Saturday, August 29, 2015

A quick case study in the concentration of wealth

Quick little game.

A quick case study in the concentration of wealth

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The Phillies´ Jonathan Papelbon. (Matt Slocum/AP)
The Phillies' Jonathan Papelbon. (Matt Slocum/AP)

Quick little game.

Who am I?

Player G IP ERA SV BS K/9 BB/9 2013 Salary
Closer A 61 61 2/3 2.92 29 7 8.3 1.6 $13.0 million
Closer B 141 141 2.18 58 11 11.7 2.9 $7.5 million

Closer A should be obvious, because it is the closer you watched in the ninth inning for the Phillies all season (if you need more of a hint, it's Jonathan Papelbon). Closer B shouldn't be obvious, because it is not one closer but two closers, both of whom pitched in Monday night's Rays-Red Sox game. The numbers you see are the combined 2013 totals of Koji Uehara and Fernando Rodney. The last column is the most important one for our purposes, because it highlights a pretty simple truth that the Phillies did not seem to grasp when they signed Jonathan Papelbon to that four-year, $50 million deal prior to 2012: the more resources you devote to one player's production, the fewer you can devote to the rest of the players required to field a championship-caliber team. The Phillies paid $13 million for 61 2/3 relief innings, when the market offered the chance, at least theoretically, to pay $7.5 million for 141 relief innings (and what ended up being better production out of those innings). The comparison isn't perfect. Maybe Fernando Rodney wouldn't have signed for $2.5 million if he didn't have the opportunity to reestablish his value as a closer. But, then, Koji Uehara didn't sign as a closer. Also, Rodney's contract is actually a two-year, $4.25 million deal that he signed prior to 2012, while Uehara signed prior to 2013. But, then, $4.25 million plus the $5 million the Red Sox paid Uehara is still less than the Phillies paid Papelbon for one season. Regardless, the point isn't that the Phillies should have signed Rodney and Uehara. Finding such bargains requires keen pro scouting and a lot of good fortune. The point is that the Phillies have long employed a strategy of concentrating their available resources into a handful of positions rather than spreading the wealth and, in the process, buying more depth and more margin for error (and, on the flip side, more potential for good fortune). 

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