Author Archive

Francisco Lindor and Baseball’s Arbitration Problem

This is Mike Hattery’s fourth piece as part of his September residency at FanGraphs. Hattery writes for the Cleveland-based site Waiting for Next Year. He can also be found on Twitter. Read the work of all our residents here.

As Francisco Lindor launched his 33rd home run of the season on a peaceful afternoon this past Saturday in Seattle, his future in Cleveland seemed to be weighing on the minds of many, as tweets featuring the phrase #Lifetimecontract flooded my timeline. While I’ll leave the precise terms of a potential Lindor extension to others, Lindor’s evolving profile remains a matter of interest as it relates to the arbitration process.

As Travis Sawchik recently documented, Lindor’s past two seasons have been quite different. Very good, but different nonetheless. In 2016, Lindor rode an impressive defensive performance to a six-win campaign. This year, he’s on pace to record roughly the same WAR total but has arrived at that point by different means, more than doubling the career-high home-run total (15) he produced last season.

On the open market, Lindor’s 2016 and -17 seasons would likely be treated fairly similarly in terms of average annual value. While imperfections certainly exist in the defensive data, the marketplace appears to pay players accordingly, whether the runs are added with the bat or saved with the glove. Major League Baseball’s arbitration structure, on the other hand, is far more archaic.

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How Financial Security for Minor Leaguers Would Benefit Everyone

This is Mike Hattery’s third piece as part of his September residency at FanGraphs. Hattery writes for the Cleveland-based site Waiting for Next Year. He can also be found on Twitter. Read the work of all our residents here.

While the adoption in recent years of bonus pools both for domestic and international prospects has prevented certain clubs from optimizing their pursuit of amateur talent, the player-development strategies within organizations remain a wild frontier. Teams continue to innovate and find advantages, no matter how small. And the effects of that innovation continue to manifest themselves, it seems.

Consider: of the 10 players recently identified by Jeff Sullivan as successful non-prospects, two belong to the Dodgers and another two to the Indians. A pair of baseball’s top clubs, in other words, just happen to have stumbled upon otherwise marginalized talent. Whether that’s mere coincidence or a reflection of organizational competencies, these are the sort of developmental successes that can open windows of contention, especially for a small-market club like Cleveland.

In their pursuit of a competitive edge, teams have looked beyond the traditional player-development staff and budget. The Indians, for example, hired James Harris last offseason to lead player development. On the one hand, the hire made perfect sense: Harris’s core competencies are biometrics and nutrition. On the other hand, Harris had little experience in baseball, having served as chief of staff to former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. The Philadelphia Phillies, meanwhile — as part of their own efforts to improve development and player performance — earmarked $1 million towards healthier meals for the team’s prospects.

These individual examples illustrate the pursuit, within organizations, of a competitive developmental advantage. Which leads to a question: what additional avenues could be pursued to create a short-term competitive edge?

A possible answer to that question begins with late psychological theorist Abraham Maslow. Maslow constructed a five-level “hierarchy of needs,” the highest of those needs being “self-actualization,” or the fulfillment of one’s potential. In order to reach that state, however, it’s necessary for the individual to satisfy the more fundamental needs that precede it.

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How One Club Integrates Analytics into Player Development

This is Mike Hattery’s second piece as part of his September residency at FanGraphs. Hattery writes for the Cleveland-based site Waiting for Next Year. He can also be found on Twitter. Read the work of all our residents here.

Certain players in baseball become symbols, willingly or not, for the seismic conceptual shifts of which they’re a part. Jeremy Brown and Scott Hatteberg, for example, remain emblematic of Oakland’s attempts earlier this century — the sort of attempts documented in Michael Lewis’s Moneyball — to exploit inefficiencies in the game. Ben Zobrist, meanwhile, continues to represent the ability of Tampa Bay’s front office to identify valuable, if overlooked, talent. More recently, Daniel Murphy and Josh Donaldson have become the public face of the air-ball revolution. 

For some who follow the minor leagues, catcher Eric Haase in the Cleveland system has achieved a similar level of notoriety. Despite lacking the name recognition of either Murphy or Donaldson, Haase has nevertheless transformed himself in much the same way as those two, elevating the ball more often and reaping the benefits.

Eric Haase’s Power Spike
Year Level PA FB% IFFB% ISO
2016 AA 246 43.3% 27.7% .230
2017 AA 381 52.2% 14.7% .315

Haase’s 2017 season has shifted expectations about his career. Merely a fringe prospect entering the season, he’s now regarded, at the very least, as a future major-league backup who’ll punish opposing pitchers with power from time to time. As FanGraphs’ own Eric Longenhagen noted in an edition of his Daily Prospect Notes last month:

Some scouts question his mobility and he has fringe arm strength, but Haase receives pretty well and has plus, all-fields raw power. While strikeout prone and unlikely to develop even an average hit tool, Haase’s combination of power and position make him a solid bet to play some sort of big-league role, likely as a slugging backup, though some scouts like him as a sleeper regular.

Haase’s collection of statistical indicators earned him the 47th spot on Chris Mitchell’s midseason top-100 KATOH rankings.

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Protecting Players Against Big Data

This is Mike Hattery’s first piece as part of his September residency at FanGraphs. Hattery writes for the Cleveland-based site Waiting for Next Year. He can also be found on Twitter. Read the work of all our residents here.

While there are certainly examples to the contrary, it’s generally the case that outlets such as Baseball Prospectus and this esteemed institution approach their analytical work on an individual player in the context of that player’s value to his team. Since most writers begin as fans, and because fandom in baseball — and, ultimately, most sports — tends to begin with an allegiance to a city or team, this isn’t surprising.

For the actual major-league clubs, this imbalance is naturally even more pronounced. All 30 organizations feature an analytics department of some sort, and all 30 of those departments are constructed ultimately to benefit the team. Even in those instances, for example, where an observation about spin rate aids an individual pitcher, the added value is ultimately passed on to the club.

And here we arrive at a point of concern: while analytical work in baseball offers tremendous insight and can even benefit individual players, it appears that organizations have a significant advantage over players in their access to data and their capacity to use that data in decision making.

Now, if this analytical work were limited merely to assessing player value or estimating the possible range of a player’s outcomes, the informational asymmetry would represent less of a concern. However, as teams and public analysts continue their pursuit in the direction of health-risk modeling, the impact on players is increasingly serious.

In a recent piece illuminating the information gap between teams and agents, R.J. Anderson wrote the following:

The ongoing data revolution has obscured a simple fact. With teams receiving improved information, their greatest competitive advantage is perhaps no longer over one another. Rather, the information gulf now resides between the teams and the players — or, precisely, the players’ agents. With the league investing in new data sources, like Statcast, the gap could continue to grow.

Of most concern, perhaps, is that player agents are guaranteed no greater access to data than the common fan by the terms of the 2017-2021 MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement. Teams, meanwhile, are afforded extensive access to additional data gathered by Statcast technology.

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