The oft-recited assertion that “small markets can’t compete” in Major League Baseball is usually supported by a table showing that “winners” like the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox spend far more on players than “losers” like the Devil Rays, Pirates, and Brewers. This argument is misleading in at least three respects. First, “small market” is often mistakenly used as a synonym for “low revenue.” A team’s revenue, and the size of the payroll it can support, is far more dependent on its recent success (and the terms of its stadium lease) than on the size of its market. According to MLB’s official revenue figures for 2001, the Seattle Mariners took in more money than any other club except the Yankees–over three times as much as the Florida Marlins, who play in a larger market. Playing in a 35-year-old stadium, the Cardinals outgrossed Baltimore, Philadelphia and Detroit, all of which occupy markets at least twice the size of St. Louis. Cleveland and Minneapolis-St. Paul are almost exactly the same size, but the Indians grossed $100 million more than the Twins. Second, a snapshot of one season’s “winners” and “losers” ignores the ebb and flow of team fortunes. If Major League Baseball had proposed contraction 10 years earlier, the Indians and Mariners would have been among the leading candidates for extermination. The Oakland Athletics, heroes of Moneyball for doing more with less, had the majors’ highest Opening Day payroll in 1991, the same year the Pirates won their third division title in a row. Over the past 20 years, the Padres and Twins have played in more World Series than the Dodgers or Red Sox. Most tellingly of all, the original list of eight clubs considered for contraction, prepared in December 2000, included all three of the clubs which have won the World Series since then. Third, and most importantly, some teams are better run than others.
As they did last year, the Marlins will need two ingredients to brew up another batch of Fish Fever: pitching and luck. Jack McKeon’s lucky cigar burned bright through the off-season after beating back Dusty’s magic toothpick, but does Ole Jack still have some luck left? Ironically it was some bad luck that turned around the Marlins season; there’s a much better and more thorough description in the Marlins chapter of BP2004, so I’ll spare myself some typing here. Beckett’s minor elbow problem, though greatly exaggerated at the time, did allow him to stay fresh enough to do yeoman’s work in the playoffs. He may just be the guy you don’t recognize in baseball’s television spots, but Beckett possesses electric stuff when healthy. Beckett is still young and has not faced a full season’s workload in his career, so his yellow is well earned. Add in a horrid attrition rate from PECOTA and Beckett borders on a red light. He’s precisely the type of pitcher you want on your team when you have a deep rotation.
Ozzie Guillen wants to rely heavily upon his starters in Chicago. Are they ready? There are a number of position battles left in St. Louis. And the Rangers recently inked Hank Blalock to a long-term deal. Was it the right move? All this and much more news from Chicago, St. Louis, and Texas in your Tuesday edition of Prospectus Triple Play.
One of the many cool things about this gig is knowing that you’ve introduced concepts that are going to be around for a very long time. For people like Michael Wolverton, Clay Davenport and Keith Woolner, it has to be greatly rewarding to have invented metrics that likely will be used by not just the next generation of baseball fans, but the ones to follow them. To create something both useful and enduring is one way to leave a mark, however small, on the world.
Me? I’m no SuperGenius (man, I miss Calvin) like those guys. To the extent that I’ve brought anything into the baseball world, it’s the second-best BP thing to ever be named after a mediocre middle infielder.
I’m talking about The DiSar Awards, now five years old and still honoring the best and brightest in the field of swinging at everything. The awards are named in tribute to former Angels shortstop Gary DiSarcina, who once remarked that he wanted to go an entire season without walking, and who finished his career with 154 free passes in 12 years and 3,744 at-bats.
With the rise of quantitative analysis in baseball and the prominence of Michael Lewis’s bestseller Moneyball (which, contrary to the ruminations of Joe Morgan, was not written by Oakland GM Billy Beane) there has been cultivated a turf rivalry of sorts between traditional scouting types and their propeller-head assailants. It’s my position (and the position of probably all of my colleagues here at Baseball Prospectus) that this rivalry is silly, unnecessary, and ultimately counterproductive. That’s because as organizations begin to recalibrate their approach to making player personnel decisions, they don’t need to be asking: which method do we choose? Instead, it should be: how do we integrate both approaches?
You see, there’s no need to replace traditional scouting with performance scouting (a term sometimes used to describe what we do here at Baseball Prospectus), and there’s no need to ignore the latter completely in blind preference to the former. In a column I wrote last year, I made a “beer and tacos” metaphor out of the dilemma. It’s a little like asking the question: “Which do you want, beer or tacos?” The answer, of course, is: “Both. Now, please.”