Brisbee: The rise of ‘cheap’ baseball

From SABR member Grant Brisbee at SB Nation on March 22, 2018:

In the first inning of Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, the Houston Astros scored two runs and crept closer to their first-ever championship. Five players came up to the plate in that inning, and the worst of those hitters made the final out. That player was paid $5 million more for his work in 2017 than the other four players combined.

It was the baseballiest danged thing imaginable.

To be fair, Yulieski Gurriel, a 33-year-old first baseman who joined the team in 2016 after years in the Cuban league, is the worst hitter in this example, and he’s a talented player. It’s only through the prism of the formidable 2017 Astros that he can be made to look like a weak link. Yet he was unquestionably the least valuable of the five hitters who came up to the plate that inning (George Springer, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman were the others). If the Astros had to drop one of those five from a particular game, it would be Gurriel. If they had to drop one of them for the rest of the year, it would be Gurriel. If they had to get rid of one of them permanently, it would be Gurriel.

But it wasn’t just that Gurriel was providing the least amount of production for the most money. The other four players gave their team a championship core at rebuilding prices. They helped the team win more, and they helped the team spend less, which helped the team win more when they decided to spend more. Yes, it’s complicated. But a team full of Gurriels — free agents paid what the market dictates — wouldn’t have allowed the Astros to afford Justin Verlander; a team full of Gurriels wouldn’t have led to an Astros championship.

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Originally published: March 23, 2018. Last Updated: March 23, 2018.