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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Thursday, July 25, 2002
Rich Rifkin’s 2002 Mid-Season Not-Worth-The-Money Team
Here’s another bunch of liabilities that even WorldCom’s accountants couldn’t hide.
When a player is making way more than his performance suggests he deserves, I don’t blame the player. He never put a gun to his owner’s head and forced his contract under duress. In most cases, but not all, the fault lies with the team owner (and his general manager). Either he overestimated the value of a given player in the first place. Or he underestimated a player’s likely decline given his age. Of course, not every case is predictable. Some players unexpectedly stop producing once they have guaranteed money in hand. And others get hurt.
In both of the latter cases, there are ways that an owner can protect himself. First, he can purchase an insurance policy that will pay a player who suffers a severe injury. Second, with a player who for no foreseeable reason begins to underproduce, an owner can limit his risk by not signing contacts for really long periods. And third, by signing a large enough group of free agents, over time, the owner’s risk on any given player will likely even out. That is, some of that larger group will overperform, while some will underperform.
My interest here is to take a look at the players this season who, so far, have most underperformed for the money they are being paid. To make things a bit easier for myself, I am only looking at players who are making $4 million or more in 2002. I am not considering issues of deferred compensation or deferred signing bonuses or whether two or more clubs are actually paying the player. Exclusively, I am looking at what players are making and how well they have performed up to this point. My goal is to field an all Not-Worth-The-Money-Team.
The first thing to do is to find a reasonable performance standard. If it were available to me, I think this would be a good place to use Bill James’s Win Shares. That is, find the group of players who have cost their teams the most money per Win Share. But because I don’t have that data, I will substitute with other metrics.
For hitters, I am going to use Runs Above Replacement Position. That is Clay Davenport’s stat that tells us how many runs in a neutral ballpark a player at a given position has created above what a replacement hitter at that same position would have created. The problem with it for this exercise is that it ignores defensive contribution. And because that is a significant mistake, I don’t want to claim that I am finding something that I am not. So let me be clear. The players on this list are there because they are hitting poorly for the money they are being paid. Some may make up for that lack of offensive contribution with their defense. Others may not. My list solely judges players on offensive contribution for the position they play and assumes that they are average defensively. So in cases where a superior defensive player seems to be overpaid, his defense may make that "overpayment" not so extreme.
For starting pitchers, I am using Michael Wolverton’s Support Neutral Wins Above Replacement (SNWAR). That stat tells us how many games a starting pitcher has won for his team, assuming that the starter had ordinary run support and ordinary relief pitching behind him. It also, I believe, assumes defensive neutrality. That may be a mistake, too. But for pitchers whose performances have been markedly poor, it is probably close enough to get a good idea of who is making more money than his performance suggest.
I have divided relief pitchers into two groups. For closers, I am simply using Net Saves - that is, Saves minus 1.5 times Blown Saves. For all other relievers, I am using Wolverton’s Adjusted Runs Prevented (ARP) stat, which is designed to show how many runs a relief pitcher has prevented from scoring, assuming average defense and average performance by relievers who follow.
Some pitchers have both been starters and relievers. For them, for the sake of simplicity, I put them in the category in which they have had more appearances. And for the few relievers who have earned saves but are not primarily closers, I have just ignored their save contributions.
Here, then, is the starting line-up for the 2002 Not-Worth-The-Money-Team. The first dollar figure is the player’s 2002 salary (rounded to the nearest $1,000. The second is his dollars per RARP:
C - Todd Hundley - $6,500,000 - $4,062,500 per RARP
In most of the above cases, these players have produced less than 1 run above a replacement player. That is, they are being paid the big bucks, but they are actually hitting no better than a typical player brought up from the minor leagues at that same position would be expected to hit. That presents a mathematical challenge. For any player who has produced at least 1 RARP, it is simple enough to divide his RARP’s into his salary. But you can’t quite do that when a player has a negative or zero RARP. So to account for that for this exercise, I have done the following every time a player has an RARP below 1.0: multiply his salary times one plus the number of runs below 1.0.
For example, if a player makes $4 million and has produced -1.0 RARP, he would have cost his team $12 million/RARP. That is, (1+2)*$4 million. If that same player had produced 2.0 RARP, he would have cost his team $2 million per RARP. If he had produced 1.0 RARP, he would have cost his team $4 million/RARP. If he had produced 0.0 RARP, he would have cost his team $8 million/RARP.
It’s arguable that multiplying salaries in the cases of players who have produced less than 1.0 RARP is inaccurate. But even if it is, that’s okay. We still get the gist right of who has most underproduced based on his salary and hitting performance for 2002.
Here is the bench for the 2002 Not-Worth-The-Money-Team:
C - Javy Lopez - $6,000,000 - $3,000,000 per RARP
This is the starting rotation for the 2002 Not-Worth-The-Money-Team:
SP - Mike Hampton - $9,504,000 - $34,214,400 per SNWAR
Quite a lot of Dodger pitchers in this group. Perhaps Dan Evans was smart to let Chan Ho Park go the Rangers. Note here that I am treating SNWAR’s below 1.0 just like I treated RARP’s below 1.0. I did the same for ARP’s, also.
Here are the 2002 Not-Worth-The-Money-Team’s relievers:
RP - Charles Nagy - $6,000,000 - $68,400,000 per ARP
I have not gone so far as to figure out how many wins and losses this club would likely have had in 2002. It seems likely to me, though, that this would be the single worst team in baseball, if it were actually a team. And for that, all they are making is a smidge over $184 million this season.
Finally, note that I understand that players are paid for their full seasons, not their partial seasons. Some underperformers may turn things around. And some others who are now healthy may suffer an injury and make this list. All my intention here was to show who is not earning their keep, so far. All of the offensive and pitching stats were compiled up through July 19. So even a few days later, this team might have a few changes.
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