Archive for June, 2009

Vacation Update: Social Networking Edition

I miss the regular blogging, but the break has been good. I’ve spent plenty of time writing, and my next book on valuing players is moving along nicely. Though I won’t be returning to blogging until August I am posting short comments (mostly baseball related) on Twitter and Facebook. If you would like to follow my feed or add me as a friend, you can do so using the addresses below.

Excuse Me?

I’m sorry, I know I’m supposed to be taking a break, but I can’t let this pass.

Mark Bradley has finally realized that Jeff Francoeur isn’t going to be a star, and that he has some serious flaws in his game.

It’s time to trade Frenchy.

What could the Braves get for him? Probably not all that much, but that’s not really the point . They’d be better off without him, and he without them.

Way to get in on this early, Mark. What’s next? A scathing critique of foul language and sexism in rap music. If the Atlanta media, which includes Bradley, had had the balls to call out the Braves in 2006, maybe he could have been sent down to the minors to get some work. It’s only been a year since Bradley blasted fans for turning on Golden Boy with a stern lecture.

He’s struggling now, but the belief here, as it would be with any big-leaguer, is that he’ll eventually rise to his established level.

It’s understandable fans would be anxious, especially at a time when the entire team is listing. What’s curious is how quickly we Atlantans seem to turn on the guy from Gwinnett. Has almost a decade of his derring-do, first at Parkview and now as a Brave, bred such contempt? Have we tired of the famous Frenchy? Have we forgotten that, for all his notoriety, he’s only 24?

If that’s the case, then I don’t feel sorry for Jeff Francoeur. I feel sorry for us.

Pretty bold words. Apparently, 2 1/2 years of below-average corner outfield play wasn’t a large enough sample, but 3 1/2 years is. This was my response at the time.

The problem with Francoeur is that the media has been so accepting of the Braves talking points that he is a rising superstar that they haven’t even bothered to notice that Francoeur has always had glaring holes in his game. He was a good high school player? That is no more relevant than the fact that I once hit two home runs in one game for my Little League team. (I still like to bring this up when I can. Yes, they both went over the fence, and I can tell you the names of the pitchers who gave them up: Robbie and John.)

Bradley has the nerve, THE NERVE, to lecture fans on giving Francoeur criticism, which the media neglected to do for three years. In New York, they give grief to players who are far better than Francoeur. Jerry Manuel is making David Wright practice plate discipline, and he has a career OBP of .390. Wright’s slumps are equal to Frenchy’s peaks, but Terry Pendleton just keeps telling Frenchy to “stay aggressive.”

Why didn’t Mark Bradley ask about sending Francoeur to the minors in 2006, when it was clear that he had more to learn? Why didn’t Mark Bradley question Frenchy’s presence in the line-up every day for over two years? I don’t know whether demoting or resting him would have helped, but they were legitimate options that should have been put to the general manager and the manager.

I was thinking this morning as to how easily the Braves could have handled the demotion in 2006. It seemed difficult at the time, but it really wasn’t. David Price was a hero in Tampa Bay, a franchise without any history of stars. Yet, the Rays front office just said, “Hey folks, he’s young. We know he’s done some good stuff up here, but he needs more work.” Some fans were pissed, but the storm didn’t last long.

The problem was that the Braves front office allowed itself to think that his 2005 was exactly what Francoeur was. He was already the star they imagined when he was the Good Face prospect at Parkview: “The Natural.” Baseball professionals shouldn’t allow this to happen. Teenage girls in pink #7 jerseys, yes; but not a GM and his assistants—nor veteran sports columnists.

Maybe Francoeur would be the same player he is, but he should have been sent down in 2006. And if folks like Mark Bradley had been writing with critical pens instead of pompons, maybe this would have happened.

More On Gerald Scully

The New York Times has published an obituary for Gerald Scully.

I recently remembered that I wrote up a post on Scully’s contribution to baseball economics last year. It was published at The Baseball Project, so I repost it below.
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Gratitude (for Gerald Scully)

Curt Flood is an important player in baseball history for his contribution to the current economic climate of major league baseball. Flood is famous for demanding higher wages for himself, and standing up to owners for not meeting his demands. Though he lost his court case, his discontent helped pave the way for the players union to successfully win concessions from owners (such as salary arbitration and free agency) that would boost the baseball player salaries.

Why should we celebrate this man, as The Baseball Project does? These people play a child’s game and make millions of dollars. Flood himself was no pauper—he turned down a $90,000 contract because he didn’t want to play for Philadelphia. Why should we feel sorry for any of these money-grubbing athletes?

The answer lies in the work of economist Gerald Scully. Using economic theory as a guide, Scully viewed Major League Baseball as a monopsonist employer—the sole buyer of a particular type of labor. Being the only organization that purchased major league baseball talent, players had little bargaining room to negotiate their pay. And MLB understood this, enforcing its reserve clause that required players to play for the team that they previously played for, or to play for no team at all. Scully understood that the impact of this relationship between teams and players meant that owners collected a large percentage of revenues that players generated by playing baseball.

Using estimates of team revenues and performance metrics (SLG for hitters and K/BB for pitchers) Scully estimated how much performance affected winning and how much winning affected revenues. Thus, he was able to generate a dollar-value estimate of the revenue that players generate. When he compared what players made to what the players actually earned, the difference was striking. Players earned 90-percent less than the revenue they generated through their play. This means that a player like Flood, who earned around $100,000 year was generating nearly $1 million in revenue. What was at stake was how this was shared between owners and players. It is easy to see why players were upset, owners were profiting from the low salaries of players.

The Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally cases in 1975 finally led to the repeal of the traditional reserve clause, and player wages rose accordingly. Now that players were no longer bound to a single team during free agency, teams compete for players and offer to pay them salaries commensurate with the revenues they expect players to generate.

Gerald Scully published his paper in 1974 in American Economic Review, and it most certainly had an impact on the atmosphere; although, I can’t say how much. In almost any history you read of about free agency, Scully doesn’t receive a mention. There is no doubt that once Scully’s conclusions were published that the reserve clause would soon fall. Either a rogue league would enter the market to pay players higher wages or the courts or Congress would finally be convinced of the damage being done to players.

Players earn high salaries because they possess unique skills that fans will pay to watch. While it is had to sympathize with the plight of wealthy players in their labor struggles with owners, it is important to understand that what players don’t get goes to the owners, who tend to be much wealthier than players.