Monday, May 28, 2007

Moneyball and Eric Chavez

I finished Moneyball and it was a great read. It included a "new" afterword about the reactions to Moneyball. That's interesting in its own right, but what's more interesting to me is Eric Chavez.

Chavez signed a huge contract at the end of the 2004 season. It guaranteed him $66 million over 6 years. Reading Moneyball with its constant reminders that the A's payroll is only $40 million, it's hard to imagine Billy Beane investing 27.5% of his resources on one player. Then again, Beane absolutely fawns over Chavez. He makes a lot of comparisons between Chavez and great players like Jason Giambi, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez. In 2004, Chavez was coming off his best season in terms of the stat that Beane and his brain trust valued most: on base percentage. So maybe it shouldn't have come as a surprise. You've got to figure that Chavez's agent read Moneyball as well...

Of course history has a way of making a fool out of us all, and in this case Eric Chavez is making a fool of Billy Beane. Chavez's OBP quickly dipped from 0.397 in 2004 to 0.329 in 2005. It rebounded last year a little, to 0.351. Chavez is off to a terrible start this year, with his OBP at 0.286.

Not only has his OBP fallen, but so has everything else. Apologists can certainly point to injuries, but he has been an unequivocal bust in the first 2.3 years of his huge contract. Just like with every other kind of mistake, there's a lesson here.

The lesson could be to never pay for "future" potential. That's what Beane did. He compared Chavez to other great players, clearly with the idea that he was paying for performance that would be great than what the 27 year old Chavez had produced at that point in his career. If he instead had concentrated on what Chavez had actually produced at that point, he would have seen a guy who was only slightly above average in most of the hitter-centric statistics that Beane had seem to used in so effectively evaluating baseball talent. Chavez's 2004 season was definitely "well above" average, but his other seasons were not.

Of course hindsight is 20/20, as the cliche says. Beane had to part with a lot of valuable talent: Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson. There were some good reasons to pick Eric Chavez as the one guy he wouldn't let go. It's certainly costing him now though. Beane traded away Mark Teahen because of the signing of Eric Chavez. Teahen has been a much better player than Eric Chavez last year and so far this year, and is only making $416,000.

No comments: