Tag Archives: Baltimore Orioles

A Can’t-Miss Strategy for Making the MLB Playoffs

The baseball season is long — the regular season lasts more than half of the year. And that’s just the regular season. It doesn’t even include the preseason or postseason. As the season spans six months, one would think that it might be hard for some players to keep their focus during the middle of the summer.

In fact, this past Sunday while watching a Blue Jays game, I saw a graphic that depicted the wins/losses of the teams in the division during the last game of the series for the 2013 season. The graphic showed how the other teams were far more successful than the Blue Jays when it came to the last game in a series. As a result, it got me thinking about how to better incentivize players (maybe managers, too?)

My idea: incentivize winning series.

Before I get into the details, I want to preempt the argument that baseball players get paid too much. Grant Brisbee of SB Nation had an all-around great response:

The problem with these comparisons is that baseball isn’t the real world. There is no comparison for baseball. Try to invent one without devolving into ridiculousness. Okay, so there are 30 Walmarts in America. And there are laws that protect Walmart’s monopoly, which means there aren’t any Targets. But those 30 Walmarts can be run only by people with Ph.D.’s who graduate in the top one percent of their class from the top 10 universities. And the Walmarts are in competition only with each other, which means …

… a ridiculous scenario all around, of course. Baseball players shouldn’t be compared to the average American worker. They’re specialized, elite talents in an entertainment industry that’s sitting on a money spigot. And I feel like I should mention this at least once: If the players didn’t get the money, it would just go to the owners. You can argue that owners should get a larger share because they take the investment risk. I’m not sure I’d agree, but that’s at least a consistent argument. Saying that players should make less because it offends your sensibilities isn’t quite as compelling.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can focus on how to incentivize players to win series. Well, just before that, let me talk a little bit about why I chose series as a unit of measurement. As there are 162 games in a season, it seemed like incentivizing a player to win every game might superfluous, as players always want to win the game. I chose a series because there are a little more than 60 of them and it seemed like a good intermediate goal (or project milestone, if you want to put it in the language of project management) between winning every game and making it to the playoffs.

Most series are 3 games long, so we can think of winning the series as winning 2 out of the 3 games. If the team wins two out of the three games, then the players all get a bonus. To guard against them mailing it in during the last game, there could be another bonus if they sweep the series and win all 3 games. What happens when the team loses the first 2 games of the series — what do you incentivize then? Well, you’d incentivize not being swept. That is, if the team loses the first 2 games, the players get a bonus if they win the 3rd game and avoid being swept.

For those series that are 4 games long, the same incentivizes for winning/sweeping a series still apply, but we’d add another one — tying a series. That is, if a team is down 2 games to 1 in the series, the players would get a bonus if the won the last game to tie the series 2-2.

Now, my first thought would be to use money as the incentive to win these games, but with the salaries that players have, one may wonder whether there could be enough money offered to actually make the incentives work. The more I thought about it, though, the more I thought that even players with massive salaries could be motivated by money.

Let’s use last year’s MLB salary figures as a basis. Fangraphs had an article that detailed the average MLB salary last season ($3.4 million) and the median ($1.1 million). The median salary is probably a better representation, so let’s use it. The median salary equates to approximately $20,000/week, assuming that players get paid every week of the calendar year. Let’s also assume that there are 60 series in a season. That means, there will be approximately 60 times to offer players this bonus incentive. There are also 25 players that are on the active roster. As a result, we’d have to decide whether we wanted to reward all players or just the players that played in the game.

With 25 players on the active roster, the calculation for offering a bonus of $1000 makes it quite the expense, but not as much as you might think. 25 players getting a bonus of $1000 across 60 games equates to an extra 1.5 million that needs to be budgeted. Given that this is approximately the median salary of an MLB player, one would think that teams could afford this. It’s also important to note that these calculations didn’t include the possibility that teams would win the series and sweep the series. In those cases, players could get a bonus for winning the second game of a three game series and then get another bonus if they win the third game of the three game series. A quick look at the total number of sweeps last year tells us that the average number of sweeps was 7. So, we can add another $175,000, which brings the total expense to $1.675 million. While certainly not a small amount of money, in the context of how much teams spend, it seems like it might be worth it to try and win a few extra games.

Let’s look at the Baltimore Orioles last season as an example. They finished 85-77, 6.5 games out of making the playoffs. Meaning, if they were to win 7 of the games that they lost, they would have made the playoffs. Looking at their streak data from last season, they were swept 5 times. In addition, they were stopped from sweeping a team 8 times. Together, that’s 13 games. If the Orioles could have won half of those (6.5, so let’s round it to 7), they would have made the playoffs.

Put differently, if they would have employed this strategy and it was successful at least 50% of the time just in the series where they almost swept a team and were swept, they would have made the playoffs.

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Is Joe Girardi Really the Second Best Manager in Baseball?

Yesterday, I saw a headline that Joe Girardi was to get a “very generous” contract offer from the New York Yankees. I thought to myself, that’s strange. I thought that the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs this year. That’s right, the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs this year. In fact, the Yankees had their fewest win total since 1992 and missed the playoffs for only the 2nd time in the last 19 season. Do you know who the manager was the last time the Yankees missed the playoffs? Joe Girardi.

Now, before I go on, I want to be clear that I have nothing against Joe Girardi. From everything I’ve read about the guy (and seen), he seems really great. While my favourite team is the Toronto Blue Jays, that doesn’t mean that I have to dislike the managers of opposing teams.

As I was saying, Girardi and the Yankees missed the playoffs this year. They also missed the playoffs in 2008 (Girardi’s first year as a manager of the Yankees). As an aside, I guess it goes to show you just how successful Joe Torre was as the manager of the Yankees. He was the manager from 1996 through 2007 and the Yankees went to the playoffs every year. In Joe Girardi’s tenure as the manager of the Yankees, they’ve gone to the playoffs 4 times (out of 6 seasons) and won the World Series once.

Of particular note, are the last three years for Girardi. Why? Because he signed a new 3-year contract after the 2010 season. So, how’s Girardi fared over the last 3 years? In 2011, the Yankees won their division and made the playoffs, but lost to the Detroit Tigers in the division series. In 2012, the Yankees won their division (again) and made the playoffs. This time, they won the division series against the Baltimore Orioles. However, in the league championship series against the Detroit Tigers, the Yankees lost. In 2013, the Yankees finished tied for third in the division and didn’t make the playoffs.

Just for comparison’s sake, let’s take another American League manager over the last three years. Since the Yankees have lost to the Tigers two years in a row, let’s look at how they’ve performed behind the leadership of Jim Leyland. In 2011, the Tigers finished first in their division and made the playoffs. As I mentioned, they beat the Yankees in the league division series. During the league championship series, the Tigers lost to the Texas Rangers. In 2012, the Tigers finished first in their division. They beat the Oakland Athletics in the league division series and then beat the Yankees in the league championship series. However, they couldn’t beat the San Francisco Giants in the World Series. In 2013, the Tigers finished first in their division and are currently playing in the league division series against the Oakland Athletics. In Game 1, they won 3-2. Game 2 of the series is tonight. While the Tigers still have a ways to go before they return to the World Series, they’re a lot closer than Joe Girardi’s Yankees.

Jim Leyland has been making $2 million a year since he signed with the Tigers and has agreed to maintain that salary moving forward. During Girardi’s last contract, he was making $3 million a year. This new offer is said to make him the second highest paid manager in baseball. The current highest paid manager makes $5 million a year.

I realize that some folks will want to take into account different things like playing in a high-profile market like New York, but others would simply say it’s all about winning the World Series. In looking at all of this, the question then becomes: is Girardi really the second best manager in baseball?