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January 21, 2010

Squawking Baseball

The Best and Worst GMs of the Aughties

by Shawn Hoffman

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For me, this is a lot of fun, but as a refresher, here's how these rankings are calculated. First, we find each team's expected revenue, based on their third-order winning percentage, and how big their market is. Then, you divide that by what each team's marginal revenue should have been, had they won exactly as many games as their payroll would have predicted. (Draft pick value is also factored in, so the worst teams get slightly more credit than the vanilla mediocre teams.) The end result is PER-Payroll Efficiency Rating-which tells us how well each team spent their payroll dollars.

To run through a quick example, the Rockies spent $75 million on payroll last year, a bit below average. That should have led to around 79 wins, which, given their local market, would have created around $41 million in marginal revenue. But the Rockies actually had 90 third-order wins, which likely created somewhere around $58 million. Divide the two, and you get a 1.43 PER. Since 1.00 is average, we can say the Rockies' front office performed 43 percent better than average in 2009.

On to the lists. Starting with the bottom ten, among all general managers with at least three years on the job this past decade:

GM Years PER
10. Randy Smith 2000-02 .976
9. Dave Littlefield 2002-07 .970
8. Wayne Krivsky 2006-08 .966
7. Doug Melvin 2000-01, 2003-09 .954
6. Mike Flanagan/Jim Beattie 2003-07 .954

Smith gets credit for 2002-he was fired a week in-which keeps John Hart out of the bottom ten by the skin of his teeth. Hart had the misfortune of leading the Rangers through the last two years of the A-Rod era, which, along with Melvin's last year in Texas, were three of the worst years in the entire database. Melvin has been better since moving to Milwaukee, but Branch Rickey couldn't have made up for those last couple of years with the Rangers.

Unlike Hart and Melvin, the other three didn't have any years that were overly terrible-they just didn't have any really good ones either. Flanagan/Beattie, Krivsky, and Littlefield averaged 71, 73, and 78 third-order wins, right in that dead zone where it's impossible to make the playoffs, and extremely hard to get the first overall pick.

GM Years PER
5. Chuck LaMar 2000-05 0.935
4. Brian Cashman 2000-09 0.869
3. Syd Thrift 2000-02 0.807
2. Bill Bavasi 2004-08 0.786
1. Steve Phillips 2000-03 0.670

The only name that doesn't fit here is Cashman. The Yankees made a lot of mistakes this past decade, and it's not totally clear which of those were his and which were George Steinbrenner's. But it's pretty easy to look at that list and pick the one that doesn't go with all the others. We'll probably have to wait another five years to really judge him on his merits, but there's already been significant progress -- the Yankees are spending much less now than they did earlier in the decade (after you adjust for baseball inflation), and they just fielded their best team since 1998.

As for the rest, I'm not sure the system could have done any better. Phillips, Bavasi, Thrift, and LaMar were all pretty abysmal, and would have made just about anybody's bottom ten list (objective, subjective, or otherwise). If there's a surprise, it's how badly Phillips lapped the field, despite having a World Series team in 2000, but his 2001-03 stretch is even worse than the A-Rod-era Rangers.

Now, for the best:

GM Years PER
10. Terry Ryan 2000-07 1.154
9. Brian Sabean 2000-09 1.162
8. Ned Colletti 2006-09 1.195
7. J.P. Ricciardi 2002-09 1.216
6. Mark Shapiro 2002-09 1.228

Let's get the obvious ones out of the way first. Shapiro has had some really tough breaks, particularly in 2006 and 2008, but the third-order standings see through that and reward him for building some very good teams on limited budgets. Ryan led four division winners on miniscule payrolls, and was generally considered one of the best at drafting and developing young talent right up until his retirement in 2007.

The other three took less obvious paths. J.P. Ricciardi has been torn apart on this site and others, but had the Blue Jays been in any other division, his record could look very different-the 2006-2008 Blue Jays were very good teams, but were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Colletti has also taken his lumps, but he had an outstanding year in 2009-the Dodgers had 99 third-order wins-which pushed him up to number eight despite three middling seasons from '06-'08. As for Sabean, if that doesn't get Barry Bonds into the Hall of Fame...

GM Years PER
5. Walt Jocketty 2000-07, 2009 1.232
4. Gerry Hunsicker 2000-04 1.292
3. Pat Gillick 2000-03, 2006-08 1.386
2. Andrew Friedman 2006-09 1.428
1. Billy Beane 2000-09 1.518

If we had taken a poll on BP, there's a pretty good shot Beane and Friedman would have been the top two. Beane dominated the first half of the decade, Friedman the second half. Together, they accounted for six of the top ten individual seasons of the decade (see below), with the Moneyball-era A's taking the first, third, and fifth spots.

The other three aren't exactly sabermetric favorites, but they were all very successful nonetheless. Jocketty's Cardinals tallied 90 or more third-order wins five times, and won the World Series in one of the years that they didn't. Gillick led one of the best teams of all-time-the 2001 Mariners-as well as the world champion 2008 Phillies. Hunsicker just missed the Astros' World Series run in 2005, but put together several teams that were actually better, before leaving in 2004.

How about the best and worst single season performances:

GM Year PER
1. Billy Beane 2001 2.10
2. Mark Shapiro 2005 2.06
3. Billy Beane  2002 2.06
4. Bill Stoneman 2002 2.01
5. Billy Beane  2003 1.97
6. Andrew Friedman 2008 1.90
7. Andrew Friedman 2009 1.88
8. Billy Beane 2000 1.88
9. Brian Sabean 2000 1.85
10. Ned Colletti 2009 1.84
--- --- ---
296. Syd Thrift 2000 0.61
297. Dan Duquette 2001 0.59
298. John Hart 2002 0.59
299. Dave Dombrowski 2008 0.58
300. Steve Phillips 2003 0.53

It's a bit surprising that Gillick's '01 Mariners just missed (they were twelfth), but the marginal gain for each win over 100 is minuscule, and several of these teams were within a few games of the Mariners' 109 third-order wins. The 2001 A's, for one, had 105 third-order wins, despite spending less than half what the Mariners did.

Finally, the best- and worst-run teams of the decade:

Team GMs PER
1. Oakland Athletics Billy Beane (2000-09) 1.52
2. St. Louis Cardinals Walt Jocketty (2000-07), John Mozeliak (2008-09) 1.25
3. Cleveland Indians John Hart (2000-01), Mark Shapiro (2002-09) 1.18
4. San Francisco Giants Brian Sabean (2000-09) 1.16
5. Toronto Blue Jays Gord Ash (2000-01), J.P. Ricciardi (2002-09) 1.16
--- --- ---
26. Pittsburgh Pirates Cam Bonifay (2000-01), Dave Littlefield (2002-07), Neal Huntington (2008-09) .97
27. Los Angeles Dodgers Kevin Malone (2000-01), Dan Evans (2002-03), Paul DePodesta (2004-05), Ned Colletti (2006-09) .95
28. Baltimore Orioles Syd Thrift (2000-02), Mike Flanagan/Jim Beattie (2003-07), Andy MacPhail (2008-09) .92
29. New York Yankees Brian Cashman (2000-09) .87
30. New York Mets Steve Phillips (2000-03), Jim Duquette (2004), Omar Minaya (2005-09) .81

With that, on to the debate on the results.

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

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