Sometimes September matters. Sometimes it doesn’t.

32 Comments

Jon Heyman prefaces his awards column with an explanation that he does take winning into account when he chooses an MVP. He also says that, if you differ, and if you simply view the MVP award as a “best player award” that’s fine. He just sees it another way.

This, I think, is reasonable. He’s clear and he’s open to alternative approaches even if he’s not likely to adopt them. It’s his ballot and he can do what he wants with it.  As such — and I am being 100% sincere here — the purpose of this post is not to mock Heyman’s choices. He chooses Miguel Cabrera as his MVP as I feel the voters will as well. I’ve said several times that it’s not a bad choice, even if I’d make a different one. Cabrera is probably the best hitter in baseball, especially when he’s healthy, and we’re a long way from the days when Juan Gonzalez was winning this award.

My point is merely to say that, when you choose to make a winning team matter — and when you choose to make finishing strong an important factor — you should probably be consistent with it. Here’s what Heyman wrote in his 2012 awards column:

Cabrera, I believe, won the award with his big finish. He had a 1.032 OPS in September compared to .836 for Trout. Cabrera’s big finish put the Tigers into the playoffs.

Here’s what he wrote today:

[Cabrera] couldn’t do much the last month because he was hurt, costing him a shot at back-to-back Triple Crowns. But he pretty well had the MVP wrapped up by August. His batting percentages are better than anyone else, and way better than anyone on a contender. (Note: the reason his big September last year counted so much is the Tigers needed it, whereas they had things pretty well wrapped up by September this year even if they only wound up winning the division by a game.)

That parenthetical does a lot of work here. It has to given that the Tigers won the division by three games last year and one this year. It has to given that last year Heyman said that Trout’s .836 September OPS cost him while Cabrera’s sub-.800 OPS is brushed aside.

Again, as Heyman explains what he’s doing it’s merely a difference of opinion, and he is entitled to his. But it does illustrate that, the farther you stray from merely picking the best player for the MVP and step into the tall, amorphous weeds of “value,” the harder it is to apply consistent criteria. Sometimes September matters, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes a team that wins by one game had it in the bag all along, sometimes a team that won by three was fighting for its playoff life. Some games are pressure free, some games are pressure packed. It can get a little messy. And I don’t figure any reporter would dare tell Mike Trout, as Heyman says here, that he didn’t play any meaningful games after May, thus had no pressure.

My view: pick the best player and you reduce the number of impossible to quantify variables. You also, you know, reward the best player for something. Which, under the “winning matters” criteria, often won’t happen. And that seems like quite an oversight.

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

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
15 Comments

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.