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This Year’s Free Agency, or Lack Thereof, Visualized

As basically anyone who follows baseball has noticed this years free agency has dragged on through today January 24th with really nothing of note happening. It’s frustrating for the fans, the media and most of all the players. I decided to look back at the last six years to the 2012-2013 offseason and compare the money spent on all free agent contracts of three years or more as most of the best players get some sort of lengthy deal. To this point this offseason less than half of the top 50 free agents according to have signed and only one of their top 10, Wade Davis. Only 8 free agents among FanGraphs’ top 20 have signed.

Let’s start with the obvious, the number of deals this offseason is extremely low to this point in the winter. I looked back at all the deals each year and verified the date the deals were announced and sorted by month. Here though is the total number of deals three or more years in length as of January 20th in each of those years.

As you can see this year teams just aren’t wanting to commit to longer-term deals hardly at all. Currently this offseason there have been just nine deals of any real length. Three of those were signed by the Colorado Rockies alone with the signings of Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee. Every deal of three or more years this offseason has been for just three years, no longer deals have been signed as of yet. At this point in the year the number of deals is for all intents and purposes half, or less than halfof what has been normal in recent years so everyone is right to think this year’s Hot Stove is quite cold.

So what kind of money are teams committing?

Again as seen here, for this point in the year the $ spent are incredibly low as well. These figures will surely rise when/if the top free agents start to sign but as they sit currently the low level of spending is almost mind-blowing. Four of the five previous years by January 24th teams in MLB had committed either very close to well over a billion, yes with a b, dollars to free agents on long term deals. This year’s total currently sits at $415 million. To put that in perspective in the 2015 offseason David Price and Zack Greinke combined for more money than that at $423.5 million between them. So what’s different this year? Has the free agent spending bubble burst? It’s most certainly not the qualifying offer and the loss of a draft pick holding teams back anymore.

Here you will see the total spent as the months passed in previous offseasons. What is obviously missing this year is all the big names signing in December like most years. Now the biggest question is when will those names sign? Will it be before the end of January… February… Spring Training? We are only 20 days away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training and the picture of this offseason is not pretty.

Charlie Blackmon Is Doing His Best Matt Holliday Impression

In 2004, a 24-year-old kid from Oklahoma named Matt Holliday debuted for the Colorado Rockies. Just a couple years later in 2006, Holliday received his first MVP votes, finishing 15th in the voting. A year later in 2007, the Rockies went to the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history and Holliday finished second in the MVP voting. In 2011, a 24-year-old kid from Texas (then a clean-shaven baby-faced kid) named Charlie Blackmon debuted for the Colorado Rockies. A few years later in 2016, Blackmon also received his first MVP votes, finishing 26th. The following year, much like Holliday, the Rockies claimed a playoff berth with Blackmon leading the way and finishing fifth in MVP voting. The similarities don’t end there; two players who don’t seem very much alike had very similar stretches in very similar circumstances while playing in the same outfield a decade apart.

Let’s start with the basics.

Holliday 2006-2007 313 1380 70 239 251
Blackmon 2016-2017 302 1366 66 248 186

You can see just how close these two were in everything except for RBI. Of note with the RBI is Holliday often batted third or fourth while Blackmon always hit from the leadoff spot yet fell only 65 RBI short, which according to this article by RotoGraphs’ Scott Spratt denied Blackmon of approximately 10-13 RBI per 600 ABs. From the outside looking in, Holliday just by looking at him seems much more of a HR threat than Blackmon, and 2017’s MLB-wide HR surge definitely comes into play, but a HR is a HR is a HR, and in that regard they are neck and neck. These numbers alone are pretty impressively close, but let’s go deeper.

Holliday 2006-2007 7.90% 17.10% 0.264 0.364
Blackmon 2016-2017 7.85% 17.25% 0.249 0.361

For all intents and purposes these numbers are identical, except the ISO which for Holliday is a little higher.

Holliday 2006-2007 0.333 0.396 0.597 0.419 145 10.4
Blackmon 2016-2017 0.328 0.390 0.577 0.404 136 10.6

Now the final numbers to look at. Again these numbers except for wRC+ are essentially the same. Both players hit for near identical averages, OBP and so on. Blackmon has a little more in the WAR department, mostly because in the two-year timeframe he stole 10 more bases than Holliday and was better in the field. The only real difference between these two at this point is their age and service. Holliday was just 26 with two years of service time in 2006, while Blackmon was 29 and will be a free agent after 2018. So what does this all mean? Nothing really going forward, but the parallels between the two who exactly a decade apart literally made footprints in the exact same spots for the same team and had similar results on their teams seasons was surprising and interesting.

MVP Awards and the Coors Field Stigma

I’ve been wondering to myself lately: “Self, what would it take for another Rockies player to win an MVP?” and yeah I know that whole winning thing goes a long way but I’m fairly unfamiliar with that as a Rockies fan. This has been in my mind all offseason long after the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado could barely break the top 10 after hitting 42 HR (22 on the road) and knocking in 130 runs and hitting .287. Oh yeah — and getting a Gold Glove as the hard-to-argue best defensive third baseman in the NL if not all of MLB. To try and figure this out I decided to see what makes an MVP using stats since I can’t quantify the minds of the writers that vote.

Since I wanted to see the Coors Field stigma that is placed on players statistically I chose wRC+ because it’s one of the best park-adjusted stats to see how much better than the rest of the league a player was. Then I tallied the wRC+ and WAR for the top five players in each league from 2009 – 2015. I stopped at 2009 because it became apparent before 2009 that these stats would not somewhat closely represent the best players vs the vote-getters. For the years in which pitchers won/made the top five I used FIP-.

At this point I’ve got all my players and their respective stats. To even things out a bit between wRC+ and FIP- I subtracted 100 from wRC+ and inverted FIP- and subtracted 100 so it became a points system essentially with 0 being average and seeing just how far from average players were. I then averaged out the points and WAR needed for 1st place, 2nd place, 3rd place and so on and here is what I found.

So I now had my “baseline,” per se, of what to look for in past Rockies seasons to see what a season would look like that is good enough for the stigma to break and a player have a chance to win the MVP. First-place vote-getters in the NL average right at a 170 wRC+ (170-100=70 points in this article), 2nd place averaged 160 wRC+. By the way if we take away Bryce Harper’s insane season in 2015 with his wRC+ of 197 it drops to 165 wRC+ average; his season was 17 points higher than the next-highest in the NL in the past seven years. We will look into that later but for now I need to look for Rockies players with a 170 wRC+. Well that was easy, there is only one, and it’s the only Rockies MVP ever.

In 1997 Larry Walker won the Rockies’ only MVP award ever with a wRC+ of 177, so what were his stats that year? He had a line of .366/.452/.720  with a 1.172 OPS. He had 49 homers and 130 RBI along with a Gold Glove in right field (which helps me wonder what a guy like Arenado would need to do). So what are the odds of reaching those types of numbers? Since 2009 let’s see how many players have hit those numbers at all let alone together. Minimum 500 PA

.366 Average = None (Joe Mauer hit .365 in 2009)

.452 OBP = Two, Bryce Harper (.460) and Joey Votto (.459) both in 2015

.720 SLG = None (highest is Albert Pujols in 2009 with .658)

1.172 OPS = None (highest is Bryce Harper in 2015 with 1.109)

49 HR = Two, Jose Bautista (54 in 2010) and Chris Davis (53 in 2013)

130 RBI = Seven (highest is 141 both Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard in 2009)

So…wow, that seems pretty unlikely to reach those levels. I did however mention what happens if we remove Harper’s 2015 season — the average wRC+ drops to 165. In the Rockies’ history they have four seasons within two points of 165 (excluding Walker’s 1997). Those seasons:

1999 Larry Walker = 167 wRC+ – .379/.458/.710,  1.168 OPS, 37 HR  115 RBI  –   Finished 10th in NL voting for MVP

2004 Todd Helton (Post-humidor!) = 166 wRC+ –  .347/.469/.620, 1.088 OPS, 32 HR 94 RBI  –   Finished 16th in NL voting for MVP

2001 Larry Walker = 163 wRC+ – .350/.449/.662,  1.111 OPS, 38 HR  123 RBI –   Tied for 24th in NL voting for MVP

2003 Todd Helton (Post-humidor also) = 163 wRC+ – .358/.458/.630,  1.088 OPS, 33 HR 117 RBI  –   Finished 7th in NL voting for MVP

So those number are a tad more reasonable. So is it possible for a Rockies player to ever win the MVP again? Absolutely, but this was written to show not whether or not the Rockies can have another MVP someday but more what numbers it may take to get the votes and erase the Coors Field stigma in voting, if for just one season. Which I think may never happen again without one of the best seasons we’ve ever seen.

Be Wary of Long-Term Deals for Free Agents

This morning as I drove into work listening to MLB on XM a comment put a question into my head. The host made a comment that players that sign with the Yankees as free agents tend to have a bad season likely due to the pressure and glamor of being a Yankee. This made me wonder if some teams were “easier” to play for after signing a free-agent deal…. But then once I started researching things started to get interesting so I changed to just seeing how long-term deals with new teams affected players.

The Criteria

  • Player must have signed a minimum 3 year deal with a new team and stayed with that team all of those 3 years. This established a perceived pressure of living up to a deal that this new team invested in the player.
  • Year range 2006-2012 for contract signings. I could not find any good free agent signing lists from earlier than ’06.
  • If a player was injured for the majority of a season that year was omitted, but it applied to very few players.

In the end I compiled a list of 31 players who had received 3 years or longer deals from a new ball club and had stayed with the club for at least 3 years. The results were not promising for any club looking to sign some free agents. I compared basic stats for simplicity, reviewed were Average, OBP, SLG, and wRC+. I mostly did the OBP and SLG for myself so will mostly focus on average and wRC+ here.

Key takeaways – Average

  • In year 1 after signing with a new team only 8 players either matched or improved their average from the prior season.
  • The only player to consistently outperform with his new team in each of the 3 years was Carlos Lee after signing with the Houston Astros. Technically his average dipped to match his average the year before he signed the contract but he never went in the red.
  • Overall for the 3 year span only 3 players had a higher batting average over those 3 years than they did with the last season with their prior team. (Victor Martinez, Carlos Lee, Juan Pierre)

Key takeaways – wRC+

  • 5 players improved their wRC+ in the first years with their new teams and 2 matched their prior year numbers.
  • Out of the 25 players who have completed 3 years with their new team (2012 signees are heading into their 3rd season), 5 finished those 3 years with a higher average wRC+ than they had the year they signed. (Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter, Carlos Lee, Juan Pierre, Mark DeRosa)

The overall numbers for the group though was not promising. Whether this is due to many of these players aging which could be highly likely, or just never getting settled with a new ballclub. It seems teams looking at signing Free Agents to deals of 3 years or longer should not expect much out of the players.

Overall #’s

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Overall
Difference in Average -0.022 -0.025 -0.030 -0.026
Difference in OBP -0.022 -0.021 -0.030 -0.025
Difference in SLG -0.055 -0.072 -0.063 -0.063
Difference in wRC+ -17.63 -19.06 -20.08 -18.923


A little bonus:

Worst 3+ year deal since 2006 : Chone Figgins in 2009 signed with the Seattle Mariners. Out of the group of players researched Figgins had the biggest overall drops in Average (-.089), OBP (-.114), and wRC+ (-56.33)

Best 3+ year deal since 2006: Victor Martinez (duh) in 2010 signed with the Tigers and had the best overall increases in Average (+.020), OBP (+.030) and wRC+ (+14.0). Side note – ALL players had decreases in slugging.


So you might ask how this compares to players that resign similar deals with their current teams? The numbers below illustrate the numbers for players in the same time frame that resigned deals with their teams as free agents (according to ESPN free agent trackers).

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Overall
Difference in Average -0.005 -0.007 -0.019 -0.011
Difference in OBP -0.005 -0.001 -0.016 -0.007
Difference in SLG -0.018 -0.032 -0.057 -0.036
Difference in WRC+ -3.68 -3.53 -10.53 -5.915

As you can see quite a bit of difference. There are many factors in play here but it seems that there is a major difference in proving to a new team that as a free agent you deserve the long term deal you got, and understanding that you performed well enough for you current team to give you a long term extension. Yes all numbers are negative still but they are much closer to the original numbers and likely chalked up to random variance year to year.

Best re-sign/extension – 2B Aaron Hill –  The Diamondbacks resigned Aaron Hill and were rewarded with an increase in OBP for 3 years (.035), Slugging (.094) and WRC+ (33.67)

Worst re-sign/extension – 1B/DH Paul Konerko – The White Sox understandably extended Konerko only to see average 3 year drops in Average (-.068), OBP (-.036), Slugging (-.098) and led all resignee’s in WRC+ drop at (-40.33 average). A close Second place was Jorge Posada’s extension in 2007.