Rankings Cost Relievers Dollars

Just in case there was any question as to the merit of the perceived faults of the Elias Sports Bureau’s ranking system, a quick look through the remaining Type A and Type B free agents reveals one starter, four relievers and Felipe Lopez.

As the offseason winds down and pitchers and catchers get set to report to their respective camps as early as Valentine’s Day, time is running out for these free agents to sign with new organizations.  None of them face a more uphill battle to find a club than Grant Balfour.

As Buster Olney explains:

Grant Balfour has been an excellent reliever over the past three years, posting ERAs of 1.54, 2.98 and 2.28, respectively. Opponents had an on-base percentage of .215 against him with runners in scoring position in 2010, and he had a WHIP of 1.08 in 57 appearances. But his excellence has worked against him, because Balfour is classified as a Type A free agent — and therefore any team that signs him has to give up a top draft pick.

Now, there exists a possibility that Balfour’s agreement to refuse arbitration that would’ve guaranteed him a raise from the $2.05 million he made last season from the Tampa Bay Rays came with a caveat that the team would resign him if he couldn’t find employment elsewhere.  Barring that or a sign and trade scenario like we discussed yesterday, Balfour could very well go unsigned until after the June draft, at which time he’d be free to sign with any team unhinged to the compensation that would be required right now.

Two pitchers who would’ve faced a similar disinterest on the free agent market due to their Elias ranking were Frank Francisco and Jason Frasor.  Thankfully for the pocketbooks of both players, Francisco and Frasor accepted their arbitration offers and now head into the arbitration process armed with a flawed ranking system that claims they’re among the best players in baseball, rather than parading around the no man’s land that is free agency in mid January.

Without the ranking system in place, there’s no doubt in my mind that Balfour, Francisco and Frasor would have little trouble securing a multi-year deal on the free agent market.  Shackled to compensation though, the trio have all the employing appeal of million dollar janitors.

Francisco and Frasor were able to see this ahead of time, and while they won’t be rewarded with the multi-year deal that they probably deserve, they don’t have to sit and wait by their phones, facing the prospect of missing out on half a year’s salary like Balfour.

Sometimes salary arbitration in your hand really is better than a multi-year deal in the free agency bushes.

Comments (9)

  1. I like the fact that there is a compensation system in baseball free agency, but there has to be a better way of ranking these players. If I’m in the player’s union, I’d be fighting to change it on behalf of relievers who quite clearly get screwed compared to their counterparts at other positions.

    • I wonder if the thinking is that teams are more likely to offer arbitration to relievers in hopes of getting compensation. It’s up to the relievers to make the right decision. Free market! This would obviously be flawed considering how these three in particular would’ve likely gotten multi-year deals on a truly open market, if they were Type Bs.

  2. Maybe they should just remove relievers from the compensation rankings altogether. This would be a case of a blunt force remedy when more precision is needed, but the current system is deeply flawed.

    I do think the ranking system works pretty well for the other positions, and I think it adds to the suspense and excitement of the off-season, so, I would hate to see it scrapped completely.

    Hopefully they can come up with a re-vamped system that is fair, but also keeps the compensation round of the draft intact.

  3. I think that the Elias system ends up working well for other players too, but shouldn’t they actually be judging based on what actual clubs use to evaluate player performance? I’m surprised there aren’t more rankings to exploit.

    These are the numbers they currently look at:

    2B/3B/SS: PA, AVG, OBP, HR, RBI, Fielding percentage, Total chances at designated position
    C: PA, AVG, OBP, HR, RBI, Fielding percentage, Assists
    SP: Total games (total starts + 0.5 * total relief appearances), IP, Wins, W-L Percentage, ERA, Strikeouts
    RP: Total games (total relief appearances + 2 * total starts), IP (weighted slightly less than other categories), Wins + Saves, IP/H ratio, K/BB, ERA

  4. Maybe they could change it so pitchers with under a certain amount of starts cannot be Type-A players.

    By giving these relievers the choice between free agent purgatory and perpetual one-year deals is bad too. If a reliever has had a great season, but not so great that teams want to lose their first round pick to sign him, it’s more or less punishing that pitcher for being good at what he does.

    • But I still think Soriano will sign and Downs had little difficulty finding a suitor. I think some teams are willing to give up picks for quality relief help. I wouldn’t want a blanket rule that eliminates relievers altogether from A status, but something along the lines of WAR or further limiting the % of top relievers that qualify for A should be used.

  5. Nah, relievers should be able to qualify as type As if they’re good enough. But the formula currently isn’t balanced to reflect the fact that relievers aren’t as valuable as other players. It needs to be tweaked so that only 1 or 2 relievers have good enough stats to qualify. Of course, I don’t trust MLB to implement any sort of proper use of said stats.

  6. *1 or 2 relievers per off-season.

    Or, what Dustin said.

  7. @Xave: the only reliever worth Type A would be Rivera. Others simply don’t have enough impact on their team. It’s no coincidence he’s the only one even close to being worth what he’s paid.

    On compensation, the whole system, not just for relievers, is broken. Toronto and Tampa combined have about 20% of the first 72 picks, and that’s not even counting Boston, who’ve also been gaming the system. There seems to be a strong feeling that the whole thing’ll be scrapped with the next CBA, as it really doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to.

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