Hybrid General Managers: A New Era
P1. In an era where technology is constantly evolving there is always going to be a new young model of some previously existing thing. However these new young models will time and time again have their progress hindered by the old models and their stubborn ways of consistency. Of course baseball is the first thing on everyone’s mind when analyzing this analogy, and the constant struggle between the old and new ways of building a team. Baseball is a sport as old as time, and there are just some traditions that shouldn’t be tampered with in the minds of those who have been around the game for many years. The old scouts and general managers of teams have their way of scouting and building teams set in stone, not to be altered by some math major from an ivy league school. All on need in order to build a dominant franchise in the MLB is two eyes and knowledge for the game. This method of scouting is commonly referred to as the “eye test”. The eye test however is slowly but surly becoming less and less popular as the new young General Managers and scouts enter the league. They’re throwing a monkey wrench into the old ways with their fancy computers and statistics. However those fancy numbers can produce a team that has the same record as a dominant team for half the price. Regardless of what side of the fence a person is on they are always on a side. There are not enough flexible minds on the fence to make the impact on a franchise that could create a monster of a team. The only way to progress is to use what is already known in the “eye test” and to incorporate the new statistics.
P2. The eye test is something that has stood the test of time. Since the beginning of baseball the way to find talent was to go out and seek it. A scout would have to go to games and invite players to workouts to find out where the talent was resting. In the new age of computers and slow-mo replays it makes the process even simpler. Scouts and General Managers with a mind for the game need only watch the players who show signs of potential and narrow the list down to the players believed to have the most potential. Then when signing players already in the league it is as easy as it gets. When a GM already knows what a player is capable at the highest level the decision on who is essential to the team comes down to who can be bought for the best value. This is the method that produced some of the all-time great teams. The 1927 Yankees are a perfect example of a team who flourished strictly following the eye test. The Yankees were a team with unlimited resources with a salary cap of $250000, as reported by the 1927 Yankees Reported Salaries Website. They had the money to buy players like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and all the other members of “Murderers Row”. All these players are considered all time greats, and this Yankees team through the use of the eye test acquired them. According to fivethirtyeight.com, a site that ranked the best teams of all time, this Yankees team ranked third all time, but to many they are considered the best. This is hard to argue with their record of 110-44, but what if the resources required to build this super team weren’t present? If this were the case the Yankees wouldn’t have been able to sign all of these players that were proven super stars. The big question nowadays is how can a team that is that dominant ever be created in today’s game? The answer can be found through the help of a little thing called sabermetrics.
P3. Sabermetrics was invented by a scholar named Bill James who described it as, “a search for objective knowledge about baseball.” That’s his fancy way of saying he’s trying to figure out what makes a player truly good at the game. Bill James set out to find what really matters in baseball. Any new-age statistic that comes out falls under the umbrella term of Sabermetrics. In the article “A Guide For Sabermetric Research”, by Phil Birnbaum, he addresses the fact that Time Magazine rated Bill James as one of the top 100 most influential people of our time. This makes sense since he orchestrated the Red Sox team that broke the long lasting curse of the Bambino. This curse was named after the Red Sox foolishly traded away Babe Ruth, arguably the greatest player of all time, for next to nothing. After this trade it took nearly 100 years for the Red Sox to win another world series, and it just so happened to be under the reign of Bill James. Why is this significant? Well until this point in time in 2003, the eye test was the only method for building a team, therefore all great teams and their success could be attributed to this method. The Red Sox, like the Yankees, are a team that can manage just about anything from a financial point of view. However after years upon years of making huge contracts out to star players and still not being able to reach the promise land. Finally an open minded Owner allowed Sabermetrics to have its first impact on baseball. Bill James proceeded to scrap the Red Sox team and signed a bunch of middle-of-the-way players, rather than super stars. This caught a lot of bad press for about a year, and that press quickly went away when the Red Sox finally took home a World Series title in 2004. The kicker is they did this using only a fraction of the money they paid some of their losing teams.
P4. As it turned out Bill James was reading statistics and basing his signings on which players he thought were the best value. The statistics he used were not the one’s that were bragging rights like RBI’s and Homeruns, but they were the under-the-radar stats like on base percentage. This lead to his most important stat, which was one that he invented called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. WAR is calculated by adding together all of the runs that are produced and saved by a player and then dividing them by the average number produced by replacement level players. To put it into a number, a good WAR would be 2.5-4.5, and a great WAR would be 5 and up, and anything close to 10 or even beyond 10 is legendary. The Red Sox of old would sign super stars that would have WARS of 6 or 7. From these numbers it shows Mike Trout is the best player by a long shot in the MLB today with a WAR of 10. To put it further into perspective Jose Altuve is second on that list with a WAR of 7. This shows how far and away Trout is from the rest of the pack. Therefore it would be silly not to sign him if at all possible right? Wrong, in the eyes of Bill James even though Trout is the best the price that comes with him is to great and it would hurt the teams chances of getting better players down the line. Sabemetrics is all about value and since Trout is widely regarded as the best player in the MLB a team would be forced to pay full price, which would be far too much. The valuable picks are guys like Dustin Pedroia who don’t put up a lot of flashy numbers, but will consistently contribute runs to the team. Runs are the most valuable asset to a team trying to win games, so guys who produce the most of them are the ones who hold the most value. This is what WAR is all about. They would accumulate 2 or 3 of these and then they would gather a supporting cast of a couple 3’s and then a bunch of 2’s or less. So while they were immensely strong in some areas, they were rather weak in most others, which is what ultimately lead to their downfalls. Bill James took the approach of signing a bunch of 3-5 WAR guys. This way the Sox would be solid all the way up and down the line-up. The newfound consistency throughout the lineup is what created this winning team. Shortly after the Red Sox fell off the map once more.
P5. When building a team of primarily free agents, those men will eventually get old and their skills will diminish and that was what caused the Red Sox to suck once again. Since 2004 the Red Sox won the World Series in 2007 and 2013. The in between years were next to worthless though. This cycle could be stopped, but Bill James’ Achilles heal has been the Draft. This is because the same Method of reading stats of college players doesn’t correlate well to Major League level success. The only solution would be to bring in someone who knows what to look for in the eye test. A scout who can go see young players and report back who they saw had the most potential. While stats are great for established players, they can’t do much to measure raw tools of a prospect. This is precisely why there are no more super teams that are dynastically good. Where are the hybrid General Managers. There needs to be a man who can do both the eye test, and study Sabermetrics. This is the missing piece in Baseball today, a gaping hole in the system. While the eye-test can get you the most talented players it can leave your team lacking in other areas. While Sabermetrics is great for signing valuable free agents and creating an efficient team, it only contributes to short-term success. If the two were to be combined, there could be an efficient team with young emerging superstars to take over in the future years. This is a formula for long-term success that the MLB is missing. The fence between the two team-building methods has to be torn down in order for the Phillies to be the great dominating team they deserve to be. They could make any team a force to be reckoned with.
P6. Baseball can’t become a game that is analyzed through a computer screen or iPad exclusively, but it can’t ignore the benefits from this new style of analysis. The eye test scouts will argue that statistics can’t measure character, attitude, or any outside factor of dominance. Then the Sabermetric guys will argue that Bill James is doing just fine in Boston without needing to look at those intangible factors. It is time to settle those differences and come to the realization that there are many benefits to both methods.
P7. For the purpose of this argument 3 teams were created by using the MLB game simulator, what-if-sports. All teams were given the same pitchers for simplicity, and they were given a salary limit of $40000000 to give teams an equal chance of success. One team was created through the use of the eye test. To figure out which players were the best at every position Bleacher Report’s, List of Top Ten Players at Each Position, was used to choose the lineup. Naturally, a couple of superstars made the starting line up and the two that are the highest rated are Mike Trout and Buster Posey. With these two taking up most if the cap room the rest of the team had to be accessed based off of who is the best and who is affordable. Therefore the rest of the team ended up being a mix of middle-of-the-way guys and the lower players in the league. A second team was created using a Sabermetric approach and this team was comprised of value players who are underrated when the stats were analyzed. To find these players Bleacher Reports, List of 3 Underrated Players at Every Position was used. The two centerpieces of this team were, Freddie Freeman and Manny Machado. These two guys are stars, but they are not superstars so their price isn’t as great as Trout’s or Posey’s. The rest of the players are middle-of-the-way guys. The final team created was created using a blended approach of both methods. To pick this team a list of players and values found on bleacher report’s website was combined with the two aforementioned lists to determine who the best players were at a value. To find these players the listed were compared side by side and players who were close on both lists were chosen. The two best players on this team were Manny Machado and Mike Trout. The rest of this team consisted of one lower end player and the rest were middle-of-the-way guys.
P8. Once the teams were formed the simulations were ran and all teams faced each other thirty times each. The results that followed were not surprising. When the Eye Test team and Sabermetric team faced off the Sabermetric team had a slight edge with a record of 17-13 and he Eye Test team had a record of 13-17. The reason why the Sabermetric team had the edge was because of the consistency throughout the teams line up. The two borderline stars had the best numbers and the rest of the team had average league numbers providing them with better odds to win the match ups. The Eye Test team was at a loss more often because of the lower end players in their line up. The Superstars put up great numbers, but in the end that wasn’t enough to carry this team over the Sabermetric squad.
P9. The interesting part of the study occurred when both teams faced off against the blended methods team. In the Sabermetrics teams attempt against the juggernaut they faired with a measly 8-22 record and when the Eye Test team faced off with the blended methods team they did slightly better with a 10-20 record. The combination of Mike Trout leading the way with Manny Machado following close behind, and then the band of middle-of-the-way guys proved to be too much for the other two teams. It proves that neither method is better than the other and in fact a blend of both is far superior. While a team built on a Sabermetric approach will lead to more consistency, the lack of real star power ended up being the downfall. The reason for the Eye Test team faired slightly better despite losing to the Sabermetrics team is because of their superstars putting up big numbers. It proves that with a balance of both approaches there can be a level of consistency and star power to carry the team to more wins.
P10. The only thing holding teams back from having this kind of dominant force would be the stubbornness each side holds trying to prove their method is best. Rather than trying to usher out an old era or shoe away a new era, the new era should be accepted by the old era without letting it take over the game. Bill James is a great mind no doubt, but it isn’t what could be called a baseball mind. Scouts have the baseball mind but lack the advanced knowledge of Bill James and other Sabermetrics guys. If men like Bill James and professional scouts could somehow merge together into one person that person would be the greatest general manager baseball has ever seen. People will forget about the 1927 Yankees and the 2004 Red Sox, because the new blended method will lead to a team that has a dynastic form of dominance. The league will become a race for second place until the other teams catch on to the new methodology. Baseball is a copycat league meaning that if one team has continued success by any means other teams seeking the same level of success will copy those same methods.
P11. It is time for baseball to stop trying to evolve and just let its self adapt. Adopt the new ways while keeping the sacred old ways intact. The Eye Test will show where the young and Sabermetrics will show where the best values lay. A superstar will be the leader of the team and then balance of a couple more stars and other guys will achieve the level of sustained greatness that every single team is looking for. Bill James as of now is siting on his high horse with a couple of World Series rings with the Red Sox. However if he doesn’t accept the Eye Test as a valuable tool for signing players he will fall victim to this hybrid era that will come to fruition. On the other hand if the old fashioned eye test scouts can’t accept the new Sabermetrics as a valid method of scouting. Using stats like WAR and knowledge of important intangibles like attitude and character the best players for a team will emerge creating an efficient, but deadly super team. This is the thing baseball needs to be rejuvenated once more. A common enemy for other teams to bring fans together and a team for new fans with no loyalties elsewhere to get behind and cheer for a consistent winner. It’s important to stop fighting against methods and join them together so all teams can be at their best. It will make games more watchable and fun because if all teams are running at maximum efficiency every team would have a realistic chance of winning regardless of who the opponents are. It would give all teams a chance at the World Series and that’s what fans are longing for. Teams who are consistently bad are losing fans and teams who are consistently good are booming. If all teams were consistently good and fun to watch baseball can make its way back into the limelight. This is why it is so important to usher in the new era of the Hybrid General Manager. A man, or men who can use the best of both worlds and effectively change the game as we know it.
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