The Best Things in Life Are Free; Playoff Appearances Are Expensive

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The Best Things in Life Are Free; Playoff Appearances Are Expensive

(Author’s Note: The following is meant to be thought provoking, slightly controversial, and ultimately, fun to read. I do NOT guarantee the complete accuracy of every fact and figure, only that they are close enough to make this interesting.

If you would like to know more about some of the statistics I discuss, check out www.BaseballProspectus.com.)


We’re a week into February already, and as whispers of the phrase “pitchers and catchers” begin a two-month crescendo to Opening Day, Manny Ramirez is probably sitting in front of his computer deciding on an appropriate reserve for his eBay-bound barbecue grill.

Better not be too conservative in this economy, Manny, you’re out of work and it’ll be March 1 before you know it. Hardly used! Stainless steel exterior! Your ad needs to stand out, so make sure your pictures are high-res and be generous with those exclamation points.

As for your career prospects, well, that’s a tougher sell. “Hardly used” is hardly appropriate, albeit in a good way, and forget the exclamation points, you’ve got your own catchphrase.

The ad looks good, but the last few grills your prospective buyer bought had major problems, so why would yours be any different?

Flip a coin a few times and record your results. The more flips, the closer heads and tails come to a perfect 50-50 balance. What you need to remember, however, is that even after 10 tails flips in a row, the next flip is still no more likely to come up heads, despite the previous tails-heavy sequence.

Dodgers GM Ned Colletti may need a refresher in this concept, because entering the 2009 season, his team has over $30 million invested in players NOT named Manny Ramirez, whose contracts seem to be the reason Colletti is gun-shy when it comes to long-term, expensive veteran contracts.

Colletti’s apprehensiveness is not entirely unfounded. Between Jason Schmidt, Juan Pierre, and Randy Wolf, the Dodgers will be spending $30.5 million, not to mention a portion of the $22 million still owed to Andruw Jones, payable over the next six years while Jones, in the meantime, has signed a minor-league deal with the Rangers.

Ramirez has turned down Dodger offers of $45 million/2 years and $25 million/1 year. Ramirez and agent Scott Boras believe he is deserving of a four-year deal in the $100 million neighborhood, and while such a price may seem steep for a 36-year-old who plays…questionable defense, the folks over at Baseball Prospectus have created some stats that Manny could use to make a case.

Baseball Prospectus is a sort of baseball think tank, an intellectual collective of baseball fans who answer questions about the game by looking at the numbers, often flouting traditional thought and statistics in the name of telling, what they believe to be, the truth.

The great part about these new-age stats is their ability to compare position players to pitchers; that is, the effect, positive or negative, either player has on his team. We will begin with Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP).

WARP is essentially an estimate of how many more wins a given player is worth to his team when compared with a replacement level player whose default WARP is 0.

Table 1 is comprised of MVP and Cy Young Award Winners from the past three seasons. It’s purpose is to illustrate scale before we start comparing Ramirez to Colletti’s more unfortunate investments.



           AL MVP             WARP   NL MVP               WARP
2006    Justin Morneau    7.8       Ryan Howard      9.0
2007    Alex Rodriguez    11.9      Jimmy Rollins       8.8
2008    Dustin Pedroia     9.8       Albert Pujols        13.0

 


           AL Cy Young     WARP   NL Cy Young     WARP
2006    Johan Santana    10.8      Brandon Webb     9.5
2007    C.C. Sabathia      9.3       Jake Peavy         10.1
2008    Cliff Lee             10.4      Tim Lincecum      9.7

Keep in mind that each full WARP point stands for 1 additional win. Since voters consider factors like a team’s record, not all of these award winners were the league leaders in WARP, but you get the idea: put up a WARP above 9.0 and you’re going to be an All-Star and part of the year end award discussion. Put up a 13.0, and well, that’s just wrong, Pujols!

So, how does Manny compare to some current Dodgers? Let’s take a look.



Player Name     ‘08 WARP  2008 Salary    2009 Salary      $ / Win (’08)
Manny Ramirez    9.8            $20,000,000      TBD                   $2,040,816
Russell Martin      7.2            $     500,00       $3,900,000        $     69,444
Chad Billingsley    7.1             $    415,000     $   415,000         $     58,450
Andruw Jones     -0.3            $14,100,000   ~$10,000,000       $14,100,00+
Jason Schmidt     0.0            $15,500,000      $15,500,000       $15,500,000+
Randy Wolf         3.5             $4,750,000       $5,000,000         $1,357,142
Juan Pierre         1.8             $8,000,000       $10,000,000       $4,444,444

Very interesting. Before you start bemoaning Manny’s asking price based on the impressive numbers put up by the youngsters, bear in mind that every team relies on at least one young player to pull his weight, even the Yankees.

Joba Chamberlain matched Derek Jeter’s 4.4 WARP in 2008, at a cost of $390,000. Jeter’s contract in 2008? $22 million!

Each win Jeter contributed cost $4,911,000 more than Chamberlain, but does that mean Jeter isn’t deserving of his salary? You won’t find a New York fan who thinks so, and that brings us back to our friend Manny.

The Dodgers have some very talented young players assuming a greater role every year and some very expensive dead weight adding about five more wins last year than Toronto’s John McDonald, who hit .210 in 84 games, including 1 HR in his 207 plate appearances, for a WARP of 0.0.

Manny produced about 10 more wins than McDonald, which could be the difference between a division title, a championship, and millions in revenue for years to come.

In the past five seasons, the NL West division winner has averaged a winning percentage of about .540, good for an 87-75 mark. Over that same span, the Dodgers averaged about 84 wins.

For argument’s sake, we’ll use these numbers for some comparisons, although I realize that the team who takes the field in 2009 is a different animal than the 2005 team who won only 71 games. This is all just for fun anyway, right, Manny? So, as I was saying…

Let’s project that the Arizona Diamondbacks continue to get great results from Dan Haren and Brandon Webb, as well as a vintage, efficient contract year from Doug Davis, harking back to ’04-’05 when he pitched 200+ innings and averaged a WARP over 6.0.

Combined with continued improvement from young stars like Stephen Drew (contract year), Chris Young, and Justin Upton, the D-Backs manage to stay healthy and improve on their 82-80 2008 campaign.

More than half of those 80 losses came in contests decided by 2 runs or less, so it is not outside the realm of possibility that this year’s squad could come through with some timely hitting and improve that mark by 8-9 games, finishing with, say, 90 wins.

Remember that your average Dodgers team will win 84 games this year, so to take the Hypothetical NL West in ’09, the Blue Crew will need to find a half dozen wins somewhere, and certainly won’t come from somebody whose name has a “J” in it.

While Manny was putting up conservative WARP numbers his last few seasons in Boston (he averaged a WARP of 6.1 from ’04-’07) his 2008 9.8 is no fluke.

Even as he starts to creep up toward 40, Manny would be facing an easier set of pitchers overall in the NL, and his fielding over the past few seasons, culminating in an above average number during his 53 games at Dodger Stadium last year, the best leather work he’s done since 1999.

So, assuming his production doesn’t plummet due to injury, unlikely considering Ramirez doesn’t run too hard and has recorded more than 500 plate appearances every year since 1995, Manny will help the Dodgers to at least 6-7 more wins than Mr. McDonald. 84 + 7 = 91 = Division Title = $$$$

That’s right, lots of dollar signs. According to Baseball Prospectus, a postseason appearance can be worth about $30 million when compared to the revenues generated by a non-playoff team who wins 85 games; competitive, but not quite there.

That’s a lot of money, and in my opinion, if Manny can help the Dodgers make it happen a few times in the next couple of years, the revenue generated from the playoffs alone, not to mention the regular season receipts, would more than cover the cost of Ramirez and a few larger contracts for younger players reaching free agency.

Some of my logic is admittedly flawed, and possibly inaccurate. The Baseball Prospectus guys might be cringing as they read this (I hope they read it!), but the bottom line is that Manny is worth it, and just because Juan Pierre and Jason Schmidt and Andruw Jones burned Colletti and the McCourts out of a small, actually rather large, fortune, doesn’t mean they should deny their fan base the opportunity to come to the ball park excited every night well into the next decade, donning dreadlocks and number 99 jerseys, eating Dodger Dogs (grilled of course), you get the idea.

I’ll leave you with this chart, and you tell me who you would sign.



Player Name     '08 WARP   '08 Salary      $/Win (’08)
Manny Ramirez       9.8          $20,000,000    $2,040,816
Adam Dunn            6.3          $16,000,000    $2,539,682
Bobby Abreu          5.2           $16,000,000    $3,076,923
Garret Anderson     3.5           $12,000,000    $3,428,571

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