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The evolution of the major league manager … and Tiny Tim Lincecum’s contract raises the bar

SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – Since the end of the regular season we’ve seen Jim Leyland retire, Dusty Baker fired, and Clint Hurdle named NL Manager of the Year by the Sporting News.

 

We’ve seen a changing of the face of the MLB manager.

 

The position of baseball manager has been one of the last vestiges, last safe harbors, for baseball’s old school orthodoxy. Since the publication of “Moneyball” in the early 2000s — which may or may not be the best marker of baseball’s entry into  its information age — many managers have remained dependent upon instinct and gut feel to make decisions while data-driven, analytical thought has grown more influential in front offices.

 

There has been a divide. Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon was for so long an outlier.

 

But that is changing.

 

The Reds have hired pitching coach Bryan Price this week to be their new manager, Price who seems to be polar-opposite in his approach to Baker.

 

 

Said Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo to USA Today about Price:  ”He’s as organized as anyone in the game, he holds people as accountable as well as anyone I’ve seen. He doesn’t buy into stereotypical things in the game, things that other people buy into that I don’t feel are relevant. Price looks at evidence. He’s a freaking smart guy, he makes his decision on reasonable evidence. Sometimes in baseball we go by hunches, what someone else said or they way things have gone in the past. He doesn’t do that.”

 

It sounds like the Reds got better Tuesday.

 

Then consider Hurdle. To become the Sporting News NL Manager of the Year on Tuesday he had to evolve. After being fired by the Rockies in 2009, Hurdle noted he began investigating and embracing sabermetrics.

 

“It was definitely a transformation in understanding the game. It has been for me for the last 10 years, especially the last five years,” Hurdle told me earlier this year. “You have to get involved in the information. You’ve got to read. You’ve got to study. You can’t just stick your head in the sand and just say, ‘It doesn’t exist. It doesn’t count. It doesn’t make sense.’ ”

 

In 2013, the Pirates used the fourth most shifts in baseball — a product of advanced, data-driven scouting reports — and that played a large role in the Pirates’ defensive improvement. Hurdle meets with the clubs analytics dept before every series. This is what Hurdle called “growth” when speaking with me Tuesday.

 

Yes, Hurdle still makes some “instinct” driven in-game decisions. But at a macro level, he’s very much bought into the 21st century and it gave the Pirates a competitive advantage in the NL Central against the non-shifting Cardinals and Baker-led Reds.

 

Yes, there is still a human element to the game, don’t misunderstand me.

 

Managers and their staff still have to be teachers and communicators. The Pirates’ defensive plan doesn’t work if the players and coaches don’t buy in. It doesn’t work if Ray Searage is not able to teach his pitchers how to effectively throw two-seam fastballs.

 

A manager must manage people, which means he must manage personalities. Players need to respect and trust a manager to buy into coaching. Leyland managed thousands of game because he had such talents.

 

“If they don’t trust you they are not going to let you coach them,” Hurdle said. “I think we’ve gotten to a good place there.”

 

I don’t think a computer is going to replace the manager in the 21st century but managers have to embrace the data and technology available to them. The manager is becoming more and more an extension of the front office. They have to be open minded. That has changed.

 

TINY TIM’S BIG DEAL 

 

San Francisco pitcher Tim Lincecum reportedly reached an agreement on a two-year, $35 million contract Tuesday, according to reports.

 

That seems like a dramatic overpay considering the once elite Lincecum had fallen to a level of production that produced a combined 2.5 WAR over his 2012 and 2013 seasons.

 

That’s a $17.5 million annual average value, a dramatic overpay even if you believe a marginal win is really worth $7 million in free agency and not $5 million.

 

Maybe the Giants are just giving Lincecum a golden thank you for his past work. Or maybe they are predicting starting pitching will dramatically overpriced.

 

How can AJ Burnett retire when looking at those dollars?

 

If reaffirms the idea that Pirates should offer Burnett the $14.1 million qualifying offer, if he accepts he’d be a relative free agent bargain.

 

Burnett produced 7.0 war from 2012-13 and despite his advanced age, his velocity and stuff has not been in decline as much as Lincecum’s.

 

It’s another reminder of why it’s so important for the Pirates to develop their own starting pitching because the starting pitching market is only growing more expensive and you can’t count on identifying the NL Comeback Player of the Year every season.

 

If you throw for a living it’s a good time to be living.

 

- TS

Comments

  1. Nate83 says:

    Lincecum contract is also a sign that the 25 million in National TV money each team will get won’t do much of anything to help the Pirates. They can raise their payroll to 90 million and that would probably be appropriate for the revenue coming in but because of the local TV contract they won’t even get a sniff at a legitimate free agent. They will have to be smart and lucky with free agents and developing within will be even more important.

    The Cutch deal will look like an absolute steal during the buy out years. Between the inequity of the local TV contracts and the bidding wars on internatianal players it will make it even more difficult for a team like the Pirates to compete in a sustainable sense.

  2. NMR says:

    -While Brian Sabean isn’t immune to an overpay (Zito, Huff, Pagan), I wouldn’t call Lincecum’s deal a bad one until we settle into this new era of unprecedented financial prosperity. Seems just as likely we’re seeing the new normal rather than the exception.
    .
    -Present company excluded, the baseball writer is right up there with the Manager gasping for air as the game evolves. I still can’t decide whether ignorance or arrogance leads a beat writer to proudly pronounce they “don’t get bogged down by the numbers” during a comercial selling their product.
    .
    The only thing saving archaic baseball managers is equally stubborn veteran players. Younger guys are buying into baseball training supplemented by data-driven analysis because it is making them better. Period. We’re already seeing the new wave of talent overtake aging veterans and with them will come an increased acceptance of the Joe Maddon’s, Clint Hurdle’s, and Brian Price’s.

  3. NMR says:

    Bingo.
    .
    The only way the Pirates were ever going to benefit from increased National TV revenue was if they took a speculative approach by signing guys BEFORE the money dropped. Obviously we all know Bob Nutting’s aversion to risk made that unpalatable.
    .
    The Pirates could’ve eaten a loss in the near term on a free agent acquisition last season at pre-TV deal prices and ended up more than covered once the money came. Too bad.

  4. BostonsCommon says:

    The Cutch deal gets better and better everyday. I mean Abreau was just GUARANTEED more money than Cutch, and the only legit competition he’s ever see is in exhibition games… and apparently he can’t even play defense!
    .
    I mean it’s getting to the point that Huntington should automatically win executive of the year for every year that he is in a Pirate uniform under that contract.
    .
    They got his 3 Arbitration Years for a total $21.75M. The 8.2 WAR season he had this year is worth 2X that amount! Next year he’s on the books at $7.25M. What do you think his salary would have been next year had he gone through arbitration, coming off an MVP season?
    .
    The 3 FA years are probably even more impressive (2016: $13M, 2017: $14M, and 2018: $14.75M). Have you seen the list of boobs that either already make more than that, or will during those years? It’s almost laughable.
    .
    2013
    Alex Rodriguez $28M
    Vernon Wells $21M
    Ryan Howard: $20M
    Carl Crawford: $20M
    Alfonso Soriano $18M
    Jayson Werth $16M
    Michael Young $16M
    Adam Dunn $15M
    Chase Utley: $15M

    .
    2016
    Josh Hamilton: $32M
    Ryan Howard: $25M
    Mark Teixeira: $22.5M
    Jose Reyes: $22M
    Matt Kemp: $21.5
    Jayson Werth: $21M
    Carl Crawford: $20.75
    Andre Ethier: $18M
    Nick Swisher: $15M
    Elvis Andrus: $15M
    .
    Crazy man…

  5. NorthPirateFan says:

    Yes the McCutchen deal looks better everyday but the Pirates may want to hold off on patting themselves on the back and celebrating too much. He’s likely to not remain very happy if he spends the next few years watching the salaries of much less valuable players blow by him.

    The Pirates are entitled to benefit from their shrewdness but unless they want to see him bolt for free agency at age 32 they might also want to consider in a few years renegotiating the last couple of those years in an effort to extend him a bit longer.

  6. Travis Sawchik says:

    The Cutch deal is an absolute steal, no doubt. Even though Tabata has stagnated his long-term deal isn’t a club killer. Pirates need to be more aggressive with such deals, though it takes a willing agent/player, too

  7. Travis Sawchik says:

    I like your thinking NMR, but I’m not sure who the Pirates realistically could have targeted last winter. Nick Swisher? Many thought they overpaid for Russell Martin. I don’t think it was a great free agent class. Perhaps they could have been more aggressive in trade market

  8. Travis Sawchik says:

    I actually think it’s been a golden age for baseball writing when considering the whole sphere of media: blogging, Fangraphs.com, baseball prospectus, Grantland, etc.

    More voices then ever, any many smart ones, are writing on baseball.

    Does every writer embrace sabermetrics? No. But total baseball readership is a diverse one and some of the audience is more interested in emotion and traditional writing than new-age analysis and that’s OK.

  9. BostonsCommon says:

    He will absolutely be electing FA following 2018. The Pirates were incredibly fortunate to get Cutch to give them 3 discounted FA years in this contract. They will not be so fortunate again.
    .
    I can’t imagine any scenario that has Cutch taking a second discounted contract to stay with the Pirates. Assuming he’s healthy, even at age 32, he will be in line for a 6 figure contract. I can easily see 5 years $125M, and that’s probably conservative.

  10. NMR says:

    My player to get last winter with this strategy was Anibal Sanchez, as I believed he’d be underpaid as the best pitcher not named Grienke. Considering the AAV on his contract with Detroit comes out to just $14.4m, this would’ve been a very reasonable contract for the Pirates to take on with future money considered.

  11. NMR says:

    I can appreciate that sentiment, Travis. Very professional. And I do agree with you.
    .
    It just gets very boring to read the same trite cliches over and over and over again, from this readers perspective. I love baseball far more than I love sabermetrics, but reading false narratives does nothing for me.

  12. NorthPirateFan says:

    All of which reminds me of what I said in an earlier discussion … if the SOx are willing to part with him, paying Adam Dunn 15 Million to play first base at PNC isn’t at all out of line with the “new normal” that seems to be emerging.

  13. Warren says:

    Lucky for the Bucs, 2018 is a TEAM option – Cutch doesn’t have a choice

  14. BostonsCommon says:

    Gotta wonder how many players are going to be willing to make such deals, knowing the possibility that they could be giving up tens of millions. Especially until the market has a chance to adjust to the increased revenue. Cutch is easily giving up $10M/year on his last three.
    .
    I think there is so much risk involved with pitchers, that those are always going to be tough deals to get done. But small bonus, international guys might be interested (Marte and Polanco)? Tabata obviously jumped at the opportunity.

  15. BostonsCommon says:

    I don’t know if you can have Dunn and Alvarez in the same lineup. That’s almost 400 Ks a year, or almost 15 complete games worth of strike outs.

  16. NorthPirateFan says:

    As I orginall said, probably 600 when you include Marte’s … but what a treat it could be to see what Dunn might do with that short porch in RF in 81 games at PNC

    200 Ks sure, but 100 – 120 walks and 45, 50, 60 home runs ???

    It would be worth the 15 million to find out IMO.

  17. Travis Sawchik says:

    Sanchez would have been a very nice signing for Pirates, far better value than Edwin Jackson. Forgot about Sanchez

  18. NMR says:

    I’m with you on this one, North.
    .
    Would Alvarez and Dunn be ideal? Certainly not. But the reality is that the Pirates will not find an ideal fit at 1B, period.
    .
    The Justin Morneau experiment proved to us the value of contact in the middle of a lineup that struggles to get on base. Dunn and Alvarez would easily account for double the homeruns Atlanta got out of BJ Upton and Dan Uggla, two guys with k rates above 30%. Atlanta did alright last year.

  19. NMR says:

    Cutch’s case is extreme, lets not forget that. I’m guessing the two players who signed very similar extension prior to Cutch, Justin Upton and Jay Bruce, are far closer to typical.
    .
    Maybe the deals will need done sooner than in the past, but I don’t think the allure of +$50m guarunteed contracts will ever die.

  20. BostonsCommon says:

    I wonder how the new revenue is impacting the value of WAR, and the value of prospects.
    .
    The Giants paid $16M/WAR on Lincecum’s 2012-3 contract. And they just agreed to pay him, as a clearly declining pitcher, $35M for the next two years. Are they expecting him to bounce back? Or are they just comfortable paying $17.5/WAR (assuming he’s a 1 WAR player each season)?
    .
    Considering the increasingly extreme value a team receives from players in their pre-arbitration years, how does this change the value of a prospect.
    .
    Tim Williams has a great article on the updated value of a prospect, but he’s still using $5M/WAR as the baseline. And by the looks of things. That isn’t close to reality. The $7M/WAR suggested by Lewie Pollis made sense to me. But given what has transpired with Lincecum, he seems way low too.
    .
    http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/06/updating-the-trade-surplus-values.html
    .
    All I do know, is that if I’m NH, and I’m faced with the option to pay $17M/WAR on the FA market, or paying guys like Cole, Locke, Taillon, Cumpton, Kingham, Pimentel, Glasnow, Heredia, and Holmes league minimum…. There’s just no way I’m giving up a prospect that has any remote chance of making to the majors as a starter. I don’t even care if the guy’s ceiling is a 5/6 starter who might give you 10-15 starts a season.

  21. Brendan says:

    Agreed. But I think it’s pretty easy to avoid that sort of writing at this point and remain quite informed, given the number of quality options that exist.

  22. BostonsCommon says:

    That’s a good point about Cutch. What stands out about Cutch is his consistency and improvement since his debut. He’s improved his value as a player every year from 2.3 WAR in 108 games as a rookie, to 8.2 WAR this past season.
    .
    Bruce and Upton have seen value spikes to 5.1 WAR and 6.1 respectively, but their teams haven’t realize the same return as the Pirates because both players have lacked consistency in their development, registering seasons of 1.6 WAR and 2.3 WAR.
    .
    Really makes me realize how special Cutch is. Consistency and continued improvement at a level higher than most players will ever even touch… just remarkable.

  23. Nate83 says:

    You may be correct about 7M/WAR being low but I wouldn’t use the Lincecum deal as a measering stick. I confident Trout and Carbrera are not going to make 70M a year. I think 7 in the end will be pretty close. That is 21 million for a 3.0 WAR player. I can’t imagine them getting much more then that.
    .
    It really is monopoly money for some of these teams for others like the Pirates one bad long term contract can hurt you for years. Boston was able to unload a stupid amount of money in contracts last year because they found somebody with the same play money and now a year later made it to the World Series because they where able to way overpay for players like Napoli, and Vicotrino. Neither guy was guarenteed to contribute like they have but Boston knows they can overcome the financial setback that would happen if those players were bust. The Pirates can’t and other teams can’t. They have one bullet in their gun instead of the 6 that 7 or 8 really large market teams have.

  24. NMR says:

    Not to demean any of these writers, but I believe it is a big jump to assume these teams even use the WAR data publicly available to us, let alone the dollar valuation placed on it. The organizations who are analytic enough to bother placing a dollar value on a win almost certainly have their own internal metrics. I’ve read from multiple writers that no teams even bother with the defensive metrics that are publicly available due to their inaccuracy.
    .
    The biggest flaw in the $/WAR assumption is that the value of a dollar is equal among all teams. Due to the economic disparity in the game, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It makes sense for high revenue teams to place a greater dollar amount on a win and thus create an advantage over low revenue teams who cannot afford it. If the Giants and Pirates both assumed the same value for a win, then the Giants would be giving up whatever economic advantage they had.

  25. NMR says:

    Completely agreed. Cutch is ridiculous. Safest extension candidate you could imagine.

  26. Andrew says:

    I have serious reservations about, reasoning from one data point. I have seen several articles from analytically inclined individuals discussing the Lincecum contract and then extrapolating the free agent market from there. It is one contract; I will wait for more information before making a statement about the market. (The $7 million/win article has numerous flaws.)

    Nate83, you are right that television revenue money will not help the Pirates; I never understood this reasoning, its central revenue which evenly distributed to all teams. However the revenue is not a windfall, it was expected and I think these expectations have been worked into contracts. This predicted dramatic spike in contracts is unfounded, I think steady upward price pressure is more likely. (If I am wrong which is completely possible I will admit it, but I think we need more data.)

  27. Andrew says:

    NMR you are exactly right, the large market teams set the cost of a win on the free agent market, because they derive more revenue per win. I have seen Dave Cameron state this. This is why the Pirates need to utilize free agent sparingly, and need a productive development process. (I would like to see some updates on prospects values, because if we assume 4-5% inflation, 2008 numbers are going to be off, thanks for the Pirates Prospects link, Boston.)

    I think that outsiders have developed fairly accurate measure of performance; (all of the original develop was by outsiders) there is enough flow of writers/analysts between outlets like BP and Fangraphs and front offices that we would know if our proxies are off. Most teams have their own methods but there are only so many ways to measure runs and their derivatives. Defense is hard because there are relatively few events for each fielder. This could change in five eight years time but now I believe the outsiders number have enough precision.

  28. steelkings says:

    I’m a big believer in hitter familiarity. Sanchez was only over .500 a couple of times and had an ERA hovering around 4.0 in his 7 years as an NL pitcher. His best year in the NL was his rookie year. It kind of went down from there. Suddenly He jumps leagues and BLAM! no one can touch him again.
    Another example of Pitching success via league jumping is our own AJ Burnett. No one could touch him in 2012. He got hit a little more in ’13. NL hitters are beginning to figure him out. That’s why I’d be hesitant to sign a disgruntled AJ for more than a little.

  29. steelkings says:

    Again I think Justin Morneau is lined up as the perfect storm for the Pirates. He’s a lefty with some pop who came to a league with pitchers he’s never seen before. He’s a good defensive 1st baseman, who if given ST and the month of April to settle into the league could be the next pleasant economical surprise in Pittsburgh.

  30. steelkings says:

    I say perfect storm because this is a guy who had a very quiet year in a lefty unfriendly ball park in Minnesota. Then displayed no power in Pittsburgh in the month and a half he was here. He will fly well under the radar and could likely be signed for far less than value might suggest here. He is a perfect fit for an organization that improves with minor league strength as well as major league reclamation projects.

  31. BostonsCommon says:

    This is good stuff NMR, very insightful.
    .
    If I just think of WAR in the same light as any other stat, it makes much more sense to me. Obviously teams are going to place their own value on a particular metric or stat. We see the Pirates doing this right now, placing a higher value on GB % than other teams.
    .
    WAR might be a good statistic used to measure a players performance. But to assume teams value it the same way is probably foolish.

  32. NMR says:

    I went off on a tangent (shocking, I know), but I meant to support what you’re saying, Boston. Prospects contributing at league minimum and early arb rates are the only chance teams like the Pirates have to compete. I think you’ve made a very good argument that prospects are actually undervalued.
    .
    Also is a good start to an argument that prospects should be kept in the minors until absolutely ready to contribute at the big league level and thus not waste their cheap years.

  33. Jim S. says:

    I think I’d rather see Andrew Lambo at 1b than Justin NoMore.

  34. Jim S. says:

    I think both of those things may come true, NorthPirate. Andrew will, indeed, grow restless and frustrated with his contract in short order. But, I don’t think he’ll be signing another extension with the Pirates. He can’t sign a hometown deal twice, can he?

  35. Jim S. says:

    9 figure?

  36. Jim S. says:

    I’m with you on this, Andrew. I think the Lincecum deal is monumentally stupid. I’m not saying he can’t still be a productive to good pitcher going forward. But, does anyone think he will perform anywhere near his best years again? I think those days are gone. I also agree that this does not mean every pitcher will automatically get paid far above recent market values. $25 million per team can’t really go that far.

    I just wonder how the Giants were smart enough to win 2 WS, yet dumb enough to pay a mediocre pitcher 2 X $17.5M. And, if this was a thank you for past performance, that may be the dumbest reason of all. Lincecum was already being paid fairly well. Contracts have to be about what you think the guy will do going forward. Any GM that doesn’t understand that needs to find a new line of work.

  37. Jim S. says:

    Maybe the best post I have ever read from you, NMR. Terrific!

  38. Jim S. says:

    I’m with you, Travis. I believe a big point of discussion here last week was that very topic related to G. Cole. It is true that Andrew is already being underpaid, and if he continues to improve as we all probably believe, that gap will grow. But, it is still a $50 million dollar contract that provided him with crazy financial security at 25. I applaud him for taking care of his future, while also showing loyalty to the Bucs and making it possible for them to add/keep other pieces.

    Cutch will likely not be happy with his current deal within a year. We can say all we want that he is stuck with it. All true, but the Bucs will not benefit as much from an unhappy Face of the Franchise as with a happy one. Might they try to negotiate to give him more money each season, and extend the years a bit?

  39. NMR says:

    Whether it is Sabean or the owner, the Giants have a history of doing this. See Aubrey Huff and Angel Pagan.
    .
    You can’t bash a GM who just won two championships, but his list of bad contracts (including Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito) would fund the Pirates entire payroll for years.
    .
    Hey, look at the bright side. Nobody is complaining about paying Hunter Pence $90m anymore, are they? :)

  40. NMR says:

    You know what they say about vision-impaired squirrels and what-not… :)

  41. NMR says:

    One of my favorite stats to use regarding payroll and player salaries is that no team has ever won the World Series with one player taking up 20% or more of team payroll. Even uber-spenders like the Yanks and Sox. There is simply a limit on how valuable a player is to his team given the amount of resources left to build around him in baseball. Lotta mouths to feed.
    .
    While I’m not sure Andrew is the type of person to gripe about making over $10m a year, you guys very well may be correct. I’ll get ready to duck, but if that is the case, then you trade him for a gigantic haul and let another team pay him. If Cutch made 20% of the 2013 teams payroll, Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano wouldn’t be Pirates. If paying Cutch +$20m is what it takes to make him happy, the Pirates will be better off without him (granted, as always, they spend the money wisely).

  42. Jim S. says:

    I wasn’t advocating that big of a jump for him, NMR. He signed his deal for lifetme security, and part of that was possibly foregoing some money. I’m wondering if there is a way to bump him up some each year (maybe add $3M each year), while giving him an extra year or two at, say $15M and $18M? I admit I have not really done the math. I was just looking for a way to keep him happier and keep him longer – or, as you say, make him still a very attractive trade candidate all through the deal. In fairness to Cutch, he has not said a word about being underpaid.

  43. Jim S. says:

    Very true, NMR. Big market teams often get to, as I call it, “wallpaper” over their financial mistakes. The Bucs don’t have that luxury.

  44. steelkings says:

    Im an old guy and quite frankly I hate sabermetrics in baseball. Takes the heart out of it. War statistics revolve around the individual and take no account of how this player effects those around him. Has anyone done team stats as it relates to WAR? I mean, so much of this game is based on what goes on in the clubhouse. Too Many stars works in basketball but most time not so much in baseball. IE some people say the reason the 92 Pirates were so good was Barry Bonds. People also say that the reason they didnt win more was Barry Bonds. People say the reason the the Yankees put together the best roster to ever be assembled was the addition of A-Rod. At the same time the reason the Yankees remained beatable was the addition of A-Rod.

    You see, we dont play the games on a playstation. We play it on grass.

  45. BostonsCommon says:

    Yes 9 figures.. Lol, while I was off in fantasy land talking baseball analysis, a piece of the real world must have slipped in… Freud apologizes for me.

  46. brendan says:

    I dunno by most metrics Burnett was better in 2013 than 2012.

  47. steelkings says:

    Lambo will go by way of Brad Eldred. Lots of promise but not quite as good as the other options.

  48. steelkings says:

    Thats the problem with matrics. in 2013 Burnett walked more batters and and won less games.

  49. NMR says:

    Oh, I gotcha now buddy. Not usually huge on these types of things, but I wouldn’t mind building some good will and reputation by throwing Cutch a few bones. Certainly has earned it.

  50. NMR says:

    Since you brought up comparisons, what made Brad Elred different than Brandon Moss, and why is Lambo closer to the former than the latter?

  51. Jim S. says:

    No worries, Bostons. 6 figures, 9 figures. It’s only money.

  52. brendan says:

    He also struck more batters per 9, allowed fewer home runs per 9, had a lower ERA and lower FIP, a lower WHIP, despite walking more batters had a better K/BB ratio, and held opponents to a lower batting average.

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