Tuesday, March 6, 2012

More Contract Talk, and Some Thoughts on the Expanded Playoffs

So, this was originally going to go with my last post until it kind of spiraled out of control into an ode to Ryan Zimmerman (not that I regret it). It fit in so well with the topic of contract talks, though. Apparently, Josh Hamilton got some people upset when he said that he wasn’t going to give the Rangers a discount, and a lot of people seemed upset with that. I actually don’t really see any reason for animosity in this scenario.

Why should Hamilton owe the Rangers? According to Fangraphs, he’s provided them with nearly $80 million in value since they acquired him, based on the free agent going rate for WAR and not counting this season. How much have the Rangers paid him for that time? So far, around $15 million. That in and of itself is something of a disconnect.

In Hamilton’s case, I can see why he would want to test the market. The Rangers would have a very good reason for not wanting to lock him up long-term, with his injuries (he only played in more than 133 games once in his five years, and averages just shy of 118 games per season) and age (he turns 31 in May). If there is a team that thinks he’ll be healthier in the near future and is willing to put more money on the line, that’s their call, and Hamilton should take that offer by all means. If someone is willing to pay you significantly more to do the same job, then by all means, go for it.

I really don’t understand the problem with him admitting that, either. I would much rather the player be upfront with the motives. And it’s not like he’s totally ruling out Texas, either. He’s just saying the Rangers will have to pay him at a competitive rate to keep him, which is what we usually assume for free agents anyway.

Any way, the point is that I don’t think his comments were too out of line or uncalled for. They were just more direct than we’re used to.


Since that didn’t turn out nearly as long as I was expecting, this would probably be a good time to address the new playoff system, since that was approved in the past few days. To sum it up in a few words, I’m not a huge fan. First of all, I see no reason it needed to be rushed for this season, particularly since it apparently created so many scheduling issues. Also, the idea of a one game playoff in a sport where one game is essentially a toss-up is ridiculous. If they really wanted a fifth playoff spot, they needed to make it a multi-game series at least.

The thing that really bugged me was that I didn’t think the playoff structure really needed any tinkering. The eight spots fit perfectly for a tournament style, and eight spots lets in enough teams that there seems to be a chance for everyone without the process feeling too long or over-inclusive, like in the NBA or NHL.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I still feel like the method is better with one wild card. It seems like usually, there’s one team that gets left out for being in a tough division, so you could argue that the first wild card is just for fairness. But I felt like the second wild card would frequently go to a team that was clearly inferior to all the other four in the league. So, I decided to check this observation. Sure enough, that was exactly the case. I calculated the average position of each wild card team, dating back to 1995 (the start of the wild card era), and found that the wild card is, on average, the third best team in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the second wild card spot would have gone the fifth best team in the league (on average, 4.7 to be specific). In short, trying to get the four best teams in the league requires a wild card, because usually the wild card is better than at least one division winner.

This also brings up the question of why does the wild card spot need punished for not winning their division? Usually, they’re better than at least one actual division winner. I see no reason they’re less of a legitimate playoff entrant than the winner of a weak division.

What’s more, it doesn’t seem fair that the better team has one game to prove their superiority despite a full season’s worth of data saying the same thing. On average, I found that there was a .025 difference in winning percentages between the two wild card teams, which translates to a 4 game swing. So, in spite of this 4 game average lead on their competition, these top wild card teams will have one game to beat another team. This isn’t even getting into the fact that a number one wild card team may burn their best starter or something similar in a push to take their division and fall short, while the second wild card may be able to rest their starters with a comfortable lead over the (hypothetical) third wild card team.

In short, this second wild card just seems unfair to the (actual) wild card teams. I know it’s easy to say “just win your division”, but usually, they actually are good enough to win at least one division other than their own, if not more. All this does is put them in a position where random chance or a late push that falls short actually puts them at a serious disadvantage to a clearly inferior team, all while playing havoc with scheduling, not to mention that relying on one game to determine anything in baseball is stupid. I just cannot find enough goods to outweigh these issues.

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