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Pioneers/Executives

GM Update #6: John Schuerholz plus NEW! World Series GM goals

Last week we gave you the Gillick/Schuerholz 1980s throw down, and this week we’ve cranked through the rest of Schuerholz’s resume to bring you fully information on him. In addition, we’ve added some new information to every GM. We’ve been displaying a goal for GMs that shows how well they did at building teams that were contenders (.550 winning percentage), and we wanted to extend that a little bit. Now we’re also displaying similar information about how well a GM did at creating a World Series-level team. To do so, we looked at the typical record of the the World Series entrant with the worse record of the two contestants. In other words, we want to know what the cover charge is to get into the dance, where anything can happen (right, Minnesotans!).

As it turns out, over history, the regular-season winning percentage necessary to get to the Series has dropped, and somewhat dramatically. But it’s gone in phases:

  • 1901–1913: .630
  • 1914–1960: .615
  • 1961–1999: .580
  • 2000–2015: .560

Keep in mind, I’m not using the latest in statistical analysis to come up with these. Instead, I found the figures, looked closely at the data itself and at a graph of it, then went with what appeared to be the pattern. Someone else can do more nitty gritty work if they want, but this will be close enough for now. So this data is used just as I used the .550 benchmark for contention to calculate a goal for each season for each GM by backing out players that he didn’t bring to the organization to determine how many WAR his acquisitions need to generate to field a highly competitive team.

Let’s go to the data! I’ll give you the alphabet soup as we go.

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
BAVASI 1 2386-2166 .524 +54 2 +0.2 8 +5.1 4 +2.5 +42
BROWN 1816-1625 .524 +48 4 +2.5 2 -0.2 2 +0.9 -5
CAMPANIS 1576-1280 .552 +44 6 +4.9 4 +2.5 1 +0.2 +8
GILLICK 2276-1993 .533 +95 11 +5.7 3 +1.0 3 +2.1 +23
HOWSAM 1331-1049 .559 +63 5 +3.3 4 +2.8  2 +1.4 +44
QUINN 2147-2126 .502 +17 0 -0.7 3 -0.3 1 -0.5 -9
RICKEY 3265-3015 .520 +87 N/A N/A 8 +2.7 4 +1.5 +46
SCHUERHOLZ 2348-1794 .567 +140 16 +10.8 6 +3.4 2 +1.1 +69
BAVASI 2 756-869 .465 -41 0 -2.9 0 -0.6 0 -0.3 -6
ROBINSON 683-772 .469 -6 0 -1.5 0 -0.5 0 -0.3 -5
SEGHI 883-989 .472 -11 0 -2.0 0 -0.9 0 -0.5 -4
SMITH 566-776 .422 -49 0 -2.1 0 -0.6 0 -0.3 -38

Schuerholz’s record is stunning. He’s got the best winning percentage, he’s the best against expectations, and his choice in managers (Bobby Cox and Dick Howser) was impeccable. His teams appeared about 11 more times in the playoffs than we’d expect, 3 three more times in the World Series, and for all the flack they take for not winning more often, they were still ahead of expectation in that department. It’s an absolutely fair question to ask how much Schuerholz has to do with the Braves’ success, however. He acquired none of:

  • Steve Avery
  • Jeff Blauser
  • Pedro Borbon
  • Ron Gant
  • Tom Glavine
  • Chipper Jones
  • David Justice
  • Mark Lemke
  • Charlie Leibrandt
  • Javy Lopez
  • Kent Mercker
  • Lonnie Smith
  • Pete Smith
  • John Smoltz
  • Mike Stanton
  • Jeff Treadway
  • Mark Wohlers

That’s practically an entire roster of excellent players, most of whom played all at once in the early 1990s. To give some perspective here, imagine stepping into the GM’s seat of the Mets before 1983. You’ve got an astounding collection of talent in the minors, a fantastic manager, some pieces at the big league level to sift through, and no one has any expectation that you’ll contend. In reality, the Mets dynasty, such as it was, ended with a whimper. They won it all in 1986, of course, but given the array of talent on hand, the team ultimately underperformed, and by 1990, it all came crashing down. Or maybe you’d rather think of the 1960s Cubs. You’ve got Santo, Williams, Jenkins, Banks, and others. That team never made one playoff appearance. Or the 1990s Mariners with Edgar, A-Rod, Griffey, the Big Unit, Buhner, and lots of excellent players. There’s so many examples of teams with a boat load of MLB-ready and emerging talent that had a brief window and fizzled. Or never even got the window open. Thought of against the backdrop of all those also rans, Schuerholz’s ability to continually surround his core talent with useful contributors, and later to transition from one generation of Braves to another boggles the mind. Actually, it’s much like Al Campanis and Bob Howsam’s situations, except the Braves won even more often and for longer without letup.

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
  • CONT GOAL: The amount of talent the GM needed to acquire to field a contender, a .550 team
  • %GOAL: How close he got, a career average if the seasonal averages
  • med%GOAL: Median seasonal %GOAL
  • WS GOAL: The amount of talent the GM needed to acquire to field a typical WS entrant in his era
  • %GOAL: How close he got, a career average if the seasonal averages
  • med%GOAL: Median seasonal %GOAL

 

GM PERFORMANCE
NAME BASE GM CONT GOAL avg%GOAL med%GOAL WS GOAL avg%GOAL med%GOAL
BAVASI 1 373 690 791 91% 100% 972 71% 88%
BROWN 281 552 557 97% 101% 696 76% 81%
CAMPANIS 342 407 364 128% 119% 469 87% 90%
GILLICK 385 684 671 108% 107% 807 88% 91%
HOWSAM 338 229 243 83% 81% 350 60% 53%
QUINN 222 729 824 92% 97% 1066 68% 72%
RICKEY 428 879 1132 73% 78% 1584 52% 58%
SCHUERHOLZ 487 576 539 116% 105% 667 87% 88%
BAVASI 2 191 128 234 63% 52% 282 48% 47%
ROBINSON 124 183 260 74% 73% 315 58% 60%
SEGHI 115 239 350 63% 72% 420 53% 60%
SMITH 97 114 247 46% 55% 293 41% 47%

Schuerholz is right there with anyone on this list.

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

Since I’m trying these attractive new tables, I’ll need to split the Inbound and Outbound transactions into separate tables to keep these manageable.

TRANSACTION DETAILS: NUMBER OF INBOUND TRANSACTIONS
NAME AM FA PUR FA AM DFT R5 DFT ML DFT EX DFT TR WV TOT
BAVASI 1 101 50 48 69 6 15 29 135 2 455
BROWN 93 33 20 49 7 7 0 85 3 294
CAMPANIS 40 12 38 79 5 2 0 69 2 247
GILLICK 71 49 207 148 19 8 0 130 31 663
HOWSAM 33 27 14 50 7 1 0 95 1 228
QUINN 137 95 33 25 16 12 0 113 8 441
RICKEY 174 78 49 N/A 24 11 N/A 108 24 748
SCHUERHOLZ  62 17 265 142  7 1 0 150 17 659
BAVASI 2 16 15 157 43 4 0 0 69 16 322
ROBINSON 11 15 130 70 4 1 0 58 15 309
SEGHI 10 15 33 38 4 1 0 106 5 212
SMITH 11 8 103 34 9 2 0 65 22 254

Intersting to see that Schuerholz and Gillick wound up with nearly the exact same number of inbound transactions. Gillick signed fewer free agents and made a few less trades. Schuerholz signed fewer amateurs and bought fewer players outright. He also made less use of the Rule 5 draft, but I suspect few modern GMs will be able to make as good use of the Rule 5 as Gillick did. Generally, it’s safe to say that the modern game is, by comparison to prior eras, far more transaction-centric than its predecessors.

TRANSACTION DETAILS: NUMBER OF OUTBOUND TRANSACTIONS
NAME SOLD REL R5 DFT ML DFT EX DFT TR WV TOT
BAVASI 1 58 59 27 13 6 135 10 308
BROWN 54 51 14 15 12 85 6 218
CAMPANIS 17 63 12 5 0 69 8 179
GILLICK 30 127 22 2 6 130 20 337
HOWSAM 25 24 11 3 5 95 1 164
QUINN 8 55 25 4 0 113 3 231
RICKEY 111 68 36 8 N/A 108 34 388
SCHUERHOLZ 9 170 11 2 6 150 18 366
BAVASI 2 12 83 0 0 2 69 3 169
ROBINSON 9 66 3 1 5 58 13 155
SEGHI 12 39 2 0 0 106 1 165
SMITH 8 55 5 3 0 65 15 151

Roster churn. It’s a thing, especially in the last 30 years.

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
BAVASI 1 430 94 36 235 1 0 54 257 -1 1106
BROWN 313 1 3 228 2 4 0 216 -2 765
CAMPANIS 48 40 2 171 -1 1 0 257 0 518
GILLICK 132 62 194 295 60 -1 0 228 -2 978
HOWSAM 98 7 2 104 6 0 0 228 0 445
QUINN 443 45 182 141 25 3 0 480 1 1320
RICKEY 805 118 268 N/A 121 1 N/A 261 0 1947
SCHUERHOLZ 117 9 142 298 -1 0 0 246 7 818
BAVASI 2 27 8 96 131 0 0 0 24 5 290
ROBINSON 7 17 69 98 6 0 0 59 8 264
SEGHI -4 13 4 32 2 2 0 275 -1 323
SMITH 3 -2 27 36 -2 3 0 140 10 215

 

A really important thing to understand about Schuerholz is the relationship between his amateur free agent and amateur draft transactions. He got good value from both, and as time moved on, international amateur signings became increasingly important to the Schuerholz Braves. Because they nearly always finished with an excellent record, they typically didn’t pick until very late in the first round. With the Royals, Schuerholz only signed 10 amateurs for a total of 5 WAR. That means he got 112 WAR out of the other 57 signees during his Atlanta tenure. Who were the big ones and how much WAR did they contribute?

  • Andrew Jones: 61
  • Rafael Furcal: 22
  • Martin Prado: 16
  • Julio Tehran: 10 and counting

That’s a nice haul, and each of these guys was an important core contributor during their tenure.

Now, in the draft, we see a very different split between KC and Atlanta. With the Rs, Schuerholz nabbed 47 future major leaguers in ten years worth a total of 150 WAR:

  • Kevin Appier: 47
  • Bret Saberhagen: 41
  • Kevin Seizer: 17
  • Tom Gordon: 16
  • Danny Jackson: 11
  • Mike MacFarlane: 10

In Atlanta, 95 picks proved out and brought in 148 WAR. The big winners were

  • Jason Heyward: 25
  • Brian McCann: 23
  • Marcus Giles: 17
  • Freddie Freeman: 16 and counting
  • Kevin Millwood: 13
  • Kelly Johnson: 12
  • Kris Medlen: 10

You can see that most of these guys were later in his Braves stint. Also, they tended to have less impact overall than their Royals’ predecessors. That’s why the international signings were so very important for the Braves. We’ll look at trades individually below, but no discussion of Schuerholz’s legacy is complete without noting that he was never afraid to make the big trade. He made a fair number of splashy deals, and when he did, they tended to work out nicely or at least even out: Fred McGriff, Denny Neagle, Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton, and other marquee names came in that way. The Mark Teixeira deal may be the one he would take back if he could, and even that swap isn’t so cut-and-dried because part of the problem with it is that Frank Wren failed to extract good value for Tex when he dealt him after Schuerholz’s retirement from GMing.

TRANSACTION DETAILS: VALUE IN WAR OF PLAYERS IN OUTBOUND TRANSACTIONS
NAME SOLD REL R5 DFT ML DFT EX DFT TR WV TOT
BAVASI 1 17 20 129 20 30 438 19 674
BROWN 28 10 4 29 59 343 -2 471
CAMPANIS 38 13 4 23 0 298 17 374
GILLICK 16 20 25 0 -2 285 10 357
HOWSAM 8 4 27 -1 -3 251 0 286
QUINN 2 1 3 78 0 496 24 600
RICKEY 337 16 64 -3 N/A 574 8 1030
SCHUERHOLZ 7 46 2 -1 26 246 6 332
BAVASI 2 0 8 0 0 -1 147 0 154
ROBINSON 2 10 2 3 12 92 8 129
SEGHI 2 3 16 -2 0 253 0 272
SMITH 2 1 0 0 0 141 0 144

As we usually do, let’s look at deals Schuerholz won or lost by 10 WAR or more. Remember we’re estimating outgoing value as what the player did before his next officially scheduled free agency. That information isn’t always simple to interpret from transaction logs, so it’s a tad fuzzy.

Won

  • 12/16/04 (+25): Received Tim Hudson (26) for Juan Cruz, Dan Meyer, and Charles Thomas (1)
  • 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)
  • 7/18/93 (+13): Received Fred McGriff (12) for Vince Moore, Donnie Elliot, and Melvin Nieves (-1)

Lost

  • 7/31/07 (-34): Received Ron Mahay and Mark Teixeria (7) for Beau Jones, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (41)
  • 3/27/87 (-23): Received Ed Hearn, Maura Gozzo, and Rick Anderson (-1) for Chris Jelic and David Cone (22)
  • 12/13/03 (-19): Received J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero (10) for Ray King, Jason Marquis, and Adam Wainwright (29)
  • 2/5/83 (-12): Received Leon Roberts (1) for Cecil Fielder (13)
  • 1/14/82 (-12): Recived Grant Jackson (-1) for Ken Phelps (11)
  • 12/10/87 (-10): Received Floyd Bannister and Dave Cochrane (2) for Chuck Mountain, John Davis, Greg Hibbard, and Melido Perez (12)

Schuerholz is the only good GM so far to come out even, while Swappin’ Phil Seghi and Randy Smith both came out a little ahead. Much of that imbalance in general comes from the way we are calculating the WAR in and out in trades. So if Schuerholz is making out even, that means he’s a very good dealmaker. What I’ve generally found is that he tended to deal need for need and value for value. That’s a good way to go about business in a field where relationships mean so much. And read any book about baseball, and you’ll see what a small community it really is. Anyway, there are numerous examples of Schuerholz making these kind of mutually helpful deals. Here’s a few with well known players in them:

  • 12/10/86: Received Danny Tartabull (13) for Scott Bankhead, Mike Kingery, and Steve Shields (9)
  • 11/6/87: Received Kurt Stilwell and Ted Power (3) for Danny Jackons and Angel Salazar (5)
  • 8/28/91: Received Alejandro Pena (1) for Tony Castillo and Joe Roa (0)
  • 5/24/94: Received Roberto Kelly and Roger Etheridge (1) for Deion Sanders (1.5)
  • 8/28/96: Received Denny Neagle (7) for Corey Pointer, Ron Wright, and Jason Schmidt (11)
  • 3/25/97: Received Alan Embree and Kenny Lofton (6) for Marquis Grissom and David Justice (6)
  • 3/27/97: Received Keith Lockhart and Michael Tucker (7) for Jermaine Dye and Jamie Walker (9)
  • 12/11/97: Received Gerald Williams (4) for Chad Fox (2)
  • 11/10/98: Received Brett Boone and Mike Remlinger (8) for Rob Bell, Denny Neagle, and Michael Tucker (8)
  • 1/15/02: Received Gary Sheffield (11) for Andrew Brown, Brian Jordan, and Odalis Perez (14)
  • 1/19/07: Received Mike Gonzalez and Brent Lillibridge (2) for Adam LaRoche and Jamie Romak (3)

Some of these were big pennant-drive deals, some were just little swaps that helped both GMs. But it’s a pretty deep record of substantive trades where neither party walked away feeling snookered. When you think about it, trading is an even riskier game to play than acquiring amateurs. You’re going head to head and there’s money involved and prestige. Using trades to fill holes amicably while stocking up on amateur talent makes great sense. Clearly basing your entire acquisition strategy on winning trades doesn’t work. Just ask Swappin’ Phil or Trader Frank Lane.

Oh, and you may recall that Braves’ minor league hurler David Nied was the Rockies’ first pick in the 1993 Expansion Draft. Well, he didn’t do much to run up those 26 lost wins to expansion. Instead, that was the duo of Vinny Castilla and Armando Reynoso who went on to produce 15 WAR and 10 WAR respectively by the time they reached free agency.

Just like with Pat Gillick, we have to be very impressed with John Schuerholz. While he took over teams at different stages of success than Gillick did, Schuerholz appears to have masterfully moved to not merely keep his team in annual contention but to actually keep it a World-Series level team for years and years. I know little about the Braves’ organizational culture in that period, but one suspects that Schuerholz and those above him made strong efforts to create a player-friendly atmosphere that not only drew talent but retained it for long periods. We don’t talk much about this yet because of how we’re viewing transactions, but Schuerholz made it a huge priority to do everything he could to keep his most productive players in the fold. Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Andruw Jones, Javy Lopez; those guys stayed together for darn near ever to form a deep core of talent as strong as the “Core Four” Yankees for sure.

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