A little mailbag this morning ....
Dear Sweet Lou,
I too am a fellow New Englander, living here in the great state of Connect-eh-cut, in Storrs. I thoroughly enjoy your wit, savvy & journalistic style very much. Keep it up!
Question for you that I have never received a satisfactory answer on. Would Fantistics add an indicator to each player denoting what contract year they were in? I believe that if we went back and looked at the figures, there are many cases where a star in a contract year performs Herculian-ly. Wouldn't that be a valuable indicator for us fantasy junkies to gain a greater advantage over the rest of the herd?
Thanx very much & enjoy the rest of the summer and the fantasy season!
Well, Jim has his act together. First he knows that flattering the writer will usually get the attention you seek, especially when you use words like "wit", "savvy", and "journalistic style". Writers love those terms, especially when they are used to describe their writing. I feel a little like Horshack in that episode when that girl he had a crush on said she liked his aura ..." HEY!!! I GOT A AUUURRAAA!" ...
I got wit and savvy!
What I also like is that Jim and I seem to share the hobby of making up new words ... "Herculian-ly" ... Ah ... a man after my own heart. Great word. And if it's not a word, then damn it, it should be ... Excellent.
And on top of all of that, Jim brings a good question to the table and he gives me a good subject for a First Pitch. Jim just basically won the Triple Crown of E-Mailing a Writer.
You get an answer Jim, but unfortunately it's not the answer you probably want to hear. The "Contract Year" is one of those "truths we hold to be self-evident" that isn't really true.
As far back as 2000, the talented, articulate, and comfortingly thorough David Luciani debunked this one by comparing the performance of the entire group of players on their contract year in 1999 to their 1998 performance. He found a slightly elevated performance by the hitters which were within the margin of error and which could be explained by MLB's overall offensive gains from '98 to '99. Predictably the result of those gains was that the pitchers in their contract years actually saw a drop off in performance.
This is like the stories about car batteries exploding while you are jump-starting a car. God knows how many millions of cars are jump started each day without incident and yet every year 6,000-8,000 people are injured by exploding batteries ... and that's what we talk about. So we think that every third battery blows up.
You rarely have to look far to see players who seemingly turned it up a notch when playing for their next contract. But those are the players we talk about when this subject comes up, not, the players who do exactly what we expect and those who have even met disaster in their contract year.
The Contract Year myth is so ingrained in our minds that we ignore the evidence. If I say the Contract Year jump in performance doesn't exist that will seem counter-intuitive. We have similar truths that we fight because we think we've seen otherwise. Pitchers can't be the same when the ball is put in play ... Player always play better in a contract year ...
Well, the only evidence to back that up is anecdotal. The numbers don't support the theory. So you decide.
I personally think that maybe the fact that the MLB service time structure tends to dump players into free agency in their late-twenties has something to do with it. That is when these players are prime for a big year anyway. And yes, some players do raise the level of their game when they are playing for a contract, I don't think there's any doubt about it.
And Jim, I also believe that if you broke down the study you might find that, to use your word, "stars" are more likely to rise to the occasion, because almost by definition, these players tend to rise to occasions, whether they are game situations, or personal situations.
The point is that not ALL players play better when they are in a contract year. In other words simply throwing a blanket over potential free agents on draft day really is not a viable plan. And assuming that every player will play well in his contract year is much more sooth-saying than science.
Of course there are other things that apparently cannot be statistically proved but I believe in them anyway. "They" say there is no such thing as a clutch hitter, but I watched Yaz in September 1967, and I watch David Ortiz everyday, and I believe there is. They say there is no statistical support to the theory of "protection" in a lineup. Again, I see the difference between David Ortiz's day without Manny hitting behind him and with Manny hitting behind him. These days I too often see Manny hitting without a viable 5th hitter to protect him. I believe in protection.
Similarly I believe there is some validity to the contract year theory, if only indirectly. As I said, I think contract year players are often in their prime anyway and capable of break out years. I believe there is also motivation when their current team is not hot to resign a player. Players have pride and draw strength from it. We often see it when a player is traded to a new team. He plays hard to impress his new teammates and usually plays better for a while. And when he sees his old team for the first few times, he usually kills them. The basic motivation is real in a contract year, and extra motivation will usually mean a better performance in quality players.
However, like any and all theories about player performance, nothing is perfect, or often even constantly reliable. Every player, every situation, is different. Every player and every situation has to be evaluated individually. That is why we are here at Insiderbaseball.com! There is no silver bullet.
Thanks for the letter Jim! And thanks for being one of us here at Insiderbaseball.com.