clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Hok Talk: Baseball moves faster than we think

Perceptions of players change at a glacial pace compared to their actual production.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Baltimore Orioles
Remember when Albert Pujols was a superstar?
Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

Albert Pujols used to be a superstar. Maybe the best hitter in baseball for a period of time. You’d be forgiven for not realizing that if you only started watching in the last few years, though. Albert hasn’t put up superstar numbers since 2010. After 2011 the Cardinals chose not to bring him back, much to the disappointment of fans in St. Louis. The Angels signed him to a mega-deal that he’s still playing out for them.

But wait a second, you might be saying, I just said that Albert stopped putting up superstar numbers a full year before. How on earth did he get a mega-deal? Because perception of him hadn’t yet caught up with his true production. Now, don’t get me wrong, he was still a pretty good player in 2011. And if some team wanted to bet on him being pretty good for a few more years - maybe four or so - they could have done well with a contract for Albert. But the Angels didn’t realize he wasn’t a superstar anymore and they paid superstar prices and they’ve been kicking themselves ever since.

Teams have gotten much smarter about this. That’s part of what we’ve seen play out for the past handful of off-seasons where players we all still recognize as very good aren’t getting deals. I was amazed when I saw Adam Jones didn’t have any contract offers after his 2018 campaign because I still remembered him as being a very good center fielder. Unfortunately for him, he hadn’t been anything more than average since 2016. He was actually very nearly bad in 2018, primarily because he simply can’t defend center field anymore and can only hit about league average. Ten or more years ago he probably would have gotten paid well for his past production, though. Instead, this year he could manage only a 1-year/$3M deal. In case you were wondering, yes, he is performing significantly better for the Diamondbacks than Chris Owings has for the Royals on a similar contract.

So, yeah, teams used to spend their money stupidly on occasion without realizing a player wouldn’t live up to his reputation anymore. They aren’t wrong to not want to overpay these guys, now. But players also aren’t wrong when they say that the promised paydays have all vanished because the years when they’re good are still cost-controlled by the pay structure of MLB and without the puffed-up veteran salaries as, essentially, back pay for when they were producing they’re ending up underpaid overall.

Fans, unfortunately, haven’t quite caught up. I mentioned Adam Jones. I could also mention Aaron Hicks. He got a pretty good deal from the Yankees in the off-season. I still remember him as not very good in Minnesota but he’s been a comfortably above-average player for the Yankees since 2017. This also happens to fans on a smaller scale, as well. Here check out these two lines.

Player Comparison

Player Average BB% OPS wRC+
Player Average BB% OPS wRC+
Player A .257 12.5% .779 110
Player B .245 5.7% .731 93

These stats are for the last two weeks before Friday night’s action. One of these players has people declaring him an MVP candidate while the other has people declaring him a bust and demanding he be demoted. You’ve probably guessed, based on the premise of this article, that Player A is the one people want demoted. That’s Ryan O’Hearn. Player B is Hunter Dozier.

Now, sometimes there’s good reason for the slowness of people to adjust to numbers this quickly. This is only a two-week sample. It could easily turn out that this is the best two weeks O’Hearn has in 2019 and the worst two weeks Hunter Dozier has. You definitely don’t want to make any long-term decisions based on a sample like this just because it’s recent. But I’m also old enough to remember when Dozier was hitting the tar out of the ball at the start of the year and it just seemed to keep getting caught and people were ready to move on from him.

The comments and thoughts about both of these players recently disregard their most recent play. If people were looking at what Dozier was doing even the fans wearing the most blue-tinted glasses imaginable wouldn’t call him an MVP candidate. And while Ryan hasn’t been nearly as spectacular as he was last year, and nowhere near Hunter’s performance so far this year, he’s been pretty solid over the last couple weeks. More than good enough to keep receiving MLB playing time.

It’s kind of funny because people often describe sports as a, “What have you done for me lately?” endeavor. No one’s goodwill last’s forever. But we often seem to not be quite aware of just how good a player has been in the latest definition of lately. So I think I might caution you, whenever you’re preparing to praise or blast a baseball player on the internet maybe hop on over to Baseball Reference or FanGraphs real quick and make sure they’re still as good or bad as you think they are.