Putting Ubaldo Jimenez's start in perspective

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Thumbnail image for ubaldo jimenez throwing.jpgAs Aaron noted this morning, Ubaldo Jimenez has been nothing short of amazing to begin the season, going 10-1 with a 0.78 ERA so far. He has now put in 11 straight starts in which he has allowed two earned runs or fewer. Astounding, yes. But unprecedented?

Alas, no.  At least not in terms of the low earned-runs streak. As Raphy at the excellent Baseball-Reference Blog noted after yesterday’s game, one guy actually started his season with 12 straight games in which he allowed two runs or fewer.  The man: Edinson Volquez in 2008.  Wasn’t expecting him.

The others on that list are an interesting lot.  Juan Marichal’s 1966 actually makes Jimenez’s 2010 look rather pedestrian, as Marichal had an ERA of 0.59 through ten starts and a 60/8 K/BB ratio.  No one was touching the Dominican Dandy in the early going that year.

But I guess the most striking thing on the list is what’s not there: truly historic seasons. Yes, there’s a Cy Young award in there — Greinke’s 2009 year — but no seasons that people remember forever like Bob Gibson’s 1968 or any of Sandy Koufax’s big years.  As Raphy notes, just about all of those guys fell back to Earth a bit after their fast starts, some of them in a pretty major way (see, Moore, Barry; 1969). Really, Marichal’s was the only big time season there, and even then he was bested by Koufax in the long haul that year.

This isn’t to rain on Jimenez’s parade. What he’s doing is fantastic and, at the moment, he’s got to be considered the favorite for the Cy Young award (sorry, Roy).  But it is premature to call his season historic for the simple reason that such streaks aren’t generally sustainable and there’s a lot of baseball yet to be played.

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. 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.