Looking forwards by looking backwards: The Astros payroll efficiency in 2010

Recently, I have reviewed the Astros payroll efficiency in 2010. The undertaking served as a macro overview of how and where the Astros got a solid return on investment; in the converse, how and where the Astros saw dismal returns on their investment.

I was inspired to go down this road because of the anomalous feeling the 2010 Astros gave me. Yes, the 2010 Astros were different than recent iterations, but:

[T]he anomaly dealt more with the aberrant trajectory the Astros' won/loss record tacked to, relative to the personnel orienting it. Prior to trading Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman, the Astros posted a .422 winning percentage. After the trade, they posted a .550 winning percentage. Yes, arbitrary end points produce somewhat arbitrary results, but the point is demonstrated nonetheless.

The oddity of that split begged a question. And while I have not set out to answer that question, per se, I believe part of the answer lies in the benefits derived from the "youth infusion." Because young players simply have to play above replacement level to generate value—prior to arbitration at least—bang for the Astros' buck indicates that the youth orienting the second half Astros might translate to an improved 2011. Aside from proving that hypothesis, I also hoped the macro view provided by the analysis might give lessons to learn from the 2010 hot stove.

Having completed both, I would now like to tie it all together. My hope is that this might serve as "crib notes" for our contemplation and analysis of the Astros' 2011 hot stove season.

The Astros' pitching in 2010 generated substantial surplus value, in large part because the starters and late inning relievers all "performed" well according to fWAR (fWAR generates a pitchers value via FIP, a measure that roughly attempts to obviate luck from a pitcher's ERA). fWAR doesn't quite capture the true performance of the 2010 pitching staff, but:

[A] grain of truth still exists in the foregoing analysis: In 2010, Ed Wade assembled a pitching staff that cost a little, and produced a substantial amount of value. Moreover, what we know about fWAR and 2011 payroll tells us that the Astros should continue to receive bang for their pitching buck. The Astros got a lot of bang for their pitching buck; so much so that it salvaged an inefficient offense and likely allowed the Astros to perform as well as they did (that was as painful for me to write as it was for you to read).

The only real change the 2011 pitching staff will be losing a half season of Roy Oswalt. And everyone will be a year older. If we look solely at how FIP feels the luck should wash out for the Astros' pitching staff, 2011 should be another solid year. I believe this means that Ed Wade shouldn't feel the need to invest too much in a speculative scrap heap or rehab project for Brad Arnsberg because the need isn't there like it was last year.

Unlike the pitching staff, the offense proved to be a less rosy picture. The Astros ended up losing a lot of money because of deadweight multi-millionaires. However:

What is interesting, to me at least, is that if we exclude Feliz and Matsui from the evaluations, the Astros' offense produced about $9 million in surplus value. So, there is a lesson available to Ed Wade: more selectivity, and perhaps a healthy dose of sabermetric inquiry, could go a long way in selecting future in-field free agents.

Pedro Feliz, Kazuo Matsui, Geoff Blum, and, most notably, Lance Berkman will likely not acquire any PAs for the 2011 Astros. Internally, Chris Johnson, Tommy Manzella, Angel Sanchez, and Brett Wallace represent question marks in terms of the level of production the Astros can expect in 2011. In terms of raw performance (i.e. winning baseball games), the 2011 Astros' offense may not be a strong as it was in the second half 2010 (i.e. being an Astros fan lowers one's expectations excessively).

In light of this fact, Ed Wade might reasonably look to the free agent market to see what might be available as a stopgap/back up. A trade might be in order, too (See: Keppinger, Jeff). The Astros payroll gives Ed Wade money to spend, too. Hopefully, the large net losses from Feliz and Mastui will be fresh in his mind.

With the Astros coming off one off a terrible season for attendance (i.e. revenue), Wade cannot afford to mortgage the Astros future payroll flexibility by driving the 2011 Astros into the red. Unfortunately, as clack astutely pointed out, Wade also cannot afford to mortgage his future by allowing the Astros to drive themselves into the NL Central basement. I believe this means Wade has to identify something more of a sure thing than he has offseason's past.

That's my interpretation about what the Astros' 2010 payroll efficiency tells about what the 2011 hot stove should entail. What's yours?

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