"It's not my money": a common refrain among baseball fans during hot stove season when justifying why their team should do whatever it takes to sign Player X or make Upgrade Y, regardless of the consequences on the income statement. The reality, of course, is that as long as MLB teams remain profit oriented businesses and not charities, budget constraints must be accounted for (and hasn't that been fun the last couple of winters). Likewise then, fans must care about how wisely and efficiently their team is spending limited resources to see their team succeed as much as possible.
The last week has seen the Dan Duquette replacing Paul Beeston rumours re-ignite, intertwined with reports of potential palace intrigue at Rogers, questions of whether it's fair to Beeston, and what inserting a baseball guy as his direct superior could mean for the future of current Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos. After all, 2015 will be his sixt season in charge, without having produced a playoff team or late season legitimate contender. His predecessors J.P. Ricciardi and Gord Ash lasted eight and seven seasons respectively with a similar record or futility, so by standard the clock would definitely seem to be ticking toward midnight.
Obviously, playoff appearances is not the only way to measure a GM, and for all we know the powers that be at Rogers (whomever they may ultimately be) may be sufficiently pleased with his tenure. Attendance is up, TV ratings are up, the major league roster has more talent than when he took over, as does the farm, and the Jays don't have any albatross contracts on the books. To at least some degree, all of these speak well of Anthopoulos's tenure.
Right before 2014 started, I wanted to get an idea of how well the Jays projected to have allocated their budget dollars. I took the projected team wins (82) from FanGraphs (via their depth charts), and compared that to the opening day payroll from Cot's Contracts ($137-million). In both cases, measured relative to replacement level, roughly 48 wins and $20-million payroll for a replacement team, so we subtract those numbers to get WAR and PAR. There's multiple ways to interpret the data, but the regardless of method the Jays ranked near the bottom of the league, between fifth and seventh worst. And at the end of the season, with 83 actual wins, the Jays were had the ninth worst ratio. This doesn't speak so well of Anthopoulos.
Going back to the beginning of the piece, for me a significant part of measuring a manager's performance is how good (s)he is at turning inputs into outputs, in this case, that's turning dollars into wins. So let's take a look at how the current front office measures up:
The blue line if the cost per win (both above replacement) for 2010-14. The red line is the MLB average. In 2010, the Jays overachieved expectations and won 85 games with a payroll of about $84-million. That worked out to $1.8-million per win compared to league average around $2.4-million, so the payroll was well spent. In 2011, payroll went down a little bit, as did the wins, and the status quo was mostly maintained.
2012 didn't go so well. Payroll increased to above the 2010 total, but the win total collapsed in the second half, which sent the ratio above league average. And then of course 2013 happened, with payroll way up and just a single solitary win. In 2014, the ratio finally corrected a little bit, though as discussed above was still quite inefficient.
To make the trend a little more stark, suppose Alex Anthopoulos's five years were divided into halves, 405 games each. In the first half, the Jays spent about $191-million to win to win 203 games, which works out to $1.9-million per win above replacement ($162/83). In the second half, they've spent $298-million to win 194 games, or $3.6-million/WAR ($264/74). I'll grant this is somewhat cherry-picked, since it divides 2012 into the decent first half and horrible second half, but bottom line is they've added a lot of payroll while actually going backwards in the win column even taking out 2012.
In fairness, this is not by any means a perfect measure, as a new GM does not start with a clean slate. In the first few years specially, the GM will have a roster they didn't construct and payroll obligations to which they didn't commit. Which makes that stark contrast above perhaps even less palatable: the more the roster and payroll have reflected Anthopoulos's decisions, the worse the efficiency has been.
What about 2015? FanGraphs is current projecting 37.6 WAR, and I estimate a payroll of about $130-million ($116-million above replacement), which would work out to about $3.1-million per WAR. As the league number will bump up with salary inflation, this would put the Jays right around league average. Certainly much better than 2012-14, but with the payroll seemingly dropping, not necessarily enough to get to the playoffs. In the end, it may well be that poor spending begat a falling payroll that more efficient spending cannot offset enough to make headway towards the playoffs.