Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ask Sports Sturm #3: JD versus the Fern - Updated




Dear Sports Sturm-

I am pretty sure Jon Daniels doesn't know what he is doing, and he has actually made a huge mess of this thing. Is it possible the Rangers would be better off if they had no GM at all, or perhaps a nice houseplant like a fern sitting in his chair not answering the phone?

Dave - A frustrated Baseball Fan


What if the Rangers did not make any trades, any free agent signings, and only kept what talent they had when John Hart left?

This discussion is surely a controversial one, but it is all based on the idea that the case could be made that the Rangers would have been better served if they would have made no trades and no free agent signings from October 5, 2005 (the day Jon Daniels was named general manager) until this very day.

This is not to say that a fern is a better judge of talent than Jon Daniels, because that is ridiculous. Daniels knows more in his little pinky about baseball than most of us would ever hope to know. But, that is not the point. The point is that very smart baseball men occasionally get on rolls where they cannot make good deals. It would appear that Mr. Daniels had a spell like that for a few years.

This study does not take into account several very important factors. For instance:

1) There is no accounting for payroll. The idea that the Rangers would have resigned their own free agents (including Teixeira, Cordero, Soriano, and Matthews) is a very daunting expense. Even those of us who would love to see their payroll increase would concede this is an absurd bill. At the same time, the cost of Millwood, Padilla, Catalanatto, Jason Jennings and Milton Bradley would not have occurred, so you could see how you would add over $43 million in players (without Teixeira’s new money determined) while subtracting roughly $33 million. If you assume that the Rangers could have done a similar deal with Chris Young that the Padres did, that would add another $2.5 million, so the Rangers payroll would still be at just about $80 million dollars- or up about $13 million from the $67 they spent in 2008. Also, we must figure out how a fern would go about negotiating with Scott Boras, but for the sake of discussion...

2) There is also no accounting for player development. Whenever the discussion of Edinson Volquez or Jon Danks is raised, many will often suggest that the Rangers never would have gotten the performance out of those young lads that their current teams did. Well, you might be right, but in the court of sports discussions, we always assume that Michael Jordan would have been great in Portland, Brett Favre would have been great in Atlanta, and Randy Moss would have been pretty solid in Dallas. Of course, there is no telling, so any arguments on this line are surely subjective and impossible to prove.

3) A fern needs to be watered regularly. And we are assuming that the Fern would make all of the same draft picks that Jon Daniels and his staff has made.

4) There is no accounting for prospects. This is about the major league teams. If Daniels strategy has been to ignore the big league team and just stock pile for 2009 and beyond – a theory that has been advanced by more than a few people, then he will get the last laugh, as the fern has been trying to win now. But, that is purely guesswork at this moment in time.

But, after we are aware of those and other factors, it is very interesting to look at the Rangers Major League club at this moment, October of 2008, and compare them to what they would be if they only had the talent they had in October of 2005, and the draft picks they have made since then.

First, an email explanation of the methodology, from our intern, TC, - the man who put this study together - and a man after my own heart:


Bob,

The question you brought up yesterday--would the Rangers be better off if they had not made any moves at all--is one I'd been meaning to look in to as well. I had a little extra time after I got off work today, so I did the math. If the Rangers had not made any trades, not signed any new players, retained the players they had before Daniels, and drafted the same as they did in real life, it seems they would be a strong playoff team today.

The spreadsheet I've attached has two pages. One is just a list of key moves made by Daniels. The other is a comparison of the stats of the current team compared to the stats of the team as it would look had a fern been the GM. The key stat here is Wins Above Replacement Player. A team made up entirely of players who could be replaced easily by street free agents would win somewhere around 20 games. So if we add around 20 wins to the total of the WARP of the real team, we get an 82-win team. Since the real team ended up winning 79 games, I'd say the stat does a pretty good job of estimating wins.

The stat estimates that the Fern-led Rangers would win somewhere in the neighborhood of 108 games. So even allowing that the stat to be off by 10 games, the Rangers are still a wild card team. If they're as good as WARP indicates with a top 3 of Danks, Volquez, and Young, I don't think it would be crazy to call them a World Series contender.

I might have left someone out of either lineup, and one could argue that maybe the starting rotations ought to look different. On both sides, I tried to find the player who would most help their cause. I certainly would appreciate your input as to who should be where and stuff. But any changes at this point would be minor and unlikely to affect larger point: that a fern would be a much better manager than
Jon Daniels.

I figured since you have Moneyball on your desk and read the Pro Football Prospectus books that you would be okay with stats like WARP. I further figure that those sorts of things aren't well suited for use on the radio, since lots of people don't know what they mean and some people have a prejudice towards that sort of thing. I did this just so that I could know with precision how much better the fern is than
Daniels, but if you want to turn it in to an Ask Sports You and would like to change the stats being used, let me know which ones you would like me to look up, and I would be happy to find them.

TC Fleming

OK, with that in mind, here are the current Rangers, including their “WARP” rating from the most this season. The players used, are the players who own the highest WARP at each position. That is why Blalock is at 1B, and Teagarden is your Catcher.


The Jon Daniels – Texas Rangers

========WARP
1B Hank Blalock 1.7
2B Ian Kinsler 8.2
SS Michael Young 8.1
3B Chris Davis 2.3
RF David Murphy 3.4
CF Josh Hamilton 8.1
LF Brandon Boggs 1.6
C Taylor Teagardn 1.1
DH Milton Bradley 7
======== 41.5

SP Kevin Milwood 3.6
SP Vicente Padilla 4.1
SP Kason Gabbard 0.9
SP Eric Hurley 0.5
SP Brandon McCarthy0.6
======== 9.7

CP CJ Wilson 0.9
RP Jamey Wright 2.1
RP Josh Rupe 1.7
RP Warner Madrigal 0.6
RP Kameron Loe 0.5
RP Wes Littleton 0.2
RP Frank Francisco 3.7
RP Joaquin Benoit 1.2
======== 10.9
Team Total 62.1


And here is the best team the Fern could roll out for this season:


1B Mark Texiera 10
2B Ian Kinsler 8.2
SS Michael Young 8.1
3B Chris Davis 2.3
RF Mark DeRosa 8
CF G Matthews, Jr. 1.6
LF Alfonso Soriano 5.8
C T Teagarden 1.1
DH Adrian Gonzalez 8.1
======== 53.2

SP John Danks 8.5
SP Edinson Volquez 7
SP Chris Young 2.8
SP Eric Hurley 0.5
SP Scott Feldman 1.8
======== 20.6

CP Fran Cordero 5.8
RP RA Dickey 2.5
RP Ron Mahay 2.2
RP CJ Wilson 0.9
RP Joaquin Benoit 1.2
RP Josh Rupe 1.7
RP Frank Francisco 3.7
RP Wes Littleton 0.2
======== 18.2
Team Total 92


So, there you have it. The JD Rangers get 62 wins (+20) for 82 real wins, and the Fern Rangers sit at 92 (+20) for an absurd total of 112 real wins. Even if Bill James is off by a dozen wins – which he very seldom is, the result puts the fern at 100 wins in 2008.

Shocking.

Do you believe it? I am not sure even I do, but it shows you the shocking subtractions that have been made around here.

Let’s hope the supplies on the farm are as good as they have been advertised.
I look forward to your comments below.

Update 10/26, 8:00am: There appear to be some issues with TC's study with the WARP and with a few lineup issues raised by some readers that shall be sorted in out in good time (when I get done with the Cowboys today). I thought of taking it down until everything is airtight, but the link is out there so for now, please know that we are aware of some issues and will try to work to work them out quite shortly. Lo Siento.

=============================================================

Update 11/1: So, when I did this originally, I sent it out to the discriminating eyes of my Rangers media heroes. Guys like Newberg, Hindman, Grant, Lewin, and Adam Morris. Morris, of www.lonestarball.com took the time to give TC's numbers a strong test. Here is his email response:


A couple of things...

1) You left out Marlon Byrd, who would give the Daniels group an additional 5 wins or so compared to having Boggs out there.

2) Much of DeRosa's value is derived from him playing 2B. If you put him in RF, instead of 2B, his WARP probably drops by about 3 or so.

3) Ditto with Adrian Gonzalez at DH...Milton Bradley was a better offensive player than Gonzalez was this year, even factoring in the time missed, so it doesn't make sense to say Gonzalez would give you more wins above replacement as a DH.

4) This also overlooks the fact that you are giving Fern a full season from your 1B, while giving Daniels about 1 or 1 1/2 months from his 1B.

5) Laird had a higher WARP than Teagarden, although that's the same for Daniels and Fern.

6) You also omitted Matt Harrison, who had a higher WARP than Eric Hurley. And if you are going to include Jamey Wright (a f.a. right now), you should probably include Eddie Guardado, who adds a couple of wins to the bullpen.

7) Danks and Volquez would likely have a WARP about a half-run lower apiece if they were in Texas, owing to the terrible defense behind them (which would result in more earned runs allowed, resulting in a lower WARP).

8) You could also just combine Cruz and Murphy (since Cruz didn't come up until Murphy was done for the year), and give you a combined WARP from the COF slot that you don't have Byrd in, which boosts the current total.

Really, there are three guys on your "Fern" list who made significant contributions that weren't made up by guys currently here...that's Teixeira, Cordero, and Danks. Otherwise, Soriano's WARP was lower than Byrd's this year, DeRosa was either a wash with Kinsler at 2B or a wash with the Cruz/Murphy combo, Volquez/Hamilton is a coin flip, Bradley/Gonzalez is a wash...


He then did a very extensive blog post on the topic here ...I am impressed and honored by the attention to detail.

But, even with the adjustments made, the difference in wins appears to still be 15 wins in the fern's favor. 15 wins is the difference between first place and last place in the AL Central, and in the Rangers case, 15 wins would take you from 16 games out of the Wildcard chase to merely 1.

So, while I certainly did not like to have so many oversights in the project (TC and I both share the burden of guilt) I still suggest that while he weakened the argument from 30 wins to 15...15 wins is still 15 wins.

Here is the response from embattled TC:

Bob,

Here is the new spreadsheet with the inclusion of Win Shares to back up the original argument. And I was wrong about the math on the phone. It's pretty close to a 15-win advantage for both methods, WARP and Win Shares.

Also, I just read Adam's post and the accompanying comments, and I have some pretty mixed reactions. On one hand, I've never had anything in the ballpark of 42 responses to anything I've written before. Having this many people discussing something I'm kind of involved in is neat, and at least in the case of Adam getting involved, it really helps towards the goal of learning the true and accurate answer to the question.

But on the other hand, some of these commenters seem to really miss the point. I'm sure that you've had some of the same reactions. By posing and answering a bit of a fun question, we are not declaring our baseball philosophy. We're just trying to answer the question. By looking in to this matter, we are not saying that payroll and prospects are unimportant. We're just saying it's too complicated to consider for this specific experiment.

Finally, I quibble with Adam's conclusions. I really appreciate his tweaks to the lineups (although I wonder how exactly he was able to account for DeRosa and Gonzalez), but to look at the differences and dismiss them seems silly. Using his totals, the Fern wins 15 more games. 15 wins is a lot. 15 wins is a ton. Granted they would miss the postseason this year (15 more wins gives them 94. The Red Sox took the wild card with 95 and the Angels took the division with 100 wins), but Paul DePodesta says in Moneyball that if a team wins 95 games and misses the playoffs, that team should be okay with that. I think he would say the same of 94 wins.

Wouldn't everyone around here just be overjoyed with 94 wins? Based on his response at the end of the post, I don't think he values 15 wins the same as I do. It seems like a lot of this difference comes from the fact that he boils the 15 wins down to Cordero, Danks and Teixeira then separately dismisses all three losses. I agree with him on Teixeira, but just because people weren't clamoring for Cordero doesn't mean he wouldn't be a great help to the team. Then he dismisses Danks, saying it has been beaten to death. No doubt it has been beaten to death, but it's still significant. You can't just say it's not important because it's been heavily discussed before.

Our original conclusion is that a Fern would be better than John Daniels. That conclusion is still true, and it's true by a pretty impressive margin. Not as much as we thought initially, but still an impressive margin.


So, there you have it. Decide for yourself.

Here are the new amended lineups:

First Daniels - Updated
Daniels WARP
1B Hank Blalock 1.7
2B Ian Kinsler 8.2
SS Michael Young 8.1
3B Chris Davis 2.3
RF David Murphy/ Nelson Cruz 10.4
CF Josh Hamilton 8.1
LF Marlon Byrd 5.4
C Gerald Laird 2.7
DH Milton Bradley 7
================= 53.9

SP Kevin Milwood 3.6
SP Vicente Padilla 4.1
SP Scott Feldman 1.8
SP Matt Harrison 1.2
SP Brandon McCarthy 0.6
================= 11.3

CP CJ Wilson 0.9
RP Jamey Wright 2.1
RP Josh Rupe 1.7
RP Warner Madrigal 0.6
RP Kameron Loe 0.5
RP Eddie Guardado 2.5
RP Frank Francisco 3.7
RP Joaquin Benoit 1.2
=================== 13.2
Team Total 78.4

And the Fern's:

Fern WARP
1B Mark Texiera 10
2B Ian Kinsler 8.2
SS Michael Young 8.1
3B Chris Davis 2.3
RF Mark DeRosa 8
CF Gary Matthews, Jr. 1.6
LF Alfonso Soriano 5.8
C Gerald Laird 2.7
DH Adrian Gonzalez 8.1
=================== 54.8

SP John Danks 8.5
SP Edinson Volquez 7
SP Chris Young 2.8
SP Eric Hurley 0.5
SP Scott Feldman 1.8
=================== 20.6

CP Francisco Cordero 5.8
RP RA Dickey 2.5
RP Ron Mahay 2.2
RP CJ Wilson 0.9
RP Joaquin Benoit 1.2
RP Josh Rupe 1.7
RP Frank Francisco 3.7
RP Wes Littleton 0.2
==================== 18.2
Team Total 93.6

The End to a fun little debate that has grown a life of its own...

5 comments:

Michael said...

I'm no sports bully, but I would think that simply having to go through the calculations to see if a fern could do a better GM than JD should be a pretty good indicator of his tenure.

Doctor Jones said...

As a conservative, I prefer my GMs like my politicians, regulated and outta-the-way. As we look back in history (at least of the Rangers) they've always done more harm than good and thus the reason we don't even need a full hand to count our number of playoff berths.

Growing Baines: Sammy Sosa, Wilson Alvarez, Kevin Brown, Chris Young, John Danks, Edinson Volquez, Kenny Rogers...

ace said...

im in 7th grade and i can kick a 35 yard field goal and people keep tellin me thats amazing what should i do

Thomas said...

You should also remember with the Rangers new win total at 94, the Red Sox and Angels totals would likely be slightly lower because one or two of those extra wins by the Rangers probably came against the likes of the Red Sox and Angels! I'm visualizing the 2008 Ficticious Division Title right now with a box of tissue and hand lotion...ahh that's nice.

Thomas said...

You should also remember with the Rangers new win total at 94, the Red Sox and Angels totals would likely be slightly lower because one or two of those extra wins by the Rangers probably came against the likes of the Red Sox and Angels! I'm visualizing the 2008 Ficticious Division Title right now with a box of tissue and hand lotion...ahh that's nice.