Evaluate GM Decisions At The Time They Are Made!

You’ve probably read similar articles elsewhere and are sure to read them in the future, but the Boston Globe took a look at Theo’s transactions and marked them as successes or failures. If you’ve been reading this site or ACB before it for any amount of time you know I have serious issues with how people classify transactions in that way. You can’t look at a transaction after the fact and evaluate whether or not it was a good decision. That’s not how it works. No GM knows how a specific player is going to perform in the future. All we have is the basic aging curve and the player’s past statistics to evaluate how he is likely to perform.

Imagine you’re at a bar and after 10 or 12 drinks you get in your car and drive home safely. Was it a good decision to drive drunk because you ended up getting home safely? Of course not, but people who evaluate transactions after the fact are using information that we couldn’t have known. It’s very likely a drunk person will get home without injuring himself or others. It’s more likely than not. However, drinking greatly impairs a person’s ability to operate a vehicle. It significantly increases the chances of an accident resulting in injury or death to yourself and others. Because of that increased risk, we know getting in a car after drinking is a bad idea. Whether or not you safely reached your destiniation is irrelevant information when deciding whether or not a good decision had been made.

That’s what people are doing when they evaluate a contract years after it was signed. The decision was made months or years ago and the decision is either good, decent or bad at that time. The decision does not become good or bad years later.

Let’s say Albert Pujols signs with the Cubs this offseason for 8 years and $24 million. No, I didn’t leave a zero out. $3 million per year for Albert Pujols. That’s what the Cubs sign him for. Let’s also say that he performs like a replacement level player the first few years of the contract and then is well below replacement level after that. He’s suffered a series of injuries sapping his power, pitchers are pitching him more in the zone rather than nibbling and every other stat collapses. If that happened he’s worth $0, but the Cubs have paid $24 million more than that. It would appear to be a bad deal if we were judging it based on information we didn’t have at the time we made the decision. I don’t even think the dumbest man alive would claim that contract was bad regardless of how it ended up. We would know that signing him to that deal is good just as we’d know driving home after 10 or 12 drinks is a bad decision. How come we can’t come to similar conclusions when the quality of the decision is less obvious?

Edgar Renteria‘s 4 year, $40 million contract is thrown in with the busts, but Renteria was worth 9.2 rWAR from 2005 through 2008. The Red Sox traded him a year after signing him, but over those 4 years he was a valuable player. He was probably not worth the contract he signed overall, but we’re looking at this after we already know what happened. The decision was made at the end of the 2004 season. We have to look at it then.

From 2002 through 2004 Renteria was worth 13.2 rWAR. I’m too lazy to do an actual projection, but we can see that the previous 3 years, the most important ones, were pretty good for Renteria. We know he was entering only his age 28 season in 2005 so he wasn’t over the hill yet. He was at the end of his peak and would begin to decline. A reasonable projection probably came it at about 11 WAR. Renteria underperformed his projection, but at the time, the contract was anything but a bust. Perhaps you don’t consider it a good decision, but it absolutely was not a bad one.

The Red Sox signed Matt Clement for 3 years, beginning in 2005, for a total of $24 million. Clement had spent the previous 3 seasons pitching very well for the Cubs. He had been worth almost 10 rWAR. I don’t even need to think this over in my head to know that signing was a good one. It worked out poorly as Clement was injured, but at the time it was a good one.

Listed under “Bad Extensions” is Curt Schilling‘s 1-year, $8 million extension for the 2007 season. He had been worth more than 10 WAR the previous 3 years and they paid him for about 2 wins. He was actually worth 3 rWAR. That was a good decision at the time and turned out to be a very good one.

Theo Epstein is going to make mistakes. Some of his transactions will be good. Some will only be decent. Some will be bad. Nobody is perfect. Even if you evaluate the decision in a correct manner you will find bad decisions. Carl Crawford, though some people disagree, was a very poor decision in my opinion. Berselius and I both said the same thing right after it was signed. There’s still plenty of time for Crawford to perform up to expectations, but that doesn’t change whether or not the decision was good.