...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, May 16, 2008

What's my motivation?

Is money really the great motivator? I asked some people at work, "Once you received a raise, did that motivate you to work harder, just as hard, or less?". Four out of five said, "What the f%$& is a raise?" The fifth person said "A%&hole". So maybe that study didn't work out as well as I'd hoped.

How about when it comes to sports? Do you think baseball players are motivated by new contracts? There has been much discussion about the increased productivity that baseball players have in their 'contract year'. (The 'contract year' being the final year on their current contract. If they perform well, then they are rewarded with a larger contract once the season has finished.) The crew at Baseball Prospectus and ESPN have dug into this subject well.

But what happens once the player signs his lucrative contract? What happens to his performance then? I've decided to take a look at what has happened this year to all of the MLB players who had signed, re-signed, or extended their contracts before the season began (with their new money beginning this year). I'm going to narrow the study down to those lucky 22 batters and 23 pitchers whose new contracts average over $7M a year.

Below are two tables (in picture format because the HTML kept screwing with my spacing). One for the batters, one for the pitchers. It'll work best if you right click and open them as a new windows or tabs.

For all players, I've listed their final 2007 stats and their projected (using stats from 5/15) final 2008 numbers. Batters show home runs, runs batted in, and production (OPS, or on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), plus various miscellaneous stats. Pitchers show earned run average and walks+hits per inning, plus the "misc" column. If the numbers go up for the hitters, it's a good thing. If the numbers go up for the pitchers it's a bad thing.

Oh yes, and you'll notice they're color coded too.



You may notice a lot of red and a tiny bit of blue.

Red = Large decline in production or serious injury (20 or more days) during season.
Pink = Small, but noticeable decline in production.
Gray = Generally equal to previous year.
Light Blue = Small, but noticeable increase in production.
Blue = Large increase in production

So let's run the numbers.

Pitchers: 2 had a large increase, 1 had a small increase, 6 remained similar, 3 had a small decline, while 11 had a large decline. 48% large decrease, 61% noticeable or worse decrease.

Batters: 0 had a large increase in production, 3 had a small increase, 2 remained similar, 3 had a small decline, 14 had a large decrease. 64% experienced a large decrease, 77% experienced at least a noticeable decrease.

(Now some may question the logic behind all of those reds in the pitchers section, since many of them are for injuries. Here's my answer, if you pay someone $8M and he can't even show up to the game, that is a decline in production.)

It looks like pitchers are a less horrible investment. Let's look at those batters results again. Technically no one has excelled beyond their contract year and less than one out of four have been able to reproduce it. But almost two-thirds of them have experienced a massive falloff. Even including the pitchers, 56% of the players receiving massive new contracts have experienced immense decreases in their production. Only 31% have even been able to reproduce what they were signed up to do.

So why is this? Four factors come to mind.

1. Money (or Losing the Love or Collapsing Under Expectations?)
I'm of two minds here, and it really doesn't feel like the cliche. Observe.

I am all for more equal distribution of wealth, but something seems to happen to public figures when they get their big payday. I used to call it "selling out" back in my school days, but it's not as simple as that. Musicians, artists, and writers often go through a large change, not necessarily when they make their breakthrough, but when the big payments start coming in. I'm not being romantic when I say that struggling through poverty is its own inspiration. What many musicians/groups write after their succe$$ is irrelevant and/or passionless.

What does Bono have to say (that he doesn't already say in public) musically once he's worth over $100 million dollars? What does Chris Martin have to say about love now that he's married to Gwen P? What new thing do the Rolling Stones have to say about anything? The heart of rock and roll stops beating when you can comfortably obtain anything you desire. At least back in the 60s and 70s a lot of popular musicians hit rock bottom with carloads of drugs which then inspired them to at least spew out something weird.

And don't get me started on filmmakers. That's a separate all-day rant. The best films have come when their directors are at an emotional crossroads (Fellini, Scorsese, Coppola, Kurosawa). I'll have to remember to post about that sometime too.

But that's the communist in me. And he wonders, what happens to those players who have put up career years at the exact time that is most beneficial for their banking account once they've gotten paid for it? Is the passion still there?

And then there is Hank Steinbrenner. A complete blowhard buffoon. He embarrasses himself every time he berates his team and the mythical press eats it up. But recently his rant about the Yanks not playing like they're actually earning their money got me thinking...

I've been a manager of an office team. And if you, reader, have too, think about where he's coming from. If you give one of your employees a 10-20% raise due to great performance and then his work performance drops precipitously, what would you think? What if you TRIPLED her salary and her performance crapped out? And what if that was your money you were giving away? How would you respond?

Some folks, like many MLB owners and GMs would bring down some pressure. Or, optimistically, I believe that some of the young players would put pressure on themselves to earn that great money. Like maybe, Robinson Cano? But that still doesn't explain Andrew Jones. Or Eric Gagne. Or Gary Sheffield. Or Eric Byrnes. Or Tom Glavine. Or Dontrelle Willis. There goes the optimist...

2. HGH/Steroids (or Wow, there are a lot of 800-lb. gorillas in the room.)
Okay, let us just get it out there. There are a lot of names on those above lists that were either on the Mitchell Report or rumored (during this offseason) to have been on some sort of chemical support. And it's likely that those names we've heard are barely the tip of the roidberg.

Let's take the contract-year scenario. You're a young player who is convinced that you're not earning a competitive salary. Your contract is ending and you could get signed up to a new one when the season is over. It's time to perform your best. The season is long and you're feeling achy and rundown in August already and you're only 26. And maybe this is your one chance to get to a better team and get what should be coming to you. The guys around you are taking things, including a bunch of future Hall of Famers. And no one even knows how to test for this stuff yet...

There's the temptation.

A similar situation arises with the veteran player. You not only want to stick around longer, but benefit from the buyers' market that you agent keeps telling you about. And your body's having a difficult time even making it to the All-Star break.

And now that you've gotten your new contract and due to all of the movement towards new testing...Maybe it's time to get off the juice. Funny things seem to happen when you withdraw muscle building chemicals from your body. Injuries. Decreased stamina. Less strength. Erectile dysfunction.

3. Complete coincidenceIf you take a close look at individual circumstances you might be able to find separate situations that are causing each problem, thus rendering this possibly overreaching theory meaningless.
Some of these gents may be switching leagues, from American to National or the other way around. This means they face all new pitchers, new strategy, and lineup structure. Sounds good right? It happens sometimes. So, out of how the 22 batters, how many switched leagues? 1. Out of 23 pitchers? 4.
Switching teams. This means new teammates, new managers, and a new system. It takes time to adapt. That's always factored into reasonable expectations. Out of 21 batters (having subtracted Cabrera who'd switched leagues), that's an entirety of 5. And out of the 19 remaining pitchers, that makes 4. We're still left with 73% of the batters and 65% of the pitchers were resigned by their same team. With the same manager.
But they're getting older! One year older. But that's a good point, Imaginary Reader. And we'll look at that with #4.
4. An idiotic bunch of signingsOK. This is the core of it to me. Many of these signings were downright bizarre. Not necessarily the fact that these guys were picked up, but the amount of money offered.
Let start with what we can politely term the super veterans.
Tigers - Todd Jones was never particularly reliable, even when he was reliable. He has no power, he's been losing his control over the previous several years, and he's stopped keeping the ball on the ground. Gary Sheffield has been injured non-stop for the previous three years. His shoulder's been held together by an act of will as he whips through the most violent swing in the majors. And, oh yeah, they expect him to play in the field too. Kenny Rogers. Kenny Rogers? Most folks expected him to have retired this season. He's an old 43. The three of these guys combined are getting 29M a year.
Braves - Glavine and Smoltz. Both injured. Who's surprised? Glavine fell apart last year so the signing seemed to be romantic good will to return him home. Smoltz has been pitching on borrowed time for the last two years. Must be why they signed him for only one year. But for 14M?!
Sox - Did anyone expect Curt Schilling to play this year? He luckily escaped a potential suit from the team when he showed up injured right after signing that contract. That's a free 8M that he gets for the bloody sock.
Now I'm just going to go through the rest randomly --
If I say "Jake Westbrook" and you say "Who?", I say "Exactly". It might sound mean, but this is important. One of the aspects (as the A-Rod contract drama taught us) behind paying a guy big paper is that he'll bring asses into the seats. He'll sell t-shirts to men and women. Bibs for babies. So, I say, "Jake Westbrook"?
Andruw Jones -- Wow. This one is no fun to watch. Maybe if he'd signed with Boston it would have been a little amusing. The guy wasn't one of the top 50 outfielders last year and wasn't in the top 20 the year before. Why in the world would you pay him more than all but 10 players in the league? He's not getting any younger or leaner. Admittedly, no one thought it would get this bad.
Eric Gagne -- See "Andruw Jones".
Dontrelle Wills -- The Marlins are starting to look like the smart ones as they sit in first place.
Eric Byrnes -- I suppose one All-Star year gets you 10M. And with six you get eggroll.
Jose Guillen -- I don't even know what to say about that one. He's being paid 10 times what he's worth. Maybe one day, he'll beat up that one Royal fan and they'll have to move the team to Vegas. That would be worth some money to somebody.
Posada and A-Rod -- Yankees got swindled on both, but there's arguably no better option around. But that's still more money being spent on them than the entire payroll for 4 different teams.

So there's a catch to this whole long post, which will completely negate most of what you've just sat through. Two catches actually.
One, a visual trick. The shade of red used is the most vibrant color and stands out more than any of the other colors. The way it bleeds together makes tables look more negative than they actually are. Except for Andruw Jones.
Two, a small sample size. They're a quarter of the way through the season. Some of these guys will pick it up over the rest of the season. Except for Andruw Jones. And I'll need to come back to this same group at the end of the season. Ichiro will hit over .300. Ryan Howard will go yard 40 times. A-Rod might even do both. Smoltz will be converted back to a great closer again.

It's difficult to say how I actually feel about all of this and about baseball in general right now. The big money and the numbing PE Drug issue push me away. The NBA's beginning to look interesting now. Heck, maybe I'll follow the NHL next year just to spite MLB. Actually, that's pretty sick. Forget that one.

I'll check back in with you about this at the end of the year. Maybe, I'll have to eat my words with a side of crow. And I'll regret all the things I've said about all of these guys. Except Andrew Jones.