On the Humanity of Being Irrational

On Sunday night, Ken Rosenthal wrote a provocative piece over at FoxSports, based on an experience he had at a PITCH Talks event up in Toronto last week. Given the recent success of the Blue Jays and the impending free agency of both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, the question of whether or not the organization would re-sign either naturally came up. I’ll let Rosenthal take the story from there.

The fan in Toronto made his sentiments quite clear — he was in favor of extending Bautista, even wanted to know the player’s chances of getting into the Hall of Fame. I explained that the Jays were unlikely to keep Bautista, who will be 36 when he becomes eligible for free agency at the end of the season; the team’s new president and CEO, Mark Shapiro, operated with extreme and necessary discipline during his tenure with the Indians.

Nicholson-Smith pointed out that it would make little sense for the Jays to extend Bautista unless they raised payroll. Zwelling added that Bautista likely would want a market deal, further increasing the odds against such an agreement. The understanding among everyone on the panel was that in a $9 billion business, teams make tough, calculated decisions to protect their long-term interests.

Zwelling made an abrupt and somewhat mischievous shift, announcing with a smile, “Part of me just says: Ask Jose Bautista what he wants and give it to him!” The audience hooted, and for several minutes Zwelling built his argument, point by well-reasoned point. As he continued, the crowd grew edgy and animated. Some yelled, “Preach!” Others hollered and clapped. It was the baseball equivalent of a revival meeting. It was a side of the game – the fan’s side – that writers and executives do not always take into account.

Zwelling cited Bautista as one of the best hitters in baseball the past five years and one of the best in Blue Jays history. He talked about the possibility of Bautista aging well, saying that his body has less wear and tear because he did not become a regular until his mid-20s. He mentioned Bautista’s impeccable mental and physical preparation, his understanding of the strike zone and finally, his position an ambassador for the game and for Latin American players.

Maybe it was Zwelling’s heartfelt delivery. Maybe it was the frustration that some Jays fans harbor toward the team’s aloof ownership, Rogers Communications. But by the time Zwelling finished — explaining that if ever there was a player the Blue Jays should pay, it’s Bautista — the place was rocking as if we were back in Rogers Centre after Bautista’s legendary home run and bat flip in Game 5 of the Division Series.

Rosenthal goes on to conclude that, in this day and age of efficiency and analytical processes, it’s worth remembering our humanity, stating that “baseball needs that, too.”

This is the point where I think, as a member of the sabermetric community, I’m supposed to lay out the reasons for why I disagree with him, pointing to mistaken humanity-driven deals like the Ryan Howard contract, and argue that fans really just want to win, and the way to win is by spending your dollars as effectively as possible, even if that means letting the aging franchise icon walk out the door. After all, perhaps no single free agent in recent years had a more human connection to his team than Albert Pujols with the St. Louis Cardinals, and their willingness to let one of the best hitters in baseball history leave town has proven to be the best decision the franchise has made in years.

But here’s the thing; maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, but I actually agree with Rosenthal to a large extent. The connection that most fans have to the game is not based on their front offices making as many efficient choices as possible, but instead, the enjoyment they get out of rooting for their favorite players and seeing them succeed. While the “rooting for laundry” joke from Seinfeld has a good amount of truth to it — we can see the fickle nature of a fan’s attachment to a player after they change teams, for instance — there are also deep and abiding connections between some players and the towns in which they play. Cal Ripken is synonymous with baseball in Baltimore, as is Tony Gwynn in San Diego, and Derek Jeter in New York; pretending that they don’t have a special place in the history of their franchise would be to ignore reality.

Here at FanGraphs, and frequently elsewhere in the analytical community, we tend to focus on maximizing wins, and looking for ways for teams to be as competitive as possible given their resources. But it’s worth noting that wins are more akin to the vehicle than the destination, and while winning almost always produces the kind of fan engagement — and, let’s be honest, profits — that teams are ultimately looking for, teams are ultimately looking for fans to feel satisfied that watching and following the team was a good use of their time and money. The easiest way to provide that satisfaction is to put a winning product on the field, because fans like winning, and I can’t think of too many scenarios where anyone was satisfied when a formerly great player got overpaid to stay on a losing team.

So there’s absolutely a trap there, and we can justifiably look at something like how Joe Mauer‘s extension has gone in Minnesota as reason to tread carefully when considering the long-term goodwill a franchise will get from retaining a beloved local hero. What fans want is constantly changing, and their affections are not always predictive of how they’ll react if the star player stops playing like a star player. Fans in Toronto love Jose Bautista now, but will they love him if he’s hitting .190 while making $25 million a year?

But at the same time, none of us are perfectly rational beings. We make decisions all the time that are inefficient to our long-term health because they bring us momentary joy; I had a couple of donuts this weekend that were quite delicious, but I’m sure did some harm to my life expectancy. Just as there is room in our daily decision making for irrational decisions that provide short-term joy at a long-term cost, there should also be room in baseball for organizations to make similar decisions.

So how does a team make room for irrational humanity while also avoiding the trap of getting hamstrung by awarding a bad contract to a player headed into his decline years? Does efficient spending have to be at odds with the emotional attachment to a player? Perhaps not.

The only reason we care about a player’s salary, or how well a team is maximizing its payroll, is that the dollars spent on one player represent an opportunity cost, and prevent the team from spending on other players. Even the teams with the largest payrolls in baseball have to make choices, and the Dodgers lost Zack Greinke to the Diamondbacks this winter because the bidding reached the point where they believed they could get a better return on their investment by signing other players instead. For teams without the Dodgers revenues, the decisions are even more critical, and one bad contract can do a lot of harm to a team with a mid-tier payroll.

But as has been noted many times, every team in baseball is rolling in money right now. The rise in television money has dramatically increased the amount of money pouring into MLB, and the league itself is growing a separate tech company that is worth billions of dollars on its own; this is probably the best time in history to own a Major League Baseball franchise. Every owner in baseball has the financial capability to make irrational, human decisions if they want to, and could still fund a winning baseball team even after signing an inefficient contract.

But instead of forcing the baseball operations staff to maneuver around an albatross, ownership can remove the tension between efficiency and humanity by absorbing the extra costs of these deals in a separate budget. The Chris Davis contract for the Orioles isn’t a good one based on the expected ROI from what Davis will provide on the field, but as Jeff Sullivan noted after the deal was signed, the deal won’t hurt the franchise too much if the money provided to sign Davis was essentially given to the baseball operations staff as a bonus allotment to spend on that particular player because of the owner’s human connection with Davis. If ownership simply makes up the difference between the efficient asking price and the price the player demands by growing payroll to the degree necessary to bridge the gap, then there’s no additional opportunity cost beyond just signing the player at the efficient price.

Now, one could argue that the most effective way to win in the long-term would be to provide the baseball operations staff with that additional payroll anyway, and let them spend it more efficiently, and if winning games was the destination, I’d whole-heartedly agree. But winning really is more of the tool that gets teams to the destination, and there should be room in the sport for spending on goals beyond just maximizing expected number of wins. Those kinds of human decisions just shouldn’t limit front offices from having the resources necessary to put a winning team on the field as well. If an owner is willing to offset the cost of the irrational expenditure on his own, well, more power to him. Rogers can certainly afford to be a little irrational with Jose Bautista if they want to.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Anon21
Member
Anon21
3 months 27 days ago

This is exactly how I felt about the Braves and Jason Heyward. It made all the analytical sense in the world for them to trade him when they did, and yet all I really wanted was for them to sign him to an absurd extension and keep him with the team for his entire career. If their rebuild works, I’m sure I’ll become a big fan of the new players in time, but the beginning of Heyward’s career coincided with the renewal of my Braves fandom, and for me he’s irreplaceable.

RC
Member
Member
RC
3 months 27 days ago

While I’ve been a Braves fan for much longer than Anon, I completely agree about Jason Heyward. Hope he has a great career and wins a WS with the Cubs this year.

The player the Braves traded that actually hurt the worst to me was Andrelton Simmons. Maybe Newcomb becomes an ace and leads to many wins down the road, but the trade seems to ignore the fact that MLB is in the entertainment business. Even when the Braves were terrible last year, they were incredibly watchable for those 2-3 plays a game when Simmons would do something defensively that didn’t seem possible. The team may be better in the long run as a result of the Simmons trade, but they lost a ton of watchability for me, and I’m going to miss seeing one of the best defensive SS ever play every day.

Robbie314
Member
Robbie314
3 months 27 days ago

This, in turn, is exactly how I feel about Andrew McCutchen.

I know that he’ll be a free agent after 2018(*). I know that, assuming he’s still a superstar at that point, resigning him could easily be a mistake that cripples the franchise for ten years.

But can’t I hope that my kid gets one player to idolize for his whole childhood? Someone to root for like I rooted for Pops Stargell? (Sorry – I’m not quite old enough to remember Clemente.)

(*) Yes, 2018 is a team option, and Cutch could suffer a catastrophic injury tomorrow. But the fan in me would want the Pirates to exercise that option even if he can’t play.

HarryLives
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HarryLives
3 months 26 days ago

(1) If Heyward wanted to sign an extension with the Braves, he could have. Before the 2014 season, the Braves went about locking up all their young talent with multi-year extensions: Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, and Craig Kimbrel. I really think that if at that point, Heyward and his agent had been willing to do an 8-10 year deal at $20 million AAV (without all the opt-outs that would have allowed him to leave right around the time the Braves are now hoping to once again be competitive), then the two sides would have found a way to get something done. At that point he was two years from FA, and he wasn’t going to agree to something that the Braves could make work with their payroll.
(2) The Braves organization runs on the revenues it makes, so there is no such thing as a one-time grant of additional funds from ownership to sign a beloved player. Big increases in payroll mean shortfalls elsewhere in the organization. The hypothetical with the Orioles and Davis doesn’t apply here.
(3) The Braves parlayed one season of Heyward into 6-7 seasons of Swanson, 6-7 seasons of Aaron Blair, 5 seasons of Ender Inciarte, 6-7 season of Tyrell Jenkins, and one season of Shelby Miller. I love Heyward as much as the next Braves fan, but that is a deal I’d do if Jesus were the Braves rightfielder.

Anon21
Member
Anon21
3 months 26 days ago

I’m aware of all this. I wish circumstances were different. I wish the Braves still had an individual owner, like Ted Turner, who might spend irrationally and have tendered Heyward an extension offer so large that he’d have taken it. As I said, it made all the analytical sense in the world to trade Heyward, and the assets they’ve acquired as a direct or indirect result of the trade have been a big boost to the organization. But I don’t really care about Dansby Swanson as an actual player, and I do care about Heyward. Your comment is really just reasserting the analytical perspective, and Dave’s point in the article is that that isn’t the only way sports fans engage with their teams.

Spudchukar
Member
Spudchukar
3 months 26 days ago

Most of the direction of this post has been on retaining aging stars, but as a Cards’ fan I have a little different take. I get a bigger thrill watching developing youngsters play, than new free agents. Yeah, the Cards occasionally acquire free agents, but in the recent past it has mostly been the advance of their own.

Not only does this create internal cohesion, it also breeds fan interest. Following player development, through failures, injuries, and bounce backs is intriguing. And it is especially gratifying when those guys exceed expectations. I know people get tired of “The Cardinal Way,” and they should, so too are most Red Bird fans, but when that “way” incorporates an emphasis on drafting, developing and teaching a “winning,” style, it becomes more difficult to ignore. Watch out for guys like, Wong, Adams, Diaz, Grichuk, Piscotty, Pham, Martinez, Wacha, Maness, Seigrist, and Rosenthal. They provide a Cardinal youth movement that is much better than most realize, and it sure is fun rooting for those guys.

Jason B
Member
Jason B
3 months 26 days ago

“developing and teaching a “winning,” style”

This is why people tire of the “Cardinal Way”. It tends to insinuate that other teams are like, “We sure do enjoy losing, let’s do some more of that!” or are at best indifferent to winning.

Shirtless Bartolo Colon
Member
3 months 27 days ago

Dave, I hope those weren’t batting donuts you had this weekend. I chipped a tooth trying to munch on one of them. Couldn’t eat for hours.

Richie
Member
Richie
3 months 27 days ago

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ (one for each inch of his waistline)

Richie
Member
Richie
3 months 27 days ago

What’s the Fangraphs record for total ‘+’s?

Johan Santa
Member
3 months 27 days ago

I think somebody got over 200 “+”‘s for a comment about Dave Stewart, might have been the Touki Toissant trade.

Richie
Member
Richie
3 months 27 days ago

If Shirtless would’ve wrote “couldn’t eat for minutes”, I’d have him as the betting favorite. Still rooting for him!

Joe
Member
Joe
3 months 26 days ago

Sadly I believe the comment you’re referring to is only at +188. But we can make it 200!

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/dave-stewarts-misguided-comments-on-market-value/#comment-5038938

Brian Reinhart
Member
Member
3 months 26 days ago

There is at least one that topped 100 in the “Dangerous Experiment: A Roster of 25 Adam Dunns” comment section.

Ruben Amaro Jr.
Member
Ruben Amaro Jr.
3 months 26 days ago
Shirtless Carson Cistulli
Member
3 months 26 days ago

Someone had to have set a record with 227 “-“‘s in under one hour yesterday.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/howie-kendrick-jean-segura-and-arizonas-latest-mistake/#comment-5096393

Only glove, no love
Member
Only glove, no love
3 months 26 days ago

Amazing that something like that gave so many around here a case of the vapors.

I had no idea my fellow baseball nerds were so… I am not sure what the word for it is…

HarryLives
Member
HarryLives
3 months 26 days ago

Eating a batting donut really will reduce your life expectancy!

John Elway
Member
3 months 26 days ago

Even though it’s a great source of iron, that’s not how you get to be long in the tooth.

Just neighing.

Skin Blues
Member
Skin Blues
3 months 27 days ago

As I Jays fan, I’d love to see Jose and Edwin back with the team, though I don’t know how smart that’d be if they both need to DH two years from now. But yeah, it’s about more than just WAR. They are great players to go and watch, and winning is not the ONLY thing, albeit it’s a big thing. However if I was a Mets fan, I definitely wouldn’t have agreed with Harvey being left in that game!! It was a decision based on emotion that basically ended their season. Not unlike the emotional decision they made that ended Johan Santana’s career.

mike sixel
Member
mike sixel
3 months 27 days ago

All fandom is completely irrational. It is a side of sports that is rarely discussed. There is zero reason for me to care about the Twins, and yet, I still do.

That does not mean I can’t also be rational in most of the analysis of how the FO is doing their job…..or how a hitter is…..

But, ya, given the behavior of many athletes, I decided to root for the laundry years ago.

Richie
Member
Richie
3 months 27 days ago

Bringing Griffey back here to Washington state was great for the franchise the first year, then in the second we found out he’d been spending the last 9 months’ worth of games sleeping in the clubhouse, and there went that goodwill. It’s so dependent upon the player, as he properly starts losing playing time, is he going to whine about it like a stuck pig as so many do?

A player who wants to be there will take at least some amount of a hometown discount. Like I believe Mauer did. If he’s also a good scout, yeah, then sign him regardless of where you are on the win cycle. And work your budget around that. Does help you build your fanbase over the long haul.

Chuck Burly
Member
Chuck Burly
3 months 27 days ago

The premise of Rosenthal’s piece just seems to follow the old “Statheads are robots” trope that should frankly be long since dead. I cringed when the Yankees refused to do anything about Derek Jeter’s final (and awful season). But it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy when he did succeed more than any other or weep when he finally left.

And then trying to inject this “humanity” into a front office would be absolutely insane. Jose Bautista being a great guy, teammate and hero to Toronto is bonkers reason to give him a big money extension. These guys are trying to keep their jobs, they need to make the best decisions for the on-field product they can. They don’t have to be totally devoid of emotion like Sam Hinkie and treat players like livestock, but “feelings” aren’t a reason to make a personnel decision.

Not to mention I sincerely doubt there will be a lot of enthusiasm from these fans about Bautista if he’s 38 and has fallen off a cliff performance-wise. Fans are supremely fickle, above all else.

Shirtless Carson Cistulli
Member
3 months 27 days ago

Careful who you call a robot lol.

RedsManRick
Member
3 months 27 days ago

How attached are fans of losing teams to that team’s best player? I would argue that the affinity for a player tends to comes largely in the context of that player’s contribution to the team’s success.

Fans of winning teams find players to be attached to. But I’m not remotely convinced that keeping a fan favorite on a losing team really does anything for the fan base. The enjoyment fans experience may not always be felt as a function of winning, but I think winning is at the heart of it much more so that we might think.

Perhaps there is the occasionally exception with a true franchise icon like Jeter, Ripken, Gwynn, or Larkin. But at the end of the day, no fan thinks “This playoff appearance was nice, but I would have rather we won 78 games and hung on to (insert your Chris Davis here).”

The real alternative not discussed is between the team who is bad/mediocre while trying to maximize wins alone and the team who is bad/mediocre with fan favorite players. The Reds may be better off in the eyes of most Reds fans by keeping Brandon Phillips. I might prefer they traded him for assets that would increase their chase of winning. But I also recognize that the Reds front office seems to be more skilled at extending fan favorite players’ contracts than making smart baseball decisions.

baubo
Member
baubo
3 months 26 days ago

More importantly, I think a possible bigger issue is that said star player will want to leave town anyway. I remember watching my beloved Oswalt and Berkman asking to leave the team when the Astros started sucking.

Should the Blue Jays start sucking in 3 years and Bautista has a huge contract, the first thing that will happen will be trade rumors and Jays trading Bautista to a contender while eating half the salary. This is assuming the scenario where Bautista continues to be good and not Ryan Howard. I’ve seen this played out so often in both basketball and baseball that it’s become clear that the idea of staying on one team until retirement is really difficult to work in real life. For my Astros, it worked with Biggio and Bagwell because while they declined, the younger players were emerging and the Astros were winning. Fast forward to Berkman and Oswalt and it was just the opposite.

tl;dr version. If you’re going to splurge on retaining an old fan favorite, you better be certain you’re winning with them, cause it might get ugly real quick otherwise.

aaronsteindler
Member
aaronsteindler
3 months 27 days ago

For years, I, along with many Indians fans, was angry at Jim Thome, until realizing just how little he was offered to stay. A small overpay to keep a fan favorite is perfectly reasonable, provided it doesn’t happen too often.

Richie
Member
Richie
3 months 27 days ago

Same thing with the Brewers and Paul Molitor, except that it was more obvious at the time just how little the Brewers were offering him. (and a segment of that fan base resented ‘college boy’ Molitor and the fact that their girlfriends would swoon over his good looks)

v2micca
Member
v2micca
3 months 27 days ago

I think Baseball in particularly lends itself to irrationality when it comes to players. There is no salary cap in Baseball. And while not every team is capable of generating the amount of revenue that Boston and New York routinely rake in, I have yet to hear any executive reasonably claim that raising player payroll would actually put them in a deficit. As bad as the Marlins attendance has been the last few years, Loria is still raking in cash, even with the monster Stanton contract looming. So, why is a fan supposed to get excited about their office efficiently spending money. As a Braves fan, why should I particularly care that Liberty Media Corporation is saving some money by not offering extensions to fan Favorites like Jason Heyward or Bryan McCann? Its not like those savings have translated into tangible improvements at the Catcher and Right Field positions since the decision to let both players go. Maybe McCann wasn’t worth what New York payed him when you apply advanced analytics. But, the cost of a ticket to Turner field certainly isn’t worth it when I apply the same analysis.

Doctor Of Utter Clarification
Member
Doctor Of Utter Clarification
3 months 26 days ago

“Its not like those savings have translated into tangible improvements”… – yet. Patience is needed.

Also, there are no savings involved. Those dollars are being used to hopefully bolster the future core.

v2micca
Member
v2micca
3 months 26 days ago

Patience? For what? Am I supposed to patiently wait for Dansby Swanson to advance through the minors, develop into a star, then part with the Braves once the front office decides they don’t particularly want to pay him market value after he is no longer cost controlled? Because that was so much fun with Jason Heyward, why wouldn’t I want to do it again?

Why should I care about a hypothetical future core when the current Braves front office has demonstrated that they have no intention of keeping it together once they can no longer underpay it?

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC
3 months 27 days ago

I think what upsets a lot of fans is that they think their favorite players are worth the money, other teams agree, but their teams’ front offices do not. Jose Bautista is going to get paid a good amount of money by a team that is trying to win. Why wouldn’t that team be the Blue Jays? The Blue Jays are also going to spend money on players. Why not on Jose Bautista?

This isn’t the same as Jason Giambi going from Oakland to the Yankees. This is the Blue Jays just not thinking Bautista is as good as some other teams may think. They could sign Bautista.

Of course we know the team that “wins” in a free agency bidding war usually actually loses.

I also disagree that the Howard deal is an example of humanity over prudence. It was just a a dumb ass decision, nothing more.

Adam S
Member
Member
Adam S
3 months 26 days ago

“Jose Bautista is going to get paid a good amount of money by a team that is trying to win. Why wouldn’t that team be the Blue Jays? The Blue Jays are also going to spend money on players. Why not on Jose Bautista?”

Exactly this. For Pujols, Greinke, and many others it was clear the current team felt the (expected) contract offer was going to be a huge overpay, turning into an albatross at the end and they didn’t want to be on the hook.

But Batista is probably worth more to the Blue Jays than any other team, because of off-the-field value and where they are on the win curve. Do we know that some team is going to sign him for 4/$120? Given age isn’t he the type of player to take a 2-3 year deal; he’s similar to Ben Zobrist but a year and a half older.

The Jays might get outbid and at some years or dollars, it makes sense to let him move on, but I don’t know that it’s clear he won’t sign, particularly given the (somewhat) irrational fan view.

Richie
Member
Richie
3 months 26 days ago

“(O)ff-the-field” value? So he’s active in the community in the off-season? (if so, does make him both more valuable and more inclined to stay)

jwn17
Member
jwn17
3 months 27 days ago

Being a Rays fan I’m glad I don’t have to go through albatross contracts

HarryLives
Member
HarryLives
3 months 26 days ago

Get back to me when they’re paying Evan Longoria $18 million for his age 35 to age 37 seasons.

Joeys Bat Flip
Member
Joeys Bat Flip
3 months 26 days ago

At current inflation, $18M will buy you a 1.5 win player by that time. Maybe even less. He might not have that much talent at that point, but he will have created so much surplus value by that point that the Rays shouldn’t complain about paying the team mascot so much.

pwr8195
Member
Member
pwr8195
3 months 27 days ago

how many Cards fans are bummed that the Cards didnt match the Angels Pujols’s contract? anyone? anyone? zero people?

Doug Lampert
Member
Member
Doug Lampert
3 months 26 days ago

My wife is a Cards fan. Definitely not a sabrmetrics type. And she wasn’t even upset at the time. She looked at what he got and basically said, “Oh well.” Of course her grad degree is in economics and she works as a cost analyst, so she may be more willing than most “casual” fans to say “too bad, can’t afford that”.

She still roots for Albert when she does see him play or hear about him doing something. So she also doesn’t resent him getting paid and she certainly doesn’t resent ownership failing to be the ones paying him this time.

Richie
Member
Richie
3 months 27 days ago

Only thing I don’t care much about in the article is ‘ownership just has to operate at a loss!!’

1) It’s their money, not yours’;
2) people with that approach to money very, very seldom accumulate enough of it to participate in owning a baseball team;
3) our suggesting it ain’t gonna play any role in their adopting it. Detroit fans can appreciate Ilitch if they like. I’m not going to expect it of ‘my’ owner. Nor think he in any way ‘owes’ it to us.

JDT
Member
JDT
3 months 26 days ago

Maybe I missed something, but suggesting ownership operate at a loss is not what I found in the argument. The suggestion is for ownership to operate at less of a gain. Crazy, I know, but those are two different things. And you do see companies act this way sometimes, right? I think it’s rare, but you do see business owners do things for the of their communities (*if* it doesn’t require a loss, which is the suggestion here). I take your point that perhaps billionaires are more reluctant (than say millionaires?) to even consider making less money than they could possibly make, but doing so wouldn’t mean losing money. Unless you think of any money not made as “lost” but that isn’t how I understand profits and loss, so maybe there’s no reconciling here.

And I’m with you, I’m not that optimistic that suggesting something on a stathead website does a lot of good, but right? Isn’t this one of the few places that a good new baseball idea might come from? It’s not coming from the owners, that’s for sure. And not likely the players or too many people in management either. Didn’t the entire analytic movement start as a fringe movement with some fringe ideas, a lot of heart, and a little math? ;-)

Easyenough
Member
Member
Easyenough
3 months 27 days ago

Did Jeter keep the Yankees out of the playoffs in his last year? He was certainly a big contributor to that failure, both in his $12 million dollar salary and the -0.1 fWAR. Missing the playoffs is expensive, but over the very long term, it seems to me that the Yankees made the choice that will result in the highest revenue. I don’t remember that Yankee season anymore, but I do remember a lot of Jeter’s last year. Of course, $12m and -0.1fWAR isn’t bad compared to Howard’s $60 million (including 2017 buyout) and -1 WAR over his last two contract years.

Easyenough
Member
Member
Easyenough
3 months 27 days ago

I should have done the Apples to Apples comparison: Jeter’s last two years cost something more like $29 million for -0.8fWAR. Not great.

Runaway Toaster
Member
Member
Runaway Toaster
3 months 26 days ago

At least Jeter’s 2nd to last year (2013), he was only terrible briefly, then he got hurt which allowed someone else to potentially produce value (bad example here, since the Yankees SS spot was filled by scrubs through the year).

I find his final year to be far worse: not only really bad, but taking up a spot on the field and in the order throughout the year.

Travis L
Member
Member
Travis L
3 months 23 days ago

Well, if they got the market value for those $30 millions, they should have gotten about +4WAR. Including Jeter’s negative value, that’s about 2.5 more wins for each of the last two years.

Richie
Member
Richie
3 months 26 days ago

Yeah, a player’s last year will often look awful $$$-wise regardless. So long as they don’t choose to pony up another $12-or-so mill for the season thereafter just for sentimental purposes.

Richie
Member
Richie
3 months 26 days ago

So they did, huh? Oops.

KCDaveInLA
Member
KCDaveInLA
3 months 26 days ago

This makes me even more grateful for the Royals and Alex Gordon being able to find a middle ground…even though the cynical me wonders if I’m just pretending that thoughts of loyalty between team and player carried as much weight as the reality of a buyers’ market filled with several capable left fielders. Choose your narrative.

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
Member
Roger McDowell Hot Foot
3 months 26 days ago

This has come up with previous incarnations of this argument too, but just to reiterate: the word for valuing other things besides dollars is not IRRATIONAL. One can, with perfect rationality, prioritize loyalty to a beloved player, or any other pleasure one takes and one believes other fans will take in the sport, over maximizing $/WAR. Aesthetics, too, is subject to rationality.

I guess it’s almost certainly an artifact of Cameron’s economics-centric education that he’d equate **economic** rationality — maximizing utility per dollar — with rationality tout court, but it’s a huge problem in reasoning and talking to people who aren’t economists (and by that I really mean “US mainstream”/”orthodox”/”bourgeois” economists, pick your descriptor of choice).

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
Member
Roger McDowell Hot Foot
3 months 26 days ago

And then of course even within the framework of economic rationality it seems like this piece is written with an utterly blinkered version of the utility function. Pleasure has to be part of the calculation, or else what is life even for? If donut joy has zero utility while future donut ill-health has negative utility, what it really means is that your utility calculation is busted, not that joy is irrational — and this is true even in strictly Econ 101 terms, never even mind that Econ 101 is not the class where you learn about philosophical rationalism and its limitations.

I’m sorry to be a little unkind here, but the whole donut argument in this piece is so sloppily reasoned and argued that its author probably shouldn’t be charging other people with irrationality.

Doug Lampert
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Doug Lampert
3 months 26 days ago

Of course, I regularly hear people saying that buying lottery tickets is irrational. No, buying a lottery ticket to make money is (usually) irrational, buying a lottery ticket because you factor some substantial entertainment value in with the expected dollar return is perfectly rational.

So the mistake is hardly unique to Cameron.

HarryLives
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HarryLives
3 months 26 days ago

Doesn’t Dave make the point that what, in fact, teams are “buying” for fans is something akin to the pleasure of watching and following the club?

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
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Roger McDowell Hot Foot
3 months 26 days ago

Sounds rational to me!

To be clear I am in complete agreement with what I take to be the central thesis of the post, that maximizing wins (or $/WAR) is not an adequate way of capturing what teams spend money on (or whether they’re getting their money’s worth), because other and harder-to-quantify elements like fan enjoyment and loyalty are potentially major factors. But I don’t think the vocabulary in which that argument is hashed out makes much sense at all, and to me that really vitiates it.

BPBerkeley
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BPBerkeley
3 months 26 days ago

Basically, economics is good at balancing different objectives. Dave’s mostly talking about efficiently winning games, which suggests not paying more than a player’s projected stats are worth. However, teams also sell entertainment, and then bringing back a popular player could make total sense for maximizing profits. So Rogers Communications could logically decide to pay more for Bautista than other teams would optimally spend.

The whims of an owner also give them utility beyond what maximizes profits. If I remember correctly, the Cardinals offered Pujols more than stat-oriented writers thought was sensible at that time, and making StL fans happy could have justified that decision. But once Arte Moreno threw in crazy high money for his own personal reasons, the Cardinals were smart to bow out.

Toronto may want to follow the same logic with Bautista. Value fan’s love of the player by offering more than his stats are likely to be worth, but don’t go to all lengths to beat the crazy whims of some other owner.

Travis L
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Travis L
3 months 23 days ago

Of the controllable factors (excluding weather, region population, etc.), only winning increases attendance. It seems appropriate to use attendance as a proxy for general fan interest*.

My guess is people say they care about these soft factors, but in reality only care about winning. This is like a hidden preference revealed.

* this does not account for intensity of fan emotional investment, only breadth across a region

WinOneForBobKipper
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WinOneForBobKipper
3 months 26 days ago

To switch sports, I’ve had similar thoughts about what’s happening with the Lakers and Kobe — both with them giving him the big contract he got and in giving him the amount of playing time and control of the offense he’s gotten. We mock the Lakers, but in any other industry, we would laud a company for valuing things like loyalty, history, or customer wishes over the bottom line. Obviously, sports is different because there’s an objective goal (wins and losses) separate from dollars and cents, but I don’t think it’s always as different as we make it seem.

BengieStacks
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BengieStacks
3 months 26 days ago

I think the hidden value here is how he produces. Home runs. Longggg ass, clutch bombs. The bat flip home run is the most entertaining sports moment I’ve seen in a long time. He threw that thing to the gods.

The murderers row lineup they’ve set up is a spectacle. Watching Toronto play right now is a bit of an event. Jose Bautista is a big part of that.

I agree though, overpay within reason, if it’s going to hurt the teams competitive ability he’s gotta go.

ashlandateam
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ashlandateam
3 months 26 days ago

One of my best memories as a Reds fan was finding out Barry Larkin turned down a trade to the Mets in 2000. He WAS the Reds growing up. His extension ended up not making much financial sense (3 years $27 mil for an aging guy when that was still a good amount of money on a small market team). But as a fan, I don’t care what the contract particulars were – seeing Larkin in another uniform would have been heartbreaking. And him as a lifelong Red has been fun as he’s been inducted into the HOF, had his number retired, etc.

At the end of the day, this isn’t life or death – it’s a game. And some things about the game are just as important as wins and losses. Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose. But when you have a player that’s ‘yours,’ a constant in good times and bad? That’s invaluable to a whole lot of fans.

machetko
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machetko
3 months 26 days ago

“But at the same time, none of us are perfectly rational beings. We make decisions all the time that are inefficient to our long-term health because they bring us momentary joy.”

There’s an elision here that acting in ways counter to “long-term health” is by definition irrational. The same assumption is that wanting your team to act in ways counter to long-term championship chances is irrational. This fundamentally misunderstands the nature of rationality, which can only be understood in terms of a goal. The goal, itself, however is a value judgment and not subject to rational assessment.

I did not want Chase Utley to be traded. That is neither rational nor irrational–it was my goal. If I did not want Chase Utley because I believed keeping him gave the Phillies a better chance of winning another championship in my lifetime, that would be irrational. But there can’t be anything irrational about what I *want*. That is not what rationality is *for*.

Doctor Of Utter Clarification
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Doctor Of Utter Clarification
3 months 26 days ago

Dave – I am unsure if I agree or disagree as I am having difficulty following your logic. The premise is that satisfied fans enjoying the experience is the ultimate goal. Winning is acknowledged as the best way to achieve that goal. Detached analysis is the best way to build a winner.

What then are the “other goals” with respect to players that can be spent on other than maximizing wins?

Dave from Toronto
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Dave from Toronto
3 months 26 days ago

The Jays have virtually never been in the position of having to deal with an aging star before. Throughout almost all of their history, they’ve let their stars go or traded them before they reached Bautista’s age.

Only two players have ever been extended: World Series Home Run Joe Carter, and Vernon Wells Contract. Neither worked out well: Carter descended into negative WAR territory almost immediately, and Wells cost the Angels a whole lot of money for very little baseball.

Having said that: as a Jays fan, I want Bautista to stay with the team, and can’t bear the thought of him playing for someone else, especially if that someone else is the Red Sox or the Yankees. Both of which would be more than happy to shell out a few extra dollars out of their seemingly bottomless stacks of cash to sign the Jays’ franchise player. (In 2017, the Red Sox lineup could include Price, Bautista, and Encarnacion. Aaaargh.)

The problem for Rogers and for Jays fans is that the Jays are one of the few teams that is owned by a corporation. For better or worse, Rogers has a responsibility to not only put a winning team on the field, but to maximize the return on investment to their shareholders. If they start throwing zillions of dollars at aging players, their shareholders might revolt and demand that the company’s management be replaced. (I seem to recall reading that the B.J. Ryan contract wound up being a line item on the company’s annual report.) This puts the team at a disadvantage when competing against teams owned by rich sportsmen who think of expenditures on a baseball team as a form of conspicuous consumption, much like spending on a lavish house or on polo ponies.

Of course, you can argue that owning a team is a kind of civic responsibility. A winning ballclub brings joy to the city. But expecting corporations to show civic responsibility stopped being practical about when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were elected.

Things could be worse. Rogers are better owners than Interbrew SA, who thought of owning the Jays as an unwanted byproduct of acquiring Labatt’s. And the last rich owner in charge of a sports team in Toronto was Harold Ballard – the Leafs are better off now under MLSE, even if they have historically focused on building the brand and maximizing revenue rather than on the quality of the team.

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