Often times free agent contracts end up working out poorly because the team evaluates the player as if they will continue to perform in the future the same way or even better than he performed in the past. Like, say, every free agent contract the Angels have handed out in recent years.
Of course predicting the future is hard and, given that it is hard and given that the market is what the market is, even teams that do their best to evaluate a player end up paying some premium based on his track record. This is especially true — and forgivable — in the case of teams seeking to retain their own free agents, as they got way more production than that for which they paid when the guy was in his pre-free agency years. Just the cost of doing business.
But really, if teams could do things ideally with free agents — if they had a crystal ball — they’d pay them for the production they actually end up getting out of them, not for past production. Indeed, that’s what the entire business of applied advanced baseball metrics is all about: trying to figure out what baseball players may do in the future and basing one’s roster decisions on those projections.
Which is why this argument from Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times against the contract the Dodgers have Brandon McCarthy is sort of loony:
Dodgers General Manager Farhan Zaidi and McCarthy argue a new conditioning program made him stronger, elevating his velocity a couple mph to 93 and enabling him to finally last the duration of a full season. Plus, it’s not like Chase Field is a pitcher’s ballpark. Clearly the Dodgers believe the way he pitched in New York is further indication his past health issues are behind him . . .They’re paying less for what he’s done that what they hope he can do. Which makes no sense. And he got four years and $48 million.
He never does explain why it “makes no sense” for a team to pay a guy based on what they think he’ll do in the future. Especially when one realizes that a player’s market is a function of what 30 teams, all using some form of advanced metrics or another, think a guy will do in the future.
Actually, I think Dilbeck does miss that little fact. That the Dodgers are not out on some crazy island in which they are the only ones thinking of players in terms of advanced metrics. He clearly believes they are, however, as he plays up more of that “Geek Squad” stuff he started a while back, painting Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi as crazy people performing mathematical voodoo. Dilbeck fails to consider that, maybe, a LOT of other teams might evaluate a player in the way the Dodgers evaluated McCarthy.