The Other Big Change in MLB’s Post-PED Era

As we head towards the expiration of the CBA this winter, there seem to be three pretty common discussion points or narratives making the rounds in MLB right now.

1. The problems with the qualifying offer system, highlighted by Howie Kendrick‘s contract with the Dodgers and the lingering free agency of Dexter Fowler, Ian Desmond, and Yovani Gallardo.

2. The unhappiness of some owners in regards to their view that some teams are “tanking” in an attempt to stockpile high draft choices and the bonus pool allotments that go along with those picks.

3. The continued silliness of the international signing rules, and the perverse incentives created by the system for signing players from other countries.

Yeah, there’s some talk about the DH and the luxury tax threshold, but those haven’t been as pervasive over the last month or so as the conversations about the qualifying offer, tanking, and the Dodgers decision to spend almost $100 million on international teenagers in the last six months. And, interestingly, those three things all have one thread in common: the draft.

The qualifying offer is contentious because teams are putting higher-than-ever values on draft picks, and teams that would have otherwise spent money on veteran free agents have decided to opt for alternative paths in order to retain their top selections. Kendrick settling for 2/$20M, after turning down 1/$16M, is another reminder of the impact that draft pick compensation can have on mid-level free agents.

On the so-called tanking issue, some executives (and Scott Boras, of course) are using the media to publicize their dissatisfaction with the draft, and what they’re claiming are incentives to lose on purpose. Of course, any league with a draft that assigns picks based on ascending record will provide a larger benefit to teams that lose than teams that win, and that’s by design. The questioning of whether or not there should be a reward for losing should call into question the value of the draft itself, which I’ve been calling to abolish for years, but for different reasons.

And finally, there’s the disaster of the international signing system, which is probably the most broken thing about MLB right now. The soft-cap system — originally intended to mimic an international draft without actually setting one up — setup a reward structure where teams are high-revenue teams are incentivized to keep on spending well beyond their bonus pool allotment, getting as much value in one spending period as they can before the signing restrictions kick in. This system has resulted in some teams spending up to 100 times what other teams spending during the international signing period, and has widened the gap in international talent acquisition rather than narrowing it as intended.

In each of these cases, the cause of the issue appears to be the draft, or in the international case, the lack of one. At least, that seems to be MLB’s position; Commissioner Manfred has repeatedly stated that he’s in favor of a “single method of entry” system that pushes all players coming into MLB through one portal. The logistics of a universal draft are problematic, so the single-method-of-entry comment allows the flexibility for the league to push for two drafts, retaining the one for domestic players and adding a second draft for international talents. This seems to be pretty likely to be a significant point of emphasis for the league in the upcoming CBA negotiations.

But while I’m no big fan of the draft — it is, really, just a way to reallocate money from young players to veterans — I think there may be an underlying issue that can’t be can’t be collectively bargained away. The driving force behind all three of these issues appears to be the changing relative values that teams are putting on young talent compared to older talent; teams are clinging to draft picks — and, according to some, attempting to set themselves up in better draft positions by losing on purpose — because of a huge demographic shift in MLB.

30+WAR

In 2015, players 30-and-older combined for just +266 WAR; in 1998, that number was +470. The primary effect of the PED-era can be seen rather easily in the huge mid-90s spike on that graph, and the recession of that spike since the league took action to curb chemically-aided longevity. While most of the talk about the change in the game has revolved around the decrease in run scoring, the bigger change has been in the demographic shift, with ineffective veterans being swapped out en masse in favor of better, younger talent.

The only year on the above chart with fewer WAR from 30+ players is 1994, when the season ended in mid-August. The game is now younger than ever, and teams are indeed responding to this reality. Without being able to count on veterans to age well, money is moving towards acquiring and retaining young players. The relative value of young talent — which draft picks represent — has as much to do with the decline of veteran performance as it does with the shift towards analytical decision-making. When teams look at charts like this, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that the guys being hit hardest by the qualifying offer system are non-elite players in their 30s.

I wrote about this issue a couple of years ago, and the trend has only escalated since; in the post-PED era, the allocation of money has shifted dramatically towards players in their twenties. Here is the chart I included in that post two years ago.

PayrollAllocations

You can see that, right around 2008, money that used to go to players in the 31-35 group started being given to players in the 26-30 group instead. Instead of betting on good players leaving their primes, teams started betting on lesser talents still in their peak years, believing that the effects of aging were going to be more dramatic in a time where PEDs were not as easily taken. And, probably not coincidentally, this is exactly what Jeff Zimmerman found when he updated his research on aging curves to focus on more recent seasons; age-related decline was beginning sooner than it used to.

MLB can — and should — work on rectifying the processes that are in place, especially ones that serve to produce unintended consequences. The qualifying offer system wasn’t designed with the intent of being disproportionately harmful to mid-tier veteran free agents, and the international slotting system wasn’t setup to allow the Dodgers to sign every interesting teenager with an accent. But making changes to those systems isn’t going to touch the fact that the game has shifted dramatically, and teams are going to continue to emphasize the acquisition and retention of young talent over the pursuit of aging veterans.

And this is something that the MLBPA might have to consider in their decision of which priorities to fight for. Historically, they’ve used the draft as a bargaining chip to strengthen their position on getting more money for union members, allowing the league to implement cost-savings techniques to hold down the pay of those not yet in the union. But the shift towards a younger game means that those are exactly the areas where teams find the best return on investment for their dollar, and so they’re going to attempt to spend as many of their dollars acquiring those kinds of players as possible. Fighting for more money for older players, at a time when teams are moving their money away from older players, seems like a losing proposition.

Likewise, the league will need to consider this shift before attempting to implement any of the “anti-tanking” proposals being bandied about at the moment. With the game skewing younger, and internal development being the primary way to acquire the kinds of players who are producing a vast majority of the value in the game at this point, it’s going to be difficult to create a system where bad teams with veteran players aren’t highly incentivized to trade them for young talent, rather than trying to build back up around those players. 10 years ago, maybe you could have argued for keeping your 30 year old franchise player and hoping he’d have retained enough productivity to still have value when the rebuild was complete, but in this day and age, players on the wrong side of 30 are being rightfully treated like an opened avocado; if you can’t use them now, you sell them to someone who can.

The shift towards young talent is changing the game, and changing how the market values draft picks, prospects, and veterans. Altering the systems that allocate draft picks or get prospects into minor league systems isn’t going to deter teams from putting an increasing value on young talent; they’ll simply find new ways to use their financial resources to buy up young talent, because that’s what the incentives of the game are pushing them to do.

It’s a young man’s game now, and this isn’t a trend that looks like it’s going to change any time soon. The league can tweak the draft rules and change the qualifying offer system, but money is going to keep following productivity, and in this day and age, productivity is coming from youth.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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ryan
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ryan
3 months 24 days ago

Spelling and grammar mistakes everywhere. C’mon Dave…

MLB_Nate
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MLB_Nate
3 months 24 days ago

Ryan uses an incomplete sentence to complain about grammar mistakes. I find that interesting.

Philip Christy
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Philip Christy
3 months 24 days ago

That’s your takeaway from this fantastic and fascinating article?

bbdawgrex
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bbdawgrex
3 months 24 days ago

The PA’s strategy has always been to move share of payroll to older players by holding salaries of younger players constant and assuming that total payroll spend will grow. If you play that out, it seems like at some point older players would become so expensive relative to their production on the field that teams just stop growing payroll. Obviously the PA would have a fit if teams were growing revenues without spending more on MLB payrolls, but on the flip side these team owners aren’t dumb enough to be (hypothetically in the future) throwing something like $20M per win at FAs. This seems to be headed toward an eventual breaking point.

AngelsLakersFan
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AngelsLakersFan
3 months 23 days ago

I feel like we are already kind of close to this. Teams are raking in the cash but it took nearly all offseason to find buyers for most of these guys. Even Cespedes had to settle for what ultimately amounts to a one year deal.

Players in their 30’s signed to long term deals are just not living up to expectation, and most teams have adapted by locking up their home grown talent to long term deals before free agency starts, thus reducing the supply of quality free agents.

While prices for projected wins have gone up, it’d be interesting to see what teams have paid for actual wins on free agent contracts of late. It can’t be pretty.

The value proposition has shifted dramatically and quickly, and with the current system, if you can’t buy your wins on the FA market then you really are just going to end up holding that cash. I’m sure we will see the PA push towards 5 year free agency, and 2 year are for all players, if not something more dramatic.

zxlkho
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zxlkho
3 months 24 days ago

“The qualifying offer is contentious because teams are putting higher-than-ever values no draft picks”

“no”

Slacker George
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Slacker George
3 months 23 days ago

Not sure why this post is being down voted. I assume zxlkho was providing some editing notes. I only see that as good.

Jaack
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3 months 24 days ago

While it clearly wasn’t all his doing, I do like how the WAR graph for 30+ players first starts to rise in 1995, which was Barry Bonds’ age 30 season.

Yanks123
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Yanks123
3 months 24 days ago

Bonds was basically the patron saint of the old guys raking era. Now it’s become Kershaw and young pitching. Could see a SS surge soon.

rosen380
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rosen380
3 months 23 days ago

I built my own graph, but going all the way back and basically the 20s-50s all resemble that 90s peak.

The all-time average was 34%; ’95-04 was the recent 10-season peak at 42% on average. And the most recent 10 years 33%. STEROIDS!!!!

But every 10-year period between 1917 and 1959 was 39% or higher with most of them in the 40s, peaking at 44%

I suppose WWI and WWII might figure in there as at least partial causes, but that at least brings up the possibility that other factors are involved.

From 1993 to 2009 the ratio of 30+ fWAR to 0-29 fWAR never dipped below 35% and averaged

Rob
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Rob
3 months 23 days ago

Could it be that we’re at a point where technology, improved information, improved strength training and conditioning have lead to stronger and faster throwing pitchers, while pitch recognition and reaction time have already peaked or doesn’t have the potential to improve because of natural limitations? Obviously bat speed and overall strength can be worked on and improved but it would seem that there would be a speed, amount of movement, or combination of the two that would completely overwhelm the ability to recognize a pitch and react accordingly. Just a wild thought.

isavage
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isavage
3 months 24 days ago

What’s funny about the QO, is the guys who make it look like a problem, would actually seem to benefit ok from it if they would just accept the QO. There seems to be some concerted effort by agents to not get their clients to take the QO even when it fairly obviously would benefit them to do it, like why would Kendrick or Fowler turn down $15 million for 1 year? What exactly are they thinking they are worth on the free agent market even if they didn’t have a QO attached?

jdbolick
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Member
3 months 24 days ago

While that’s obviously true in retrospect, I understand why players would want to test the market. A fairly simple fix would be for the QO system to function more like the tag system in the NFL where players are free to accept that offer at any time until it’s officially rescinded by the team, at which point any other team that signed them would no longer have to surrender a draft pick. That way Kendrick and Fowler would have still had the ability to sign for the qualifying offer instead of settling for less.

Walter
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Walter
3 months 24 days ago

That would certainly help things, but you’d probably still see guys like Kendrick take substantially less AAV for more total money and years. 5M more dollars is still 5M more dollars after all, and there is no guarantee Kendrick would get that in 2017 as he enters his mid-30s.

If the league really wants to compensate teams for FA leaving, it doesn’t have to punish the FA himself. Just give the team extra $ for the draft from revenue sharing money, problem solved. MLB totally over-thunk this one….

output gap
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output gap
3 months 24 days ago

The MLB got exactly what they wanted: a tax on free agent salaries. The QO system does what it was intended to do for the owners.

AngelsLakersFan
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AngelsLakersFan
3 months 23 days ago

It’s not just a tax on free agent salaries it’s also a tax on draft pick compensation. Every QO results in a lost first round pick. Teams who receive picks get ‘compensation picks’ which have a lower slot value.

Legeisc
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Legeisc
3 months 24 days ago

I find the view that tanking doesn’t exist because it only affects a few games odd. I think a solid case can be made that the Astros tanked in the sense that it looks like they factored in improved draft position from losing in their moves. They still won a third of their games. I would say it isn’t a problem.

johansantana17
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johansantana17
3 months 23 days ago

If tanking produces a team in the end that is a perennial contender due to an influx of young talent, then tanking should be encourages.

timmer
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timmer
3 months 24 days ago

This was illuminating for me. I’m typically sympathetic to the argument espoused by some “steroids-apologists” that there’s not enough evidence to conclude that steroids even work. It seemed somewhat likely to me that juicing the ball could have been a primary source of the effects of the “PED-Era”, maybe not the PEDs themselves.

But the WAR graph above for players >30 is pretty damn definitive proof that PEDs “work”. Maybe they are still better used for injury-recovery or prevention (a la some player excuses) more than strictly performance enhancing, but I don’t know how you could look at that evidence and suggest that PEDs themselves didn’t have a major impact on the game.

jdbolick
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Member
3 months 23 days ago

Kudos for being open to the information. You may also be interested to learn that a steroid regimen produces as much muscle growth without any exercise at all as a strenuous workout regimen without steroids, while a combination of steroids and exercise roughly doubled those gains: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199607043350101 The idea that steroids simply help players workout more often is a total myth.

Dr Gonzo
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Dr Gonzo
3 months 24 days ago

Interesting article Dave. What do you think could change this though? Would raising the minimum salary have any positive impact towards payment of 30+ players?

Mike K
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Mike K
3 months 24 days ago

Dave, I just (re-)read your 2009 piece on using revenue sharing $$ to give each team a pool to spend from, and then letting players be auctioned instead of drafted. I like the idea. However, what would you do with players who were not “drafted”?

IMHO, I think a system like you propose would lead to less amateur talent being acquired in “the draft”. I think teams with only a few million each year would be more likely to find the best player or two they can afford for $2MM, and there would be players that may go in rounds 25-30 today, that would not be drafted in the future.

I would think you wouldn’t propose them not being allowed to play pro-ball for a year; so what happens to them? Would after the auction, would all these players be available to sign as a FA with any team? Would there be a cap on their bonus amount? Just curious…I like the idea, but the devil is in the details, and I think this is an important one.

Tiago
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Tiago
3 months 24 days ago

You could handle it like they do now where bonuses under 100k for players drafted after the first ten rounds don’t count towards the pool limit.

mike sixel
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mike sixel
3 months 23 days ago

Where is this? I’d like to see it……I’ve proposed a hybrid solution where the bottom 10 teams get a pool to try to sign players, up to 3, for any amount up to the pool. then the next group gets to do some, then everyone does, but that money is capped in the last pool. that way players can’t wait for the Dodgers to start playing to sign…..(obviously I have more details). I’d love to read Dave’s piece on this.

Shauncore
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Shauncore
3 months 24 days ago

Can’t even imagine the work put in for that payroll allocation graph…

rosen380
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rosen380
3 months 24 days ago

The database from baseball1.com [or some insider access to the baseball-reference database] has all of the data.

If the graph didn’t adjust for splitting up players salary between multiple teams when traded or money sent along in trades to balance large contracts or PV of deals with deferrals and such, then the query to put the data together is trivial and Excel will turn that data into a fancy graph, no problem.

Easyenough
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Easyenough
3 months 24 days ago

Great, thought provoking article!

The 1996 to 2002 “mountain top” in the WAR chart sure does seem to coincide with the Yankees dynasty. On the other hand, when I look at total team WAR for players +32 years old between 1996 and 2004, the Yankees are only in 7th place and with 70.6 WAR, at about half the level of the Giants (138.6 WAR) lol. Yanks got 151 WAR from players between 25 and 32 during the same period.

Runaway Toaster
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Runaway Toaster
3 months 24 days ago

Another take away from the graph is just how widespread the PED issue must have been. We completely vilify a select few top performers (who not-so-coincidentally were also jerks), but the game must have been rife with it for that graph to be accurate. I’m sure some of the beloved “clean” players used PEDs, and I’m even more sure that hundreds of replacement-to-average level players used PEDs.

This isn’t to excuse anyone who used, just an observation & conjecture.

johansantana17
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johansantana17
3 months 23 days ago

1996-2005 contained a lot of age 25-32 years for Jeter, Pettitte, Posada, Rivera, Williams, Giambi, Knoblauch, etc.

andybech
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andybech
3 months 24 days ago

Good article though I think the implied links between PEDs and performance are too strongly implied. IMO the bigger change in recent years is the research on WAR and the realization that cost/WAR should be a larger factor in personnel decisions. Getting closer to determining real defensive value has placed a premium on getting younger, more athletic players on the field that provide value beyond pure OPS (an Ender Inciarte for instance).

There is likely some performance advantage to PEDs. But I think teams are just being smarter with their money also and know how to value players a little better.

Only glove, no love
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Only glove, no love
3 months 23 days ago

Interesting point. But I think you overestimate the lenght of time defensive analytics have been widely disseminated… if you look you’ll find that age began to fall at the same time the PED rules went into effect… I bet you are right that statcast etc are accelerating the process…

jdbolick
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Member
3 months 23 days ago

There is likely some performance advantage to PEDs.

There is a massive performance advantage to PEDs, as has been proven definitively both through academic studies on steroid-induced muscle growth, and through analytical assessment of performance results pre and post-steroid use. http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-powerlifting-tells-us-about-the-effects-of-peds/ My preferred illustration from baseball is that Barry Bonds hit only three home runs of 450+ feet from 1986 through 1999. From 2000 through 2004 he hit twenty-six home runs of 450+ feet.

Walter
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Walter
3 months 23 days ago

Err “massive”? If you’re going to invoke academic studies (the NEJM article above) and 538 articles, lets actually put a number to it shall we.

In benchpress, exercise alone took people from 109 to 119 kg, a delta of 10kg (9%). Exercise and steroids took people from 97 to 119, a delta of 22 kg (22%). So while the delta/delta is 2.2 by kg or 2.4 by percent, the actual raw increase is still only on the order of 12 kg (about 25 pounds). Or put another way, its an added ~10-13% over baseline + exercise. And from that 538 article, non-tested world weightlifting records are about 5-10% higher than tested ones too.

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t really qualify as a “massive” increase to me. Its statistically significant and certainly substantial (what gym rat wouldn’t like to add 25lbs/10% to their bench?), but its not like it will make average-joe into Arnold Schwarzenegger. And if this ~10% translates to baseball, we’re talking about average players turning into just moderately above average, not even all-star levels. Its an effect size that’s easily washed out by other factors.

Furthermore, the balls going more than 450 feet things is highly flawed. If a distribution starts with only the extreme tail passes some cut off (say 450 ft), so that only a very rare occurrence passes it (say <1%), but then then the distribution gets shifted up by 10%, this now means a much higher percent of occurrences pass that same threshold . And now by taking this not so rare event and comparing to the earlier rare event, you make the effect size look absolutely humongous. It just has no meaning to only look at the extreme tail of a the distribution. Average HR distance would be a much cleaner stat (but not perfect for several obvious reasons, one easy one involves what happened to the giants in 2000).

jdbolick
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Member
3 months 23 days ago

The 538 article says “research published in the journal Sports Medicine found that steroids can increase an athlete’s strength by 5 to 20 percent. Gaynor said most powerlifters think PEDs give them about a 7 to 12 percent increase in strength.” You’re making the mistake of thinking that a ~10% increase in strength would only mean a ~10% improvement in performance whereas Barry Bonds’ wRC+ jumped by almost 40%. So yes, it’s massive. And as for the 450+ foot home run frequency, what had been a rare event becoming commonplace is precisely the point.

Only glove, no love
Member
Only glove, no love
3 months 23 days ago

When you are benching 600lbs plus, 10% is quite a bit. How many spots do you think there are between the top guy and the guy lifting 10% less?

And to bottom line this for everyone:

:medium

Only glove, no love
Member
Only glove, no love
3 months 23 days ago

What do you think a 10% increase for trout would do? What do you think it would do for Davis?

Personally I think the methamphetamine ban has had almost as great an effect on performance as the roid ban has on age…

AngelsLakersFan
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AngelsLakersFan
3 months 23 days ago

Another issue with the homerun thing. Just looking at the distance ignores that pitchers were also increasing their steroid use at the same time. This is to imply that the increased distance of the homeruns was the product of multiple factors.

jdbolick
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Member
3 months 23 days ago

Multiple factors being present doesn’t change the fact that Bonds’ steroid-enhanced performance was by far the biggest factor of them all.

Walter
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Walter
3 months 23 days ago

jd, you’re making the mistake of arguing from a sample size of 1.

Sure, steroids could explain the 40% jump for Bonds, but plenty of other people took steroids and didn’t turn into superman with a bat. So there is probably an intersection of several factors that lead to Bonds’ performance increase and steroid was probably a big part of it.

“Multiple factors being present doesn’t change the fact that Bonds’ steroid-enhanced performance was by far the biggest factor of them all.”

Says a guy with absolutely zero evidence to support his claim. In all reasonableness it was a big part, but lots of things changed with Bonds besides the size of his biceps and hat size, and there isn’t anyway to actually figure out what matter most. Other than of course just pretending you have some objectively correct opinion….

kfel20
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kfel20
3 months 24 days ago

You sell your opened avocados?

Richie
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Richie
3 months 24 days ago

Don’t let on to how badly or quickly you need ’em, tho’. Man, did Dave gouge me!

jmsdean477
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jmsdean477
3 months 24 days ago

I almost think that the underlying factors outlined in this article spell out an incentive for the older players to try to cheat with PEDs to hang on.

Bryon
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Bryon
3 months 24 days ago

I like the WAR by age graph. That is the most damning evidence of PED use in MLB. We all know about players who put up record single season power stats at advanced ages where PED’s were likely used. But I have always suspected that what PED’s like HGH really did was keep older players productive and healthy well beyond a normal aging curve.

Richie
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Richie
3 months 24 days ago

‘Roids enabled better muscle recovery for older players. Last I heard, the plain efficacy of HGH was still an open issue. Been a few years since I last heard that, tho’.

Runaway Toaster
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Member
Runaway Toaster
3 months 24 days ago

I agree about HGH.

Every study I’ve been able to find says that it does nothing for adults that don’t suffer from growth deficiencies. But never let science get in the way of a good witch hunt!

James
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James
3 months 23 days ago

That’s the opposite of the truth. It does much less for a 16 year old boy who is still naturally growing/filling out. The 16 year old is pumping out natural GH. Growth hormone makes you…GROW!! When a 33 year old man, whose natural GH is suppressed, uses rHGH it essentially makes his body grow like that 16 year old boy again (they can’t get taller at this point because their growth plates have been locked). It helps the joints/tendons/muscles recover faster. The body feels younger.

Fireball Fred
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Fireball Fred
3 months 24 days ago

Meanwhile, expansion of pitching staffs places huge emphasis on versatility for bench players, creating a class of AAAA players who might in the past have had fairly solid roles in the majors. This is not unrelated in terms of player careers, and raises the roster-size issue.

Long Suffering Tribe Fan
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Long Suffering Tribe Fan
3 months 23 days ago

God, I love this site!!!

astropcr
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astropcr
3 months 23 days ago

I thought the owners complaints were not so much that teams were tanking but that they were still getting revenue, merchandise, BAM, and luxury tax sharing money that they are clearly not using to reinvest in their team. If cheaper/business-minded owners want to profit off their team and not reinvest, that’s their prerogative, but the owners who actually put money into their teams shouldn’t be penalized with taxes and revenue sharing checks because of it.

PigsEyePaul
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Member
PigsEyePaul
3 months 23 days ago

“The game is now younger than ever, and teams are indeed responding to this reality.” To this point, isn’t it more like the teams are creating this reality rather than responding? I feel like at least part of the explanation must be that teams are attempting to save some money by going younger and this is going to have the same effect on the total number of over 30 players and their WAR total, wouldn’t it?

lesmash
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Member
lesmash
3 months 23 days ago

My instinct says you are right. I believe that teams have gotten to the point where they recognize that it is financially prudent to let the veteran who wants $15 million per year walk and replace that vet with a minimum salaried youngster. The vet is better, but not 2 WAR better, so the kid making teaspoons of nickles is the smarter player to roster from a budget standpoint.

PigsEyePaul
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Member
PigsEyePaul
3 months 23 days ago

” The qualifying offer system wasn’t designed with the intent of being disproportionately harmful to mid-tier veteran free agents”

It was though, wasn’t it? It was designed to bring down free agent prices and save the teams money. It’s not going to impact the high-tier free agents or the low-tier ones and it doesn’t effect non-FA’s. It seems to me like it was exactly designed to disproportionately harm mid-tier free agents. What am I missing there?

Caveman Jones
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Caveman Jones
3 months 23 days ago

I’m a little late to the party but I think there are some important considerations that were not included.

Firstly, we should consider the number of actual players over 30 in each of those years. What is the WAR/player>30 during that time frame? If we see that WAR/player>30 decreases similarly to the raw totals then I would tend to agree about the effect of PEDs. However, without this data I don’t believe we can rule out that teams realized they could get the same production out of a younger (and cheaper) player as they could an older player. This is a sport where respect for veterans borders on crazy sometimes.

Secondly, I am not sure how defense was calculated by WAR during this time. Is it possible that the defensive data used for these evaluations is different in more recent years than it was in the “steroid era”?

Lastly, and I’d wager this is a bit harder to quantify, what effect did expansion have in 1993? Suddenly 50 players who weren’t good enough to be on a team last year are good enough to be on a roster next year? Could this lower the quality of opposition enough to make a difference? Granted there isn’t a bump when the Rays/Dbacks came into the league (the trend actually peaks here), but I am certainly interested in the effects.

Great article Dave, thank you for a thought provoking piece.

TKDC
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Member
TKDC
3 months 23 days ago

Guys should be eligible for arbitration after about 60 days of service time.* The rates would be lower, but the prices should go up higher during the current arbitration years. Of course, the veterans now will never go for this, and the league might not like it either, but if you artificially suppress salaries for the vast majority of the useful talent, you are going to end up with more and more ridiculous allocations of resources.

*This would also prevent most service time shenanigans.

bookbook
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bookbook
3 months 23 days ago

Double the minimum MLB salary (and triple the minor league rate). Tanking complainrs shpuld be greatly alleviated.

Paul22
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Paul22
3 months 23 days ago

First off, compensation for FA signings is not a problem, its the penalty that’s the problem.

I agree that the draft should be abolished, but it should be replaced with the current system for amateur international free agents. One significant modification would be a progressive scale where teams with lower revenue can spend more than higher revenue teams using some portion of their revenue sharing dollars (say 50% with the other 50% reserved for MLB salaries). Perhaps an incentive to reward smaller market teams who make the playoffs a higher spending ceiling for amateur talent

The DH is a counter move by MLB since the players want expanded rosters and have resigned themselves to no NL DH which helps a different segment of their group. The recent disinterest by MLB teams for good hitting position players may make this more attractive to the players though.

Nobody can tell me that the stagnant LT threshold in recent years is not a priority when the largest revenue team has not spent a cent on a MLB FA this year for the first time ever.

The assumption that MLB is PED free today is unproven. However, what the data suggests is that players over 30 are more likely to be PED free even though they seem to be the most frequent targets for suspension, especially if they are impending FA. Why is that? Once a players signs his long awaited for big deal, he simply has too much to lose to continue using PED’s. The problem of going off PED’s seems to affect hitters more since their performance drops off more quickly after signing the big contract than pitchers.

Its interesting that in 1980, widely believed to be PED free, age 31& UP hitters achieved a slightly higher WAR despite 25% fewer PA (due to expansion) and on a WAR/PA basis was close to the 1998 group(7% lower). This contrasts with the rather amazing drop off among age 31 & up players in 2015 compared to both 1998 (-30%) and 1980 (-23%). This suggests something else may be going on as well. Perhaps players have just reached a comfort level from doing what it takes in the offseason to perform at a high level as they play into their 30’s and achieve a degree of financial security that really is unprecedented

Or could it be older but still productive players are retiring earlier because they have made so much money or being forced out of baseball because they make too much (or want too much). Jonny Gomes entering his age 35 year for example is heading for Japan because nobody is interested in paying what he expects. He can still hit LHP’ers well and is a good teammate . David Ortiz is retiring despite putting up a 141 OPS+ last year and hitting more HR than he has hit since 2006. He just has too much money to be bothered now, 1-15 million a year isn’t worth the time. Maybe some of it is that ….

Interestingly enough, on a WA/PA basis, todays 25 and under crew are about 70% more productive than in 1998 while pitchers are about the same on an WAR/IP basis. Perhaps just an unprecedented crop of younger players. Looking at 1980 one can see its close to what the 25 & under group did. So what we can consider, is the 1998 class of 25 & under, was an exceptionally weak one, relatively speaking, and perhaps is impacting the 2015 group with a pretty poor showing from the 35 & up group. Indeed, that 35 & up group of 2015 is significantly worse on a WAR/PA basis than the 1998 (-50%) and 1980 (-30%) groups. Obviously, not all of the 35 & up group were part of the poor 25 & under group of 1998, and not all of the 25 & under group made it to the 35 & up group of 2015, but maybe that’s the point, sort of. Its not necessarily who is in but who is not.

The 25 & under group may not have benefited as much in 1998 from PED’s since they were unaffordable for many minor leaguers and minimum salary guys need some time to reap their benefits. Today, with salaries and bonuses what they are, and a collective knowledge that is shared at all levels, and with much to gain and little to lose in terms of dollars, and a league who would find it hard to suspend players who are cash cows rather than burdensome contracts, then maybe this could explain it. Especially since many players come out of college or HS where testing is either non-existent and has loopholes, and the fact steroids muscle building effects are long lasting as proven in studies with weight lifters. But the 1980 class did well too, and supposedly steroids were not being used much if at all. So nothing conclusive here. Worth considering though.

Antonio Bananas
Member
Member
Antonio Bananas
3 months 23 days ago

I don’t think teams tank for draft picks. I think they trade vets for prospects because draft picks take 3-6 years to make it and top prospects shorten that. Also, free agents seems to be generally bad investments for most teams. I know this site has a $/WAR but that’s skewed. Oakland, Atlanta, the Rays, etc probably shouldn’t spend the $6.5M or whatever for free agents.

If you want to fix this, and I don’t think it needs to be, but if you want to fix it you’ll have to change some rules.

Any player who will be 22 by June 1st of that year is rule 5 eligible. This promotes prospects faster and can be a way for teams to pick up players without having to trade gets.

Have another draft where any player who will be 23 by June 1st is eligible but has to be kept on the 25 man roster.

Shorten it from 6 years down to 3 to become a free agent.

Institute salary cap and minimum.

I think its basically an issue with liquidity. You have basically 7 years to hoard a prospect (4 until rule 5 then 3 until he’s out of options). Then 6 years until they hit FA. 13 years, and generally, it’s a players best years. Make good young players more liquid and set up the cap/minimum to keep large markets from hurting parity and to keep small teams spending.

LieutKaffee
Member
Member
LieutKaffee
3 months 23 days ago

Great piece, especially the visuals.

Very odd choice linking to the Zach Lee article where you have massive egg on your face.

RedsManRick
Member
3 months 22 days ago

We were discussing this over at RedsZone and somebody suggested we look at the potential influence of expansion. While I didn’t do a big analysis, I did put together a graphic that looks at the percent of WAR by age 30+ going back to 1960 laid over an expansion timeline. Suffice to say there’s no clear relationship between expansion and a spike in the proportion of contribution by older players.

My graphic: http://imgur.com/z4fkyTG

WARrior
Member
Member
WARrior
3 months 22 days ago

“And, probably not coincidentally, this is exactly what Jeff Zimmerman found when he updated his research on aging curves to focus on more recent seasons; age-related decline was beginning sooner than it used to.”

Actually, no, what he reported was that there was no rise in production in the early 20s. The curve was flat from the early 20s to the mid to late 20s, then began to decline. The earlier curves showed a rise, a peak, and a decline. But the decline begins at about the same age in all cases.

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