A stat-savvy player talks about the value of Michael Young, intangibles and clubhouse chemistry

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I and a lot of other sabermetrically-inclined writers have taken our shots at clubhouse chemistry and the lionization of players who are thought to be far better than their numbers suggest due to any number of intangible factors.  I and those same sabermetrically-inclined writers have also developed a fondness for Diambondbacks’ pitcher Brandon McCarthy because he is one of the more stat-savvy players out there (and because he’s active and interactive on social media and the like).

But if you think McCarthy is going to fall in line with our thinking on the clubhouse chemistry and soft/intangible factors thing, you’re wrong. To the contrary, he will tell you straight up that those things matter to players on a team and have value that the so-called smart set usually fail to acknowledge.  I had an offline discussion with McCarthy to this effect a few months ago, and — though it hasn’t stopped me from ripping Michael Young and all of that in my usual ways — did make me appreciate that it’s not just the fanboys of those gritty leader types who think that way.

Now, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic goes on-the-record with McCarthy who explains why he understands how Young got MVP votes and how much clubhouse leaders matter. After explaining some of the little things Michael Young does that most of us don’t see in terms of giving advice to other players, he talks generally about good clubhouse guys:

It doesn’t have to be veterans at the top or guys that everybody regards as good clubhouse guys, but it’s just good people – and the more of them that are around usually the better things will kind of go. I think. It’s one of those things that I think misses in the sabermetric community, especially among the super snarky writers. But it is there. You don’t have to build a team around that, but I’m a big believer in at least having one or two of those guys on every team. Not overpaying him necessarily, but getting him in there. Guys that just have that infectious nature, they get in there – they’re good cancer, they spread everywhere – and guys are like, ‘I love that guy.’”

It’s certainly not anything that is quantifiable and for that reason I am and will continue to be skeptical when baseball writers and awards voters make claims about just how valuable that sort of thing is. And I simply will never buy that that sort of thing comes close to equalling let alone outweighing actual on-the-field production when it comes to helping teams win ballgames.

But I can see where he’s coming from and I can see how these factors can be important to ballplayers. We all want to work in supportive, friendly and collaborative environments and for that reason these things are valuable.

UPDATE: McCarthy makes a clarification:

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.