“Less” — the comparative effectiveness of the franchise’s free agent spending under his reign.
“Most” — the production contributed by cost controlled players while he’s been in charge.
Ned Colletti has been the GM for one of the most successful runs in Los Angeles Dodgers history, compiling at 511-460 record since the 2006 season, good for third in the National League, behind only the Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals. The success has led many fans and writers to excuse away any deficiencies he may have, because the results have been solid.
Despite the results though, his work is not well regarded by bloggers. The general belief is that the main cog behind the franchise’s success was actually the perfect storm of cost controlled talent rising from the minor league system around the same time. Most of that talent was brought in and nurtured by Logan White and Kim Ng, who were hired by a previous GM, Dan Evans. Meanwhile, Colletti is thought to have squandered the tremendous window of opportunity provided to him on free agent signings like Juan Pierre, Jason Schmidt, and Andruw Jones. Perhaps most importantly, the further away Colletti gets from the influence of the previous regimes, the worse the roster seems to get.
I bring up these divergent narratives because The Hardball Times recently put out a great study on an objective way to measure front office performance, and the results appear to explain both lines of thinking.
So what was studied and what do I mean by “Less” and “Most”?
There are really two different sources of per-dollar efficiency when we look at marginal payroll per marginal win:
(1) How well a team gets production from players not yet eligible for free agency
(2) How efficiently a team spends on free agents
So, for the following analysis, I will use two classifications of players that are particularly important.
(1) NM = Non-Market Players, who are either bound to their team by the reserve clause or eligible for arbitration
(2) AM = Auction-Market Players, who are eligible for free agency or are at least eligible for auction by being professional amateurs from countries like Japan and Cuba.
So what we’re really looking at to evaluate the performance of front offices is marginal payroll per marginal win, or how efficient a front office is at developing and signing talent.
“Most”, in the case of the Dodgers, is represented by the production of their cost controlled players, who are developed from within. The Dodgers rank an amazing 1st in the MLB in this category, explaining both the position of bloggers and the perception that the team has developed a wealth of homegrown talent.
On the other hand, the Dodgers’ payroll averaged $110 million over the last five seasons, but they might have been just as good if they had just retained their own draftees and amateur signings. The only cost would have been about $30 million in arbitration and league minimum salaries, and they would have been about as good as they were spending $110 million.
Of course, that’s not completely true, as there are roster flexibility issues to account for, but it goes to show just how much homegrown talent Colletti has been afforded under his reign.
The “Less”, in that case, becomes the way the Dodgers have spent on free agents, who are purchased from outside the organization. In that category, the Dodgers ranked 19th in the MLB, spending about $6.3 million per win. It’s an inefficient way to do business, but with enough payroll flexibility, he was able to throw around enough money to get production out of them. This helped set up the successful run of results for Colletti, explaining the position of many fans and writers.
Overall, the study basically showed that Colletti had been given the most productive farm system in baseball from 2007-2011 and still somehow managed to end up with a progressively worse roster as the years went by. The main culprit was spending around $6.5 million per win in free agency, or about $2.0 million more per win than league average.
It’s an indictment of your talent as a decision maker when there are tens of millions to spend with the purpose of improving on what you’ve already been given, yet you’re barely able to claw back and achieve the results of what you already had to begin with.
In the end, the Dodgers ranked 21st in marginal payroll per marginal win from 2007 to 2011.
If new President Stan Kasten has faith that he can work with Ned Colletti and provide him with the tools to improve as a GM going forward, then I’m willing to put my faith in Kasten’s track record and start over with Colletti. However, given the fact that the Dodgers job has to be one of the most currently appealing GM positions in the majors, the far preferable solution would be to replace Colletti with one of the game’s many bright young minds in either scouting or analytics.