November 2, 2011
Player Rankings for Type A/B Calculations, 1982-1984
The free agency season is among us. Major League Baseball released the list of the 100+ free agents over the weekend and we've already seen some action, with C.C. Sabathia opting out of his contract with the Yankees only to re-sign with the Bombers less than twelve hours later. It's a crazy season.
It's also the season when everyone gets to discuss and argue about the less-than-useful Type A and Type B free agent rankings Major League Baseabll gives out each year. For those who follow MLB Trade Rumors, this week's release of free agent rankings wasn't all that surprising, as they have been running their own version of the calculations for years now. For the rest of the baseball-watching public, though, the free agent ranking process is about as clear as Bryce Harper's eye-black. It doesn't help that MLB makes it difficult - if not impossible - to find the formula anymore.
For at least three years, though, the formula was not only publicly available, but the full list of rankings for each player was as well. From 1982 through 1984 (the first three years of the rankings), the lists were published in the February issue of "Baseball Digest". The lists seem to have disappeared come 1985. It's hard to say if that was because "Baseball Digest" got tired of publishing them, or if there was some change on Major League Baseball's front that prevented the lists from going out. Either way, it doesn't change the fact that, for three years at least, we know exactly how the likes of Rickey Henderson, Robin Yount, Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose, and every other early-1980s player was ranked by the "Type A"/"Type B" free agency metric. And now, thanks to the power of Google, those lists are only one click away. The future is a pretty great place to live.
Before we get to some highlights from the lists, it's worth looking back at how the list was originally received. Remember, free agency compensation was brand new in 1982, a result of the 1981 strike. Writing in the February 1982 issue, Jerome Holtzman focused on the many criticisms of this report that "for the first time since Alexander Cartwright placed the bases 90 feet apart" offers "a guide to the supposed value of the players, broken down by positions."
The report has created considerable controversy. Many, if not most, scouts insist it is useless. "These ratings shouldn't be believed," said former major league manager Birdie Tebbetts, now a superscout with the New York Yankees. "The whole thing is upsetting to me. I don't want to talk about it."
Holtzman also quotes Harry Craft ("who has been in baseball as a player, coach, manager and scout for a half-century") as one who disagrees with the process. "'What this thing doesn't show,' Craft explained, 'is that [Art] Howe plays when he's hurt and he hits behind the runner. He's an outstanding team player.'" Better examples, such as Paul Molitor being ranked as the ninth best second-baseman, are also supplied, but Holtzman can't help but bring up one more intangibles argument:
That Pete Rose is ranked No. 9 among N.L. first basemen will forever be a mystery. Again, the statistics can't begin to reveal his enthusiasm, which is infectious and can fire up an entire team.
The 1983 and 1984 articles (written by Peter Gammons and Holtzman again, respectively) are shorter and more informational, giving quick descriptions of the ranking process and little else. They do go on to mention a few more of the algorithm's weaknesses, such as the complete ignoring of defensive value and the difficulty in ranking superstar rookies (like the 1983 versions of Darryl Strawberry and Ron Kittle). The final say about this new free agent ranking system comes from Elias:
"When we first started doing this study some of the people on our staff, myself included, had some reservations about the validity of the stats," conceded Seymour Siwoff, who heads the Elias News Bureau, the nation's leading sports statisticians.
Here are the top-ranked players at each position for the three years "Baseball Digest" published the rankings. Remember, each list looks at statistics for the prior two years. The 1982 rankings, for example, look only at stats from 1980-1981.
The listing for the 1983 rankings was formatted in a different way, so the third best outfielder is unknown. The double asterisk (**) means that player was the top-ranked player in the majors that year. The single asterisk (*) means he was the top-ranked player in his league. You can see the full listings (as published by "Baseball Digest") by clicking on the links below each table.