Midseason AL Cy Young Award

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It was the easiest call of all of the awards when we looked back one-third of the way through the year, but things have tightened up a bit since, as Zack Greinke is no longer sporting a 1.10 ERA.

Here’s the top 10 in ERA:

1. Zack Greinke – 2.12 ERA in 127 1/3 IP
2. Edwin Jackson – 2.52 ERA in 121 2/3 IP
3. Felix Hernandez – 2.53 ERA in 124 2/3 IP
4. Roy Halladay – 2.85 ERA in 123 IP
5. Jarrod Washburn – 2.96 ERA in 112 1/3 IP
6. Nick Blackburn – 3.06 ERA in 123 1/3 IP
7. Dallas Braden – 3.12 ERA in 112 1/3 IP
8. Jered Weaver – 3.22 ERA in 120 1/3 IP
9. Josh Beckett – 3.35 ERA in 121 IP
10. Justin Verlander – 3.38 ERA in 122 1/3 IP

And the top 10 in VORP:

1. Zack Greinke – 45.5
2. Edwin Jackson – 39.9
3. Felix Hernandez – 39.3
4. Roy Halladay – 39.0
5. Cliff Lee – 34.3
6. Jered Weaver – 33.3
7. Jarrod Washburn – 32.8
8. Kevin Millwood – 31.7
9. Nick Blackburn – 29.9
10. Justin Verlander – 29.3

I think that VORP gives us a better list than ERA in this case,
particularly in the way that it separates the top four from the rest of
the pack.

Now let’s try to remove fielding from the equation with FIP:

1. Zack Greinke – 2.06
2. Justin Verlander – 2.69
3. Roy Halladay – 2.96
4. Felix Hernandez – 3.04
5. Jon Lester – 3.32
6. Cliff Lee – 3.34
7. Josh Beckett – 3.36
8. Dallas Braden – 3.44
9. Edwin Jackson – 3.52
10. Carl Pavano – 3.70

I don’t really trust FIP very much, but there’s a lot here that I
agree with. Verlander hasn’t been more valuable to the Tigers than
Jackson, but maybe he could have been under different circumstances.
Lester ran into a lot of tough luck early on, yet he’s pitching as well
as anyone in the league right now. Pavano… well, color me skeptical
about that one.

So, Greinke is still the clear No. 1, even though he has a 3.97 ERA
since the beginning of June. After that, it’s three pitchers for two
spots: Jackson, Hernandez and Halladay. Halladay has an advantage in
that he’s allowed just two unearned runs, compared to six apiece for
Jackson and King Felix. Halladay has also faced the tougher schedule:
his opposing batters have had a 761 OPS, compared to 756 for Jackson
and 749 for Hernandez. I think that gets him the second spot. The
remaining place on the ballot goes to Jackson. While FIP believes he’s
been helped a great deal by the players behind him, the Tigers aren’t
nearly as strong defensively as the Mariners or Blue Jays. He’s also
gotten less assistance from his bullpen.

AL Cy Young

1. Greinke
2. Halladay
3. Jackson

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been signed. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.