Learning from the Carlos Silva Saga

I want to start by saying thank you to Wally Fish for giving me the opportunity to write here. I’ve been blogging about the Twins for 2 years now, I co-founded a blog some might be familiar with, TheBatShatters, back in April 2009 with a couple of buddies of mine and it’s been a fun ride. I’m excited for this opportunity because it will allow me to do something I already love doing, for a larger audience, which is great. I love feedback, and I’m also open for suggestions so if you agree with me, disagree, hate, love, whatever, please let me know through the comments section! Enjoy.

The headline of this article might make you think this post has nothing to do with the Twins, other than perhaps the fact that Silva used to be a Twin, but you’d be wrong, just bear with me for a paragraph or two of background.  For those of you unfamiliar with the last few days of Spring Training news out of Cubs camp, the Cubs rather abruptly released Carlos Silva over the weekend, eating the remaining $11.5M that he was owed. That Silva was clearly nothing more than a mediocre pitcher is nothing new. In fact, over the course of his career, he’s compiled 14.1 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) which spread over 9 seasons of baseball is barely over 1.5 WAR per year…barely over replacement level. What’s amazing is that a team was willing to give him a 4-year/$48M deal.  In this case, it was the Mariners who gave Silva the kingly sum in 2007 after a season which saw Silva go 13-14 with a 4.19 ERA (4.24 FIP) in 202 IP. The Mariners had no business giving a guy with Silva’s track record nearly $12M per year…his career numbers up to that point gave no indication that he was worth anything more than about $2-$3M per year at the maximum. The tirade we saw this past weekend was that of a player whose own perception of his abilities was not matched by reality…or his contract.

Which leads me to the point of this article; in this current age of baseball, with technology and information available at our whim, GMs and Major League front offices need to have people around who specialize in analyzing and utilizing advanced statistics. That’s not to say we need to do away with scouts…evaluating prospects is a different matter all together. The reason for having stat specialists around is to evaluate current Major League hitters and pitchers who have a track record of performance to evaluate. Stats, when used in tandem with coaching and scouting, reveal more of a complete story about a proven Major-Leaguer. Had the Mariners been paying attention to and using advanced statistics, they would more than likely never have given Silva the contract they did. The Twins front office claimed to have brought a stat specialist on staff in 2010, but when I look at the moves they’ve made, particularly following the 2010 season, I have to scratch my head in wonder. The J.J. Hardy trade comes to mind, among other moves. To me it’s odd that they made so many good moves in between the 2009 and 2010 seasons, but starting with the Matt Capps trade, things have gone downhill since. Perhaps they let go of their stat specialist mid-2010? It wouldn’t surprise me if that were the case.

Over the past few years, many teams have embraced advanced statistics (also referred to as “Sabermetics“), notably the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox. It all started with the Oakland Athletics and the cat was out of the bag with the release of the book “Moneyball” in which Michael Lewis showed how the A’s used advanced statistics to put together division winning teams with a very limited payroll. When you look at the types of moves the Rays and Red Sox have made over the past few years, you really can’t knock many of them. The Rays have the makings of an excellent young pitching staff and they become competitive in a division where two of the other teams in the division have astronomical financial resources at their disposal. As for the Red Sox, they have one of the most talented all-around teams in baseball heading into 2011 and challenge for the division crown year-in and year-out.

As a die-hard Twins fan, I hope that the Front Office will embrace Sabremetics sooner rather than later. As the Cubs and Mets have shown, simply having a higher payroll doesn’t, in and of itself, translate to results on the field. As a Major League GM, you have to use all of the tools available to you to maximize the return on your substantial investments. The case of Carlos Silva, both in how his 4-year contract has played out and in his unceremonious departure from the Cubs, is a good lesson for all Major League teams to pay attention to. If you don’t do your homework using all of the tools available, you run a higher risk of repeating mistakes like the Mariners (and Cubs for that matter) made.

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Tags: Carlos Silva Chicago Cubs Minnesota Twins

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