Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Arbitration Awards

I'm not gonna lie - I'm probably a little too proud of this.

This fall, two days after the Twins were knocked out of the playoffs, TwinsCentric (myself, Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson and Parker Hageman) released the GM Offseason Handbook. The idea was to create a reference that fans could monitor the offseason moves just like the general manager of the Twins. So it included all the same kinds of info and decisions that a GM might need to make, such as a comprehensive list of free agents, trade targets and arbitration decisions.

And because our favorite team is so fiscally conscious, it had to include projected salaries, because the Twins work on a budget. To this day, we don't know what that budget is exactly, but we guessed it would be about $95 million in the Handbook and went through and gave prices to everyone. Which, as you might imagine, is a study in educated guesswork.

As the offseason has rolled along, I've been really happy to see how close we've come for various free agents. I fully intend to bore you with a comparison at the end of the free agency period to see how we did. But as the arbitration agreements for the Twins came in yesterday, I wondered how close we came for those. It seemed pretty close on most, so I ran the numbers tonight. Here they are:

Actual GM Handbook
Harrris $1,450,000 $1,300,000
Pavano $7,000,000 $6,500,000
JJ Hardy $5,100,000 $5,500,000
Guerrier $3,150,000 $2,800,000
D Young $2,600,000 $2,000,000
Crain $2,000,000 $2,000,000
Liriano $1,600,000 $1,800,000
Neshek $625,000 $750,000
$23,525,000 $22,650,000

We were less than a million dollars off as a group, and most of that difference was because we expected Pavano to sign a two-year deal instead of a one-year deal.

The one I feel the worst about was Delmon Young's, because I still can't figure out how he ends up getting $2.6 million given his track record. I've never totally understood his contract situation, seeing as he had such a big contract straight out of the draft. If someone wants to explain that to me, I'd love to hear it.

Which one do we feel best about? Well, we couldn't have done much better with Crain, especially after reading other predictions that he wouldn't be kept or he would make around $3 million next year.

So, the point is - I guess it is that attention to detail can pay off, even if it's in a nerdy, baseball-obsessed kinda way.

And most surprising? I'm mildly surprised would be that the Twins offered Brendan Harris a two-year deal. I really like Harris as a utility solution and bench player, but I'm not sure I totally get the logic here. The Twins seem to have other solutions for that role, like Matt Tolbert or even Alexi Casilla. You could argue those players have more upside, though maybe can't be counted to perform at as high a level. But why lock yourself into Harris next year too? It's not like he was going to get crazy expensive.

There were questions on Twitter about whether this might indicate that Harris would have a starting infield spot, meaning that the Twins would not sign a free agent second or third baseman. I don't see it - except for one thing. If Harris were to start in 2010 and play well, this contract limits what the Twins will need to pay him in 2011.

It's only mildly surprising because the Twins did the same thing a couple of years ago with Nick Punto. Ironically, this deal might crowd Punto off the roster when his contract expires at the end of this year. Especially if the Twins take advantage of the deep second baseman market.

It's not a terrible signing - Harris is a good bench addition and this is a good contract to lock that in. It's just puzzling. I'd love to here from the Twins why they thought this was necessary, or even savvy.


TT said...

"We were less than a million dollars off as a group"

You did a good job but that measure is just plain wrong. If you had Delmon Young making $625,000 and Neshek $2,600,000 you would have had the same accuracy "as a group".

And its the same problem with a lot of other statistically oriented baseball analysis. Spreadsheets don't tell you whether the question you asked was relevant. Averages, while easily calculated, are often irrelevant.

Adding in my head, it appears you were off by a total of $2,675,000, which is still only a little over 10% of the total which is pretty good.

greenmachine said...

"that measure is plain wrong"

You think the overall cost of arbitration-eligible players is irrelevant to analysis of the Twins payroll and financial situation?

the Geek and company got the overall arbitration picture pretty much spot on, which means their subsequent assessments about questions like, "how much do the Twins have to spend on free agency," have been more accurate as a result. To dismiss that value entirely strikes me as an attempt to take a pot shot at "statistically-oriented baseball analysis."

Nick N. said...

To dismiss that value entirely strikes me as an attempt to take a pot shot at "statistically-oriented baseball analysis."

Whoa whoa whoa. Do you know who we're talking about here? I can't imagine he would ever do such a thing.

John, good take but I don't think you're really giving enough consideration to the very realistic possibility that Harris will be the team's starting third baseman this year.

TT said...

"You think the overall cost of arbitration-eligible players is irrelevant to analysis of the Twins payroll and financial situation?"

Yes, I think it is irrelevant. If the number had been off by $5 million it wouldn't have told us anything different about the Twins current situation. We don't even know whether their budget is $95 million or $100 million. In any case, the cost of arbitration salaries is not going to determine what they can afford for Joe Mauer.

But, more to the point, I don't think this article was just evaluating how close the total was.

"To dismiss that value entirely strikes me as an attempt to take a pot shot at "statistically-oriented baseball analysis."

Well, yeh. Wasn't that clear? You can call it a "pot shot", but its an example of the misuse of statistics.

writerjoel said...

The upside to Delmon's contract was that he came in at a higher level than most first year arbitration guys...thus the increase. His salary last year topped a million. Still, I wish more teams would cut players the 20% when they have an off one/two seasons. Remember the Calvin Griffith days when he took great advantage of sending out lesser contracts.

I can live with Harris or Tolbert or Punto or Casilla starting, not just any two of the group. We need someone, somewhere.

Why does an infield of Punto/Cabrera/Crede look better than the current offering, even though Hardy may explode for the good!

Look for the Twins to get Crede back, really. If Boras doesn't get Baltimore to bite. And, the Twins may still be in the running for Cabrera at second. Plus, Washburn will still be a callin', I'm sure. And look for the Twins to sign another outfielder...Quinlan. Two more weeks and lots of guys still looking for some work!

Of course, there's the players like Damon that would rather retire than work for only a couple of mill. Sigh...

Will the Twins have ANY announcements before TwinsFest!?

John said...

I agree with TT here. The same though occurred to me when I was writing, but I wat tired and didn't think it through. I also had the fleeting thought of doing a column that had the absolute values of the differences, but again, it was late.

And it's a valid criticism. One place I've wanted to study it is in something like PECOTA. PECOTA is specifically used to try and predict player performance, but then it's all rolled up and often cited to predict team performance and divisional finishes. I suspect it's more accurate for the those latter things than it is for what it was intended for.

I'll tell you why I did it this way - because the purpose of us listing salaries WASN'T to come real close on each player. It was to provide numbers for back-of-the-mapkin payroll figuring. We had a sheet in the GM Handbook where you could put in the team you would build and figure out the total payroll, so we figured we would be high on some and low on others. So when I addded these up, I did so with that 'totaling' in mind.

TT said...

"We had a sheet in the GM Handbook where you could put in the team you would build and figure out the total payroll"

For that purpose, clearly the total is all that is important. I forget that people like to play that game.

As I said above, regardless of how you measure it, it was good work. I don't think you were far enough off on anyone for it to have much impact on off-season decisions about the player.

TT said...

"For that purpose, clearly the total is all that is important. "

And just as clearly, that isn't true. The individual numbers matter if you are trying to put together a roster within a budget.