasted) $30 million per year to bring in absolute garbage. That's the problem. 

He did the opposite of deploy a Stars & Scrubs system.

He blew all his money on the scrubs that cost money instead of filling the cracks with AAA/AAAA players.

Look at this list of winners Dipoto picked out the last 3 seasons.

The money has certainly been there to win. Dipoto just spends it on absolute trash:

2016:
Aoki
Miley
Lind
Benoit
Cishek
Clevenger
Ianetta
Dae-Ho

$30 mil

2017
Yonder Alonso
Cishek
Dyson (to be our LF, omg)
Gallardo
Smyly
Carlos Ruiz
David Phelps
Zipchinski
Scribner
Valencia
Vincent

$30 mil

2018
Zipchinski
Nicasio
Erasmo
Gordon

$30 mil

6

I want you to know I came into this with an open mind. I’m just as frustrated with the M’s as you are right now, and my only way of coping has been posting zombie memes (which may either be funny or incredibly annoying, and if so I apologize to the denizens at large, but it’s helping to keep me sane).

So I did a quick search of the guys you listed, in the seasons you listed. Here’s what I found.

2016 (cost/WAR = ~9.6MM)

Nori Aoki: paid 5.5MM to produce 1.5 WAR. Good value.

Wade Miley: averaged 1.85 WAR in previous 4 years, dropped to 0.5 for us

Adam Lind: averaged 2.36 WAR in previous 3 seasons, then dropped to -0.3 for us

Joaquin Benoit: avg 1.83 WAR in previous 6 seasons, then -0.4 for us in just 24 innings, then 1.4 for Toronto in 24 innings after we cut bait!

Steve Cishek: paid 4MM for 1.6 WAR in 2016, then 6MM for 0.4 in 2017 over 20 innings, then 1.1 in 24 innings for Tampa. Both seasons were good value.

Steve Clevenger: Paid 500K for 0 WAR as a backup catcher. What did you expect?

Chris Iannetta: averaged 1.78 WAR in previous 8 (eight) years, then posted just 0.2 as a M, then hit .254/.354/.511 the next year for AZ (for those keeping track, Mitch Haniger is at .279/365/.490 this year)

Dae-ho Lee: 1MM for an interesting flyer and the most fun 0.4 WAR I've ever seen. Good value.

2017 (cost/WAR = ~10.5MM)

Yonder Alonso: averaged 1.35 WAR in previous 4 years, then posted 1.5 WAR in 370 PA for Oak, then 0.4 in 150 for us, for which we paid about 1.6MM? Even with the dropoff, that’s fine value. He’s posted another 1.1 WAR this year for Cleveland.

Jarrod Dyson: averaged 2.22 WAR (in just ~250 PA) in previous 5 years, then posted 2.6 for us for 2.8MM. So, um, he exceeded expectations and produced nearly 10x the value of his contract! Lol

Yovani Gallardo: averaged 1.94 WAR over previous ten seasons, then posted -0.2 for us. Still, coming off a 0.1 win season with his stuff clearly eroding, this was one failure we could all see coming, I’ll give you that.

Drew Smyly: averaged 1.96 WAR (despite just over 100 IP per year) in previous 5 years, then did not pitch for us after looking stellar in spring training. We flipped the injury coin and lost. Oh well.

Carlos Ruiz: 4.5MM for 0.5 WAR as a backup C. That’s almost dead on even value. And again, what did you expect?

David Phelps: averaged 1.45 WAR as a reliever, arm spontaneously combusted after all of 8.2 SEA innings

Marc Zippy: paid 5.5MM for a known mediocre reliever. Got 0.3 wins in ’17 for roughly even value, then imploded to -0.7 this year. Overall a bad value signing, no argument there.

Evan Scribner: made 800K in 2016, 900K in 2017. Produced 0.4 WAR in that span, so that’s still solid value.

Danny Valencia: paid 5.5MM for 1 WAR, solid value signing

Nick Vincent: I see you listed Vincent in 2017, a year where he produced 1.4 WAR for 1.3MM. He exceeded the value of his contract by a factor of 11.3 to 1. That is, I think, a pretty good return on investment.

 

 

2018 (cost/WAR = ~11.1)

Marc Scrabble: still 5.5MM. This year he fell off a cliff for -0.7 WAR, which means HE should be paying US 5.5MM, right?

Juan Nicasio: averaged 0.93 WAR in three years as a reliever, then posted -1.1 WAR despite 11.4K, 1.1BB, 8.6% HR/FB (career 8%, MLB avg 8.3%), and a 2.98 FIP. How? Thanks to a .405 BABIP (career .325). So a bad signing by value, but sure looks like a case of good process // bad results.

They call him… Erasmo: averaged 0.61 WAR (in just 100 IP per year) in his 6 year career. Has produced -0.1 WAR in 34 innings while clearly hampered by injuries, for which he was paid 4.2MM. Poor value, but hardly anyone’s fault.

Dee Gordon: averaged 2.87 WAR in previous 4 seasons, now at 0.5 for us. Paid 10.8MM. Clearly a bad signing for year one.

 

… whew. That’s a lotta numbers. So, to sum it all up, you named 21 players, and listed 23 player seasons. Of those named, I count 11 seasons of poor value. Of these, 3 are pitchers with minor but worrying injury histories who turned belly up. That’s a reasonable attrition rate, I think. Of the remaining eight, 6 (Iannetta, Lind, Miley, Benoit, Nicasio and Gordon) I would file under “Curse of the Mariners.” All of these players had strong performance histories, no significant red flags*, and inexplicably fell off a cliff the moment they donned a Mariners uniform. Now if you went on the record at the time of any of these acquisition to say you hated them, more power to you. But I think a decent proportion of reasonably bright people liked each of these moves just fine when they were made, myself included. So, that leaves two glaringly bad signings: Scrabble and He Who Must Not Be Named. And even then, Scrabble was fine in year 1. So that’s 2/23 player seasons that I would categorize as easily avoided blunders. Two whiffs in three seasons. They cost us 22MM combined, and produced -0.6 wins. Not good signing by any stretch of the imagination, but hardly catastrophic.

The rest of Jerry’s moves worked just fine. There’s some proportionate contributions, some mildly positive values, and a couple of backup catchers. There’s even a few diamonds in the rough! Nick Vincent and Jarrod Dyson were paid a combined 4.1MM to produce 4.0 WAR. Add those two homeruns to the two epic blunders, and you get… *clicking and clacking of the mainframe whirring through number crunching* … 7.67MM per win. So it looks like when you add it all together, Jerry isn’t wasting his money. He actually appears to be getting a slightly better-than-market-value return on his moves! Maybe all that wheeling and dealing is paying off after all…

Finally, I present you with one last thing to ruminate on. The following are the salaries and WAR totals of three 2018 Mariners. Two superstars and one star, each of whom signed much-lauded Star contracts that we were all ecstatic about at the time of signing. I present you with:

King Felix: -1.0 WAR, 26.85MM

Kyle Swagger: 0.7 WAR, 19MM

Robinson Cano: 1.9 WAR, 24MM

Total: 1.6 WAR, 69.85MM

Cost/Star(TM) WAR = 43.65 million dollars. I report, you decide.

7

You can blame it on the Mariner curse all you want.

But you know who didn't come here and suck? Cano and Cruz. Good players.

He wasted $30M/year on garbage.

I'd be fine with $6 million dollar Civics.

We got Pintos.

9

But I gotta sorta jump into bp's camp, here.

On the  + side of the Dipoto ledger is the Haniger/Segura trade.  That was a trade with risk (giving up WAlker, especially) but it turned out superb for us.

But the Dyson thing was always going to fall apart, he was not a fulltime player, and in that whole mix we actually had Mallex Smith for a few hours before sending him out for Smyly.  I commented, at the time, that Smith was the guy to get, not Dyson.  Dipoto botched that whole swap-a-fest.

Gordon has been a huge crash-burn this season.  It is true that he alternates godd seasons with bad ones, so maybe next year he's back to his .300 hitting self.  In his 6 seasons of extensive MLB play he's had 3 below 77 OPS+ and 3 above 97.  He is feast or famine.  Where does he play next season, btw?  He's not a CF, as it turns out (maybe in LF) but he probably goes back to 2B fulltime and we flex Cano over to 1B.  

Getting Healy was a decent trade, but he's not been real good.  99 OPS+ with an OBP hovering around .280 isn't THAT much value at 1B.  He's essentially a 0 WAR guy for free. Weirdly, he's the complete opposite of the CtZ philosophy that Dipoto was preaching as gospel just a seasons ago, while Vogs is the difinition of it and gets no shot. 

The Span trade was a great one.  Kudos to JeDi for that one.

Leake and Marco have been quite productive.  Jerry gets credit.  Moving Diaz to the BP was an electric move. And Colome will be ours for a while.  

But Jedi's failure this season is incredibly plain to see:  Our need for a starting arm was filled with a bunch of short inning RP's, none of who who have helped.  However, since coming off surgery, LeBlanc has run a WHIP of less than 1.2 three seasons running.  And we have a zero risk, cheapish contract signed.  He's a slick GM move by Dipoto.  But we've had him all season and he wasn't the mid-season arm that it was apparent we needed.

The Maybin trade was a failure this seaon as well, simply adding a redundantly weak OF bat.  I will give Servais credit for simply playing him less and less.

In '17, Valencia was essentially a Bleh; next to 0 WAR for $5.5M.  But let's give Dipoto credit for the mid-season trade for Alonzo, who was productive for us.

The band-aid approach tot he starting rotation last season was cost effective and interesting, but little else.  No knock on the GM here, however, it was bron out of necessity.

Dipoto has proven to be adept in the trade market (except for the failure to get a mid-season arm this seasons; a big failure, btw) but not in the FA market.  Our nice record this season is largely luck and pluck.

If you judge a GM on whether they turn a franchise into a clear winner, then Dipoto gets no better than a C grade after three seasons at the helm.  

I think this winter will be interesting.  We have cash to spend on an arm in the form of Cruz's contract.  It will be interesting to see what he does on both fronts.

10

If you did the same analysis for the Cubs, Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, etc. you would see that they waste massive amounts of money on underperforming or injured players. For instance, the Cubs paid $25 million for 40 innings from Yu Darvish, while the Red Sox are paying over $40 million combined to Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval despite both being cut. Probably the only teams that don't waste huge sums of money are the ones that have slashed their payroll to the bone.

Also, there is nothing special about a Stars and Scrubs approach. It certainly isn't the approach the supposedly smartest, most stat oriented organizations follow. Fans need to stop acting as if signing Civics is inherently wrong.

11

I'm sure Doc might have something to say about this, but I suspect you're right. Stars and Scrubs vs Civics and Scrubs may just be a case of personal preference. I suppose the Stars approach might have a leg up in the limited postseason roster, but that'll never matter if we can't get there.

What definitely matters is the Scrubs. Specifically the amazing ones who put up tons of WAR on rookie contracts. And aside from Mitch Haniger and Eddie Diaz, we're woefully low on high impact scrubs.

12

and skip spending money on stars who don’t shine, while paying scrub prices for scrubs who produce?

Is that too much to ask? To go get us a Billy Beane instead of a Billy Great Pretender?

13

2016, for example, many felt Dipoto unloaded Trumbo out of spite.

Keeping Trumbo + having $22 million to still spend should have been enough to make the playoffs that year. Instead, dumped him for Clevenger and spent on expensive scrubs.

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