Earlier this very week, I ran a polling project. The question being asked was simple: What do you think of your favorite team’s front office? That is, the front office, independent of ownership. The front office, independent of things the front office doesn’t control. We all have opinions. None of us have actual concrete answers. The question is simple and impossibly complicated. But so many of you voted, and I promised to analyze the results. That’s what we have here — sort of a crowdsourced FanGraphs community front-office power ranking.
There’s no real perfect way to evaluate a front office. Never has been. FanGraphs tried to do it before, by gathering input from a bunch of its own writers, but that was eventually put to a stop, because it was too controversial. We can’t know, we can’t know for sure, but the results here are still significant. What’s truly being measured is how people perceive the various front offices. Wouldn’t you like to know about the perceptions, league-wide? Wonder no more. Here’s what we have, according to, at least, a strongly sabermetric audience.
There was a poll for every team, and each poll asked you to select one of five options. Do you think a given front office is very bad, pretty bad, average, pretty good, or very good? This is the format I use for many of my polling projects, and, as always, for purposes of analysis, I assigned each answer a number score, from 1 to 5, with 1 corresponding to “very bad.” By putting numbers to words, the impossible becomes possible! You can make a mathematical plot!
No need to delay much more. Remember, again, this is just measuring opinions. And there’s also another complicating factor — it’s possible different fan bases assume different standards. “Very good” to a fan of the Yankees might mean something different from what it means to a fan of the, I don’t know, Angels. This only works if we assume that baseball fans across the continent and world share roughly similar definitions. I’m comfortable making that assumption. And so, at last, here are the front-office ratings, according to you. Teams are arranged in descending order of average rating.
There probably aren’t very many surprises in here. How could there be? These results are derived from your own collective input, and is it really possible for you to surprise yourself? According to the community, the best front office is in charge of the Astros, the team that most recently won the World Series. The runner-up front office is in charge of the Dodgers, the team that most recently finished as the…runner-up. The Cubs are up there, and they won in 2016. They’re followed by the Indians, who lost to the Cubs in 2016. Then you get the Yankees, followed by the somewhat more surprising Brewers and Cardinals. Those are the highest-finishing front offices among teams that didn’t just make the playoffs.
At the other end of the spectrum, people just can’t help but pile on the Marlins. The Marlins have done little to help their own case, and right now, as we speak, they’re waiting to find out when they’ll be able to rid themselves of the reigning league MVP. The Marlins are separated from the next-lowest rating by 0.76 points. That same gap is the difference between the Orioles and the Royals. Of all the Marlins votes, 93% were negative. Moving forward from there, you find the Orioles and the Mets. The Rockies and the Red Sox are the lowest-finishing front offices among teams that did just make the playoffs.
Even if you just give that image a glance, you can tell there’s a strong relationship between front-office rating and recent success. Here’s maybe the simplest possible analysis: linking front-office rating and 2017 team winning percentage.
Winning in the most recent season explains more than half of the variance. There’s a stronger relationship here than there is between front-office rating and projected 2018 record. I couldn’t make the relationship meaningfully stronger by including 2016 or 2015. The Rays and White Sox, I should note, finished with the highest ratings for teams that didn’t win even half of their games. But anyway, there is that linear relationship, for the most part. Winning isn’t the only thing, but it’s the biggest thing.
You can look at this in one of two ways. They’re both right! So, actually, you can look at this in two of two ways. Firstly, of course there would be a relationship between success and front-office rating. Front offices are supposed to build winners. Winning teams are more likely to be the result of more good decisions than bad ones. It would look a little strange if this relationship didn’t exist. But, secondly, I assume there’s an element here of results-based analysis. The original question is about evaluating front offices by process. That’s not easy. It’s much easier to evaluate front offices by how things have actually worked out. Winning can justify some bad decisions. Losing can color some good ones. Somewhat related to that, I imagine the Mets front office is being penalized here because too many pitchers have gotten hurt. I imagine the Mariners front office is being penalized here because Chris Taylor just reached his 90th percentile projection. In theory, you’d think that front-office ratings would hold mostly steady, given few changes in personnel. But winning and losing mostly determine direction. That’s the nature of how we perceive our teams.
Fans were most united in voting for the Astros. Of all their votes, 97% were positive. Unsurprisingly, fans were least united in voting for the Braves, and that’s because the Braves’ front office is pretty much brand new. They just got a new GM installed because the old GM was banned from baseball for life. Alex Anthopoulos does have a track record, but not in Atlanta. Moving past the Braves, fans were least united in voting for the Padres. Of all those votes, 41% were negative, but 28% were positive. Some people love where the Padres are going; other people still hold on to what the Padres tried to be a few years ago. Suffice to say it’s been a roller coaster.
There’s another fun thing to do here. I’ve run this polling project two times. Once this week, and once in July of 2015. Back then, the average front-office rating was 3.17, with a median of 3.26. This time around, the average front-office rating was 3.29, with a median of 3.22. Fans are generally over-positive, since you’d think the average rating would be exactly 3. For more, back in 2015, the standard deviation of all the ratings was 0.97. This time around, the standard deviation was 0.80, which is smaller by 17%. I think this reflects something we’ve understood to be true — front offices are looking more and more alike, so it’s harder to stand out. There are fewer of the obviously backwards executives. For better or for worse, the front-office picture of 2017 is defined by homogeneity, and I don’t see that trend stopping.
On the team level, how have things changed in two and a half years? Here are all the changes in rating.
There are 16 teams that have moved up, and 14 teams that have moved down. Six front offices have rated better by at least a point, while five front offices have moved at least a point in the other direction. The three biggest positive movers — the Diamondbacks, Phillies, and Brewers — have all installed new front offices. Among the negative movers, the Orioles haven’t changed much. They’re steadfastly refusing to rebuild. The Braves score a lot worse, compared to when people were most buying into the rebuild process. Fans of the A’s and Pirates have grown frustrated by stagnation, and then, with the Giants, the aura of winning has further worn off. I probably don’t need to explain this to you any more than I already have.
Thank you, everyone, for voting. In this project, and in all the projects. I love running polling projects, and they’d go nowhere without you. Until the next time.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.