Moneyball: Dodgers style

Los Angeles Dodgers fans are freaking out this morning. Their beloved Matt Kemp has been dealt to the San Diego Padres and fans, especially those of the fairer sex, are beside themselves. When analyzing all of these Dodgers moves you must remember, the players in question are inconsequential. These moves are about “buying wins.” That is the Moneyball motto. And, make no mistake, the Dodgers are springing their own demented version of Moneyball on baseball.

If Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers brain trust don’t believe a 107 million dollar player can net them more wins than upgrades at multiple positions, then that 107 million dollar player will be traded, even if his name is Matt Kemp.

Theo Epstein brought Moneyball to the big-market Boston Red Sox more than a decade ago. Three World Series championships later, the Sox are still employing some of those same philosophies even after showing Theo the door and hiring his protégé Ben Cherington.  Epstein has brought his special brand of big market Moneyball to Chicago with the Cubs and has the north-siders on the brink of being a very good team for a long time with an influx of young talent and savvy trades that have netted Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arietta.

The Dodgers were already competitive when Andrew Friedman took over a month ago. Coming off of a 94 win season the Dodgers brass was trying to figure out why their neighbors to the north kept winning World Series, while Los Angeles kept flaming out in the post-season. Enter Friedman.

The sabermetrics guru looked at the Dodgers and saw great imbalance. He saw a team with big names, decent numbers and ballooning contracts or contract demands. In short, he saw money being wasted. Remember the Moneyball motto, you aren’t buying players, you are buying wins. Friedman and his pack of nerds are crunching numbers to try squeeze as many wins out of the roster as possible. Contrary to some Moneyball tenets, Friedman is addressing defensive need. The Dodgers were poor up the middle defensively last year. He has addressed that, bringing in Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick to patrol short and second respectively. He has brought in Yasmani Grandal to take over as the catcher. Grandal is considered a  good receiver, who gives the Dodgers an upgrade at this pivotal position. And, by jettisoning Kemp to San Diego he alleviates the log-jam in the outfield by giving Joc Pederson his chance to play everyday in center. By all accounts Pederson is a far superior center fielder to Kemp and greatly enhances the Dodgers defense. The Dodgers in three days completely revamped their middle defense, which is pivotal when you are relying on preventing runs.

Ah, run prevention. The Dodgers feature a solid rotation but a porous bullpen. So, Friedman and company are crunching numbers to try to buy wins through preventing runs. Even the big budget Dodgers plan on doing this economically because who doesn’t love saving money ? The Dodgers brass has put a value on players available. They plan on either signing free agents; or using this influx of young talent just acquired in the Gordon and Kemp deals, to try to pry another big time ace. Most notably the Dodgers have their eye on Southern California native Cole Hamels. In baseball terms Hamels is a bargain. A top-notch pitcher locked in for 96 million dollars over the next four years. This is a lot of money.  But when you compare his value to Kemp at 5 years and 107 million dollars, the Dodgers brass feels the cost/benefit comparison between the two isn’t close. In essence, they feel Hamels will bring them more wins than Kemp. The Dodgers still need to address the bullpen. While I am surprised they didn’t try to corral Andrew Miller, Pat Neshek or Luke Gregerson, I shouldn’t be. Miller signed for 36 million, Neshek for 12 million and Gregerson for 18.5 million. The Dodgers numbers guys have determined these contracts over-value the player. The dollar figures involved don’t match the number of wins those relievers will be responsible for. The dollar figure and win totals need to match the mathematical algorithm. While I don’t expect the Dodgers to go on the cheap when it comes to the pen, I do see them scouring the system and making deals that net them arms at a cost that makes sense in their “buying wins” philosophy.

Many Dodgers fans are despondent over the “personalities” that are leaving the team. Kemp and Gordon were certainly entertaining players, beloved by many in the Dodgers fan base. But, Friedman and his cohorts have determined that they will get more value for the money being spent by letting these two players go, and bringing in players who are more rounded in their games.

Many people will point to the recent foibles of the Oakland Athletics and the Billy Beane fiasco of 2014 as to why this won’t work for the Dodgers. You can’t compare the A’s and Dodgers. They are in two different stratospheres. The Dodgers can be economical and smart while still employing the same mathematical strategies in building a team. The Athletics must be more financially prudent and can not let a longer term deal hamstring their franchise. The Dodgers can buy and hold expecting to get value, the A’s can’t afford to do that. While big-market and small-market Moneyball/sabermetrics are the same, they have distinct differences in terms of tolerance and player. Small markets look for the under-valued gem. Big markets look for the same thing, but on a grander scale and the deep pockets allow more patience.

This does nothing for the 5-year old kid who is crying today because his favorite player has been traded to the San Diego Padres. But, it is where the Dodgers are right now. Guggenheim and company brought in Andrew Friedman to bring his number crunching brilliance to Dodger Stadium to build an organization that can consistently compete for World Championships without worrying that a trade here or  there would decimate their minor league system. Friedman inherited a ton of bad contracts, he is trying to rid the team of those deals while creating a largesse of riches down on the farm. It won’t happen overnight but I believe he is off to a good start.

Friedman determined that Dee Gordon didn’t get on base enough and flipped him for four prospects. Friedman determined that Hanley Ramirez was a defensive albatross so he let him walk and Friedman determined that Matt Kemp’s 107 million dollar contract would not buy enough wins over the next five years to justify the deal. Personalities be damned. We are living in a new universe Dodger fans, where smiles and kisses to the crowd are replaced by WAR (Wins Above Replacement) numbers. Commodities in uniforms with Dodgers script


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