Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Candidate #5

(5) - Chris Antonetti, Assistant GM of the Cleveland Indians

I should have made this public about a week ago when I first started combing through the list of potential GM candidates, but it just occurred to me today. All of my analysis on these candidates comes with a warning: I wouldn't truthfully recognize any of these guys if the all walked through my door right now. It isn't easy to pass judgment on assistant GM types as they often don't have much of a researchable background of personnel moves. All general managers have their assistants play different roles; one assistant might be heavily involved in scouting, while another might specialize on player contracts. It is difficult to really get an idea of how any random assistant GM would do when promoted without actually seeing the day to day operations and understanding what exactly their responsibilities are. So the judgments I make may seem a bit superficial, but they are all anybody currently not employed by an MLB team has to go on. I stand by the position I have taken on each candidate for the job thus far.

Meanwhile, Chris Antonetti graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown University in 1996 with a business degree and earned a masters in sports management from the University of Massachusetts in 1997. He is viewed as a statistical pioneer for his work on the statistical database DiamondView. Every day during the season DiamondView electronically collects game statistics, injury reports and updated roster information for the nearly 6,000 major- and minor-league players in professional baseball. It is difficult to even comprehend how valuable a statistical tool this could be for a big league front office. I could get into the potential impact of DiamondView on the game of baseball, the Stats vs. Scouts debate (I personally find this topic very interesting), or even the merits of going out and hiring this guy when you can just travel westward a bit to Cleveland and just steal his damn machine. I could get into those things, but I won't. I'll try to keep it focused on Antonetti and some of his overarching statistical philosophies.

Statistics are now an essential player evaluation tool. I'd like to think that much is crystal clear to anybody with even the tiniest bit of baseball knowledge. The manner in how statistics are used and manipulated is an entirely different topic. To that end, I think Chris Antonetti might have taken simple stats and gone too far by making some fairly outlandish assumptions. From this article:

I wouldn't hate this Thome on the '06 Phils

Back in 2000, when the Indians were preparing for negotiations with then-Indians slugger Manny Ramirez, Antonetti examined championship teams' player salaries. He found that no World Series champion between 1985 and 2000 allocated more than 15 percent of its payroll to a single player. In addition, he determined the higher percentage of payroll a team spent on one player, the lower its winning percentage.
For example, teams that spent 17.5 to 20 percent of their payroll on one player won 47 percent of the time. Teams that spent 7.5 percent or lower on one player won 53 percent of the time.
Antonetti concluded there was a significant decline in a team's chances to make and advance through the postseason if it allocated more than 15 percent of its payroll to a single player. On average, his analysis found, successful teams spent a little more than 12 percent on their highest paid player.
Not surprisingly, then, Antonetti recommended that Thome's contract should not exceed 15 percent of the Indians' team payroll in any season in which management felt the club had a "legitimate" chance to contend for the playoffs. Why? Because they needed the salary flexibility to acquire other players to put together a winning team.
Ideally, Antonetti said, Thome's salary should make up about 12.5 percent of the payroll.

The logic here is all wrong. Teams with higher payrolls win more games than teams with lower payrolls. It is a generalization, but it is statistical proven to be true. I hope we can all agree on that. This makes proportion of payroll consumed by one player irrelevant. Why do teams with the most expensive player making a lower percentage of their payroll win more than teams that don't do this? They can afford a very expensive player (think Alex Rodriguez) and still have such a bloated payroll (think over $200 million) that the percentage the one expensive player is paid isn't significant.

Team A has a guy making $10 million out of their $100 million payroll. That's 10%. Team B has the same guy making $10 million, but with a payroll of $50 million (20%). In this case let's imagine that it is the same player on each team being paid $10 million putting up identical MVP numbers. The player is worth that $10 million, but the team that has an extra $50 million to spend (Team A) is going to be the better team more often than not. And wouldn't you know, they have a lower overall percentage of their payroll tied into one guy than Team B. See how this could be proven out over time statistically and yet show no real correlation to the conclusions stated. There is both evidence of bias and multiple hidden variables in this situation and they are ignored by Antonetti. Not cool. (I probably should just call "Team A" the Mets or the Phils and "Team B" could be the Nats or Rangers - just keep those teams and their matching payrolls in mind if you like)

To be fair, Antonetti also argues the increased payroll flexibility of not having so much money tied into one player. That is a valid point. But it is also, hopefully anyway, common sense. Look at the Phils with Thome, Burrell, Abreu, and company. Tying up $77.75 million in just 11 players is no way to run a team. Again, this is true, but it is also common sense and was not "proved" to be true by his statistical research.

Antonetti is a very intelligent man with a vast knowledge and understanding of the significance of statistics in baseball. I love that and I think that this is a necessary asset for any of the new GM candidates looked at by the Phils. However, his over reliance on statistics and the puzzling conclusions he makes from them concern me enough to the point where I can not endorse him for the GM job. Antonetti needs to prove to me that he can put his statistical knowledge to good use, before I would consider him. The limited information I am working with show me that he is not yet ready.

I should mention it is only on a rare occasion that I will ever knock anybody for being a progressive enough thinker to utilize statistics as it pertains to baseball - you are advised to NOT expect another occasion like this for a good long while.


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