Jim Bowden Is Every General Manager

Obligatory Bowden-on-a-Nats-Segway photo!
AP Photos / The Washington Times, Peter Lockley

By Bill

I’ve done my fair share of ripping GM-turned-internet-and-radio-baseball-expert Jim Bowden, particularly on Twitter. More in the last few weeks than previously, I’d say, but I did quite a bit of it before that, too. He makes it pretty easy.

Near the beginning of the offseason, Bowden wrote a piece that seemed like one of the most ridiculous things he’d ever come up with, called “Pricing the free agents” (Insider only). In it, Bowden listed what he saw as the top 50 free agents, and attempted to predict the contract they would receive, or, in his words, an “estimate of what I would pay the top 50 free agents if I were a GM of a club that had the budget and need for that kind of player.”

Very nearly every prediction seemed absurdly high to me, and to many others. I admit, I mocked it quite a bit (I can’t take the time to scroll back and find examples because it was too long ago, but they’re there if you want to look). Four years for Madson? $30 million for Cuddyer? Please.

But as the chips started to fall and players signed, it became clear that he was probably not as far off as many of us assumed. As we went further along, it became clear that he wasn’t off at all. The bloom might be coming off the rose a bit as some holdovers end up going at bargain prices, but still, almost all of Bowden’s picks have been close enough to be considered right on.

Here’s a chart of the top 25 players on Bowden’s list who have signed big-league free agent contracts (some have accepted arbitration, like David Ortiz, and a couple haven’t signed yet, like Roy Oswalt). The first two columns are Bowden’s predictions for contract length and average annual value (AAV), the next two are the actual length and AAV at which the player signed, and the final two are the amount by which Bowden missed (in either direction) on those two numbers:

JB Yrs JB AAV Act. Yrs Act. AAV Diff Yrs Diff AAV
Albert Pujols 9 $27.0 10 $25.4 1 $1.6
Prince Fielder 8 $24.0 9 $23.8 1 $0.2
Jose Reyes 6 $18.0 6 $18.5 0 $0.5
Mark Buehrle 4 $16.0 4 $14.5 0 $1.5
C.J. Wilson 5 $15.0 5 $15.5 0 $0.5
Carlos Beltran 3 $15.0 2 $13.0 1 $2.0
Aramis Ramirez 3 $14.0 3 $11.7 0 $2.3
Jonathan Papelbon 4 $13.0 4 $12.5 0 $0.5
Jimmy Rollins 3 $13.0 3 $12.7 0 $0.3
Hiroki Kuroda 1 $12.0 1 $10.0 0 $2.0
Ryan Madson 4 $10.0 1 $8.3 3 $1.8
Heath Bell 3 $10.0 3 $9.0 0 $1.0
Michael Cuddyer 3 $10.0 3 $10.5 0 $0.5
Carlos Pena 2 $8.5 1 $7.3 1 $1.3
Francisco Cordero 1 $8.5 1 $4.5 0 $4.0
Joe Nathan 1 $7.5 2 $7.4 1 $0.1
Josh Willingham 2 $7.0 3 $7.0 1 $0.0
Aaron Harang 2 $7.0 2 $6.0 0 $1.0
Paul Maholm 2 $7.0 1 $4.8 1 $2.2
Bruce Chen 2 $6.5 2 $4.5 0 $2.0
Coco Crisp 2 $6.0 2 $7.0 0 $1.0
Rafael Furcal 2 $7.0 2 $6.0 0 $1.0
Jason Kubel 2 $5.0 2 $7.5 0 $2.5
Grady Sizemore 1 $5.0 1 $5.0 0 $0.0
Aaron Hill 2 $4.5 2 $5.5 0 $1.0
Total 77 $276.5 75 $257.9 10 $29.8
Average 3 $11.0 3 $10.3 0 $1.2

(Yes, it’s a weird way to do it. His average prediction was $0.7 million of AAV higher than the actual average, but he missed by an average of more than that. It’s because I’m not differentiating between high misses and low misses.)

Pretty impressive, right? Madson throws off much of it, and he had a deal in place that was reportedly almost exactly what Bowden predicted, but then the Phillies backed out, and Madson had to sign a much smaller deal with the Reds. There are a few others that just didn’t have a team that was a good fit, so they ended up taking considerably less than what Bowden thought they “should.” Francisco Cordero looks to me like the one flat-out, hard-to-excuse miss. Otherwise, Bowden is almost right on the money with almost every player. In particular, he was eerily, crazily accurate on Fielder, Reyes, Wilson, Papelbon, Rollins, Bell, Cuddyer, Nathan, Crisp, Furcal, Sizemore and Hill. Some of those seemed way off when he named them (Fielder, Papelbon and Cuddyer stick out especially), but they happened, almost exactly as Bowden said they would. You have to give it to the guy; he really knew what he was doing here.

One thing: as I noted above, Bowden says the numbers in this list represent an “estimate of what I would pay … if I were a GM of a club that had the budget and need.” You could argue that that’s what made Bowden kind of a poor GM. The contract a player ultimately signs will very often be an “overpay” in at least one sense, because of that winner’s curse; that winning GM necessarily paid more than any of the 29 other GMs were willing to pay. In particular, many people have argued that Fielder’s, Cuddyer’s, Papelbon’s, and Harang’s contracts were pricier than they should have had to be, yet Bowden is right there on each of them (and even over on Harang). Besides that, overall, his estimates are higher than where the actual value came in — 16 of the 25 Bowden guesses pictured here were higher than the actual AAV, with three more right on, and six lower. I also charitably skipped Joel Pineiro, who Bowden had at 1 year and $5 million but who actually signed a minor league deal. I think one could argue, if one was so inclined, that his success here exposes the reasons for his failures as GM. Making an exception for Kevin Towers — who paid Kubel 50% more than even Bowden would have — an alternate title for this post could be “Jim Bowden is Every General Manager’s Worst Mistake.”

But he’s not a GM anymore, he’s a writer and radio host, and at least in this specific area, he’s done a damn good job of it. An amazingly, stunningly, kind of creepily good job.

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