Tuesday, January 23, 2007

BP's Masterful Hindsight

Sorry, sorry... bashing Baseball Prospectus is probably overdone, and obviously not everyone at BP is of the same mind. My BP subscription ran out over the summer, so I had scarcely read the site until they started their unfiltered blog, which is pretty good but has yet to entice me back into the premium fold. But today's Unfiltered post by Neil deMause crossed the line from innocuous to clueless at the end. After having come across an old Christina Kahrl slam of the Pirates' ridiculous Kevin Young contract, Neil excerpted part of it and challenged his readers to identify the player in question.

Kahrl's criticism was that the Pirates were using past salary as a proxy for future talent. Of course, realistically, past salary IS a somewhat reliable guage of talent, but there's no reason for a major league team to use it since they have tons of much more reliable data. In the case of Derek Bell, the player named most by BP readers, I would think Kahrl's criticism appropriate; same goes for Jeromy Burnitz. (Curiously, though, many of the players the readers submitted had never been given multiyear contracts by the Bucs.) In the case of Kevin Young, however, I just don't get it; Young was still in his arbitration years and wasn't earning much; he had been a little overpaid the year previous, perhaps, but not much. The Pirates' extension was a lousy idea, but Young was obviously a decent player.

Where the wheels really fall off is in the suggestion that Jason Kendall fits these criteria. It's all well and good to say that the contract the Pirates gave Kendall didn't work out very well. But Kendall was clearly one of the best young players in baseball at the time he got his deal, and the primary reasons his contract looks poor now are that he was done in by a freak accident that made him below average for two seasons when he was at his peak age and also that salaries temporarily ceased growth shortly after his long extension. If you want to argue that the deal was too much risk for a catcher, etc., then fine (although, outside of his injury-plagued 2001-2, he's easily been the most durable catcher of his era). But there's no way that signing a legitimate five wins above replacement player like Kendall was at the time can be construed as throwing money at someone simply because they are famous/overpaid. (And I mean a real 5 WAR, not the 5 DT-WARP deMause refers to.) In the case of the others on deMause's list, the Pirates misevaluated talent and gave millions to get replacement level talent; that is not remotely the case with Kendall. And of course, to intimate that overspending on Kendall for six years is more egregious than paying Derek Bell $9m for just one year of Operation Shutdown is not exactly coherent under any useful definition of return on investment that I am aware of.


At 10:52 AM, Blogger Beamer said...


I have got to say I really love your blog. Your posts are thought provoking and present a different spin on things -- largely by analysing analysis in an accessible, non-technical manner.

Not enough of that gets done these days. Keep up the good work.

John Beamer


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