With The Jays collapsing this year, and the dangling of Roy Halladay on the trade block, it appears that JP Ricciardi’s days in Toronto could be numbered. Hailed as one of Billy Beane’s golden boys, expectations were high in Toronto when he was hired following the 2001 campaign. Since then, the Jays have had only once finished above third place in the American League East, and most fans consider his tenure a failure. I am one of the few who disagree, but unfortunately did not really have any numbers to back myself up.
I decided to undertake a small project to put some numbers behind my claim. As I was working through the data, I became unsure that I was going to be able to find a solution. However, the end product gave me the results I wanted. Given the financial resources relative to their division, the Toronto Blue Jays under JP Ricciardi were outperformed in terms of winning percentage compared to their division only by Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics and depending on your point of view, Terry Ryan’s Minnesota Twins. These are arguably the top two GM’s in baseball over this time frame, so I would say JP is in pretty good company. Now to the data.
Ricciardi was hired following the 2001 season, so I plugged the records of every team in the American League from 2002-2008 into Excel. I then tabulated each team’s winning percentage over this time period, as well as the winning percentage of the other team’s in the division. For example, the “Division Winning Percentage” box for the Tampa Bay Rays would include the records of the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles, but NOT the Rays. I then calculated how much each team had spent on payroll (information from Cot’s MLB Contracts), and figured out what percentage of the division’s total payroll was spent by each team. The results for the three AL divisions are as follows:
*Because the AL West only has four teams, I added a hypothetical fifth team that has a payroll that is the average of the other four teams. This helps make the Percentage of Payroll constant across all divisions.
The numbers are not perfect, and could be refined further, but I think the general point I am trying to make is apparent. Given his financial resources, JP Ricciardi did very well with the Jays. He achieved a winning percentage only .010 lower than the rest of the division, while playing in the toughest division in baseball with the two best teams in the league. You might be saying, well that is not very good, he was below average. However, if you take a closer look, he did this while spending only 14.39% of his division’s total payroll. The only other teams to spend similar or less were Baltimore (.087 lower winning % than division), Tampa Bay (.107 lower), Kansas City (.095 lower) and Oakland (.039 higher). Among these teams, only Oakland was better. With regards to Minnesota, they did spend 3.5% more than Toronto, but I would argue the .088 boost in winning percentage relative to the division is greater than the financial surplus.
The two big failures were Detroit and Seattle. Detroit spent 24.10% of their division’s payroll to be .058 below the rest of their division, while Seattle spent 23.18% to be .053 worse.
So there you have it. In my opinion, the JP Ricciardi era in Toronto has not been a failure, and he has actually done very well. Other than a brutal 2004 season, the Jays have remained extremely competitive with the Red Sox and the Yankees despite financial limitations. A lot of this depends on how you label success. Some would argue that Tampa Bay has done a better job because they won a division title and a pennant with even smaller resources than Toronto. To that I would say, “oh really, how did you enjoy the six 90+ loss seasons prior to 2008?” I do not think success can be attributed to one good year, so overall, I think the top three general managers in the American League from 2002-2008 were Billy Beane, Terry Ryan and JP Ricciardi.