I basically wrote about this earlier this afternoon, but Sheehan’s article about salary arbitration this year is worth quoting:
These decisions, taken as a whole, reflect the evolution of a market. Not every team sees it the same way, but by and large, the industry is valuing experience less, valuing common talents less, and recognizing one of the first principles of performance analysis: talent in MLB isn’t a bell curve, but the right edge of that curve, with a few tremendous talents, and then a large pool of similar ones. There’s nothing special about Randy Winn or Jermaine Dye or Jon Garland, and what separates them from comparable players—experience—isn’t something worth paying millions of marginal dollars for. The industry is getting smarter, and it’s going to make for better baseball for all of us.
That’s exactly right.
This isn’t an issue of “stats vs scouts,” which is apparently how my last article was viewed. This is simply the market for baseball players evolving due to a change in player evaluation in front offices.
Part of that change is certainly due to a difference in evaluation methods — more teams are using statistical analysis to attempt to value both free agents and internal options. Another part of that change is probably economic: the guys signing the checks would rather their employees don’t throw their money around as much as they have in the past.
But, as Sheehan points out, another part of it is that front offices are simply getting smarter. They’ve realized that there really are only a small handful of players worth committing a large amount of resources — either in dollars, years, or roster spots. Beyond those few stars, everyone else in the majors (or, to a lesser extent, the high minors) is pretty close to equivalent. Why would you spend many millions of dollars on one when you can have another for half a million? It makes no sense.
Right now I think the front offices have swung too far in the opposite direction of their free-wheeling ways of yesteryear; this market, like any other, is operating like a pendulum on the way to equilibrium. But even still, the idea that this sort of analysis shows that “all free agents are basically worthless” is disingenuous at best; it smacks of sportswriter-like thinking, that “things were better back then,” and is clearly in opposition of change, no matter how inevitable or beneficial.
Ultimately, I agree with Sheehan (on this). This is going to make baseball better for everyone.*
*Except, of course, for the aging veterans who are no longer the beneficiaries of foolish contracts — but how much do you feel for those guys?29 comments