Better Gauge Players’ Value To Avoid Overpaying

I think Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has taken his already difficult job and made it even harder, thanks in large part to his inability to leverage the baseball analytics that’s at his fingertips.

I confess. I haven’t had the desire or the time to watch Phillies games over the past few seasons due to … well … life happening. When I have had the time to watch, my attention is usually elsewhere due to … you guessed. Life. So after a game, for some real-time analysis, I’ll drop by the Philly.com discussion boards to read what my fellow fans are saying about the state of the Phils and, especially, General Manager Ruben Amaro. Even the most casual reader of these discussion boards can tell fans have really had it with Amaro. A cleaned-up G-rated version of an Amaro-focused post goes like this: ‘Why did you sign this guy? He’s always been awful. How could you be so short-sighted?’ In hindsight, it’s easier to point fingers and say, ‘see that decision …and that one …and that one? They were all bad decisions.’ In Amaro’s defense, who should the Phils have signed though? C’mon smarty, give me the name or names of players who would have made more of an impact than the players he signed.

Ask and ye shall receive … a little bit later.

Anyone who has read my posts over the past year is well aware of my distaste for the decisions made by the Phillies’ GM. I’m certain that being a Major League Baseball GM in a huge baseball market is harder than it looks. That said, the less-difficult part of a general manager’s job, it seems to me, is having an understanding of their team’s strengths and weaknesses. After the season, they take stock of what position(s) or player(s) on their team underperformed. Why did they underperform? Based on their statistics, does the front office think those players’ stats were just an anomaly or is it the start of a decline in their performance based on advancing age and, therefore, are they more susceptible to injury? Finally, where does the GM need to fill holes in the roster for the upcoming season? The more-difficult part of their job, then, is how to ensure that the issues the front office identified as “problem areas” are remedied before the next season begins.

I think Amaro has taken his already difficult job and made it even harder. The most frustrating aspect of Ruben Amaro’s general manager-ship with the Phillies is his stubborn unwillingness to let go of the past and decide a full rebuild is necessary. And it is beyond necessary. The proof of this lies in the year-after-year dependency on his core players that won a World Series 5 years ago (that’s a lifetime ago in the baseball world), the foolish undervaluing of his bench and bullpen, the careless misappropriation of free agent money and, lastly, using the hope-for-the-best-health method on older players.

Keep in mind none of these strategies has worked for Amaro over the past 4 years (I’m willing to give him a mulligan on 2009 since it was his first full year on the job) and he’s taken the same approach to filling out the bench and bullpen for the 2014 season. Regarding these two areas, to date, advanced metrics show he’s overpaid for less valuable free agents.

The advanced metrics I’m talking about this time are WAR (wins above replacement) when evaluating hitters for the bench and FIP (fielding independent pitching) when evaluating relief pitchers. The essence of WAR is this: a team consisting solely of minor leaguers would be my baseline. How many wins would a particular major league player contribute to my team if he was substituted for a minor league player at that same position? Here’s a quick scale for measuring WAR, according to baseball-reference.com:

8+ MVP
5+ All-Star
2+ Starter
0-2 Sub

The easiest way to think about FIP is this: BABIP, as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, is a metric used to better gauge a hitter’s effectiveness based only on the balls that they put in play. Conversely, FIP analyzes a pitcher’s true effectiveness by only looking at balls that are not considered “in play” (e.g. strikeouts, walks, hits-by-pitch, and home runs). Like ERA, the lower the FIP the better.

Here’s some data I put together showing who the Phillies have on their current bullpen/bench, and names of players who would have been a better signing based on their WAR, FIP, salary or all three:

2014 Free Agent Bargains (Excel)

Truth be told, I think there’s only a few bargain players who Amaro should have signed who really could have helped the Phils over the past few seasons: McLouth could have been a really decent 4th outfielder; DeJesus has experience playing all outfield positions so he could have made a nice 4th outfielder / late-game defensive replacement; Aoki was traded for a left-handed minor league prospect and he’s not even making $2 million in 2014; and, by FIP standards, Wesley Wright is considered an average reliever with a base salary under $1.5 million (pssst …I said I didn’t want to get into age but this guy’s not even 30.)

FIP and WAR aren’t the be-all-end-all when it comes to gauging a Major League player’s skills. In 2013, as the general manager of a baseball team, to sign the players you have this offseason, to not look at these types of advanced metrics, after you already hired a baseball analytics expert to help in player evaluation matters such as these, looks really bad. Just sayin’…

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