Theo's "95-Win Team", Beckett's Extension, Falling Dominoes, and the Mailbag

Texas v Texas A&M
Theo’s “95-Win Team" In recent years, one of the most important axioms put forth by the Theo Epstein and the Red Sox front office is the law of the “95-Win Team”. According to this directive, the team’s goal is to target 95-wins annually in an effort to compete every season. This is really a great piece of wisdom, as a team that wins 95 games will make the playoffs most years. In fact, the Wild Card winner since 2003 – the first year Theo took the esteemed office of Red Sox General Manger – has averaged a record of just about 95-67. However, this doctrine relies on one major assumption – that this team will always be able to perform up to their expected level... Josh Beckett's Extension Over the past few days, rumors have been circulating that the Sox and the Josh Beckett camp have been discussing a contract extension. Adding fuel to the rumors, Beckett and agent Michael Moye have indicated that there will be no hometown discount for the Sox, so the team will have to be ready to shell out quite a bit of cash. Introducing the FireBrand Mailbag And, finally, introducing the FireBrand mailbag, where we will answer all of your darkest, most burning questions about Red Sox Baseball. If you would like to ask the writers a question to be answered on the site, please forward your inquiries to [email protected]
Texas v Texas A&M

Theo’s “95-Win Team”

In recent years, one of the most important axioms put forth by the Theo Epstein and the Red Sox front office is the law of the “95-Win Team”. According to this directive, the team’s goal is to target 95-wins annually in an effort to compete every season. This is really a great piece of wisdom, as a team that wins 95 games will make the playoffs most years. In fact, the Wild Card winner since 2003 – the first year Theo took the esteemed office of Red Sox General Manger – has averaged a record of just about 95-67.

However, this doctrine relies on one major assumption – that this team will always be able to perform up to their expected level.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s step back for a moment and assume that the Red Sox can build a team every year that averages 95 wins – or, more accurately, has the talent to win 95 games per season, but is not guaranteed to do so. This is an important concept to grasp because, though a team has the talent to win 95 games, any number of events can occur that divert the team from achieving this goal.

For instance, in any given year, the team may have a career year or two, leading to a record of 100-62. Or, conversely, they have a few unlucky breaks and down years, leading the team to win just 90 and miss the playoffs altogether.

So, given these uncertainties and Acts of God, what are the chances that the Red Sox can win 95 games when they have the talent to do so?

While it may seem obvious that they should win 95 games most of the time, it doesn’t really work out that way. It’s actually somewhat of a rare event that a team with a certain amount of baseline talent will actually perform exactly the way they are expected. Assuming the Red Sox have that baseline talent of 95 wins – or a .586 winning percentage – the chances that they win exactly 95 games is only about 6 percent.

Surprised? Me too. Common sense says that the team’s average wins should prevail most of the time. But it doesn’t – and that’s why the plan is such a good, robust one, because a 95-win Red Sox team is really just a general range of what we’d expect the team to do. What the front office really wants is the team to have a good chance at the playoffs.

Harking back to what we discussed earlier, the American League Wild Card representative has won just about 95 games over the past seven seasons. Therefore, to make the playoffs, the Sox need to win at least 95 games. So, the team doesn’t have just a 6 percent chance (the chance of winning 95 games) of making the Wild Card. They have the chance of winning 95 games or more.

So, what are the chances they take home 95+ and make at least the Wild Card?

53 percent.

Hmm, that’s OK, but not quite what we’d hope or expect to find given the Sox recent success.

But that’s not the end of the story.

When looking at the American League standings, the threshold for the Red Sox making the playoffs are actually lower than the 95 game average, because the Sox were the team winning the Wild Card almost all those years. Therefore, going along with this logic, they only need to have one more win than the best non-Red Sox team.

Again, looking back since 2003, the best non-Red Sox teams have won about 92 games per year, meaning the Sox would have to win 93 games to make the playoffs in each of these years.

In this instance, the team, assuming 95-win talent, would have a 60 percent chance of making the playoffs each year. Again, it’s a good, but not great ratio.

But, more important than the front office target of 95-wins is the actual rate of success the team has had over that seven year span. Since Theo’s first season at the helm, the team has had a record of 660-474, or just under 95 wins per season at 94.28 wins per year. This has been a very good team, making the playoffs six of those seven seasons, winning a high of 98 games in 2004 and a low of 86 in 2006.

This 0.7 win difference reduces the chances of making the 95-win threshold oh-so-slightly, to 49 percent.

But, it’s not so grim. Using the team’s record and some statistics, we can determine that the team has been probably been operating at a baseline talent level between 90 and 98 wins per year. A team with a 98-win talent level would cross the 93 win threshold about 76 percent of the time, while a 90-win Sox club would eclipse this mark just 29 percent of the time. While 8 wins may not seem like a huge amount, it is actually monumental, which contributes to the reason why the lack of a salary cap in baseball is such a hot point of contention.

But, the Red Sox don’t live in a vacuum, do they? They have to compete with the Yankees for the AL East title, who have won an average of just over 97 wins per season since 2003. Since that time, the Sox have topped the Yankees only twice, winning the division once. The numbers seem to bore this out, as the chance that a 95 win team would top a 97 win team is only about 25 percent – very close to the actual rate.

How about if we wanted to top the 100 game plateau?

Unfortunately, our chances are low but achievable, at 16 percent – or one in every six years.

How about topping 116 games, the record set by the Seattle Mariners in 2001?

Well, there’s a reason it’s a record because the chances are almost impossibly low, at only 0.015 percent – about one in about 6670 seasons. Therefore, when or if this team every wins 116 games, or even 100, it is almost a certainty that you are not starting at a “95-win” team, that the underlying talent of the team is, in all likelihood, much greater than 95-wins.

Similarly, the chances of the Sox winning 81 games or fewer is just over 1 percent. So, when this occurs, it is far more likely that we just plain had a team that was worse than the 95-win baseline, not that we were unlucky.

Still, when looking at some of these daunting probabilities, it is important to remember that there is no way to actually confirm that the Red Sox are or are not a “95-win” team. The notion of a team that consistently wins 95 games is an abstract idea that we can never prove or disprove. For instance, there’s no way of knowing, with 100% confidence, that the team we put together is a 95-win team, or .500 dud. There’s no way of knowing the true underlying talent of a Kevin Youkilis or Mike Lowell in any given season. We can only do the best with the information we have at hand.

… which makes this model very useful for assessing the value of players and their contributions toward the team’s overall success. For instance, if we know how many dollars a win costs, we can estimate how much better the team will get by “buying” additional wins.

Using the price for free agent wins, which is about $4.5 million per win on the free agent market, we can see how useful each potential player is for helping the Red Sox into the playoffs.

For instance, given a 95-win team, we’ll assume John Henry decides to raise the budget of the team by $4.5 million, which allows the team to buy one additional win on free agency. According to our model, this makes turns the Red Sox into a 96-win team. This actually has some significant affects, raising the team’s chances of reaching the 95-win threshold by about 6 percent, from 54 percent to 60 percent.

And, what if John Henry decides to let Theo loose from his leash, going on a spending spree and raising payroll by $26 million, or about four wins? Now, the 95-win Red Sox are a Yankee-killing, 99-win juggernaught. All of a sudden, the team raises its chances of winning at least 95 games from 56 percent all the way to 77 percent. That’s quite the improvement.

For winning at least 93 games, the lower threshold for making the playoffs in the past seven years, the number jumps to 81 percent.  Maybe Uncle John should open the coiffures and give Theo a little extra dough. I know I’d love to see it.

Josh Beckett’s Extension

Over the past few days, rumors have been circulating that the Sox and the Josh Beckett camp have been discussing a contract extension. Adding fuel to the rumors, Beckett and agent Michael Moye have indicated that there will be no hometown discount for the Sox, so the team will have to be ready to shell out quite a bit of cash.

In terms of performance, there are few pitchers in the MLB who are worth such an extension, as Beckett has been worth 17 wins over replacement in the last three seasons. But this is no easy decision, as these negotiations are very complex situation… and the timing of such a deal could make it perfectly maneuvered – or poorly executed.

The 2011 free agent class for starting pitchers could be among the best and deepest in recent years. At this juncture, included among the prospective free agents are  Beckett, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Javier Vazquez, and Brandon Webb, with Jorge De La Rosa, Joe Blanton, Ted Lilly adding depth, with the potential for Jeff Francis and Aaron Harang to enter due to contract options.

Now, there are sure to be a few who sign extensions with their clubs before the 2011 off-season begins – particularly any of Halladay, Lee, and Beckett. But, that’s where it gets interesting, where the strategies of the Sox front office and Beckett’s agent will be tested.

Depending on which side of the aisle you sit, the wealth of starting options is either an inescapable threat or an enormous opportunity. From the perspective of the Beckett and Michael Moye camp, this is a dangerous occurrence, as every additional starting pitching option significantly drags down the final price for Beckett.

Remember, there are not many teams in the major leagues that can afford the price tag that Beckett will command – the Sox, Yanks, Angels, Cubs, Mets, Tigers, Phillies, and Dodgers are the best bets. However, the Phillies, Mets, and Cubs already have significant commitments into 2011, so they are not as strong front runners to add a marquee starter. They will be players, but their prospects as buyers are reduced because they will have multiple needs but limited space to fill them.

Therefore, with the high number of options available and the low number of teams that can afford them, this class is shaping up to be quite the buyer’s market – everyone will have a date to the dance.

So, the Sox can approach the negotiation a number of ways.

First, they could attempt to sign Beckett before anyone else signs, while all of the other options are still potential free agents. Under this scenario, Beckett will go for slightly less, as the remaining pitchers will pull down his price tag due to the threat of Beckett hitting free agency in a crowded market. This is a somewhat brash, risky approach, as it could backfire in the event that no other pitchers sign extensions.

Another approach could be to sit and wait, letting the free agent market pan out over the course of the season. On the one hand, this would allow the team more time to see where the other pitchers will end up and who will sign early. Does Cliff Lee sign an extension with the Phillies? Is Halladay traded, then extended?

This is the “middle-road” approach. The team won’t win big by taking the risk and signing first, as they could in the first scenario. However, they won’t lose big if they sign Beckett to a “market-level” contract early in the season, while other teams don’t sign extensions and Beckett’s price would have been reduced on the free agent market.

Their last option is to let Beckett walk, in an attempt to re-sign him in free agency or take another starter. This can be considered more an extension of the second option, where they delay a decision long enough to see where the other pieces fall, then deciding for themselves. However, there is an obvious drawback – if Beckett has a career year or if enough pitchers sign extensions where there are few options on free agency, Beckett will likely forego signing an extension – opting instead to test the free agent market, where his price tag will be significantly inflated.

This is really a very interesting confrontation that will be fun to watch over the next few months. The Sox will likely take the second option – biding their time for the moment, as there is really no reason to rush… yet. Sure, Tim Hudson is likely to announce his extension with the Braves in the next few days, taking the first starter off the market. But, Cliff Lee is very early in his negotiations and, beyond Lee, there are no real threats at the moment to get the dominoes falling.

2011, the year Beckett’s presumed extension kicks in, will see the pitcher turn 31 years old. Assuming he signs for the six-years, $17 million per annum that Evan posited, the team will have Beckett under control through his age 36 season. Though Beckett has been relatively healthy through his tenure with the Red Sox, betting on six years of any pitcher, especially an aging one, is a very risky wager. While it’s certainly possible that Beckett can remain effective through those six presumed years, there are plenty of cautionary tales that suggest the Sox exercise discretion in these negotiations.

Personally, I would like to see the team wait until at least Cliff Lee signs an extension or see where Roy Halladay is traded. Signing Javier Vazquez to a short-term deal could be nearly as valuable in the short-term with far less risk. Ted Lilly or Jorge de la Rosa could be nice consolation prizes. de la Rosa, in particular, is a pitcher to keep your eye on. With or without Beckett, he could be a great signing as a back of the rotation starter with enormous potential. He made great strides last season and could be a solid #3 starter, with significant upside if he adds just a little more command.

Either way, there are plenty of options on the board at the moment where the Sox have no need to force their own hand.

Introducing the FireBrand Mailbag

And, finally, I would like to announce that FireBrand will periodically be holding a mailbag to answer all of your darkest, most burning questions about Red Sox Baseball. If you would like to ask the writers a question to be answered on site, please forward your inquiries to [email protected]

Categories: Cliff Lee Josh Beckett Roy Halladay Theo Epstein

21 Responses to “Theo's "95-Win Team", Beckett's Extension, Falling Dominoes, and the Mailbag” Subscribe

  1. M.A.G. November 5, 2009 at 9:40 AM #

    Great article, Mike.

    This is a sad day for baseball. The Yankees have shown money CAN buy championships. And even if we could theoreticaly win 95 games I don't trust this team to be a real contender. We need a team who can win against big teams, and I don't think he have that anymore. The ratings of Boston are droping, and I can see why: this team is a team in decline. And every year this team is less exciting to see.

    I'm just hoping this disapointing year be a warning sign for the FO. Because if we really want to have a chance to compete we need to invest now. They have played cheap for too many years now, and we have lose many opportunities already. If we sign someone like Dye, and nothing else, I will know Theo has given up. This team will go from "just good" to completely mediocre.

    And you know what pisses me off the most? We have the money and the prospects to make a big upgrade to this team right now! We can have Holliday and A-Gon/Hernandez if we are willing to pay the price. WE HAVE the resources to do that. And that means a huge upgrade to the lineup. The only problem is we are cheap and we overestimate our own prospects.

    So, stop being so cheap, Theo!

    • Gerry November 5, 2009 at 10:32 AM #

      Hi MAG. I'm not entirely sure it's being cheap. Everything about the Teix signing says he was never aiming at Boston (or the Angels, O's, Nats, etc.) and offering $50MM more wouldn't have done it. The Sox have a high payroll. The underperforming of 2009, IMO, had more to do, with several players showing their age at the same time, even while the aging Yankee players had career years. Which is more surprising: career seasons from Damon, Jeter, Matsui, Rivera, Pettitte, Posada or difficult seasons from Lowell, Ortiz, Penny, Smoltz, Wake . . . and Daisuke? Theo tried to get Hernandez and Halladay this season, and he did pick up Victor and Gonzo. Still, the Sox got 95W, 200HR, 120SB. Theo is aiming for AGon and either Holliday or Bay. He won't give up Buchholz for AGon, but he could give up Bard & Bowden. He won't give Holliday or Bay a Teix contract, and shouldn't, but he will try to reason with their agents. AGon + Dye is a good combination with Reddick & Kalish so close. Wake + Harden is also a good combination waiting for Tazawa, Pimental or Kelly to move up. This is still a good team, without AJ & Teix.

      • M.A.G. November 5, 2009 at 6:00 AM #

        I agree with you about Teixeira, Gerry. And the truth is a never wanted Teix. But I'm complaining about the lack of big movements in general. The team is playing safe for several years now.

        Like I said, signing Holliday now is a better idea than signing Teix, IMHO. His numbers are better, and his numbers can only improve playing against the monster. And, of course, we have a hole in LF.

        And I like A-Gon a lot more than Teixeira. He is younger, he is a monster hitter, gold glover, and he has born to play in Fenway. He has hit 28 of his 40 homers away from PETCO, and his AVG is .306. And he is a left handed OPPOSITE FIELD HITTER. Imagine his numbers against the monster!

        So, we have great options to upgrade the team right now. But Theo needs to be aggressive. That's all I'm saying…

        • M.A.G. November 5, 2009 at 7:33 AM #

          And of course, if you want to pay for big players you need to pay big. If you want to keep your money and your prospects, then you will always gonna get mediocre players, and you will always gonna be a mediocre team.

          Failing to sign Holliday is unacceptable to me. And fail to trade for A-Gon for holding a bunch of unproven prospects, is a big mistake too. Why not give Holliday Teix's money? Look at his numbers, he worth it! It's much more harmuful to the team to play cheap and sign another mediocre stop-gag, than to "overpay" a few millions and secure the LF with a premium player. We never complained to pay big for Manny, even with his horrible defense!

          • JoeSox November 5, 2009 at 3:56 PM #

            Holliday is not Teixeira's equal. Period. His numbers were inflated by Coors, and while I like him better than Bay and hope they get him, let's not pretend like he's some amazing player you can build a team around. He's the best position player on the market and we should go after him, but you do not give him a Teixeira contract. There's a good chance he gets 7 years, even that is pushing it.

            And I dislike the whole "proven" vs. "unproven" meme is getting old. Yes, they're minor league players who may or may not make the majors and become all-stars, but at some point the value you'd be giving up is not equal to the value you'd be getting back, even if it's only potential value. Theo's rejected trading guys he believes in for stars before and he'll do it again.

    • Shane November 5, 2009 at 12:25 PM #

      The Yanks didn't buy their championship. They've been spending MORE money the previous years and exited the playoffs early. They had a good team and won. Did they spend a shit ton of money on it, yes. But what about when they're saddled with CC and AJ being untradeable due to age and injury?

      If anything the Yanks have shown money can't buy championships by losing to the D-Backs and Marlins in 01 and 03. I'm not happy they won, but they were the better playing team.

      • M.A.G. November 5, 2009 at 8:28 AM #

        Of course they have a good team: they have THE BEST TEAM MONEY CAN BUY. They don't need to worry about small things like a payroll. They don't really need any kind of spending strategy. If they have the need they simply go after the best FA available no matter the cost, and if they don't have any need, they still can buy any player they want just because they can. A trained monkey could be the Yankees GM: just buy everything!

        In this league there are small markett teams, big markett teams, and the Yankees. They are in a whole another level, than everybody else.

      • Sean O November 5, 2009 at 12:31 PM #

        Sorry man, you're delusional if you think the Yankees didn't purchase that. They pocketed 1.2bn in taxpayer money to build a mallpark, and spent $400m in free agency in one offseason alone during the greatest recession of our lifetimes.

        This is about $$$ first and foremost, and until there's a salary cap and floor, the system is broken.

        • Shane November 5, 2009 at 12:39 PM #

          What about all the other years the spent more money and failed? Hell if it was about the money, then at least all they've done is proven it is an extremely inefficient way to win a world series.

          I'm not saying they don't have an advantage due to money, but it's by and far not the only thing. The Angels and Phillies both had the potential to beat them, but just didn't play better.

      • ChiTomA November 5, 2009 at 12:39 PM #

        Gotta agree with with Sean O on this one. Just because they finally figured out how to spend their money smartly doesn't mean that this championship is any less "bought". They were the better team, no question, but it does raise questions about why their payroll can be 50% bigger than anyone else in the sport.

        Also, only NY fans can be thrilled to have one a title in a glorified Disneyland "ballpark" that most fans can't even afford to go to despite the fact that $800M of their tax-dollars paid for it. And I love how they say that it feels just as good as the Phillies winning it last year or us in 2004. I guess no harm in letting them keep deluding themselves.

  2. _Marcos_ November 5, 2009 at 10:33 AM #

    Beckett needs to realize that 3.86 era would not translate to 17 wins if he played for any other team. Beckect wins a lot of games because the Red Sox are a good hitting team. Beckett is not an elite pitcher. Elite pitcher have under 3.00 era every year like Doc Halladay. Beckett is two pitcher and when one of those pitches isnt working, he usually struggles. This is what happens when low budget teams rush their prospects, they dont let them develop their pitches.

  3. Sean O November 5, 2009 at 10:49 AM #

    The 95-win goal is what's destroyed us the last two years. Instead of building a team that can compete in the playoffs, we end up with deep mediocrity. Last year's moves didn't include a single thing to help us in the playoffs, as at best we had more crappy players from which to choose instead of a single guy to get the job done.

    I have to assume they're too cheap to shoot themselves in the foot with Holliday, but it still doesn't mean we're going anywhere. Theo hasn't done anything to help us become a winner in years, which is unfortunate since every year we try ('04, '07) we end up with a ring.

    How about a trade that actually benefits for once during the offseason? How about we get some elite talent, unlike when we passed on Santana.

    Probably won't matter anyway, since the Yankees will bump payroll up to $220m at least by signing every free agent on the market. Holliday in right, Bay in left, Lackey in the rotation, Chapman in AA.

  4. evanbrunell November 5, 2009 at 1:36 PM #

    I think that we have one more year of "sustained mediocrity" left in us. The 2011 free agent class, trade market (likely) and readiness of the Sox prospects will all morph us into a 2007-9 type team (except younger)… but we have to wait to get there. It's spend money now or later… and I don't think the pieces exist for now. Hoyer may want to hold off on trading A-Gon anyways, we can always get him at the deadline or after the year.

  5. Bottom Line Rob November 5, 2009 at 3:21 PM #

    not to change the subjetc, but the Chi Sox traded for Mark Teahan… looks like they don't want Dye back… and I know you FB guys werew bog fans of Dye as a back-up plane to Bay/Holliday

  6. Bottom Line Rob November 5, 2009 at 3:21 PM #

    wow that was some bad typing…

    • Sean O November 5, 2009 at 4:17 PM #

      2:30 is way too early for drunk typing Rob.

    • E_Rock November 5, 2009 at 5:56 PM #

      staying with the subjetc, I to werew a bog fans of Dye as a back-up plane ;)

  7. E_Rock November 5, 2009 at 6:03 PM #

    there's no way i condone giving Holliday a contract that even sniffs that of Teixiera's. i'd be happy with Martinez & Gonzalez in the middle of that order flanked by Youk/Bay/Pedey etc. and who doesn't LOVE the idea of spending $25 million on platooning Lowell/Papi at DH next year. too many mixed thoughts right now, i'm drunk with hatred. nothing makes me more miserable than seeing Slappy so happy

  8. ChiTomA November 5, 2009 at 7:20 PM #

    Apparently we traded Hunter Jones and a Singe A pitching prospect for Jeremy Hermida today. Not a bad move if we consider him to be a 4th or 5th outfielder and Jason Bay insurance. He is only 26 and has two more years of arbitration. Good signing to me.

  9. donna November 5, 2009 at 8:15 PM #

    i would love to see the numbers crunched on how many dollars were spent over the last 10 – 12 years and how a lot of teams fared over that period. i, too, feel that a couple of things might help MLB – like, say, salary cap/floor and instant replay/extra ump. Watching the Yanks open that wallet, er, fort Knox, last winter made me ill. I kinda feel like barfing today when all these Yankees fans point to their shirt and proudly proclaim their title.
    i love some of the posts today, we are talking, too, about what it means to be a fan – and yet, SO far from any effectual relationship to the team operation.
    it disgusts me to no end to know about the "new stadium" and the taxpayer's money being used to build it.
    It frustrates me to see our players have not -so-great years and the Yanks pull it all together ( they really were the better team ). It was kinda fun for these past few years to be able to think that even with all the money they spent they couldn't win it all. It was glorious in 04 to do the miraculous against them.
    call me a romantic, but i still would rather see the RS develop and raise the kind of team they want on/in their farm system. i refuse to become as obnoxious as your typical Yankee fan. If there is a great FA out there who fits, wonderful – let the team splurge ( this is no small market team), pay your home-grown folk well, keeping those who are the dirt dogs. This year does not look to be the year they can pull out a great FA signing, so why spend now if the goods are not so great? Why send promising talent elsewhere only to have their success then taunt us later ?(i.e. Hanley Ramirez).

  10. Ghost of the Expos November 9, 2009 at 3:06 AM #

    Trivia question : Which team held the record for highest payroll for a World Series winner before 2009?

    Answer : Oh yeah, that would be the Red Sox 2007 team. When the Red Sox outspend every team in baseball not called the Yankees; it's because Saint Theo is smart and savvy; when the Yankees do it, they "buy" championships. Gotcha.