Contract Crowdsourcing 2020-21: Ballot 9 of 10

Free agency begins five days after the end of the World Series. As in other recent offseasons, FanGraphs is once again facilitating a contract-crowdsourcing project, the idea being to harness the wisdom of the crowd to better understand and project the 2020-21 free-agent market.

This year, we’ve added a few new features to the ballots based on reader feedback. You now have the option to indicate that a player will only receive a minor-league contract, or won’t receive one at all. We’ve elected to show averages from the 2017-2019 seasons so that this year’s shortened slate doesn’t skew the numbers, but we’ve also included 2020 stats as a point of recent reference. 2020 salary figures represent players’ pre-pandemic contract amounts. Statistics are prorated to full season where noted; the projected WAR figures are from the first cut of the 2021 Steamer600 projections.

Below are ballots for eight of this year’s free agents — in this case, yet another group of starting pitchers.





Meg is the managing editor of FanGraphs and the co-co-host of Effectively Wild. Prior to joining FanGraphs, her work appeared at Baseball Prospectus, Lookout Landing, and Just A Bit Outside.

newest oldest most voted
DEF
Member
Member
DEF

Are the projections for Fiers and Hill correct?

mikejunt
Member
Member
mikejunt

Decline usually comes very, very steeply in the 40s. Every year Rich Hill pitches and is effective from now on will be in defiance of probabilities – the most likely outcome for him in a given season will be a lot of missed time due to injury, ineffectiveness and retirement.

It takes true unicorns to have even moderate success in MLB at age 41. An enormous majority of comparable players just show up and don’t have it anymore and are done. The aging curve is not gradual at this point – guys go from viable major leaguers to out of the league virtually overnight at this age fairly frequently, and so it shouldn’t be a surprise if a projection system sees this as the median outcome. It is the most likely possibility.

DEF
Member
Member
DEF

Some decline, yes. But to go from around 2.7 WAR per 180 IP to sub-replacement level? I don’t buy that. Especially if you look at the 3 year ZIPs on his player page – he did just about as well in 2020 as was projected, and the 2021 ZIPs has him at 1.3 WAR in 76 IP. If the system they are using does actually predict Hill to be below replacement level next year, then the system they are using is broken.

mikejunt
Member
Member
mikejunt

Yeah, for most old guys, the drop to sub-replacement level abruptly and often with injury-abbreviation. Hill already is a guy who might be ‘3 war per 180’, but he never pitches that much: he rarely exceeds 120. The ‘-0.3 war per 180’ for Hill probably looks in practice like barely below replacement level for 30 innings or something.

Check out the ends of careers of guys who pitched into their 40s. They just show up for the following season and are unplayable. The aging curve is a cliff. Just to grab a few examples, check out the final seasons of Orel Hershiser, Bret Saberhagen or David Cone. That’s what the ending of most careers looks like; a decent league-averageish season followed by a guy showing up to spring training and clearly no longer being able to compete in MLB and being out of the league in 20-30 innings.

FWIW I didn’t even cherry-pick those names: I tried to think of 3 pitchers from the 80s who lasted into their 40s, and those were the first 3 names. They all fit the pattern. Feel free to come up with your own lists of guys who were good enough to be league average as they approached 40, and you’ll see almost all of their final seasons look like that. In projection systems based on comparables, a vast majority of the comparables look like that each season a pitcher pitches in his 40s, because the attrition rates are exceptionally high (ie roughly 90% of guys who pitch at 40 are done at 41, 90% of those who pitch at 41 are done at 42, and so on).

It doesnt look like that in the 30s, but in the 40s the end is abrupt. Guys who do retire without appearing often also would produce that line, because most of them just find that out in spring training. The number of pitchers who are good in their 40s and then retire while they’re still capable of being good in the following season is very, very low. Guys who hang on that long hang on until time says no, and time says no very rudely.

Being 40+ in MLB is no way to be.

DEF
Member
Member
DEF

ZIPs, a well-established projection system with a good track record, projected Hill to be much better than replacement level in 2021, fully aware of how old he will be. When the 2021 ZIPs are rolled out, Hill will project to be significantly better than replacement level. I’d be willing to bet that no major projection system will project Hill to be below replace,not level in 2021. The projection given in this article is wrong, and makes me question the projections listed for all of the players.