Friday Baseball Blogging: Younger, Cheaper, Better

Jonathan Bernstein's Friday night baseball blog.
It's harder for old guys to squeeze under the salary cap. Source: Sports Studio Photos/Getty Images

This I found surprising...and a little disturbing:

"In three of these cases [in which a team signed a veteran closer despite having a good young set-up reliever], the veteran closer had actually performed significantly worse than the young set-up man in 2013, yet the teams went out and committed significant money to these free agents. While these moves may be frustrating for baseball fans, a deeper analysis reveals that these deals might make quite a bit of economic sense for these teams."

That's from Matthew Murray over at Grantland, who runs through the numbers carefully and finds, yup, the A's and Rays probably knew what they were doing when they acquired established closers during this off-season. The reason? It keeps the young, cheaper, better pitchers inexpensive, because the arbitration process rewards saves, not quality.

Disturbing? Sure. First of all, good pitchers should be rewarded! But what I really care about, as a fan, is for my team to make reasonable choices based on talent, and not based on gaming the arbitration rules. Okay, there's going to be some of that regardless; a player's whole sequence of going from pre-arbitration to arbitration years to, finally, eligibility to put oneself on the market means there is a whole lot of gaming the system.

Actually, let me back up a bit -- there's more to it than that. For most fans, myself definitely included, it's a lot more fun to follow what goes on if we don't have to know all that much about this stuff. That is, when the Giants sign a player I want to be able to have an informed opinion of that move, and I want it as much as possible to be about how good a player he is, not the stuff that accountants keep track of.

Which is, by the way, one of the reasons I'm against salary caps. Not the only one; my understanding of the economics of it is that salary caps are bad for the sport, and bad for fans, in other ways. When it comes down to it, though, I'd much rather be talking OPS and ERA than cap space. And while I know that money is (legitimately!) always going to be an important part of player decisions, the less of that stuff the better, as far as I'm concerned.

Meanwhile: pictures of guys stretching in Arizona and Florida! Spring is on its way.

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