Mound Visit: Cherington’s analytical muddle ☕

On Friday, reports came out saying the Pirates had chosen former Red Sox general manager and current Blue Jays vice president Ben Cherington to be their next general manager.

Cherington was the architect of the Red Sox 2013 World Series winning team and acquired most of the players who would go on to win another in 2018. However, he was fired in August 2015, and the Red Sox finished last in three of the four seasons under his helm. Still, he was young, now 45, and well respected. He was destined to get another chance, and it will be with the Pirates.

Dejan Kovacevic wrote earlier this week that he believed Brewers assistant GM Matt Arnold was the better choice for the Pirates out of the two finalists. I agree for the same reasons he listed. That does not mean either of us thinks Cherington would be a bad hire, as we've discussed amongst ourselves. And in a way, it's not too surprising new team president Travis Williams considered a retread GM. After all, his previous employers, the Penguins, won two Stanley Cups with a retread GM. However, it's fair to be wary of going to a GM who has been removed from the position for four years. He was still involved in the game, but the game rapidly evolved since then, mostly due to a home run explosion due to a "juiced" ball.

That aside, there is a lot to like about Cherington. His player development record is exemplary. This is common knowledge by this point. Even with the high profile and very expensive miss on international free agent Rusney Castillo and only one of his first round picks panning out, Andrew Benintendi, he built one of the best farm systems in the game with Boston and then helped the Blue Jays assemble their outstanding young core. He signed Rafael Devers as an international free agent, traded for Eduardo Rodriguez when he was still in Double-A in 2014, and oversaw the development of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogarts and Jackie Bradley Jr.. They were all key contributors to the 2018 World Series winning team.

He has the player development background. The Pirates wanted that, but they were also looking for an analytics driven, 'ivy league' type to be their next general manager. Cherington has a reputation as an analytical mind. That 2013 World Series winning team went from worst to first in large part due to four free agent signings: Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara, Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew. Those four were all considered damaged goods at the time, but the Red Sox's metrics gave him the information he needed to pull the trigger on them. They combined for 16.8 WAR for for a price tag of about $40 million. At the time, 1 WAR was valued at around $7 million on the open market, meaning he paid roughly one-third the price for their production level. That is a point in his favor.

But Cherington had some bad run ins with analytics, too. And no, I'm not talking about Pablo Sandoval or Hanley Ramirez. His hands were tied on those signings, getting orders from his bosses. Boston had one of the largest analytics departments in baseball in 2015, but it was far from the most effective. They now have one of the best in the business, but only after they completely rebooted, and in some cases, scrapped, Cherington's model.

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