Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sheehan Sez Bowden Sucks

Joe Sheehan, Baseball Prospectus' main columnist, sets his sights on the Nats and the decision to re-sign Dmitri Young. He makes some really excellent points, but he also (as he is wont to do), makes some ridiculous assertions (such as how this move dooms the Nats to a decade of Pirates-like futility) that make it easy to dismiss what he says. If he'd just stick to the main points without treading into hyperbole, he'd be taken more seriously. At any rate... here's some of what he said:
Young has had a career half-season for the Nationals, batting .330 in 330 at-bats, inheriting the first-base job when Nick Johnson’s rehab of a broken leg extended into the season. He was the Nationals’ All-Star, and not an undeserving one given that he made the squad for being the best player on a team with no other candidates. He’s roped 37 extra-base hits and drawn enough walks to give him a .382 OBP. It’s not an empty batting average.

The problem isn’t Young’s 2007 line. It’s his 2006 line (.250/.293/.407; released), his 2005 line (.271/.325/.471), and his 2004 (.272/.336/.481). The 1000 at-bats prior to this half-season all sent the same message: Dmitri Young peaked at 29, and as a player with absolutely no defensive value who bats at five to ten runs above the league-average line, he’s barely worth a roster spot, much less a starting job.

Even if you wanted to retain Young’s services, why sign him when his perceived value is at its highest? The difference between Young now and Young 2004-06 is basically 60 points of batting average, points there’s no reason to believe that he’ll keep as the year goes on....

Jim Bowden has foregone the low-cost prospect he might have been able to get for Young in favor of paying $10 million over two seasons to a below-average first baseman, and all because he can’t tell the difference between a .330 hitter and a .280 hitter on a hot streak....

This is an awful signing, the kind of move that defines a bad franchise. The Nationals are overrating a player based on short-term performance, overvaluing service time, signing a player at the absolute peak of his value, foregoing the chance of acquiring a low-cost option, blocking a better player, and potentially forcing a ridiculous defensive alignment. This would normally be the worst decision made in any city over the course of a year, but Bowden is fortunate to work in Washington, D.C., where the standards are much, much higher.

18 Comments:

  • Chris- His voice is added to that of keith Law from ESPN. I agree that a prediction of a decade of futility means about as much as the predictions that the Nats would be historically bad.

    Still, I really do think that the wisdom of signing Dmitri depends on what happens next. The Nats still need to bolster the Minors. They also have to avoid free agents who bleed draft picks. Does the first step happen in the next 2 days? I hope so, realizing that my hope for prospects is probably in reality short-term need to have something happen before the trade deadline.

    Sportswriters are no less fickle than we, the bloggers and consumers of blogs.

    By Blogger Skedeebs, at 7/29/2007 5:28 PM  

  • It is just possible that the Nats made this decison based in part upon marketing. Dmitri has rapidly become one of the team's most recognizable players to those casual fans who pay little attention except during the five innings of any game they happen to attend in person (if then).

    Going into the new stadium, the Nats obviously think they need to have some recognizable faces for those folks to root for other than just Zimm. I have a feeling the same thinking might also keep Chief in a Nats uniform and Schneider as the starting catcher for at least one more year even if he sinks below the Mendoza line.

    Always remember, teams court the casual fans at the expense true seamheads because that's where most of the money comes from. That's why the new stadium will have every bell and whistle possible to distract you from the fact that you're actually attending a baseball game.

    By Anonymous bdrube, at 7/29/2007 5:59 PM  

  • Marketing is a possibility, especially with Dmitri Young's race.

    BUT, the only people paying attention this year are the same people who'd show up next year if you ran a team of miniature ponies out there. We're the suckers.

    We heard the same things about the importance of marketable stars last year with the loss of Soriano. Yet the Republic stood.

    Besides, is marketing around an out-of-shape DH who's having a career year and has a short-term contract really that wise of an idea? I dunno... They'd know better than me, of course.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 7/29/2007 6:01 PM  

  • Clubs with a lot of disposable income can over-rate their own players. Lerner passes 5M in his stool. Folks are confusing the Nationals with Expos. It's a new time. This is just a minor deal. Young may turn out to be all that the statheads say, but it doesn't matter, really. This ain't the A's or Twins. People need to adjust their perception of the club. Moneyball works fine, but it works better when you have more money.

    By Blogger Tim Bilbro, at 7/29/2007 6:40 PM  

  • Agree with skedeebs about it depending on what happens next. I'm not crazy about this move, but without any context, there's no way to really tell right now. If wins cost about 2.5M now, he only has to be worth 2 wins each of the next two seasons. I realize it's a bit more complicated than that, especially the opportunity cost involved with the makeup of the club in 2008 and 2009.

    I still don't see how anyone can be sure about not dealing Soriano last year either. The organization was able to get a decent haul for Livan, so I'm not so sure they were afraid to pull the trigger on a deal for him. I'm not saying they didn't make a mistake, just that I don't see how anyone can be so sure about what happened.

    Smoker(please sign him!) and Zimmermann might not be as good as what was offered, but we don't really know that either, do we?

    Also, as has been already pointed out, the Pirate comparisons are a bit premature. Give them some credit where credit is due. They brought in Rizzo, beefed up the scouting department, and didn't hesitate to take Detwiler.

    By Anonymous MF, at 7/29/2007 6:45 PM  

  • I like the signing.

    Dmitri has all of those "intangibles", like clubhouse leadership and positive influence on younger players that cannot be easily quantified.

    How much you bet signing Dmitri and Ronnie boosted clubhouse morale?

    This club has no prima donnas, no loose cannons, so outstanding chemistry has been able to keep them together. Stan Kasten remarked recently about the team's resiliency, something that I've blogged about all season. These guys seem to work well together, so why bust up a good thing?

    There are NO guarantees that Nick Johnson is coming back anytime before the end of this season. He probably won't, as he wants a minor league rehab program and the minor league season is almost over. God willing, he comes into Viera in March ready to play, but what if he can't? Dmitri is an insurance policy, besides having the best batting average in the N.L.

    What is not to love? With the new stadium comes improved revenues, so the team can finally afford to pay out some bucks to veterans that fill important roles.

    I don't discount the marketing aspects either. It will be nice for folks to see the 2008 squad with some additional familiar names on the roster.

    By Blogger Joe Riley, at 7/29/2007 7:13 PM  

  • Dmitri's been a nice story this year, but you've got to feel pretty confident about your ability to look into the man's soul to defend the signing on marketing/leadership/intangibles grounds. Maybe he'll stay in this positive personal/emotional place, but it's not a sure thing.

    I hated the signing at first, but I'm resigned. Assuming there is reasonable uncertainty about NJ coming back, the insurance policy aspect of the signing makes sense enough, even though reasonably productive, no D first baseman aren't that hard to find.

    If the left field thing is true, than I just don't know what to think. Left and center are our most obvious spots to add decent FAs with some power, and filling one of those gaps with Young would be damn unimpressive.

    On Sheehan's point whether Bowden can tell the diff between a .330 hitter and a guy having a norm-busting hot streak, it's true that Young is having a career half season, but it's also true that this isn't the deal you'd sign for a player that truly was a .340 hitter. So I don't know that it's fair to just say Bowden has bought high and that's dumb. The issue more is whether there is a place on the team for a guy with Young's skills and what is the opportunity cost of using the $5M for him rather than something else.

    If we sign at least Smoker, and if we get a serious new OF bat into the lineup next year, than I'm all for having Young as NJ insurance/switchhitting pinch hitter/AL DH/leadership guy.

    By Blogger Sam, at 7/29/2007 7:46 PM  

  • I too like the signing. It just makes sense to me right now. He is a recognizable face on a team of mosly no-names-and the club needs that to appeal to the casual Nats fan. As a seamhead you may not like the signing, but this is a case where i believe you have to look beyond the numbers and more towards, as Joe stated, the "intangibles", stuff you can't put a price tag on. But i also think that the Nats are tipping their hand by extending Young when it comes to the actual condition of Nick. As has been noted before, the powers that be must not think he will be back before next season (which of course, he won't), and maybe his injuries (esp. his hip condition) are possibly a hindrance to the long term interest of the ballclub. I can't believe that they're going to make Dmitri play OF-i have to believe that they are penciling him in right now as the starting 1B next season.

    By Anonymous NatsVA, at 7/30/2007 12:09 AM  

  • The Dimitri Young signing is not really a baseball decision as much as it is designed to get season ticket buyers on board for next year. Dimitri is a popular fan favorite, and he still can hit (as of this season, anyway), so why not make the investment to show the fans the club is trying to make it interesting? A FA signing like Andruw Jones or a trade-and-sign for Adam Dunn on top of the Dimitri signing would produce a crowd-pleasing season in 2008.

    As a baseball decision, the better path is to sign draftees McGeary and Smoker, trade Belliard and Dimitri for younger players, sign some international players, and otherwise stay on track. Maybe the Nats can still do most of that.

    By Anonymous Ed, at 7/30/2007 9:47 AM  

  • Can we PLEASE be done with the Dmitri Young as fan favorite thing?

    sure, plenty of people like him and root for him, but NOBODY is going to the park to see Dmitri.

    People DID go to the park to see Soriano, but they're not going for Dmitri.

    The lesson of the offseason was that it doesn't matter how terrible THIS season was because the people will come out next year to see the shiny new park.

    We're at about the minimum number of fans this team can have. The people going are the diehards. They're not going to up and quit if their favorite player isn't re-signed. We're the suckers who are going to go next year, even if they trot the same crappy team out there next year.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 7/30/2007 9:52 AM  

  • Now playing first base for YOUR Washington Nationals, number 77, Tony Ba-tis-ta!!!!

    Would the minimum number of fans, the very rock bottom anyone thought possible, still show up? Would those rock bottom fans buy season tickets?

    By Anonymous Ed, at 7/30/2007 9:58 AM  

  • The minimum number of fans bought season tickets THIS year knowing the team hadn't spent any money, and knowing that they were playing in a crappy stadium.

    New stadiums ALWAYS draw more fans. Even the Pirates had a good attendance season their first year. (It's that second year that's typically problematic)

    There isn't anybody who's going to base their decision to not renew their season tickets on whether Dmitri Young was re-signed (save for Dmitri's family!). Especially if that money was put to a position where they had need.

    Like I said... the deal is a fair one for Dmitri IF THEY NEED a first baseman. That's the key. If they know something more about NJ than they're letting on it makes sense.

    But a part-time 1B/pher should NOT be paid $5 million, especially on a team with so many holes.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 7/30/2007 10:21 AM  

  • While I wouldn't have signed Young to the deal (I think they would have been much better off trading him for the best offer they got - same goes with Belliard), in the big scheme of things it's not really a big deal. The type of prospects they would have gotten for Young and Belliard wouldn't have been sure-thing stars, and might not have panned out - they might have, which is why I would have taken a chance and done a deal, but there's also a good chance that they wouldn't have amounted to anything.

    If the Nats are planning on building the 2008 and 2009 teams around "key" players like Young and Belliard, it's pretty clear that they do not expect to seriously contend any time soon. So they signed a couple of placeholders to stand around on the field and help the team avoid 100 losses while they wait for the farm to rebuild. If I were calling the shots I would have giving that playing time to younger fringe players with some potential upside, but if the Nats want to have mediocre veterans around, no big deal. It's not going to make much of a difference in either case.

    A side effect of the Young and Belliard deals is that the Nats have probably now spent about half of their discretionary payroll increase for 2008 (after taking into account guaranteed salary increases due to signed contracts and likely arbitration increases), so there won't be any big name free agents signed by the Nats - looks like another year of scrounging at the bottom of the barrel, or maybe making a splashy signing of a mid-tier player or to. But the top tier guys are out of the Nats price range.

    Sheehan exaggerated when he said this dooms the nats to a decade of mediocrity. But for the next 2 or 3 years? Yeah, these signings do help assure that the Nats won't be very good. They also help assure that the Nats won't be 100-loss bad, but they're also not going to be 80-win good either.

    Scot.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/30/2007 10:42 AM  

  • You know I was wondering about that too Scot, if these signings in effect turn out to be the payroll splurge given the spin that Young is going to possibly play LF. There isn’t any need to pursue one now if that’s the case and the FA CFers are going to be way out of reach financially. So a trade would be required to get one. Couple that with the starting pitching will all be, or at least should be in my view, from within the system, and there may not be a whole lot more that’s going to happen. I guess we’ll see how that plays out.

    The whole Young is a fan favorite and should be kept dredges up all those wonderful arguments about how Soriano was a totally meaningless zero as a fan draw but now Young has the turnstyles spinning.

    By Anonymous Tulsa Fan, at 7/30/2007 11:40 AM  

  • Just to be clear, I think the Young signing was a bad baseball decision, and that's all I care about.

    I can see it as a business decison (which I don't care about). If I am the owner, I will want to protect my $500 million investment going into the new season. As an owner, I would see the fragility of baseball in DC. I would not want to turn off the few loyal fans we have. I will want to sell as many season tix to new suckers as possible. The rock bottom level of suckers for 2008 does fluctuate some (otherwise why even bother to market the team?), and baseball is not as yet sufficiently established here.

    So I sign Young to keep from throwing Fick and Batista out there at first, which would be suicide--daily advertising that the team is not worth watching at all.

    From a baseball standpoint, it hurts and I don't like it. Sign the draftees (above slot if you have to), trade the vets for guys who at least have a little chance (Chico and Martis were good pickups last year), make a FA splash or two for the new ballpark (a CF would be nice), and otherwise build.

    By Anonymous Ed, at 7/30/2007 12:35 PM  

  • >> These guys seem to work well together, so why bust up a good thing? <<

    Because "these guys" are on pace to win no more than 70 games.

    That's the problem with losing organizations. You rationalize holding onto guys who are not part of the future -- and at a salary that no other club would pay -- and end up running in place record-wise.

    Unfortunately, the Nats are neither "building up" (except at the minor-league pitching level) or "tearing down."

    Me, I say tear it down and go with, um, The Plan.

    By Anonymous Jim, at 7/30/2007 9:31 PM  

  • By Blogger wwwwww, at 10/22/2009 10:55 PM  

  • By Blogger wwwwww, at 10/22/2009 10:55 PM  

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