Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lessons not learned from Moneyball – the 2011 Boston Red Sox

There is a scene at the end Moneyball where actor Arliss Howard, playing the role of Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, and Brad Pitt playing Billy Beane are sitting in an empty Fenway Park. The scene featured Henry pitching Beane about joining the Red Sox. Henry was offering his feelings on what having money was all about. The gist of what Henry tells Beane is “having money allows you to do what you want even if it makes sense to no one else.”

The New York Yankees and Beane’s Oakland A’s both won 103 games during the 2002 regular season and captured their respective division titles. Meanwhile Henry’s Red Sox won 93 games and missed the playoffs.

Beane is reminded by Henry it cost the Yankees $1.308 million per win (based on the Yankees $133,429,757 payroll), while Beane’s A’s cost per win was $441,000 (based on the A’s team payroll of $41,942,665). Henry paid $1.18 million per Red Sox win (based on the Red Sox 2002 team payroll of $110,429,535).

Nine years later Henry’s Red Sox disastrous 2011 season came to an end Wednesday night. The Red Sox, sporting baseball’s fourth highest payroll paid $1.73 million per win, the second highest total of the 30 MLB franchises.

The Tampa Bay Rays, with baseball’s second lowest payroll clinched an improbable playoff birth Wednesday night overtaking the Red Sox, had a cost per win ratio of $406,000. The Rays are a shining example Billy Beane baseball and the so-called Moneyball impact.

All one needs to do is look at the Red Sox 2011 player payroll to begin to access the blame as to which players failed to deliver for the organization:

RK PLAYER Salary (US$)
1 Josh Beckett
2 John Lackey
3 Carl Crawford
4 J.D. Drew
5 David Ortiz
6 Kevin Youkilis
7 Jonathan Papelbon
8 Adrian Gonzalez
9 Dustin Pedroia
Jon Lester
11 Marco Scutaro
12 Conor Jackson
13 Dan Wheeler
14 Jacoby Ellsbury
15 Tim Wakefield
Jason Varitek
Trever Miller
18 Erik Bedard
19 Matt Albers
20 Jarrod Saltalamacchia
21 Mike Aviles
22 Daniel Bard
23 Darnell McDonald
24 Jed Lowrie
25 Franklin Morales
26 Felix Doubront

Leading the way for the Red Sox was John Lackey. On December 16, 2009, John Lackey signed a five-year $82.5 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. Lackey was a loser both on and off the field in 2011, finishing the season with a 12-12 record but the dubious distinction of the highest ERA in Red Sox history for a pitcher with 150 innings pitched in a season.

There are three years left on Lackey’s contact and given his soiled reputation there won’t be much interest in his services from the 28 other teams.

A close second was newly signed Carl Crawford and his seven year and $142 million deal. Crawford’s season was a colossal disappointment and the once-great left fielder hit .255 and stole 18 bases, his fewest since his rookie season. Crawford failed to catch the pivotal line drive hit by the Orioles’ Robert Andino Wednesday night. Great fielders make clutch plays, Crawford failed to deliver time and time again throughout the 2012 season.

J.D. Drew and his $14 million annual salary has, in all likelihood, played his last game for the Red Sox. Drew hit .222, played in parts of 81 games and had 222 at bats.

Kevin Youkilis made $12 million this year. Dubbed the “Greek God of Walks” Youkilis played through pain all year and ultimately ended the season on the disabled list. He hit .258 but will be back playing third base for the Red Sox in 2012.
Coming into Wednesday night’s 162 game of the season, the Red Sox were 77-0 when leading after eight innings. Lights out closer Jonathan Papelbon blew the save and the Red Sox lost their first game of the season when leading after eight.

The greatest reliever in Red Sox history saved 31 games, but blew two saves against the Orioles, the worst team in the American League, in a one week span. If Papelbon had saved both games, the Red Sox would have made the playoffs. He made $12 million and is the team’s most high profile free agent this year.

John Lackey, Carl Crawford and J.D. Drew were collectively paid $34 million. The Rays entire payroll was just north of $40 million.

Jacoby Ellsbury made $2.4 million and was the best player on the Red Sox and arguably the Most Valuable Player in the American League. Daniel Bard earned $505,000 and was proved to be one of the most effective set up men in baseball. Jarrod Saltalamacchia was paid $750,000 and has a very respectable season.

In the days and weeks ahead Red Sox Nation is going to play the 2011 blame game. In his eight seasons as manager Terry Francona accomplished what no other Red Sox manager had done in 86 years, he won a World Series in 2004. He won again in 2007.
The club holds options on Francona for 2012 ($4.25 million) and 2013 ($4.5 million). Each option comes with a $750,000 buyout.

There’s an old saying that baseball managers are hired to be fired. Did Francona lose the Red Sox clubhouse? Were the Red Sox not prepared?

If Red Sox owner John Henry is going to make a change at the helm then this may be the time. It could be Francona, but it could also be General Manager Theo Epstein who accepted the job after Beane turned it down nine years ago.

If John Henry calls Billy Beane this time he may be much more serious then he was after the 2002 season. Memo to Billy Beane – take the call.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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