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Do Players Outperform In Their Free-Agent Year?. Phil Birnbaum www.philbirnbaum.com. Free Agent Performance. Do players outperform in the year before free agency ("contract year")? Conventional Wisdom says "yes"

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Do players outperform in their free agent year l.jpg

Do Players Outperform In Their Free-Agent Year?

Phil Birnbaum

www.philbirnbaum.com


Free agent performance l.jpg
Free Agent Performance

  • Do players outperform in the year before free agency ("contract year")?

  • Conventional Wisdom says "yes"

  • By "trying harder" that year, players immediately turn their effort into higher salaries


John burkett l.jpg
John Burkett

  • John Burkett Component ERA

    1999 5.44

    2000 5.28

    2001 2.86 (contract year)

    2002 4.95

    2003 4.41


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But, Jeff Fassero

  • Jeff Fassero Component ERA

    1997 3.60

    1998 4.10

    1999 8.02 (contract year)

    2000 5.25

    2001 2.97


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Jack Clark

  • Jack Clark RC27 (avg-HR-RBI)

    1985 7.15 (.281-22- 87)

    1986 5.58 (.237- 9- 23)

    1987 11.08 (.286-35-106)

    1988 5.98 (.242-27- 93)

    1989 7.11 (.242-26- 94)


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But, Terry Pendleton

  • Terry Pendleton RC27 (avg-HR-RBI)

    1988 3.43 (.253- 6- 53)

    1989 4.07 (.264-13- 74)

    1990 2.81 (.230- 6- 58)

    1991 6.73 (.319-22- 86)

    1992 5.79 (.311-21-105)


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Effect not obvious

  • For every example of a sudden contract-year star, there’s a counterexample of a contract-year collapse

  • Need a systematic study


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How to figure it?

  • What is evidence for a player having a better contract year?

  • Can’t go by the raw numbers because of aging effects


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Aging

  • Free agents tend to be older players

  • Older players are on the decline

  • A 35-year-old in his contract year would be "outperforming" just by keeping his numbers the same was when he was 34


Methodology l.jpg
Methodology

  • Used the "luck" algorithm

  • Calculates expectation based on two previous seasons, two following seasons

  • 35-year-old compared to his numbers at 33, 34, 36, and 37

  • Takes care of regression to mean

  • Predicts fairly accurately for all ages


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The Study

  • If players deliberately find ways to outperform in their contract year, they should appear to be "lucky" by this algorithm

  • Calculated for all contract years to 2001

  • Thanks to Retrosheet for free-agent transaction info


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Results: Hitters

  • All contract year hitters, 1977-2001

    • Season outperformance: -0.1 runs

  • Only hitters with 300+ batting outs

    • Season outperformance: +1.9 runs

  • Same, normalized to 400 batting outs

    • Season outperformance: +2.2 runs


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Results: Pitchers

  • All contract year pitchers, 1977-2001

    • Season outperformance: -0.2 runs

  • Only pitchers with 100+ innings

    • Season outperformance: +0.6 runs

  • Same, normalized to 200 innings

    • Season outperformance: -1.1 runs


No evidence of any effect l.jpg
No evidence of any effect

  • Results indistinguishable from zero

    • Statistical significance not met

      • For instance, standard error of pitching estimate –1.1 runs is 0.8 runs

    • Algorithm is not 100% precise

      • … but it’s pretty good: within 1-2 runs per season for regular players


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No evidence (cont’d)

  • Possible bias in data

    • Players who retire after contract year (because they lost effectiveness) are not counted, biasing the sample higher

    • Players who re-sign before the end of the season are not included in the sample

    • Including only regulars biases data in positive direction – players who are struggling won’t make 100 IP or 300 batting outs


More results l.jpg
More Results

  • Batters, min. 300 batting outs, normalized to 400 batting outs

    • Contract year: +2.2 runs

    • Everyone else: +1.1 runs

  • Pitchers, min. 100 IP, normalized to 200 IP

    • Contract year: -1.1 runs

    • Everyone else: +2.6 runs


Other studies l.jpg
Other Studies

  • "Baseball Between the Numbers," Chapter 5.3, "Do Players Perform Better in Contract Years?" by Dayn Perry

    • Found "genuine phenomenon" of about half a win per season (5 runs!)

    • But – used "prominent free agents" – not a full or random sample

    • "Prominent" after the fact may have biased the results upward


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Other Studies

  • "The Influence of Free-Agent Filing on MLB Player Performance," Atlantic Economic Journal, Dec. 2005, Evan C. Holden and Paul M. Sommers

    • Used 2003 only, but examined every player filing for free agency

    • Found no significant contract year effect, but found that performance decreased significantly in the year after

    • Effectively, the authors don’t discuss the "contract year" issue so much as the decline following

    • "… youngest players exhibit the smallest decline, largely because they (unlike their older counterparts) will have the opportunity to sign another contract before they retire."

    • Could the effect be simply due to player aging?


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Other Studies

  • "Shirking or Stochastic Productivity in Major League Baseball?", Southern Economic Journal, April 1990, Anthony Krautmann

    • Checked all free agents, 1976-1983, who signed 5+ year free-agent contracts

    • Counted the number of players with significantly outlying performances in contract years, and following years

    • Found only the expected number of such players

    • Conclusion: no evidence for the contract-year effect

  • "A Test of Additional Effort Expenditure in the "Walk Year" for Major League Baseball Players," Benjamin D. Grad

    • Regressed performance on a bunch of variables including contract year

    • No effect found for contract year


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Pitchers with best/worst free-agent years

  • +44 – John Burkett, 2001

  • +39 – Darryl Kile, 1997

  • +35 – Danny Darwin, 1996

  • -57 – Jeff Fassero, 1999

  • -39 – David Cone, 2000

  • -33 – Kevin Brown, 1994


Hitters with best worst free agent years l.jpg
Hitters with best/worst free-agent years

  • +40 – Bret Boone, 2001

  • +38 – Albert Belle, 1998

  • +37 – Mark McGwire, 1992

  • -38 – Delino Deshields, 1996

  • -34 – Johnny Damon, 2001

  • -32 – Roberto Alomar, 1998


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