Sam Miller of the Orange County Register raised an interesting point on Twitter just now, which is that 12 of the 34 free agents who’ve been classified as Type A–and thus will require forfeiting a first-round draft pick to sign–are relief pitchers.
Here are the dozen Type A relievers: Grant Balfour, Scott Downs, Frank Francisco, Jason Frasor, Matt Guerrier, Arthur Rhodes, Mariano Rivera, Takashi Saito, Rafael Soriano, Matt Thornton, Billy Wagner, Dan Wheeler.
Obviously there are plenty of very good relievers on that list, but there are also some guys no one would classify as elite free agents. And last year was a similar story, as 10 of the 26 players classified as Type A free agents were relievers (including names like John Grabow, Kevin Gregg, and Darren Oliver). In other words, over the past two seasons the Elias Sports Bureau’s system for ranking free agents has determined that 37 percent of the Type A players are relievers.
There’s really no way to look at those numbers and not conclude the ranking system is significantly out of whack, so the only real question is why. My guess is that there’s too much emphasis placed on ERA (or other “rate” stats) and not enough emphasis placed on innings pitched (or other “counting” stats). And there’s no doubt a lot of value given to saves.
For years now there have been various complaints about the Elias rankings doing a poor job of evaluating players and classifying free agents, mostly because the statistics they choose to focus on are far from state of the art and their method of weighing those statistics is flawed. However, this goes beyond those criticisms and shows–pretty convincingly, I think–that the entire system is simply off base.
When the goal is to rank the best, most valuable players and 37 percent of the Type A guys are determined to be relief pitchers … well, as they say on the internet: You’re doing it wrong.