Free agents have now hit the open market. Welcome to the hot stove league!
A year ago, I posted a list of “hot stove myths.” I have since expanded on why these commonly-stated beliefs are mistaken in my new book Hot Stove Economics. As the hot stove season kicks off—and because it seemed to really piss a few people off the last time—I thought I’d repost with a few updates and links to further explanations.
GMs can buy low and sell high — So, let me get this straight: you think you know when a player is playing above or below his true ability—usually due to a small sample or by using a SGT-approved metric instead of a mainstream statistic—but guys who make a living in baseball completely miss it. For this to work, the GM on the other team has to be a colossal moron. GMs have made mistakes in the past and will make mistakes again, but they’re not dumb enough to act on a meaningless hot/cold streak. You can’t sell high or buy low and profit financially because all GMs understand these things. You don’t have to wait for a guy to get hot to sell him, nor dump him before he gets cold. In addition, the key knowledge of when the peak or trough is doesn’t exist, except in the mind of message board posters. Fluctuations in performance create uncertainty, which affect the price that GMs are willing to pay. (See Chapter 6.)
The number of free agents at a position affects the price of free agents at a position — It seems logical that more free agents at a position will mean more options for teams—even union leader Marvin Miller believed this to be the case. Players act as substitutes and thus a team can pit the players against one another to keep salaries down. The problem with this idea is that the free agents have come from somewhere. A high number of players looking for new teams means that there is a corresponding number of openings that teams need to fill. For example, if there are four good shortstops on the market this means that there are also four openings on teams. The increased supply of players is counteracted by the increased demand by teams needing replacements. (In Chapter 5, I look at the free-agent markets leading up to the 2007, 2008, and 2009 seasons to examine how the size of the pool affected salaries of free agents. It turned out that the impact of the size of the talent pool was not statistically significant.)
Every trade has a winner and a loser — Swapping resources only takes place if both parties are made better off. Therefore, when we observe trades taking place, it’s likely that both parties are doing so because they expect to improve their teams (see the weak axiom of revealed preference, or as I call it: “the useful WARP“). Mistakes happen, but as a general rule, all parties to trades are winners. Who says economists aren’t touchy-feely? (See Chapter 1.).
Players peak at 27 and old players are worthless — My estimates indicate that players peak at 29–30. And just because a guy is past his peak doesn’t mean he’s not valuable. The aging process is gradual, more like the Minneapolis Metrodome than an Egyptian pyramid. If a guy was good last year, even if he’s in his mid-30s, he’ll probably be good next year. Now, the older he gets the more dangerous long-run contracts get, but one- and two-year deals are fine. (See Chapter 3 for a discussion of the flaws in the studies that produced this myth and an explanation my study.)
Other myths in Hot Stove Economics:
Some Players are Clutch — Sorry, folks. Clutch performance is not an identifiable skill that should be valued.
Replacement Players are Cheap and Abundant — Why do you think that a third of the league is composed of “below replacement” players?
Player Salaries Raise Prices at the Gate — The causation is backwards. Sports are normal goods. Prices have risen with consumer demand in a wealthy economy, which has made players more valuable.
College Players are Better Draft Bets than High School Players — The college talent pool may be more certain, but it’s also shallower than the high school ranks.