Besides paying taxes and various acts of war, playing baseball may well be the oldest activity in human history. If anything has happened in a professional baseball competition since 1900, there is a better-than-average chance it has been recorded forever. Maintenance of these records continues unabated. The big question is what to do with them.
Soon, a player’s statistics could become the basis for determining his future salary, if major league owners can convince the players’ union to accept a recently floated offer in collective bargaining. It reportedly seeks a version of Vince Above Replacement to replace the pay arbitration process for players who have received more than three but less than six years of service time.
The idea sounds bold on the surface: put an end to the time-honored, sometimes controversial arbitration process by punching a number into a computer. Dig a little deeper, and it looks like an upcycled version of an idea the owners floated during labor negotiations in 1990. This is found directly in the bullet point 36-Page Lockout Guide Recently distributed by the union to players and agents.
“For decades, our reserve system has been divided into three main groups: pre-arbitration players who are close to minimum wage, players eligible for wage arbitration, and free agents,” the guide reads. “Recent industry trends suggest that greater on-field value is being created by young players whose salaries have been artificially suppressed by the reserve system. The system needs to be modernized so that players are compensated for the value they put in, when they create it. ,
I didn’t add capital letters; They are right there in the text. It underscores the union’s importance on modernizing a system that allows some of the game’s best players to live close to the major-league minimum compensation. Owners seem open to the idea of letting statistics — not just service time — form the basis for determining a player’s salary. But players are asked to consider any system that replaces wage arbitration as a “non-starter.”
What’s interesting here is that there is room for compromise to make a free market a little more fair for young major league players.
Take the example of Vander Franco, who this week reportedly agreed to a 12-year contract that guarantees him about $185 million. The unanimous top prospect in baseball had a .313 batting average and .955 on-base plus slugging percentage when the Tampa Bay Rays promoted him from Triple-A on June 22. He played very well in 70 matches and finished third. in American League Rookie of the Year voting. Because 20-year-old Franco is only eligible to make a pro-rata share of the major-league minimum wage, he earned somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000 in salary this year (excluding postseason shares). Some players would have earned 100 times that amount in 2021.
Will there be a “pay-for-performance” system that will help world wonder Francos pass along both sides?
Most hope emerges when we consider how far statistical evaluations have come in the past 31 years. Based on contemporary writing, here’s what we know about how the pay offer would have worked for a 1990 performance. It is possible that some of these terms were added or removed during the bargaining process, but all were reportedly on the table at one time:
All players who are not yet eligible for free agency (that is, those with less than six years of service time) will be subject to their salaries being determined by a two-year statistical table, which is based on batting statistics (for hitters) or pitching statistics. with seniority. For pitchers) each team would pay 1/26th of the player’s total salary, and multi-year contracts were not allowed. Effectively, only free-agent signatories will be paid in full by their employing team.
Revenue from radio and television broadcasts will be used to pay the players their salaries before they reach free agency. Perhaps as a result, player contracts were not guaranteed.
The value of a player depends on his position. The pay-for-performance formula divided them into four categories for statistical purposes: starting pitchers; relief pitchers; outfielder, third baseman, first baseman and designated hitter; and catchers, second basemen and shortstops. Directly, these divisions were designed to address the defensive skills required to play various positions in the field and the demands of starting pitching versus relieving.
Apparently the exact formula for payment in lieu of payment was apparently never reported, and perhaps not even fully offered in private. According to one report, however, the formula was “heavily weighted towards games played”.
The owners’ pay-for-performance proposal was never seriously considered by the union, the only stumbling block in the way of a 32-day lockout that disrupted spring training. If defensive evaluations weren’t even a component of the best statistical evaluations of the time—early versions of the war were still years away from public debate—it’s no surprise that players rejected them.
Commentary at the time focused less on the statistical shortcomings of the formula, and more on the existence of only one statistical formula for evaluating players and their salaries. One columnist wrote, “The device violates almost every selfless instinct instilled in an athlete, as evidenced by the response from general managers and managers, of whom would be the next person to endorse such a plan.” “Why haven’t the bosses tried a strategy by which any player who attacks from loaded bases must walk home from the ballpark? Doesn’t it get more absurd than pay-for-performance, and out in the 90’s stalemate? This is what bothers the watching fan.
Now that the various incarnations of WAR are part of the vernacular, the idea of linking it to player salaries is less annoying. There is no consensus as to which version of WAR is best, or that any version accurately captures a player’s value. There must be a general consensus that the quantitative tools we have today are far better than they were in 1990. The question is, are they enough to help Wander Franco get the pay he deserves – or close to it?
As the clock ticks on another collective bargaining agreement, turning the war into a delicious mechanism for setting wages requires compromise on both sides. Players have to acknowledge that even though no perfect metric exists to evaluate, the metrics we have today are a worthwhile starting point for conversation. Owners must acknowledge that, if the system of pay arbitration is non-negotiable, the use of one or more versions of WAR as a basis for paying pre-arbitration qualified players is worth revisiting today, its 31 years. The latter was last proposed by MLB.
At least one person on the owners side should be aware of how far baseball statistics have come since 1990. According to Randall Hendrix’s book “Inside the Strike Zone”, the 1990 pay-for-performance formula had three co-authors: Milwaukee Brewers executive Harry Dalton, New York Mets executive Frank Cashen, and one for MLB named Rob Manfred. lawyer.