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July 19, 2007

Lies, Damned Lies

Ned's Report Card

by Nate Silver

Los Angeles is a pre-millennial dream trapped in a post-millennial universe, and so too are its Dodgers. On the one hand, Dodger Stadium, with its understated elegance and Euclidean dimensions, is just the same ballpark as it's always been, tucked ever-so-perfectly into Chavez Ravine. On the other hand, it features $12 beers and bilingual ads in the urinals, and an information orgy on the scoreboard, where you can find lots of useful things like the current hitter's OBP and the taxon of the last pitch ("Fast Ball" and "Slider" seeming to be the most common).

The Dodger roster provokes this same sort of cognitive dissonance. This is a team that was once associated with highly-identifiable players who spent long tenures with the club, but now Brad Penny is the most senior Dodger, having joined the team on July 30, 2004. Perhaps as a consequence of this high rate of turnover, the Dodgers have just one player on the active roster (pitcher Eric Stults) who is presently between the ages of 26 and 28. It's as though some horrific war or disease had wiped out all the Dodgers of a certain age, and all that was left was the very young (James Loney) and the very old (Luis Gonzalez).

All of which help make an attempt to evaluate the regime of Ned Colletti a bit disorienting. Was the same man who was smart enough to take Andre Ethier out from under Billy Beane's clutches also dumb enough to sign Juan Pierre? Is Colletti freeloading off the Dodgers' rejuvenated player development system, or is he responsible for it?

I'm going to attempt to assign a letter grade to all of the transactions that Colletti has made since taking over as the GM in November, 2005. Colletti has been extremely active in both the trade and free agency markets, so there's quite a bit of fossil record to examine. I've broken trades and free agent signings into "major" and "minor" categories, the distinction generally being whether a player who was presently a regular with the club (or anticipated to become one) was involved. The different categories of transactions each get different levels of "credits," which are weighted to determine Colletti's final GPA.

Free Agents: Major Signings (6 credits)

12/15/05. Signed Bill Mueller to a two-year, $9.5 million contract.
Mueller is still helping the Dodgers--as their new hitting coach. He played only 32 games for them before his knees forced him into retirement, but the Dodgers didn't get any discount on his contract. The problem with this signing is the second guaranteed year to a player with arthritic knees; the Dodgers may be undersensitive to injury issues. Grade: D.

12/19/05. Signed Rafael Furcal to three-year, $39 million contract.
This is the deal that the Cubs should have thrown at Furcal. PECOTA views Furcal as an $18-$20 million player in today's market, though he's playing slightly off his projected pace thus far this year. David Pinto's PMR isn't quite as keen on Furcal's defense as the DTs are; I don't know whether the PMRs are designed to pick up on arm-related skills like starting double plays, since that is Furcal's real strength. Regardless, this was a good deal then, and it's a good now. Grade: A-minus.

12/19/05. Signed Nomar Garciaparra to one-year, $6 million contract (earned an additional $2.5 million in incentives).
This seems like a terrific move at first--we're looking only at Garciaparra's 2006 for the time being--but .303/.367/.505 is really not all that special out of a first baseman, especially when his defense is not an asset, and when he missed a quarter of the year to injury. Plus, Garciaparra earned an additional $2.5 million in playing time incentives, bringing the total cost of the deal to $8.5 million. Grade: B-plus.

12/20/05. Signed Kenny Lofton to one-year, $3.85 million contract (earned an additional $150,000 in incentives).
Like the Nomar signing, this one loses a little bit of luster upon further examination; Lofton wasn't quite an everyday player, and his defense and baserunning were no longer what they once were (he grounded into 22 double plays last season). Nevertheless, Lofton provided a very solid return on investment as a stopgap option. Grade: A-minus.

1/3/2006. Signed Brett Tomko to a two-year, $8.7 million contract ($4.5 million club option or $1 million buyout for 2008).
The Dodgers paid fourth starter money to a guy with fourth starter credentials, and that's roughly what they've gotten. Grade: C.

11/20/2006. Signed Nomar Garciaparra to a two-year, $18.5 million contract.
PECOTA thought this was a bad signing before the year began, so this isn't just a case of Bill Plaschke sour grapes. The Dodgers have been smart enough, at least, not to let Nomar block James Loney's development any longer, and it's only a matter of time before the same is true of Wilson Betemit. They're still left with about $11 million worth of albatross. Grade: D.

11/22/2006. Signed Juan Pierre to a five-year, $44 million contract.
I was invited to participate in a fantastic symposium on statistics in baseball last week, and one of the points of discussion was just what sort of thought process led the Dodgers to sign Juan Pierre to this deal. I suppose you can argue that Pierre provides some surplus value because of his baserunning ability (which is true, but not enough to justify the contract) or that he's likely to age especially well (which is not true; one-dimensional players age poorly). More likely, however, Colletti simply vastly overrates the impact of stolen bases and batting average. There's really no excuse for that in this day and age; understanding how to value the different components of offense is one question that sabermetrics has been able to answer almost beyond any doubt. Grade: D.

11/28/06. Signed Randy Wolf to one-year, $8 million contract. ($9 million club option or $500K buyout in 2008; option vests with 180 innings pitched).
Wolf has turned in a respectable enough performance for the Dodgers, but one really would have expected a bigger built-in discount for his recent injury problems; this was about what Wolf was worth if he hadn't been hurt. At the very least, the Dodgers shouldn't have had to agree to the vesting clause on Wolf's 2008 option, which will kick in at 180 innings. Wolf is hurt again and it wouldn't be shocking if the Dodgers found an excuse to send him to the bullpen upon his return. Grade: C-plus.

12/8/2006. Signed Jason Schmidt to a three-year, $47 million contract.
Joe Sheehan and I disagreed on this signing before the year began. Joe thought that the deal looked a hell of a lot better than some of the other contracts being thrown around; I wondered whether the Dodgers would really be getting a #1 starter. My impression was based in part on Schmidt's PECOTA attrition rates, which started at 15% in 2007 and rose to 38% by 2009. Schmidt's shoulder damage is so extensive that it has to be asked whether the Dodgers did all their due diligence here, or did their due diligence and decided to roll the dice anyway. Grade: D.

12/8/2006. Signed Luis Gonzalez to a one-year, $7.35 million contract.
Did you know that Luis Gonzalez has hit more home runs as a left fielder than any player except Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth? That statistic was flashed on the Dodger Stadium scoreboard today, and evidently it's the sort of thing that impressed the club. Gonzo's bat has actually been worth the money so far; the problem is with his glove. He played at least three outs into hits in today's game, and the DTs register him at -8 thus far on season. Grade: C-plus.

12/12/2006. Tendered Mark Hendrickson, who agreed to a $2.9 million contract, avoiding arbitration.
A reasonable salary and a reasonable decision to tender the player, but little surplus to either side. For this sort of decision, I'll simply issue grades on a pass/fail basis. Grade: Pass.

Free Agents: Reserve Player Signings (3 credits)

12/7/05. Signed Olmedo Saenz to a two-year, $2 million contract. This was Colletti's first transaction after signing up Grady Little to manage, and it's a rather innocuous one at that, but Saenz has nevertheless been effective as a pinch-hitter and platoon starter. Grade: A-minus.

12/13/05. Signed Sandy Alomar Jr. to a one-year, $650,000 contract. Alomar was reasonably effective (.323/.323/.403) in limited playing time before being flipped to the White Sox for a minor prospect. Certainly nothing to criticize at the price, and the good news is that the Dodgers didn't let him get in the way of Russell Martin's development. Grade: B.

12/21/05. Signed Kelly Wunsch to a minor league contract. Wunsch did not pitch for the Dodgers, but his money was not guaranteed. Grade: Incomplete.

1/25/06. Signed Joe Beimel to a minor league contract. Beimel's peripherals last season did not match his 2.96 ERA, but he was nevertheless an important part of Grady Little's bullpen, and he cost next to nothing. Grade: B-plus.

1/31/06. Signed Ramon Martinez to minor league contract (made $600,000 by making club). The price and performance (.278/.339/.364) were just fine for a utility infielder. Grade: B-minus.

2/1/06. Signed Brian Meadows to a minor league contract. Meadows had a poor spring and was released after refusing an assignment to Triple-A. Grade: Incomplete.

2/7/06. Signed Takashi Saito to a minor league contract. The best thing about bringing in these Japanese veterans is that you can re-sign them cheaply if they have a good year, as the Dodgers did for $1 million with Saito this winter. By luck or design, Saito has been fantastic for the Dodgers. Grade: A-Plus.

3/24/06. Put Hee-Seop Choi on waivers, saving about $530,000. It's hard to know how to evaluate this transaction. Rotowire reported that the Dodgers saved a hair more than $500,000 by putting Choi on waivers before the 2006 season began. He turned in a performance at Triple-A Pawtucket that was well below major league replacement level, and the Dodgers have done a good job of covering the first base position ever since. But would things have turned out differently if the Dodgers had instead committed to Choi? Choi's reputation with the Cubs was that of a player who had trouble focusing, but focusing isn't easy when you've played for a series of managers that are waiting for you to fail. Choi is probably broken beyond repair now, but I don't know that it had to be this way. Grade: B-minus.

5/9/06. Signed Giovanni Carrara to a minor league contract. Carrara provided 27 2/3 league-average innings to the Dodgers after having been released by the Padres. Grade: B-minus.

8/8/06. Acquired Ricky Ledee on waivers. The Dodgers paid about $500,000 for 53 at-bats of Ledee, and he proved to be somewhat less effective than Jose Cruz, whom they had just released. Grade: C.

11/3/2006. Declined $12 million club option on Eric Gagne, instead paying $1 million buyout. Even though Gagne has been reasonably effective in Texas, this was such a no-brainer decision that it doesn't warrant a letter grade. Grade: Pass.

11/7/2006. Signed Ramon Martinez to one-year, $850,000 contract ($1 million club option for 2008). Martinez has been less effective this year, but with limited playing time and limited financial commitment, that hasn't been a serious problem. Grade: C.

11/28/2006. Signed Matt White to a minor league contract. White became a billionaire this winter and didn't make the Dodgers. He accepted an option to Las Vegas, which makes an awful lot of sense. But then he asked for his release so that he could go play in Japan, and promptly signed with the Yokohama BayStars. Evidently he must really love baseball, Asahi, or Asian women. Grade: Incomplete.

12/6/2006. Signed Mike Lieberthal to a one-year, $1.25 million contract ($1.4 million club option or $100,000 buyout in 2008). Russ Martin is about as close to a true everyday player as you'll find for a catcher, so Lieberthal has hardly played. This is a fairly decent price to pay for a guy who could still start for a handful of teams in the league. Grade: B-minus.

12/12/2006. Tendered Joe Beimel, who lost his arbitration case and was awarded $912,500. See Mark Hendrickson. Grade: Pass.

12/12/2006. Non-tendered Toby Hall and Jason Werth. It might have been worth tendering Werth for some other clubs, but the Dodgers had no shortage of outfield options. Grade: Pass.

1/22/07. Signed Rudy Seanez to minor league contract (made $700K by making club). Good bang for the buck here, as Seanez is more talented than quite a number of relievers who received guaranteed deals. Grade: A-minus.

1/23/07. Signed Fernando Tatis to minor league contract. He did not make the Dodgers and is now in the Mets system. Grade: Incomplete.

1/29/07. Signed Chin-hui Tsao to one-year contract (financial terms undisclosed). This was a reasonably good idea; Tsao has been effective in spurts and should still have some cheap service time left, though the rules are a little confusing for players who have spent a lot of time on the DL. There's also a non-trivial benefit to having a Taiwanese player on the roster in Los Angeles. Grade: B.

2/6/07, 2/14/07, 2/17/07. Signed Joe Mays, Choo Freeman, and Kelly Stinnett, respectively, to minor league contracts. None of these players made the major league club. Grade: Incomplete

7/6/07. Signed Roberto Hernandez to a minor league contract. Hernandez was just recalled by the Dodgers but has not yet pitched for them. Grade: Incomplete.

Major Trades (4 credits)

12/13/05. Traded Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez to Oakland for Andre Ethier. This move was widely criticized at the time, as Ethier was considered something of a 'tweener, neither quite athletic enough nor quite enough of a "pure hitter" to qualify as a top prospect. Instead, Ethier has produced exactly the sorts of numbers (.305/.364/.465) that Bradley was supposed to provide in the first place, at a fraction of the cost and without the attendant baggage. Grade: A-Minus.

1/14/06. Traded Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany to Tampa Bay for Danys Baez and Lance Carter. The Dodgers certainly seemed to have picked the right pitching prospects to trade. Tiffany has not pitched in professional baseball this year due to injury; Jackson has, but he has a 1-9 record and a 7.14 ERA. Still, the bounty wasn't worth much either. Baez, his value inflated because of the 41 saves that he had for Tampa in 2005, was not worth the $4 million that the Dodgers paid him last season, much less whatever surplus the pitchers might provide down the line. Grade: C.

6/27/06: Traded Dioner Navarro and Jae Weong Seo to Tampa Bay for Toby Hall, Mark Hendrickson, and cash. One of Ned Colletti's strengths seems to be knowing when to bail on his own players. It's not saying much for Dioner Navarro's future when you're willing to dump him for Mark Hendrickson, but so far the Dodgers have been right. Nevertheless, Navarro is still just 23 years old, and even the relatively slim chance that he turns into something could be worth more than whatever surplus value the Dodgers are getting on Hendrickson. Grade: B-minus.

7/25/06: Traded Odalis Perez, Blake Johnson, Julio Pimentel, and cash to Kansas City for Elmer Dessens. So let's see here. The Dodgers are responsible for paying about $13.2 million of the $16.3 million guaranteed that Perez had on his contract at the time of the trade, while the Royals are responsible for the $2.4 million balance on Dessens' contract. So effectively, the Dodgers decided to pay nothing for a season-plus of Dessens rather than pay a marginal $5 million for a season-plus of Odalis Perez, and in order to make that happen, they had to part with two prospects. Neither prospect has turned out to be worth anything, and neither has Perez, and Dessens was flipped in March for Brady Clark. So all you had happen was a bunch of crap changing hands, and the Dodgers saving $5 million in the process. Grade: B-plus.

7/28/06. Traded Willy Aybar, Danys Baez, and cash to Atlanta for Wilson Betemit. It's really easy to really, really like this deal now that Aybar has gone AWOL with injury and apparent substance abuse problems, but keep in mind that he was just as effective as Betemit in 2006, that he's a year younger, and that PECOTA preferred his minor league track record heading into this season. This was a strange deal at the time, involving two nominally similar players who play the same position; one wonders whether the Dodgers didn't foresee the problems coming with Aybar. Grade: B-plus.

7/31/06. Traded Joel Guzman and Sergio Pedroza to Tampa Bay for Julio Lugo. Neither Guzman nor Pedroza have had especially effective seasons, and perhaps this is yet another case of caveat emptor when Colletti is dealing prospects out of his system. Nevertheless, it's becoming rarer and rarer to see prospects even of Guzman's magnitude traded for short-term rentals, and not only was Lugo just brutal in his time with the Dodgers, but they didn't really need him in the first place. Grade: D.

7/31/06. Traded Cesar Izutris to the Chicago Cubs for Greg Maddux and $2 million cash. You're reading that right; the Cubs actually paid for the privilege of picking up Izturis, who had about $5.5 million guaranteed on his contract at the time of the deal. So not only did the Dodgers add by subtracting, but they also picked up Maddux in the deal, who was effective down the stretch and helped propel them into the playoffs. Grade: A.

Minor Trades (2 credits)

1/4/06. Traded Duaner Sanchez and Steve Schmoll to New York Mets for Jae Weong Seo and Tim Hamulack. Sanchez is the only player involved in this deal who has been worth much of anything, though he hasn't pitched in almost a year. Grade: C.

3/31/06. Traded Jarod Plummer to Kansas City for Wilson Valdez. Valdez is an organizational player; that's probably how Plummer will end up as well, but he's shown some mild promise as a middle relief prospect in the Royals system. Grade: C.

4/24/06. Traded Cody Ross to Cincinnati for a PTBNL, which became Ben Kozlowski. Neither player remains in his organization, nor provided any value to it while he was there. Grade: Incomplete.

7/23/06. Traded Sandy Alomar Jr. to Chicago White Sox for B.J. LaMura. Picking up anything for Sandy Alomar is a nifty trick, but as a 26-year-old middle reliever, I'm not even sure that LaMura can be called a prospect. This is more a mutual favor than a trade. Grade: Incomplete.

8/12/06. Purchased Einar Diaz from Cleveland. Diaz had just three plate appearances with the Dodgers but was making a de minimis salary. Grade: Incomplete.

8/31/06. Traded Jhonny Nunez to Washington for Marlon Anderson. Anderson managed to provide 1.3 WARP to the Dodgers in just a month with the club. Nunez is a marginal enough prospect where that's probably about the over/under on his career value at the major league level. Grade: B.

3/27/2007. Acquired Brady Clark and cash from the Brewers for Elmer Dessens. The Dodgers had no need for Clark. Though the Brewers picked up some of his salary, they still owe him $1.7 million even after designating him for assignment. Grade: C-minus.

Amateur Draft (3 credits)

2006: Top Five Picks: Clayton Kershaw (#7 overall); Bryan Morris (#26); Preston Mattingly (#31); Kyle Orr (#113); Kyle Smit (#143). It's ridiculously early to be evaluating the 2006 draft, but so far it looks like a great baseball player in Kershaw and perhaps little else. Mattingly has disappointed and, from what I can tell, Morris has not yet pitched professionally.

2007: Top Five Picks: Chris Withrow (#20); James Adkins (#39); Michael Watt (#86); Glen Gallagher (#116); Andrew Lambo (#146). Grade: Incomplete


Report Card
Category             Credits   GPA     Grade
----------------------------------------------
Major FA Signings       6      2.13      C
Minor FA Signings       3      2.98      B
Major Trades            4      2.86      B
Minor Trades            2      2.10      C
Amateur Draft           3      3.00      B
----------------------------------------------
Overall                18      2.58      B-

Colletti has a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses as the Cubs' Jim Hendry. He's reasonably good at evaluating talent in a baseball sense, particularly when it comes to evaluating players out of his own system. However, he's not so good at evaluating talent in a financial sense, what you might call 'valuation' as opposed to 'evaluation.' Finally, scouting and development appears to be a strength, at least based on the progress of guys like Martin, Loney, Jonathan Broxton, and Kershaw. The trade for Andre Ethier is also the sort of move on which reputations can be made.

I've always felt that GMs like Hendry and Colletti could be exceptionally effective if teamed with a strong president/CEO/COO that has a real capacity for strategic and financial analysis, and is empowered to help make baseball decisions. Stan Kasten is one such example, as is Larry Lucchino. Instead, the Dodgers' President (Jamie McCourt) is a family hire, and their COO (Marty Greenspun) has an impressive resume, but is not really a baseball guy. All in all, there's a bit more post-millennial tension in the forecast.

Nate Silver is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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