Years after Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball and teams started taking a smarter approach to building baseball teams, writers would often proclaim something as “the new on-base percentage”. Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics rose to prominence in one small part due to their ability to find cheap players with good on-base skills. A quick Google search of the phrase “is the new OBP” showed such proclamations about Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), health (injury prevention), and software in general. Surely scores more await with more dedicated digging.
I bring this up because two big pieces of news were announced today: the Tigers and Justin Verlander agreed to a contract extension, as did the Giants and Buster Posey. A smaller but related piece of news included the Diamondbacks and Paul Goldschmidt agreeing to a contract extension as well. The Mariners extended Felix Hernandez earlier in the off-season, and now the Dodgers are thinking about doing the same with Clayton Kershaw.
This isn’t just a coincidence. More and more team executives seem to agree that buying out their star players’ arbitration years and delaying their foray into free agency is a great way to maximize player value. As an example of something that commonly happens, look what happened with the Indians and Cliff Lee: they got two good seasons out of him, then had to trade him at the deadline in 2009 because they had fallen out of contention. Since then, the Phillies have had two and a half stellar seasons out of him, while the Mariners and Rangers also got a half-season each. Meanwhile, the prospects that the Indians got in return for Lee (Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Carlos Carrasco, and Jason Knapp) have turned out to be duds.
Several years ago, Matt Swartz showed that teams that re-sign their own players, rather than signing free agents who came from other teams, got more value out of the contracts. With surging advancements in data collection and technology, teams are better able to make accurate, long-term projections about players they have grown and cultivated over many years. Though you are still prone to the land mines that are injuries — see: Johan Santana — teams will only get better and better at identifying and predicting them as time goes on.