The BBWAA can’t agree on what makes an MVP, but the votes are now used for salaries

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There are multiple problems with the recent trend of the Baseball Writers Association of America being forced into a role where their award votes now factor into player contracts, but there’s one specific thing I want to focus on right now, given the particular news cycle we’re in. How is it right or fair to, for instance, let MVP voting determine the shape and size of Julio Rodríguez’s extension, when the BBWAA itself can’t agree on what makes a player MVP-worthy?

Rodríguez’s extension, recently signed with the Mariners during his rookie campaign, will pay out somewhere between $210 million and $470 million. And the value after the initial guarantee is entirely up to what happens with Most Valuable Player voting and Rodríguez before the option years kick in. As Ken Rosenthal explained at The Athletic:

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No one is buying Rob Manfred’s letter to Congress

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Toward the end of July, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred sent the Senate Judiciary Committee a 17-page letter explaining all the reasons why the anti-competitive antitrust exemption that gives Major League Baseball total control over minor-league players and their earnings is actually good for those players. The numbers he reported as evidence might have been accurate, in the sense that those numbers do exist, but the context within which he deployed them was purposely misleading, an obfuscation designed to hide the true nature of minor-league compensation.

It’s not just your friendly neighborhood Manfred Disbeliever who feels that way, either. Advocates for Minor Leaguers first issued a short statement that said:

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Of course Rob Manfred ‘rejects the premise’ of minor leaguers’ reality

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Some of you still hold out hope that a better commissioner for Major League Baseball is out there, that things would be different if only someone else were in charge besides the robotic, seemingly unfeeling Rob Manfred — a commissioner so actively disliked, so cold in his approach to the game, that multiple features have been published during his tenure where he has been given a chance to say, “no, no, I love baseball, I don’t hate it, go baseball, hooray.”

Rob Manfred is nearly a perfect commissioner, though, if you recognize what the job truly is: to serve as a buffer between the owners and the public. Profits are up, outside of the pandemic-shortened season no one had any control over. Selling a team still brings back a wildly profitable return. Minority investments in teams have also been opened up a bit, which helps further those franchise values, and while attendance is down, the league is squeezing out more money per customer, and they continue to find new places willing to give them money to broadcast baseball, like with the Peacock and Apple TV deals that began in 2022. Owners love the guy, because he’s helping to make them money.

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Taijuan Walker, Mark Canha, and vocal support of Pride

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Obviously, Major League Baseball’s clubhouses have a long way to go in terms of even catching up to the rest of the country, on a cultural level. Take the Pride Nights that occur in June across most of the league, for instance. They’re a fairly anodyne event, generally speaking — Pride is fairly corporate at this point, which is the kind of thing that only happens when you pass a certain level of general acceptance (i.e., there is money to be made from associating with it) — and while there are certainly forces in the United States attempting to roll back everything to a time when trans people didn’t feel comfortable identifying as such publicly, which is surely just the first stanza in a new poem that riffs on “First they came for…”, support for LGBTQIA+ people is light years ahead of where it used to be. Which, you know, is part of the reason there are certain forces in the United States attempting to roll back everything in the first place.

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1,000 minor leaguers send MLB petition demanding spring training back pay

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Recall the news of March, if you will: even though Senne v. MLB is not yet at trial, the judge presiding over the class action suit already awarded some damages to the side of the minor-league players. More importantly for our specific purposes here today, though, Judge Joseph Spero determined that, “the plaintiffs performed ‘work’ during spring training in Arizona and Florida, and that travel time on team buses to away games during spring training and in California during the regular season is compensable under law.”

Now let’s rewind to October of 2020, when I wrote for Baseball Prospectus about the importance of Senne v. MLB to not just the past players it was directly representing in court, but to the present and future ones of Minor League Baseball, too:

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It’s still weird that WAR and the BBWAA are involved in player compensation

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On Thursday, FanGraphs ran a piece explaining that they were making a significant change to how they calculated wins above replacement. There’s nothing wrong with doing so, of course — it’s good that FanGraphs is making a change to how they measure defensive value, especially since what they are changing has been a known issue for some time now amongst people who pay attention to such things. These kinds of changes are how we end up with better understanding of which players are the most valuable, the least valuable, and so on. WAR isn’t the be-all, end-all, even if some treat it as such, but it can still be useful for analysis, so prioritizing its accuracy is necessary.

It’s not a static figure, though: historical WAR changes when the inputs change. Which is why FanGraphs’ list includes a number of tables that do things like show that Nick Ahmed has actually been worth nearly seven more wins above replacement in the last five full seasons plus the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign than they were giving him credit for: from 2016 through 2021, Ahmed was rated as producing 4.8 WAR, but the change to the formula now has him at 11.6 over the same time period. Baseball-Reference, for what it’s worth, already had Ahmed at 11.5 WAR from 2016 through 2021, largely on the strength of his defensive output.

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If MLB’s owners wanted a deal, they have a funny way of showing it

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It should have been obvious that Major League Baseball and the Players Association were not close to a deal on Monday night. Still, though, fans can hardly be blamed for letting their optimism be abused by league sources and overly credulous media members; after all, they just wanted to watch some baseball when they expected to be able to watch some baseball, and belief that a deal was imminent helped to keep that particular dream alive.

The league leaned on their favorite reliable mouthpieces and also the likes of Bob Nightengale, who has, let’s say, something of a reputation for hurrying information out on Twitter without vetting it as much as it should be, in a way that isn’t necessarily reflected in his longer form published work, in order to inflate this sense that a deal was imminent — the idea, as was more plainly revealed the next afternoon, was that the league wanted to be able to act as if a deal was close until the players decided to instead face God and walk backwards into hell.

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Understanding 1994, the owners’ leverage, and a shift in media tone

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The benefit of assuming that there would be no deal by the time MLB’s self-imposed bargaining deadline passed is that, now that there is officially no deal and the first two series of the 2022 season have been canceled, there is less catching up to do around these parts than elsewhere. The downside to that level of preparedness is that “where to begin?” in a post-cancelation world is a much more open question: we’ve got much to think about.

Let’s start simple: by recapping a bit. On Monday, Baseball Prospectus ran a feature of mine titled “1994 Explains What ‘Labor Peace’ Never Could,” with the idea behind it being that the owners’ goals in 1994, and how those goals ended up playing out, are far more instructive to us in the present than the decades of “labor peace” are. You can’t think about what’s happening now in terms of how CBAs were negotiated in 2016, or 2011, or even in the aughts. The owners have a goal here, and it’s to crush the union. That, to them, is the goal. It’s the only “fair” outcome in their minds, and anything less is worth sacrificing season to avoid.

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‘Conversation’ and ‘engagement’ will not solve MLB’s labor dispute

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You would think that being one of the most successful baseball writers with one of the largest platforms going would mean that ESPN’s Buster Olney had any idea what he was talking about when it comes to labor issues, but you would be wrong. If that seems harsh, consider this tweet from Wednesday morning:

The most surprising/appalling element of baseball’s labor situation over the last 6-7 years is the stark diminishment of engagement and conversation. It costs nothing to talk.

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Rob Manfred said some unbelievable stuff hoping you’d believe it

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On Thursday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the media following the quarterly meeting of the league’s owners. There… well, he said a lot of Manfred things, but none more Manfred than his declaration that owning an MLB team is a worse form of investing than the stock market. I don’t want to tackle how that looks from a Business Point of View, because it’s the kind of lie the wealthy who own sports teams want to be told in order to let them continue to operate in this exclusive, money-printing club with little questioning of where their money comes from, but I do want to discuss why we should consider this a lie in the first place.

I’m not even talking about an in-depth look at whether the numbers provided by the investment banker hired by MLB to tell the league they’re all good boys and girls who have been mistreated by the wicked press and players ring true or not. Just like, look at MLB’s history when it comes to how they talk about money, and how they hide how good the owners actually have it, and extrapolate from there.

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