An Unsolicited Response to RSBS

I love the guys at RSBS. If you haven’t stopped by their site, they have witty baseball posts, spiced with political commentary and the occasional (and almost always necessary for the topic) photo of beautiful women.

 

Yesterday they put up a post you can read here  that I would like to respond to.  

 

Now to be fair, Jeff didn’t write his post as part of a dialog with me and he wasn’t able to change his comments based on what I would have said. However, he did say what he did and I’m going to respond to those particular comments as they were written.

 

****** The writing in red and italics is from RSBS********

“Here’s an idea that will never become reality, but just for fun, let’s think about it.

Albert Pujols, while somewhat showing glimpses of his old self, is on pace to hit 15 homers and drive in 70-some RBIs — a whole lot less than the Halos thought they’d get from a a man making $24 million  a year… FOR THE NEXT TEN YEARS.

And how about the $20 million a year the Red Sox are paying Carl Crawford… FOR THE NEXT SIX YEARS.  Good thing Theo got out of town!

Of course, Theo already knows, you don’t have to go outside of Chicago to find a big, fat pile of head-scratching contracts.  Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano (yep, sCrUBBIES are still payin’ the bulk of that awful) are the most high profile, but until this year, the Dunn, Peavy and Rios contracts made Kenny Williams one of the south side’s most hated”. -RSBS

 

First of course is that it’s a little early to hold up Albert Pujols as a poster boy for bad contracts. Sure, he has had a rough go of things early on in the first season of his 10yr contract, but I think he should be given at least a full season, not 7 weeks, before we start to grade the success of this signing.

 

Second, it’s easy to remember those that don’t live up to the size of their contract (Soriano, Crawford, Zito) because they get the most press and draw the greater ire of the fans. Yet those on the other end of the scale (successful players), seem to be at a publicity “disadvantage”. Look, because of the very nature of a 100+ million dollar contract being so huge, no player will ever seem to outplay that contract. And when they do play well and earn their money (ARod 2001-10, M Ramirez 2001-08, D Jeter 2001-10)  ……. well……. most fans will look at it as something that they were supposed to do: (ie – “That’s what their getting paid for”).

“The truth is, when money is on the line, pro athletes perform better.  Consider the beyond stellar starts of Andre Ethier, Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Kyle Lohse, Jake Peavy, Zack Greinke and many, many more.  The one thing these fellas all have in common is… THEY’RE IN CONTRACT YEARS!” -RSBS

 

Actually, there’s little or no truth to this commonly held myth.  I could use arbitrary examples like Miguel Montero, Robinson Cano, Jhonny Peralta, Mark Reynolds and others that are not performing well in this, their contract year; but it’s better to use actual empirical evidence.

 

From Bloomberg Sports in 2010:            

          “Over the past nine years, 177 players performing in the last year of a contract hit for a collective .282 batting average, with an .824 OPS. They also averaged 19 home runs, 51 extra base hits and 73 runs batted in per 500 at-bats.

            That’s not much different from their collective numbers from the previous year: .283 batting average, .821 OPS, 19 homers, 51 extra base hits and 74 RBI”

*** Truth be told, I’ve found addition data from the guys at BaseballProspectus that suggests that performance may be up slightly in contract years using a different metric (WARP); however, their study from 1976-2000 was limited to “prominent free agents”, not all players in a contract season were used. If it’s true that players perform better in contract years; that truth should hold for all players, not just “prominent” ones.

“If your paycheck is on the line, you try harder.  This is FACT.  But if you have the means to fall back on (Albert, Carl, et al.) and you have no pressure to git ‘er done ‘cuz you already got BAZILLIONS in the bank, what incentive is their to be the superstar you’ve always been?  I don’t care how bad@ss you are, the trend in performance speaks loudly: once a player reaches his monetary apex, he regresses.” -RSBS

 

The clear implication is that players only try to do their best when money is on the line. It suggest that they don’t play to “Win the Game”, play for pride, or just play for the simple love of the game. It says that money is the overriding force that drives the players, and that once they have that money, all bets are off when it comes to performance.

 

Let’s look at the first part, that players in contract years try harder….”FACT” as you say. The one major problem with that statement is that trying harder doesn’t necessarily translate into playing better. Michael Bourn can try as hard as he wants to hit 20 HR’s this year in order to increase his free agent value, but it isn’t going to happen, at least not without sacrificing another part (AVG) of his game. And as was pointed out in the Bloomberg data, the stats don’t reflect improved play as a whole.

 

The second part of your statement, which you suggest that players aren’t as incentivized to perform because they already have money in the bank, seems most cynical.  Yet you are not alone in this line of thought. I hear fans of athletes from all sports say the same thing. But why is it that we only talk about athletes this way? Why not movie stars? Using this reasoning, I see no reason to view Tom Hanks next movie. Surely he must have phoned-in his performance because he is already rich. How about Warren Buffett? He’s super rich. Should I just ignore his next stock “buy” because he doesn’t really need it to show profit in order to make his next mortgage payment?

“There’s nothing wrong with paying a dude $25 million a year if he puts up $25 million a year numbers.  So why not reward those who do and save money (and face) by doing it on a year-to-year basis?” -RSBS

 

The answer of course is that baseball free agency is one of the purest forms of free-market economics that exist. Each player is worth exactly what each owner is willing to pay and what each player is willing to accept. In Albert’s case, it was $240M. A huge salary to be sure, but the market can move the other way also. Vlad Guerrero was unable to find a buyer for his services this season at a price for which he was willing to perform. Why would we want to put artificial barriers on this market? Besides, to think that if we limited contracts to one year that Albert could have been had for “just” $24M is crazy. Pujols is getting $24M per year because the total guaranteed package is worth $240M. If Albert could only sign a 1 year deal , my guess is that it would take $35+M to get him for 2012. Why? Because if he struggles this year he wouldn’t be able to command nearly as much in 2013, so he has to get his money now. We see this play out all the time in the NFL. They don’t have guaranteed contracts, so the players command huge signing bonuses in order to get their money up front.

 

One last thing. It seems implicit in your overall comments that if teams weren’t under the weight of 10yr  $100M contracts that they would have a better chance to win. I’m not really sure what makes you think this is the case. In fact, we can go back to the pre- free agency era and see that it’s not actually the case. Boston went from 1952 to 1966 without ever winning more than 84 games in a season. Philadelphia only had 3 winning seasons from 1954 to 1974. Bad management is bad management, it doesn’t matter if you have 10 year contracts or if you were are able to treat players as property.

“Don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right.” – Jeff

 I certainly don’t hate you, you guys have a great blog and I love reading it, but in this case, you’re wrong. :)

 

~Russel

5 Comments

To be honest, I’m more inclined to agree with you. Ridiculous contracts are just that, ridiculous but there has to some sort of happy medium between say Albert Pujols’ contract and one year contracts and I think that eventually the market will work it’s way back there…besides, I’m generally in the one season, even when it’s a bad one, is no way to rate a player camp so how could you base a contract on that? And Albert is starting to come around in a big way. :)
– Kristen

Albert has had a hot two weeks, as has Trumbo and the team in general. It’s going to be a great summer for fans of AL West teams

I stand by my statements. I’m a sensationalist sometimes, sure, but if you read us regularly, then you know that’s how we roll. Nothin’ new there. But I am quite certain there’s no way Albert lives up to the $24 million a year billing all nine years in this contract. He’s going to handcuff them, eventually.
–Jeff

Oh, I agree. $24M is going to be tough to swallow when Albert is 42 years old, but if the alternative is restricting teams to 1yr deals, I’ll take my chances with unrestricted free agency.

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