Archive for JC’s Book
Jason Heyward has just played his 30th game in the big leagues, and oh what a start it has been. A local kid rising to meet exceptional expectations; it kind of reminds me of another young phenom.
Despite Heyward’s hot start, Francoeur’s beginning was arguably hotter. Francoeur had more homers, a higher average, a higher slugging percentage, and a higher OPS. Does this foretell a similar demise for Heyward (Francoeur currently has a .705 OPS for the Mets)? While I won’t be surprised if Heyward’s numbers fall some, there are some distinct differences between the two players.
The first difference is obvious: walks. At the same point in their major league careers, Heyward has 20 walks; Francoeur wouldn’t get his first walk until four games later, and it was intentional. Heyward has the plate discipline that Francoeur still lacks.
And more important are their minor-league performances. Francoeur had decent, but unimpressive, minor-league numbers. Heyward had a better minor-league career, absolutely destroying the Double-A. Analyzing minor-league stats is tricky, so below I use the markers I employ for predicting major-league success from minor-league performance (see my upcoming book for justification): walk rate, strikeout rate, and isolated power (age is also important). These stats are for their High-A and Double-A performances before they joined the big league team. (Stats below High-A do not predict success well. Heyward barely played in Triple-A, and I excluded Francoeur’s 2008 demotion.).
So, despite their similar hot starts, Braves fans shouldn’t worry about Heyward becoming Francoeur. On the surface, the players’ hot starts may appear similar, but their skill sets are quite different. Heyward is already better than Francoeur will ever be, and his future looks very bright.
I know I’ve hinted at this over the past few months, and it’s finally time to make the announcement about my new book:
The final out of the World Series marks the beginning of baseball’s second season, when teams court free agents and orchestrate trades with the hope of building a championship contender. The real and anticipated transactions generate excitement among fans who discuss the merit of moves in the arena informally known as the “hot stove league.” In Hot Stove Economics, economist J.C. Bradbury answers the hot stove league’s most important question: what are baseball players worth? With in-depth analysis, Bradbury identifies the game’s best and worst contracts—revealing the bargains, duds, and players who are worth every penny they receive. From minor-league prospects to major-league MVPs, Bradbury examines how factors such as revenue growth, labor rules, and aging— even down to the month in which players are born—shape players’ worth and evaluates how well franchises manage their rosters.
1. Why Johnny Estrada Is Worth Kevin Millwood: Valuing Players as Assets
2. Down with the Triple Crown: Evaluating On-Field Performance
3. A Career Guide from Little League to Retirement: Age and Success in Baseball
4. Putting a Dollar Sign on the Muscle: Valuing Players
5. Duds, Deals, and Caveats: What Do the Estimates Reveal?
6. Winning on a Dime: The Best and Worst Managed Franchises of the Decade
7. Is C.C. Sabathia Worth $161 Million? Valuing Long Run Contracts
8. You Don’t Need a Name to Be Traded: Valuing Minor-League Prospects
The book also includes a an appendix of estimated values for every player in the majors. The release date is October 2010, just in time for the opening of next year’s hot stove league. I’m happy to be partnering with Copernicus—the publisher of Curve Ball—to publish the book.
Right now, I’m in the final stages of editing, so I’m going to be a bit slow in posting here over the next two weeks. But, I hope to be back to regular posting shortly. I will post updates as I have them.
That’s the question that Mets blogger James Kannengieser asks. Not too long ago it’s a question that the Braves were facing, but now it’s the Mets problem (boy, it feels good to write that). At the time, I generated some estimates of Francoeur’s worth that projected he was worth around $12 million, and should expect around $3 million in an arbitration award. Understandably, this upset some people (including me) for the sake of the sheer size of the number. Now that the question of Francoeur’s worth is relevant again, I want to revisit the question.
Let me first begin by stating that my initial estimate was too high—way too high. I was giving credit for non-marginal revenue contributions and over-weighting defense. I’ve spent much of the past year tearing down and rebuilding my system for valuing players for a book project on valuing players. Though I have corrected the model, the foundation of the model is still the same. I use team revenues to estimate the value of winning, estimate player contributions to winning, and then impute player marginal revenue products (MRPs) from these estimates.
In 2009—including his awful time with the Braves, and his good stint with the Mets—I estimate that he was worth $6.8 million. Arbitration-eligible position players tend to earn approximately 74% less than their MRP estimates; thus, in arbitration Francoeur might expect to receive around
$1.8 million. That’s $1.6 million less that his 2009 salary. Even if the Mets are able to successfully convince an arbitrator that Francoeur is worth $1.8 million, the Collective Bargaining Agreement limits the salary reduction to 20%: $2.7 million. But, that’s not relevant to the Mets. Sure, they wish he hadn’t been signed to a bigger deal. The question is: is he worth $2.7 million?
The $6.8 million estimate says he’s worth well more than that, but the estimate is misleading. The MRP estimates give credit for the playing time, and Francoeur’s managers have played him far too much. A lot has been made of Francoeur’s dismal 2008 and 2009 with the Braves. Just as he was never as good as his 2005 rookie campaign nor his 2009 stint with the Mets, I don’t believe Francouer was that bad. For his career, Francoeur has an OPS of .743, his career OPS+ of 92 is equal to his overall 2009 performance. He’s no Natural, but he is a useful player who can serve in a platoon/reserve role. But, that’s not how the Braves or the Mets used him. Since his first full season in the majors he’s averaged 666 plate appearance a year. While this number may be appropriate for the anti-Christ, it’s not the number of PAs that any manager should be giving Jeff Francoeur. Jeff Francoeur should probably play 50% of what he has played, cutting his MRP estimate in half. With that in mind, Jeff Francouer is really a $3–$4 million player, depending on how good he really is. The good news for my estimates is that managers have strong incentives not to make such mistakes when filling out their line-up cards; but because they do, it’s important to interpret the raw estimates with care.
If the Mets non-tender Francoeur, they will likely end up having to spend about what they are paying him to replace him on the free agent market. Given that he seems to be popular with fans, media, and players; it’s probably worth keeping him around at that price, even if he ends up winning an arbitration award similar to this season’s salary. If he has a bad year, you cut him loose. If he has a good year, then you can take him to arbitration one more year, maybe even sign him to a long-run deal. Non-tendering him wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, and given the hold he seems to have on his managers, it might be best to not give his skipper the opportunity to put him in the line-up. The one thing that I would not recommend is signing him to a long-run deal now. What’s the rush? The worst thing that happens by not going long-term is that he has a good season and he gets a deserved raise in arbitration. And if Francoeur is desperate to sign a long-run deal—as he was hinting at the end of the season—then that is probably an indication that he doesn’t think he’s going to get much better either.
They were all acquired by the Braves via trade, with two or less years remaining until they became agents. Also, in each case the Braves gave up prospects who were currently or would eventually play in the major leagues. For two years of Sheffield, the Braves traded Brian Jordan, Odalis Perez, and Andrew Brown. For Drew (and Eli Marrero) , the Braves traded Jason Marquis, Ray King, and Adam Wainwright. For one year of Hudson, the Braves traded Juan Cruz, Dan Meyer, and Charles Thomas. For Teixeira (and Ron Mahay) the Braves traded Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Beau Jones, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, and Neftali Feliz.
That list includes many high-level prospects, but the acquired players are all quite good. But there is another angle on these deals that I think is interesting. In all cases, the Braves attempted to use their exclusive negotiation window to sign the acquired player to a long-term extension. In three cases, the Braves were rebuffed and the player left as a free agent. Here is a summary of what happened to each player.
Although they are trimming their payroll, the Braves have stated a desire to re-sign Sheffield. But their bid of about $10 million per season is well below what the Yankees reportedly are offering. (AJC, 11/30/2003)
Sheffield would eventually sign a three-year, $39 million deal with the Yankees; thus, the Braves were offering nearly 25% less than his eventual market value.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have agreed to a $55 million, five-year deal with with Drew, who hit .305 with 31 homers and 93 RBIs for the Braves last season. …The Braves wanted to re-sign Drew, but Boras didn’t even respond to the team’s initial contract offer of what was believed to be about $25 million for three seasons. (AJC, 12/24/2004)
Drew reached a five-year, $55 million deal with the Dodgers, from which he would opt out after three seasons. For the three years that he was in Los Angeles, he received $31 million. The Braves offer for this same time period was about 20% less than what he got. After opting out of his deal with the Dodgers, Drew received a substantial raise by signing a five-year, $70 million contract with the Boston Red Sox.
“Teixeira said he had been “open” to hearing offers from the Braves all season, but got none. Wren said the Braves didn’t believe they could re-sign him after making an “aggressive” offer during spring training and having it rejected.
The GM said the offer would have made Teixeira one of the game’s highest- paid players. (AJC, 7/30/2008)
Now, we don’t know exactly what the Braves offered Teixeira, but “one of the game’s highest-paid players” is an empty PR statement that we all should ignore. A deal that averages what he turned down from the Rangers—$144 million over eight years, which translates to $18 million per year—would have made him sixth-highest paid players in baseball. The Braves had to be aware that a similar offer wouldn’t get the job done. This is also significantly less than the $20+ million/year deal that he is currently seeking. I estimated that he would be worth $24 million per year in a six year deal.
If the Braves offered him $19 million per year, that would fit with the Braves’ deficits in offers to Sheffield and Drew. That’s a lot of money, and it’s hard for anyone to sympathize with a player who receives a salary of that magnitude. However, someone will be reaping the financial returns of his good play. Is it so wrong that a player wants the revenue he is generating, especially after he played baseball for six years for a salary that was far below what he was generating in income to club that owns his rights? If you favor limiting player salaries because they are too high, then you need to ask yourself why you favor making owners, who are far wealthier than players, even richer.
The only player in the group whom the Braves have held onto is Tim Hudson. One factor that may have swayed Hudson, was his connection to the area. He grew up in nearby Columbus, Georgia, where he followed the Braves. J.D. Drew grew up in Valdosta, Georgia, but Valdosta is a solid four hours from Atlanta, and could easily secede to Florida and no one would notice. Tex went to Georgia Tech; but so did my sister, and she lives in San Francisco. As far as I know, Gary Sheffield doesn’t much like anything, and I suspect he doesn’t care much about geography. It seems that the hometown discount was the deciding factor…or was it?
The Braves signed Hudson to a four-year $47 million extension, which averages out to $11.75 million per year. Since that time he has been worth about $10.5 million per year in revenue, according to my estimates that are based on his play on the field. The estimates take into account both the growth in league revenue and playing time.
Why didn’t the Braves sign these players?
The reason that a team negotiates a contract before it is up is to take advantage of a player’s willingness to forgo risk. Most humans will sacrifice a higher probabilistic income for a guaranteed lower income. The Braves used this tendency to sign Brian McCann to a long-term contract that bought out years of potentially high-salary arbitration awards and free agency. Why didn’t this strategy work with three of the four players who turned the Braves down?
I believe the answer is because these players share two important characteristics: they were already quite wealthy, and they were close to becoming free agents. Gary Sheffield had accrued $93 million in salary from his baseball employers. J.D. Drew had received $17 million. Mark Teixeira will have banked $35 million before he hits the free agent market this offseason. By comparison, McCann’s $750,000 signing bonus and approximately $500,000 in major-league salary that McCann had received over the previous 1.5 seasons made him a pauper. What if he was seriously injured in a play at the plate in 2007? $1.25 million isn’t chump change, but it’s nothing compared to what he could expect to receive in the future and he’s not set for life.
The problem is that the Braves went after these players too late. These guys were already wealthy, and didn’t mind bearing a little risk in order to make a good bit more money during free agency, which was just around the corner. And for all three players it looks to have been the smart move—Teixeira’s fate is still uncertain, but he’s probably only improved his market value this season.
But what about Tim Hudson? Yes, he signed the contract; however, it seems that the Braves offered him his free-agent market value. No deal. If anything, the Braves overpaid Hudson despite the fact that Hudson has been a good pitcher (I like Hudson).
In conclusion, if the Braves have been actively trading for soon-to-be free agents in order to obtain an exclusive negotiating window, it hasn’t worked. The reasons why the strategy has failed are that players reached a point in their careers where they were willing to take on a little risk to shoot for a high return.
I grant that it is easy to criticize these deals in hindsight, and I admit that this problem wasn’t easy to spot at the time that these deals were being discussed. However, the experiences should serve as a lesson for all organizations why an exclusive negotiating window just before free agency isn’t all that valuable.
Sorry for the light posting this week. I have had visitors in town and dealing with the first days of kindergarten. I saw this post the other day, and I wanted to link to it.
As expected, Manny’s absence has led to more walks for Ortiz, some increase in intentional walks, and probably a fairly large increase in “unintentional intentional” walks. But his batting average and isolated slugging are higher without Manny, too. On the whole, he’s put up a much better statistical performance without Manny in the lineup. Some of that is obviously a result of the additional walks, and some, if not most, of the additional walks are almost certainly a result of not having a Hall-of-Fame slugger in the on deck circle. But even without the walks, his performance on at-bats when not walking is better – higher average, more power, HR more frequently – without Manny in the lineup. The evidence is pretty overwhelming that, despite the early concerns in the press, David Ortiz’ performance is not dependent upon having Manny Ramirez hitting behind him.
Though the conventional baseball wisdom—a better on-deck hitter does protect a batter from being walked—is partially correct, the hitter also lowers his ability to hit for average and power.
The evidence still leaves us with a puzzle: why is it that pitchers don’t give batters better pitches to hit when a good hitter follows? If a pitcher prefers to face the upcoming hitter without an extra man on base, then he ought to attempt to avoid walking the batter by throwing more pitches in the strike zone. In fact, this is exactly what pitchers do, but this doesn’t result in more hitting power.
The placement of the ball around the strike zone is not the only method a pitcher can use to get the hitter out. A pitcher in a tight spot can also reach back and put some extra mustard on the ball. The gains a batter receives from seeing more pitches in the strike zone can be offset by the pitcher making those pitches more difficult to hit. Pitchers regulate their effort throughout a game in order to conserve energy for important moments, such as facing Ortiz with Ramirez on deck. An improved Ramirez may cause Ortiz to be walked less, but Ortiz will be seeing tougher pitches to hit.
Doug and I found something else important about protection.
Though we found the impact to be real—it’s more than a product of random chance—the size of the effect is tiny. So tiny, in fact, that it’s best to say that on-deck hitters have virtually no effect on the performance of the batter.
Thanks to David Pinto for the pointer.
Representative Henry Waxman is upset about Bud Selig’s Congressional testimony that positive steroid tests declined from five percent in 2003 to one percent in 2004.
But the accuracy of the picture provided by Commissioner Bud Selig, his deputy Rob Manfred and the players union’s executive director, Donald Fehr, about how the testing was conducted has come into question. The committee’s chairman, Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, has said he is troubled, and the committee’s staff is planning to send letters to Selig and Fehr seeking answers to what Waxman has called “misinformation.”
At the heart of the issue is the fact that the committee was not told that the 2004 testing, with its significantly lower positive test results, had been partly shut down for much of that season, what Selig’s office later called an emergency response to an unforeseen situation. Specifically, the shutdown arose from the federal investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative steroid ring.
As a result, players who apparently tested positive in 2003 were not retested in 2004 until the final weeks of the season, and might have been notified beforehand, perhaps skewing the overall test numbers for that year.
“It’s clear that some of the information Major League Baseball and the players union gave the committee in 2005 was inaccurate,” Waxman said in a written statement. “It isn’t clear whether this was intentional or just reflects confusion over the testing program for 2003 and 2004. In any case, the misinformation is unacceptable.”
First, there is nothing “inaccurate” about this claim. It could have been misleading, in that the lower positive-test rate had a cause other than decreased steroid use, but baseball appears to have presented correct numbers.
Second, is this news to Waxman? The shutting down of testing in 2004 is such common knowledge that I cannot even recall where I learned of it many months ago. I believe it was included in the Mitchell Report.
UPDATE: Here is the relevant text from the Mitchell Report (pp. 281–282).
In April 2004 federal agents executed search warrants on two private firms involved in the 2003 survey testing, Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc. and Quest Diagnostics, Inc.; the warrants sought drug testing records and samples for ten major league players connected with the BALCO investigation. In the course of those searches, the agents seized data from which they believed they could determine the identities of the major league players who had tested positive during the anonymous survey testing.
Shortly after these events, the Players Association initiated discussions with the Commissioner’s Office regarding a possible suspension of drug testing while the federal investigation proceeded. Manfred said the parties were concerned at the time that test results that they believed until then raised only employment issues had now become an issue in a pending criminal investigation. Ultimately, the Commissioner’s Office and the Players Association agreed to a moratorium on 2004 drug testing. While the exact date and length of this moratorium is uncertain, and the relevant 2004 testing records have been destroyed, Manfred stated that the moratorium commenced very early in the season, prior to the testing of any significant number of players. Manfred stated that the Players Association was not authorized to advise its members of the existence of the moratorium.
According to Manfred, the moratorium lasted for a short period. For most players, drug tests then resumed. With respect to the players who the federal agents believed had tested positive during 2003 survey testing, however, the Commissioner’s Office and the Players Association agreed that: (1) the Players Association would be permitted to advise those players of this fact, since that information was now in the hands of the government; (2) the testing moratorium would continue with respect to those players until the Players Association had an opportunity to notify them; and (3) the Players Association would not advise any of the players of the limited moratorium.
Sometime between mid-August and early September 2004, Manfred contacted Orza because the Players Association had not yet notified the players involved. The 2004 season was drawing to a close without those players having been tested because they remained under the moratorium. Manfred said that he pressed Orza to notify the players as soon as possible so that they could be tested. All of the players were notified by early September 2004.
The problem is that the owners and players agreed to suspend testing for a portion of the 2004 season after the I.R.S. seized previous test results that were supposed to be anonymous. It was the seizure by a government organization that impeded the testing, not MLB or MPBPA.
But, what really annoys me, is that if Waxman really cared about getting steroids out of baseball, he would have used his powers to suppress the seized evidence. Baseball entered into its drug testing program with good intentions, despite the fact there are incentives for individual players and owners to skirt the system. It took major concessions for both sides to begin testing, and anonymity of the early tests was important. Th raid threw all of that good will out the window, and players were once again suspicious of what would happen to the personal health information contained in the blood samples.
Instead, of blaming baseball, Rep. Waxman should have helped baseball negate these seizures, so that all the parties involved could have used their resources to protect player confidentiality while trying to rid the sport of doping. That is to goal of all of this, isn’t it?
Here is a list of 2007 marginal revenue product estimates for the Baltimore Orioles.
Hitters Player MRP Nick Markakis 11.29 Brian Roberts 10.38 Miguel Tejada 7.55 Kevin Millar 7.25 Aubrey Huff 7.02 Melvin Mora 5.76 Ramon Hernandez 3.62 Corey Patterson 3.58 Jay Payton 2.81 Chris Gomez 1.79 Tike Redman 1.78 Jay Gibbons 1.02 Freddie Bynum 0.85 Luis Hernandez 0.40 J.R. House 0.37 Jon Knott 0.26 Scott Moore 0.13 Paul Bako 0.04 Gustavo Molina -0.01 Alberto Castillo -0.04 Brandon Fahey -0.41 Pitchers Player MRP Erik Bedard 12.40 Jeremy Guthrie 8.61 Daniel Cabrera 7.98 Chad Bradford 4.75 Brian Burres 4.73 Steve Trachsel 4.48 Jamie Walker 3.43 Chris Ray 2.21 Kurt Birkins 1.92 Rob Bell 1.80 John Parrish 1.77 Jon Leicester 1.44 Adam Loewen 1.18 Danys Baez 1.12 James Hoey 0.86 Scott Williamson 0.82 Garrett Olson 0.67 Todd Williams 0.64 Paul Shuey 0.63 Radhames Liz 0.49 Victor Zambrano 0.36 Jaret Wright 0.22 Rocky Cherry 0.07 Jim Johnson 0.07 Fernando Cabrera 0.01 Cory Doyne -0.07 Victor Santos -0.51
Estimates from The Baseball Economist (updated paperback edition).
David Pinto is hosting his annual pledge drive to support Baseball Musings. Baseball Musings is one of my favorite baseball blogs out there. I check in on it several times a day, and I appreciate all the hard work that David puts in.
Q: How much are you still focused on improving your plate discipline?
A: My goal has been to go 10 or 15 walks up in the next two or three years, every year. Last year, I had 42 (up from 23 in ’06). This year, I want to get to about 60 or so and keep moving up.
I would love to walk about 80 times a year. I know I’m too aggressive to get into the 100 range. But to be able to do that would be something that would be big for me. And that’s when I will be able to hit .310, that kind of average.
After seeing this, I realized that we have a good opportunity for a reader contest. Well, let’s make it two contests.
How many bases on balls will Jeff Francoeur take from Opening Day–May 31, 2008?
How many bases on balls will Jeff Francoeur take during the 2008 regular season?
The prize for both contests will be a signed copy of The Baseball Economist. You can choose between the hardback or paperback versions. The first contest is for Father’s Day, with the idea being that I will sign the book to your father or father-figure of your choosing (father-in-law, uncle, Charles Barkley…I don’t care). The second contest is for personal glory.
To get things started, I submit my entries.
Here are the rules:
- Submit your entry in the comments section. E-mailed submissions will not be accepted. If your comment does not appear immediately upon posting, do not worry, because it will appear after it has been moderated.
- One entry per person.
- The first person to predict the correct walk total will be declared the winner.
- You must submit a valid e-mail address, which will not be published, so that I can award the prize.
- The first line of your post should include the number of walks you expect at the end of games started on May 31. Use the following format: March–May: 16.
- The second line of your post should include the number of walks you expect at the end of the 2008 regular season. Use the following format: 2008: 45.
- Any commentary you wish to add must be submitted in a separate paragraph below the numbers submitted for the contest. Submissions that list the predictions within prose will be deleted and declared invalid.
- Entries must be submitted by March 28, 2008.
- Should Jeff Francoeur suffer a significant injury, or be involved in a situation, that will cause him miss a significant portion of the season prior to the start of the regular season, the contest will be suspended.
- If my prediction is correct, then the prize will be awarded to the next closest submission. If two submissions are equidistant from my prediction, then the lower prediction will win (The Price is Right rule).
- I reserve the right to exclude the participation of anyone.
- I am the final judge of the winner and I reserve the right to adjust for complexities and unforeseen events as I choose.
Yesterday, AJC Braves beat writer David O’Brien featured an interview with Chipper Jones and Tom Glavine about blood testing for human growth hormone in baseball. I don’t want to get sidetracked by the fact that it would be a total waste of resources to test for HGH, or that it would make more sense to allow it than to police it; instead, I want to focus on the player’s decision to submit to testing.
I believe that Chipper Jones echoes the sentiments of many major-league baseball players.
“I don’t care,” the third baseman said Tuesday. “I’m not on anything, so it doesn’t bother me. The only people I would say who would object would be people afraid of needles, or who are on something.”
A player who is clean has every reason to want testing, but users may favor testing as well. A substance that is performance-enhancing gives users an edge over non-users, which translates into higher salaries. Players face the choice of using to keep their edge or abstaining and settling for compensation less than equally-talented players who use. Thus, there is a strong incentive to use. In a world where all players use, the end result is that players are no better than one another, yet they incur the expense and health consequences of using. Therefore, it makes sense for players to want stringent testing to stamp out this behavior.
However, there is another side to this, and Chipper is well aware of it.
He added, “I’m sure the players association would have something to say about it.”
Jones was asked about the issue three days after Yankees star Derek Jeter said in a radio interview that he wouldn’t object to a blood test, since players already are required to have blood drawn for physicals during spring training.
“You’re talking about individual guys coming out and saying they wouldn’t mind,” Jones said. “I’m sure if [players union head] Don Fehr sat us down and listed the pros and cons, and what the majority of players thought, it might be different.”
Former union representative Tom Glavine elucidates the cons.
“I’m not going to say it’s never going to change, but I see it as a very thorny issue right now,” Glavine said. “There’s too many potential problems, too many question marks.
“It’s potentially opening up a big can of worms. There’s the potential for so many problems with the way that it’s handled, the way it’s stored.”
Glavine said he could envision a player’s career being ruined by blood sample being tampered with by someone with a vendetta.
“On a personal level, it scares me to think of somebody having my blood and the potential to tamper with it down the road,” Glavine said. “Your career could be ruined, and you wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.”
Urine is urine and blood is blood. These substances yield more information than just the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Players are right to be suspicious about the motives of owners, players, and other associates. This is why I suggest handing over all testing and enforcement to the players. Here is my Op-Ed in the NY Times, and here is post with further explanation. I also discuss this in Chapter 9 of my book.