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Does the free agent compensation system overrate relievers?

Nov 11, 2010, 11:19 AM EDT

matt-guerrier-twins Getty Images

Sam Miller of the Orange County Register raised an interesting point on Twitter just now, which is that 12 of the 34 free agents who’ve been classified as Type A–and thus will require forfeiting a first-round draft pick to sign–are relief pitchers.

Here are the dozen Type A relievers: Grant Balfour, Scott Downs, Frank Francisco, Jason Frasor, Matt Guerrier, Arthur Rhodes, Mariano Rivera, Takashi Saito, Rafael Soriano, Matt Thornton, Billy Wagner, Dan Wheeler.

Obviously there are plenty of very good relievers on that list, but there are also some guys no one would classify as elite free agents. And last year was a similar story, as 10 of the 26 players classified as Type A free agents were relievers (including names like John Grabow, Kevin Gregg, and Darren Oliver). In other words, over the past two seasons the Elias Sports Bureau’s system for ranking free agents has determined that 37 percent of the Type A players are relievers.

There’s really no way to look at those numbers and not conclude the ranking system is significantly out of whack, so the only real question is why. My guess is that there’s too much emphasis placed on ERA (or other “rate” stats) and not enough emphasis placed on innings pitched (or other “counting” stats). And there’s no doubt a lot of value given to saves.

For years now there have been various complaints about the Elias rankings doing a poor job of evaluating players and classifying free agents, mostly because the statistics they choose to focus on are far from state of the art and their method of weighing those statistics is flawed. However, this goes beyond those criticisms and shows–pretty convincingly, I think–that the entire system is simply off base.

When the goal is to rank the best, most valuable players and 37 percent of the Type A guys are determined to be relief pitchers … well, as they say on the internet: You’re doing it wrong.

  1. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Nov 11, 2010 at 11:47 AM

    Relievers as Type A’s is an absurd thought unless they’re a closer as good as Rivera, or unless they’re a leader or near-leader in Holds.

    The guys with the top 5 percentages of saves per opportunities, and the guys with the top 5 percentages of holds per opportunities isn’t a perfect idea either, but it’s a better one in my opinion.

  2. Detroit Michael - Nov 11, 2010 at 12:00 PM

    To be fair, from Elias’ viewpoint, the goal is to follow the procedure set forth in the collective bargaining agreement. I’m sure that the Elias Sports Bureau could land on a better way of ranking by value the free agents if management and union representatives agreed that they would just trust whatever system Elias thought was best.

  3. RickyB - Nov 11, 2010 at 12:12 PM

    Sorry, when I think of someone saying, “You’re doing it wrong,” I will always think of Mr. Mom. How old am I? (1:25 mark)

    “Wanna beer?”
    “It’s 7 o’clock in the morning!”

  4. Adam - Nov 11, 2010 at 12:57 PM

    I said that on this blog when they released the rankings. It’s absolutely absurd and unfair to the relievers. Who’s going to give them a market rate contract AND give up a first round pick for a middle reliever? Other than the Royals that is.

  5. proudlycanadian - Nov 11, 2010 at 2:06 PM

    There certainly is something wrong with a system that ranks Adam Dunn, Vlad Guerrero and Bengie Molina as Type A Free Agents.

    With regard to the relief pitchers, anyone who has watched Scott Downs knows that he is a Type A pitcher. The Jays will not get a first round pick for him because the team that signs him will probably sign a more expensive Type A Free Agent, thus reducing the compensation for Downs to a second round pick and a sandwich round pick.

    The Yankees need pitching of all types. Lets suppose that they sign Lee, Downs and Frasor. The Rangers would get the NY first round pick and a sandwich round pick. The Jays would get 2 sandwich round picks plus NY’s picks in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. The Jays would lose 2 Type A free agents but would not get any first round picks. IS THIS FAIR? I don’t think so.

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