Thursday, August 13, 2009

Is Riccardi a bad GM? No...

JP Riccardi has had a job the last seven years because he had a plan. His plan - which was not for a five-year timeframe - made sense. Still makes sense. People don't seem to recognize it but that's the nature of innovation.

Billy Beane was considered a baseball pioneer when he used different forms of player evaluation such as OBP and the like. This allowed him to get bargains on good players that the market did not recognize: exploiting inefficiencies in the market. The result? A competitive team on the cheap. This isn't just good baseball, it's good microeconomic sense. That was Beane's innovation. Riccardi's innovation? He postulated that defence was an underrated component of run prevention. So if he stocked up on excellent fielders (particularly infielders) he could field a good team because the market was not valuing fielders properly.

He's right. If there's one inefficiency in the market right now it's the evaluation of fielders. Everyone uses OBP now, but 'Moneyball' was never about OBP. The Moneyball philosophy is about innovation - Michael Lewis is primarily an economics writer. So you see Toronto stocked up with players such as Aaron Hill, Scott Rolen, Marco Scutaro, John McDonald, Lyle Overbay, Alex Rios; all premium defenders at their positions. That's why in spite of five rookies starters making their debuts, six rookies making starts, a glut of pitching injuries, constant turnover in the bullpen... in spite of all this, the Blue Jays are second* in the American League with a 4.18 ERA.

The Blue Jays are paying ONE guy in their rotation more than a million and change. They've had twelve players make starts for them. Halladay, Marcum, McGowan, Litsch, Romero, Ray, and Downs have all lost time due to injury this year. I just named possibly the best pitcher in baseball and four other guys key to their pitching success these past few years. The replacement who were pitching well lost time in Romero and Ray. With all the bad pitching luck the Jays have had this year, they are still one of the best teams at run prevention in the majors. Hmmmmm... maybe JP was on to something.

(* - I wrote this a couple days ago when this was true. There's about three teams all within three on hundredth of a run of second right now.)

So have the Jays not have success? Luck. Division. Pythagorean wins in the last few years, compared to a regular playoff team in Anaheim:
2006: Jays - 86. Angels - 84
2007: Jays - 86. Angels - 90
2008: Jays - 92. Angels - 88 (Rays 93)
2009: Jays - 60. Angels - 63

They've had fundamentally the same Pythagorean record in the last four years yet the Angels have been to the playoffs twice.