Friday, December 13, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, December 13, 2019 -- "Being Very Interesting"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

Your subscription gets you the newsletter and various related features two to five days a week, more than 150 mailings (more than 200,000 words) a year full of smart, fun baseball writing that you can't find in the mainstream. Subscribers can also access the new Slack workspace, to talk baseball with me and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

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"The math is real. The Angels added Anthony Rendon, and the Astros lost Gerrit Cole That 12-win swing, though, is barely a third of the gap between the two teams last year. The AL had just seven .500 teams last year, remember, so the bar for success is low. Signing Rendon was a good move; it just comes with a question: What’s next?"

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, December 11, 2019 -- "Strasburg and Cole"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

Your subscription gets you the newsletter and various related features two to five days a week, more than 150 mailings (more than 200,000 words) a year full of smart, fun baseball writing that you can't find in the mainstream. Subscribers can also access the new Slack workspace, to talk baseball with me and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

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"The error bars around the two pitchers are wide enough that it’s hard to say which of them is likely to be better in the medium or long term. Cole’s transformation in Houston, and his monster 2019, positioned him ahead of Strasburg in the market, and rightly so. It wasn’t that long ago, however, that you’d have taken Strasburg ahead of Cole and not looked back. If the Nationals had to pay for Strasburg’s October, the Yankees are paying for all of Cole’s 2019."

Monday, December 9, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, December 9, 2019 -- "Marvin Miller"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

Your subscription gets you the newsletter and various related features two to five days a week, more than 150 mailings (more than 200,000 words) a year full of smart, fun baseball writing that you can't find in the mainstream. Subscribers can also access the new Slack workspace, to talk baseball with me and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

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"That’s the point, though, isn’t it? Miller is safe now. He’s dead. He can’t step to the microphone on a hot summer Sunday and excoriate the league, the whining owners, even the MLBPA and its craven leadership. He can’t use this moment to educate the players as to their importance to the game, their rights to the spoils. Baseball can honor a whitewashed memory of Marvin Miller without ever engaging with the ideas he fought for."

Friday, December 6, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, December 6, 2019 -- "Fun With Numbers"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

Your subscription gets you the newsletter and various related features two to five days a week, more than 150 mailings (more than 200,000 words) a year full of smart, fun baseball writing that you can't find in the mainstream. Subscribers can also access the new Slack workspace, to talk baseball with me and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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"There were just 2280 stolen bases in 2019, the lowest figure in a non-strike season since 1973, when there were 20% fewer teams. There were 776 sacrifices, the fewest in recorded history (since 1894). Over the course of the 2010s, baseball lost half its sacrifices, a quarter of its steals, and 10% of its singles. That’s strategic progress on one hand, and a sharp decline in action, in movement, in things to watch from Section 312, on the other."

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, December 4, 2019 -- "Not Jonathan Villar and the Orioles"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

Your subscription gets you the newsletter and various related features two to five days a week, more than 150 mailings (more than 200,000 words) a year full of smart, fun baseball writing that you can't find in the mainstream. Subscribers can also access the new Slack workspace, to talk baseball with me and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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"The urgency to dump Villar, though, becomes easier to explain when you consider the biggest story of the Orioles’ offseason: The regional sports network they control, MASN, has to pay the Nationals nearly $100 million in old rights fees. The Orioles are appealing, but this judgment seems likely to stand."

Free Preview: "The Battle"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

Your subscription gets you the newsletter and various related features two to five days a week, more than 150 mailings (more than 200,000 words) a year full of smart, fun baseball writing that you can't find in the mainstream. Subscribers can also access the new Slack workspace, to talk baseball with me and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 8, No. 1
February 16, 2016

Josh Donaldson, 2015 AL MVP, will make $11.65 million in 2016 after settling with the Blue Jays on a two-year deal in advance of his arbitration hearing.

Brandon McCarthy, who made four starts and threw 23 innings in 2015, will make $11 million in 2016.

Angel Pagan, who was by one measure the third-worst position player in baseball last year, will make $10 million in 2016.

You can do this all day. The relationship between how a baseball player played in 2015 and how he will be compensated in 2016 isn't random, but it can appear that way at times. Bryce Harper was the best player in baseball last year, and he will make $5 million in 2016. Mike Trout was second-best, and he'll make $15.25 million. You can have some fun with the data on position players at baseball-reference and Cot's

Life Is Not A Meritocracy

                2015 bWAR      2016 Pay

Top Five             44.5        $57.7M
Bottom Five          -9.3        $51.2M

Top Ten              80.0        $89.4M       
Bottom Ten          -16.1       $102.1M


There are many reasons for the disparity above, but the most critical one for the MLBPA is this: the pay structure in baseball is more closely tied to service time than to performance in an era where teams value service time -- experience -- less than they ever have. You see what teams truly value in the hoarding of prospects, in the…we're not supposed to say "tanking," apparently, so we'll say "aggressive pursuit of draft budget," in the struggles second- and third-tier free agents have in finding a market for their services, in the willingness teams have to tie themselves financially to players with limited service time but significant talent.

From its first fitful days in the 1950s, scraping for pensions and better health care, the MLBPA and its predecessors have always made service time, not performance or age, the currency by which its members earned benefits. The first pension plan offered a pension to players with five years' experience, later reduced to four (and now, just a few weeks). You needed three years' service time to be eligible for salary arbitration in 1974. You needed six years' service time to eligible for free agency starting in 1976. The ability to block a trade was granted to players with ten years in the league and five with their current team. At every turn, the MLBPA has acted as a traditional union in valuing time-served above all other factors. That's shaped the compensation structure we have now, in which no matter a player's performance, he has almost no control over his compensation until he's played as much as three-and-a-half seasons, and limited control through as much as six-plus seasons.

I remember in the early days of Prospectus, and even before that to online discussions in the run-up to the 1994 strike, making the point that while many online voices, younger voices, outside voices lined up behind the MLBPA's positions, a baseball industry run by stathead principles would not be a pleasant one for players. Twenty years on, that's what we have, an industry that evaluates players based on their expected hitting, fielding and pitching value, and cares far less -- though not zero -- about the value of experience in the major leagues.

The compensation structure isn't the only challenge. The actual distribution of player value is changing. In the 1980s, Bill James discovered that the career path for position players was a bell curve centered on age 27, with a broad peak from 25 to 29. This challenged the established idea, which was a motivator for the experience-centric MLBPA mindset, that players peaked later, in their early thirties. More recent research by Fangraphs' Jeff Zimmerman has modified even that notion, showing that the "bell curve" James discovered has been replaced by a path that sees players entering the league more or less at their peak, and declining from there.

This isn't a minor point for the MLBPA. Performance and compensation aren't just out of sync, but set in opposition to one another. As currently constituted, teams have every incentive to pass on the six-year player, in his late twenties or early thirties, in favor of the player with little to no experience at age 23 or 24. Statheads have always argued that buying free agents was a mug's game where teams paid for past performance. Teams are now signing on to this idea, backed not by the aging "curve" per James, but the aging "ski slope" per Zimmerman. There will always be a market for the top 1%, 2% of players in the pool, your David Prices, your Zack Greinkes, but more and more, enough teams are rejecting the players even at the level below that in favor of trying to produce and lock up 22-year-olds. The contracts signed by Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Alex Gordon certainly seem lucrative on their faces, and the money will spend nicely. Relative to industry revenues, relative to the top of the market, relative to the expected value of their performances, those players were all underpaid to some degree.

We can focus on issues that affect free-agent compensation, such as the current incentives bad teams have to be as bad as possible (and the way revenue sharing mitigates the risks of doing so) and the punishments for signing free agents. Those are issues that should be addressed in the next CBA not only for their impact on player income, but their impact on competitive integrity. However, the fundamental challenge the MLBPA faces goes to the heart of what they value and have valued for nearly 70 years: experience. If the MLBPA is going to reclaim its rightful percentage of industry revenues, it may have to, for the first time, trade off the interests of veterans in favor of the interests of younger, less experienced players, because those are the players producing.

There are a number of ways to do this. The first, and probably easiest, is to push for a far higher minimum wage: double or more the current $507,000. This would not only pay new major leaguers -- who as Zimmerman notes, are performing at or near their peak -- better, but, by doing so, lessen the leverage teams have in getting those players to sign long-term contracts that buy the players out of their upside. Not all of the John Hart deals have worked out for the teams -- hi, Jon Singleton -- but on balance they have transferred hundreds of millions of dollars in value from players to teams. A higher minimum salary, especially one that increased as a player gained service time, would give players a stronger negotiating position.

A higher minimum salary could be part of a package of reforms that traded off arbitration for a quicker path to free agency. Arbitration is often held up as a bugaboo by the media, but it's been a wildly successful process that eliminated holdouts and forced teams to negotiate salaries in good faith. Ignore the innumerate "Joe Outfielder got an 866% raise in arbitration" headlines and focus on the number of cases that are settled after figures are exchanged and how all your favorite players will be in camp next month.

A higher minimum salary, especially a stepped one, will raise salaries for players with four or fewer years of service time. Perhaps players would accede to eliminating salary arbitration in exchange for the higher minimums and the time to free agency being reduced to five years. Just eyeballing some of the salaries for arbitration-eligible players, it seems as if most MLB players would do no worse, and some better, under a system that guaranteed them, just pulling a number, $12.5 million in their first five years, rather than one in which they could be paid as little as $2 million total in their first three-plus seasons and then hope to make it up over the next two. The players who would not do as well -- the very best players -- would gain by reaching free agency a year earlier.

I don't want to minimize how radical a change this would be. It's not just the MLBPA that values experience. When I talked about this in December with a veteran writer I respect, he objected, noting that experience isn't just the coin of the realm for the MLBPA, but for the entire baseball industry. He's right. Even in our era of hiring statheads off the street and the game's front offices populated by MBAs rather than MLBs, the culture of baseball is one that respects, even prizes, longevity. To alter the compensation structure to better pay youth at the expense of experience goes against not just 50 years of MLBPA history, but 140 years of baseball history.

The thing is, though, that is already happening. Teams are making that choice for the players, pushing their money into young players and the development of young players and even the purchase of what amounts to baseball player embryos, because that's more cost-effective than paying 30-year-olds $40 million over three years. The MLBPA is no longer choosing between getting youth paid and getting veterans paid. Its choice is either standing in the way of industry trends or going to the owners with a plan that acknowledges those trends and rebuilds the compensation structure accordingly. This has to be the central battle in the upcoming CBA negotiations.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, December 3, 2019 -- "Non-Tenders and the Larger Market"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

Your subscription gets you the newsletter and various related features two to five days a week, more than 150 mailings (more than 200,000 words) a year full of smart, fun baseball writing that you can't find in the mainstream. Subscribers can also access the new Slack workspace, to talk baseball with me and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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 "Players, and the MLBPA, may be frustrated today, but I’m not sure this is something that can be repaired. The distribution of baseball talent at the MLB level is the very far right edge of a bell curve. Superstars are rare, very good players somewhat less rare, but you don’t get too far from the edge of the curve before you find a large pool of similar players. That’s not something you can fix in collective bargaining; it’s an immutable fact of the talent pool."

Monday, December 2, 2019

2010s Team of the Decade



C: Yadier Molina

1B: Miguel Cabrera

2B: Robinson Cano

SS: Andrelton Simmons

3B: Adrian Beltre

OF: Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Mookie Betts

SP: Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Zack Greinke

RP: Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman

Newsletter Preview: "Competitive Balance"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

Your subscription gets you the newsletter and various related features two to five days a week, more than 150 mailings (more than 200,000 words) a year full of smart, fun baseball writing that you can't find in the mainstream. Subscribers can also access the new Slack workspace, to talk baseball with me and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 11, No. 83
September 26, 2019

The Tigers, of course, are just one of a number of teams racking up losses this season. Four teams have lost 100 games. At the other end of the standings, three teams already have 100 wins, and two, the Braves and Twins, can still get there.

This kind of bifurcation breaks, and could potentially shatter, a record tied just last year, when six teams finished with at least 100 wins or losses. Since expansion pushed the schedule to 162 games in 1961 (1962 in the NL), there have been five seasons in which at least five teams posted numbers that big. Two were expansion years, 1962 and 1967 (five); one was 2002 (six); and the other two are the last two years. If we do get to nine, that’s a 50% leap over the previous record.

Have you heard a peep about this from the league office? From Rob Manfred? From an owner or six? Mind you, competitive balance is supposed to be the reason why hundreds of millions of dollars get transferred from big-city teams to small-city ones. It’s why there are rules in place that penalize teams that invest heavily in putting a great team on the field. It’s why there are rules in place that forbid teams from spending freely on international amateurs and greatly restrain their spending on domestic ones.

Competitive balance was the rationale behind free-agent compensation, the issue that spurred the owners to strike in 1981. It was the nominal reason why teams forced a strike in 1994, when they were pursuing a radical rollback of free agency via a payroll cap. It was never far from the lips of Bud Selig, who coined the phrase “hope and faith” to convince fans and media that his only goal was providing good baseball to fans of all 30 teams.

It was always a lie. “Competitive balance” has always been code for “the players make too much money.” Ever notice how the rules and contraptions and limitations deemed essential for competitive balance always, coincidentally, transfer wealth from labor to management? That there was never a plan, not once, to improve competitive balance by forcing the teams to, you know, compete more, rather than less?

This has always been true, but the 2018-19 seasons hopefully put the fallacy to rest forever. Baseball had the best competitive balance in its entire history from the dawn of free agency through 1993, the last full season before the strike. Of the 26 teams that played through that period, 17 seasons, 22 won a division title, and the Expos sort of did in 1981. Eighteen of 26 teams played in the World Series. Thirteen teams, half the league, won the World Series.

The owners, led by Bud Selig, looked at that landscape and decided that baseball had a competitive balance problem.

Nearly every change the league has made since then, clawing its way to wins in CBA negotiation after CBA negotiation, has chipped away at competitive balance. That process accelerated in the last two CBAs, which all but eliminated competition for international talent and sharply reduced competition for major-league talent. Parallel to great gains in revenue from a variety of sources, those CBAs made “winning baseball games” a smaller and smaller part of “making money.”

Bud Selig looked at the best competitive balance in baseball history and lied about it to make more money for him and his pals. Rob Manfred? In February, coming off a season in which six teams won or lost 100 games, said, “There has been no meaningful change in the distribution of winning percentages in major league baseball.” Why? Because the teams are making money hand over fist. (Rob Arthur, take it away.) There are draconian penalties for spending too much money on your product, and none at all for spending too little.

I don’t know what MLB's next argument will be. Maybe it will remain “competitive balance,” even though the current state of the game is the product of the league setting the rules with minimal opposition. No matter what it is, though, let the history of management’s approach to competitive balance be the context in which you hear their arguments. In 1993, they said black was white. In 2019, they’re saying white is black. They’ll say anything to keep the lion’s share of the green.

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