Archive for January, 2010

LaRoche Lands with the D-backs (with Kelly Johnson)

Adam LaRoche played hardball and lost…well, maybe he lost. John Heyman tweets that LaRoche agreed to a one-year contract between $4–$5 million. Supposedly, LaRoche turned down a two-year offer from the San Francisco Giants that for $17.5 million. So, that has to be a big let down.

I’m kind of surprised LaRoche decided to settle on this offer. I have him valued at about twice what he’s getting from the D-Backs, and about what the Giants reportedly offered him. If he was willing wait this long, why not wait a little longer? I can see him thinking the market is depressed, and he’s already plenty wealthy ($16m in career earnings), taking a year to reestablish his value and get a longer term deal. Preferences are subjective, but this seems like an awful risk, if this is his motivation.

His signing by the Diamondbacks reminded me that I had yet to comment on Kelly Johnson joining Arizona a few weeks ago. Johnson agreed to a $2.35 million contract to play for one season. Johnson had a bad 2010 that just screams fluke, and has the underlying patience and power skills that normally make a good ballplayer. Even factoring in his bad 2009, I have him as a $7.5 million player. Johnson also supposedly spurned higher offers from other clubs.

The market may very well be way down for these players, but I wonder if there is something that the D-backs are doing to attract players to play for less, especially players looking for a short-term audition. Maybe having the young A.J. Hinch, a controversial hire, was part of the plan to attract such players.

Rangers Sign Vlad

I know I’m a little late on this; it’s been a busy week. The Rangers have signed Vladimir Guerrero to a one-year $5.5 million contract. The deal also includes a $9 million mutual option for 2011, which has a $1 million buyout if the club turns it down, and up to $900,000 in bonuses for days on the active roster. Thus, the deal guarantees Guerrero $6.5 million, and it sounds as if $7.4 million is a real possibility.

So, how do I value Vlad? 2010 was a down year, and not the kind where it was an obvious fluke. Sure, his batting average was down from his career norm—and this is especially bad for a guy who doesn’t walk much—but, he just looked old last year. Supposedly, he’s hurt enough that he will almost exclusively DH. Assuming his performance is somewhere between what it was in 2008 and 2009, I estimate Guerrero to be worth about $6.5 million next season.

And if last season was a fluke, and he really is more like his 2008 self, then he will be worth about $10 million in 2011. The option will be a reasonable one for the Rangers ($8 million; $9 mil — the $1 mil buyout they don’t have to pay), but not so much that Vlad won’t consider sticking around.

The deal seems spot on to me.

Thoughts on Mark McGwire

Unfortunately, I’ve had a glut of things pass across my desk so I haven’t had the chance to read much about Mark McGwire’s admission that he used steroids. How do I feel about this? I’ll recycle an old post.

This will be short and simple.

For the third year in a row, Mark McGwire did not receive sufficient votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) to be elected to the Hall of Fame. The explanation is simple: many writers feel that his performance was aided by performance-enhancing drugs. There are certainly several sources for accusations, but they have some credibility problems. Others point to his continued excellent performance into his thirties and his bulging biceps. McGwire fits the profile of a steroid user, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he admitted to using them. McGwire hasn’t helped his case by refusing to testify under oath before Congress; however, that is the advice that every lawyer would give to his client in these circumstances.

I don’t want to pick a fight regarding whether or not he used steroids. I don’t really care. My argument is simple. Let’s assume McGwire used hard-core anabolic steroids every day of his baseball career. He didn’t violate a single baseball rule. Mark McGwire played his last baseball game in 2001. It wasn’t until 2004 when anabolic steroids became a punishable offense despite the fact that serious doping regulations had been instituted in nearly all other sports. McGwire shouldn’t be excluded any more than any other player who drank amphetamine-laced coffee prior to its ban. He’s being barred from the Hall of Fame for doing something that people wish was against the rules but wasn’t.

Article on Aging at Baseball Prospectus

I have an article up on aging at Baseball Prospectus today.

How Do Baseball Players Age? Investigating the Age-27 Theory

Recently, there’s been a decent amount of chatter regarding how baseball players age, and I have to admit that it’s mostly my fault. In a study that was recently published in Journal of Sports Sciences, I find that players tend to peak around the age of 29; this finding has been met with resistance from some individuals in the sabermetric community, where 27 has long been considered the age when players peak. Will Carroll and Christina Kahrl graciously asked if I would be willing to defend my findings on Baseball Prospectus. I agreed, and I thank Will and Christina for the opportunity to do so.

Competition and Player Salaries: The Impact of the Federal League

Last week, Maury Brown released The Biz of Baseball MLB Salary Database. It’s still in beta mode, so I decided to test it out this weekend.

One interesting feature of the database is that it includes some salaries from far back in baseball’s history. The database is not comprehensive (nor should it be expected to be) but the data that is there provides an opportunity to analyze salaries at a key times in baseball history.

For example, in 1914, the Federal League began play as a competing major league. It lasted for two seasons until reaching an agreement with the American and National Leagues. During its two years of operation it raided AL and NL rosters for its players, ignoring the reserve clause that was keeping salaries below the competitive level. Most of the jumpers left in 1914 (80 players), with 16 additional players joining the FL in 1915.

The agreement between the AL and NL created a monopsony for baseball talent, because each team represented a single buyer for its player’s services. The FL added competition for baseball talent, and even if players didn’t jump, their wages were likely to raise from the threat of jumping. While I don’t think anyone would disagree with this in theory, it would be nice to observe this effect. Someone may have examined this before, but I haven’t seen it.

Though the salary data is not comprehensive, it’s possible to track players who play over consecutive seasons to see how their salaries changed from the previous year. Salaries are affected by many factors; however, by tracking percentage-changes for individuals, player quality is approximately constant. I looked at a ten-year sample from 1910–1919, tracking an average of 16 players per year (ranging from 9 to 28 players). The figure below maps the average annual changes over the sample.

Player Salary Changes (1910-1919)

Before the Federal League became a major league, the AL and NL showed healthy salary growth, which is consistent with their average annual attendance growth of 4.5% from 1901–1913. During the FL’s inaugural season in 1914, there was a drastic spike in salary growth. 1915 also showed a 27% rise in salaries, which is the third-greatest change in the sample. In 1916, after the league disbanded, salaries rose only a paltry 7%; and in 1917, salaries fell by 3%—the only negative year in the sample. In 1918 and 1919, salary growth was 16% and 11%, muted compared to what it was before and after the entrance of the FL.

Thus, the available evidence is consistent with economic theory. New competition raised player salaries, and after the competition went away (buying off the owners most likely to start a new league) salary growth was depressed.

Thanks to Maury Brown and the other folks over at The Biz of Baseball Network for making this tool available.

(Source for the historical info: Quirk and Fort, Pay Dirt, pp. 313–319)

Suggestions for Getting Fans Excited about the Braves Again

For my birthday last year, my daughter and I went to a night game to see the Braves take on the Marlins while they were in hot pursuit of the NL Wildcard. It also happened to be $1 ticket night. We arrived early to avoid the crowd, but I soon realized that it wasn’t necessary. A mere 25,000 was the listed attendance for this pivotal game, but even that low number was an exaggeration on the high side.

Despite the small crowd, it was one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever attended at the Ted. The crowd wasn’t just there for the cheap tickets, they were into the game and its playoff implications. Even my six-year-old didn’t want to leave her seat. In between innings, I scanned the empty seats and wondered what the Braves could do to get people to pay more attention to a team that is likely to be a winner in the coming years. I’m not a PR consultant, but I have a few ideas.

— As the $1 ticket experience revealed, the main price of the game isn’t the ticket. Time, parking, and safety are the big costs. People have plenty of other entertainment options, including watching the game on TV. The game has to offer something extra. At a minimum, the area around the stadium has to be cleaned up. Parking in a poorly-lit church lot and walking past a parade of beggars through a sketchy area of town is a big deterrent. I know you want people to get into the stadium to spend money, but scaring them in probably isn’t the best tactic if they don’t go down to the stadium in the first place. Buy some property around the stadium and clean it up. Expand parking opportunities to lessen traffic. Build some bars or restaurants outside the stadium that are only open around games. The goal isn’t to run directly profitable businesses in these establishments, but to clean up the area around the stadium. (Oh wait, a stadium didn’t spur economic development on its own?)

— Get some new between-innings “entertainment.” I don’t go to that many games and even I knew the script as to what was coming, right up the the annoying “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy” sing along. Do something new, and don’t do the same thing every game. Dare I suggest using the giant scoreboard to talk about baseball? Focus on pennant races, game updates, and web gems. Maybe use the television announcers with some between-inning commentary to integrate the broadcast experience that is familiar to Braves fans.

— Sell this team as a winner. Last season’s ad campaign focused on Turner Field. Turner Field? Look, I like the Ted as much as the next fan, but its 14 years old: too old to be seen as a new and exciting, and too new to have nostalgic value. The seasons before, they sold the “baby Braves,” and that turned out to be boring when all but one of them blossomed. How about selling Atlanta fans a winning team? Don’t just put a winner on the field, remind fans that that’s the goal that this team is aiming for. This team is going to be a contender. Come watch us take on the Division rival NL Champion Phillies! Isn’t that exciting? Why not use it.

— Signal that this team is different to fans. Let fans see a visible sign that this team is different. No more, hanging around until mid-season before breaking your heart. How can you signal this? Why not new uniforms? Be bold. Deviate from the string of Division championships as a motivation for following the team; that was five seasons ago. Adopt a slogan like, “A Whole New Breed of Winners,” but less lame.

— Be more open with fans, and cut the corporate trust-us-we-know-what-we’re-doing attitude. For example, just yesterday, John Schuerholz told Mark Bowman the following.

In addition, those fans who have summed the estimated salaries that the Braves will dish out this summer, find themselves wondering why it appears the Braves might be spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million less than they did during the 2009 season.

When asked about the 2010 payroll, Braves president John Schuerholz said it will remain the same despite that fewer fans came to Turner Field in 2009.

“It won’t be diminished at all,” Schuerholz said. “In the face of the economy and in the face of the downturn that we and a lot of other clubs had to deal with in terms of attendance and such, we’re not backing off. We’re going to continue committing all that we can in what I think is a very reasonable manner to put the club together.”

Calculations of salaries provided in 2009 confirm the Braves’ payroll was about $95 million. Estimated costs that will be incurred during the summer appear to rest in the neighborhood of $85 million.

Still the Braves contend that their payroll once again rests near the $90 million figure that was enhanced in 2009 with the insurance dollars they received while Tim Hudson spent the first five months of the season rehabbing from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.

This act is tiresome, and the condescending double-speak rubs everyone the wrong way. Fans have been buzzing all offseason about what the team was going to do with a payroll equivalent to last year’s, which is commonly listed at about $97 million.

Why suddenly act like this is what the team has been planning all along, and you’re just ignorant for thinking otherwise? Cut the bullshit. You either cut payroll by trading Vazquez, or you have been misleading fans by allowing the false expectation of a mid-$90 million payroll to persist. Insulting fans isn’t a way to build fan loyalty. And if this was on innocent divergence in expectations between fans and the front office, address it head on. Why are we just now learning about the Hudson insurance issue caveat to the “stable payroll” talking point that’s been pushed? Because this should be obvious to everyone, right? This could have been explained to a beat reporter weeks ago. Now after making some good moves, Braves fans are disappointed.

— It’s time for the Braves to embrace the new media. Braves fans just don’t watch TV, listen to the radio, and read the newspaper. And they read more than in the Internet. Invite some fan-bloggers to the stadium for a meet-and-greet, maybe even hand out a few press credentials. How about Frank Wren sitting down for an interview with Mac Thomason, whose been blogging about the Braves before the term “blog” existed.

— And speaking of Frank Wren, let’s see some more of him. I have been very impressed with Wren’s open and frank style in interviews. He comes off friendly and honest, and he’s made some good moves. He’s very different than his predecessor, and I think the club would benefit from seeing Wren as the club’s figurehead; especially, with Bobby Cox stepping down after the season. To his credit, Wren does make himself available to the media, and I think he should continue to expand to new outlets.

Braves Get Crunk on Free Agents

Step 1: Trade away ace starter.
Step 2: Use freed up salary to sign Troy Glaus and Eric Hinske.
Step 3: Run on season tickets begins.

Looks like the Braves are not increasing their budget in a way that seemed like they might. Don’t get me wrong, I think Glaus and Hinske are fine players, and their contracts are reasonable. Like many other Braves fans, I thought the team would be adding better bat. But, as much as I want to hate these moves, I don’t.

If Glaus is healthy, and I think there is good reason to believe that he is, he’s an upgrade over LaRoche for a measly $4 million—the total amount he’s owed if he maxes out his incentives. Excluding his 2009, he’s a $9-$10 million player. For the guaranteed $1.75 million portion of the contract, that’s a risk worth taking. But, it doesn’t appear that other GMs were beating down his door, so we’ll have to see.

Hinske could make a nice platoon partner for Matt Diaz. It’s kind of a shame that Diaz was denied everyday opportunities while Golden Boy stunk up the joint, but the Braves are a better team with Diaz sharing some at-bats with Hinske. Although, early indications are that Hinske will pinch hit and back up, with Bobby Cox in charge, that means you play a hell of a lot. No word on the contract terms, but it sounds like he’s cheap.

As uninspiring as these moves sound, I like the deals.

Cards Sign Holliday

The St. Louis Cardinals and and Matt Holliday have finally come to terms on a deal that will pay about $120 million over the next seven season. That’s a lot of money, but Holliday is a good player. In seven years, if league revenues continue to grow as expected, $17 million per year won’t seem like such a big deal.

I have Holliday valued at $138 million over the contract term, so the contract makes sense. But, I got to thinking, as good as Holliday is, he’s a step below his teammate Albert Pujols. So, what is Pujols’s expected worth over the next seven years? The answer: $259 million, or $37 million a year. Wow!

How could Pujols be worth nearly twice as much as Holliday? The returns to winning are increasing, and Pujols’s marginal runs generated are in a range that is more valuable than Holliday’s runs. Assuming Pujols continues to play as he has, his next contract is going to be a sight to see.

Mets Sign Bay

The long-rumored Jason Bay deal has finally become official with the Mets landing the veteran outfielder with a four-year $66 million deal.

Bay is a good player, but I think the Mets overpaid here. I have Bay valued at $53 million over the next four seasons. And given that the Cards just got the superior Matt Holliday for a similar annual salary, I doubt Bay had other suitors willing to offer him this much.

Red Sox Sign Beltre

I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things here. I’ll catch up on the deals that happened over the holidays shortly.

Reports have the Red Sox signing Adrian Beltre to a contract that guarantees him $10 million for one year. The deal supposedly includes a player option for a second year that would be for $5 million (in lieu of a $1 million buyout) pushing the potential money guaranteed to Beltre to $14 million over the next two years. The option is also said to have escalators that increase the value of the option.

This is an interesting deal. I have Beltre estimated to be worth about $10.5 million in 2010. From Beltre’s perspective this deal grants him some financial security if his production falls off, but allows him the option to seek a better free-agent deal if he rebounds from his down 2009 season. The Red Sox get an excellent defender and decent hitter for about his projected worth—he’ll likely be worth a little more to the winning Red Sox—and if he falls off, they don’t have to pay him much in the second year.