For years sports fans throughout the mid-west and west have been complaining that there is a media bias toward east coast teams. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it hasn’t really bothered me if it is.
Something is going on now though that probably deserves a little bias. All 10 teams in the Eastern Division of baseball’s NL and the AL are above .500
It’s still early, 2/3 of the season still remains to be played, but the standings in those two divisions bear watching.
If even just one of these two divisions finish with all 5 teams above .500 it would be a major accomplishment. Why? Since baseball went to three divisions in each league in 1994 it’s never happened. That’s 18 seasons, six divisions per league, 108 chances; and it’s never happened.
Actually the NL East came the closest in 2005. The Braves, Phillies, Marlins, and the Mets all finished above .500, only the Nationals didn’t, but they came very close. Washington lost the last game of the season to finish at an even 81-81.
So for the rest of the summer while ESPN is talkin’ up the eastern division teams, maybe it’s not just bias, maybe it’s something that is really warranted.
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. 🙂
Over the past couple of days I’ve had a chance to watch a couple of TV documentaries and read several baseball related print articles. Here is a quick summary.
Derek Jeter 3K: HBO
This is a one hour show that follows Derek Jeter during the weeks and days leading up to his getting his 3000 hit. I’ve never really been a big Jeter fan, but the show presented Jeter in a different light, at least to me. You see Jeter as he recovers from a strained calf muscle, at home with his family and friends, at the ballpark as he plays the game he’s known for.
It’s not an extraordinarily in-depth look into the life of a superstar player, but I would call it a must watch for any Derek Jeter or New York Yankee fan, and a ‘catch it if you have some free time’ for the rest of us.
The Curious Case of Curt Flood: HBO
On October 7th 1969, the St Louis Cardinals traded Curt Flood and 3 other players to the Philadelphia Phillies. Flood refused to report to the Phillies and then filed suit against Major League Baseball challenging the ‘Reserve Clause’ under which all players were bound.
This 90 minute documentary reveals the events in Curt Floods life that lead up to his decision to sue baseball, and the aftermath both to Flood and baseball from the results of the case.
This is a must watch for all fans of Curt Flood, the St Louis Cardinals, and baseball history. I would also recommend that the MLBPA show this movie to every one of their members. Let them know how and why they have what they have.
Here he Comes by Tom Verducci: Sports Illustrated
When he was 16 years old, Bryce Harper was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. One year later he was drafted number 1 overall in the June MLB free agent draft by the Washington Nationals. And now at the age of 18 he is tearing through minor league pitching on his path toward baseball superstardom. You can read about some of his ups and downs on and off the field, and find out the story behind the kiss he blew to a pitcher as he rounded third base after a home run.
A must read for fans of Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals. For everyone else this is a train ride home, sitting on the front porch, or waiting for the game to start in 10 minutes read.
Baseball’s Weight Problem by Craig Wolff: WSJonline
Does swinging a weighted bat, lead pipe, sledge-hammer or any other heavy object in the on-deck circle really help you swing quicker at the plate? The scientific evidence says no. In fact, it most likely slows your swing down. So why do players do it, and when did they start?
This is a must read if you are into the science of baseball, otherwise, know that I just summed up the article and that you now know that using a donut on your bat doesn’t help.
When I listen to sports radio and hear some fan come on and
start proposing trades, more times than not I start cringing.
OK, were talking about what the Cubs might need to improve.
Give us a call at 555-1234 and let us know what you think. Bert in Plainfield, you’re
Yeah how ya
doing? Long time listener, first time caller.
Good Bert, go ahead with your plan to improve the Cubs.
Well first off we
should call the Phillies and make an offer for Halladay.
Why would the Phillies trade Cy Young winner Roy Halladay?
Well they just
signed Cliff Lee and they already have Oswalt and Hamels, so they don’t need
Halladay. Plus they lost right fielder Jason Werth over the winter to Washington.
So I say we give them Fukudome for Halladay.
Ummm, ok Bert, thanks for the ca……
Wait! I have one
more. The Yankees need starters, so let’s move Silva to them for second baseman
Oooookay Bert, we have lots of people waiting to get in.
Thanks for the call. Ernie in Aurora, you’re up.
These people are calling radio stations and making goofy
trade proposals on the air with thousands of people listening. And they really
mean what they say. And after they get hung up on, they wonder to themselves
what was wrong with their trade. Meanwhile, sixty thousand listeners all rolled
their eyes at once and the radio station lost another fifty thousand listeners when
they changed the channel.
This is where I come in. Luckily for me only four or five
people are reading my posts (probably only two of you made it this far for this
entry) and I can make trade proposals without embarrassing myself across the
Chicagoland area or costing radio stations ad revenue.
The Cubs should contact the Rangers and make an offer for
Michael Young. I would offer Alfonso
Soriano and cash ($20M over 4 years) for Young. Young is due $48M over the next
3 years, Soriano $72M over 4. The Cubs would get the second baseman and leadoff
hitter they need, the Rangers would get a DH that can play left field when
Hamilton needs to DH.
Ok Russel, thanks for the call………
I went to the Mall today. You know, the once a year mad dash
to get some of those last minute Christmas presents.
As I walked around looking and shopping and looking some
more, I actually started to think of the other shoppers as opponents. Do they
want what I want? Will they get their first? Do they have more money than I do?
What’s the best deal for my money?
And then I started to think about general managers of
baseball teams shopping for free agents during the off season.
It’s different than my shopping because the players don’t
come with a set price tag, but they still have to get the most for their money
and beat the other shopper to the punch.
Some teams are just rich and don’t have to worry about the
price, as they say…..if you have to ask, you can’t afford the price. But most
teams are just like you and I, they must try and live inside the budget.
The Cubs are in a strange spot because they are a rich team
but are confined to a budget this year which mandates they cut about $10M or so
from last season’s balance sheet.
So far the Cubs have bought two new toys. First they picked
up Carlos Pena for $10M, certainly they paid full price. But with just one year
on the contract, Pena becomes a rent-to-own type player that will need to
produce big numbers this year to get full price next year.
The Cubs second buy is Kerry Wood. At $1.5M, Wood was definitely
bought using their ‘previous customer ‘ discount
and is without doubt a great bargain compared to similar models that have
already been sold. ( Jenks $6M, Putz $5M, Downs $5M).
Anyway, I know my head hurts after shopping at the mall all day;
I hope Jim Hendry doesn’t feel the same.
The Phillies have added Cliff Lee to an already solid
rotation. Lee will reportedly ink a $120 million, 6 year deal with
The Phillies starting five rotation will include; Lee, Roy
Oswalt, Roy Halladay, Joe Blanton and Cole Hamels. The four time defending NL
East division champs will again be the favorites to win the National League
But what are the odds that all five starting pitchers will
have good years…… not very.
Since 1973, only one team has had five pitchers win 15 or
more games in a single season, the 1998 Atlanta Braves. The Braves had Maddux,
Glavine, Smoltz, Millwood, and Neagle.
Surprisingly, during this same period of time, only 10 more
teams have had 4 pitchers win 15+ games. None since 2004.
Of course this doesn’t mean that the 2011 Phillies rotation
can’t do it, if any team next year has a chance to get 15 wins from five different starters, it’s the Phillies. But history say’s ……unlikely.
The “I didn’t Know That” stat – Since 1973, the Cubs have only had 1 rotation
include three or more pitchers to get 15+ wins. In 1989, Rick Sutcliffe(16),
Greg Maddux(19), and Mike Bielecki(18) combined to win 53 games.
Last week I made my predictions for the divisional round of
the MLB playoffs. I was 4 for 4 naming the correct winner, but only 1 of 4 in
guessing the number of games to be played in each series.
So……. This time I’ll only predict the winner on each series.
In the NL I’m going to go with the Phillies. They just have
too much pitching for San Francisco to handle and plenty of offense. I can’t
see any reason why they won’t be going to their third consecutive World Series.
In the AL I’m going with Texas. I think it would be
interesting to see a WS rematch between NY and Philadelphia, but I just think
that the Rangers have a better all-around team and with home field advantage, they
will be playing in the World Series.
So there it is, you’re 2010 World Series matchup will be……
Texas vs Philadelphia