The Great #6org Discussion – Part 2

There’s no way I can answer all of the questions in the previous thread, but I’ll do my best to pick ones that seem to represent the population, and so hopefully no one feels left out. Without further ado:

Do you stand by your pre-season ranking? I.e. would you put them #6 again given the same information? Somewhere else?

For most people, I assume this is the big question. Honestly, though, the answer is complicated. Yes, I stand by the ranking, but no, I probably wouldn’t put them #6 if I had to do it over again. That’s confusing, I know, so let me try to explain.

I’m of the opinion that we should see everything in shades of probability. Since we don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t find a lot of value in predictions. They are, for all intents and purposes, just guesses, some more informed than others. For instance, in my pre-season just for fun predictions post, I named Josh Hamilton as my AL MVP. I thought he was in store for a pretty good year. I had no idea he was going to go nuts like he has, of course, and I don’t think he’s proven that I had some special insight into how his season was going to go.

So, when people point to the Mariners record and how 2010 has turned out, I don’t look at it as proof that this result was inevitable. It was one of many possible outcomes, and one I tried to make clear was possible ahead of time. In the initial post, I talked about how I expected the team to either boom or bust, noting that the risks they had taken would either pay off and result in contention or flop and lead to a mid-summer sell-off. We saw the latter, obviously.

I do not believe that what we have seen invalidates the possibility of what we have not seen, however. I just don’t buy into the philosophy of the results of one season proving correct or incorrect a particular point of view. I believe that most of what I wrote about the team heading into the season was valid and logically sound. I stand by that logic. But, of course, with new information, we have to look back and determine whether or not our expectations were faulty, and there are a few areas where I would say I overestimated the organization.

Do you think you overvalued front office personnel, as opposed to player assets? (MLB and MiLB)

This is, I believe, where the largest disconnect in opinions comes from. I do believe that I value the non-player aspects of an organization more than most, or at least, that’s my perception based on the responses I’ve seen. In my opinion, the most important aspect of an organization’s future health is their continued access to capital and their ability to spend resources wisely. A large payroll team that knows what they are doing is, in many cases, in a better long term position than a team with better players in the organization that is either poorly capitalized or poorly managed.

It appears to me that most people think that I vastly overestimated the talent that the Mariners put on the field this year. I don’t think I did, to be honest. My best guess at the beginning of the season was that they would win 83 games and not make the playoffs, and we talked a lot about how they were counting on a lot of high variance players to perform well. None of them did, and the season has obviously not gone well, but I didn’t expect this team to win the division this year, and I went into the season knowing that a last place finish was entirely possible.

It seems that the consensus is that a team that I saw as .500ish in 2010 should not have ranked so highly, since their talent base is not as impressive as several teams ranked behind them. However, I see players as very fickle assets. You can easily have a franchise player like Grady Sizemore or Jose Reyes quickly lose almost all of their value, and I do not believe that an organization’s overall health should depend on the performance of a small handful of players.

A good team with a lot of resources can adapt to what the unpredictable future brings. We don’t know how players are going to do going forward, which ones are going to stay healthy, or who will follow a non-traditional career arc and play in a manner that is totally unexpected. We can make some educated guesses, especially for the upcoming year, but beyond that, we’re basically throwing dice. However, if you have an organization like the Yankees or Red Sox, who have sustainable resource advantages and know how to use those advantages to full potential, you can project contention further into the future even without knowing what players they’ll have or how the ones they currently have will perform.

Seattle is not a Boston or New York, but they’re a profitable organization that is consistently in the top tier of revenues and payroll, and has a management team in place that knows how to build a winner. Yes, I still believe that. I understand that some people will have skepticism of that belief. That’s fine. I’d argue that this is more of a “reasonable people can disagree” issue than a “oh my god you are a biased moron” issue, though. Yes, the Mariners got a lot of credit in the non-player categories, which pushed them to a level that I understand most of you feel they didn’t deserve. I hope that you can see the consistency of application of the approach throughout the list, however – well run teams with abilities to spend a lot of money ranked really well. My perspective is that the talent currently in an organization is not the primary driver of an organization’s overall health. I know that most people do not see things the same way. I’m okay with that. I just hope they understand where I’m coming from, rather than just assuming that the perspective was born out of a pro-Seattle bias.

Since the rankings basically read like a pre-season guess at who the best teams were this coming year – I acknowledge that wasn’t the intent, but that is how they appear at a glance – that caught attention.

We’ll finish up this post with this question (more answers coming tomorrow, I promise), because I think there’s an important distinction to be made here – the organizational rankings were not at all any kind of attempt at a prediction of the best teams of 2010. Certainly, there’s going to be a strong correlation between those two things for obvious reasons, but that was not the intent.

The organizational rankings are an attempt at a “state of the organization today” kind of analysis. Think of it kind of like the trade value series, only with teams instead of players. We openly admit that we have no idea whether Zack Greinke or Felix Hernandez is going to pitch better over the next three to five years – there are way too many variables in play to make that kind of projection much better than 50/50 either way. The best we can do is take the information we have today and say “if I had to pick one, I’d take this guy”.

The organizational rankings are the same, only with even more expected variance in on field performance because its dealing with significantly more than one player. As several people who hate the whole exercise noted in the comments, there’s no way to know what a team’s roster will look like in several years, or even how good players currently on the team will be. We can make some guesses, but that far out, we’ll be wrong more often than we’re right. I totally agree with the sentiment that projecting a team five years out is folly.

And so I hope that you guys will realize that’s not what we’re trying to do. It’s not a prediction. It’s an “as of today, here’s where they stand” analysis. We try to weigh what factors we can know at the moment and rank things in terms of probability. For all we know, the Astros and Royals may play for the World Series title next year. It’s highly unlikely, which is why those two teams are at the bottom of the list, but it’s possible.

Rather than seeing the list as a prediction of future results, try to see them as a state of the probabilities of success at a given point in time. Even the best organizations are going to be unlikely to win a championship in the next five years. We’re just trying to show which ones may have the best chance at continued success, based on what we can know at the time.

We’re not going to get everything right, clearly. I’d argue that I was more wrong about the Brewers than I was about the Mariners, and I can look back and see some serious issues that I overlooked or underestimated in Milwaukee, but clearly both of those rankings have been called into question, with valid reasoning. But, I think its helpful to at least agree on what the rankings are, and hopefully that can help alleviate some of the questions about why a team that wasn’t projected to be all that great in 2010 ranked so highly to begin with.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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12 years ago

Typical… I don’t put too much weight in predictions, but I will point out that I predicted Josh Hamilton as MVP…

See this is the problem… not that you may have been wrong about a prediction, but the even if I’m wrong, I’m not wrong mentality.

12 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

Case in Point…

The almost universal prediction from the start of the season that the Jays would be the worst team in the AL. Who would have thought that losing Halladay and Rolan would cause the team to be better?

12 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

I’m pretty sure I’d be taking you out of context to think you just said “predictions don’t matter.” Predictions do count. It’s how we know that FIP is a good measure of pitching ability. It’s how we know that linear weights are meaningful: we can test the predictions of FIP and linear weights against actual outcomes and more often than not they are correct (within a certain margin of error.)

Furthermore, it’s not really clear we’re saying very much at all if our statements are compatible with any future outcome whatsoever, or with most of all the possible future outcomes. My biggest worry about organizational rankings is that they’re more bluster, speculation, and close to bullshitting (in the way guys sitting around in a bar are bullshitting), than really meaningful things to say precisely because they seem like they’re intended not to have any empirical refutation. It seems to me like organizational rankings are getting very close to the intangible things David Eckstein brings to the team when we can’t hang our hat on them and say “this is what these organizational ranking predict.”

12 years ago
Reply to  hank

He then goes on to say that he thinks that one (possibly) accurate prediction does not show that he has any special insight into the season anymore than one incorrect prediction would show that he had absolutely no insight into this season.

Travis L
12 years ago
Reply to  hank

Did you finish reading the paragraph? “… and I don’t think he’s proven that I had some special insight into how his season was going to go. “