BCB Tryouts Round 2: Doing More With Salary Efficiency

Jonathan Daniel

Prospective new BCB writer Matt D. Hoffman returns today with the second part of his post looking at how the Brewers get a bang for their buck.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Round two of our process seeking one or more new BCB contributors continues today with the second post from Matt D. Hoffman. If you haven't yet, you may want to check out his original post from January 7. - KL

In my last post, we discussed the value of being efficient spenders in the MLB and how DPWE can measure efficiency. Today, let's take a larger look at the Brewers' historical efficiency and if it translates into wins. The following chart plots payroll rank, DPWE, and total regular season win rank over 24 seasons. On the chart, down is good - high is a ranking near 30, or worst in the league.

Note* DPWE rank was found using a conversion in which the median league salary from each season before 2009 was divided by the median salary from 2012, and that results was multiplied by DPWE to create a projected DPWE that aligns with 2012's financial realities. Each season's value was plotted against last post's 2012 DPWE list to find a ranking. Compiling a list for each season like for 2012 in my last post requires more time than I've got on my hands.

Brew_crew_ball_chart_medium

(click the chart to enlarge)

Historically, the Brewers have been more efficient than average; 16 of 24 seasons analyzed have been between the 5th and 15th ranking in the league. That's a good thing. Unfortunately, those seasons haven't coincided with our payroll spikes. In 1990 and in 2012, the team recorded its two high payroll ranks; 9th and 10th. Both seasons saw a major drop in wins from the year before despite spending comparatively more money, thus DPWE plummeted as well.

Our other DPWE dissapointment is the lack of year-to-year consistency; the plot looks more like a heartbeat monitor. The overall payroll was fairly consistent between 1993 and 2005, so the variability should be rooted in wins. But the team was consistently mediocre to awful during that period.

The payroll and win lines intersect four times during that period; there is minimal correlation between the two. Over this time, the Crew often won more when it spent less. There wasn't huge variability in wins or payroll, but when it did vary they were going different directions, thus the DPWE peaks and valleys.

In 2004, things start to make a little more sense. All three variables follow the same basic curve until 2012. Here, management seems committed to a strategy and is consistently spending more money, and holy smokes, it's working. We'll go more in depth on that in a bit, but first let's examine some of the high points for each variable.

During 1990's payroll peak, Paul Molitor's salary doubled, Robin Yount made $1 million more, and pitcher Teddy Higuera got a major raise. Pitcher Dan Plesac also saw his salary double. The team committed to a nucleus that won 87 games in 1988, and it didn't work out; management acquired minimal new talent but payroll skyrocketed, and the mid-level salaried players had merely mid-level production. The group never made the playoffs, and the Brewers payroll rank decreased for half a decade - after committing to the wrong players, management appeared gun shy to commit to any at all.

Our most efficient seasons haven't produced much, with one exception (we'll get to that in a later post when we examine 2012 as well). In 1997 and 2005, the team had a projected DPWE ranking of 2nd. For the earlier year, this may have had more to do with other team's payrolls - the league's median salary jumped over $9 million. The Brewer's salary raised less than $1 million, and an abnormality was created. The team was basically the same, in both wins and payroll, but other teams were opening up the vault.

2005 was a different story - the Brewers finally got serious about using their own cash stash. Ben Sheets was somewhat early in his major deal, and hadn't started to fall apart like an aging Geo Metro. Carlos Lee was just starting to get paid, and still providing good power hitting. Geoff Jenkins was perhaps paid a bit more than his worth, but also provided some offensive pop. The Brewers started quality players who weren't over paid, and got some unlooked for contributions.

Spearheading the team's efficiency was pitcher Chris Capuano, who produced 18 wins for less than half a million bucks. The roster sported some young un's named Ricky Weeks, Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, and Prince Fielder. While these names would become the core for the future, the key to 2005's season was avoiding waste- no big contracts blew up. Well, that year at least.

While the franchise hoped that Sheets, Lee, and Jenkins would be the nucleolus of a future playoff team, it didn't happen. Lee went to the Astros and was overpaid, Sheets couldn't stay healthy, and Jenkins was a good player who was never going to be great.

The Crew's three best win totals came in 1992, 2008, and 2011 (again, we're saving 2011). In 1992, the team was buoyed by unexpected contributions from young pitchers Cal Eldred and Jamie Navvaro, both of whom were making peanuts. From an efficiency standpoint, those contributions were offset by Higuera and his torn rotator cuff; our highest paid player missed the entire season. On offense, Pat Listache was blazing through the league on his way to a Rookie of the Year award and was barely paid. Yount and Molitor were still kicking but had the 2nd and 3rd highest salaries on the team, also contributing to suppressed efficiency.

The stars aligned that season. We got unlooked for great pitching for a great price, the old war horses still had it, and Listache had his best year ever. It was not meant to last. Yount and Molitor were done, the magic on the mound evaporated, and Listache was never the same. Our wins plummeted in 1993, as did our payroll rank. DPWE dropped even sharper, buoyed as it was by unexpected contributions the year before.

In 2008, those aforementioned young un's were all grown up, and had a new friends named Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo. The best part? They were either still early in their contract or hadn't upgraded to major deals, and were all great values. If the team hadn't signed mega-bust closer Eric Gagne, they likely would have had their most efficient year ever. They were getting solid contributions from mid-level salaried players, and weren't afraid to spend seize opportunity and trade for C.C. Sabathia. The trade wasn't a great payroll move, but we got a huge push from having a beast on the mound in his contract year.

Stepping back and looking at overall trends, it seems that the Brewer's have tried to take advantage of limited windows to win twice, first in the late 1980s and then the mid-late 2000s. Here, they teetered out to the highest fringes of their payroll. These are the years that efficiency really matters.

It's all fine and dandy if the Crew is efficient when they aren't spending major cash, but based on the team's history, don't expect any playoff appearances. Billy Bean we have not. And when they do spend serious money, they need to spend it well. Such opulence hasn't lasted in the past and it's still dwarfed by the league's payroll leaders. George Steinbrenner used that kind of money to light his cigars.

We've been saving the last two season's analysis because we're in one of those windows, and so far it's been maddeningly frustrating to keep open. We'll examine why in my next post.

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