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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

Do Players Outperform In Their Free-Agent Year?

Phil Birnbaum

www.philbirnbaum.com

free agent performance
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
John Burkett
  • John Burkett Component ERA

1999 5.44

2000 5.28

2001 2.86 (contract year)

2002 4.95

2003 4.41

but jeff fassero
But, Jeff Fassero
  • Jeff Fassero Component ERA

1997 3.60

1998 4.10

1999 8.02 (contract year)

2000 5.25

2001 2.97

jack clark
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)

but terry pendleton
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)

effect not obvious
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
how to figure it
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
aging
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
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
the study
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
results hitters
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
results pitchers
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
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
no evidence cont d
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
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
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
other studies18
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?
other studies19
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
pitchers with best worst free agent years
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
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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