Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Coming MLB Salary Crisis?

We have been very fortunate to live with relative peace between MLB and the players' union. There is an entire generation that has not experienced a work stoppage or a owner / player crisis. The game has changed since the current agreement between the sides was last negotiated. Players are getting younger and it has become harder for older free agents to get jobs. Is a crisis looming?

The current pay system made sense when the agreement was being signed. Players would bide their time through the team control years and then reap their rewards. The owners got great value in the early careers of its players and then coughed up the money to re-sign them after control was over or sign other players on the market.

An inkling of trouble ahead occurred last winter when free agents could not find jobs and shouts of "Collusion!" filled the air. But it was not collusion. The facts are that analysis now rules decision making for teams and teams are going younger and reaping value from its players during their young, peak seasons.

For the exceptional players such as Manny Machado, Mike Trout and a few others, this has worked out just fine as they started young and were then positioned to make big bucks at an age when it seems more reasonable to ask for it. A ten year deal to a 26-year-old is somewhat more palatable than the same deal to a 30-year-old.

The trouble is, not all players are Mike Trouts and Mookie Betts. Some like Josh Donaldson (for example) are going to find it extremely difficult to get multiple years after hitting free agency in the early thirties. And players who start young and play just above league average will replaced by younger players who can do just as well when it is time to "cash in."

The old standby of artificially keeping young players in the minors to keep control longer is going out the window. Young players are exploding all over baseball as analysts succinctly show that these young players will never be better (and more valuable) than they are right now.

One just has to look at the WAR leaderboard over the last ten years. was used for position player leaders because it is easier to see ages on that site.

The Median age for the top ten position players looks like this:

  • 2018 - 25
  • 2017 - 25.5
  • 2016 - 25.5
  • 2015 - 26
  • 2010 - 27.5

The Median age has decreased by 2.5 years since 2010.

The average age of players in baseball has changed as well. The numbers may not seem drastic, but consider how many players there are and the decrease holds much more gravity.

Average player age:

  • 2018 - 28.1
  • 2017 - 28.3
  • 2016 and 2015 - 28.4
  • 2014 - 2012 - 28.5
  • 2011 - 28.7
  • 2010 - 28.4
  • 2009 and 2008 - 28.8
  • 1998 - 28.9

Let's look at the 2018 Yankees for a moment. 21.9 Wins Above Replacement were tallied by players making less than a million dollars. That is 42.6% of the team's total. Back in 2008, that tally was 12.2 WAR or only 28.4% of the team's total. The Yankees are getting more value from younger players than ever before. Even if you go back to 1998 in the second year of the Core Four, that group making less than a million dollars (which included Jeter and Rivera) tallied 38.2% of the team's WAR that season. Gene Michaels was way ahead of his times.

Thinking about these things, the players' union has a lot to discuss before the current agreement is up. Much more of the value of play is being provided by younger and younger players. These player are not making any money (comparatively speaking). Analysts rightly have convinced teams that this is the way to go and signing (hopefully) break even value deals long term for free agents does not make as much sense. There is the positive that younger players get to free agency quicker. But this only benefits the elite talent. The union will need to ask for more of a value / pay system to counteract this trend.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

James Paxton - A Sweet Yankees Move

Acquiring pitchers is such a risky move. Elbows, shoulders and just about anything else can derail a pitcher and leave a team in the lurch if they had high hopes for him. That is why signing free agent pitchers is such a perilous business. In James Paxton, the New York Yankees obtained one of the most talented pitchers in baseball while mitigating their risk.

Yes, the trade did cost the Yankees three MiLB players. One of them, Justus Sheffield, might be a special talent in his own right. But Sheffield has yet to prove anything and Paxton is a known quantity in his ability to get MLB batters out.

The best part of the deal is that it does not commit the Yankees to a long-term deal and mega-millions to obtain a top notch pitcher. Paxton is under team control for two more years and signing him via arbitration rates will be much cheaper than getting a similarly talented pitcher with long-term baggage of salary. Oh, the Yankees might still get one of those. But at least one deal was incredibly reasonable.

Will Justus Sheffield turn out to be a great pitcher for years to come? Possibly. The question is his command. The Yankees have been down that road before with Dellin Betances (as a starter) and others--great talent, but not always great execution. The right pitching coach could turn him into a stud. These are all "mights" and "coulds." Paxton has the track record.

The one gray specter with Paxton is the ability to stay on the field. He made significant strides on that side of things in 2018. But he managed only 160+ innings and that is the most he has pitched since he started his career. To the Yankees, and, it makes sense, the risk is worth taking.

What do the numbers tells us about James Paxton?

The Good:

  • He has absolutely owned the Astros but did not fare well in his one start against the Red Sox and struggled against Cleveland.
  • He has won 60% of his games against teams with a record of .500 or better. His home run rate jumps high in this category.
  • He is the rare pitcher who actually dominates the third time through a batting order. For anyone who witnessed with alarm the four or five inning starts for Yankees starters down the stretch, Paxton will help there. He is strong with high pitch counts too.
  • He is actually better against right-handed batters as a lefty hurler than against lefties.
  • Sure, "wins" is not a favored stat these days, but two things about them with Paxton: If you give him three or more runs in a game, he is 36-10 for his career. The Yankee offense should do that easily. And cluck if you'd like, but he has won 60% of his games in his career, a mark that always separated pitchers in this corner of the world.
  • He has always been good with runners in scoring position and in clutch situations.

The Troublesome:

  • The injuries
  • After a great start last year, he was just middling in the second half.
  • He led the league in wild pitches two years ago and had a high count in 2018. Pair that up with Gary Sanchez behind the plate and it seems scary.
  • He had his lowest WHIP of his career in 2018, but that was evened out by a big jump in his homers allowed. His rate in 2018 doubled what it was in 2016 and 2017.
  • He is much better with five days of rest than he is with four days.
  • While the home run rate might be a fluke due to a spike in homer to fly ball ratio, his ground ball rate has dipped six to eight points of the last two seasons.
  • He has never pitched in Fenway Park.
  • The last time the Yankees got a pitcher from Seattle, it did not work out so well. Heh.

All in all, Yankee fans have to be excited by this trade. Some may rue losing Sheffield, but if Paxton can build on 2018 and stay healthy, Sheffield should become a forgotten memory.