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February 4, 2010

Squawking Baseball

The Best and Worst GMs of the '90s

by Shawn Hoffman

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As a recap, here's my original piece on PER (or Payroll Efficiency Rating), followed up by some adjustments, and then the first part of this series two weeks ago.

Now, before we get to the rankings, let's run down some issues that seem to have gotten lost in translation since this system was first introduced in August:

  • How is this not just dollars/win? There are two major adjustments factored in here that make it "better" than a simple dollars/win calculation. The first is each team's unique revenue-earning potential. Since the Yankees make far more money per win than the Marlins do, it makes perfect economic sense that the Yankees should also spend more per win.
    The second major adjustment involves the marginal revenue curve, introduced by Nate Silver in Baseball Between the Numbers. Since all wins are not created equal (going from 88 to 92 is far more valuable than going from 64 to 68), we factor this into the revenue estimates. Combined with each team's earning potential, and adjusting for "baseball inflation," we can guess how much marginal revenue each team will likely bring in. We then weigh that against how much they shouldhave brought in, had they won as many games as their payroll alone would have predicted. (Check out my article from two weeks ago for a fuller example.)
  • Are large-market GMs being penalized? Since GMs are being judged only within the context of their own market, the system puts large-market and small-market GMs on a pretty even playing field. If there appears to be a bias (i.e., if it seems like there are more large-market GMs on the bottom), it's probably due to real-world trends; out of necessity, small-market teams have been more likely to hire stats-savvy GMs, who have tended to be toward the top of these lists. Large-market teams, meanwhile, are responsible for some of the biggest flameouts in the database, such as the A-Rod-era Rangers, the 2001-03 Mets, and the 2008 Tigers.
  • Why does it only use third-order wins and not include the postseason? This was a personal choice. Unless we can find a really significant way to predict W3-W or post-season success (Nate's Secret Sauce is a nice tool, but it's not quite there), W3 gives us the best way to evaluate a team's performance.

Now, moving to the rankings. You can find the entire data set here. Only GMs with three or more years on the job in the '90s are considered. Starting with the bottom:

GM Teams Years PER
10. Sandy Alderson Athletics 1990-97 0.905
9. Ed Lynch Cubs 1995-99 0.904
8. Fred Claire Dodgers 1990-98 0.903
7. Bob Gebhard Rockies 1993-99 0.889
6. Herk Robinson Royals 1991-99 0.879

Alderson is probably a surprise here, since he is known as the godfather of the modern sabermetric-savvy GMs, but the record is what it is, the A's had a lot of bad years in the '90s, and they spent far more on payroll than they really needed to.

GM Teams Years PER
5. Walt Jocketty Cardinals 1995-99 0.868
4. Gord Ash Blue Jays 1995-99 0.858
3. Gene Michael Yankees 1991-95 0.822
2. Al Rosen Giants 1990-92 0.713
1. Lou Gorman Red Sox 1990-93 0.680

Jocketty is the one that stands out in this group, since he was fifth-best of the '00s. There's an amazingly clear divide between his first five years with the Cardinals ('95-'99) and his last eight, which I guess makes sense, when you consider that Jim Edmonds arrived in 2000, Albert Pujols in 2001, and Scott Rolen in 2002.

As for the others, Ash never really had any success with the Blue Jays, Rosen quit just in time for the Giants to get Barry Bonds, and Gorman did a pretty terrible job with the Red Sox in his last few years. Michael probably wouldn't be on the list if he had held on a couple more years becuase he legitimately rebuilt the Yankees in the early '90s, and his last year as GM (1995) was the first of 13 straight that the team would make the postseason. Of course, they really didn't need a top-tier payroll before then, which is why he's here.

And now for the best:

GM Teams Years PER
10. Jim Bowden Reds 1993-99 1.120
9. Dan Duquette Expos, Red Sox 1992-99 1.149
8. Andy MacPhail Twins 1990-94 1.152
7. John Hart Indians 1991-99 1.152
6. Bob Watson Astros, Yankees 1994-97 1.163

Hart is an obvious one here, as he took a small-market team without much of a history of success and turned it into a powerhouse. Watson and MacPhail also make plenty of sense since both led World Series-winning teams, MacPhail with the Twins and Watson with the Yankees. Also, I guess there was a reason that Bowden and Duquette kept their jobs for so long, before ultimately flaming out in the '00s.

GM Teams Years PER
5. Kevin Towers Padres 1996-99 1.188
4. John Schuerholz Royals, Braves 1990-99 1.214
3. Brian Sabean Giants 1997-99 1.233
2. Gerry Hunsicker Mets, Astros 1991-92, 1996-99 1.238
1. Kevin Malone Expos, Dodgers 1994-95, 1999 1.243

Malone is on top almost by coincidence since he happened to be the guy that took over the Expos in 1994, which turned out to be the best individual season of the entire decade (see below). He then executed the team's fire sale before resigning the following year, and he went on to have a miserable run with the Dodgers from 1999-2001.

The others make more sense, although I'm sure it pains a good amount of you to see Sabean once again near the top. (Blame Bonds ... again.) Schuerholz certainly needs no explanation, nor does Towers, who took the Padres to the World Series in 1998. Hunsicker was in the top five of the '00s as well, although he had a slightly more interesting go of it in the '90s. His run with the Astros was terrific, just as it was this past decade, but he was also in charge of the Bobby Bonilla-era Mets.

Now for the best and worst individual seasons:

GM Team Year PER
278. Fred Claire Dodgers 1992 0.53
277. Sandy Alderson Athletics 1991 0.54
276. Gerry Hunsicker Mets 1992 0.55
275. Gord Ash Blue Jays 1995 0.55
274. Lou Gorman Red Sox 1992 0.56
--- --- --- ---
10. John Schuerholz Braves 1991 1.61
9. Bob Quinn Giants 1993 1.65
8. Gerry Hunsicker Astros 1999 1.65
7. Gerry Hunsicker Astros 1997 1.69
6. John Hart Indians 1995 1.73
5. Lee Thomas Phillies 1993 1.73
4. John Hart Indians 1994 1.75
3. Gerry Hunsicker Astros 1998 1.98
2. Jim Bowden Reds 1999 2.07
1. Kevin Malone Expos 1994 2.07

And the best- and worst-run teams overall:

Team GMs PER
30. Royals John Scheurholz (1990), Herk Robinson (1991-99) 0.850
29. Dodgers Fred Claire (1990-98), Kevin Malone (1999) 0.874
28. Cubs Jim Frey (1990-91), Larry Himes (1992-94), Ed Lynch (1995-99) 0.876
27. Yankees Harding Peterson (1990), Gene Michael (1991-95), Bob Watson (1996-97), Brian Cashman (1998-99) 0.883
26. Rockies Bob Gebhard (1993-99) 0.889
--- --- ---
5. Pirates Larry Doughty (1990-91), Ted Simmons (1992-93), Cam Bonifay (1994-99) 1.145
4. D'backs Joe Garagiola (1998-99) 1.200
3. Expos Dave Dombrowski (1990-91), Dan Duquette (1992-93), Kevin Malone (1994-95), Jim Beattie (1996-99) 1.223
2. Braves Bobby Cox (1990), John Schuerholz (1991-99) 1.244
1. Astros Bill Wood (1990-93), Bob Watson (1994-95), Gerry Hunsicker (1996-99) 1.331

Once again, here's the full data.

Shawn Hoffman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Shawn's other articles. You can contact Shawn by clicking here

Related Content:  John Schuerholz,  Michael Bowden,  GMs

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