That’s the conventional wisdom: players try harder when free agency looms, resulting in big walk years and big contracts handed out by teams who get hung up on the whole recency thing.
But it’s not true say the boys who run Bloomberg’s new baseball stats outfit:
Over the past nine years, 177 players performing in the last year of a
contract hit for a collective .282 batting average, with an .824 OPS
(on-base plus slugging percentage, an increasingly used measurement of
the moneyball era). They also averaged 19 home runs, 51 extra base hits
and 73 runs batted in per 500 at-bats.
That’s not much different
from their collective numbers from the previous year: .283 batting
average, .821 OPS, 19 homers, 51 extra base hits and 74 RBI. Two years
before? A .279 batting average and .809 OPS, with 18 home runs, 50 extra
base hits and 73 RBI per 500 at-bats.
The thing about players turning it up a notch in contract years is a species of confirmation bias based on the belief by many that ballplayers are money-motivated above all else. People believe that, then they tend to look for evidence that confirms it as opposed to evidence that disproves it, despite the fact that there’s abundant evidence doing so. A lot of bad baseball analysis follows this pattern. So-and-so is a clutch hitter. Whatshisface is a big game pitcher. We see it or believe it and it’s always so in our minds. It’s understandable. I fall prey to it myself all the time. Indeed, there’s science behind it, with some researchers believing that our brains have to take an extra, actual neurological step in order to process data which doesn’t fit with an idea we’ve already had compared to processing data which does conform to such an idea.
We talk a lot about biases around here. Mine, yours, columnists’ etc. But it’s probably worth remembering that people don’t work to maintain their biases. Our brains, trying to economize on the effort they expend, want to rest with the preconceived notion. When they do so and are mistaken about something, it’s an example of relatively understandable mental laziness, not active self-deception.
The trick to beating that? Just workin’ a bit harder, ya know?
1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion signed a three-year, $60 million contract with the Indians early last month. The 34-year-old had spent the last seven and a half seasons with the Blue Jays, but his future elsewhere appeared to be written on the wall when the Jays signed Kendrys Morales in November to essentially occupy Encarnacion’s role.
Encarnacion spoke about testing free agency for the first time in his career and the situation that led to him leaving Toronto for Cleveland. Via Jorge L. Ortiz of USA TODAY:
“Toronto was always my first option, but I had never been a free agent, and anybody who gets to free agency wants to find out what’s out there,’’ he said. “I think they got too hasty in making their decision, but now I’m with Cleveland and I’m happy to be here.’’
Encarnacion last season hit .263/.357/.529 with 42 home runs and an AL-best 127 RBI. He’s now on the team that defeated his Blue Jays in the ALCS to advance to the World Series. Encarnacion effectively replaces Mike Napoli, who returned to the Rangers.
I’m on record saying that Sammy Sosa has been rather hosed by baseball history.
The guy did amazing things. Unheard-of things. He was truly astounding at this peak and was incredibly important to both his franchise and Major League Baseball as a whole. His repayment: he’s a pariah. His club won’t claim him and his greatness, by any measure, has not just been overlooked but denied by most who even bother to consider him.
Yes, he had PED associations, but they were extraordinarily vague ones. He’s in the same boat as David Ortiz as far as documented PED evidence against him, but Ortiz will be a first ballot Hall of Famer while Sosa barely clings to the ballot. He hit homers at the same cartoonish rate as Mark McGwire, but while Big Mac has been embraced by baseball and has coached for years, Sosa can’t get into Wrigley Field unless he buys a ticket and even then the Cubs might try to hustle him out of sight. The man has been treated poorly by any measure.
Yet, it’s still possible to overstate the case. Like Sosa did in this interview with Chuck Wasserstrom:
It’s like Jesus Christ when he came to Jerusalem,” Sosa told chuckbloggerstrom.com. “Everybody thought Jesus Christ was a witch (laughing) — and he was our savior. So if they talk (bleep) about Jesus Christ, what about me? Are you kidding me?”
At least he was basically joking about it. Still, it’s a totally unfair and almost offensive comparison.
I mean, anyone who watched Sosa’s career knows that he had trouble laying off breaking stuff low and away. In contrast . . .