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Players kick butt in their free agency walk years and slack off later, right? Um, no.

Jun 21, 2011, 12:02 PM EDT

Washington Nationals v New York Mets Getty Images

It’s taken as a matter of faith that players go crazy in their free agent walk years, motivated by that big paycheck. And then that, after they get the fat deal, they themselves get fat and lazy and simply cash their checks. And sure, we all can cite examples of players who seem to fit this pattern.

But as Joe Sheehan writes over at Sports Illustrated today, it’s neither borne out by the statistical data nor does it tell the whole story. And here’s a big part of the story people miss:

The concept that players play best when motivated by potential free agency is as much a tale of managerial failure as it is one of player psychology. Front offices want to blame the player for failing to meet their expectations, rather than consider that the expectations were out of line.

Sheehan cites Gary Matthews Jr.’s deal with the Angels, but there are any number of players who got rich because their teams didn’t realize they were flukes. Yet we often blame the player for his regression as opposed to blaming management for the misjudgment.

It’s a good article that, no matter how many time the subject is revisited, people seem to reject the facts and go back to what they believe to be true.  Let’s read Joe’s piece today and try to remember it, OK?

  1. halladaysbicepts - Jun 21, 2011 at 12:15 PM

    note: See Jayson Werth in 6 years. With that contract (6 yrs., 126 mil), don’t you think that management had lofty expectation for him?

    • Ari Collins - Jun 21, 2011 at 12:52 PM

      Not exactly clear what you’re saying here. It’s management’s fault they had high expectations enough to give him that contract in the first place.

      Werth is also a terrible example, since his 2010 season was only marginally better than any previous year. He was almost exactly the same player for each of the four years before he got that contract, except for playing time.

      Again, not sure if you were agreeing or disagreeing with Craig.

      I think it’s also worth mentioning how much confirmation bias goes on. Like the people who pretend Adrian Beltre’s poor walk year never happened. Or the people who will ignore Pujols’ off year when discussing walk years. We just notice big walk years much more easily than poor walk years, especially when those big walk years lead to more noticeable contracts.

      • halladaysbicepts - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:01 PM

        Ari,

        Slight sarcasm in my Werth comment. I think that given Werth’s previous production, that contract was ridiculous. Nats ownership was foolish to give him that type of coin.

        They can only blame themselves if it backfires.

        I agree with Craig. Don’t always blame the player. Blame the ownership for issuing the bad contract to begin with, especially to a guy like Werth, who, in my opinion, did not earn that type of money.

    • CJ - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:01 PM

      If by lofty you mean unrealistic and impossible to live up to, then yes.

      Of course, I neverm blamed Werth for leaving Philly and taking that deal, regardless of how much he liked playing for the Phils. I would however, agree with the point Craig’s making and blame the Nats for making such an over the top offer to bring in a guy like Werth when that team is still a couple years away from being legit contenders. And, in hindsight I might add, they already some emerging talent in the OF with Morse, (now at first due to the LaRoche injury), Nix, and of course Harper tearing it up in the minors. By the time the Nats are legit contenders for a title, I’m of the belief that in hindsight he’ll look more similar to the Giants’ Aaron Roward as an overpaid guy that didn’t make the difference he was expected to, than as a guy you can look back at and say, now he’s the reason they made it there. You may be able to give him credit for changes in the locker room, but if/when they win a title, I doubt he’ll be one of the top 5 difference makers on the field.

  2. sdelmonte - Jun 21, 2011 at 12:35 PM

    It’s a pity that Texeria and Sabathia were so lousy for the Yanks in 2009.

    • CJ - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:04 PM

      There’s exceptions to the rule of course, but you can’t look at those guys while overlooking a guy like Roward who the Giants brought in a while back to help put them over the top and was what? the 5th outfielder on their title run last year?

      • Ari Collins - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:20 PM

        Problem is, it’s not a rule. You can name guys who have had tremendous walk years, but overall, FAs do as well in their walk years as in any other years. Looking at WHAT ACTUALLY TENDS TO HAPPEN as opposed to singling out a few guys who’ve had their best years in walk years is, obviously, a better way to look at it.

        Also, while Rowand’s contract was clearly (even at the time) an overpay for his big walk year, he also had a near-identical year three years earlier. He was an occasionally really good player paid like a consistently really good player.

      • halladaysbicepts - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:27 PM

        Ari,

        You state “He was an occasionally really good player paid like a consistently really good player.”

        This is the reason they should go back to what they did years ago: Pay players on a yearly basis, on what they did the previous year, production-wise. Multi-year contracts hurt baseball. That way, you get what you pay for as an organization.

      • seanmk - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:34 PM

        bicepts then what happens when you are injuried? the players then have no insurance. No one would want to work at a job where they had nothing to fall back on. bad contracts are the nature of the business

      • Ari Collins - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:35 PM

        Multi-year contracts hurt the owners, who can (clearly) afford it, and pay the players what they’re worth in a free market. I’m not sure how that hurts baseball.

      • Ari Collins - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:37 PM

        “He was an occasionally really good player paid like a consistently really good player,” is the reason (or one of the reasons) that no one should hire Brian Sabean.

      • seanmk - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:37 PM

        bad contracts are the nature of the business. players need insurance in case they get injured. the teams already get a good enough discount on the first six years of a players career

      • CJ - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:44 PM

        Ari,

        “rule” was a bad choice of words on my part. My point was for every name one can pick out of guys who had great season and took their new team to a world series the season after their contract year (i.e. CC and Tex), I can come up with at least one name on the other end of the spectrum (Roward with the Giants, Matthews Jr with the Angels, A-Rod with the Rangers arguably the Yanks, Thome with the Phils, Figgins with the Mariners, etc).

        Your point expressing my silliness for naming one guy to “prove my point” so to speak, what exactly what I was trying to get across to sdelmote Re: Tex and CC.

        Apparently my attempt wasn’t so eloquently stated as yours.

  3. deathmonkey41 - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:13 PM

    Gary Matthews is an example of what the difference between a player using PEDs and not using PEDs will be. Either find out if a player’s production is chemically enduced and if he is, that he continues to use them while under that big contract- just like Big Papi.

    • Ari Collins - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:30 PM

      I don’t think any of those words mean what you think they mean.

      Even besides how sure you sound about who’s using and not using, and when

      Which big contract is Big Papi using during? The one-year option the Sox just picked up? But NOT the previous three years of his deal? But definitely the first year of his deal?

  4. seanmk - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:15 PM

    plus the opening statement isn’t even true. players don’t always perform their best in their walk years. there are plenty of examples of both cases. andruw jones in 2007, adrian beltre in 2009, nick swisher this year.

  5. seanmk - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:19 PM

    the opening statement isn’t even true. walk years don’t mean players will be better to get a new deal. andruw jones in 2007, adrian beltre in 2009, nick swisher this year. there is no evidence to suggest players perform any better

  6. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Jun 21, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    Didn’t read the post, just saw the headline. One clear exception: AJ Burnett. He only pitches in contract years and should only ever be given 1-year deals.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Jun 21, 2011 at 2:06 PM

      I’ve read the article. I reject your facts when concerning Burnett.

  7. patsandsox - Jun 21, 2011 at 2:47 PM

    Papi is now having one of his best ever seasons, after 2 very poor ones by his standards. So using him just shows the writers ignorance.

    Two good examples are currently on the Red Sox. A Gonzalz is hitting like he wants the triple crown and is worth every penny they paid him. On the other hand Crawford is having, for him, a very bad season so far. Does that mean Crawford is overpaid and overrated? I dont think so on the basis of his last 7 years. I think pressure of living up to that contract and some physical issues is weighing on him.
    I would guess over the 7 years of his contract we will see him achieve his normal stats

  8. 24may98 - Jun 21, 2011 at 2:48 PM

    I heartily can recommend the Joe Sheehan Newsletter – subscribe here http://joesheehanbaseball.blogspot.com/

    Great analysis and witty commentary – and for a good cause:

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    As of this morning, four subscribers have pledged to match donations under this program up to $600, $600, $600 and $500, respectively. Right now, a new subscriber to the Joe Sheehan Newsletter generates $30 for the Cancer Research Institute.

    If you’d like to donate directly to CRI — as many of you did a year ago — you can check out their Web site at http://www.cancerresearch.org or donate by clicking http://bit.ly/Donate-Today.

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