The Financial Side Of The Farm

added 12/17/2008 by Scott Barzilla

I remember saying this before, but the Astros are a very peculiar club. Every off-season they seek more pitching and every season since 2004 they have finished in the bottom half of the league in offense. While they did get to the World Series with a horrible offense in 2005, more often than not since 2006, that offense has been the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs. I suppose it makes some sense on some level, but it would seem to make more sense to upgrade the part of your team that is actually sub-par. Of course, some of you may not believe me. So, let me go back to 2004 (the Pettitte/Clemens era) and show our ranks in runs scored and runs allowed.

		 RS	        Rank		 RA		 Rank
2004		803		   6		698		    5
2005		693		  11		609		    1
2006		735		  12		719		    2
2007		723		  13		813		   11
2008		712		  11		743		    8

Now, in each season, the Astros have ranked worse in hitting than in their pitching. That’s every season, folks. Even before 2008, when everyone was clamoring for pitching, they were still better than the offense. In the interest of full-disclosure, we know that position players have a great deal to do with runs allowed as well. Therefore, they are more valuable than pitchers (because they affect runs scored and runs allowed). So, what we are looking at here is the cost of doing business. How much would it cost you to outfit an average offense? How much did the Astros pay for their below average offense in 2008 and how has this affected their spending so far? Let’s begin with some league wide numbers.

Before we can do that though, we have to take a look at our methods. What I did was take every player that has had at least three years in the big leagues and is a regular player at his position. I required 1000 plate appearances for being a regular. When looking at the big leagues, I noticed that each position had anywhere between 18 and 24 players that fit this bill. The other players were players in their first and second seasons in the league. Since those players have cost certainty (usually around $500,000) it made no sense to include them in the study. It also would defeat the whole purpose of the study, which was to determine how much above and beyond each team spent over what they absolutely had to. The average runs you see are the average runs created compiled over the last three seasons.

			AVG Salary		AVG runs (times six)
Total Mean		     56.70		          667.86
Total Median		     49.95		          662.46

For the non-statistically inclined, the mean is the average while the median is the mid-point. I would call the mean salary the “agent line” while I would call the median salary the “GM line.” In other words, agents would rather compare their player to the mean than the median. However, from a logical standpoint, an average player should probably get the median because you always have one or two players at each position artificially driving the mean cost up. For instance, Alex Rodriguez’s 28 million annual salary drives the average third base cost way up.

So, even if a general manager is able to win all of his arbitration cases and if he is shrewd, he can expect to spend around 50 million dollars outfitting an average offensive team if he purchased a player at every position. As you might imagine, this is a theoretical construct because no team goes out to the market targeting average players. This just happens to be the average. So, if a GM does a reasonable job, he can expect to outfit a starting lineup for 50 million dollars. Naturally, we haven’t talked about pitchers or a bench. You can probably do the math in your head, but suffice it to say, a team with a 100 million budget can’t afford to do that. Here is a quick look at the 2008 Astros lineup:

                      Salary         RC/600
C  Brad Ausmus          2.00          48.06
1B Lance Berkman       14.50         116.70
2B Kaz Matsui           5.50          72.12
3B Ty Wigginton         4.35          77.04
SS Miguel Tejada       14.81          75.90
LF Carlos Lee          12.50          99.30
CF Michael Bourn        0.50          57.42
RF Hunter Pence         0.50          88.44

Totals                 54.66         634.98

So, with two arbitration eligible players, the Astros finished somewhere between the mean and median in salary spent on position players, but managed to finish below the average in runs created. You will notice all of the runs created totals were multiplied by 600. If a player has a completely healthy season they will amass more than 700 plate appearances. 600 seemed to be an appropriate average and we could add in 100 per position for bench players. If we assume an average of ten runs created per 100 plate appearances for them then you can add 80 runs to see what the team probably would have compiled if the average had been obtained. That would be 715 runs for the Astros which comes close to the 743 they produced.

These numbers are all well and good, but they really don’t mean much until we compare them with either extreme. The extremes in this case were the New York Yankees (who had no pre arbitration players) and the Florida Marlins (who had almost all pre-arbitration players). Thus, we can see the value of having productive young players in the lineup:

                  Salary        RC/600        RC/Million
Marlins             3.66        672.72           183.80
Astros             54.66        634.98            11.62
Yankees           131.59        825.30             6.27

Before you go off the deep end praising the Yankees for all of those runs, you have to remember we are including the DH. In fact, that is probably the main reason why the Astros came up short in runs created versus actual runs scored. We didn’t include the pitchers. What the Marlins have done is mind-boggling. They are able to do it that way by jettisoning guys before they get their first big arbitration pay day. Josh Willingham, Mike Jacobs, and Matt Treanor are now gone and it is likely that Cameron Maybin will take over in centerfield for Cody Ross. The club has already given Hanley Ramirez a long-term deal and Dan Uggla might end up being next. Still, they are able to outproduce the Astros even with the kind of penny-pinching they do. This is because they always get something in exchange for these guys when they get rid of them. That something usually replenishes the farm system and allows the next generation of guys to develop. >p? The Astros will lose Brad Ausmus to either retirement or free agency and will lose Ty Wigginton to free agency. Meanwhile, Carlos Lee’s contract will have a nice jump enough to off-set the savings in salary they get from letting Ausmus and Wigginton go. So, they may break even on runs created and salary if the young catchers produce better than Ausmus did traditionally. In other words, it will be another season of inefficiency for the Astros.

Even the Yankees will get some relief. Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu will clear nearly 40 million off the books for them. True, that 40 million has already been committed to C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, but they are clearing some bad contracts on the pitching end as well (Mike Mussina and Carl Pavano). Unlike most teams, they will not go young. There are rumors of them seeking Mark Teixeira or Manny Ramirez to fill those holes. It is likely though that those players will be slightly more productive for the buck. The same is not true of your hometown Astros and this is why it has been a painful off-season so far.