First Pitch: MLB is NOT As Good As It Has Ever Been

Bud Selig was in Pittsburgh today, and as you could have guessed, he attributed the Pirates’ success to MLB having a fair landscape. This isn’t unexpected, as it happens every time a small market team surprises everyone by contending.

The Pirates have become contenders again, but they haven’t done it because MLB is fair. They did it by finding talent avenues that were under-valued. They did it through the draft, international market, trading established players for prospects, and focusing on advanced metrics, rather than the traditional stats that land big free agent deals. It’s not a new concept. It’s the way any successful small market team has managed to win in this unbalanced league. The fact that the feel good success stories are only small market teams, and never big market teams, should be a big indicator that MLB isn’t fair.

You could say that MLB is fair in the sense that every team has a chance to compete. You’d just have to add the disclaimer that it’s much easier for some teams to compete than it is for others, and that’s not a system that is fair at all.

We’re right in the middle of trade deadline season, which is probably the biggest time period that illustrates the difference between MLB teams. A team like the Pirates has to contemplate making moves, balancing their current chances to succeed with their future chances of success. They can’t make prospect-for-rental trades because those prospects are their only shot at landing impact talent in the future. Meanwhile, the Angels can trade away a top 100 prospect, and further deplete their farm system, all to get a relief pitcher. The Angels can do this, because they can just go spend money to fill any future needs. The Pirates make a trade like this, and they’re stuck with a hole to fill in the future.

Obviously this doesn’t restrict small market teams from making these types of trades, as we’ve seen with the Oakland Athletics. They traded Addison Russell to the Cubs for 1.5 years of Jeff Samardzija. But the last time Oakland made a deal like this, it didn’t really work out well for them. They traded Carlos Gonzalez to the Rockies for Matt Holliday, then finished under .500 the year they had Holliday, trading him by the deadline. They were .500 or worse the next two years, before getting back to the playoffs in 2012. Their corner outfielders in those two years included Gabe Gross, Ryan Sweeney, and David DeJesus. You’d have to think CarGo and his 5 WAR per year would have given them a much bigger boost. And that’s the difference between small and big market teams. The A’s traded Gonzalez to get Holliday, and only kept him for half a season. Their outfield the next two years had guys who weren’t better than bench players. Do you think that would happen with a big market team that trades away a top prospect?

The Pirates have found ways to win, all while setting themselves up to be contenders for the next several years. Unfortunately, MLB has been taking away a lot of their advantages with rule changes that hurt small market teams more than big market teams.

The biggest change came in the draft. The Pirates went over-slot on a lot of players from 2008-2011. A lot of those over-slot guys are getting close to reaching the majors, and will be a big part of the Pirates contending in the future. Nick Kingham was a fourth round pick that signed for $480,000 in 2010. Tyler Glasnow was a fifth round pick who signed for $600,000 in 2011. Josh Bell broke the draft with his $5 M bonus as a second rounder in 2011, and he’s starting to hit his way to becoming a key member of a future Pirates lineup.

The new system would have probably allowed the Pirates to draft and sign Pedro Alvarez and Gerrit Cole. It’s hard to say whether they would have also landed Jordy Mercer, Justin Wilson, Brandon Cumpton, and other middle round guys who have helped in the majors. None of those guys were over-slot guys, but they were also drafted at a time where the bonuses in the top ten rounds weren’t linked together, which has definitely complicated matters, especially if you’re taking over-slot players and trying to find bonus pool money from other rounds.

The new CBA also restricted international spending, which doesn’t hurt the Pirates as much, since they’ve been successful without spending big on international players. However, the fact that they now have less to spend as contenders will hurt them, since part of their approach is finding a large quantity of talented prospects, and hoping a few of them work out. If you’ve got less money to spend, it means you’ll get fewer prospects, which lowers your chances of having a Starling Marte or a Gregory Polanco.

There was also the change to draft compensation picks. The Rays were famous for loading up on Type A and Type B players before they would reach free agency, all for the purposes of landing extra draft picks. The Rays did a horrible job of drafting with those picks, but that doesn’t ignore that it was an advantage to have so many first and second round picks. MLB changed the compensation rule to a system where you have to make a qualifying offer ($14.1 M for the 2014 season) to get any compensation if a player signs elsewhere. As we saw with A.J. Burnett, that’s a big percentage of team salary for a small market team to give to one player. The old system wouldn’t have helped the Burnett situation much, since the Pirates would have had to offer him arbitration over his $16.5 M salary in 2012. But looking at the league as a whole, the old system at least allowed small market teams a great chance to get draft picks. The new system makes it easy for big market teams to get compensation picks, while leaving a tougher decision for small market teams, and possibly no compensation.

The changes to the new CBA hurt small market teams more than it hurt big market teams. Those changes could impact the Pirates going forward. Their success to get to this point has been through the draft, but also due to focusing on advanced and under-valued metrics. They’ve gotten a lot of under-valued pitchers by focusing on FIP rather than ERA, and thanks to adjustments made by their pitching coaches. They landed Russell Martin thanks to the values placed on catcher defense and pitch framing, the latter of which has become a much bigger focus around the league since the Martin signing.

The fear with that, going forward, is that big market teams will catch on. They’ll start paying guys like Martin for their defense. They’ll pay for FIP, and not ERA, thus removing the potential value of guys like A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and even Edinson Volquez. As a result, the Pirates will have to find new ways of finding under-valued talent. That’s the way it always goes. Small market team finds an under-valued stat. That stat becomes big, and large market teams start paying for it. Small market teams are forced to find the next inefficiency.

This is not a system that is fair. This is not a representation that MLB is better than ever. Teams like the Pirates are winning, and it’s not because of the current setup. They’ve basically found a loophole, if you will. MLB is set up so that large markets win year-after-year, and the loophole is that small market teams can exploit inefficiencies in order to compete for a small number of years. Most of the changes MLB makes are changes that make it harder for small market teams to win. And the biggest change that MLB should make is the change that would allow every team an equal shot at every player, with the same financial risks for each team.

To do this, MLB needs a salary cap, a salary floor, and total revenue sharing. That would make MLB fair. That would make the league better than ever. It would allow teams to win based on how smart they have been, and not based on market size and local media contracts.

Unfortunately, that will probably never happen. So we’re left with the current system, where the Pirates beating the odds and finding a way to succeed (for just one year following a 20 year losing streak) is held up as evidence that the league is fair. Meanwhile, teams like the Dodgers can sign Clayton Kershaw to a $215 M deal, while Pirates fans have to envision a day when Andrew McCutchen will leave for free agency, all while wondering if that will lead to another long rebuild. That makes it hard to justify that the game is as good as it has ever been.

Links and Notes

**Pirates Prospects Job Openings

**Prospect Watch: Tyler Glasnow Continues Unreal Stretch With 11 Strikeouts

**Pirates Approach to the Trade Deadline Probably Won’t Change From Previous Years

**A.J. Burnett Prefers the Pirates, But His Salary is Not Preferred

**Prospect Highlights: Starter Doing Well in GCL Relief Role

**Minor League Schedule: What Will Adrian Sampson Do For an Encore?

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • pilbobuggins

    Absobucnlutley true tim, I agree with the whole article,and let me say it’s nice to find someone else who thinks baseball needs a salary cap,preferably before it kills itself by having teams like the yanks dodgers angels ect.. with teams full of guys with 300 plus million $ contracts,while teams like the pirates rays a’s ect. Have grocery clerks playing for peanuts, eventually that is not a sustainable formula and baseball goes the way of the doo-doo bird.

    • Wabbit_Season

      Um. That’s “Do-Do Bird.” Although Bud Selig is a doo-doo bird.

      -Wabbit

    • pilbobuggins

      The misspell was intentional,thanks for the spell check though.

  • johnj618

    Yea, there is a chance that someday mccutchen leaves and a frazier or bell has to take his spot in the outfield, which hopefully isn’t a huge dropoff. But can you imagine the return the pirates would get for him? Its looking like he could get yet another mvp. It could help sustain this run of winning

  • Mike C.

    I know this is last year’s news but my question is since i really dont know
    Couldn’t Pittsburgh have offered AJ the qualifying offer hoping he doesn’t sign, but AJ calls their bluff and signs so Pitt turns around and trades AJ in June for a C prospect and 80% salary dump?
    Worst case scenario he gets hurt and they’re stuck with the bill, but more likely they pay for 2 months salary and no comp pick?

    • emjayinTN

      Mike: I agree with the first 7 words; I thought AJ was very important to the development of a few of the younger pitchers, but in retrospect, his absence allowed for the Pirates to move forward with 3 or 4 young pitchers who have helped this team a great deal in 2014 – Locke and Worley in just the past few days. Specifically, the Pirates made an insurance move by signing Edinson Volquez for cheap and he has been very good also. If we do not trade Liriano, I will bet we make him a QO.

    • emjayinTN

      Mike: I agree with the first 7 words; I thought AJ was very important to the development of a few of the younger pitchers, but in retrospect, his absence allowed for the Pirates to move forward with 3 or 4 young pitchers who have helped this team a great deal in 2014 – Locke and Worley in just the past few days. Specifically, the Pirates made an insurance move by signing Edinson Volquez for cheap and he has been very good also. If we do not trade Liriano, I will bet we make him a QO.

  • mam995

    A convincing and insightful presentation. Indeed, one of the most penetrating afortiori arguments that I have ever heard against the current landscape that is Major League Baseball. An indictment really. Tim, even though you write about the sport of baseball, you’re definitely NOT just a sports head. You are a thinker. One of the pet peeves that I have (I know that I am digressing) is that, there are not enough people who can THINK through critical progression. And it doesn’t really matter what a person’s education is either. Just look at the mess that Washington is. All Ivy Leaguers….dumb as doorknobs. Can’t fix or solve ANY problems. I particularly liked the fact that you noted the failures of Oakland with some of their trades (which also I pointed out this week) as well as the terribly squandered opportunities that Tampa had with their extra draft picks. Everybody thought that they were going to be loaded for bear for the next decade. Kansas City has also had a few missteps as well. What it all means is that the small clubs simply cannot miss. They can’t miss. In the small markets, (unlike Washington) the management teams HAVE to fix and solve their own problems. They don’t get any help from the baseball elite. In the current economic environment, that is a tough hand to be dealt. None of the 3 other major league sports have to deal with such disparity among it’s clubs. In baseball, when the small market team fails or falls, there is NO forgiveness. They just become a pathetic version of the Washington Generals. When the Pirates had an inept management team, they lost for 20 years. They set a record for failure that is an American sports record. The fact the Pirates are finally winning…that is something to celebrate. The fact that the small markets teams have to compete under such onerous circumstances…that is something that NOBODY in Major League Baseball should be celebrating.

    • pilbobuggins

      That’s a pretty good argument for a salary cap for the government and for much the same reason as sports need one,without it they will price and spend themselves out of business. The biggest problem for us when the government spends us in to bankrupcy is the collapse of america. Where as with sports it means we find something else to watch and some overpayed primadonnas are looking for a new line of work

    • piratemike

      mam995… Those Ivy Leaguers in Washington aren’t dumb. They are fooling all of the people all of the time……something that was said couldn’t be done……they aren’t there to help people they are there to sustain their wealth and power just as Bud is/was doing by helping maintain the status quo while making about 20mil a year.

      • smurph

        FACT.

  • http://www.jollybengali.net/ Maher S. Hoque

    Keeping a team together – therein lies the rub for me. Small market teams can find loophole stat after loophole stat and build a winner but they still won’t have much of a chance to keep those teams together and will consistently have to rebuild. Steelers, Penguins, Pipers (hah, if they’d made it to the NBA) have a shot through smart mgmt to keep their teams together. Kevin Durant wouldn’t still be in OKC if this were the MLB.

  • Monsoon Harvard

    Well stated, Tim.
    Bud Selig lives in a ‘fair landscape’ fantasy world.

  • examiner

    Thanks for the great article as always Tim. Selig had me so angry last night on the Pirates broadcast I wanted to throw a brick at the screen. It was compounded by Steve B and Tim N basically kissing his butt. Bottom line though is that you are correct it will probably NEVER be fair. I guess we can always hope that the new commissioner is more sensible and truly looking out for what is best for all teams.

    • https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=5315860 ndbrian

      This is the problem. I’ve never seen an interview where he’s actually pressed on any of this. During broadcasts, the announcers spend all the time fawning over him (maybe because their employers have to keep baseball happy), rather than asking him real questions and pressing him over ridiculous statements. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Pirates 20 years of losing coincided almost exactly with the reign of Bud. The Bucs were plenty to blame themselves, but once they dug a hole, he greased the sides of it.

      • S Brooks

        They’re expressly told that if they want to have an interview with Bud, they need to make him look good. It’s one of the benefits that comes with the job.

  • William Wallace

    I was listening to Bud Selig last night while Worley was getting squeezed by the umpire and Pedro was Pedro.

    • Leefoo Rug Bug

      I muted that whole half inning.

      • pilbobuggins

        Nice thing about mlb tv,I can set it on ballpark sounds and get to hear the crack of the bat without the monotonous chatter of the announcers.

      • duckwoes

        I wasn’t home Lee but I guarantee I would have done the same thing!!!!

  • Jsdspud

    The only good thing about the CBA was the removal of the Comp picks for free agents. Even though the Rays took advantage of it, the Red Sox exploited that rule more than anyone. In 2011, they had 4 or 5 picks between the Pirates picks at 1 (Cole) and 60 (Bell) who had lost over 100 games.

    Having a salary cap does not mean that you can keep a team together, it allows you to keep a couple of stars. The Steelers and Pens have lost a lot of talent throughout the years because there wasn’t enough cap room to pay everyone.

    By the time McCuthen’s deal is up he will be in his early 30′s and entering his decline. St. Louis let Puljols walk and it has worked out well for them so far.

    • Andrew

      The Cardinals made a $220 million offer Pujols, they didn’t let him walk. Bad process, good outcome, Cardinals get enough credit let us not start giving them credit for good fortune.

      • http://batman-news.com NMR

        Thank you, Andrew. Most infuriating part of the “Cardinals Way” auro for me is the complete myth of letting Albert Pujols walk.

    • pilbobuggins

      They have also remained elite teams who compete for the championship almost every year. I can live with losing some good players and a lot of fill ins as long as the rothleisbergers and crosbys are around for us to enjoy for years and provide a solid base to build championship teams around. Something small market baseball teams only do every ten years or so and then only for a couple of years.

    • unfurious

      What having a salary cap does is cause every team to play the same game. When you curtail the role money plays on the final product the focus goes from acquisition to development. That gives everyone a chance. It becomes about the quality of the system instead of the size of the war chest.

  • WTM

    You can’t claim MLB is fair until the Yankees can’t buy their way out of the string of last-place finishes that their ancient roster, string of bad contracts and crappy farm system should have earned them.

  • R Edwards

    (1) There needs to be a hard salary cap (and floor), just like the NFL. MLB can look to the NFL as a model of competitive balance – and it shows as one team can go from worst to first in one season, and vice versa.
    (2) International players need to be put into a draft – not left up to the highest bidder.

    • Ron Loreski

      I think the floor is just as important as the cap. That’s really how you create parody. All teams will have to spend somewhere in the same range. I think $80 mil would be a good floor, and $150mil would be a good cap. Just some numbers to start with.

      • https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=5315860 ndbrian

        Or…if they don’t want to put salary caps/floors in (which I suspect will never happen), then at least leave it open to the market, like you do with free agent signings. Let the Pirates exploit the draft and international market. To do both is like saying you want government to keep its hands off everyone’s income….except when you have tough times and need a handout.

      • pilbobuggins

        That’s parity,parody is what you do to mimic someone.

        • Ron Loreski

          Thanks.

        • pilbobuggins

          Your welcome. I only hope you correct me when I make a mistake,it’s how we learn.

          • S Brooks

            That’s “you’re welcome” not “your welcome.” Happy to oblige.

            • Ron Loreski

              AHHH! Beat me to it!

  • unfurious

    You know, I believe that this is the first time in years that I’ve seen anything from anyone making the case for a salary cap. I’m sure there are other articles and comments out there but, really, the peasants should be at the MLB gates with torches and pitchforks demanding a salary cap. I think that the small market fan focus has shifted to the draft and minor league development because it’s really the only way to enjoy the game. We grasp onto hope that our team can beat the system and we celebrate moderate success in the game, but that will never fix the game.

    • pilbobuggins

      Well said and I like the clockwork orange picture paired with your name,quite ironic.

      • unfurious

        Thanks. You may be the first person to ever point out the connection. Gold star.

        • pilbobuggins

          I live for irony and innuendo,yours is top notch.

          • unfurious

            Correct me if I’m wrong but pilbobuggins screams rave to me. :)

            • pilbobuggins

              No just ” my precious” little bit of fun.

              • unfurious

                lol. Cool. It would make a killer DJ handle. Not my scene; just saying.

  • Scott Kliesen

    Tim, you make some well reasoned and valid points. However, I would counter your argument by saying large market teams have options available to them small market teams do not, but those options don’t guarantee success.

    Of all the major sports, baseball most closely resembles society. If you didn’t win the gene pool lottery, does it mean you can’t overcome your circumstances and succeed in life? Of course not. And conversely, if you’re born into a wealthy family with loving and caring parents, do you automatically have your ticket punched to success? No again.

    The bottom line in baseball management, as in life, those who set goals, develop action steps to achieve those goals, adapt the plan as circumstances warrant, out work the competition, and take calculated risks are the one’s who will be winners.

    I’m no fan of Bud Selig, but I’m not a fan of socialization either. MLB is best served to keep out of the way of how teams choose to conduct business. I guarantee you the smartest, hardest working organizations with the best and brightest minds will rise to the top. Just as they do now and always have.

    • laamoe

      No fan of Bud but….
      those of you holding up the NFL salary cap…it is real easy to get under a cap when you cut someone, you don’t have to pay them. No guarenteed contracts in the NFL. That will never happen in baseball. Plus, I don’t know that I agree that baseball needs a salary cap…
      What baseball does need is more revenue sharing. The thing that I can’t understand is why the players union doesn’t push more for this. If the small market teams have more money…it will get spent on the players. Maybe not the Kershaws and ARods but certainly on the Martins and Walkers…the middle tier of players. I just don’t understand why the players do push more to fix their own union….the owners will change when the players force them…JMO

      • tedolds

        But that still means that only a handful of teams can sign your Kershaws. And that’s fine by you? The top tier of superstars aren’t restricted to certain teams in any other league. Just baseball.

    • tedolds

      And much like society, the rules are constructed in a way to help those already at the top and hurt those at the bottom.

      “MLB is best served to keep out of the way of how teams choose to conduct business.”

      I agree with this to a point. But I object to the MLB making rules to restrict how some teams conduct business (the pirates spending WAY over slot on the draft) without restricting how other teams conduct theirs (big market teams throwing around $200 million+ contracts).

      It is empirically unfair to restrict one method of doing business and not the other.

    • wkkortas

      Let’s see if you say that in five years when the full effects of the changes to the draft and international signings set in.

  • leadoff

    The article was right on, too bad those two guys sitting in the booth with Buddy did not have the intestinal fortitude to ask him a couple of simple questions, they could have picked any of the points about the disparity you posted Tim, I would love to see him answer one of those, but instead it looked more like dad was retiring and we should have a party for him. Something you forgot to add to your list was the way all that Union peace and harmony has contributed to ruining baseball.
    Baseball back before the 60′s was cruising right along with no way near the problems it has now.

  • pilbobuggins

    The reason all major sports need salary caps ( and floors preferably ) is simple. Without a cap eventually they will price themselves out of business. Baseball teams play 81 home games,anybody notice the increase in price in tickets that is concurrent with the increase in salary? How about a jersey,a beer,some popcorn? Yes I realize what inflation is and how all prices go up,however those things I mentioned should be cheaper at a baseball game not as much as any other sport for no other reason than the larger amount of home games baseball plays compared to other sports. Does baseball cost less to watch than other sports? Yes if you only go to one game, if you prorate the cost over an entire season you are paying considerably more for baseball than any other sport. Why? Because in part they don’t have a salary cap. Without a cap the inevitable demise of baseball is only a matter of time.

    • leadoff

      IMO, your right about the possibility of teams pricing themselves out of business, but I don’t think the fans and what they pay has much to do with it, they could survive with half the attendance they get. I think they are pricing themselves out of business because of what they are spending on players and eating contracts that are ridiculous. Can you see the Pirates eating contracts for 3 players for the next 3 years that make 20mil a year, something like the Yankees are going to do. Think about how much the Yankees payed A-Rod in the last 5 years and got almost nothing, could the Pirates stay in business with that kind of management?

      • pilbobuggins

        Your right about that, all of these things combine to make one big price tag whichever way you slice it.

    • wkkortas

      A cap and floor is not, by itself, enough–what would a salary cap be? $200 million? With the current financial landscape of MLB, there’s no way the Pirates, Rays, Royals et al could spend anywhere near the cap. Without radical changes to the game’s revenue sharing, a cap and floor, while necessary and a good start, will not ensure that small markets can remain competitive.

    • Scott Kliesen

      Then please explain to me how baseball has not only survived, but thrived for longer than any other professional sports league without either a salary cap or floor?

      Abraham Lincoln is noted as saying, “You can not lift up the poor by destroying the rich.” I would contend all MLB organizations will be better off if the higher revenue teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, et al are allowed to generate revenues and spend however they want on salaries.

      Just because they have the option to purchase a high priced player doesn’t mean said player will perform up to expectations. The list of failed FA signings by these organizations is long and illustrious. And furthermore, spending on player wages doesn’t guarantee team results. As proof I submit in the last 25 years this year’s highest payroll team, the Dodgers, have zero titles, while one of the lowest, the Marlins, have won two.

      The data has spoken and it plainly says money is no substitute for intelligence and hard work.

      • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams
        • Scott Kliesen

          Whether or nor Snopes is correct, Tim, doesn’t change the fact the statement is true.

        • smurph

          Louis XIV?

        • smurph

          Marie Antoinette?

  • lonleylibertarian

    Great article – and I agree on almost all of it – but I thought you might go a bit further….

    i think we have a game that is not very good right now in some basic ways.
    We have gotten PEDs under control [they will NEVER be eliminated] but we
    are left with a much more boring game. Yes once in a while we see a game
    like last night – but that was driven almost as much by the crappy Pirate
    defense keeping the Dodgers in the game – aided by some really bad umpiring.

    But we now have some mediocre pitchers [some in Black and Gold] able to
    make a lot of Money [EV] who should not be pitching at the major league level.

    BA is down – below .250 [.248] for the first time in this millennium…
    The number of HRs was below one a game last year and is on trend to be even lower this year
    OPS is down from .782 in 2000 to .706

    Olney and others have written about this – and I frankly think the game is not well served by these changes.

    Which all happened on Selig’s watch….

    • tedolds

      Sooooo….. you’re saying bring back the ‘roids?

      • lonleylibertarian

        Sometimes I just shake my head at this kind of response – guess it is more important to be wise assed troll than engage in a reasoned discussion…

        I am not saying bring back ‘roids – but part of what Sellig’s job as “steward of the game” is making the game fair and entertaining for the fans.

        The last time the offenses were this inept pitching mounds were lowered and the strike zone tweaked.

        This is not a one year phenom – an almost .100 point drop in OPS over 14 years is a TREND.

        Looking at park design and other factors could be in play…

        But it also ties to Tim’s point on the Pirates finding a way to compete…

        One of the basic principles of Billy Ball was to identify what others are OVER paying for and stay away from it…
        The Bucs have found ways to add pitching at very little cost – Wandy being an exception – Melancon being the
        Poster Boy for the Pirate approach.

        So even without a salary cap, if teams with too much money allocate their budgets poorly – and no team
        has done this “better” than the Yanks – Sabathia and A-Rod were “bought” – but are now sunk costs that will/does
        create opportunities for teams like the Pirates.

        • tedolds

          Was I being a wise-assed troll? Is it being a wise-ass troll to infer from your reminiscence of the glory days of the late nineties and early aughts that you liked the game better then and would like to go back to what caused it?

          And I’m not surprised there’s been an .100 point drop in OPS of the past 14 years and yes it is a trend. But it’s a trend of the statistics moving closer to historical norms after a decade of PED-driven statistic inflation. How does the OPS now compare to the OPS in the mid 80s? What about the 60s?

          And it the idea that the sunk costs of huge Yankee contracts will create opportunities for the Pirates is predicated on the idea that these sunk costs restrict the Yankees ability to spend an equally absurd amount of money in the future. Which it doesn’t. They still have the ability to chase after huge money free agents and give prospects away for short term needs without sacrificing their future.

          • tedolds

            Answering my own question: http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/bat.shtml

            OPS league wide is returning to it’s historical norm. I have no love for Bud, but it’s not Bud’s fault that OPS is going down. It’s PEDs that drove it up in the first place.

          • lonleylibertarian

            I liked the game better when there was more scoring – that it was what I thought was a better balance between pitcher and hitter. I appreciate good pitching – and got to see a couple of great Koufax starts against the Pirates at Forbes field – and Gibson once and Carlton twice – they could dominate – but today we see pretty average pitchers not only go out and pitch effectively – but get highly paid for it.

            As Andrew notes there are lots of moving parts – fast ball velocities are up – the strike zone is more pitcher friendly. All true. My only point is that this is not something that happened over night. Sellig could have – and should have spent some of the time and energy he spent witch hunting on Steroids making sure the game was better balanced.

            It does not take ‘roids to balance the game – that is either a silly or stupid argument.
            Some steps I would look into…
            1. Shrink the strike zone – make pitchers come up in the zone and over the plate more. [and I would couple this with an electronic strike zone - it is silly that we have humans trying to call strikes when the tech exists to map balls and strikes with 100% accuracy.]

            2. Bring in the fences – Mercer crushed a ball to deep left center last night – it should have been a HR.

            3. Lower the mounds another 6″ – make it harder for pitchers to leverage the mound…

            4. Take a look at the baseball – there is probably a way to make it denser – and have it go farther…

            5. If all of that doesn’t work – reduce the number of balls for a walk to three – it used to be five – that would move the game along and force pitchers to throw more strikes – and reward pitchers with both command and velocity – not just velocity.

            • JoseGuillensArm

              Beer league softball produces a lot of runs, maybe you should quit this whole MLB thing and check that out.

              • lonleylibertarian

                Nope – I think I will just start trolling and stop trying to add a reasonable comment…

                It is wasted on this group…

            • JoseGuillensArm

              Seriously, making the ball denser? There are a lot of things Bud could have worked on for competitive balance during his tenure but this list is ridiculous. If the game is that boring for you then why watch?

              • lonleylibertarian

                Go troll elsewhere…
                Nothing I proposed is either difficult or unreasonable..
                I like the game – but I just think it was/is better with more offense
                And the mounds have been lowered before – the ball is made differently today than it was 30 years ago.
                If you prefer this kind of baseball – fine – that is your OPINION and you are entitled to it
                I am alos entitled to mine..

    • Andrew

      Offense is down because strikeouts are at there highest level ever. There are several reason for this, average velocity is now higher but other side of the coin is that throwing harder increases the risk of injury. Another large factor is the strike zone has increased in size and called strikes have steadily ticked upward. Any issue with the offensive level should start with the strike zone.

      • tedolds

        I would also argue that hitters are less disciplined than they used to be. I don’t think Tony Gwynn would strike out much more today than he did in his career.

        • Andrew

          I’m not sure hitters are really any less disciplined, I think it is a trade off. In the 1970s and 80s when strikeouts were lower league average BABIP was .285 not .300, (below .280 prior to 1969) so they made more contact but were less successful with that contact.

          More recently hitters aren’t really swinging more it is that the strike zone has changed.

          http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-myth-of-the-passive-hitter/

      • Andrew

        Should read their highest level ever.

  • John

    Selig’s interview and the obligatory softball questions thrown at him reminded me of certain “news organizations” interviewing certain “experts” on recent deadly world affairs who were directly involved in the reasons behind these recent deadly events. The rabbit hole seems to be getting really crowded. The commissioners of professional sports are chosen by the owners so whose interest will they have at heart. Not the players and not the fans. And if you believe the home plate collision rule or the concussion rules are truly to protect the players, sorry it is about protecting investments.

    • pilbobuggins

      Well said, although I think the rabbits are getting pushed out of the hole as per the first part of your comment. ( about time if you ask me)

  • leadoff

    The Pirates rising up is a good thing for the fans and a bad thing for
    the fans because it gives guys like Selig the opportunity to say there
    is equality, if the Pirates sink to the bottom, he can say what a large
    amount of fans will say and that is that it is Pirate management’s fault
    starting with Nutting, so either way MLB wins, the Pirates lose. I know
    it is a defeatist attitude, but it is the way I see it, Tim is right
    for every loophole the Pirates find, MLB will close that hole and holes
    will become fewer and fewer.

  • Ron Zorn

    Tim, for years I have agreed with you on this topic, but I am starting to second guess “our” logic. The uneven financial landscape within baseball simply allows the big market folks to sign aging stars to really stupid contracts. Some contracts that teams can’t even give away now, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Alex Rodrguez, Mark Texiera, Joe Mauer, Alfonso Soriano, Tim Lincecum, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Adam Dunn, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Matt Holliday, Jake Peavy, John Lackey, on and on and on.
    Maybe having all that extra money only allows teams to do stupid things with it!

  • S Brooks

    Implementing a salary cap and floor in a sport that features guaranteed contracts is asking for trouble. The NBA has this, and it’s an absolute mess – an entire system of workarounds had to be invented just to keep it from killing the game (Bird exception, mid-level exceptions, bi-annual exceptions, minimum exceptions, amnesty, trade exceptions…) and the result is that teams STILL have to let go of core players they would prefer to keep (see James Harden). I want no part of that.

    I also want no part of the salary floor. In the NFL and NBA the floor is 90% of the cap, so you’re looking at a spread of maybe $90-$100M for payroll. That does two things: 1) kicks baseball out of Florida (ok no great loss, Charlotte and Nashville are growing cities that could support baseball); and 2) requires low revenue teams with a cheap, young core to spend money on expensive veterans they don’t need.

    The truth is, the vast majority of production on a team comes from cost-controlled players. The 0-3 salary is barely inching up, and with the new TV money teams are able to lock up their stars to team-friendly contracts (McCutchen, Morton, Marte, trying with Polanco). The cost to keep a productive core in its 20′s is reasonable, certainly affordable for lower revenue teams (well, except maybe the Rays).

    If MLB eliminates the restrictions on those sources of talent (amateur draft, July 2 draft), allow draft picks to be traded, stop compensating teams for losing 2nd time free agents (since these are generally the wealthier teams that could afford the 1st time free agent in the first place) and continue with revenue sharing and the luxury tax, 90% of the inequity is resolved. I still think that smart management will trump dumb management with money most of the time.

  • jalcorn427

    It has nothing to do with fairness, it has to do with revenue. MLB set a record $8+ billion in revenue in 2013 and hasn’t had a labor stoppage in years. The owners are as happy as can be, why would they make changes?

  • rip55

    the powers that be could care less about small market teams. what drives sports is tv revenue. think any body would be interested in a tampa or kc vs pitt or millwaukee ws? the large markets draw national viewers. small market teams are the baked potato to the steak dinner. yes everyone loves the underdog story but the current way of doing business is slanted for the yankees, red sox, dodgers to be in the ws every year.

  • smurph

    Listening to Selig talk is extremely painful. I’m sure he probably somehow believes all the garbage he spews out, in the same dysfunctional way politicians allow themselves to believe all the garbage they spew out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ryan.gazze Ryan Gazze

    Love the site Tim, I read it nearly every day. I think this particular article misses on a couple of points:

    1) “Winning” in any environment requires putting your available resources to the highest value use. This is not exploiting a loophole. Even the Yankees, with more resources, need to find under-valued talent to win because the free agency route is so competitive (they still must spend wiser than the Angels, Dodgers, Phillies etc.). The best General Managers can constantly adjust strategy to a changing landscape and understand that strategies that what won 10 years ago might not win today. I think Billy Beane recognizes that the value on prospects has now become so much higher than the past that it is better to go the trade/free agency route than hoarding prospects. I think the Pirates should follow a similar path.

    2) I think MLB is unfair, but certainly not to the Pirates. The Pirates were a dumpster fire for 20 years and managed to hang around and even received advantages for being a failing franchise (i.e. low draft picks, revenue sharing, political help to build a stadium etc). None of that help was “fair” to successful teams that were propping the Pirates up all those years MLB has been more than fair to the Pirates. The fairness argument to me really boils down to whether or not you believe that the spending discrepancies between franchises was earned. I think teams like the Yankees have earned the right to spend more than the Pirates through 100 years of success in building a franchise. I think teams like the Mets haven’t earned it and are benefiting from MLB market restrictions. My solution would not be to add more rules like a salary cap that would punish successful teams but to remove the market restrictions that are the root of the problem. Let Oakland move to San Jose and let another team move to NYC if that market is still better than Tampa Bay or Kansas City.

  • Paul Krzywicki

    The uncompetitive nature of MLB is only going to get worse in the coming years as the big market teams begin to cash those large cable deals. Small market teams will never be able to compete with those deals. Selig and others of his ilk are blind, naive or downright complicit if they think true competitive balance can be accomplished without some sort of cap. I am not sure how this is accomplished, but a good place to start is the international market. Then move to more revenue sharing across the league that also includes a floor so teams like the Marlins are not simply pocketing the extra dough.