Arthur: Teams now pay for who players are, not what they did

From SABR member Rob Arthur at Baseball Prospectus on January 10, 2020:

In the puzzling maelstrom of free agency, it can be hard to gauge what teams see as valuable in a player. When Zack Wheeler signed for $118 million earlier this offseason, for example, some pundits greeted the move with scorn because of his limited innings totals and close to league average ERA. Wheeler’s contract blew past the crowd’s best estimate for what he would receive and some expert guesses as well. What did Philadelphia see in him that caused them to offer so much?

In an age where a few teams are light-years ahead of the public consensus, it’s tempting to throw our hands up and give the Phillies the benefit of the doubt. But we can do better. Last week, I showed off a method to measure how the league values free agents. By tracing the contract values awarded to each player to their performance characteristics, I showed that teams started paying more for catcher framing just a couple of years after it was discovered. 

This week, I want to take a look at the players like Wheeler with a mismatch between some measures of their production and the high dollar totals they eventually receive. It turns out that in many cases the gap may come down to the way teams are prioritizing the intrinsic characteristics of hitters and pitchers more than gaudy rate stats or inflated home run counts.

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Originally published: January 10, 2020. Last Updated: January 10, 2020.