Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Developing "Red Sox and Yankees are Homegrown" Meme

You could see this line coming as soon as the Red Sox won their second World Series in four years and Tom Verducci claimed that the victory was the result of the Red Sox farm system. Intelligent baseball writers have to be aware that there is resentment towards the Red Sox among, well, just about every other fan base that two teams (along with their spoiled red-headed stepbrother in Queens) receive the lion share of attention in what is supposed to be "America's Game." These writers know that many fans view the Red Sox, Yankees, and Mets as benefiting from tremendous natural advantages, namely huge populations that allow them to out-spend their rivals into the ground.

So how do writers counter this perception? By latching onto the fact that the Red Sox and Yankees finally have a couple prospects on their teams. Forget the fact that these teams spend significantly more on payroll than any other clubs in baseball. Forget the fact that both teams are stocked with players that they acquired either through free agency or through trades in which the Yankees and Red Sox acquire top players from smaller teams by virtue of their ability to pay for those players. Let's focus entirely on the fact that the Red Sox used to be entirely composed of players acquired through trades and free agency, but now, they are only 90% composed of such players. I exaggerate, but only slightly. The 2008 Baseball Prospectus chapter on the Cubs contains a chart that analyzes the percentage of players for the eight 2007 playoff participants acquired through various means. You'll never guess which teams had, by far, the greatest percentage of players acquired through trades and free agency. Yup, the World Champions. The Tom Verduccis of the world want you to believe that the Red Sox are a team built by the draft and player development because fans respect teams that are built organically as opposed to through the exercise of naked economic power. Reality does not conform to the bill of goods that Verducci is trying to sell.

There's also one other point to be made that further pierces the meme that the Red Sox and Yankees are smart as opposed to rich. As Verducci's article admits (and buries at the very end), the Red Sox and Yankees' financial advantages give them a significant leg up in the draft:

Since 2005 the Yankees and the Red Sox have continued to sink more money into scouting and the draft. Says one rival AL G.M., "They've become what the U.S. and Russia were during the cold war: There is them, and there's everybody else. My goodness, the Yankees took a guy in the first round [Andrew Brackman in 2007] who needed Tommy John surgery, and they gave him a four-year major league contract. Nobody else can do that."

The chapter on the Tigers in the 2008 Baseball Prospectus confirms this point: Detroit has joined the Yankees and Red Sox as teams that get better talent out of the draft because they are willing and able to pay huge signing bonuses that are prohibitive to other teams. MLB's economic structure rewards big-spending teams in a number of ways. One such way is the fact that the NBA (formally) and NFL (informally) set the salaries for draftees based on their draft slot. MLB does no such thing, which gives yet another advantage to the clubs that were born on third base and Tom Verducci thinks they hit a triple.


peacedog said...

You're mostly correctly, but I think you are somewhat underselling the strength of the Red Sox farm system over the past decade or so.

They got over the top, however, by spending big. From Pedro to Schilling to Mani and beyond.

Anonymous said...

The Detroit Tigers are a team that has tremendous natural advantages over other teams? Really?

Michael said...

No, the Yankees and Red Sox have tremendous advantages and the Tigers are choosing to imitate them by paying whatever Scott Boras wants for his draft clients. Nice try, though.

Anonymous said...

uggg. the redsox yankees rivalry/monopolization of baseball is the number one reason i have abandoned my once favorite sport for the simpler and much more fulfilling game of college football.

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Anonymous said...

So, if the Tigers can keep up, why can't other teams? How come they can overcome natural advantages while others cannot?

Michael said...

The Tigers spending money on draft picks doesn't mean that they are keeping up, any more than the Mariners spending money on free agents does. The Tigers' payroll is still going to be significantly less than that of the Yanks or Sox. Detroit is eventually going to have to break the bank to keep Bonderman and Verlander, so they are going to have to make choices that never trouble the Yankees or Red Sox.