The Mets starting lineup (including our starting pitcher) on August 11th was very close to the worst possible starting lineup a professional team could field given the assumption of good faith, in that a clone of every starter in the game could have been acquired off the waver wire during the past week and a half; (indeed, our starting pitcher for that game was subsequently released). A fair question to ask then is, yes, the Mets have been ravaged by injuries. But they also field a payroll of about $130M (the $140 mark is misleading, since it accounts Sheffield's salary as being liable to the Mets). Even with these injuries, should this team be this bad?
From an analytical perspective, I would think that answering this question would involve two steps:
1st. Findo out how much in player WAR have the Mets lost to injury, and how much salary have they lost to injury.
2nd. After injuries are taken into account, examine how their leftover salary compare to the leftover WAR. All in all, what does this say about management?
The injuries endured by the Mets fall into two categories: those that concern us as humanitarians: (Alex Cora, Angel Pagan, Ramon Martinez, the Home-Run Apple) and those of baseball importance. The second category can be divided into three subcategories: those that are primarily germane to the Mets' long-term organizational health (Fernando Martinez), those that weakened the Mets at particular positions (Maine, Nieve, Niese, Putz, Church, and Schneider) and, of course, the Chuck-Norris roundhouse kicks to the groin that ripped the season a new one on the other side (Reyes, Beltran, Delgado). The 4 biggest injuries (including Maine's) have cost the Mets 12.6 wins (attributing to injuries the total differential in WAR from 2008 to 2009, which is a stretch for Delgado but remains somewhat plausible). The effects of the rest of the injuries are far more difficult to quantify. Schneider's drop in WAR cannot be plausibly attributed to injury, since Jerry Manuel's man-crush on Omir Santos plays a major role; and though it would have been nice if Niese and Nieve had held up long enough to spare Metsland a few more Livan starts, there isn't enough data to draw even the most cursory inference. (That Livan was allowed to be so prolifically bad for so long is almost totally the responsibility of management regardless, as is the lobotomy party that was the Perez contract, which is why Perez' post-lobotomy fatigue goes unmentioned here.)
So assuming all else to be equal besides the injuries, the Mets should be expected to win 76 games, which is exactly what they're on pace for. End of story then, right? Not exactly. First of all, the Mets are on the hook for over $90 million for those 76 wins, which in terms of marginal payroll efficiency means that the Mets this year have paid over $75 million for the 28 wins that would have been beyond the reach of a replacement-level team. (It is really even worse than these numbers suggest, since the Mets also have to be held accountable for the portion of their injured stars' salaries that was actually utilized.) This leads to the question: where has that money gone? Secondly, the 2009 Mets are not the 2008 Mets with injuries. They are different on several fronts, leading one to ask what the effect of these changes was.
Investigating one sector at a time:
The Bullpen: +2.3 WAR (from '08 to '09) / $29.37 MM / + $8 Million (from '08 to '09)
The Met bullpen was historically inefficient as bullpens go in 2008, posting a return of -0.2 wins on a $20 million investment. In 2009, the Mets are at least on pace to generate a positive return of 2 wins for an additional $8 million. (For the curious among us, about half of the differential comes purely from not having the option of inserting Scott Schoenweiss or Aaron Heilman into the late innings of a major league game. One and a half wins come from the rebound seasons of Pedro Feliciano and Bobby Parnell. About half a win comes from the likes of Elmer Dessens not being as far south of replacement level as a Jorge Sosa, and the balance comes from Frankie Rodriguez being one win worse than Billy Wagner. Frankie has been worth all of .3 WAR this season--good for a value of $1.3 million--while J.J. Putz's contribution has been negligible. The Mets shelled out $37 million (plus an absurd option for 2012), and a boatload of prospects in addition to Endy Chavez for these respective "commodities".
Wright, Santana, and Castillo, -3 WAR (generously) / $34.5 MM / + 10 Million
The Mets have (thus far) lost 4 wins from David Wright's stink-bomb (by his standards) of a season and Santana has skimmed 1.8 from his total last year. Assuming that Dub and Santana play out the year up to their standards, it is highly unlikely that they will come to within 4 wins of last year's production collectively. Luis Castillo has improved from last year's debacle by about a full win. These three collectively will--optimistically--produce 3 wins less than last year for $10 million more--going by the $13.5 million figure for Santana's salary in 2008.
The Mets' Outfielders and Daniel Murphy: - 4(!) WAR, / $5.31 MM / - $7.4 Million
Not supported by miracle seasons from Daniel Murphy and Fernando Tatis, and without the steady defensive presence of Endy Chavez, the Mets outfield productivity has dropped by an astonishing 4 wins. (To Omar's credit, he is only paying this year's contingent about $5 million compared to last year's $12 million, attributable to his shrewd and crafty decision not to resign Moises Alou.) Aside from Beltran, the Mets have fielded a replacement-level outfield. (I'm not even counting Nick Evans' bizarre output of -0.5 WAR in 47 PAs, which simply has to be a simple fluke in the WAR system. Nick might not be our 1B of the future, but he's not five full wins below replacement over a full season.) This number would be even worse if not for Angel Pagan's surprisingly adequate performance in center. (He's on pace for 3 wins over a full season.)
Ollie...-1.7 WAR / $12 MM / + $5.5 Million
Raise your hand if you saw this one coming. Pelf has been pretty much the same this year as last, except this year he's doing it without unsustainable strand rates, a better K rate, and without throwing one pitch 80+% of the time. Sam Page said it, as do I. Pelf is showing promising signs.
#5 Starters: + 0.3 WAR / $3.30 MM / -$8.2 Million
Sucking is cheaper without the greatest pitcher of our generation. Our replacement pitchers have actually been slightly better than one would expect, on pace to be about .8 wins above replacement level.
Catcher: -1.3 WAR / $7.5 MM / Negligible Payroll Difference
Schneider by himself accounts for the full 1.3 WAR drop from last year. It is likely that both gaps will narrow to the point where by year's end, Jerry Manuel will only have cost us one full win by overplaying Omir Santos.
Totals: -7.4 WAR / ~ $130 MM / Negligible Payroll Difference
All told, the Mets have lost 12.6 wins and approximately $ 30 million to injury. They have also lost 7.4 wins for reasons having nothing to do with injury between 2008 and 2009 and paid approximately $90 million for an expected victory total of somewhere between 69 and 77 wins. How has this money been so badly mismanaged? There are a number of primary culprits. But in my estimation, there is one dominant factor that explains Omar Minaya's wasteful management.
He gets bad players and overpays them.
There is more to this theory than you might think. Consider Oliver Perez, Alex Cora, Luis Castillo, Tim Redding, Brian Schneider, Jeff Francouer, and Scott Schoenweiss. These players are, collectively, about $33 million of suck. This might not be so bad if a couple of them were at all valuable or if a couple came real cheap. But in actuality, they all suck really hard and they are all wildly overpayed. These are incomprehensible wastes of money and roster space that burn payroll and take up spots that could either go to good players who cost money or crappy players who are at least inexpensive.
There is one other element to Omar's absurd inefficiency that should not go unmentioned.
He overvalues relievers, especially closers, drastically.
$25+ million in 2009 are going to three closers, who have produced .3 wins between them. No sooner have the Mets dug themselves from the Billy Wagner hole than Omar digs them into a new one with Francisco Rodriguez. The Mets will be on the hook for $11 million until 2011 and are at high risk of burning $17.5 on him in 2012 with an automatic vesting option.
Take away the pure suck blockages and the money burnt on relievers and the Mets payroll trims down to a reasonable $72-or-so million dollars. From those $72 million, remove the $30 million currently rehabbing and the Mets are sitting pretty at $42 million dollars for a 74-ish win team, which amounts to $28 million for about 25 marginal wins. Take into account how top-heavy the Mets are, that their injuries happen to befall their most valuable players, and that Johan Santana and David Wright combined make almost exactly $28 million, and this is a perfectly reasonable place to be for the 2009 New York Mets. Instead, the Mets are a laughingstock, with $90+ million of uninjured payroll fielding a near-replacement team.
What Omar lacks (and this has been pointed out before) is the ability to translate a perception of on-field value to monetary value, as well as the ability to gauge his options with regard to their contributions on a per-dollar basis. He is completely incapable of doing this. His mind operates in the following manner: "K-Rod good closer...good relievers are important...offer 3 years and $37 million...dat sounds right!" without taking things into account like: "How important are good closers compared to good relievers in general, and how do these two options compare in terms of efficiency?" That last thought is not one that will ever find its way into Omar's brain.
I don't know why Omar misjudges talent the way he often does, and I don't particularly care to know. My theory is that he thinks he can predict the future when someone kicks him in the nuts, and that's how he makes his decisions. It would explain why Omar was so invested in Tony Bernazard, as Bernazard was probably essential to Omar's player evaluation system, since he would kick Omar in the nuts harder and more reliably than anyone else. Hell, it was probably Tony Bernazard who put the idea in Omar's head in the first place. The point however, is that the debacle of 2009 cannot be excused because of injuries. Injuries happen, and the Mets have not really suffered an abnormally large amount of them. They have simply been unfortunate in that their injuries struck 3 of the 5 most valuable members of a team that only has 6 valuable members. That last number is the real problem.
(Update: A couple of trenchant comments have impelled me to take another angle at the Mets cost effectiveness, this time in accordance to the roster's Tenure Status)
Principle Players Who Have Not Yet Been Eligible for Free Agency:
Utilized Salary: $16.14 Million WAR: 8.2 (Wright/Reyes/Pelfrey/Feliciano/Parnell/Maine)
(All players developed by the Mets or acquired before reaching arbitration eligibility)
Principle Players Acquired as Free Agents or In the Course of A Contract Negotiated as a Free Agent:
Utilized Salary: $67.9 Million(!) WAR: 7.6 (Beltran/Delgado/F. Rodriguez/Santana/Wagner/Castillo/Perez/Castro)
(No player developed by the Mets)
Complimentary Players Not Yet Eligible for Free Agency:
Developed By The Mets: (F. Martinez/Murphy/Evans/Santos/A. Hernandez/Niese)
Utilized Salary: $1Million; WAR: .9
Acquired by Trade: Putz/Socks/S. Green/Church/Reed/Schneider/Francouer/Nieve/Pagan
Utilized Salary: $9.13 Million; WAR: 1.3
Total: Utilized Salary: $10.13 Million; WAR: 2.2
Complimentary Free Agents:
Utilized Salary: $6.1 Million; WAR: 1.8 (Cora/Sheffield/Tatis/Livan/Redding)
Fossum and Jetsam
"Utilized" Salary: ~$1 Million; WAR: -1.2 (9 Players)
This shows that the Mets have gotten 8.2 wins from their principle home grown players (of which there are only 5, two of which are relievers) in spite of injury, and that these wins have cost $16.14 Million--almost exactly 2 million per marginal win, exactly half of the free agent rate.
At the same time, the Mets' big-ticket Free Agents have produced 7.6 wins at the cost of 67.9 million (again, discounting injury from cost) for a value of $8.93(!) million per marginal win, and over double the cost of wins in a free agent market. Omar's performance on free-agency can with total justification be called disgraceful.
Omar's complimentary free agents have brought the Mets 1.8 wins at the cost of $3.4 million per win.
The Mets' home grown complimentary players are producing little, but at good value, and we should expect Fernando Martinez, Jon Niese, Nick Evans and Daniel Murphy to become more productive and more valuable as time passes. The Mets complimentary players acquired by trade, on the other hand, have brought the Mets only 1,3 wins at the cost of $9.13 Million, a cost-per-win of $7.02 million that is only slightly less embarrassing in per-dollar terms than his big signings.
And finally, the Mets have had 9 players on their roster that qualify as waiver-wire material. Some of these were stop-gaps while the injuries piled up, but 9 roster spots taken by 9 different AAA call-ups?
The second (last?) final verdict:
While it's true that Omar has not been efficient in a value-per-dollar sense in free agency, it has been pointed out that it is nearly impossible for any GM to be efficient in a free agent market. While there is much truth to the notion of the inefficiency of free agency, this in itself does not excuse Omar's profligacy, for a number of reasons.
1st: Unless I am mistaken, the market for free agency stands at about $4.1M per win and is deflating. This means that Minaya is paying twice the market rate for free agent wins, with the market rate defined as the amount (on average) that each free agent dollar yielded in wins throughout MLB. Omars performance is being measured according to the league average and he is thus shown to be falling short of his peers.
2nd. Although Castillo has been productive this year, his contract remains a liability, as are the contracts of Billy Wagner, Scott Schoenweiss, Frankie Rodriguez, Oliver Perez, Tim Redding, and Alex Cora. These contracts are not a part of the natural order of things. They are not the way free-agency works. They are incompetently managed wastes of money and were readily apparent as such from the moment they were offered, and they are a major part of the reason why Omar has been as inefficient as he has been in the free agent market. I can accept paying a premium for one of the top pitchers in all of baseball and the best center-fielder in the game, but if Omar had negotiated free agency like an average GM, we would see the occasional albatross balance out with the bargains and we would be paying perhaps $5-$6 million per free agent win; we would not see money being incessantly thrown away on relievers and crappy pitchers so as to balloon our free-agent value to $8 million per win, especially in the 2008-2009 FA market, when guys like Orlando Hudson, Bobby Abreu, Rafael Furcal, Andy Pettite, and Pat Burrell were signing for peanuts.
3rd. Omar has not neglected his farm as badly as advertised. He has been reluctant to trade the Mets' true blue-chippers and that could pay off as quickly as the second half of 2010, when guys like Niese, F!, Mejia, and Ike Davis start to make their presence felt. When that happens, the Mets will be left with $30 M of bad money with their deals for K-Rod, Slappy, and Ollie. This isn't insurmountable for a big-market team, but what happens when the next Ollie comes along? We are talking about a guy who thinks Jeff Francouer is a valuable player and thinks that closers are A) real and B) worth multi-year 8 figure contracts, and thinks Dan Murphy could be a viable 1st baseman. Omar's problem isn't neglect of the farm. It's translating player value to dollar value and economizing his baseball decisions to get the most bang for the buck. It's attention to detail and covering all bases. Omar is basically Jim Bowden lite.
Omar has had one major uncredited ally in his tenure with the Mets: inflation. In an inflationary environment, a contract to Carlos Beltran that initially seemed exhorbatant now seems like a bargain. However, once MLB hit a deflationary environment, Omar's multi-million dollar gaffes became even more glaring and his victories ever more qualified. Johan Santana, for all the acclaim that trade brought, will not come close to living up to his salary this year, even by free agent standards of compensation. Also, Fangraphs and the stat sites will eventually have to revise free-agent wins downward to match the deflationary environment, making Omar look even worse.
Omar has always been foolish and inefficient with his money. We see it now with everyone tightening their pockets. If Omar is allowed to continue running the Mets as the industry continues to deflate, we will be in for a depressing run of baseball for the foreseeable future.