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Lowell Cohn? Give me Linda instead

Posted By Bill Baer On July 21, 2008 @ 11:52 pm In Media,MLB,Sabermetrics | No Comments

You may recall back in April, Fire Joe Morgan poked fun at Lowell Cohn, who writes for the Press Democrat and blogs with his son. I have to point out that back in April, Cohn wrote, “In our latest offering, we argued who’s a better general manager, Brian Sabean or Billy Beane, and I chose Sabean, although Beane is very good.”

If there was a way to flush credibility down a toilet (I don’t recommend it; it’s a good way to get a clog), this would be it. While the quote seems complimentary of Beane, it’s a back-handed insult because Cohn has been waging an anti-Beane crusade. In that same article from April, Cohn wrote, “Sabean got the Giants to the World Series in 2002, and Beane never got the A’s to the World Series, and never will.”

There are a number of ways to respond to that, but I prefer the delightfully snarky, “Sabean gave Barry Zito a $126 million, seven-year contract, and Beane never did and never will.”

Instead of going through his recent article quote-by-quote, I’ll leave that to the professionals at Fire Joe Morgan because I’m sure they’ve had a thousand people send them this article. Instead, I want to expound on how irrational the criticism of Beane is.

Cohn starts his article off by making Beane-supporters out to be baseball’s version of scientologists, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. With any ideology, you’ll certainly get your fanatics and it’s simply unfair to label an entire group based on the extremists. Beane’s methodologies have been proven to work well and while he has not made the World Series (which is really hard, mind you), the Athletics made the playoffs five times in seven years between 2000-06. Beane has never had a payroll that came close to what the Yankees and Red Sox have and have had.

2000: $32,121,833 (25th in MLB); 91-70, won AL West

2001: $33,810,750 (29th); 102-60, won AL Wild Card

2002: $40,004,167 (28th); 103-59, won AL West

2003: $50,260,834 (23rd); 96-76, won AL West

2004: $59,425,667 (16th); 91-71, missed playoffs

2005: $55,425,762 (22nd); 88-74, missed playoffs

2006: $62,243,079 (21st); 93-69, won AL West

Cohn anticipates this response in his article and doesn’t actually refute it ironically enough, he just sarcastically says he’s going to cry for Beane. But if you understand the economics of baseball — Cohn clearly doesn’t, as he compared Beane’s general management to Communism, which makes 100% no sense — this is how mid- and small-market teams have to operate. They do not have the capabilities to keep all of their good players because of their small budgets. Look at the Marlins: every time they win a World Series, they pawn off their team immediately. They pawned off Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis in the off-season, and every time they have a fire sale, they find themselves in contention very soon, just like Beane’s A’s.

The Athletics scout well (presumably, as I don’t know who their scouts are or how they work; I’m just basing my conclusion on the results) and, expectedly, they draft well, and they get the right players back in trades. He turned Rich Harden into Sean Gallagher and Eric Patterson; Joe Blanton into Adrian Cardenas; Nick Swisher into Gio Gonzalez and Fautino De Los Santos; Dan Haren into Dana Eveland, Greg Smith, Chris Carter, and Carlos Gonzalez; Mark Mulder into Dan Haren; Billy Taylor into Jason Isringhausen; Randy Velarde into Aaron Harang; three prospects into Jermaine Dye; and Billy Koch into Keith Foulke.

There are very few GM’s out there with the track record of success that Beane has on all levels and considering his low payroll, it’s all the more impressive.

Cohn goes on to criticize Beane by saying,

Do you honestly believe Beane will hold onto outfielder Carlos Gonzalez when Gonzalez is 27 and at the top of his game and could demand a $100 million contract? Beane will cry poor and trade Gonzalez to the White Sox for six minor leaguers[...]

This is why Beane is such a good GM. As I understand it, a one win above replacement player costs $3.33 million per win (thanks to MattS from The Good Phight for this information), and for the sake of argument, let’s presume Gonzalez turns into a Nick Markakis clone offensively. Markakis was worth about 8 wins last season and is projected to be worth 9 this season, prorating his current production over a full season. That’s an average of 8.5 wins, which would theoretically cost $28 million per season.

Beane doesn’t have the ability to give a star player anything close to this kind of money, so he sells on his players near or at their peak values and replaces them with players who will come close to, match, or exceed the previous player’s production at the position for much less money (players not yet eligible for arbitration or just entering that phase). There is no valid criticism for this approach: it’s financially savvy and for anyone not in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Detroit or Philadelphia, it’s a near-requirement.

The rest of Cohn’s article is a giant ad hominem complete with hasty generalizations and irrational conclusions. Read at your own risk.


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