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Monday, March 24, 2014

Bradford: The reality of David Ortiz: Why it made sense to execute this extension

The argument is a convenient one for those believing Sunday’s news of David Ortiz’s extension should have never come: Just let the designated hitter play out another season and worry about re-signing him after that.

They will say, “He is 38 years old, so you need all the cost certainty you can get. Also, he will never sign with another team other than the Red Sox, so you won’t have to worry about that.”

The line of thinking certainly is easy to reach, but still so misguided.

First of all, none of the arguments to commit to Ortiz for any years beyond 2014 should have anything to do with what he has done in the community, his iconic status as a Red Sox or even the World Series championships he helped bring to Boston. Judging by some of the comments made in the press release by principal owner John Henry, sentimentality was factored in, but it need not be.

Like it or not, this is the business of baseball, and for the Red Sox, giving Ortiz this extension – paying him $16 million for 2015 with a team/vesting option for ’16 and a club option for ’17 – is good business.

...Until proven otherwise, Ortiz is still this lineup’s anchor. He was right when he bemoaned being pitched around. Yet, even with such a dynamic (which may change with a more consistent Mike Napoli) he produced as well as anybody in such a situation.

Of all qualifying three or four hitters, Ortiz saw the highest percentage of pitches away (57.6 percent). And when he did have an opportunity with men on base, the DH saw the fewest pitches in the strike zone of all middle of the order hitters.

Comparing Ortiz to left-handed hitters, when runners were in scoring position, only San Francisco’s Pablo Sandoval saw fewer pitches in the strike zone. He also managed the second-most homers (15) of lefty hitters with men on base despite seeing the fifth-fewest percentage of pitches in the strike zone.

He is important … very important. And Sunday the Red Sox showed just how much they understand that.

Thanks to Los.

Repoz Posted: March 24, 2014 at 06:49 AM | 31 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: red sox

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   1. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: March 24, 2014 at 09:04 AM (#4676028)
Do we know the details on the option years? I'm very excited to see Ortiz back, the Red Sox are wealthy enough and the extension is short term enough that this won't tie their hands and he's been the face of the franchise for a decade now and integral to three world championships. I'm happy to cede the hall of fame argument for now, but there's no way he's not in the Red Sox hall of fame and he deserves to stay with the club as long as he wants to.
   2. Russ Posted: March 24, 2014 at 09:32 AM (#4676040)
Deserve's got nothin' to do with it.
   3. villageidiom Posted: March 24, 2014 at 09:50 AM (#4676054)
Do we know the details on the option years?
Not yet. All I've heard to this point is that the 2016 option vests based on plate appearances, and if it doesn't vest simply becomes a club option. I assume the press conference later today would reveal more details.
he deserves to stay with the club as long as he wants to.
I understand this sentiment, yet disagree with it for business reasons so obvious that it would be pointless to let the thread go down that path.

Instead, I'll focus on the point of the sentiment: David Ortiz has brought me great joy. He has been a very good hitter for my favorite team for more than a decade. Whether he's a clutch hitter or not, he has come through in the clutch a lot, and it's been a lot of fun for me to witness him do so.
   4. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: March 24, 2014 at 11:42 AM (#4676111)
First of all, none of the arguments to commit to Ortiz for any years beyond 2014 should have anything to do with what he has done in the community, his iconic status as a Red Sox or even the World Series championships he helped bring to Boston.


This is completely and utterly false. 99% of the time, baseball player contracts are about players and production and hard truths about aging curves. But there are occasional rarities where a player's popularity within the fan base distorts incentives, and rightly so. Ortiz is certain the kind of player where that happens. His iconic stature in Boston, much like Jeter's in the Bronx, transcends his mere production when it comes to his value to the team's bottom line. His value as a marketing device is significant enough to at least bend the curve as to whether or not to bring him back. Yes, the vast majority of contracts are simple +/- calculations about production and career path projections, but there are outliers where community goodwill actually impacts the ability to market the team. Ortiz may be one of those. (And it's not like it's a 5 year deal or that he's stopped hitting three years ago.)
   5. Jeltzandini Posted: March 24, 2014 at 12:05 PM (#4676125)
Has this ever really been studied? It's always seemed to me that if a beloved player is old and bad, he's not a marketing draw anymore. It's really not that interesting watching an old guy flail his way to a 280/320/350 line or whatever.

   6. Russ Posted: March 24, 2014 at 12:11 PM (#4676128)
It's always seemed to me that if a beloved player is old and bad, he's not a marketing draw anymore.


That's interesting to me, as I've always thought the opposite about beloved players in any sport other than American football. They continue to be supported and a marketing draw, to a point well past their usefulness. It is only in the NFL, for whatever reason, that beloved players can be cut loose without a severe backlash.
   7. Benji Gil Gamesh Rises Posted: March 24, 2014 at 12:23 PM (#4676139)
It is only in the NFL, for whatever reason, that beloved players can be cut loose without a severe backlash.
Isn't it fair to say that there are fewer players one would describe as "beloved" in football than in baseball?
   8. villageidiom Posted: March 24, 2014 at 12:35 PM (#4676147)
It's really not that interesting watching an old guy flail his way to a 280/320/350 line or whatever.
Depends on what else you have left to watch. If the old guy is blocking an exciting rookie, no. If the team is in the hunt for a playoff spot and he's costing you wins, no. But otherwise, sure, why not? If your team would be contending for last place with or without him, and would be picking up Jeff Francoeur to fill his position if he retired tomorrow, might as well keep the old guy.
   9. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: March 24, 2014 at 12:39 PM (#4676149)
Has this ever really been studied? It's always seemed to me that if a beloved player is old and bad, he's not a marketing draw anymore.


I doubt there's been a sabermetric study of it outside of the front offices of actual franchises. That is to say, I doubt the internets or FanGraphs or BPro have looked at it too hard. The sweet spot of fan-driven sabermetrics is player performance. Because that's what we're typically good at, we tend to ignore the more traditional side of the "business of baseball," replacing full picture of what a front office does with what might be called "the business of player productivity." And that's perfectly reasonable from a certain perspective. But from a front office perspective, there are other factors at play. Because at the end of the day, the business of a local baseball franchise is not necessarily to optimize player personnel on the field. Not per se. Optimizing player personnel on the field is only a tactic in the overall goal of selling baseball tickets and television broadcasts to the customers (fans.)

I don't think there's a big slice of the curve where undercutting on-field player productivity (by signing an aging star like Ortiz or Jeter, or Chipper Jones, or whomever) moves the marketing needle enough to justify the cost of lost on-field production, but I think there's a small outlier population which likely includes those three players listed above, where the curve bends toward marketing a little more than normal.

I think this also comes into play when you have the choice between "replacement level player X" vs "popular but slightly more expensive established player Y" type deals. At some point, the sheer number of #7 Braves jerseys Francouer is moving from the clubhouse store does factor into whether you give him another year to try and work it out.
   10. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: March 24, 2014 at 12:41 PM (#4676152)
Isn't it fair to say that there are fewer players one would describe as "beloved" in football than in baseball?


I think the only "beloved" players in football are quarterbacks, and you have to have a good marketing campaign around cutting Peyton or Brett loose.
   11. Pat Rapper's Delight Posted: March 24, 2014 at 12:48 PM (#4676158)
It is only in the NFL, for whatever reason, that beloved players can be cut loose without a severe backlash.

Except for a handful of select QB's, no one cares about NFL players beyond "How did you play last week?"
   12. cardsfanboy Posted: March 24, 2014 at 12:50 PM (#4676160)
Has this ever really been studied? It's always seemed to me that if a beloved player is old and bad, he's not a marketing draw anymore. It's really not that interesting watching an old guy flail his way to a 280/320/350 line or whatever.


I doubt that any one player makes a difference, but over time, how you treat your beloved players could arguably affect your fan loyalty. The A's are constant contenders and haven't been a good draw and I could see an argument being made, that they don't maintain continuity with the team that fans don't have the emotional attachment to them that they might with another franchise in similar situation.

Obviously this is all conjecture. It just seems that if a team has a player or two that the very casual fan recognizes, then they would feel an attachment to the team.
   13. cardsfanboy Posted: March 24, 2014 at 12:55 PM (#4676163)
It is only in the NFL, for whatever reason, that beloved players can be cut loose without a severe backlash.


That is because they got their followers believing in a salary cap is a good thing for the league, so the brain dead follow the party line and accept bad decisions (and good decisions) in the name of the salary cap.
   14. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: March 24, 2014 at 12:56 PM (#4676164)
I doubt that any one player makes a difference, but over time, how you treat your beloved players could arguably affect your fan loyalty. The A's are constant contenders and haven't been a good draw and I could see an argument being made, that they don't maintain continuity with the team that fans don't have the emotional attachment to them that they might with another franchise in similar situation.

Obviously this is all conjecture. It just seems that if a team has a player or two that the very casual fan recognizes, then they would feel an attachment to the team.


I agree. I think the A's suffer long term fan loyalty because they treat their players like a fantasy baseball roster. I understand the drive to do so, in "Moneyball" terms. But that does impact how the casual fans will embrace a team. It will make a difference between "a team that plays in Oakland" and "Oakland's team."
   15. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: March 24, 2014 at 12:59 PM (#4676165)
That is because they got their followers believing in a salary cap is a good thing for the league, so the brain dead follow the party line and accept bad decisions (and good decisions) in the name of the salary cap


This I don't agree with, simply because it oversells the "intelligence" of your casual baseball fan. Most baseball fans think MLB needs a salary cap. Don't be fooled by the fact that you have conversations with a very small subset of economically liberal fans here. Football fans don't necessarily support a salary cap because they're "brain dead." They simply live with the system that their preferred sport uses. Hell, take a look at the NBA thread here. Those guys probably don't "support" the NBA's cap system, nor are they in any way "brain dead" (steagles notwithstanding), but they operate within the system of the sport. Soccer fans operate within the system of their sport too. Baseball fans aren't smarter than them. We just live in our systemic universe.
   16. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: March 24, 2014 at 01:03 PM (#4676169)

I agree. I think the A's suffer long term fan loyalty because they treat their players like a fantasy baseball roster. I understand the drive to do so, in "Moneyball" terms. But that does impact how the casual fans will embrace a team. It will make a difference between "a team that plays in Oakland" and "Oakland's team."


I think this hits it pretty well. Obviously at some point no matter how beloved a player is he needs to be put out to pasture. I wouldn't want Yaz as the Red Sox left fielder this year, the guy is 75 years old, but I like that he finished his career in Boston even if he wasn't anything special his last year.
   17. cardsfanboy Posted: March 24, 2014 at 01:04 PM (#4676170)
Most baseball fans think MLB needs a salary cap.


I agree.. I know that that is the case with fans... I just find any opportunity I can find to insult the fans of the NFL, I'll take it, even if I know there are equally dumb people who are MLB fans.
   18. John Northey Posted: March 24, 2014 at 01:59 PM (#4676201)
While I do like to boo Boston (being a Jays fan) I am glad Ortiz is sticking around there. He is a core player and core players should stay with a club as long as possible/reasonable. Much like seeing Jeter as anything but a Yankee would be weird, like seeing Paul Molitor as a Jay back in '93 was weird (but wonderful for us). Generally I only like players hopping around at the end if it is to do something special (Tim Raines playing with his son in Baltimore), or to play for their home team (Molitor and Winfield did that in Minnesota). The odd time you also get a Rickey Henderson type who just wants to play and play and play until they drag him off the field and those are fun too (heck, I'd still love to see him make a comeback as a pinch runner - he'd probably be useful still and take a few walks).
   19. Danny Posted: March 24, 2014 at 02:14 PM (#4676223)
I agree. I think the A's suffer long term fan loyalty because they treat their players like a fantasy baseball roster. I understand the drive to do so, in "Moneyball" terms. But that does impact how the casual fans will embrace a team. It will make a difference between "a team that plays in Oakland" and "Oakland's team."

I think this is often overstated. The A's had the second best record in MLB from 2000 to 2003 (half a game behind Seattle), making the playoffs all 4 years. The only "star" player they traded away during that time was Ben Grieve, who was part of the trade that brought Johnny Damon to Oakland. They lost Giambi, Damon, and Isringhausen to free agency in 2001, and they generally cycled through closers, but the core of the 2000-2003 team was pretty much intact the whole way through: Chavez, Tejada, Hernandez, Hudson, Mulder, and Zito.

Tejada left after 2003, and Hudson/Mulder were traded away after 2004. But for 2000-2003, it doesn't seem like the A's had an especially high turnover rate (or "treated their players like a fantasy baseball roster"). Yet they still couldn't bring attendance up to the level of a typical multi-year contender.
   20. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: March 24, 2014 at 02:23 PM (#4676226)
You're begging the question a bit, Danny. It's 2014, not 2004.
   21. dr. scott Posted: March 24, 2014 at 02:30 PM (#4676235)
This year will be an interesting experiment with the A's. The butts in the seats problem for the A's goes well past keeping more players, but after two straight years of playoff appearances and a lot of local success with both teams the last 3 years, the A's could see a big boost with an outside shot at near average AL attendance. They have been adding 1-2k people a game per year since 2010, and have nearly sold out this year's opening day (only seats left for more than 1 person are SRO).

one of the things that Ive wondered about is how their typical slow starts affect attendance. Almost every year they have done well they are way down in the standings by the middle of may (even last year after a hot start they were below 500 on May 10th). If they can start of hot they may crack 25,000 a game, which would be huge, but with only 35,000 capacity its not likely. even in 2006 after 7 straight winning seasons and attendance near the league average for the past 5 years, and a strong team that went to the playoffs, they put the tarps up and attendance dropped to 24400 a game from 26000 the year before. It may make operations easier, but I would be surprised if was actually a good financial decision that year, or this year.
   22. theboyqueen Posted: March 24, 2014 at 02:55 PM (#4676261)
The A's poor attendance is explained pretty well by Pac Bell park and the Giants extensive radio network. They have captured all the casual fans in the area, including a whole generation of young people. I think it has very little to do with the players on the team or the style of management.

I think we can all agree that the best solution would be a lawsuit brought against the Giants that forced them to move to St. Petersburg. Sure they lost their chance at the Florida market but the one in Russia is still available.
   23. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: March 24, 2014 at 04:36 PM (#4676360)
a lawsuit brought against the Giants that forced them to move to St. Petersburg. Sure they lost their chance at the Florida market but the one in Russia is still available.


Well, they would get exclusive access to a market that, given recent events, seems to be expanding its territory.
   24. dr. scott Posted: March 24, 2014 at 04:41 PM (#4676365)
I think the A's ballpark is more to blame than Pac Bell. Just look at attendance records for Candlestick. They are remarkably like the A's current and past numbers. The attendance numbers since Pac Bell are nearly identical to the 14 years before (~23,000 fans/game 22,000 for the Stick those years) despite the stadium being much worse since 1995. If they had not put on the tarps, those numbers are probably a bit better too.
   25. Walt Davis Posted: March 24, 2014 at 04:44 PM (#4676371)
I wouldn't quite say that sabermetrics has ignored this issue -- I think the marketing, etc. point is raised every time a franchise icon is up for an extension and is often used as the justification for a small overpay. It is certainly fair though to say there has been little/no attempt to quantify it and not much interest shown in the question.

It would be difficult to quantify without marketing surveys, etc. (and I don't have a lot of faith in marketing surveys either). The easiest thing we could do is track attendance with/without a star starting pitcher. I think somebody did do that fairly recently but I can't recall for which pitcher. For position players, I think it would generally be too hard to detect an attendance effect. And for star pitchers, they may get hurt too often for fans to form real attachments -- i.e. you get used to a star pitcher not being around pretty quickly. And I don't recall ever hearing much sentiment for "the Phils should keep Carlton around to get shelled every 5th day".

But mainly I wanted to point out that this doesn't seem to affect player loyalty very much. Yes, it would seem really strange now if Ernie Banks had ended his career with somebody else but of course it happened to bigger stars than Ernie. As importantly, Santo and Williams and Jenkins and all the others came back to hang around the Cubs not their other teams. Even if Ortiz spent a final year or two elsewhere, he will forever be a Red Sox.

As to the deal -- I don't see the point in it but, as noted, it's small and flexible enough not to matter very much and, if it keeps Ortiz happy and the media quiet it will have achieved something. But I found the excerpt very unconvincing. Mainly ...

Until proven otherwise, Ortiz is still this lineup’s anchor.

is exactly the reason to not extend him now. You already had him for this year, giving you another chance to test the hypothesis of whether Ortiz can still hit. He may of course be an "anchor" weighing you down in 2015.
   26. cardsfanboy Posted: March 24, 2014 at 04:58 PM (#4676379)
I wouldn't quite say that sabermetrics has ignored this issue -- I think the marketing, etc. point is raised every time a franchise icon is up for an extension and is often used as the justification for a small overpay. It is certainly fair though to say there has been little/no attempt to quantify it and not much interest shown in the question.


As I like to point out, the problem is that the sabermetrics on contracts hasn't even done a good job of identifying how much a team can pay for a player. A $15mil contract given out by the Yankees doesn't have the same expected/hoped for return on investment as a $15mil contract given out by the A's(if it ever happened) Instead they identify contracts solely on it's value relative to overall league cost. To expect saber to start evaluating on more esoteric concepts such as loyalty/fans/marketing is probably beyond where they are at right now.

   27. theboyqueen Posted: March 24, 2014 at 05:50 PM (#4676446)
I think the A's ballpark is more to blame than Pac Bell. Just look at attendance records for Candlestick. They are remarkably like the A's current and past numbers. The attendance numbers since Pac Bell are nearly identical to the 14 years before (~23,000 fans/game 22,000 for the Stick those years) despite the stadium being much worse since 1995. If they had not put on the tarps, those numbers are probably a bit better too.


I grew up in the south bay. Part of the reason I am an A's fan today is because the Oakland Coliseum is so much nicer than Candlestick. Had the Giants still been in Candlestick in the early 2000s I have little doubt attendance at A's games would have been like what they were in the Bash Brothers days. The weather in St. Petersburg, Russia is likely better than the weather at Candlestick during baseball season.

The only reason Candlestick sort of works for football is that the weather in SF is much better in the fall/winter than in the summer.
   28. Flynn Posted: March 24, 2014 at 06:00 PM (#4676451)
The Coliseum is a fine 80s baseball stadium (with a monstrosity tacked on to its outfield) in a 21st century world. It's still perfectly functional if you want to watch a ballgame and eat a hot dog. It's not great if you want to have a night out with people who have a marginal interest in baseball, eat novelty foods, and socialize.
   29. Joe Bivens, Minor Genius Posted: March 24, 2014 at 06:07 PM (#4676458)
If 15m for 2015 keeps him happy in 2014 (it's not my money, unless I factor in how they nick me for it, which I don't), then mazel tov. Give him the dough and let's hope he continues to hit well. It won't be the end of the world if he has a bad year.
   30. Dale Sams Posted: March 24, 2014 at 06:14 PM (#4676463)
is exactly the reason to not extend him now. You already had him for this year, giving you another chance to test the hypothesis of whether Ortiz can still hit. He may of course be an "anchor" weighing you down in 2015.


Sox throw away money every year...that contract isn't going to weigh them down. Ortiz could suck (for Ortiz) and STILL be better than 1/2 the DHs last year.
   31. Walt Davis Posted: March 24, 2014 at 10:47 PM (#4676590)
#30 ... and maybe 29 ...

The bit just before the bit you quoted:

As to the deal -- I don't see the point in it but, as noted, it's small and flexible enough not to matter very much and, if it keeps Ortiz happy and the media quiet it will have achieved something.

now ... Ortiz could suck (for Ortiz) and STILL be better than 1/2 the DHs last year.

Not really. Depends of course on what you mean by "suck (for Ortiz)". If by that you mean he still puts up a 130 OPS+ in reasonably full-time play, then your statement is true. If by that you mean he repeats 2009, then it's not.

It's true that the "average" AL DH doesn't hit particularly well but that's because most teams have decided that rather than carry a mediocre full-time DH -- say some AAAA 1B who can probably put up a 105 to 110 OPS+ -- it is better to carry 13 guys who can actually field a position and rotate the slot among bench players, resting starters, etc. That's been pretty much true throughout the history of the DH. It's one of the reasons why Nelson Cruz and Kendry Morales had so much trouble finding jobs.

The full-time DH is possibly going the way of the do-do. In the last 10 seasons, there have been only 29 qualifying DH (85%) seasons. Ortiz will be 39 and Butler is already teetering on average (7 WAR over the last 3 years, just 1.5 last year) so can't afford offensive decline. VMart was the 3rd qualifier last year and, if healthy, will probably qualify again this year but his 111 OPS+ and 1.2 WAR were not impressive. (I know, VMart finished very strong so maybe it was after-effects of the injury.)

The median OPS+ of those 29 seasons by the way is 126. That median is dragged down by end of career seasons. Of the 5 worst by OPS+, 2 were Vlad and Edgar's last seasons and 2 more were Vidro's and Damon's next-to-last seasons (and last full-time seasons). The one of those 5 who got a real 2nd chance was Ortiz after 2009 ... so if Ortiz "sucks" to 2009 levels, it will be one of the worst full-time DH seasons of the last 10 years.

VMart's 2013 is the 6th worst and Sheff's last full-time season is the 8th worst. So Butler at 116, Vlad at 119, Hafner at 120, Matsui 123 define the lower bound of guys who were allowed to stay. If Ortiz puts up a season in that range, there's a good chance his 2015 will look like Sheff's 2008 (90 OPS+ in 482 PA) although Sheff did bounce back to 350 decent PA in 2009.

Compare to a decade earlier when there were 38 such seasons and a median OPS+ of 134. The decade before that it was 35 although the median OPS+ was just 112. 36 the decade before that, median OPS+ around 116-117. And of course the DH is an old-man's position. For the history of the DH there have been 142 qualifying seasons, only 18 of them by players under 30, less than half by players under 35.

So, other than keeping Ortiz happy and shutting the media up, there doesn't appear to be any advantage to extending him now rather than waiting. But the extension is small enough and flexible enough that it can't hurt them very much anyway. I doubt the value of Ortiz's happiness and the media's troublemaking balance off the additional expected cost of extending him now vs. waiting but I can't say that for sure.

Note I'm not saying I expect Ortiz to fall off a cliff, especially not in 2014. Guys who mashed at 35-37 generally did just fine from 38-39 (130ish OPS+, 20ish Rbat) although only about half of them had full-time seasons. Palmeiro is probably the most interesting case. He went from a 140 for 35-37 to a 117 at 38. If you could, you'd think strongly about walking away from that guy as a full-time DH and you certainly wouldn't want to pay him $15 M. At 39 Palmeiro held steady with a 109 so that wouldn't be that big of a deal here. Molitor also saw a big drop at 38-39 although his age 39 BA/OBP were more than high enough to maintain good offensive value. Schmidt 35-37 is a pretty good Ortiz hitting comp and he declined quite badly at those ages (only +6 Rbat in not much playing time). Of course Thome, Edgar and Aaron are also pretty good hitting comps at those ages and they maintained rather well at 38-39 so the overall projection seems good enough. Thome +40 Rbat in fewer than 800 PA is comforting in the suggestion that even if Ortiz needs lots of time off or even platooning, he can still produce more than enough the next two years.

By the way, somewhere in here I think I said Ortiz's upcoming season is his age 39 but I can't find it ... anyway, it's his age 38 season coming, 39 is the season they bought out.

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