Baseball BeatJanuary 20, 2009
Hoping for a Smarter Future
By Rich Lederer

There have been a number of signings to avoid salary arbitration over the past week, most notably David Bush (1/$4M), Jorge Cantu (1/$3.5M), Jack Cust (1/$2.8M), Chone Figgins (1/$5.775M), Mike Gonzalez (1/$3.45M), Kevin Gregg (1/$4.2M), Cole Hamels (3/$20.5M), J.J. Hardy (1/$4.65M), Jeremy Hermida (1/$2.25M), Felix Hernandez (1/$3.8M), Bobby Jenks (1/$5.6M), Ryan Madson (3/$12M), Nick Markakis (6/$66M), Darren Oliver (1/$3.665M), Fernando Rodney (1/$2.7M), Huston Street (1/$4.5M), Jose Valverde (1/$8M), Todd Wellemeyer (1/$4.05M), and Kevin Youkilis (4/$41.25M).

The multi-year deals always intrigue me the most as the single-season contracts are usually just compromises between what figures the team and agent submit to the commissioner's office. The latter signings don't really reflect anything more than how much. The multi-year agreements, on the other hand, are all about buying out arbitration years and, in some cases, free-agent years as well. Clubs lock up players at a discount to what they might get in the free market while players potentially forfeit money for the sake of security. More often than not, these deals are "win, win" for both sides.

Hamels, Madson, Markakis, and Youkilis all signed longer-term contracts with the position players giving up at least a couple of years of free agency as an offset to the length and certainty of their deals. I read an article or two on each of these signings and stumbled across the following on ESPN in "Sources: O's, Markakis reach deal."

His best season was in 2007, when he batted .300 with 23 homers and 112 RBIs in 161 games.

Say what? Markakis had higher batting, on-base, and slugging averages in 2008 than in 2007. In fact, the former first-round draft pick set career highs in all three rate stats (.306/.406/.491), OPS (.897), and OPS+ (134). Not surprisingly, he also posted career highs in GPA (.302) and wOBA (.389).

YEAR    AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS   OPS+
2006   .291   .351   .448   .799   106
2007   .300   .362   .485   .847   121
2008   .306   .406   .491   .897   134

A quick view of the basic rate stats is pretty revealing. Markakis has been getting better every year. But, just for good measure, Markakis scored more runs (106), hit more doubles (48), and drew more walks (99) in 2008 than in 2007 or 2006. He also posted career bests in Runs Created Above Average (41), Win Shares (25), and WARP (8.1). If the foregoing weren't enough, he led all outfielders with 17 assists. The bottom line is that Markakis had, by far, the most productive season of his three-year career in 2008.

So who was responsible for such a gross misstatement? I'm not sure because there is no byline attached to the story. I hope it wasn't Buster Olney, whose name was listed at the bottom of the article. In Olney's (possible) defense, "Information from The Associated Press was used in this report."

On this day of hope, let's give the benefit of the doubt to Olney and assume it was a junior reporter who came up with the conclusion that Markakis had his "best season in 2007" due to the fact that he had more home runs and RBI that year than in any other campaign. One would hope that we could look beyond those "Triple Crown" stats as a primary measure of production in this day and age when there are so many other, more meaningful metrics that are readily available and sortable.

Until the time comes when the vast majority of those responsible for reporting the news; broadcasting games; adding color commentary; voting for All-Star games; naming MVP, Cy Young, and Gold Glove award winners; and bestowing baseball's ultimate honor of the Hall of Fame are writing and talking about and analyzing the right set of numbers, we will need to discount heavily any and all conclusions made by the uninformed.


While I agree with the premise of your article entirely, I do not agree with some of your breakdown.

Why is it OK to point to increases in runs scored and doubles as a sign of improvement but we can dismiss changes in HR and RBI totals?

What makes compiling doubles a more significant accomplishment then hitting HR's, that we can say player X had his best year ever because look how many more doubles he hit? That's a double standard.

I agree with the conclusion and the body of the argument - that 2008 > then all others and that until writers can get a grip on how to actually properly evaluate success from year to year, the awards given out and things don't hold much water.

I think you're reading too much into my comments or looking to pick a fight here. The key is that I didn't say Markakis had his best season in 2008 based on his increases in runs scored and doubles. Instead, after showing a multitude of stats, including AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, GPA, and wOBA (all of which were career bests), I added "just for good measure, Markakis scored more runs (106), hit more doubles (48), and drew more walks (99) in 2008 than in 2007 or 2006."

Had I not listed all of his rate stats, RCAA, Win Shares, and WARP, and resorted to posting career highs runs scored, doubles, and walks as the reason that he enjoyed his best season ever, then you're point would be well taken. But that was not the case.

I'm not trying to pick a fight and upon re-reading my post multiple times I don't see any hostile language in there. I apologize if it came off that way, I was only trying to help you deliver your argument as strongly as possible. I thought that was made clear when I said I agree with the premise of your article and your conclusions, just not everything you say in getting there.

His EXH totals were identical from 2007 - 2008, it was that Markakis did a much better job of not making outs in 2008 that caused an increase in his OBP and SLG %. The increase in BB's is relevant because it is the primary reason all his rate stats went up.

Why am I not surprised that Olney (possibly) wrote that thing.

The guy is a hack. His idea of analysis (and, according to his title on Baseball Tonight, he is a baseball analyst) is, "I spoke to several talent evaluators/NL executives/GM's from around the league/front office sources and they all agree that Jack Morris was a better pitcher than Bert Blyleven."

MaritimeJays, I don't think you were trying to pick a fight with Rich, and I recognized your agreement with his premises. But I think your second & third sentences in the initial comment mislead as to Rich's intention. As I read it, he mentions doubles and runs only as a counter to the argument that he had a better 2007 because he hit more HRs and had more RBIs, not as an argument in favor of the 2008 version of Markakis. Actually, not even as a counter, but as an aside. He is emphatically not suggesting that such counting stats are significant, whether of HRs, doubles, RBIs or runs, just that even taking the ESPN approach their argument is weak.

We are getting into nitpicking here, I suppose, but I can appreciate Rich's effort to clarify his position and to make sure his reasoning is not misrepresented.

Another way to break it down is to look at all the stats from 2007 and 2008 and try to evaluate future potential. If you use the stats from 2007 and make that player A and then use the stats from 2008 and make that player B, I'd go with player B. Jack