The Michael Bourn Dilemma, as viewed through the Buster Olney Rule
So, like many other Mets fans recently, I’ve been contemplating the ramifications of the Mets (hypothetically) signing Michael Bourn to a $15M contract. Some pros and cons …
At first I was against it because he’s 30 and I was under the impression that speed guys age badly because guys age 30 or older are rarely ranked towards the top of stolen base leaders. However, I found evidence compiled by Jeff Zimmerman saying that the WAR of speed guys actually retains good value post-30: http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2011/5/31/2199146/hitter-aging-curves. So I was thinking, “Maybe signing this guy isn’t that bad an idea.”
I made a full swing in favor of it after seeing that Fangraphs says he’s been worth ~$22M/yr for the last four years and even in the worst of those years (2010 & 2011) he was still worth over $18M.
However, I think I’ve finally settled on giving a thumbs-down to the possibility because of what I call the “Buster Olney Rule.” Last winter, while Olney was answering a mailbag question, I stumbled across this:
From the mailbag
Note: I wrote the other day that, generally speaking, spending 15 percent of your payroll on one player is probably something teams would shy away from.
Q: The 15% rule is a good one, Buster, but it’s not enough. The real rules are: no one player more than 15%; no two more than 25%, no three more than 33%, no four more than 40% and no six more than 50%. It’s how you go about constructing a roster.
A: Greg: Generally speaking, I’d bet there are a whole lot of general managers who agree with you.
So let’s take a look at a hypothetical roster using math that conforms to ~$112M payroll, the average 2012 playoff payroll (via Cot’s):
|player #1||$16.80||1 only||$16.80||15.00%||$112.00|
|player #2||$11.20||1 to 2||$28.00||25.00%||$112.00|
|player #3||$9.33||1 to 3||$37.33||33.33%||$112.00|
|player #4||$7.47||1 to 4||$44.80||40.00%||$112.00|
|player #5||$5.60||1 to 5||$50.40||skip||skip|
|player #6||$5.60||1 to 6||$56.00||50.00%||$112.00|
Now let’s also take a look at a hypothetical payroll using math that stays at the $189M luxury tax threshold:
|player #1||$28.35||1 only||$28.35||15.00%||$189.00|
|player #2||$18.90||1 to 2||$47.25||25.00%||$189.00|
|player #3||$15.75||1 to 3||$63.00||33.33%||$189.00|
|player #4||$12.60||1 to 4||$75.60||40.00%||$189.00|
|player #5||$9.45||1 to 5||$85.05||skip||skip|
|player #6||$9.45||1 to 6||$94.50||50.00%||$189.00|
Under either scenario, that puts a $15M player as one of the top two or three best-paid players on any roster you could devise using the Olney Rule. And whether he’s worth it or not, I don’t believe that a player who brings so little to the table offensively deserves to be such a centerpiece of your organization. I have to imagine that an all-glove/no-hit center fielder could be had for millions less than what Bourn is asking for. Final Verdict: Please Do Not Sign Michael Bourn, Mr. Alderson.
EXCITING POST-SCRIPT (Jan 31, 2013 @ 9:54pm):
The more I thought about it, I wasn’t getting on board with how the math worked on the Olney Rule so I crunched a bunch of numbers myself. Using all 2012 payrolls from Cot’s, I found that the average MLB payroll of $98.1M has 63% of its payroll allotted to its six top-paid players, which would be about $13M more for those guys combined than the Olney Rule allows for. So I was right to think that the math didn’t add up. I don’t quite have the time to draw many concrete conclusions yet but at first glance I can still say this: all signs I see point to only having two or three guys on your payroll making $15M or more. So if Bourn’s asking price is still $15M then I’m still not a fan of having him tie up a top-3 payroll spot. You can see the math I’ve worked out so far here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0ArnrUtDIk9i0dGx5YnVKa1g5QnBmRUhZZ005X2RIYVE&usp=sharing