This story was born in Canada. (I’m sorry.) Over at the main site, I’ve been writing a fair amount about Toronto’s offseason; specifically, I’ve written ($) about the Jays’ decision to bring Ross Atkins over from Cleveland to serve as GM under President Mark Shapiro, and also about ($) their earlier choice to sign J.A. Happ to a three-year deal worth $36 million. That’s led me to learn a great deal about Toronto’s roster, but also led me to contemplate something that you may find rather surprising: Relative to mid-level player talent, elite coaching and front office talent is massively undervalued in today’s game.
I suspect you’re more interested in the second part of that sentence than the first, and especially interested in how it might relate to one specific elite coach: the Cubs’ own Chris Bosio. So let’s do this. How much is Bosio worth, anyway? It seems to me that his value (I suppose you could generalize that to “any major-league pitching coach’s value,” but hey, we’re talking about Bosio) probably comes in three particular forms:
(1) Performance improvements in major-league pitchers realized as a direct result of Bosio’s coaching;
(2) Win improvements for the big-league club realized as a result of players choosing to sign with the Cubs in a direct or indirect attempt to work with Bosio;
(3) Win improvements for the big-league club realized as a result of a positive impression Bosio makes on other coaches.
That third form is so inchoate that it’s impossible to talk about with any degree of objectivity here; suffice it to say that I believe it could be worth up to a win a year for a good coach.* I’ve got no way to prove that, though, so I’ll assume it’s worth nothing and move on to items one and two, which we can get much closer to an actual number for.
How many wins might we expect Bosio to add to pitchers already on the staff? We can get a general sense of that by looking at the performance of a few relevant starters in the years immediately preceding their time with Bosio, and then with the Cubs. Let’s take, for example, the cases of Paul Maholm, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, and Scott Feldman. All four were signed as Bosio reclamation projects, of sorts; very different, for example, than the cases of Jon Lester and Edwin Jackson, who were signed as fully-formed starters.
|Name||WARP/200 IP, Two Seasons Pre-Bosio||First Season Starting With Bosio||WARP/200 IP, First Season Starting With Bosio||Delta|
What I’ve done here is record each pitcher’s WARP/200 in the two seasons preceding the first season in which they began the year with Bosio (and thus got the benefit of coaching during the offseason, and in spring training), and then their WARP/200 in that first season under his tutelage. This means that the numbers for Maholm, Hammel, and Feldman include their second halves with the Braves, A’s, and Astros, respectively. In addition: Hammel was on the disabled list for a small portion of the two seasons pre-Bosio. I don’t think either of those things matter too much, because the point of this exercise isn’t to pinpoint an exact number for Bosio’s possible value, but rather to give us a ballpark of what might be expected for it.
And it does exactly that: It seems fair to conclude, from these numbers, that it’s not out of the question that Bosio is worth, at minimum, an additional win for the Cubs each year from their starting rotation alone. Now add in his value from improvements to the bullpen—let’s put that at a fifth of a win, to be conservative—and the financial value of free-agent pitchers taking slight discounts to come to Chicago and work with him (that’s what Hammel was reported to have done, reading between the lines here), which frees up money the Cubs can spend on adding more wins elsewhere on the roster, and you start getting to the point where it’s actually conservative to suggest that Bosio could be worth around a win and a half a year.
There are a bunch of different ways you could arrive at that number or something like it, and a bunch of little tweaks you could make to make it more accurate and get closer to a “perfect” value (Russell Carleton did exactly that over at the main site a few years ago, for example), but I’m not interested in spurious accuracy with a sample size of just four years and a handful of pitchers. The exercise above got me into the ballpark of what I’m looking for, and I’m comfortable with that.
That’s because, when you think about it, the insight that a pitching coach could be worth a minimum of even a win a year is actually sort of radical. The value of a win these days is, at its lowest estimates, about $6 million a year, and the highest-paid manager (Mike Scioscia) makes just $5 million a year. Most managers make much less than that, and most pitching coaches make much less than that again. So pitching coaches aren’t, typically, millionaires. And yet, some fairly back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the best among their ranks are worth many millions of dollars a year. Chris Bosio, for his part, probably is. And do you really believe Scioscia isn’t worth a win a year to the Angels?
But while nobody really blinks at signing a mid-rotation starter to a three-year contract worth $15 million a year, I’m sure a lot of folks would be upset if Bosio were given a three-year, $15 million contract extension. They shouldn’t be. There’s a strong case to be made that, over the life of the contract, Bosio’s deal would return more surplus value for a third of the total investment. Let’s break down that example quickly just to make the point: One and a half wins a year for three years at $6 million per win is worth $27 million, meaning there could be about $12 million of surplus value in a hypothetical three-year deal for Bosio at $5 million a year. Let’s say the starter is worth three wins a year, so nine wins in total. That’s $54 million worth of value on a $45 million deal, leaving $9 million of surplus value there.
Of course, teams need real wins, not marginal wins, and so this piece shouldn’t be read as the case that teams should go out and sign pitching coaches instead of mid-rotation starters. That’s ludicrous. But this piece should be read as the case that pitching coaches, and coaches in general, are incredibly undervalued in today’s game, and so marginal dollars spent there will return a great deal more in terms of wins than marginal dollars spent on essentially any player. Think about that the next time you hear about the Cubs spending $3 million a year to sign a coach, executive, or manager. It’s almost certainly worth it.
*Imagine that John Mallee sees Bosio going out for early work with Jason Hammel every day. Does that not make Mallee marginally more likely to go out for early work with Javier Baez? Possibly, although each coach will have their own style and way of working that may or may not be affected by their colleagues. I’m not comfortable enough with this to consider it further here, but I may ask some questions about this when I get back to Wrigley.
Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports.