Which Teams Most Need the Next Win?

Not every team approaches the offseason looking to get better in the same way. That much is obvious: budget alone can dictate much of a club’s activity on the free-agent market. A little bit less obvious, though, is how the present quality of a team’s roster can affect the players they pursue. Teams that reside on a certain part of the win curve, for example, need that next win more than teams on other parts. That can inform a team’s decisions in the offseason.

Max Gruber revisited the win curve yesterday by accounting for the uncertainty inherent in projections, and this was what he found for the marginal value of a win with respect to a club’s projected win total.

As you can see, the curve is steepest from around 77 to 84 projected wins. That’s because the odds of reaching the postseason jump at 85 and 86 wins. The Twins (85) and Rockies (87) know all about that from last year.

So which teams need that extra win the most? Let’s highlight the clubs that are currently projected in that range. Look at the teams in red.

Most of the teams located in the middle of this chart are the type you’d expect to attempt to improve their squads with short-term success in mind. The Angels are trying to make the most of their time with Mike Trout; Seattle has a similar arrangement with Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano; and the Rockies and Twins want to capitalize on recent success and improve.

A couple teams here currently find themselves debating their futures. The Pirates held on to Andrew McCutchen for so long they might as well just keep playing for now. Paul Swydan just took a look at the decision the Rays face right now. Texas has money to spend, but they were also bad last year. Maybe this graph makes sense of the Blue Jays’ decision to hold on to Josh Donaldson for another season.

But you might also see a couple definitively rebuilding squads lumped in. Miami is selling, they say. And the A’s? They’re a win away from being Wild Card contenders? Looks like it, once you add the error bars that traditionally sit around a team win projection.

And that means that the A’s care about this year, but in a specific way. In an email, Gruber wrote about the types of players that certain teams need to find:

A team that would project to win between 90 and 95 games hates risk. The added downside of winning a couple fewer games is very painful; the added upside of winning a couple more games isn’t that great.

On the other hand, risk is really beneficial to teams projected to win less than 85 games. The more uncertainty they have in their forecast, the better off they are.

So the A’s are out there looking for the riskiest players they can find. That’s no different than usual.

“That’s how we have to operate,” admitted Billy Beane to me at the 2015 Winter Meetings. He pointed out how they took a chance on Rich Hill — “a guy that was dominant for the last month of the season” — because they had to. “If you’re right, you look smart, and when you’re wrong, you know why. It’s because you jumped on a small sample size.”

That’s why I put Zack Cozart at the top of a free-agent list curated for the Athletics. As Dave Cameron pointed out, he had (overly?) good luck on his batted balls last season. As Jeff Zimmerman pointed out, Cozart is likely to regress when it comes to plate discipline, which makes him risky.

That’s also why Oakland will be on guys like Anthony Swarzak and Mike Minor, guys that have just recently turned their careers around and come with a fair amount of risk. Signing those guys has the potential to vault the Athletics into the Wild Card race. If it doesn’t work out, they’ll know why.

The Astros, Dodgers, and Indians, though? They just want a player with a high floor. Maybe a Jarrod Dyson or a Joe Smith type. You know, someone who’ll be useful even if he plays closer to his floor than his ceiling.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Sonny Lmember
4 years ago

Awesome! Love these looks into FO decision making.

With Rich Hill the downside for the A’s was exactly $6M, and I doubt anyone would have remembered a year later if Hill fizzled.