Archive for November, 2007

Why Do MLB Players Have More Power Than NFL Players?

In a recent Freakonomics Quorum, Stephen Dubner asks the following question:

It’s a widely held perception that the professional athletes who constitute Major League Baseball and the National Football League have different levels of power — i.e., players have more juice in M.L.B., while it’s a team’s ownership that has more power in the N.F.L., often at the expense of individual players. Is this true?

I think it’s pretty clear that NFL players have less power than MLB players. The NFL has a hard cap, non-guaranteed contracts, and I think the union has sometimes pushed keeping itself alive rather than focusing on player rights. Salaries are not just lower in the NFL, jobs are much less certain, careers are shorter, and the long-term health consequences are worse. So, I agree with the perception.

Why is this the case? Here are some reasons that I have come up with.

  1. The nature of the game makes players more important in baseball, and coaching systems more important in the NFL. NFL players are cogs that are easily replaceable in a way that they are not in baseball.
  2. NFL players are invisible in their uniforms compared to baseball players. Therefore, they are at a disadvantage in garnering public support during work stoppages. People don’t feel sympathy for jersey numbers, and fans are happy to root for replacements. There is financial reason that agents started telling their clients to take off their helmets after big plays and owners voted to put an end to it.
  3. NFL players have had some poor representation and bad luck while a MLB has had good representation and good luck. Marvin Miller was a catalyst, and the owners bungled their handling of Hunter, Messersimth, and McNally. This gave the players a mountain of bargaining power when their interpretation of the reserve clause was denied by arbitrators. Had they handled these conflicts better, or if arbitrators had sided with the owners, the owners might not be in this mess.
  4. A reason put forth by Bill James in one of his Abtracts (I don’t recall which one or if I’m remembering his argument exactly) is that the minor leagues in baseball offer a big protection to major leaguers. Virtually every individual in the world who is capable of playing baseball at a near-major-league level is in the minor leagues. These players are waiting for their big break and plan to one day join the union; therefore, they do not cross the picket line. If the players strike, the replacement players the owners might use are far more inferior than replacements in the NFL who have regular everyday jobs and would jump at the chance to get a shot. This reason is strengthened if #1 holds.

I think that #3 and #4 (exacerbated by #1) explain much of the difference. Other thoughts?

Addendum: Thanks to Cyril Morong for the pointer.

SabernomiClaus: Free Bookplates

UPDATE: The bookplates are no longer available.

Are you interested in purchasing a copy of The Baseball Economist for a Christmas/Hanukkah gift? If so, I will be happy to send you a free signed bookplate to add to your gift. At your request, I will add a short personal message that you suggest. (Example: To Andruw, a great father-in-law who loves baseball). When you receive it, all you have to do is stick it in the book.

After purchasing the book from your local bookstore or one of the fine retailers listed on the right sidebar, fill out the form below (honor system). Be sure to include 1) the address where I will mail the bookplate and 2) the message that you want me to write. The sooner you contact me, the better the chance that I will get it to you before Christmas. Hanukkah occurs early this year, but I’ll do my best to get it to you ASAP. I’m sending them out regular mail.

If you previously purchased a copy of the book for yourself, mention it, and I will include an additional signed bookplate for you, too.

The Performance-Enhancing Effects of Andro

A few weeks ago, a reader asked me to post some links to studies on the ergogenic properties of androstenedione, more commonly known as “andro”, after I stated there is little evidence of its performance-enhancing qualities. I was reminded of my promise to post the abstracts when I stumbled across some PED studies while cleaning off my desk. I also found some more studies that find little performance-enhancing effects from growth hormone (HGH or GH), and I will post those abstracts in the near future.

The first study below was being presented as a conference paper just as Mark McGwire’s andro use became known during his historic home-run-record chase in 1998. I have heard that exercise physiologists got a real kick out of the media spectacle in light of the timing of this paper.

Effect of Oral Androstenedione on Serum Testosterone and Adaptations to Resistance Training in Young Men: A Randomized Controlled Trial
Authors: Douglas S. King, PhD; Rick L. Sharp, PhD; Matthew D. Vukovich, PhD; Gregory A. Brown, MS; Tracy A. Reifenrath, MS; Nathaniel L. Uhl; Kerry A. Parsons, MS

Journal of the American Medical Association. 1999;281:2020-2028.

Context Androstenedione, a precursor to testosterone, is marketed to increase blood testosterone concentrations as a natural alternative to anabolic steroid use. However, whether androstenedione actually increases blood testosterone levels or produces anabolic androgenic effects is not known. Objectives To determine if short- and long-term oral androstenedione supplementation in men increases serum testosterone levels and skeletal muscle fiber size and strength and to examine its effect on blood lipids and markers of liver function. Design and Setting Eight-week randomized controlled trial conducted between February and June 1998. Participants Thirty healthy, normotestosterogenic men (aged 19-29 years) not taking any nutritional supplements or androgenic-anabolic steroids or engaged in resistance training. Interventions Twenty subjects performed 8 weeks of whole-body resistance training. During weeks 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, and 8, the men were randomized to either androstenedione, 300 mg/d (n=10), or placebo (n=10). The effect of a single 100-mg androstenedione dose on serum testosterone and estrogen concentrations was determined in 10 men. Main Outcome Measures Changes in serum testosterone and estrogen concentrations, muscle strength, muscle fiber cross-sectional area, body composition, blood lipids, and liver transaminase activities based on assessments before and after short- and long-term androstenedione administration. Results Serum free and total testosterone concentrations were not affected by short- or long-term androstenedione administration. Serum estradiol concentration (mean [SEM]) was higher (P< .05) in the androstenedione group after 2 (310 [20] pmol/L), 5 (300 [30] pmol/L), and 8 (280 [20] pmol/L) weeks compared with presupplementation values (220 [20] pmol/L). The serum estrone concentration was significantly higher (P<.05) after 2 (153 [12] pmol/L) and 5 (142 [15] pmol/L) weeks of androstenedione supplementation compared with baseline (106 [11] pmol/L). Knee extension strength increased significantly (P<.05) and similarly in the placebo (770 [55] N vs 1095 [52] N) and androstenedione (717 [46] N vs 1024 [57] N) groups. The increase of the mean cross-sectional area of type 2 muscle fibers was also similar in androstenedione (4703 [471] vs 5307 [604] mm2; P<.05) and placebo (5271 [485] vs 5728 [451] mm2; P<.05) groups. The significant (P<.05) increases in lean body mass and decreases in fat mass were also not different in the androstenedione and placebo groups. In the androstenedione group, the serum high-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentration was reduced after 2 weeks (1.09 [0.08] mmol/L [42 (3) mg/dL] vs 0.96 [0.08] mmol/L [37 (3) mg/dL]; P<.05 ) and remained low after 5 and 8 weeks of training and supplementation. > Conclusions Androstenedione supplementation does not increase serum testosterone concentrations or enhance skeletal muscle adaptations to resistance training in normotestosterogenic young men and may result in adverse health consequences.

The Safety and Efficacy of Anabolic Steroid Precursors: What is the Scientific Evidence?

Author: Michael E. Powers

Journal of Athletic Training 2002 Jul;37(3):300-305.

Objective: Anabolic steroid precursors have gained widespread popularity as ergogenic supplements. Advertisements for these supplements claim that they increase endogenous testosterone production and protein synthesis, resulting in increased lean body mass and strength during training. At this time scientific support is limited, but the potential for serious side effects exists and the popularity of these supplements continues to grow. This review provides rationales for the ergogenic claims regarding steroid precursors and compares claims with data from scientifically controlled investigations. Data Sources: A search of MEDLINE and SPORT Discus from 1960 to 2001 using the key words dehydroepiandrosterone, androstenedione, and androstenediol in combination with testosterone, estrogen, exercise, performance, and side effects. Data Synthesis: Although fairly new to the athletic community, steroid precursors have been used as ergogenic or anabolic agents for quite some time. Suggested gains in strength and lean body mass are attributed to an increase in the endogenous production of testosterone and enhanced protein synthesis. Most of the scientific data, however, do not support manufacturers’ ergogenic claims, and the potential for serious side effects, such as decreased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and increased estrogen concentrations, has been associated with precursor use. Thus, the safety and efficacy of these supplements must be questioned. Conclusions/Recommendations: It appears that the risks associated with the use of anabolic steroid precursors outweigh any possible ergogenic benefits. Furthermore, these supplements are banned by most athletic organizations. Thus, it is extremely important that athletic trainers are able to educate athletes on these issues so they can continue to perform at an optimum level in a safe and healthy manner.

Go Terriers!

Excuse me while I take a moment to talk about college football. My alma mater’s football team, the Wofford College Terriers, has advanced to the second round of the NCAA FCS (I-AA) Playoffs after defeating the third-seeded and previously undefeated Montana Grizzlies. Despite winning the Southern Conference and beating Appalachian State—yes, the same Appalachian State that upset Michigan—the Terriers didn’t even get a mention on the national playoff selection show. And Wofford is no stranger to playoff success. In 2003, Wofford advanced to the semi-finals only to lose to the eventual champion Delaware.

The T-Dogs will be hosting the Richmond Spiders this upcoming Saturday. I’m hoping for a trip to Chattanooga for the championship game.

Update: Video highlights! Check out the option attack of Coach Ayers.

Valuing Cordero and Linebrink

The Milwaukee Brewers have lost two members of their bullpen in the free agent market: Francisco Cordero and Scott Linebrink. Both signed four-year deals, with Cordero going to the Reds for $46 million and Linebrink going to the White Sox for $19 million.

Once again, I am astounded at the dollars that teams are handing out to relievers. The contract for Cordero is simply awful. If the Reds are trying to be taken seriously by flashing some dollars, then flashing their money is all they are accomplishing. Cordero is an excellent reliever, but I don’t see how the Reds can justify spending $11.5 million/year for four years on a pitcher about to turn 33 for a team that doesn’t appear to be built for success in this timespan. Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey are gone after 2008 and Arron Harang and Bronson Arroyo are due big raises. I understand that there may be help coming from the farm, but I do not think that expectations are rosy enough to justify spending big money on a closer just yet. If the Reds put that money in other places, I believe the team would be more competitive in the near term.

Even if the Reds could use this final piece, I still think it’s a bad deal. I have Cordero producing $19.6 million over the next four seasons—$26 million more less than he’s being paid. Now, it’s pretty clear that my model isn’t predicting well for “closers.” And while I’m a believer in efficient markets and willing to acknowledge that I might be underestimating closer value, the current closer premium is excessive. And I think that Scott Linebrink’s contract supports my contention.

I have Linebrink’s four-year deal valued at $17.1 million—two million less than the salary he is actually getting, so it’s not too far off from my model. (I don’t like the signing either, because I don’t like signing relievers to long-run deals for other reasons.) However, my model estimates that Cordero is worth only about $2.5 million ($0.6 million/year) more than Linebrink. The main difference between the two pitchers is that Cordero normally pitches in the ninth, while Linebrink pitches in a set-up role. And even if I grant that the later innings have more impact on the outcome of the game than earlier innings, Linebrink’s value ought to be governed by opportunity cost, not where he’s pitched in the past. There are plenty of teams out there that could have picked up Linebrink and made him a closer. Though the White Sox plan to use him in the set-up role, they need to compensate him for the forgone closer dollars he is passing up.

I’m not saying that we can pin down the exact value of relievers here, but it does reveal the difficulty in valuing pitchers according to their roles. Middle relievers and starters limit the need for closers and teams can shift pitcher roles with ease. But, what I am certain of, is that the Reds are going to regret this contract, even if Cordero pitches well. And I think there is a decent chance that he collapses, as relievers often do. He’s got a big contract, and even if the Reds decide to trade him, I will not be surprised if the team has to send along some cash to cover part of his contract.

Valuing Torii Hunter’s Deal

So much for the moratorium on Thanksgiving transactions… I’ve got a few to catch up on, but I’ll start with Torii Hunter. Generally considered to be the best of the three top free agent center fielders—an assessment with which I disagree—Hunter agreed to a five-year, $90 million contract with the LA Angels of Anaheim on Wednesday.

A few days ago, I estimated Hunter’s 2007 worth to be between $12 and $13 million, based on his recent performance and not accounting for aging or expected salary growth. However, that estimate was only for comparison to Aaron Rowand and Andruw Jones. Now that we know the length of the deal, I want to update the anticipated salary projection for Hunter. The projection is based on annual salary growth and aging. The estimate of a player’s starting value is based on the previous three seasons of hitting performance, with a simple adjustment for position that does not account for quality of defense.

For a five-year deal, my model estimates that Hunter should receive $90.4 million; thus, this deal was right on the mark. 🙂 [UPDATE: I found a mistake in calculating my initial estimate. The correct estimate is $88.7 million—still, not far off from the actual contract.]

Addendum: I’ve had a few questions about the methodology. I am being brief, because the model is complex. The model I am using here is the model I develop in Chapter 13 of my book—in which I go into precise detail—with modifications for the other factors listed above.

2007 Awards

Here are my 2007 top-fives based on marginal revenue product estimates.

AL Cy Young

Player		Team            	MRP
C.C. Sabathia	Cleveland Indians    	$18.04
Roy Halladay	Toronto Blue Jays    	$16.13
Joe Blanton	Oakland Athletics    	$15.76
Josh Beckett	Boston Red Sox        	$15.42
John Lackey	LA Angels of Anaheim    $14.91

NL Cy Young

Player		Team            	MRP
Brandon Webb	Arizona Diamondbacks    $17.75
Jake Peavy	San Diego Padres    	$15.60
Tim Hudson	Atlanta Braves        	$15.22
Aaron Harang	Cincinnati Reds        	$14.83
John Smoltz	Atlanta Braves        	$13.73


Player		Team            	MRP
Alex Rodriguez	New York Yankees    	$28.28
Magglio Ordonez	Detroit Tigers        	$23.79
Vlad Guerrero	LA Angels of Anaheim    $20.55
David Ortiz	Boston Red Sox        	$20.49
Carlos Pena	Tampa Bay Devil Rays    $20.32


Player		Team           	 	MRP
David Wright	New York Mets        	$24.10
Hanley Ramirez	Florida Marlins        	$23.55
Albert Pujols	St. Louis Cardinals    	$23.52
Miguel Cabrera	Florida Marlins        	$22.66
Chipper Jones	Atlanta Braves        	$22.44

Estimates for position players include an adjustment for position. No time for commentary as I head out the door.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Ballbug Widget

I’m a big fan of Ballbug as a baseball news aggretator. I’ve added a widget on the right sidebar that displays the most recent headlines on the site.

If you would like to add one to your site use the script below, and you can learn how to adjust it to suit your needs here.

<script language=”JavaScript” src=””

Thanks to Gabe for designing this, and for publishing Ballbug. 🙂

Valuing Mike Lowell

Aw, what the heck. I’ve got the files open, so why not discuss another player.

Mike Lowell has apparently signed a three-year, $37.5 million deal to stay with the Red Sox. Here are his estimated values (in millions) over the three past three seasons, along with the overall and weighted averages.

Season	Value			
2005	$8.39
2006	$12.25
2007	$15.42
---	---
Average	$12.02
WA	$13.19

After his 2005 season in Florida, a friend of mine asked me what I thought of Lowell. I said, “I have no doubt in my mind, this guy is done.” Shows what I know. Anyway, I think he is better than his 2005 but not as good as 2007. With aging and salary growth, I suspect $12.5 million/year for three years is just about right.

Garland and Cabrera: An Equal Swap

Today, the Angels agreed to swap shortstop Orlando Cabrera for White Sox starting pitcher Jon Garland. The deal also sends some cash to Chicago. Here is my brief assessment.

When I checked the numbers, I was surprised to see how similar the two players are. Both have one year left on their current deals. Cabrera is owed $10 million and Garland is owed $12 million. Over the past three years, both players averaged close to $12 million in value, though Cabrera’s play was a bit more volatile. Thus, both players have contracts that come close to matching their performances on the field.

Although Cabrera seems to offer a little more in terms of these raw numbers, Cabrera is 33 and his previous two seasons are slightly above his career average, while Garland is 28. Garland’s youth and consistency are factors.