Image Courtesy of The Baltimore Sun
BirdStat is a periodic look at the Orioles through the lens of a stat nerd.
One of the favorite gripes of us Oriole fans over the years is the club’s peculiar history with payroll. It seems that the team can do no right when it comes to balancing their books. Either they are wasting money, in the eyes of the fans, on people like Albert Belle…OR they are refusing to spend the dollars necessary to compete with the big boys of the American League East.
The latter has most certainly been true of late, with the O’s in the bottom third of payrolls in the entire league in ’08 and ’09. What has always interested me, though, is what kind of value teams got for the money they paid their players.
The Orioles have to be Costco shoppers. They can’t afford to go to Whole Foods like the Yanks and the Sox. To compete with teams like that, you need production, and you need it cheap. The question I ask myself often is not how much or little the Orioles are spending on players, but what they are getting for their dollar?
The exciting part about this point in the year (Friday, 4/24) is that we are actually 10% complete with the 2009 season. While that’s obviously a small sample size, it allows us to make some clean evaluations a short way through the campaign.
The father of modern baseball statistics, Bill James, developed a statistic called Runs Created. In short, it’s a useful way to take into account a player’s production overall, relative to the amount of runs his team scores. Today, we’ll use this as our measuring stick.
Let’s look at the Oriole hitters so far this season. You’ll see their Runs Created, their annual salary, how much they’ve been paid this year (theoretically, i.e. 10% of their annual pay), and what the Orioles have paid for each run that player has created.
|RC||$||$ to Date||$/RC|
Because of his relatively low salary, Adam Jones continues to be by far the Orioles’ best bargain. These figures don’t include singing bonuses, so Markakis is missing $2.1M from his figures. Still, his production vs. salary is a steal. Obviously, you cannot just look at these numbers objectively and make a judgment about a player’s value. Clearly, you NEED a catcher to field a team. While Gregg Zaun is the second most expensive player on the team because of how little offense he produces, you have to factor in that a) veteran players get paid more, and b) his value is tied closely to the fact that he fills a positional need. It’d be difficult to find a veteran catcher with Zaun’s service willing to play for less than he is. It’d be even more difficult to find one that can produce offensively. Remember, in the vacuum of baseball economics, it is the goal of a GM to pay a player as little as possible while getting the most production out of him. Now let’s look at the pitchers. There is not really any sabermetric equivalent for pitching. Famously, pitching is a tough thing to measue because it is difficult to separate a pitcher from his defense. Still, the tried-and-true Innings Pitched, at least for starters, is helpful. IP tells us how many innings a manager has felt like a starter belongs on the hill. It also tells us how many outs he has been able to record. Remember, the season is a series of 4,374 outs, and the object of a pitching staff is to make them happen as quickly as possible.
|IP||$||$ to Date||$/IP|
Well, 20 grand or so for every 3 outs isn’t bad, is it? With Simon’s season finished, we’re still going to end up paying him his $400,000 salary, so his 6.1 IP got a lot more expensive per IP. Still, that’s one of those “cost of doing business” things. You’ll notice that Guthrie is by far the best bargain thus far, particularly because he is paid criminally low compared to Adam Eaton. These numbers aren’t particularly hepful at this point in the year, but it does put in perspective a few things. One, $17M is not a lot to spend on a starting rotation. Two, pitching is really hard to evaluate, especually after 4 starts a man.
Just for fun, let’s jump back to that Runs Created chart I showed you, only this time, we’ll look at an extreme case.
|RC||$||$ to Date||$/RC|
Again, in a vacuum, this looks like a ridiculous investment on the Yankees’ part. Take out ticket sales, merchandise, corporate sponsorship, all the benefits of having big name players, and basically what you’re left with is paying exactly 3x what the O’s are paying for every run you generate.
Thankfully, as fans, we don’t have to worry about anything except racking up Ws. In this case, I’m happy that our team is paying for them at a 66% discount.