The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Sunday, December 19, 2004

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

What can I say? I can't even think of any good lyrics to quote. Stone Cold? Nah, this is too momentous an occasion to be embellished with mediocre late 70's rock.

Why did GM Billy Beane break up the Big Three? I found two interesting data points on Tyler Bleszinski (Blez)'s Athletics Nation fan site. The first was Blez' list of Oakland's regular season win totals:

1999 - 87 wins
2000 - 91 wins
2001 - 102 wins
2002 - 103 wins
2003 - 96 wins
2004 - 91 wins

The glory years of the Moneyball-era Athletics were 2000-2002, when the Big Three were very new and very cheap, and when Beane was able to exploit massive inefficiencies in the market for baseball players. Beane now has less room to maneuver (Kenny Williams will still allow himself to be fleeced, but will no longer pay for the scissors and a bag to hold the wool), and the pitching core is getting expensive. Attempting to maintain this core would stretch the limits of the A's budget.

Which brings us to the second datum:

Listen-- [Beane]'s made a judgement about valuing starting pitching.

The market says: "Pay 7-9 million a year for the Bensons and liebers of the world".

Beane says: "that's nuts."

And he's right.

I did a Wins Shares analysis after the Hudson trade.

Here's the bottom line-- the Top 10 starting pitchers in the game only produce about 210-220 WS a season-- which means, given james' formula-- they each account-- on average-- for about 7 wins a year. Hudson is a Top 10 pitcher-- but in any given season he was usually between 5-10; Mulder is not. The Top 10 position players-- by contrast-- produce about 320-350 WS each year.

In the 1970s that number was more like 270-280-- or 9-10 wins a year. Bullpens are now nearly as important as starters. Now we have the makings of a great bullpen-- with young and cheap starters to fill the gap.

I don't necessarily believe that "bullpens are now nearly as important as starters"; if an elite starter's 200 innings produce 5-10 wins, then a reliever's 70 innings would presumably produce far fewer. But the main thrust of the argument is sound.

Last year's A's had excellent starting pitchers, an awful bullpen, and a decent offense. Beane has improved the offense by acquiring catcher Jason Kendall and second sacker Keith Ginter. He's also upgraded the bullpen. This move is really about 2006 and beyond, but the 2005 Athletics won't be hopeless. (I expect Seattle and Texas to revert to the mean next season, which should make the Angels the division favorites by defaults, and the other three teams fighting it out for a second place finish of 85 wins or so.)

There may well be a motivational aspect to these moves. The Big Three were not getting it done in the playoffs, so why bother busting the budget to keep them? Hudson and Mulder missed postseason starts with injuries, and Hudson's inexcusable boneheadedness in getting into a bar fight kept him out of Game 4 of the 2003 division series. 2004's late season collapse, albeit caused in part by exhaustion, was nothing short of shameful. Beane may be attempting to light a fire under the rest of the team, to show them that life in the big leagues is not always a bed of roses.



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