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Pioneers/Executives

1980s GM Throwback Throwdown!

Oooooh, let me tell you one thing right now, Mean Gene, this is 1980s Throwback Throwdown, and only one GM will come out of the steel cage with the championship belt! Unless, of course, their manager interferes. Or the Lovely Elizabeth distracts one of them. Or another GM comes to challenge both of them. Or....

Oooooh, let me tell you one thing right now, Mean Gene, this is 1980s Throwback Throwdown, and only one GM will come out of the steel cage with the championship belt! Unless, of course, their manager interferes (Cito Gaston is considered a player’s manager). Or the Lovely Elizabeth distracts the referee. Or Branch Rickey “The Dragon” Steamboat comes to challenge both of them at once. Or or or….

It’s not highly controversial to say that Pat Gillick and John Schuerholz are the best GMs to emerge immediately after the free-agent era began. Their teams have appeared in the playoffs approximately 100 times over the last 35 years, winning five world championships among them. As you know, I recently completed gathering information on Gillick, and now I’m hard at work on his rival Schuerholz. I’ve got the latter’s entire run in Kansas City logged, which means we can play 1980s GM throwdown!

Both of these guys came from a heavy scouting and player development background. Gillick had been on the scouting since the early 1960s, and Schuerholz started in the late 1960s. By the time 1982 rolled around, Gillick’s Blue Jays had finally come of age, while Schuerholz inherited a good team with strong core talent. Let’s run them through our usual mill and see who comes out on top.

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 APP: World Series appearances
  • WS APP v EXP: Similar to OCT v EXP
  • WS WINS: Championships won
  • WS WINS 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
NAME RECORD PCT. VS EXP OCT OCT VS EXP WS APP WS APP VS EXP WS WINS WS WINS VS EXP MGR PYTH
GILLICK 799-658 .548 +50 2 +0.7 0 -0.6 0 -0.3 +4
SCHUERHOLZ 754-702 .518 +15 2 +0.7 1 +0.4 1 +0.7 +12

Obviously, Gillick’s teams won a lot more often, about five more games per season, but if you give a lot of weight to postseason success, perhaps Schuerholz gains some ground. Gillick’s plus/minus against expectations is inflated a bit because he was presiding early on over teams that had lost massive numbers of games in the previous seasons, the norm, of course, for an expansion squad. The expectations I generate rely on weighted averages of the previous three seasons (plus a regressor to .500). Let’s say that we only looked at 1985 to 1990 for both guys, which removes the really bad post-expansion seasons from Gillick’s resume. Then it’s a lot closer: +17 for Gillick and +8 for Schuerholz.

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
NAME BASE GM GOAL %GOAL medGOAL
GILLICK 72 314 288 109% 107%
SCHUERHOLZ 166 164 194 85% 92%

What can you say here but Wow. Schuerholz did a fine job. He was annually a few wins on either side of being a contending team. In fact, he inherited a young veteran team with George Brett, Frank White, and Willie Wilson anchoring things. In the mid-1980s, he first transitioned the pitching staff, working in youngsters Bret Saberhagen and Danny Jackson, while adding Bud Black and Charlie Leibrandt in trades. By the time he augmented the offense with Danny Tartabull and Kevin Seitzer, he had started to transition the rotation again with Tom Gordon, Kevin Appier, and Luis Aquino replacing the departing Black, Jackson, and Leibrant. He also completely rebuilt his bullpen on the fly, taking a great flyer on Steve Farr and adding Jeff Montgomery in a trade to ease the pain of Dan Quisenberry’s decline. But Schuerholz doesn’t get the Wow!, he merely gets a nice-job pat on the back.

You see that 72 in the BASE column? That’s the talent that Gillick inherited. Schuerholz inherited a good team with a discernable core. Gillick was building from the ground up. He didn’t just build, however, he created a gushing pipeline of talent. Among all the regulars on the 1985–1990 Jays teams, the only impact players Gillick didn’t acquire were Jesse Barfield, Jim Clancy, and Ernie Whitt. Barfield was drafted in 1977 by the team’s inaugural GM Peter Bavasi, while Clancy and Whitt came via the 1976 expansion draft. So the overflow of talent—a first wave of Dave Stieb, Lloyd Moseby, George Bell, Tony Fernandez, Jimmy Key, Tom Henke, Mark Eichhorn; a second wave of Kelly Gruber, Fred McGriff, Juan Guzman, Duane Ward, David Wells, Todd Stottlemyre—all arrived in Toronto thanks to Gillick’s work. It’s an impressive haul that allowed him to build from one core player (Barfield) and two helpful guys (Whitt and Clancy) into a perennial contender.

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 (includes the short-lived free-agent compensation picks of the early 1980s)
  • 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 and First Year Draft
  • TR: Trade
  • WV: Waivers
  • SLD: Players sold to other teams
  • REL: Players released
TRANSACTION DETAILS: NUMBER OF INBOUND TRANSACTIONS
NAME AM FA PUR FA AM DFT R5 DFT ML DFT EX DFT TR WV TOT
GILLICK 30 5 29 55 8 5 0 41 3 176
SCHUERHOLZ 10 5 53 47 3 1 0 49 1 169

It’s interesting to see how the different situations these two found themselves in manifested in their acquisitions strategies. Gillick, building from the ground up and trying to stock his system with young talent drafted and signed 28 more amateurs than Schuerholz did. He also went after 13 Rule 5 and minor league draft players while Schuerholz only took on four. Gillick made fewer trades, perhaps conserving his prospects, and he signed 24 fewer free agents. After all, who needs pricey free agents (or even fringe guys) when you’ve got a system full of cheap alternatives? Schuerholz, by contrast, needed to keep a good thing going, and thanks to lower drafting positions early in the decade had fewer chances to hit big the draft. Overall, they made about the same number of moves, merely with different emphasis. Also, it should be noted that when you start with nothing, it’s easy to upgrade. When your lineup includes numerous good veteran players it’s a lot harder.

TRANSACTION DETAILS: NUMBER OF OUTBOUND TRANSACTIONS
NAME SOLD REL R5 DFT ML DFT EX DFT TR WV TOT
GILLICK 12 33 12 1 0 41 0 99
SCHUERHOLZ 4 53 1 1 0 49 0 108

The one thing I find super interesting here is the Rule 5 draft column. Gillick lost a ton of guys, and some of them were good players. But I suspect that’s what happens when you stock up on talent and don’t have infinite space on a 40-man roster.

TRANSACTION DETAILS: VALUE IN WAR TO TEAM OF INBOUND TRANSACTIONS
NAME AM FA PUR FA AM DFT R5 DFT ML DFT EX DFT TR WV TOT
GILLICK 40 0 28 128 28 0 0 77 0 301
SCHUERHOLZ 5 2 12 155 -1 0 0 90 5 268

Please excuse the rounding error in Schuerholz’s total. Schuerholz actually pried more value out of the draft. That’s pretty interesting, so let’s look at the drafted players who returned the most WAR to the Jays and the Royals before first leaving the organization.
Gillick
1. Jimmy Key: 30
2. Pat Hentgen: 28
3. John Olerud: 23
4. Todd Stottlemyre: 10
5. Woody Williams: 10
6. Mike Timlin: 7
7. David Wells: 7
8. Ed Sprague: 6
9. Pat Borders: 4
10. Many tied at 1
In this part of his tenure, Gillick also picked a few other notables who ended up elsewhere: Jeff Kent, Glenallen Hill, Greg Myers, Xavier Hernandez, Willie Blair, Derek Bell, Steve Karsay, and Hittin’ Mark Whiten. [For those wondering, Dave Stieb, Mark Eichhorn, and Lloyd Moseby were drafted in the late 1970s, so they don’t make it into this head-to-head comparison.]

Schuerholz
1. Kevin Appier: 47
2. Bret Saberhagen: 41
3. Kevin Seitzer: 17
4. Tom Gordon: 16
5. Danny Jackson: 11
6. Mike MacFarlane: 10
7. Bo Jackson: 7
8. Brian McRae: 5
9. Mike Magnante: 3
10. David Howard: 3

Schuerholz also drafted several other fine players who left the organization before making much of a contribution: Scott Bankhead, Greg Hibbard, Jeff Conine, Sean Berry, and Cecil Fielder.

While Schuerholz at this phase of their respective careers wins the draft race, Gillick’s no slouch. Looking ahead into the 1990s and 2000s, Gillick’s Blue Jays would also draft Shawn Green, Alex Gonzalez, and Shannon Stewart. On the other hand, his best picks after Toronto never gave their teams any value: The O’s traded away Jayson Werth, the M’s dealt Adam Jones, and the Phils shipped out Travis D’Arnaud. Schuerholz’s Braves, however, didn’t draft nearly so well, then again, they usually picked around #25–30. They selected Kevin Millwood, John Rocker, Mark DeRosa, Marcus Giles, Jason Marquis, Matt Belisle, Ryan Langerhans, Kelly Johnson, Adam LaRoche, Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeru, Johnny Venters, Yunel Escobar, Chris Medlen, Jason Heyard, Freddie Freeman, and Craig Kimbrel. In addition, the drafted Jermaine Dye, Jason Schmidt, Adam Wainwright, and Jared Saltalamachia then swapped them before they became regulars. On the whole, Schuerholz’s draft record is damn impressive.

TRANSACTION DETAILS: VALUE IN WAR OF PLAYERS IN OUTBOUND TRANSACTIONS
NAME SOLD REL R5 DFT ML DFT EX DFT TR WV TOT
GILLICK 13 9 20 0 0 73 0 115
SCHUERHOLZ 0 13 0 -1 0 99 -2 113

So what about trades? We’ve found that even breaking even on trades (as we’re calculating the outbound value) is very difficult. And our estimates do not take into account the nested nature of some trade chains (that is Player A traded for Player B who is subsequently traded for Player C, etc…). So the aggregate is really important to look at. During this period in question, Schuerholz made more trades and got more overall value while giving up more overall value. Then again, both GMs returned about the same ratio of WAR in to WAR out by our estimates.

Our estimate of the three best and worst for both of our guys in terms of WAR.

GILLICK
Best
• 12/9/82 (+23): Received Dave Collins, Fred McGriff, Mike Morgan, and cash (24) for Tom Dodd and Dale Murray (0)
• 3/25/82 (+16): Received Rance Mulliniks (16) for Phil Huffman (0)
• 7/6/86 (+9): Received Duane Ward (11) for Doyle Alexander (2)

Worst
• 6/22/85 (-15): Received Cliff Young (0) for Mitch Webseter (15)
• 7/14/87 (-10): Received Juan Beniquez (0) for Luis Aquino (10)
• 8/24/89 (-9): Received Jim Acker (0) for Francisco Cabrera and Tony Castillo (9)

Of course, the McGriff trade is one of history’s most infamous heists, but the Mulliniks and Ward deals are little gems that paid big dividends.

SCHUERHOLZ
Best
• 7/7/83 (+23): Received Charlie Leibrandt (23) for Bob Tufts (0)
• 2/15/88 (+21): Received Jeff Montgomery (21) for Van Snider (0)
• 10/23/81 (+15): Received Bud Black (13) for Manny Castillo (-2)

Worst
• 3/27/87 (-23): Received Rick Anderson, Mauro Gozzo, and Ed Hearn (-1) for David Cone and Chris Jelic (22)
• 2/5/83 (-12): Received Leon Roberts (1) for Cecil Fielder (13)
• 1/14/82 (-12): Received Grant Jackson (-1) for Ken Phelps (11)

Leibrandt, Montgomery, and Black were stalwarts for the Royals in various roles for years, and these largely forgotten deals did much to build around the Royals’ core players. But if the McGriff trade was a boon for Gillick’s Jays, the even more notorious David Cone trade really hurt the Royals going forward. While they could afford to deal from depth with Flash Gordon and Kevin Appier following Cone to the big leagues in a year or two, the return crippled the KC on the other side of the ball. Ed Hearn, a catcher was the key piece, and he flopped miserably. What the Royals didn’t realize at the time was that they already had a guy around who would turn into what they thought Hearn could be. That guy was Mike MacFarlane. The warning signs on Hearn were there all along. He had a decent eye at the plate, but after A-ball, except for one-half a season, he never developed the power projected for his 6’3” 215lb body. His 1984 season at AA included 11 homers and a .492 SLG in 86 games, but it was a fluke, and the initial transition to AAA and MLB went bumpily. Then a shoulder injury suffered shortly after his arrival in Kansas City destroyed whatever hope he had for a career. He was out of the big leagues after 1988 and out of baseball after 1990. In the end, the Royals dramatically overvalued a 25-year-old catcher whose 98 OPS+ in 1986 came in just 136 at-bats. Nothing except the wisdom that catchers mature late as hitters suggested he’d ever bet better than that, and in trading a “spare” asset for him, they overplayed Schuerholz overplayed the hand. A variety of disappointments, injuries, and free agent defections would lead the Royals from one of the best pitching staffs of the modern era (Saberhagen, Gubicza, Jackson, Leibrandt, Black is one hell of a rotation, plus Quiz in the pen) to hoping that Jose Rosada and Hipolito Pichardo’s arms wouldn’t fall off so that they could hang their hopes on someone else in addition to the great and long-suffering Kevin Appier. Having David Cone around would have made quite a difference there. So too would have acquiring a hitter more talented than Hearn to help the club ease George Brett toward retirement and supply some sock behind Tartabull. Well, that’s life in the GM’s chair.
So who is our throwdown champion? I think it’s Pat Gillick. In the long run, I suspect that Schuerholz will outclass Gillick, but in the 1980s, Jays against Rs, it’s Gillick at the peak of his powers. Want proof? Gillick won that Rance Mulliniks trade by beating John Schuerholz, and he beat him again in the Cecil Fielder deal. Schuerholz tried to make a comeback in the Luis Aquino swap and the Jorge Orta-for-Willie Aikens trade, but it’s too little too late. Onto the 1990s, guys!

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Discussion

One thought on “1980s GM Throwback Throwdown!

  1. I had a crush on Elizabeth as a kid. Still can’t believe she’s gone.

    Posted by Gary Trujillo | May 11, 2016, 11:16 am

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