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Posts Tagged ‘Tampa Bay Rays’

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:

 AL East

 AL Central

AL West

 *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.

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What a month it has been in baseball.  Jarrod Washburn and Jason Marquis were one and two hits away respectively from perfect games, and last week Jonathan Sanchez was one error away from a perfecto.  Now, on July 23rd, Mark Buerhle has done what these other pitchers could not accomplish, and has thrown the 18th perfect game in the history of baseball.

Unbelievably it is the second no-hitter of Buehrle’s career, as he also threw one on April 18th, 2007.  He is the first pitcher since Randy Johnson to throw a perfect game, who is coincidently also the last pitcher to throw two no-hitters. 

Unfortunately, I was not able to watch the game, but from all accounts it was a 116 pitch gem for the ages.  Buehrle struck out six batters and the Rays only managed three line drives, while grounding out eleven times.  The highlight of the game was defensive substitution Dewayne Wise elevating at full speed to bring back a Gabe Kapler home run to begin the ninth.  Unbelievable.

I could not pick a better guy for this to happen to than Mark Buehrle.  He has always been one of my favourite pitchers, and despite his no-hitter remains underrated in my books.  He has thrown over 200 innings in each of his eight seasons in the big leagues, and is well on his way to his ninth.  He has won 133 games, owns a career 123 ERA+, and has only twice put up a full season ERA over 4.00.  He has never been on the disabled list, something which not many starting pitchers can attest too.  If there was ever a sure thing every five days, it is Mark Buehrle.  Yet he is somehow NEVER mentioned in the discussion of the best pitchers in the league.  Heck, he is not even considered an ace by most.

So here is to you Mark Buerhle, enjoy your historic moment.

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So far, I have prided myself on keeping a professional site free of grammatical errors (to the best of my ability) and bad language.  That almost changed when I read this article explaining that several agents were pushing the Players Association to file a grievance against the teams for colluding against the free agents this past off-season.  I was not happy about this, but am happy that Bud Selig had such a dismissive attitude towards the accusations.   

The first reason this ticked me off is because the game is changing.  Teams are winning with cost-effective young superstars, not bloated free agent contracts.  This in turn is changing the free agent landscape.  Last year, the World Champions Phillies paid ace Cole Hamels $500k, Chase Utley $7.85 MM, Shane Victorino 480k, Jimmy Rollins $ 8 MM, and Ryan Howard $10 MM, all who produced way better numbers than what the franchise would get for similar money on the open market.

The AL champion Rays were even more cost effective:

Carl Crawford – $5.75 MM

Scott Kazmir – $3.79 MM

Evan Longoria – $500k

BJ Upton – $412k

Matt Garza – $405k

In today’s game, it is not worth losing your first round pick unless you are getting a franchise player like Mark Teixeira.  Why on earth would a team want to give up the opportunity to draft the next Troy Tulowitzki to sign Type A free agent Orlando Cabrera?  No one was colluding against Cabrera, they just understood that he was the lesser of two possible options.  A first round pick who pans out will give you better numbers and you control him for seven years, the first three of which will probably be for half a million dollars per year. It is a no-brainer.  

The second reason I am upset is the economy.  Total Opening Day payrolls fell less than 2% from 2008 to 2009.  Boo hoo.  The S&P 500 dropped almost 40% during the same time span, as did the Dow Jones.  Despite this, agents have the gall to complain that average player compensation dropped by $50,000.  If it was the guys making the major league minimum losing this money I would have a little more sympathy, as that represents about 12.5% of their total compensation.  However it is not.  It is hitting the multi-million dollar players.  $50,000 is a drop in the bucket for them.    

This particular quote from Seth Levinson, who represented almost a dozen free agents this past off-season, really irked me.

There are too many things that need to be explained.  In my experience, there are no coincidences in a monopoly.

Baseball is not a monopoly.  Not sure if you have noticed Seth, but baseball teams are being run by businessmen now, and these men are running their teams like businesses.  They are making decisions based on which players will give them the best production for their resources, both in terms of dollars and draft picks. 

The current free agent system with the Type A and B criteria is no longer appropriate for today’s game, and unless we see some changes in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, we will see more of the same in the future.

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Last Wednesday Rob Neyer of EPSN linked to my article regarding trading draft picks in Major League Baseball.  What followed were a couple spirited arguments against the idea, which I would like to take the time to rebuttal.

The first argument was that with such a large draft board, it would be impossible for teams to track all of the players they want if teams around them were making trades.  This is true to a certain extent, and I believe it would be prudent to limit trades to the first five rounds.  First of all, GM’s have better things to do with their time than swap a couple of 40th round picks.  However, it is not too much to ask for the first five rounds, as the NHL and NFL both have trades this late in the draft.  It would help add the flair that the draft lacks while not bogging it down with tons of trades.   

Another person argued that the draft should be done away with altogether, and all amateur players should be treated as free agents like they are in South America.  I am against this 100%.  As much as the draft does have problems, it helps bring a competitive balance to the game.  If it was not for the draft, the Nationals would never in a million years have the opportunity to bring a player of Strasburg’s calibre into their franchise.  The perfect example of how the draft can turn around a franchise is the Tampa Bay Rays.  Without the draft, the Rays never would have had the opportunity to have players like Carl Crawford, Delmon Young (who they turned into Matt Garza), Evan Longoria, and David Price, who were all instrumental in last year’s success, and important parts of the team’s future.   

My final comment on the issue is economical in nature.  Giving teams the ability to trade draft picks would create a true free market, which is where assets are utilized to their full potential.  Draft picks can be considered commodities or natural resources, and teams are being forced to use them, even if they are not being used optimally.  Imagine a world where the Canadian Prairies were forced to hold onto all of their agricultural resources, or Japan was not allowed to import oil.  Does not make sense does it?  Teams are being forced to refine these natural resources into finished products before they can trade them, and this is just not the way the world operates.

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