A philosophical question
January 21, 2009 11 Comments
Let’s say that there was a team (we’ll call them the Mapleland Bees) that was faced with a choice between two free agents. (And no, this isn’t one of those things where I reveal that these are two real players at the end and say “surprise!”)
Free Agent A is good at the types of things that people will pay to watch.
- He hits homeruns
- He’s “basestealing threat”, which means he’s good for 15-20 SB per year
- He has a reputation for “coming through in the clutch,” dating superstars and models, and being a pretty “face of the franchise.” The reporters love him because he’s great copy.
- He hits for a high (.300+) batting average and because of the guys in front of him had 120 RBI last year.
The problem is that he’s not so good at some of the “hidden” things in baseball that few people know to even look for and fewer would probably pay for. He’s awful as a defender, and makes the routine plays look spectacular. He doesn’t draw walks (and so has a low OBP), strikes out a lot, and while he steals bases, it’s primarily because he just runs a lot and gets lucky sometimes. In other words, he’s something of a slightly altered version of Derek Jeter. (I know, I know, there’s nothing wrong with Jeter’s OBP).
Free Agent B is not a homerun hitter, nor much with the batting average, and due to hitting behind an OBP nightmare, he had a mere 65 RBI last year. He does put up his share of doubles, but isn’t a fun player to build a marketing campaign around (read: ugly) and is happily married to his college sweetheart, has two kids, and doesn’t say much after games. However, he’s a fantastic defender who makes the tough plays look routine. He also draws a lot of walks, so while his average looks low, he’s actually getting on base quite a bit. Plus he doesn’t really strike out so much.
So, he’s what would happen if Mark Ellis and Brian McCann had a baby together.
Here’s the thing. The Bees are an enlightened team and they see the two players for just just what they are. And after crunching some numbers, they realize that Ellis McCann would actually stand the better chance of making the team better, once everything is considered (hitting, fielding, running, the fact that being pretty has no bearing on on-the-field results).
But wait, not all is that simple. Jerek Deter, despite being the lesser player of the two, will sell a lot of t-shirts, tickets, and is worth a few million more in the TV contract and a lot more in getting his name mentioned on E!. Ellis McCann is boring and will only be appreciated by a handful of nerds. After crunching some more numbers, the owner realizes that he stands to make more money by signing Jerek Deter than Ellis McCann, even after you factor in what is likely to be a big difference in salary… in Deter’s favor. It even works out to favor more profit from Deter after you figure in the thought that a team that wins more (and Ellis McCann is worth more wins) makes more because everyone loves a winner.
So, whom should the owner of the Mapleland Bees instruct his GM to sign? He’s a business man who’s running an entertainment venture, and if there’s nothing else that we learned from the unfortunate ten years that were the peak of Britney Spears’s career, it’s that you have to give the people what they want, no matter how stupid that is.