Stories tend to fluctutate.
As does analysis regardless of how the stories are formulated.
It’s with that in mind that the “free agent year myth” is a worthwhile topic.
With this column from ESPN.com stat people like Dave Cameron say that there’s no evidence of a contract year boost.
Cameron’s points are propped up by reality…sort of; but just like anything else, you can find examples of players who have had it “kick in” at contract time.
That might be staying healthy in an injury-riddled career (Carl Pavano); it could be having their career-year at the right time (Brad Lidge); and there are those who made sure they were healthy and their stats were top notch with free agency beckoning even at the expense of team needs (Rafael Soriano).
No one is suggesting that Albert Pujols is going to be “better” than he’s been his entire career because of the money he’s set to make at the end of the season; in fact, if any player was a prime candidate to have an “off” year in his free agent year, it’s someone like Pujols who’s set a standard of excellence so ridiculous that even a great year for a normal player would be seen as a fall for Pujols.
And Pujols’s numbers will be somewhere in line with what they’ve been in the past by the time the 2011 season is over.
Cameron brings up familiar “walk year” names like Adrian Beltre. Beltre is much appreciated in stat circles because of his superior defense; he’s been assisted by two massive years as he was heading for free agency; but he also had several mediocre seasons with the Mariners before his free agent year of 2009 in which he got hurt and wasn’t particularly good at all.
That winter, the Red Sox signed Beltre to a 1-year, $9 million deal. This was an situation in which the stat person’s template to building a team cheaply and efficiently and a player’s motivation worked for both sides; Beltre and the Red Sox maximized assets and found value. This is an unassailable tenet of stat based theory.
It was a mutually beneficial contract. Sometimes they work as was the case with the Red Sox and Beltre; sometimes they don’t as appears to be happening now with the Rangers and Brandon Webb.
The Rays, Athletics, Marlins and even the Red Sox and Yankees have gotten great value from players who either had nowhere else to go or were, yes, looking to have a good year for a good team and cash in.
The Marlins in particular have found scrapheap pickups like Jorge Cantu, Cody Ross, John Baker and Brendan Donnelly, gotten use from them and discarded them when they grew too expensive or were no longer producing.
In fact, I don’t believe a team can win under a budget unless they find these types of players.
It’s not a matter of simplistic “free agent year=big year”; it’s a myriad of factors that could advantage the player, team, both or neither.
To simplify it in terms of “no evidence” is just as bad as the all-encompassing implication that the promise of free agent riches is the impetus to the big year in the first place.
It’s not one thing that spurs a player. It could be anything; the promise of money is part of that “anything” as a motivating force with a great many players.
Truthfully, it’s nothing to be ashamed of; nor is it something to dismiss out-of-hand based on out-of-context statistical analysis.
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