Sunday, September 26, 2004

Braving Bad Puns

After the Braves clinched the division, the ESPN.com MLB index had a section on it with the heading "Joy Division." After recovering from the cognitive dissonance created by an Ian Curtis-related baseball pun, I endeavored to address every baseball analyst's albatross and see just how those darned Georgians keep pumping out the banners.

You and I both know that I wasn't about to come up with some capital-A Answer, so instead I just focused on the way that the Braves roster has been put together. Here's a table of how many players of each acquisition type have been major contributors (arbitrarily defined as 150+ plate appearances or 40+ innings pitched) to the Braves in each of their division championship years (and we'll throw in their second-place finish in 1994). I split acquisitions into ten categories:
Once a player had been acquired, they remained the same acquisition type throughout their stint with the Braves, with the exception of free agents this year becoming previous free agent signings in subsequent years. That is, contract extensions and re-signings after a player had been granted free agency didn't change that a player was acquired by trade and so forth. Here are the resulting numbers:

Players 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 0 1 2 3 4
FA, that year 5 0 3 1 0 1 0 4 3 2 5 6 3 4
FA, prev 3 7 4 6 3 3 2 1 4 4 3 2 5 3
Trade, minors 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 1 2 2 2
Trade, <27 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 2
Trade, 27+ 2 5 3 3 2 3 5 3 7 7 6 4 5 5
HS 5 5 6 7 7 8 8 5 6 4 6 7 4 3
College, young 4 4 3 3 2 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
College, >20 0 0 0 0 2 1 1 0 0 0 1 1 2 4
Intl FA 0 0 0 1 1 2 3 3 6 3 4 4 4 2
MinL FA 0 0 1 1 1 1 0 2 0 1 1 1

Total 22 23 22 23 19 23 23 21 27 21 27 27 25 25












































































Here's how that breaks down into players who were developed in the minor leagues by the Braves and players who weren't:

Players 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 0 1 2 3 4
Non-AtlDevel 11 12 10 10 5 7 9 10 14 13 14 12 13 14
Atl Devel 11 11 12 13 14 16 14 11 13 8 13 15 12 11












































































Those numbers, however, don't tell the whole story, so I entered each player's contribution in wins above replacement using WARP1 to see how value was distributed among the acquisition types:

WARP1 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 0 1 2 3 4
FA, that year 15.9 0 14.6 2.3 0 3.4 0 12.4 5.5 2.7 3.6 7.4 4.1 8.2
FA, prev 11.5 23 9.5 15.1 13.6 9.9 11.9 10.9 10.1 19.2 23.5 11.8 10.3 9.6
Trade, min 5.2 12.6 9.2 3 5.5 10.6 8.5 6.4 7.4 0 2.4 6.1 8.1 5
Trade, 26- 2.9 0 0 0 0 0 4.3 2.7 0 0 0 0 0 8
Trade, 27+ 5.4 11.8 11.9 8.6 11.3 13.8 20.7 11.9 17.3 17 9.8 14 24.1 23
HS 28.3 19.6 27 18.8 29.1 32.8 28.1 27.1 35.5 23 23.4 27.3 18.9 11.6
College,young 11.6 14.3 16.1 9.4 7.3 5.6 7.5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
College,20+ 0 0 0 0 2.4 1.3 1.3 0 0 0 1.8 2.4 2.8 6.6
Intl FA 0 0 0 1.6 3.9 7.1 11.8 19.4 16.8 18.6 14.9 21.6 24.1 13.3
MinL FA 0 0 4.5 2.4 3.5 3 0 4.8 0 2.7 2.2 2.6 0 0
Total 80.8 81.3 92.8 61.2 76.6 87.5 94.1 95.6 92.6 83.2 81.6 93.2 92.4 85.3












































































Players 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 0 1 2 3 4
NotAtlDevel 35.7 34.8 36 26 24.9 27.1 36.9 37.9 32.9 38.9 36.9 33.2 38.5 48.8
AtlDevel 45.1 46.5 56.8 35.2 51.7 60.4 57.2 57.7 59.7 44.3 44.7 60 53.9 36.5












































































Several trends stand out (or at least appear to stand out to somebody who spends hours doing the research). First, Atlanta obviously isn't too keen on drafting college players. In the early days, they had a few community college kids like Dave Justice and Jeff Blauser, but from 1998 to 2003 they had close to nothing in productivity from college-drafted players. Their high school picks have annually fueled the team, contributing the most wins of any segment of the team until 2003. In 2003 and 2004, international free agents have taken over that title, though most of that production is confined to Andruw Jones, Rafael Furcal, and Javy Lopez. Nearly all of the production from players acquired as minor leaguers in trades comes from John Smoltz, who himself was only two years out of high school, so 60% or so of the Braves' production during this stretch has come from players acquired before their 20th birthday. I don't have the data to compare that figure to other teams in general, so let's use this year's Dodgers for comparison. Of the Dodgers with 40+ IP or 150+ PA, only Adrian Beltre and Eric Gagne were acquired by LA before their 20th birthday, and despite those two being the Dodgers' two most valuable players they've only contributed 22% of LA's WARP1. Clearly, the Braves have done a tremendous job of harvesting very young talent.

The second clear trend is that the Braves haven't much for signing big-impact free agents. 38% of their WARP from free agents has come in the form of Greg Maddux. The rest have mainly been spare parts, with only Terry Pendleton and Brian Jordan being major exceptions (ok, we can add Andres Galaragga to that list too). Atlanta has, however, had pretty good success with some free agent reclamation pitching projects in recent years with the likes of John Burkett, John Thomson, and Jaret Wright. The Braves have tended towards acquiring more free agents in recent years, but much of that has to do with the dissipation of the team's young core. The Braves' key veteran acquisitions have tended to come in trades, including J.D. Drew, Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton, Denny Neagle, Marquis Grissom, Fred McGriff, and Otis Nixon, few of whom stayed with the team for very long.

The third trend is more questionable. It appears that the Braves might finally have shifted to a roster constructed more from veteran acquisitions. Aside from the youth-and-strike-heavy 1994-1996 period, the WARP the Braves have gotten from veteran players has been between 32 and 39 each year until 2004, when it has taken off. On the other side, the WARP from Atlanta-developed players looks to be at its lowest outside of 1994 by a wide margin. Whether this is a change in organizational philosophy toward resurrecting salary-dumped veterans like Drew, Hampton, and Ortiz or whether this is simply a momentary blip before players like Andy Marte and Jose Capellan tip the scales back remains to be seen. It should be noted, however, that the Braves have gotten pretty good value in return for young pitchers they'd developed: Jason Schmidt netted Denny Neagle (whose 13.0 WARP in 2+ years nearly matches Schmidt's 14.9 for the Pirates over five years), Damian Moss netted Russ Ortiz, Odalis Perez and Andrew Brown (with Brian Jordan) netted Gary Sheffield, Tim Spooneybarger netted Mike Hampton, and Jason Marquis and company netted J.D. Drew and company. The Braves, then, are perhaps maximizing the value of their organizational resources by acknowledging Leo Mazzone's apparent ability to greatly improve any pitcher's performance and acting to accumulate position players and lower-risk pitchers.

John Schuerholtz, Bobby Cox (who also was the team's general manager for the five years preceding 1991 and helped rebuild the farm system), Paul Snyder, Chuck LaMar, and Leo Mazzone all deserve a ton of credit for the Braves success, and how much credit each individual deserves is unclear and probably beside the point. When folks argue for the approach of taking high risk/high ceiling high school prospects, their argument is certainly bolstered by the Braves' success. The Braves' strategy is probably not likely to succeed in scenarios where a team doesn't have talented baseball personnel and abundant resources, which is why it has been widely copied but never matched. One wonders, however, if some of the young "Moneyball"-type executives will begin to follow the Braves' path in situations where resources for intensive player evaluation and development are available. This approach might very well be the best way to maximize the value of organizational resources for larger market teams who now find themselves competing with more performance-analysis-oriented teams. Paul DePodesta and the Dodgers could and to some extent are following the same strategy. With a renowned scouting director in Logan White and a renowned pitching coach in Jim Colborn as well as a strong market, the Dodgers are probably as good a candidate as any to replicate the Braves' success, and their continued reliance on high school players in the 2004 amateur draft under DePodesta's watch is an indication that this might be the direction they're headed in.

Song of the Day: "Off Minor," Coltrane/Monk

Comments:
Jesus Louises, what a post. Mike's Baseball Rants would be proud.
 
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