FanGraphs Organizational Rankings


I know that many of you have been following the series on FanGraphs that rank the organizations of the 30 MLB teams.  There are some inherent weaknesses to their process; one of the first that come to mind is that teams in separate tiers might get ranked next to each other and appear closer in talent.  One of the weaknesses has been improved upon from last year is that instead of just Dave Cameron (from USSM) doing the posts, they have added Marc Hulet, Dave Allen, Bryan Smith, Matthew Carruth, and others to get more perspectives for the series.  Each team gets 3 sections: Current Talent, Future Talent, and an overall Organizational entry. 

There have been some slight surprises: Dodgers at #14, Angels at #11, Phillies at #9.  They had reasonable concerns for each of those teams and while there was some disagreement, generally it was only the fans of the 'disrespected' team that complained too much.  Here is the top 15 so far, question marks are my guesses:

15-NY Mets
14-LA Dodgers
10-St. Louis
3-Tampa Bay ?
2-Boston ?
1-NY Yankees ?

So, it's great to see the Rangers Organization get some love, as well as their upward trend from last year.  While this post can be used to discuss their entries about the Rangers whenever that occurs, I wanted to discuss something else.

For many reasons, blogs like LookoutLanding and USSM attract more statistically minded fans than other baseball blogs-statistically minded writers, a collection of members who aggressively weed out new members, etc.  I'm a member at LL and occasionally post over there, but do more lurking than actual contributing.  However, I notice a common theme there and from M's posters at FanGraphs: they are, in my opinion, overly aggressive and dismissive of those that disagree with them.  I assume that a large part of it is dealing with fans who are not statistically minded who come there just to flame them for 'hating' on their team, but even for people with somewhat reasonable responses, they are often pretty harsh.  Why is this? 

With today's post, they must have known they would get a pretty strong response.  It had been building as each organizational ranking was unveiled (Where will the M's show up?).  However, instead of dealing with questions of bias honestly and thoroughly, it seems a majority of Dave's defenders have taken to claiming that the readers who disagree just don't understand the point of the series.  This common rebuttal is said with derision, but it is actually somewhat legitimate as they haven't clearly defined what traits they are valuing in these rankings.  They have stated (repeatedly) that it has nothing to do with previous success and that they are trying to look over the next 4-5 years, but I'm dumbfounded by their seeming surprise and frustration by those who disagree with their Mariners ranking by pointing to how they have dropped teams for similar reasons.  So reviewing their 'components':

Present Talent: The 2010 Mariners are not a great team. It’s pretty easy to look at the roster and find problems – they lack offense, the back end of the rotation is a question mark, the closer has had one good major league season, etc… The upgrades on the roster pushed them into 83-85 win territory in terms of true talent level...The combination of a winnable division and a high variance roster gives the Mariners a legitimate chance at winning the World Series this year, even with a roster that has plenty of warts.

This seems legitimate to me, though I think that the probability of all the things going right that would need to for this to happen should mitigate most of this positive scenario and thus can't be the reason they are ranked at #6.  This category would probably be rated average to above average for them.

Future Talent: The Mariners farm system isn’t among baseball’s best. They have a couple of premium prospects in Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders, but they don’t match up with the systems that boast a lot of high ceiling guys. However, there is a reason this section is entitled young talent and not farm system.  Felix is 23. Franklin Gutierrez is 27. Jose Lopez is 26. Adam Moore is 25. Ryan Rowland-Smith is 27. Every single member of the bullpen is under 30.

It is a good point that we can get too wrapped up in farm rankings and ignore young players who will be with the team for a while.  However, I don't see how adding Ryan Rowland-Smith, Adam Moore and Jose Lopez to their group helps that much.  By looking at Future Talent instead of Farm Talent, they do get to add Felix and Gutierrez, but they also open the door to much more competition from the likes of Atlanta, Colorado, San Francisco and maybe Anaheim.  Felix/Gutierrez are great, but so is Hanson/McCann/Heyward/Escobar, Tulowitzki/Jiminez/Stewart/Gonzalez, and Lincecum/Sandoval/Cain.  Considering the dearth of prospects behind Ackley and Saunders, I don't see how they grade out as higher than above average here.

Management: This is where I expect the disagreement lies, as I don’t think anything written above veers much from the common perception about the team. In terms of front office capability, financial commitment from ownership, revenues from the ballpark, and the other minor components of this section, the Mariners graded out very highly. Not just with me, but among everyone I talked to...I understand that there’s a large contingency of people who believe that we should not presume intelligence until success has been displayed on the field...I simply have a philosophical disagreement with you on how we should evaluate our expectations for the future. Just as we can separate Jason Heyward from a normal outfield prospect despite the fact that he has accomplished nothing at the big league level, I believe we can also evaluate an organization’s ability to put a winning team on the field before they do so.


So here is the crux of my very long post.  They think that JackZ is great, along with the people that he's hired.  While no one here would disagree too strongly, there are a few important questions this raises.  Are they rating the Mariner's FO so highly that it makes up for average to above average ratings in EVERY other category (including the ones they list here - revenues from ball park, financial commitment, etc) ? Do they really think they are that much better than the FO's of the teams around them to justify that ranking? 

Most importantly, why do they think they can project the performance of a Front Office with anywhere near the confidence of projecting a minor league player who is evaluated by multiple established methods?  Whereas with prospect rating there are numerous sources, the developed skill of scouting and prospect evaluation, projection models, based on statistics, that have been tweaked multiple times, what sort of model do the statistically-minded/evidence-based writers have to suggest that they can predict front office efficacy beyond 'good, bad, or better than that guy'?  I would argue that they simply don't have enough data points to project forward, if they are using 'data' at all.  The major basis of this ranking seems to be on one specific area that they then can not back up beyond a couple anecdotal points (they hired Tom Tango early on! they shed bad salary!) that, importantly, can be said about many newly hired front offices.

I understand that this is not meant to reward past performance, but just as past performance of players helps us confidently project player performance for these rankings, there simply must be more evidence (at least more than I have seen) to project such lofty expectations for JackZ & Co.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain...

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