MLB front office ratings, by the community
By Jeff Sullivan
There is no good known method for rating all the front offices. Every team has a front office, consisting of a general manager and a bunch of other guys, and fans talk about those front offices, but critical evaluation is hard. One could, I suppose, just think about wins and losses, but that seems an over-simplification. So this is the second part of a project, a project that depended upon your participation. Just the other day, I posted polls for every team in baseball, and I asked for front-office ratings. It’s crowdsourced evaluation, and while there’s a difference between crowd evaluation and the actual truth, I’m no less interested in perception of the front offices. Presented below is how people think. Who isn’t interested in how people think?
How good is a front office? It’s a very simple question, that’s also an extremely complicated question. I tried to untangle the front office from ownership. I tried to untangle the front office from the player-development people. The question is, basically: if a front office were given average resources, how many championships would it win over a million season repetitions? More than average, fewer than average, or exactly average? That’s not a possible thing to know, but that doesn’t mean the community didn’t have opinions. Some of them were very strong.
An example of one of the polls:
For the sake of analysis, I gave each rating a number score, from 1 to 5, with 5 corresponding to “very good.” That made it possible to do some simple math, and in this plot, average ratings for all 30 front offices:
Pretty obviously, the numbers are rounded — the Cardinals and Cubs are tied at 4.6, but they aren’t actually tied, because the true averages are longer than two digits. The Cardinals’ front office finished first, with the most favorable rating in baseball. The Phillies, meanwhile, somewhat predictably came in last, and by a considerable margin to boot. Most of the talk at the moment is that Ruben Amaro is inevitably going to get fired, and while there’s a multitude of reasons for that, the community doesn’t seem to think the dismissal will leave the Phillies worse off.
I don’t really know how much to say. There’s a lot in here that’s interesting, but much of it you can see on your own. I should also point out that different people were voting in each different poll, so it’s not like the numbers were generated by the exact same pool of people. Maybe Cardinals fans are just particularly happy. Maybe Rockies fans aren’t. Maybe for reasons beyond just on-field performance. It’s a factor that shouldn’t be outright ignored.
Some of the ratings — many of the ratings — are anything but surprising. Of course people have a high opinion of the Cardinals’ front office; it seems like, almost, a model organization. Of course people like the Cubs. People have quickly come around on the Astros, and they’re right there with the Pirates, and of course there’s plenty of support for Billy Beane. The Giants and Nationals have sneaked in toward the front — the Giants just don’t stop winning championships, and the Nationals aren’t perceived to be just a Scott Boras plaything.
At the lower end, Amaro gets made fun of all the time, and the Phillies are a wreck. Say what you will about some of Amaro’s more recent moves, but he’s also a big reason why the Phillies are in this situation in the first place. The Diamondbacks’ front office is new, but there are warning signs bigger than the freeway they’re viewed from. The Rockies and Marlins are being punished in part, I think, because of ownership, although those ownership situations are almost impossible to isolate. Naturally, the Mariners look bad, several years after Jack Zduriencik looked like a savior. I don’t have to address every single team.
Both the mean and the median are north of 3. Overall, voters think their given front offices are a little better than average. This is consistent with the observed pattern that fans are over-optimistic. Of considerable interest to me: the relatively high rating for Dayton Moore and the Royals’ front office. It wasn’t long ago that the Royals were thought of as something of a laughingstock, but they just made the World Series, and now they’re playing really well again, and people are coming around. Which led me to the following relationship. You know what makes people like their front office? Winning.
That’s a very simple graph, but it shows a pretty damn strong relationship between front-office rating and team winning percentage at the time the polls were posted. Of course, we should expect some relationship — after all, a good front office is more likely to construct a good baseball team. But this is…what’s the word? Suspicious? Evidence of results-based analysis? Not every point is right on the line. The A’s have a low winning percentage, but a high rating. But then, the A’s have a long history of doing pretty well, and this year’s performance hasn’t matched the wins and losses. The Diamondbacks are in the opposite situation, but there’s no track record there, and the community doesn’t love Dave Stewart‘s unorthodox methods.
What’s suggested is that team success or failure will have a very strong influence over fan perception of front-office ability. The front office is in part responsible for those wins and losses, but sometimes there’s just good or bad luck. Sometimes there are outside factors. But, rising tides and all that. Fans want wins. When there are wins, fans are pleased. When there aren’t, they aren’t. It would’ve been quite interesting to see where the Astros would’ve come out a year ago, before they up and started shocking the American League. The front-office personnel was the same. Was the perception?
Here’s a table, and if I’m doing things right, it should be sortable. I’ve had problems with that feature in the past. It’s really quite annoying. Anyhow, the table is self-explanatory.
|Team||Very Bad||Pretty Bad||Average||Pretty Good||Very Good||Votes||Rating|
88% of voters declared the Phillies’ front office to be “very bad.” Next up, the Diamondbacks, at a distant 54%. At the other end, 79% of voters see the Cardinals’ front office as “very good,” and then the Cubs are at 66%. You might notice that, in the Cardinals’ case, there’s a 4% figure for “very bad.” And the Phillies are at 1% “very good.” There’s nothing to be done about poll-trolls. There’s a lot we don’t know, but I think we do know the Cardinals’ front office isn’t very bad, and the Phillies’ front office isn’t very good. So some data points, you just have to ignore.
The Cubs, as it happens, drew the most votes. Meanwhile, the Twins drew the fewest. Neither is much of a shock. The Cubs have a massive internet presence, and their front-office members are known to baseball fans everywhere. The Twins are a loaf of bread. Sometimes you want the bread. Sometimes the bread is stale or moldy. No matter what, you’re not excited by the bread. If I’m surprised here by anything, it’s that the Cubs’ vote total didn’t exceed the Twins’ total by more.
As a last table, let’s look at voting-result standard deviations. For which front offices was there the most agreement? For which was there not?
People were pretty damn sure on the Phillies. There were 1,425 votes for “very bad” or “pretty bad.” There were 41 votes for the other three ratings, and some of those were trolling attempts. Among mediocre teams, there’s not a lot of observed uncertainty for the Reds or Rockies. Among strong teams, there’s agreement for the Cubs and Astros and Pirates.
The Mets are more all over the place. They didn’t get much support for being “very good,” but all the other ratings drew at least 12% of the votes. I think this is understandable; there’s frustration that the team can’t hit and doesn’t spend enough money, but there’s also acknowledgment of the role of injuries, and of the constraints due to ownership. Right behind the Mets are the Red Sox, who’ve had a bipolar on-field product. The front office was the toast of the town prior to last year’s fifth-place finish. This year’s team has also disappointed, though it’s shown recent signs of life. It’s not easy to know what to believe, and the Red Sox also get to operate with resources unmatched by most of the rest of baseball.
Anything else there is to discuss, you can discuss in the comments below. And, thank you all for your participation. I literally couldn’t have done this without you. I mean, I guess I could’ve falsified data, but you’d probably pick up on that. Unless you wouldn’t. Maybe I falsified the data above! Who would know! But, I didn’t. All right, that’s enough of this paragraph. Thanks again.
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