WARP value continued…

March 13th, 2009 by I Love Nerd York City

After I addressed the price that several of MLB’s top players were paid for each WARP (win above replacement player) that they contributed, Prof. Nerdtron posed the question of which teams did the best job finding value through free agency. I tried to at least begin answering this question by looking at the entire free agent class of 2006/7 and 2007/8. So which teams have done the best job over the past two years?

Price Per WARP via Free Agency

Team Price Per WARP via FA ($)
Florida 1,010,416
Tampa Bay 1,024,154
Philadelphia 1,220,720
Colorado 1,361,111
San Diego 1,577,464
Oakland 1,750,000
Baltimore 1,784,328
St. Louis 1,817,673
Chicago Cubs 1,828,770
Cincinnati 1,859,649
Toronto 1,964,204
Kansas City 1,969,387
Boston 2,245,185
Texas 2,249,657
Cleveland 2,285,947
Detroit 2,307,692
NY Mets 2,398,760
Houston 2,400,124
Milwaukee 2,515,015
LA Angels 2,833,333
NY Yankees 2,865,877
San Francisco 2,943,127
Seattle 3,584,567
Washington 3,722,222
Chicago White Sox 3,921,052
Minnesota 4,612,500
LA Dodgers 9,672,067
Pittsburgh 22,100,000
Atlanta INF (11.6M spent on 0 WARP)

Let’s get the grains of salt out of the way…this table only takes two seasons of free agency/performance into account (thats how many years of free agency data I was able to find on ESPN.com). For some teams that’s only a half-dozen signings, not the biggest sample size. I only considered free agents who were given guaranteed major league contracts. If players were traded mid-season, I had no way of tracking how much of the remaining season salary was paid by the original team (though I don’t think that these few occasions would have had much effect on the overall numbers).

Despite these caveats, there are some interesting numbers to be found in the above table. First of all, the average price per WARP paid to free agents over the past two years was $2,374,331. This is not far off from the median price, which was $2,285,947. Of the major market teams, the Cubs have done the best job of finding value in free agency. Only the Dodgers, Braves, and Pirates fall more than one standard deviation from the mean (approx $4M…not including Atlanta’s infinite price).

Since these three teams are pretty big outliers, I ran the standard deviation numbers again without these teams involved (we’ve already identified that they’ve done an extraordinarily poor job over the past two years). Without them, the mean only dropped to $2,309,728, but the standard deviation dropped to $895,192, and some more interesting comparisons can be made.

In this set, the Marlins, Rays, Phillies, and Rockies all fall outside one stdev on the “finding good value” side of the curve. Of those four, the Rays, Phillies, and Rockies were World Series representatives during that same time period.

On the “we’ve been wasting money” side of the curve, the Mariners, Nationals, and White Sox fell outside one stdev, and the Twins fell over two stdevs of the mean! While the Mariners and Nationals had abysmal 2008s, Seattle did have 88 wins in 2007, and the White Sox and Twins actually tied for the 2008 AL Central title before their one game playoff (being in the same division was certainly beneficial for these two).

Back to those outliers…In the case of Pittsburgh, the team only spent about $6.6M in free agency over the past two seasons. However, their $22M per WARP shows that this money was not spent very efficiently. My initial reaction was to give them some additional leeway since they are a small market team, and don’t have the funds to target the top free agents, or mask any mistakes with additional signings. However, Oakland, Tampa Bay, and Florida all had lower payrolls than Pittsburgh, and they each paid less than $1.75M per WARP. Pittsburgh fans, avert your eyes. Otherwise, take a look at these signings by the Pirates: Tony Armas got paid $3.5M for 0.6 WARP, Yosian Herrera got paid $1.28M for -0.4 WARP, Chris Gomez got $1M for 0.1 WARP, and Byung-Hyun Kim got $850K for 0.0 WARP. If there’s any slack left to be given, it’s that the lack of recent success and the wild Pittsburgh nightlife and weather don’t stand much of a chance of attracting those lower-salary free agents against South Beach or the Bay area.

The Dodgers, on the other hand, have no excuse. Major market attraction? Check. Sunny California attraction? Check. Laid-back west coast attraction? Check. Enough money to mask mistakes with more transactions? Check. Recent playoff appearance? Check. Yet over the past two years, the Dodgers have spent over $122M on their free agents’ salaries, and still have an average price per WARP of over $9.5M. Juan Pierre at $8.8M per, Nomar at $9.25M per, Jason Schmidt at $15.7M per, and Andruw Jones at $18.1M per, I’m looking at you…No wait. Actually, Ned Colletti I’m looking at YOU. No one better complain about Manny’s contract when he’ll be the one high-paid player on the Dodgers who actually puts up big numbers.

One major surprise for me was that the Giants didn’t have a terrible price per WARP. I would’ve thought that the Rich Aurillia, Dave Roberts, and Barry Zito contracts would’ve created a hole that was too deep to dig out of. And Atlanta…what happened? Paying $11M over two years for the production of replacement players is quite an accomplishment

So where to go from here? It will be interesting to revisit this list after the current season, when so many teams spent so much less on free agents, and the Yankees spent so much more than usual but signed three players with star potential. It would also be interesting to track this data from the start of each current GM’s reign, and ranking their careers in free agency signings. Anyone know where I can find all of this data easily?

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3 Responses to “WARP value continued…”

  1. Dr. Nerd says:

    I’m actually kind of proud of the Orioles, hanging up there at the top of the list. They’ve been notoriously bad at wasting money on bad free agents in the past decade. They really do seem to be cleaning up their act. And who did the Twins lose so much money on?

    Does this include teams that sign their own free agents?

  2. Twins lost money by signing Jeff Cirillo, Ramon Ortiz, Adam Everett, Rondell White, Livan Hernandez, and Mike Lamb…none of which broke the 1.75 WARP barrier.

    The data that I got from ESPN included all players who filed for free agency…so if a team resigned its own player after that player filed for free agency, they’re included. If a player extends their contract without filing for free agency, they weren’t on the list.

  3. Byung-hyun Kim…

    After I addressed the price that several of MLB’s top players were paid for each WARP win abov […]…

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