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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Not so ‘Free’ Agency

I stole this link from Philly over on SOSH: This BA article, which measures how homegrown each playoff team is, includes a comparison of the Red Sox and Yankees free-agent signings. The results are… not pretty. The whole thing is worth reading, but the takeaway is: in 2011, the Red Sox $67 million for free agent players and got back 2 (2!) WAR. That number is particularly friendly in that a) it doesn’t count Dice-K (because he wasn’t a free agent, per se?) and b) it uses $14 mil. for Crawford’s salary rather than his AAV of $20 mil. If you look back in the years prior to to 2011, these numbers are certainly better, but they are still not good.

In trying to improve this team for 2012 and beyond, this should certainly be an area of great emphasis. Yes, a new voice in the clubhouse is probably a good idea. Yes, they need to look at conditioning and their methods for keeping players healthy. But finding a way to get something resembling value when signing free agents would make a tremendous difference for the Red Sox.

It’s these numbers that make unable to join Robothal and others in the teeth gnashing over the possibility of letting Theo Epstein go. The front office has done some great work in some areas, but they have not done a good job at all with free agents (or trades) over the past several years, which has really set back the overall results. Consequently, it’s not hard to imagine someone else being able to do as well or better.

(The SOSH thread is here. Some interesting stuff mixed in with a lot of “Hey, the Yankees got lucky with their pickups and we didn’t” type comments.)

Darren Posted: October 05, 2011 at 01:28 PM | 27 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: October 05, 2011 at 03:52 PM (#3952303)
Maybe I'm drinking the kool-aid but I see Theo as a pretty bright guy who is making bad decisions. That leads me to believe that the "problem" with this organization is the infrastructure, not the top level guys. I think Theo and the Trio are getting bad information.

For example, supposedly they had a ridiculous level of investigation on Carl Crawford as to whether he was equipped to handle the Boston experience and then he went out and looked to all the world like a guy who was terrified. Maybe that's crap, maybe the problem was just a loss of skill or an injury or something else but if feels like the equation for the Sox on this stuff is;

Crappy Information + Smart Process = Bad Results

It seems their process with internal players is generally a lot better than external players so that's what makes me think that is the way the organization is set up right now. I'm willing to conced I may be wrong but this is my perception of things.
   2. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: October 05, 2011 at 04:44 PM (#3952355)
Information and process aren't so easily separable, I don't think. You only get information through processes. As with the manager and clubhouse turmoil, when bad decisions are made in the front office, the buck has to stop with the GM. I don't buy that he can be exculpated from bad decisions by saying that his subordinates, the people who make up the organization he manages, gave him bad information. Theo just had a poor year this year - the little decision to let Millwood go stands out to me a clear front office failure, but obviously the free agent disasters are the bigger issue.

Running baseball ops is very different from running a clubhouse, and I generally think that Theo ought to stay on and work to fix what needs fixing in the decision-making process (including the process by which information is collected, analyzed, and presented.) Theo seems like a good GM, and GMs don't, historically, have expiration dates in the same way that field managers do.

EDIT: You know, I said "Theo just had a poor year this year", but that's a debatable issue, and I'm not sure where I stand. I think Theo did a poor job with SP depth and free agent acquisitions, but teams with poor SP depth, badly overpaid free agents, and three young MVP candidates anchoring one of the best offenses and defenses in all of baseball are more than capable of winning championships. The Red Sox component statistics project the team to win about 99 games. Even if you argue that the Red Sox had some team tendency to suboptimal run distribution, they would still project based on component stats to about 95 wins. To what degree is Theo responsible for the gap between real and expected wins? It's certainly arguable that he really isn't, and to the degree it was bad luck, it wasn't his fault, and to the degree is was a clutch/chemistry problem, that falls more on the manager than on the GM.
   3. Non-Youkilidian Geometry Posted: October 05, 2011 at 04:47 PM (#3952363)
While I obviously can't dispute the godawful performance of Theo's free agent acquisitions, I'm not confident that a different GM would have necessarily done better without the benefit of hindsight. Theo's FA acquisitions were mostly praised by others at the time they were made, or at least not lambasted. My recollection is that most people thought Lackey was a solid pickup -- I don't recall anyone predicting that he would turn into a pumpkin. Likewise, while many people (including me) thought Crawford was overrated and was being overpaid, almost everyone thought that his acquisition was going to improve the team on the field at least in the short term. I don't recall anyone anticipating that he'd be as bad as he has been so far. Theo hasn't done anything that was universally recognized as egregiously wrong-headed at the time, along the lines of the Angels signing Gary Matthews Jr. or trading for Wells.

We certainly should be examining why Theo's FA signings have gone wrong, but until we identify the root cause I don't think we can be confident that a different GM working with the Red Sox's budget and taking a similar sabrmetric-friendly approach to player evaluation would have done any better.
   4. Dale Sams Posted: October 05, 2011 at 05:09 PM (#3952393)
We certainly should be examining why Theo's FA signings have gone wrong


I don't see how bringing in wife-beaters, 38 year old CFers, fat old hurlers, and pinhead mouth-breathers could possibly go wrong.
   5. Darren Posted: October 05, 2011 at 05:25 PM (#3952416)
Theo hasn't done anything that was universally recognized as egregiously wrong-headed at the time, along the lines of the Angels signing Gary Matthews Jr. or trading for Wells.


Egregiously wrong-headed is a pretty low bar, though. It's one that just about any GM could pass (not you, Regeanis!).

Theo (and co.) have made some debatable moves, and a lot of those have gone very, very badly.
   6. Nasty Nate Posted: October 05, 2011 at 05:31 PM (#3952426)
Thankfully, the big mistakes have been balanced by the assemblage of a very good core of players, so even the 'bad' years are 86+ win affairs, which cannot be said of the bad years of other mega-payroll teams (Mets, Angels, Dodgers) except for the Yankees.
   7. ellsbury my heart at wounded knee Posted: October 05, 2011 at 05:43 PM (#3952444)
We certainly should be examining why Theo's FA signings have gone wrong, but until we identify the root cause I don't think we can be confident that a different GM working with the Red Sox's budget and taking a similar sabrmetric-friendly approach to player evaluation would have done any better.


The problem for me is that Epstein's FA signings seem like they've been fairly sabermetrically sound. At the time they were signed, most of the guys seemed like decent bets to at least be league average with good chance of being much better. That they've almost all turned out so poorly makes me wonder what's being missed in terms of predicting free-agent performance. I really don't know what it is. Supposedly they did a ton of research on Carl Crawford before they signed him, and it didn't seem to have helped much. Clearly they're doing something wrong, but what?
   8. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: October 05, 2011 at 06:02 PM (#3952465)
I am very frustrated with Crawford, Cameron, Lackey, and other FA signings. That said, a few thoughts in his defense:

1) We are sort of forgeting that Epstein traded three prospects for Gonzalez. We can say that Adrian Gonzalez was obviously going to be awesome, but we have to give credit to Epstein for getting the deal done for a group of prospects that - to this point - do not seem to be an incredible group. Also, he was able to get a long-term deal done for a gold-glove quality, MVP-caliber, durable 1B, #3 hitter. That was done very well.
2) Theo was able to get Saltalamacchia at a low price, and he has turned a weakness (our future at catcher) into a strength, very inexpensively. That has worked out very well.
3) The Scutaro signing has worked out better than I thought it would. Scutaro was very good in 2011, and I'm sure the Sox will pick up his 2012 option at a cost $6m. Scutaro was decidedly NOT part of the problem down the stretch for the Red Sox - he was outstanding.
4) The Ortiz signing in 2003 ends up being one of the most important transactions in major league baseball of the last decade. Without Ortiz, the Red Sox don't win the WS in 2004, or quite possibly 2007. Over the nine years he has been with Boston, Ortiz has made a total of about $70m - less than $8m per season. That represents one of the best values in all of MLB over the past decade, and it cost the team zero talent to acquire him.
5) How Epstein was able to turn Manny Ramirez + stuff into Jason Bay, given the seeming lack of leverage at the time, remains remarkable. The same thing applies in 2004, with the Nomar trade. Those were two really bad places to be at that point, and in both cases, Epstein did a great job.
6) Bard, Paps, Ellsbury, Pedroia, Buchholz, Lester...the team has produced some excellent home-grown talent over that period.
7) The Beltre signing couldn't have worked out better for 2010

Look, the list of lousy moves is long, too:
1) Renteria, Lugo
2) Matsuzaka
3) Penny, Smoltz
4) The whole Mirabelli trade was horrible.
5) Gagne
6) Lackey and Crawford aren't looking too good right now...
7) The abject lack of pitching depth in 2011 was horrible.

I guess I like Theo, on balance, but as a Red Sox fan, I'm going to be pretty skeptical of any free agent signings by Epstein for a while...
   9. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: October 05, 2011 at 06:42 PM (#3952516)
The results areā€¦ not pretty. The whole thing is worth reading, but the takeaway is: in 2011, the Red Sox $67 million for free agent players and got back 2 (2!) WAR.


I haven't had the time to look over the study yet, but I'm assuming this counts guys like Beckett and Gonzalez as non-FA's since they were originally traded for. I don't think that makes a lot of sense, especially if you are trying to evaluate the process. Neither of them would still be on the team, if they hadn't gotten an FA.level new deal. And it's not like the Sox have been shy about letting still producing big names walk out once their deal was up.
   10. Nasty Nate Posted: October 05, 2011 at 07:02 PM (#3952539)
The list of Theo's good moves in #8 also doesn't include the Victor Martinez deal.
   11. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: October 05, 2011 at 07:25 PM (#3952563)
To #10: I actually didn't know where to put V-Mart on the up vs. down list. The Victor Martinez trade definitely wasn't a "down", in that he performed well while he was here. The problem is that we gave up a very good young, major-league ready pitcher to get him. In fact, I'll argue that we gave up more to get Martinez than we gave up to get Gonzalez, by time everything is evaluated. But Martinez was excellent while he was here, so that seemed like a pretty evenly-matched trade.

By the way, the more I look at the Matsuzaka stats for his career, the more I realize that his injuries and lack of performance (including a lack of conditioning) have been VERY costly to the Red Sox over the past several years. His last three years have been absolutely devastating to a team that really could've used him between 2009 and 2011...that was $100m spent awfully poorly...
   12. Nasty Nate Posted: October 05, 2011 at 07:33 PM (#3952569)
I think the Martinez trade has to go in the positive list. He traded for a guy who filled a glaring weakness for a year and a half. He got an excellent player near the peak of his career who played a position that is tough to fill (especially mid-season I would think). I don't think Masterson's good 2011 is nearly enough to balance that out, but I guess it depends on what he does in the future. And did the Sox get a draft pick out of the deal, too?
   13. Cowboy Popup Posted: October 05, 2011 at 07:47 PM (#3952589)
2) Theo was able to get Saltalamacchia at a low price, and he has turned a weakness (our future at catcher) into a strength, very inexpensively. That has worked out very well.

This may be picking nits, but do you really consider Salty a strength? I know he was a better than average catcher this year, but a .288 OBP is still bad. He threw out a good number of runners but led the league in PBs in only 101 Gs at catcher.

The move worked for this year, but do you really feel comfortable with him as the catcher of the future? Or are you factoring in Lavarnway into the equation when you consider the future at catcher a strength?

BTW, fWAR has him at +4 in the field, bWAR has him at -6, which do you guys feel is a more accurate representation of his defense?
   14. Famous Original Joe C Posted: October 05, 2011 at 07:52 PM (#3952592)
BTW, fWAR has him at +4 in the field, bWAR has him at -6, which do you guys feel is a more accurate representation of his defense?

Something in between (i.e. about average overall). The PBs are partly a function of Wakefield. He does some things well, others not so much.

As a roughly league average or slightly better C, he's a strength at his 2011 salary (750k) and for what it cost to get him (nothing). He appears, to me at least, to be the type of guy you love while he's cheap, but don't sign long term and let go before he gets too expensive. It's a small win for the FO, but a win nonetheless.
   15. Dan Posted: October 05, 2011 at 08:03 PM (#3952607)
I think Saltalamacchia still has room to improve as well. His game on offense and defense was terrible in April and September, and quite good for the 4 months in between. He seemed to struggle in April with the pressure of the expectations put on him taking over for Martinez/Varitek, and in September he seemed more affected by the pressure of the collapse than anyone. If he is able to put together a season without those issues, he should be a bit better overall. Of course on the flip side, he could also have that pressure in April next year and carry it through the whole season and crater.
   16. ellsbury my heart at wounded knee Posted: October 05, 2011 at 08:07 PM (#3952612)
BTW, fWAR has him at +4 in the field, bWAR has him at -6, which do you guys feel is a more accurate representation of his defense?


He was absolutely terrible to begin the season, but got better as it wore on until he lagged near the end. He seems fine - probably average to slightly below defensively. I don't get the sense that he's really a 'field manager' type catcher, so I'm not sure he's bringing a lot of veteran goodness to the table, either.

EDIT: What Dan said.
   17. The Essex Snead Posted: October 05, 2011 at 08:23 PM (#3952622)
The abject lack of pitching depth in 2011 was horrible.


There was no "abject lack" at the start of the season, when the projected rotation was (& correct me if I'm wrong):

Lester
Beckett
Buchholz
Lackey
Dice-K
Wakefield

Assuming things played out as expected -- even accounting for some 15-day DL stints here and there -- there was absolutely nothing wrong with going into the season w/ this as a rotation. It's when Dice-K completely cratered and Buchholz got hurt that the "lack of depth" became an issue. Getting on Theo for not addressing it during the season (apart from rolling the dice on Bedard) is another ball of wax entirely. Knocking him for Plan A, though, seems unfair.
   18. Cowboy Popup Posted: October 05, 2011 at 08:33 PM (#3952636)
Thanks for the feedback on his D everybody!

He appears, to me at least, to be the type of guy you love while he's cheap, but don't sign long term and let go before he gets too expensive.

That's sort of my impression, although I suppose it's possible there is still some ceiling there.

If he is able to put together a season without those issues, he should be a bit better overall. Of course on the flip side, he could also have that pressure in April next year and carry it through the whole season and crater.

Heh, it's funny that he's been around for so long (though not necessarily playing) and we still have very little idea of what to expect from him as a ballplayer.
   19. ray james Posted: October 05, 2011 at 08:44 PM (#3952643)
The problem for me is that Epstein's FA signings seem like they've been fairly sabermetrically sound. At the time they were signed, most of the guys seemed like decent bets to at least be league average with good chance of being much better. That they've almost all turned out so poorly makes me wonder what's being missed in terms of predicting free-agent performance.


Complacency after inking the guaranteed money?
   20. ellsbury my heart at wounded knee Posted: October 05, 2011 at 09:41 PM (#3952708)
Complacency after inking the guaranteed money?


Maybe, but why would it effect the Red Sox more than the Yankees or other teams? You'd think that would be part of "makeup" or "attitude" anyway, which teams can get a sense of.
   21. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: October 05, 2011 at 10:48 PM (#3952777)
I'd point out that Bedard pitched pretty well for the Red Sox after having been acquired, a 106 ERA+ in 8 games. For a mid-season "oh ####\" replacement, that's a decent outcome even though he didn't pitch many innings. Also, I can dig up plenty of posts from the spring about people being fairly sanguine about the Red Sox rotation, especially as compared to the Yankees.

As for Theo's free agent signings, the only major multi-year signing I recall being seriously questionable at the time of the deal was Julio Lugo. Other than that, at the time of the deal knowing what we knew then all of the deals seem at worst "meh" than "Ryan Howard's new contract doesn't start until next season."
   22. Benji Gil Gamesh Rises Posted: October 05, 2011 at 11:28 PM (#3952805)
6) Bard, Paps, Ellsbury, Pedroia, Buchholz, Lester...the team has produced some excellent home-grown talent over that period.
This is not the point of the BA article, but the value the Sox got out of their homegrown players probably exceeds any of the playoff teams doesn't it?

Eyeballing it, looks like about 30 WAR.
   23. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: October 06, 2011 at 01:17 AM (#3952916)
I agree that the rotation on Opening Day was very solid, but as early as February 18th, on WEEI sports radio, Epstein answered a question about his greatest concerns for the 2011 team by saying that the starting depth beyond the top 5 was not where he thought it needed to be. That was his number one concern. What frustrates me is that we didn't need Ivan Nova, or something like that, waiting in AAA - we had all the injuries, and all we really needed was Paul Byrd, or Kevin Millwood, or even a couple of AAA guys like Doubront and Bowden to simply be ready. They had those two guys in AAA getting ready to be bullpen help this fall, if needed - and then it turned out what we really needed were two or three guys in AAA who could give us 6 IP, 4 ER every five days...
   24. villageidiom Posted: October 06, 2011 at 01:47 AM (#3952943)
Assuming things played out as expected -- even accounting for some 15-day DL stints here and there -- there was absolutely nothing wrong with going into the season w/ this as a rotation. It's when Dice-K completely cratered and Buchholz got hurt that the "lack of depth" became an issue.
Add to your six the additions of Aceves and Andrew Miller. I'm not sure anyone expected anything out of Miller, but given he was at best 8th on the starter depth charts he was about as low-risk as you can get. Aceves was great, taking the role that you'd traditionally expect from Wakefield, or Masterson a few years ago: occasional starter, but long relief when the starter gets blown away early.

They had depth. The problem was that the depth they had wasn't enough.

Starts by the rotation intended in the preceding offseason:

2011: 110 (Beckett, Lester, Matsuzaka, Buchholz, Lackey)
2010: 139 (Beckett, Lester, Matsuzaka, Buchholz, Lackey)
2009: 121 (Beckett, Lester, Matsuzaka, Penny, Wakefield)
2008: 119 (Beckett, Lester, Matsuzaka, Wakefield, Schilling), or 134 if you swap Buchholz for Schilling.
2007: 140 (Beckett, Matsuzaka, Schilling, Wakefield, Tavarez) or 128 if you swap Lester for Tavarez.
2006: 107 (Beckett, Schilling, Wakefield, Wells, Clement)
2005: 138 (Schilling, Arroyo, Wakefield, Wells, Clement)
2004: 157 (Martinez, Schilling, Lowe, Arroyo, Wakefield)

In 2007, I don't think they were counting on Lester to start the season; any recovery was gravy. In 2008, I think they intended for Schilling to be in the rotation, but it just never happened.

Basically, regarding rotation health, 2011 was similar to 2006 - the year Clement pitched with a shredded shoulder, Wells was out then back then took a liner off the kneecap and was out again. That year, you might remember, they had potentially 7 starters in spring training: they still had Bronson Arroyo, freshly signed to a great deal; and Jonathan Papelbon, who was considered at the time as a future starter. From that position of strength they quickly shifted from 7 down to 5 starters (Arroyo traded, Papelbon closing), and then too many of the 5 got hurt. They had depth in spring training, but not during the season.

This year they had plenty of depth to withstand normal wear and tear. What they needed was not normal. In the end they needed 52 starts from replacements, and in some ways it's amazing they got what they did. Worse, they got 28 starts from an "intended" starter who stunk a good part of the year. That's roughly 80 starts of replacement (or in the case of Lackey, replacement-level) performance. When I look at it that way all I can think is, "How the #### did they manage to win 90 games?" Granted, in the case of 2007 it's barely true, but... in that span the two championship years were the two with the least number of replacement starts.

The amazing year in that span is 2010. They had a relatively healthy rotation. However, the lineup simply fell apart down the stretch. When JD Drew is one of your most healthy everyday players, that's a bad sign.

Let's face it: 2011 was the perfect storm for the pitching staff. Many injuries. A starter (Lackey) who you wish would've gotten injured so they could set him aside for a while. Healthy starters had trouble getting deep into games, which stretched the bullpen. So, even when the starters handed off a lead, the relievers would cough it up. No team can withstand that.
   25. Dr. Vaux Posted: October 06, 2011 at 01:59 AM (#3952961)
6 IP, 4 ER every five days


That's pretty much what Lackey and Wakefield did. It's a 6.00 era.
   26. Darren Posted: October 08, 2011 at 03:31 AM (#3956590)
That's pretty much what Lackey and Wakefield did. It's a 6.00 era.
Wakefield lasted 6 IP one time in September. Lackey did it one time and had a 9.13 ERA.
   27. Darren Posted: October 08, 2011 at 03:32 AM (#3956591)
I'd point out that Bedard pitched pretty well for the Red Sox after having been acquired, a 106 ERA+ in 8 games. For a mid-season "oh ####\" replacement, that's a decent outcome even though he didn't pitch many innings. Also, I can dig up plenty of posts from the spring about people being fairly sanguine about the Red Sox rotation, especially as compared to the Yankees.

As for Theo's free agent signings, the only major multi-year signing I recall being seriously questionable at the time of the deal was Julio Lugo. Other than that, at the time of the deal knowing what we knew then all of the deals seem at worst "meh" than "Ryan Howard's new contract doesn't start until next season."


But this just might mean that we made the same mistakes they did.

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