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Pioneers/Executives

GM Update #4: Herk Robinson???

Yeah, Herk Robinson. Look, I know you want to know what the best GMs did, but I’m kind of fascinated by the horror shows. So this week’s tale from the crypt is Herk Robinson. And anyway, I’m glad to see what more of these guys look like to better appreciate the really good GMs. I promised you Pat Gillick, and I will deliver him unto you over the next week or two. But he’s going to take a while due to a long career so stay with me. But once we have him, we’ll have our first true totally modern GM and can start to gain greater understanding about how team building has continued to evolve.

As a reminder, we look at team performance, GM performance, and transaction details. I’ll remind you of the alphabet soup as we go along.

Team Performance

  • W/L : Won-Loss record while GM was in office
  • PCT: Winning percentage
  • Vs EXP: An adaptation of the expected wins formula Bill James introduced in his managers book. Except we use pythagenpat records instead of actual records to calculate it.
  • OCT: Postseason apperances (starting in 1969).
  • OCT v EXP: Measures postseason appearances against the basic probability of any random team making it.
  • WS: World Series appearances
  • WS v EXP: Similar to OCT v EXP
  • Titles: Championships won
  • Titles v EXP: Ditto
  • MGR PYTH: This is the team’s variance against its Pythagenpat record as a measure of how much value the GM’s manager brought to the team.
TEAM PERFORMANCE
                          VS        VS        VS          VS   MGR
YEAR         W/L     PCT  EXP  OCT  EXP  WS   EXP  TITLE  EXP  PYTH
====================================================================
BAVASI1   2386-2166 .524  +54   2  +0.19  8  +5.09   4   +2.53  +42
BROWN     1816-1625 .524  +48   4  +2.50  2  -0.20   2   +0.91  - 5
CAMPANIS  1576-1280 .552  +44   6  +2.94  4  +2.51   1   +0.24  + 8
HOWSAM    1331-1049 .559  +63   5  +3.33  4  +2.77   2   +1.39  +44
QUINN     2147-2126 .502  +17   0  -0.68  3  -0.31   1   -0.47  - 9
RICKEY    3265-3015 .520  +87   -   ----  8  +2.67   4   +1.54  +46

BAVASI2    756-869  .465  -41   0  -2.86  0  -0.64   0   -0.31  - 6
ROBINSON   683-772  .469  - 6   0  -1.52  0  -0.50   0   -0.25  - 5
SEGHI      883-989  .472  -11   0  -1.95  0  -0.90   0   -0.47  - 4
R .SMITH   566-776  .422  -49   0  -2.06  0  -0.62   0   -0.26  -38

Robinson might be one of the better guys in this fretsome foursome. He actually finished over .500 once. OK, OK, it was a strike-shortened season…. Despite choosing Hal McRae, Bob Boone, and Tony Muser as his managers, those guys didn’t destroy the team’s chances from the dugout steps. They might well have in other ways, for example by destroying young arms and causing young players to become alienated from the organization. But as tacticians they weren’t hemorrhaging runs once the game got going.

GM Performance

Now let’s look at how the GMs themselves did at constructing competitive clubs.

  • BASE: Talent in WAR that a GM inherited
  • GM: Talent in WAR that a GM acquired
  • GOAL: The amount of talent the GM needed to acquire to field a .550 team
  • %GOAL: How close he got, a career average
  • medGOAL: Median seasonal %GOAL
GM PERFORMANCE
YEAR     BASE   GM  GOAL  %GOAL  medGOAL
=========================================
BAVASI1   373  690   791    87%   100%
BROWN     281  552   557    99%   101%
CAMPANIS  342  407   364   112%   120%
HOWSAM    338  229   243    95%    81%
QUINN     222  729   824    92%    97%
RICKEY    388  871  1132    77%    78%

BAVASI2   191  128   234    55%    52%
ROBINSON  124  183   260    70%    73%
SEGHI     115  239   350    68%    72%
R. SMITH   97  114   247    46%    55%

Robinson’s results look at lot like Phil Seghi’s. They had similarly winning percentages and sprinkled in enough good moves to seem competent enough to hang onto their jobs. Generally, they would get a vote from me as “bad” instead of “trainwreck” like Bill Bavasi or Randy Smith.

Transactions Detail

Finally, the nitty gritty of building teams. First we’ll look at the kinds of transactions, then the value wrought from them.

  • AM FA: Amateur free agent
  • PUR: Purchased from another pro team
  • FA: Free agent
  • AM DF: Amateur draft (any time of year, only players who signed with the team and played in MLB)
  • R5 DF: Rule 5 Draft
  • ML DF: Minor League Draft
  • TR: Trade
  • WV: Waivers
  • SLD: Players sold to other teams
  • REL: Players released
TRANSACTION SUMMARY
          INBOUND                                | OUTBOUND
          AM           AM  R5  ML* EX            |          R5  MI* EX
          FA  PUR  FA  DF  DF  DF  DR  TR WV TOT | SLD REL  DF  DF  DF   TR  WV  TOT
=================================================|===================================
NUMBER OF TRANSACTIONS                           |
BAVASI1  101  50   48  69   6  15  29 135  2 455 |  58  59  27  13   6  135  10  308
BROWN     93  33   20  49   7   7  --  85  3 294 |  54  51  14  15  12   85   6  218
CAMPANIS  40  12   38  79   5   2  --  69  2 247 |  17  63  12   5  --   69   8  179
HOWSAM    33  27   14  50   7   1  --  95  1 228 |  25  24  11   3   5   95   1  164
QUINN    137  95   33  25  16  12  -- 113  8 441 |   8  55  25   4  --  113   3  231
RICKEY   174  78   49  --  24  11  -- 108 24 748 | 111  68  36   8  --  108  34  388

BAVASI2   16  15  157  43   4   0   0  69 16 322 |  12  83   0   0   2   69   3  169
ROBINSON  11  15  130  70   4   1   0  58 15 309 |   9  66   3   1   5   58  13  155
SEGHI     10  15   33  38   4   1  -- 106  5 212 |  12  39   2   0  --  106   1  165
R. SMITH  11   8  103  34   9   2  --  65 22 254 |   8  55   5   3  --   65  15  151
*For space, First Year Draft results are rolled into Minor League Draft results.
TRANSACTION SUMMARY
          INBOUND                                       | OUTBOUND
          AM             AM   R5  ML* EX                |          R5  MI* EX
          FA  PUR   FA   DF   DF  DF  DR   TR  WV   TOT | SLD REL  DF  DF  DF   TR  WV   TOT
========================================================|===================================
WAR FROM TRANSACTIONS                         
BAVASI1  430   94   36  235    1   0  54  257  -1  1106 |  17  20 129  20  30  438  19   674
BROWN    313    1    3  228    2   4  --  216  -2   765 |  28  10   4  29  59  343  -2   471
CAMPANIS  48   40    2  171   -1   1  --  257   0   518 |  38  13   4  23  --  298  17   374
HOWSAM    98    7    2  104    6   0  --  228   0   445 |   8   4  27  -1  -3  251   0   286
QUINN    443   45  182  141   25   3  --  480   1  1320 |   2   1   3  78  --  496  24   600
RICKEY   805  118  268  ---  121   1  --  261   0  1947 | 337  16  64  -3  --  574   8  1030

BAVASI2   27    8   96  131    0   0  --   24   5   290 |   0   8   0   0  -1  147   0   154
ROBINSON   7   17   69   98    6   0  --   59   8   264 |   2  10   2   3  12   92   8   129
SEGHI     -4   13    4   32    2   2  --  275  -1   323 |   2   3  16  -2  --  253   0   272
SMITH      3   -2   27   36   -2   3  --  140  10   215 |   2   1   0   0  --  141   0   144
*For space, First Year Draft results are rolled into Minor League Draft results.

Our three contemporary bad GMs seem to be pretty frenetic.

  • Bill Bavasi made 422 moves in 1625 games, or 42 per 162.
  • Robinson made 406 moves in 1455 games, or 45 per 162.
  • Smith made 340 moves in 1342 games, or 41 per 162.

Until we post these figures for a purely free-agent era GM, we won’t know exactly how frenetic Bavasi, Robinson, and Smith are, but they made a move about every 4.5 days.

Drilling in on Herk’s trading record a little, there’s not much to see. He was only really hosed on one trade, and only won two lopsided trades (about 10 WAR in either direction).
BEST TRADES

  • 12/10/98 +14.1: Recives Joe Randa (14.1) for Juan LeBron (0)
  • 12/17/95 +9.8: Receives Jose Offerman (9.7) for Billy Brewer (-0.1)

WORST TRADES

  • 7/31/93 -12.7: Receives Stan Belinda (-0.1) for Jon Lieber (12.4) and Dan Miceli (0.4)

On one hand, he lost a classic relievers-for-prospects trainwreck, then he won the Offerman deal using a similar logic. Generally, he appears to have been a somewhat careful trader. He tended to deal players in their contract years, meaning he couldn’t extract tons of value in exchange for just a few months of team control. He also got very, very little in return for contract-year players. In 1993, he got a bucket of balls for Gregg Jefferies. In 1995, he dealt a year of David Cone for beads and baubles, and two years of Brian McRae for shiny pebbles.

Herk’s most famous trades?

  • The 1991 deal that sent Bret Saberhagen (and Bill Pecota!) to the Mets for Jefferies, Kevin McReynolds, and Keith Miller. En toto, that deal was pretty even, and in terms of total WAR exchanged a very slightly win for KC
  • Swapping Joe Randa and prospects for Jay Bell and Jeff King—a trade he won by about six WAR
  • Dealing away Keith Lockhart and Michael Tucker for Jermaine Dye and Jamie Walker. That last trade was pretty close and would have been a slim win had Walker been even slightly above average.

Anyway, he was not a disastrous trader but he seemed unable to pull the trigger on a franchise altering move, especially one for a pitcher.

On the free agent market, Robinson was both more successful and more inconsistent. The one big impact deal he struck was signing David Cone in 1994. He got 14 WAR from the righty in two years. Other successful signings were Rey Sanchez (9 WAR), Tim Belcher (9), Gary Gaetti (8), Wally Joyner (8), and Greg Gagne (7). These are mostly second and third tier free agents or medium-length contracts. A few guys didn’t pan out and made Kauffman Stadium their final career stop. Hubie Brooks (-1) flopped and retired, so did Dave Henderson (-1). Hal Morris’s year of 0.4 WAR at first base in 1997 revealed the little that Robinson paid attention to on-base percentage. Morris never played in MLB again. A strange deal in 1998 for aging Scott Leius got Herk -2 WAR for his trouble, all the stranger for his having signed an old Terry Pendleton as well, who netted him -1 WAR as well. Yes, they both finished their careers there. The 1999 signing of Brian Johnson (-1) seemed like merely the latest in a long series of terrible hitting catchers that Robinson brought into the organization. He had an eye for guys like Tim Spehr, Chris Turner, Pat Borders, and late-career Lance Parrish. This despite trading away Brent Mayne.

Robinson’s drafts were maddeningly inconsistent. He nabbed Carlos Beltran (25 WAR), Mike Sweeney (23), David DeJesus (18), and Johnny Damon (17) as well as Jose Rosado (10 WAR before the Rs broke him through overuse). He also picked Joe Randa, Mark Ellis, and Jon Lieber and dealt them before they became regulars. On the other hand, several of their draftees who made the majors seemed to have issues of some sort. For example Mark Quinn washed out due to ongoing personality conflicts and lack of coachability. Ken Harvey couldn’t keep weight off, and Dee Brown’s career sputtered after a promising debut amidst whispers about his conditioning. Jeremy Giambi was first a Royal, and as Billy Beane would tell you, he had personality issues.

Mostly, though, Robinson was unable to draft quality pitchers. He signed a lot of his draftees and tried many of them in the big leagues but could never find the a young arm to lead the rotation. Kyle Snyder, Runelvys Hernandez, Jimmy Gobble, Chris George, Jeremy Affeldt, Kris Wilson, Jeff Austin, Chad Durbin, Jeff Granger, Glendon Rusch. They all pitched for KC, and none developed into the star pitcher the Royals needed. Was this because of Boone and Muser’s mishandling? Quite possibly. But if there was any doubt that Herk had slowly become obsessed by this white-whale over the course of his regime, here are his first-round picks by season:

  • 1991: Jason Pruitt RHP*, Joe Vitiello OF
  • 1992: Johnny Damon OF, Sherard Clinkscales RHP, Jim Pittsley RHP*, Michael Tucker SS
  • 1993: Jeff Granger LHP
  • 1994: Matt Smith LHP*
  • 1995: Juan LeBron OF
  • 1996: Dee Brown OF

OK, so far, it’s pretty balanced, right? Five hitters and five pitchers. Now check out 1997–2000:

  • 1997: Dan Reichart RHP
  • 1998: Chris George LHP*, Matt Burch RHP, Jeff Austin RHP
  • 1999: Jimmy Gobble LHP*, Jay Gehrke RHP, Mike MacDougal RHP, Kyle Snider RHP
  • 2000: Mike Stoldolka LHP*

Those asterisks represent high school pitchers by the way, who are awfully risky.

Eight first-round picks, eight pitchers, and not a one that we would call a star. It’s a very strange and sad record of futility, and given the kind of bonuses being handed out in that time (before slotting), no doubt a fundamental reason why Robinson was pink-slipped in 2000. Well that and a terrible record.

It appears Herk might not have been the greatest roster manager. Take a look at the combination of released players, rule 5ers, minor league draftees, expansion draftees, and players lost to waivers in the charts above. These are areas of roster management where roster mismanagement is most evident, and where we might see combinations of poorly assessing talent and an uncanny ability to paint oneself into a self-imposed roster crunch. Herk made 88 such moves, and in doing so he lost 35 WAR. That’s not insignificant, and it dwarfs the other bad GMs. Bavasi made a similar number of those moves (in two years’ more time) and lost just 7 WAR. Seghi made 42 such moves and lost 17 WAR. Smith made 78 of them and lost just 1 WAR. Herk was doing something very wrong if he was losing about three WAR a year due to roster manipulation transactions. In fact, I’m beginning to sense that the more players a GM releases, the more likely he is to be a bad GM. This isn’t absolutely true (see Smith’s record), but both Bavasi and Robinson released players like crazy. Often within weeks of acquiring them.

OK, one last, oddball note. Robinson was involved in some sort of strange waiver love triangle with Tim Pugh and the Cincinnati Reds. Pugh had played for the Reds organization since 1989 and made the big leagues in 1992. On May 10th, 1996, after 9 games a 10.57 ERA, he was claimed on waivers by the Royals. He appeared in 14 games with the Rs posting an unsightly 5.61 ERA. The Royals put him on waivers, and the Reds claimed him back on July 8th. He did not appear in a single contest with the Cincinnatans, and was returned to the waiver wire. The Royals struck again. On July 12th, they snagged him once more, and he again donned the blue and white liveries. In five more games in KC, he pitched a shade better: ERA of 5.06. Half a run of improvement wasn’t enough for the Royals, so they cast him aside once again, and, as fate would have it, the Redlegs seized the initiative back from their cross-league rivals for the affections of Tim Pugh. They settled the score for good. Pugh made his last appearance for the Reds on September 19th, giving up two runs in one third of an inning against the lowly Pirates. The Reds let him take his free agency in October of that year, and surprisingly neither the Reds nor the Royals signed him. Instead Randy Smith’s Tigers sank their claws into him, and after a 1997 season in which he went 9 innings over two starts with a 5.00 ERA, they let him go, and he was done.

So I promise to get to work on Pat Gillick so that we have someone good from the free agent era to start measuring against. Until then, you can revel the gory, I mean, glory of the bad GMs.

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Discussion

One thought on “GM Update #4: Herk Robinson???

  1. You can’t tell who the good guys are if you don’t know who the bad guys are.
    v

    Posted by verdun2 | May 2, 2016, 8:23 am

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