Thursday, July 3, 2008

Things American Sports Could Learn From Soccer: Part I - Player Loans

There's this guy, Felix Pie (that's PEE-eh, not Pi). He's a Cub. Sometimes a Chicago one, other times an Iowa one.

As an Iowa Cub—that's the AAA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs—he's a terror. Last season he hit .362 and had an OPS of .973. On top of that he's got pretty good speed and an even better glove.

Oh, we're talking baseball by the way, and if you don't know what those numbers mean, just know they are good.

But once up in the bigs, Pie kind of sucks. He spent part of the '07 season in Chicago. There he hit .214 and had an OPS of .603. Those numbers are not good.

To put it in perspective, Micah Owings, a pitcher, is currently hitting .250 and has an OPS of .675. Sure Owings is a pretty good hitting pitcher, but generally, pitchers are so bad at hitting that, in the American League, they stopped making them do it.

Basically, Pie can hit the junk they throw in the minors but once he sees the wicked breaking stuff they throw in the majors, he swings and misses. A lot. Forty-three times in 177 at-bats in '07.

So what are the Cubs' options?
A) Send him to the minors where they know he gets more hits than an electrified hitting machine.
2) Keep him in Chicago and have him cost you an out four of every five times he comes to the plate, which is going to be such an offensive liability that they're not going to want to do it often enough for him to have the chance to improve.

But what if Monte Hall could offer them a third door?

3) Loan him out to a shitty team like, say, the Washington Nationals.

The Nats are currently in last place, 17 games under .500, and 11.5 games out of first place. Their RF is hitting .250 with a total of 17 RBI and their CF is in his third game ever.

Think they'd take a chance on a 5-tool player who has shown the potential to hit for power and average?

Seeing how their back-up LF is also their catcher (seriously, Paul Lo Duca is behind Willy Mo Peña on the depth chart?), I'm going to guess they would.

Cubs call Nationals. Arrange loan. Everyone happy.

Pie gets a roster spot and regular AB's (Bonus: He avoids Iowa). The Cubs get to see if their player can figure out how to hit a breaking ball. The Nationals get someone who has the potential to be a serious upgrade over anyone else currently occupying their outfield.

Okay, maybe the 'Burg isn't happy as someone might threaten them for not worst team in the NL. But let's not concern ourselves with third parties that also have bad teams, they'd be free to take Homer Bailey on loan from the Reds (suckas).

It's not just player development that could make loans an intriguing proposition for baseball. Think about the trade deadline. Usually what happens is you get teams that are out of the pennant race unloading valuable players that are going to be free agents (and really expensive to resign) in exchange for an array of prospects.

Okay, now suppose you could loan that free-agent-to-be out for the balance of the season for a huge chunk of change instead of trading for prospects. Generally, you probably would still want the prospects, but in soccer there is usually a provision that prohibits the loaned-out player from playing against the team that holds his rights, and that could make for some fun GM'ing.

So you're the Oakland A's. You have Rich Harden, who, when healthy is as close to a sure thing as there is on the mound. We're talking like 7 innings, 9 Ks, and less than 2ER per start kind of sure thing.

If you don't know much about baseball, he is to the A's what Van Persie is to Arsenal (and that's both in terms of "Holy shit he's awesome" and "Holy shit he's injured").

Anyway, you're going to lose Rich Harden at the end of this season and get nothing back if you don't move him before the deadline. But now in this hypothetical soccer-rule infested world, the A's could loan him out to some team that pisses cash, say, the New York Yankees.

Maybe they crap cash, who knows? But the Yankees pony up $8 million to the A's for half the season of Harden. If Johan Santana is getting more than $20M a year from the Mets, then Harden is worth at least that much for half a season.

But the A's aren't the Nats. They aren't awful. Quite the opposite. They've got more young arms (something they seem to have an endless supply of) on their staff and are currently just 5 games out of first in the AL West behind the Angels (and given the Halo's run differential, that gap is likely to close).

So the A's part with Harden, pocket the cash, and somehow make the playoffs, which isn't really out of the question (especially since Ellis and Suzuki seem to be swinging the bat a little bit better).

Now, on the other coast, Harden solidifies a currently-shaky rotation in the Bronx, the Yankees pass both the Red Sox and the Rays, and they also make the playoffs. As an aside, I'm not sure what's more bizarre: merely writing that sentence or thinking there is little chance of any thing after the word "Bronx" actually happening.

Finally suppose that the Yankees meet the A's in the first (or second) round of the playoffs. The Yankees wouldn't be able to use their best pitcher because he's still technically a member of the A's (remember the provision mentioned above).

So not only have you taken the Yankees money, but you've partially crippled them as they attempt to beat you. Imagine the Yankees paying the loan fee, then losing a series because they can't run out their staff ace. No, go ahead. Imagine it. It's fun. At least it is for me because I can't fucking stand the Yankees. Being a Yankee fan is kind of like being a United fan, only with better dental hygiene.

Anyway I'm sure there are other wrinkles I haven't even thought of (it's late and frankly I'm not feeling it upstairs).

Okay, admittedly, player loaning is the least sexy and most limited of all the things worth stealing from soccer. It probably has no applications in the NFL as roster spots are already at a premium and most teams are desperate for depth. So any player worth having is already on a team someplace, and any player that needs more work, well, that's why they have practice squads (and steroids).

The NBA has kind of the opposite problem. The guys on the end of the bench never get much playing time to begin with. A team would have to be Charlotte Bobcats bad for seasons on end to even want to consider taking other players that aren't playing elsewhere. Just because you made an NBA roster in one city, doesn't mean someone else in another city wants you.

Still, loans plus baseball, that equals potentially much cooler baseball.


Eladio said...

I think you actually proved why player loans WOULDN'T work in baseball -- playoffs. In the EPL, if Keegan loaned Ameobi to Blackburn halfway through the season, Ameobi couldn't play against Newcastle for probably just one game. (And since it's Blackburn and Newcastle, it wouldn't have any bearing on the title race to begin with.) But loaning a player in a system where not only are you playing teams several times in a given year, but also potentially in the playoffs makes no sense. Maybe if you loaned to only the other league (after inter-league play is over), but I'd think you'd still have to make an exception in case they met in the World Series.

Personally I think the lack of playoffs in European league football is one reason why many Americans can't get into the sport, but also why the Champions League might be the best bet in people in Omaha getting interested.

Mike Georger said...

im morally required to note whenever the a's and their endless supply of young arms are brought up: the a's have won 1 playoff series in the reign of billy beane.

you want to win, you spend money, you dont sell off your best players every year. its true in soccer. its true in baseball

Mike Georger said...

ahahahahaha ray ray kept his job
heres to france sucking ass for the next two years!

Precious Roy said...

"You want to win, you spend money."

Uh, really? The 2003 Florida Marlins would like to disagree. The 2002 Angels weren't particularly expensive, and neither were the 2005 White Sox.

The most expensive team in baseball hasn't won since 2000.

The fact is that the A's would have never been able to resign Giambi, Tejadad, Hudson, Mulder, etc. (and they are probably pissing themselves with glee that the didn't sign Zito). They just don't have the financial resources (Have you read 'Moneyball'?)

And eladio... That's part of the risk. You could buy Sabathia on loan and probably know that you wouldn't have to face the Indians in the playoffs this season, but someone like Harden might come at a cheaper price, but with that comes the risk that the A's might be in the playoffs (in other words, that risk would be priced in to the loan fee for Harden).

Precious Roy said...

Oops... 'Tejada.'

Mike Georger said...

yes and i think moneyball is crap. the a's have accomplished absolutely nothing. for running a finacially sound business its great, for winning championships its not

i just think you have to pay to keep your players around to stay competitive in any league. the marlins and a's shouldnt have to serve as feeder clubs for the rest of the league.

this season is weird. the three teams at the top of the payrolls (yankees, tigers, mets) are underperforming like crazy. but the next four (redsox, whitesox, angels, cubs) are the four best teams in baseball.

then youve got the a's, rays, and marlins sitting in last in payroll. one of them will probably make the playoffs too, but id be shocked if any of them were able to ma

you can get lucky one season, but if you want to stay competitive in winning a title, not just competitive in winning a shitty division, you have to pay to keep people around. you dont have to have a payroll in the top two, but it doesnt hurt to be in the top ten.

Mike Georger said...

bhit just really pisses me off that people always point to the a's for a blueprint of how to run an organization when they havent won a seven game playoff series since the nineteen eighties.

Precious Roy said...

The Marlins and A's (and maybe the Twins) are happy to serve as feeder clubs. Or if they aren't 'happy' to do so, they have learned how to adapt to their economic realities.

Moneyball wasn't crap. It was right. There was a horrible inefficiency in the market for baseball players. The A's identified it, and exploited it and were very successful for years (still are to a lesser extent).

Again, the A's don't have the same financial resources as the Red Sox, who are using much of the same evaluation tools. The difference is that the Red Sox do have the money to go out and get a John Beckett off the free agent market.

As for the Marlins. They have more of a First National Change Bank Strategy ("Volume... we make a lot of change.").

They want to move their experienced and high-priced-to-be players for young, cheap prospects (I was kind of shocked they resigned HanRam as they could have basically asked for the Yankees farm system in return). The Marlins have shown that you can be competitive with young players. The window opens and closes quickly but, it is doable.

Okay, so the A's haven't won a playoff series for x number of years. And they learned from it (e.g. they've kept a legit closer on the payroll in Street).

It's just that the stats that play out over a 162 game schedule don't really govern the small sample size of a playoff series. Oops.

They are still wildly successful as a funciton of their payroll.

If spending necessarily equaled winning, the Rangers would make the playoffs more than once a decade.

Mike Georger said...

sure the redsox can make the occassional absurd move like dice-k

but that team is going to be very very good for a long time because they will pay the players they have developed from the minors on up. guys like


dont get me wrong im no redsox fan (whitesox, dont agree with a lot of how they spend their money) but they are a prime example of how developing your prospects then paying to keep them around will lead to good things.

the flip side of the spending coin is just trying to bring in a team of allstars with no regard for cost, chemistry, or longevity (mets, yankees, tigers)

i like how the a's and marlins get what they can out of their young players, but i just think they would be more competitive for titles if they kept some of them around longer.

yes you can make the once a decade title run (be it world series, fa cup, mickey mouse cup) but if you want to consistently be able to win on the highest level you cant always sell off whatever talent you develop

but of course, from a business standpoint, it is great. but if i were an a's fan thats not what i would care about

Keith said...

Baseball had a loan system in place at the turn of the century. In fact, transfers and sales worked the same way in early baseball as it does now. However, some "minor league" teams would see a star loaned in only to be recalled. It didn't work because none of the leagues were affiliated the way that the national and regional FAs are, and so there was a lot of shady dealing going on. Then Branch Rickey decided that it would be better for everyone involved if there was a "farm system" approach.

I'd recommend reading Veeck as in Wreck for a good breakdown on how the "transfer model" was placed out for the current system.

Keith said...

As it does now for football, obviously

Mike Georger said...

i will say this about the a's as a whitesox fan though, that swisher trade was highway fucking robbery on their part, so theyve got that going for them.
sometimes i just want to punch kenny williams in the face.

once that new stadium gets built and their ticket prices jump from eighth highest to second highest, ive got a feeling the fans will be wanting more than a division title

Precious Roy said...

Keith: Did not know that (obviously)

Mike: The A's and the Marlins can't afford to keep many of their players. They just can't. They don't have enough revenue.

Identifying and bringing up players through your system is obviously cheaper than buying high priced free agents, but what makes the A's work is the kind of players they identify.

Youkilis, Pedroia, Ellsbury... they are all guys that scored out higher on the Bill Jamesian metrics than on the old guard scouts type of "he's got the perfect make-up for the game" type of crap. They are the same players that Beane would go after... and has. Remember how much Beane coveted Youkils in Moneyball?

I'm sure the A's would have loved to keep Tejada around, they simply couldn't afford to. The Red Sox will be able to keep Pedrioa, Papelbon, etc.

They are playing two different management games. And, given the limitations, Beane does a fantastic job.

Mike Georger said...

was it him who called him the greek god of walks? i had to read that book for an independent study i did this year helping to prepare arbitration briefs for pirates players; the pirates gave me jose bautista and youk was one of the players they wanted me to compare him to .... if thats any indication of how well that organization is run right there.

a lot of my resentment for that system comes from that experience as one of the supervisors was in love with the book and was demanding we use it to come up with numbers for pirates players. he didnt seem to get that for the a's or marlins system to work you actually have to have a star player to trade, which the pirates havent had since bonds. it can 'work' for teams that can develop young players into stars and trade them for several more promising young players, but for shitty teams with shitty farm systems its not really viable.

The Fan's Attic said...

felix pie also had a twisted testicle. he's got that going for him.

Precious Roy said...

TFA: Yes, he does. Or did.

Mike: Well, the smarts of Moneyball wasn't just "Get valuable players that are young and trade them for a greater number of cheaper players" but was in that HOW young players got identified was essentially wrong.

OBP was right, BA was wrong. WHIP was right, Wins was wrong. The A's were the first to try to base their management off Bill James' work. And it worked to a large extent (playoff series wins not included).

Bautista K's twice as much as he walks. That's fine if you are Adam Dunn and OPS over .900, not fine if you are an average hitting 3B.

Mike Georger said...

yeah hes awful, i suggested they offer him 1.5 a year, they thought that was too low
they also thought matt morris was a good pickup

Precious Roy said...

Morris... I'd say that was the worst move last season, but I think the Astros trade for Jason Jennings was about fivefold dumber.

strong like bull smart like tractor said...

I can think of two that were even worse than the Jennings deal - the contract that the Giants gave Barry Zito, and the Mariners trading Rafael Soriano straight up for Horacio f'ing Ramirez.

Back on the original topic - I think a player loan system in baseball would only really benefit the stronger teams. In Euro football, a loaned player can be the difference between staying afloat and being relegated. I don't really understand why the Nats would want Pie - what's the benefit? You develop a player for a rival, at the expense of developing one of your own. The Nats might win a few more games, but even that is likely to hurt their rebuilding, as their draft position would suffer. I don't see how it would be worthwhile except in some very specific situations.

ü75 said...


Precious Roy said...

Bull: Have you seen the Nats OF? Especially with Milledge on the DL.

Player development takes a few years, so even as the Nats 'rebuild' (although I can't think of a time when they were 'built') they can accomodate a potential quality player in the OF while they groom younger kids in the minors.

Basically, you are plugging a hole where you have no depth until you can build it.

Not saying that Pie is the difference between being a winning team or not, but a huge upgrade at a couple of positions (maybe they also take a loan on an SP like Scherzer or the kid with the Dodgers that just got sent back down whose name I'm blanking on) can definitely help make them a little more competitive, and just generally being better should mean more fans and revenue at the gate.

Ian said...

I think baseball teams are insanely protective of young players, rightly so given that they spent the money to draft and then develop them in the minors. Would the cubs want Pie to learn "bad habits" from the Nationals hitting coach? I'm not sure any team would let another pitching coach tinker with one of their young stud pitchers. What if he blows out his shoulder, who is to blame? Plus Tractor Bull said, why should the loanee team develop a player that will just end up back with his original tema.

Precious Roy said...

Pitching, sure... I can totally see that GMs wouldn't want to lend any pitcher to Dusty Baker. Of course, I can't see any problem with Dave Duncan or Leo Mazzone working with one of your arms for a season.

As for injuries, doesn't stop the soccer leagues from loaning out players. In fact a player is more likely to blow out a knee in a career-ender playing as a loan out for, say, Reading than he is riding the pine at Anfield where he is hypothetically contracted.

Anonymous said...

.214 is not that bad
yankees will not pass sox/tampa and will not make playoffs
MLB will never loan players
red sox will dominate baseball and win another world series.