Friday, April 16, 2010

3 comments Just When I Think This Conversation Can't Get Any Dumber, Steve Phillips Has An Idea

I actually kind of like Steve Phillips. He is part of the reason the Braves won so many division championships in a row during the 90's and early 2000's, because he didn't always sign the best players for the Mets. Also, Phillips has been good for a little mocking when he used to be an analyst on ESPN and now he is writing articles about realignment, which is a topic I don't like discussing. I am tired of talking about realignment, don't get me wrong, but I can not ignore articles that make the realignment conversation progressively dumber and dumber.

If you want a real analysis of realignment, then check out this column, but if you are satisfied with half-ass ideas, the Phillips article is the way to go.

Let's look at the pros and cons of Steve Phillips' resume:

Pros:

-Got 2000 World Series team together with AL Leiter, Mike Piazza, Robin Ventura.

-Drafted David Wright, Jose Reyes, Scott Kazmir.

-Did not make Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano trade.

Cons:

-Acquired Mo Vaughn, Pedro Astacio, Mike Bordick, Bobby Bonilla, Ricky Henderson, Jeromy Burnitz, and Kenny Rogers.

-Fired Bobby Valentine.

-Traded Jason Bay (but they did get Jason Middlebrook!).

-Tried to trade Jose Reyes but failed at that. So he lucked into trading Alex Escobar instead.

-Probably has no room to criticize other General Managers for their moves, yet has routinely done so.

Now for the new half-ass realignment idea...

One week into the season the Toronto Blue Jays sit atop the AL East and the Oakland A's are leading the AL West. Alas, neither has a real chance of being there when the season ends. In fact, every season begins with more than a handful of clubs that have absolutely no chance of making the playoffs. This year is no different.

I can't recall Phillips being worried about this imbalance as he was signing every aging free agent and acquiring players with big contracts as the General Manager of the New York Mets. If anyone knows that throwing together expensive players and having a ton of money to spend doesn't lead directly to success, it should be Phillips. He can vouch for it first hand that you have to pick the right expensive players.

Yes there have been eight different World Series champions in the last nine years, but that doesn't really tell the whole story.

The story being...this tells a pretty good story about parity in baseball.

The playoffs can be a crap shoot. A red-hot team that is undermanned can upset a more powerful team. The shorter the series the greater the possibility that an individual player can carry a team and take over.

So during the playoffs we want predictability where the better team wins, but during the regular season we want unpredictability that only realignment can get us? I also think it is great that every sportswriter seems to want realignment so small and mid market teams can win the division and make the World Series, but the first time we get a Milwaukee Brewers v. Seattle Mariners World Series the same sportswriters will cry about how boring the games are and how bad the ratings will be.

The Red Sox and Yankees have been reaching their goals better than everyone else over the last 15 years. They have both made the playoffs in eight of the last 15 years, and at least one of the two has been in the playoffs in all 15 years.

I don't know if this is a sign of domination. The Braves and Phillies have made it 14 out of the last 15 years and I don't hear anyone talking about how they are dominating the National League East. I know Phillips may be blocking this out, but unfortunately for him it is very true. Also, I am pretty sure other teams have made the playoffs as much as the Red Sox and Yankees have over the last 15 years. But hey, the world revolves around the Yankees and Red Sox right? No other teams really count.

Even when Phillips no longer works for ESPN he thinks there are only two teams in MLB.

There is a notion that payroll equals success in baseball.

I don't have studies to disprove this, so I will even just assume this is true for the sake of argument. The problem is a team's payroll can change from year-to-year. This is important to remember as Steve Phillips craps out his bad idea here in a second. Team payrolls do not stay stagnant.

Just this past week Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio lamented that his club would have difficulty signing star first baseman Prince Fielder to a contract extension.

Should other teams increase the revenue sharing checks they are sending to Milwaukee? Let's be fair, the Brewers will have difficulty signing Fielder because they don't want to bust the rest of their payroll. They can afford to sign him, they just can't sign him at market value and not ruin their entire payroll.

He stated the obvious that his club didn't have the kind of money the Yankees do. He remarked that the Yankees infield combines for a higher salary than the entire Brewers team. What he stated are facts!

OMFG! I know! Those are facts!

But there is another fact that should be mentioned: Attanasio bought the Brewers and not the Yankees, and he did so with the full knowledge of the difference between the two.

Well the Yankees weren't exactly for sale, but I still can appreciate a good sportswriting bitch slap. After all Phillips has put himself through recently, it must feel good to be an asshole to someone else.

Levine could have also stated that other teams should be grateful for the Yankees -- not only for the subsidies they give, but also for the fact that when the Yankees come to town attendance numbers typically spike dramatically. Plus, Levine could have argued that the sale of Yankees licensed merchandise benefits the Brewers far more than the sale of Brewers merchandise benefits the Yankees or anyone else.

All part of the reasons why the Yankees aren't great for baseball competitively, but are great for baseball financially...and baseball teams are a business.

Using 2010 Opening Day payroll numbers, the disparity between the highest-spending and lowest-spending team in each division is remarkable:

Payroll Disparty


Division Highest Payroll Lowest Payroll Disparity
AL East Yankees $206.3M Blue Jays $62.23M $144.1M
AL Central Tigers $122.86M Indians $61.20M $61.66M
AL West Angels $104.96M Athletics $51.65M $53.31M
NL East Mets $134.42M Marlins $57.03M $73.39M
NL Central Cubs $146.61M Pirates $34.94M $111.67M
NL West Giants $98.64M Padres $37.8M $60.84

Right, this parity is pretty remarkable, but this is also assuming that payroll has a direct correlation to winning division titles and World Series titles. For the record, two of the teams with the highest payroll in their division won their division last year and zero of the teams that had the lowest payroll won their division.

In fact, out of the Top 10 highest teams in the majors in payroll five of them, while the other three teams were 13th, 21st, and 24th in payroll. So payroll does play a big part, but I am not sure it is the end-all-be-all to determine if a team will be successful or not. I will admit that payroll is an fairly important factor, but there are other factors that go into a team's success as well.

There isn't nearly enough revenue to share to make up for that kind of disparity. And that's why some clubs know they have no real chance of competing despite being on top of their division a week into the season.

No idiot, least of all this idiot, would argue that payroll is not part of the reason why some teams are successful and other teams are not. The problem is the solutions are worse than the problem. A salary cap sucks, as I talked about earlier this week, and realignment would only serve the purpose of moving two teams (Red Sox and Yankees) out of the Orioles, Rays, and Blue Jays division to let some other teams suffer playing in the AL East against the Yankees and Red Sox.

(Read that article I linked earlier from Baseball Analysts and see how they show the AL East isn't the hardest division in the majors. I won't get into how that is correct in relation to Steve Phillips' crappy realignment idea, but I would have some things to say about it. I hate it when statistics mess with a preconceived notion we all have.)

The easy answer is to put a salary cap in place which would limit player salaries and give teams like the Brewers a better chance to keep their stars. That isn't going to happen because the union will never go for it.

And this won't fix the problem, nor is it fair to the teams that run their teams well and finally revenue sharing would go out the window and some teams would collapse.

Here is the problem with the current system: Using my boxing analogy, Major League Baseball currently has heavyweight and lightweight boxers competing against each other without any real acknowledgement of the disparity between them.

You may think you know where this is going, but I don't think you do. Remember we are entering the mind of Steve Phillips who thought it was a good idea to sign Prince Fie---I mean Mo Vaughn as a free agent when he was with the Mets.

Every general manager will tell you that if you give him a level playing field, he will take his chances that he can put a team together to compete and win a championship. Short of a salary cap, there is only one way to level the playing field: realign the divisions.

Absolutely realign the divisions and then make sure every single team keeps its payroll at the exact same amount and no team gets better than another team over a period of time so the divisions are always equally weighted? It shouldn't be hard to make sure the competitive balance stays the exact same over the next 10 years by not allowing a team to reduce/increase its payroll so one team in a division doesn't get much better than the other teams. Then the playing field will be even forever and no one will be unhappy...other than everybody.

Bud Selig's Special Committee for On-Field Matters has discussed an idea to address the lack of parity in baseball called "floating realignment." It would allow teams to change divisions based upon geography, payroll and their likelihood of contending.

I have made my opinion on this idea fairly well known. When I do back-to-back posts on the same idea you know I am very serious about a topic.

What if we realign the divisions in a way that dramatically reduces the difference between the highest and lowest payrolls within those divisions?

Well, that would just be a dandy short-term fix that could lead to long-term problems once teams increase or decrease their payroll, which will inevitably happen. My favorite example of this is the Twins are now 11th in the majors in payroll, above the Dodgers, Cardinals, Braves, and Orioles. They aren't small market anymore, but if 5 years ago we had put them in a division, it would have been with other small market teams.

While Steve Phillips has a noble idea, it is doomed to fail.

It would allow just about every team a legitimate chance to compete.

Unless you are a high payroll team, in which case you have no chance to compete because under the theory of "the team with the highest payroll will win the division" several of those teams will lose the division of heavyweights. Every year teams that are better than small or mid market teams will miss the playoffs and this will make the divisional alignment more "fair."

If they can't compete then they have no one to blame but themselves.

I think that's the case now too.

Here is a look at a division realignment which drastically reduces the salary disparity in each division. The bold teams are the clubs with the highest payroll in their division and the italicized teams are the clubs with the lowest payroll in the division. The new differential in salary within the division (where Large corresponds to East, Mid to Central and Small to West) is noted in green.

Division Realignment

Division Clubs Payroll Disparity
New Old +/-
AL Large Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, White Sox, Angels $101.37M $144.1M $40.73M
AL Mid Twins, Mariners, Orioles, Astros, Rangers $42.35M $61.66M $19.31M
AL Small Rays, Royals, Blue Jays, Indians, Athletics $20.27M $53.31M $33.04M
NL Large Cubs, Phillies, Mets, Dodgers, Cardinals $53.06M $77.39M $24.33M
NL Mid Giants, Braves, Rockies, Brewers, Reds $26.88M $111.67M $84.79M
NL Small Nationals, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Padres, Pirates $26.46M $60.84M $34.38M

My problem is I don't understand the purpose of this. What's the purpose? To prevent high payroll teams from winning the World Series or giving all the teams a chance to win their division? If the purpose is to give each team a chance to make the playoffs, then this is a stupid realignment idea because in the end it means nothing if they just lose in the playoffs to a large market team. If the goal is to have other teams gets a chance to win the World Series then it fails completely for the same reason. The high payroll teams will still most likely roll all over the small market teams, playoff unpredictability be damned. Playoff series are unpredictable, but let's remember we are assuming the teams in the small and mid market divisions are inferior to large market teams based on payroll.

Small market teams would make the playoffs, but they would still have a good chance at losing to the large market team, thereby not fixing the real problem. Sure the playoffs are a smaller sample size, but if we are assuming the smaller market teams are that much worse than the large market teams, this difference will show even in a 5 or 7 game series.

Here is the division winners for 2009 if this idea had been implemented for that season:

AL: Yankees, Rangers, Rays, Red Sox

NL: Dodgers, Colorado, Florida, Philadelphia

So of the 8 teams who actually made it, there would be 3 different teams under Phillips' plan and a 91 win Cardinals team would left out for the 87 win Florida Marlins and the 97 win Angels would be left out for the 84 win Rays. I don't consider this an improvement. Then to make matters worse, does anyone really think the end result of teams facing off in the World Series would have been different with teams that have worse records over the season compared to the teams the Yankees and Phillies beat in the 2009 playoffs to make the World Series?

OK, before you start poking holes, let me explain some of my rationale. Remember the top priority is trying to give every team a fair chance of making the playoffs.

Whoops, I jumped the gun on poking holes in the realignment.

Ok, so the point is to let every team make the playoffs? Isn't true parity when every team has the chance to win the World Series though? I don't think it is going to be any less frustrating to see the large market teams stomp small market teams in the playoffs every year. Sure, this may not happen, but I think if there is a "huge problem" regarding large market teams winning the World Series against other large market teams, there will be the same problem with mid and small market teams in the playoffs facing a large market team.

First, I moved the Houston Astros to the AL in order to balance the two leagues at 15 teams apiece.

Perfect. Give the worst team in the National League to the American League.

Second, there are teams in the same division despite being in different time zones which will increase travel costs. Major League Baseball and the Players' Association are always so concerned about travel costs, but how can that be more important than fairness and parity. Since, I want my plan to be implemented as part of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, I am going to make travel costs a non-issue.

Of course, when presented with a problem, just pretend that problem doesn't exist at all. All good analysis and ideas depend on ignoring problems that aren't going away.

Let's resolve it by returning to a balanced schedule in which every team plays each other team in its league and division the same number of times. The issue really isn't who a team plays how many times.

This is actually not a bad idea. I could get behind this one.

Third, I propose that there be two wild-card teams in addition to the three division winners. The wild-card teams will play a one-game playoff to see who gets to play the division winner with the best overall record, regardless of whether they are from the same division.

Great idea, but I could only agree to this if an elephant can throw out the first pitch and a monkey gets to play catcher during the 9th inning in games decided by 7 runs or more. Also, the manager can decide at any point in the game that one player for the other team has to leave the game immediately and can't be allowed back on the field. If we are going to make arbitrary changes to baseball, let's go all the way with it.

I didn't follow the payroll rankings perfectly in formulating the divisions as some teams are spending more than their market indicates and some are not spending enough.

Nothing will make the division realignment based on team payroll any less accurate than not completely realigning the divisions based on team payroll. Actually, this may be a good thing because as these team's payrolls change, the less accurate Steve Phillips realignment idea means the less screwed up the divisions will look 5 years down the road.

I think this article sums up Steve Phillips time with the Mets as the GM perfectly. He has some good ideas and can actually start to put together a good plan, but then he gets lazy towards the end and just starts putting random teams or players together and hopes it works.

I didn't follow the payroll rankings perfectly in formulating the divisions as some teams are spending more than their market indicates and some are not spending enough.

Well, it all depends on how these teams feel when it comes to their payroll. You know what, why even base the realignment on actual team payroll? I think Steve Phillips should have based his entire realignment idea on whether each team feels like a large, mid, or small market team.

The Giants have a higher payroll than the Dodgers and Cardinals but I put them in the mid-market division because the Dodgers will, at some point, act like a large-market club again and the Cardinals are going to pay Albert Pujols a bunch of money in the next 12 months.

This is exactly why I called this idea half-ass. Steve Phillips creates a whole new divisional realignment based on a team's payroll for the 2010 season, but arbitrarily puts certain teams in the large or small market category based on how he thinks those teams are going to spend their money over the next couple of years. He does not do projections for all the teams to prevent the divisions from being de-aligned due to team's increasing/decreasing payroll over the next couple of years though.

Phillips doesn't do any projections for other teams based on increasing revenue due to a new ballpark opening, the team possibly getting rid of payroll or any other event that will increase/decrease payroll in any manner. He just projects the Dodgers will start spending more money (based on what, other than the fact they have young guys on the team who play a large role in the team's success? Who knows?) and that the Cardinals will re-sign Pujols with no corresponding decrease in payroll anywhere else on the roster.

The Rangers' current payroll ranks 27th, but that has to do with an ownership issue that should be resolved with sale of the team. They are a mid-market team so I put them there.

Of course they are.

Perfect parity without a salary cap is impossible, but we can come much closer to leveling the playing field by rearranging the divisions.

We can do this for a short amount of time and then teams in each division will start spending less or more based on their revenue and it could go all out of whack again.

In fact, as time goes forward, the gap between the top salary and the bottom salary in each division will narrow. Clubs that don't spend now will realize that they are not that far away from competing and should spend more.

You mean exactly like what didn't happen during the 1990's when payroll between teams were closer and some teams still didn't compete very well?

This is a huge assumption for Steve Phillips to make. Teams could also realize they don't have to spend any more money because they are in a division with other teams of their financial standing, while another team in the same division could try to outspend the other teams, while a team like the Rays could decrease payroll more because they think they can still compete in their division with less payroll. It's a huge assumption to just think the gap will get more narrow and wider in each division.

This formula for realignment may not help the Brewers keep Prince Fielder, but it will give them a much more realistic chance to make the playoffs every year. Once a club makes the playoffs, they are only a roll of the dice away from becoming a World Series champion.

If we are assuming teams with higher payroll are better teams, doesn't it also stand to reason a small market team who makes the playoffs would have an even greater disadvantage against a large market team? Throw in the fact Steve Phillips wants there to be a one game playoff for the Wild Card spot, and there could very well be 2 small market teams, one mid market team, and a large market team in the American and National League playoffs. Under the theory that large market teams are better than small market teams, even in a 5-7 game playoff series, wouldn't it give the large market team an easier path to the playoffs? Other than giving these teams a token playoff spot, what does this fix?

As usual, this realignment idea has some major holes in it. Not the least of which the idea comes from Steve Phillips.

3 comments:

rich said...

Steve Phillips is the last person I want to hear talk about how payroll matters. Dude ran a team with a pretty big payroll that was pretty mediocre (yes, I know they made the WS one year). He exemplifies the fact that the front office plays a roll too.

Looking at the highest/lowest payroll table, you have 2 teams that made the playoffs last year and two teams with WS championships in the past 10 years from the "highest" column. That's not really goo evidence to support needing realignment based on payroll.

There isn't nearly enough revenue to share to make up for that kind of disparity.

The Marlins were the most profitable team last year. If they pump another 15-20M into the team, their payroll would be at 70M or so and they'd be able to compete more effectively. Just because some teams would rather use the revenue sharing to pad the business aspect of the team, doesn't mean that there's not enough money to make these teams competitive.

His realignment sucks too.

1.After bitching about how the Yankees and Red Sox own the playoffs... he keeps them in the same division.

2. Every Division has at least one team on the west coast and one team on the east coast. I'm sure those roadtrips would absolutely thrill those teams.

3. Off of point 2, the scheduling would be terrible. Pick a division and plan a road trip through the division. For example, could you imagine the Marlins going on a road trip: Start in SD, go to Arizona, then fly to Pittsburgh and then to DC? Are you serious? Or Rays: Oakland to KC to Toronto to Cleveland?

4. This would actually worsen the budget problem. You really think the Marlins would increase payroll playing in that shitty division? They could shed another 10M and still win that division for the next decade. Sure they'd lose in the first round of the playoffs every year, but they'd most likely make it to the post season every year.

KentAllard said...

Looking at the teams with the highest payrolls makes me realize how sick I am of the Cubs buying a World Series title every year. Just because they outspend most of the other teams...what?...oh, never mind.

Bengoodfella said...

Phillips ran a team that did make the WS, but other than it was pretty bad. His moves weren't great either.

I don't get this realignment business at all. It's not like realigning any divisions will do anything...especially if you keep the Red Sox and Yankees together. If you assume they are better than all the other teams there is no point in keeping them in the same division.

I think there is enough revenue too. Of course I don't have access to the books, but the Marlins are bleeding money because they can't draw a crowd so the money doesn't always go where it should...which is the team.

Those road trips across country would be terrible. Teams wouldn't want to do that. I can't imagine how the scheduling would work for that. It essentially turns team into cross-country travelers.

If you weaken the divisions, I don't see how a team like the Marlins would increase payroll. They know they don't have to increase payroll to compete, you are right.

I think what annoys me the most is that this plan wouldn't stop the Yankees or Red Sox from winning the WS (which is the problem even though it isn't one), it would just stop other large market teams from making the playoffs...if we operate under the assumption large market teams are better teams, thereby weakening the playoff games.

Kent, nice. No one mentions the Cubs and how they spend a ton of money because it would disprove the idea all you have to do is spend money and a team wins games. It's doesn't support the realignment arguement, so it isn't mentioned.