When I got back from last year’s SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix, I had a bunch of questions bouncing around in my brain. So I wrote 15 of them down in a piece for BP, as much to sort through them myself as to relay what I’d heard from the many presenters, panelists, and team employees who attended the three-day event. A year later, most of those questions are still stuck in my head. But the more I think about baseball, the more questions I collect, so those 15 have since been joined by many other mysteries.

The third annual SABR Analytics Conference wrapped up in Arizona on Saturday, and I’m back with a fresh batch of questions inspired by what I saw. (Because some presentations were scheduled opposite each other, I couldn’t attend them all, but I’ve at least seen the slides from the ones that I missed. You can listen to audio and/or view the PowerPoint from many of the panels and presentations at the SABR Analytics site.)

Are players healthier now than they used to be?
The less information available on a given subject, the easier it is to manipulate the data we do have into supporting a preconceived notion. If you like the idea of trying to preserve pitchers by limiting pitch counts and innings, you’ll point to the many promising careers that were ended by arm injuries decades ago, when pitchers were worked harder. If you miss the days when outings were longer and bullpens were smaller, you’ll point to every arm injury today (and there are plenty to point to) as proof that our efforts to protect pitchers have had the opposite effect.

The truth is, we don’t really know whether the evolution of pitcher usage has made pitchers more or less safe, because we don’t have a baseline injury rate to compare to today’s. Until 2010, MLB didn’t have any sophisticated injury tracking system; teams kept track of injuries on sheets of paper they kept in filing cabinets, and the thoroughness of those records varied depending on the doctor and training staff. As Dodgers trainer Stan Conte said on SABR’s “Medical Analysis and Injury Prevention” panel, pre-2010 teams couldn’t even tell whether they’d reduced their rate of hamstring strains from what it had been a few years before, let alone whether pitchers were suffering fewer serious injuries than they had in the 1970s. It doesn’t help that the terminology used to describe injuries has changed over time. As Conte discovered when he looked into the recent meteoric rise of oblique injuries in baseball, it’s not that players of the past never strained their obliques, it’s that the same injury used to be referred to as a “ribcage” problem.

BP’s Corey Dawkins has gone to great efforts to collect historical DL data for pitchers, but what we have isn’t comprehensive. Even if it were, it might be misleading, since injured pitchers of the past weren’t always placed on the disabled list—sometimes they just went home. And while we could compare innings totals or career lengths, it’s tough to account for the fact that the same number of innings might mean many more pitches today, or that those innings might be more stressful because of increased competition. (Conte disclosed that the Dodgers had done a study on “stressful innings,” looking for a connection between injury rates and high-pitch-count innings. That study didn’t turn up any correlation, but they’re redoing it right now with leverage index substituted for pitch count.)

I’m not saying there’s no way we can establish whether modern methods of protecting pitchers have helped, but building a narrative based on cherry-picked injuries from different eras doesn’t get us any closer to a conclusion. I say Score, you say Santana, let’s call the whole thing off.

What are the truths about Tommy John surgery?
The injury prevention panel spent a lot of time discussing Tommy John surgery—and this was before the bad news about Medlen, Parker, Corbin & Co. Conte noted that TJ rates have remained roughly constant at 18-20 per year (except for a spike in 2012). Historically, pitchers have lost more time to shoulder injuries than elbow injuries, but that relationship has reversed lately, probably because it’s become more common for doctors to advise rest and rehab to treat shoulder problems rather than recommending a risky surgery.

In a large-scale, long-term survey of pitchers who underwent ligament replacement surgery, Conte said, 85 percent got back to their pre-injury performance level. Most returned to play in 12 months, though their statistics (and their velo) didn’t completely recover for 18 months. Among major-league pitchers, though, only 74 percent returned, and it tended to take closer to 16 months.

Conte mentioned that roughly 40 percent of parents and coaches of amateur players think that it’s okay for a young pitcher to undergo Tommy John surgery before presenting any symptoms, believing that it will make him throw harder. However, that's mostly a myth. Some guys do throw harder after the surgery, but only because A) they were pitching hurt before the surgery, B) they had to take time off from throwing, which gave their body time to recover, or C) they got into better shape and/or cleaned up their mechanics during the rehab process.) Even for pitchers who return to the same performance level after the surgery, the first graft doesn't last forever. Sometimes it fails within a year or two (as it did for Daniel Hudson) if the surgery is sloppy, but even if everything goes well, it often fails in 8-9 years. Because pitchers have had TJ at earlier ages in recent years, we’re seeing more and more two-time TJ’ers, Medlen and Parker among them. The sample is still small enough that we can’t be sure of the recovery rate, but early signs are encouraging, though it tends to take two-timers longer to return.

How could bullpens become more flexible?
Moderator Jon Sciambi brought up the tyranny of rigid bullpen roles on the “Analytics from the Players’ View” panel with Brandon McCarthy and Brian Bannister. Whenever we internet types suggest that an effective reliever might be more valuable if used in crucial situations (whenever they happen to occur) rather than assigned to a specific inning, we’re told that players prefer predefined roles. The implication is that pitchers perform better if they know when their outing is likely to come and can prepare accordingly.

Both pitchers on the panel agreed that bullpens would benefit from more fluid roles, but they warned that the way things work now is too deeply ingrained for an open-minded manager to make a change on his own. According to McCarthy, a team that wanted to take advantage of an inefficiency in reliever usage would have to adjust its philosophy at every level of the organization. As it is, relievers are assigned to specific roles even at the lower levels of the minors, before it’s clear who has closer potential and whose ceiling is a setup role. If a team taught bullpen flexibility from the start, there would be no culture shock at the major-league level, except for players imported from more traditional organizations. And those players, at least, would know exactly what to expect.

So would it work? To hear McCarthy tell it, this is a clear case of “like it or lump it.” Players might not be pleased, but they’d adapt and move on. The reason why it might fly, he said, is that it wouldn’t present a clear threat to any current player’s career. To use McCarthy’s comparison, telling relievers that they might pitch at any time from the sixth to the ninth isn’t like telling Billy Hamilton that he has to stop stealing. No pitcher would be out of a job because a team decided to label its relievers less clearly. Given time to get used to the idea (and to see how well it worked), most players would accept leverage-based bullpen usage as the new normal.

Has the standardized strike zone made plate discipline more valuable?
We know that balls and strikes have been called both more accurately and more consistently since QuesTec and PITCHf/x gave us something to measure umpires against. (As Sam Miller observed in his review of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game, the difference between today’s strike zone and the zone of even 15 years ago is evident to the eye.) Players today can be confident that they won’t see strikes called way off the outside edge of the plate, and they can also expect one home-plate umpire’s strike zone to resemble the rest.

This is a good thing, from a fan perspective, but we rarely consider the possible implications for players, a subject that surfaced (briefly) during the injury prevention panel. For instance, does the standardization of the strike zone make plate discipline a more valuable skill? Now that the zone is less prone to fluctuations from one day to the next, maybe the ability to distinguish a ball from a strike is worth more to teams. (We could check to see whether they’re paying more for it, perhaps.) And maybe we can assess plate discipline skill more quickly, now that it’s less subject to umpire influence. Does plate discipline stabilize more quickly in 2014 than it did a decade ago? That, too, could be checked.

It’s also possible that hitters who excel at picking up on each umpire’s personal strike zone—and veterans who gain the same insight from experience—might be less valuable today, due to the decreased variation between umps.

Is team chemistry more important in baseball than in other sports?
The standard line is that chemistry is less important in baseball than it is in sports that require in-game coordination, on-the-fly play-running, and a good feel for one’s fellow players. Baseball is structured as a series of discrete, one-on-one matchups (for the most part), so it’s not vital for players to feel any fondness for each other or to communicate clearly on the game is going on. Players who find each other abhorrent off the field get along fine after first pitch: The batter doesn’t need someone to set a pick to give him a clear look at the pitcher, the first baseman doesn’t need to signal for an assist when the shortstop gloves a grounder, and so on.

Maybe we’re thinking about this the wrong way. In his talk about team chemistry on Friday, SABR President Vince Gennaro made the case that chemistry is more important in baseball because of the length of the season and the grind of 162 games (plus spring training and, perhaps, the playoffs). In Vince’s view, baseball players are more interdependent—if not during games, then during all the time between games. The players Vince interviewed told him that they see their teammates more than they see their families, so it makes sense that they’d benefit from a tighter-knit traveling support system.

Is team chemistry in baseball more important than it used to be?
On the podcast last March, Sam Miller and I discussed whether chemistry in baseball is less important than it used to be because players aren’t confined to close quarters to the extent that they once were. Clubhouses are a lot larger than they once were (outside of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, anyway), players take plane trips instead of train trips and have their own hotel rooms, etc. All of that translates to less time spent in confined spaces, and perhaps less importance placed on the ability to get along.

As Gennaro argued, though, good chemistry can create highly motivated players who work longer hours and prepare more thoroughly for their opponents. That might be a bigger deal than it once was. At one time, the difference between a driven player and one who was just playing for the paycheck might have meant the difference between getting a good night’s sleep and playing hung over. But as Gennaro put it, we’re living in an “age of empowerment” in which motivated players have more ways to separate themselves from the pack. By adhering strictly to a diet/nutrition or strength/flexibility program, or by studying PITCHf/x and HITf/x info and advance scouting reports, players who internalize an obligation to their organization and their teammates can get more out of their natural talent than was possible for players of earlier eras.

As Bannister said, “[Studying stats] was my steroids.” It’s in clubs’ best interest to encourage any performance-enhancing process that can’t result in a suspension, so we might start to see more teams trying to instill a thirst for knowledge during the development process. On the last day of the conference, Kyle Evans, the Cubs’ Director of Video and Advance Scouting, said that his organization—which recently dismissed its uniformed psychologist—is trying to produce players who always look for an edge and exploit all advantages in addition to their talent. That may not what we typically think of when we talk about chemistry, but it probably should be.

What’s the future of automated tracking technology?
At the Sloan conference earlier this month, we got our first glimpse of MLBAM’s new field-tracking technology. At SABR, we got a look at an alternative tracking tech from Sportvision, the company behind (the evidently abandoned) FIELDf/x. The presentation (which began with a reminder that yes, Sportvision is still a partner of MLBAM) showed off a system tentatively dubbed BIOf/x. This one isn’t intended to track everything that takes place on the field. It focuses specifically on the pitcher’s delivery and the batter’s swing (though it might eventually expand to include other players).

BIOf/x captures the position of the bat or selected body parts at a moment in time: for pitchers, the location of the plant foot, shoulder at release, elbow at release, and hand at release, and for batters, the hands at the point of contact (or the point at which the bat and ball are on the same plane, in the case of a swing-and-miss), the tip of the bat at point of contact (or the point at which the bat and ball are on the same plane, in the case of a swing-and-miss), and the location of the back and front foot.

Goldbeck wouldn’t say how exactly the data was captured (though presumably it’s through some application of Sportvision’s camera technology), or when the system would be finished. It’s still in the prototyping stage, with data only from the O.Co Coliseum last September and October AFL action in Mesa, and it can’t yet capture multiple points along the same plane, which would enable Sportvision to measure acceleration and mechanics from first movement to follow-through. The greatest limitation of Trackman and PITCHf/x is that they don’t tell us how a pitcher got to the point at which he released the ball. And the greatest limitation of the current methods of measuring mechanics is that they require the pitcher to wear cumbersome equipment and can’t be used in game, which means that they might not be capturing a completely natural motion. If it works, BIOf/x would address both issues.

The possibilities are enticing: the ability to measure stride length and extension, arm slot and arm and shoulder angles, the consistency of a pitcher’s landing spot, the length of his release time, a batter’s bat path and speed, and so on. One of the cooler applications is the ability to determine where the bat struck the ball—or if it didn’t, why it missed. Think about that: Right now, we know how often a hitter whiffs when he swings. But we don’t know whether he has timing issues or problems with seeing the ball. Does he tend to be early or late, or does he tend to swing under or over the ball (or both)? One of those causes might be more coachable/correctable than the other.

BIOf/x has its limitations, but it could complement MLBAM’s system, which can’t currently track a player’s extremities. Until one system can see it all, the two could work in concert to cover everything important that takes place on the field.

What’s the future of manual data collection?
On Friday, Baseball Info Solutions’ Ben Jedlovec gave a talk about “The Anatomy of the Stolen Base,” based on data BIS has begun to collect over the past few years: runner times to second, catcher pop times, and pitcher delivery times. (The company will track catcher throwing accuracy starting this season) With that information, BIS has developed a model that spits out an expected success rate for any runner-pitcher-catcher combination. Jedlovec didn’t present any data for left-handed pitchers, and the model, which uses average times for each player on stolen base attempts as inputs, may overestimate the expected success rate of a really fast runner, since the pitcher and catcher typically speed up their releases with a known threat to steal on base. Despite that limitation, the data looked like it would be useful to teams that haven’t hired interns to capture the same information internally.

But for how long? It was hard to watch that talk a few hours after getting another glimpse of a maturing motion-tracking technology and not wonder whether the painstaking process of pulling information from video is on the way out. There’s still a several-company cottage industry that sells manually collected data to teams, but which would you rather have: a video scout with a stopwatch embedded in his proprietary video-viewing software, or an automated camera- and/or radar-based system that promises near-perfect precision? Probably both, until it’s clear that the latter will work (which could take a while). But if MLBAM’s and Sportvision’s technology comes to fruition, it will be interesting to see whether the human alternatives find a new niche—analyzing the automated info?—or go the way of the Playograph.

Are front-office executives about to be rich?
A couple weeks ago, Lewie Pollis published an excerpt from his thesis at BP in which he laid out a case that the market for MLB front-office employees is not rational. As Lewie explained, the current front-office salary structure pays employees (from general managers on down) as if there’s little to no difference in true talent between them. What that excerpt lacked was any evidence about what the actual difference between them might be.

Pollis supplied some of that evidence at SABR by comparing team performance in completed trades and free-agent signings since 1996. By regressing that performance and attributing it to the general managers who made the moves, Pollis came up with an estimate of the standard deviation in GM ability (when it comes to trades and signings, specifically):

Combine those two figures, and one standard deviation comes to 7.6 wins—over $53 million, by Pollis’ calculation of what teams paid for free-agent wins last winter. By contrast, Theo Epstein (the highest-paid GM, according to Pollis’ presentation) makes $3.7 million per year.

Although that estimate gives the GM credit for any input from his subordinates, Pollis also included a breakdown of what those underlings might be worth if the SD in GM ability is accurate:

In other words, even an intern who’s worth 0.1 wins more than a replacement-level alternative might be worth seven figures.

The size of some of these numbers might strain credulity, but Pollis’ thesis—that teams would get more bang for their buck in the front office than they would in free agency—seems sound. The room in which Pollis presented was full of front-office employees who would be happy to be better paid. What we don’t know is whether any owners can be persuaded to see things the same way. If one could, the short-term advantage could be considerable.

Are front offices about to be bigger?
If Pollis is right, then not only should teams be paying more for front-office talent, they should be bringing in more of it, particularly while prices are low. At some point, of course, communication becomes an issue, but it doesn’t appear that front offices have expanded to the point that adding additional brainpower would lead to too many cooks in the kitchen, provided that the new hires were managed efficiently.

So what kind of front-office employee is about to be in vogue? According to Chris Marinak, MLB’s Senior VP of League Economics & Strategy, it could be the “medical analyst.” On the injury prevention panel, Marinak mentioned that some baseball ops departments—particularly ones on clubs without a research-oriented trainer like Conte—now contain medical analysts who report to the GM. Before and just after Moneyball, the hot new thing was to have a statistical analyst. Now that even the Phillies have started a stat department, teams have moved on to the next innovation. Investing in injury prevention seems like the perfect place to do it, since a medical analyst who could save a star a single DL stint would be worth a Pollis-approved amount of money. Conte noted that medical information tends to be “dirty data,” but the league’s new injury database makes better analysis possible. It’s no coincidence that this is happening now.

Will we ever eliminate (or significantly reduce) injuries?
The injury prevention panel discussed the improved quality of medical data and the rise of medical analysts. Graham Goldbeck showed off Sportvision’s new plan to monitor biomechanics in game. Jeff Zimmerman built on Josh Kalk’s research to develop a method for detecting pitcher injuries via PITCHf/x via in-game and full-season changes in velocity and decreases in zone rate and release point consistency. (Zimmerman’s process produces some false positives and false negatives, and it can’t prevent an injury from occurring, but it could potentially prevent one from being aggravated or reveal one that a pitcher is trying to hide.) Conte mentioned that many teams keep their training facilities open year-round in hopes of preventing players from working out without supervision, or talk to their trainers to make sure they’re following an approved plan. Put it all together, and one could be forgiven for thinking that a significant reduction in the rate of serious injuries is inevitable.

Well, not necessarily. Another injury panel participant, Dr. Glen Fleisig of the American Sports Medicine Institute, pointed out that ligaments and tendons will always be the weak links in the pitcher’s delivery. We can make muscles stronger, and we can make mechanics cleaner, but we can’t make those weak links much more robust. It may be, then, that no matter what we do—short of enhancing our bodies with mechanical parts—we’ll never make a major dent in the kind of injuries that shorten pitchers’ careers. That tension between the frailties of the flesh and the sophistication of the science and technology that we’re increasingly bringing to bear will be at the heart of the battle to make the repetitive pitching motion something players can survive.

Is pitcher consistency a skill?
At some point in your time as a person who pays attention to baseball, you’ve probably been convinced that a certain pitcher is especially volatile, capable of having an excellent outing or falling to pieces depending on the day. Bill Petti developed and presented a metric (called VOL) to test this. The least consistent starter from 2009-13, according to VOL: Brandon Morrow, with Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano second and third. The most consistent: Kevin Correia, followed by Ryan Dempster and John Lannan. That sounds about right (though A.J. Burnett, who has a reputation for being inconsistent, shows up as the sixth-least-volatile starter).

So VOL seems to do a good job of pinpointing the pitchers who have been volatile over a particular period of time. The question is whether those pitchers are any more likely than others to continue to be volatile in the future. Is there anything about certain pitchers that makes them inherently inconsistent?

Petti tried, but he couldn’t find any year-to-year consistency in his measures of volatility:

As Petti noted, this could be because the metric takes more time to stabilize, or it could be because of something he hasn’t accounted for. It could also be that individual pitchers are actually more or less volatile, but that those tendencies wash out for the pitcher population as a whole. For now, though, we have no evidence that some pitchers’ performances fluctuate more than others relative to their average outing.

How much does scouting information improve player projections?
Quite a bit, apparently. Dave Allen and Kevin Tenenbaum compared three projections for minor-league players: one based on a “naïve” statistical model, one based on the more complex ZiPS projection system, and one informed by Kevin Goldstein’s five-star prospect tiers at Baseball Prospectus from 2007-2012. The scouting-centric model won head-to-head showdowns with both of the others.

That shouldn’t come as a shock: Scouts, after all, have access to stats, but the stats don’t draw on the scouting grades. Not surprisingly, the method that makes use of more information wins. Still, it’s nice to see that outcome confirmed. Teams, of course, have much more granular scouting grades than KG’s old star system at their disposal, so they can probably build much more accurate projections.

What’s the next hotbed of baseball talent?
A three-person panel on “The International Baseball Landscape” yielded three possible answers: China, Colombia, and Brazil. Pirates Director of Player Personnel Tyrone Brooks said he expected to see pro players from China in the next 2-3 years. (The Yankees signed two Chinese teenagers in 2007, but neither made it to the minors.) He reasoned that there are too many Chinese people (and thus too much Chinese talent) for some of them not to end up in American baseball, especially now that MLB has opened an academy in the country.

Leonte Landino of ESPN Deportes said that he expects Colombia—which has produced young players such as Julio Teheran and Jose Quintana—to continue to be one of the fastest-growing sources of baseball talent over the next decade, thanks in part to Edgar Renteria’s role in funding a fully operational league that sent a team to the most recent WBC qualifiers. Colombia’s proximity to Venezuela makes it fairly easy for teams to scout, and Colombian players will often travel to Venezuela for tryouts.

Brazil was the third country mentioned. Brooks mentioned that the Pirates had just sent a scout to a showcase in Brazil for the first time and noted that the Andre Rienzo became the first major leaguer developed in Brazil when he debuted with the White Sox last year. (Yan Gomes was born in Brazil but drafted and developed in the US.) The center of Brazil’s baseball development is Sao Paolo, which also houses the largest Japanese community outside of Japan (/Wikipedia), so Brazilian baseballers tend to adhere to a Japanese style of play.

How granular is baseball data going to get?
During his BIOf/x unveiling, Goldbeck said that we’re “just going to keep drilling down further until there’s nothing left.” The question, then, is how much further we have to go until we get to that point. As Christina Kahrl asked a number of attendees, is sabermetrics still revolutionary, or have we reached a more evolutionary stage in which incremental progress is all we can expect?

My guess? We have a long way to go before we run out of discoveries to make and drilling down to do.

Stray observations

  • When asked about the level of familiarity with advance stats among major-league players, McCarthy estimated that 5-10 percent of big leaguers would know what FIP is.
  • ESPN analyst and former Nationals and Indians manager Manny Acta (who cited BP’s Mind Game as his favorite book) explained that his sabermetric conversion came in 2005 when a Mets clubhouse attendant told him about research that suggested that teams often had a better chance to score more runs before a sacrifice bunt. Acta, who was then the team’s third-base coach, took the tip and sought out insights from stats. But the fact that the tip came from a clubhouse attendant says a lot about how slow some teams were to adapt, and how slow some of them still are to encourage communication and information sharing between the front office and field staff.
  • One tidbit from the international baseball panel: The Dominican baseball academy that the Mariners just opened cost $4.2 million to build and will take $2-3 million to operate annually. No wonder teams with Dominican academies send players from Mexico and Venezuela to the DR rather than operate academies in each country.
  • According to Goldbeck, Sportvision just began gathering PITCHf/x data from the first system installed at an NPB park.
  • A couple other nuggets from Goldbeck’s talk: Pitcher stride length (in Sportvision’s sample) varied from 5-7 feet, with a mean of six feet. Mean extension was five feet, eight inches—most pitchers release the ball a few inches behind where they plant their front foot. The relationship between stride length and extension was weaker than expected, which could be because arm length varies independent of stride length, or because extension is affected by the degree at which the trunk tilts forward. The mean arm slot was 30 degrees, where 0 is sidearm and 90 is overhead. That’s roughly a ¾ slot.
  • And some nuggets from Jedlovec and BIS: The average right-handed pitcher’s delivery time on a stolen base attempt since 2012 is 1.43 seconds. The average run time to second on a steal with a righty on the mound is 3.52 seconds. (Billy Hamilton had the fastest average time last season, at 3.31.) The average catcher’s pop time since 2011 is 1.95 seconds, and 27 percent of stolen base attempts don’t lead to catchable throws (either the catcher doesn’t attempt to catch the runner, or he throws the ball into center). To produce a 50 percent caught stealing rate, the ball has to get to the glove of the player covering second 0.20-0.25 seconds before the runner arrives—if it gets there at the same time, the runner is safe 88 percent of the time. The most important takeaway: The pitcher has a greater impact on stolen base success rates than the catcher.
  • I took two important lessons from Ken Rosenthal’s one-on-one interview with Brewers owner Mark Attanasio. First: In baseball, budgets are made to be broken. Second: Sometimes a big signing is as simple as running into the right agent at Ryan Braun’s wedding.
  • Evans mentioned that player tracking is more advanced in some other sports, and that some soccer teams are tracking their players’ heart rates during games via wearable sensors. He also said that that tech would be of less use in baseball, since baseball teams aren’t looking for endurance athletes. Baseball players are conditioned differently (or in some cases, not conditioned at all).
  • Bloomberg Sports VP Dan Cohen, who recently returned from a trip to Japan, noted that the Yokohama BayStars take their players on a two-day spiritual retreat during spring training. The A’s adopted dual batting cages from Japan this year; don’t be surprised to see spiritual retreats in 2015.
  • After speaking to various team employees who attended the conference, it’s hard to believe that one club recently spent $500,000 on a supercomputer. Many teams have surprisingly small (if not nonexistent) analytics budgets.
  • During the SABR Defensive Index discussion, founder Sean Forman admitted to some frustration about the fact that teams are “incredibly opaque” about their involvement with analytics. On the prospects panel, the tone couldn’t have been more different:’s Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis said that teams are much more open about minor leaguers now that video is easier for the public to obtain (and now that prospects will tweet at you to tell you what pitch types they throw).
  • On the panel on front-office decision-making, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik and Bill Geivett and Bobby Evans of the Rockies and Giants, respectively, agreed that moves can come together much more quickly now that communication and access to information is almost instantaneous. Geivett mentioned being able to do a deal that was proposed two minutes before the trade deadline because both teams involved were so well informed about the players involved.
  • Conte noted that elbow and shoulder injuries account for 53-57% of all time lost to injury at the major-league level. Hamstring strains are the most common injury, but they take a lot less time to recover.
  • ESPN’s Buster Olney, who moderated the injury prevention panel, wondered whether it might be possible for all free agents to undergo a physical at the start of the offseason to avoid failures and leaks later on. Marinak said that he thought three quarters of players might go for it, but that others (among them those who were still recovering or rehabbing from an injury) would strongly object. Conte said that even if players approved the plan, he’d still advise his team to perform another physical immediately before signing someone, in case an injury had occurred since the first physical.

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You might want to clarify that when you say "chemistry" above you're talking about ~team~ chemistry, and not the kind that produced the Clear and other similar substances that sadly have had a bigger impact on MLB than other sports, at least on public perception.

Otherwise, great piece.
Noted, thanks.
Great summary. Re UCL injuries, I spoke with Dr. Fleisig offline and he said that recovery from TJ is better for position players than for pitchers. The issue isn't the violence of the throw from, say, deep in the hole or the right field corner, it's the repetition of throws from the mound. Miguel Sano/Pelotero fans can take heart.
re: F/O payscale, at some point you run into a philosophical argument regarding who is exactly contributing the wins. The players (and certainly the union) would say it's the players, not management, who is responsible since they are the ones actually on the field winning the games.

In most other industries, a standard rule of thumb that comes from research is that management skill accounts for roughly 10% of company out/under-performance relative to its peers. If you apply that to baseball and the above calcualtions, then the implied value from indivudual front office personnel then comes down into the range of normal for highly educated professionals. That's still way higher than actual payscales, but not somethign that would tell you to pay an intern like your 8th-inning reliever
It all comes down to causality.

As a more tangible example than FOTs, think about Ubaldo Jimenez' 2013 season and the influence of pitching coach Mickey Callaway. Depending on which value system you use, Jimenez was worth something like 2-3 wins last year—a huge improvement over 2012. Much of that improvement has been credited to Callaway. Whatever influence Callaway have had was worth some number of wins because it made Jimenez that many wins better. The extra wins (or fractions thereof) were realized through Jimenez, but he accumulated them because of Callaway.
I'm not at all denying that part of selection of talent creates real value or that some on-field performance is attributable to coaching and player development. What I am trying to say is that a) to attribute all of player improvement to coaching is silly b) even if it wasn't silly, in no actual industry or labor situation does pay reflect that kind attribution of value creation and c) any attempt to

Empirically, splitting apart player from player-development in baseball has not been done in any rigorous way, certainly not publicly (although several people in the broader SABR world have started trying). It's also difficult to do with any precision, since it's in no team's interest to make that kind of information known, and the slotting system and international bonus caps deny us any the ability to impute it from market prices (although perhaps 2-step valuations could be possible, e.g. using the common view that 'cap dollars' are worth 2x-3x real dollars). The bonuses handed out before the current CBA implied teams themselves thought the player's talent was worth quite a bit more than their ability to refine it.

I brought up the 10% rule-of-thumb because as different as pro sports are from other industries, they probably aren't that different, and seem to be progressively less different every day. Furthermore, like I pointed out, if you apply that 10% handicap to the numbers you came up with, then you get to a result that says that F/O personnel are underpaid, but by factors of 1.5-2x rather than an order of magnitude, and that fair pay levels would be roughly in line with pay levels in other professional settings. This jives with what one would think ought to be the case.

If you think of Billy Beane as an exceptionally good CEO of a $600m-ish market cap corporation (which is exactly what he is), then 3.7m is in the ballpark of what you'd expect him to be paid. There's no way he'd get or deserve $53m (or the lion's share of that) from any company of that size. The S&P 500 CEO average is more like $6-7m, but $600m valuation would not even be close to enough to put you in the S&P500. The Yankees at a $2.5b valuation would still be slightly too small for inclusion
oops, c) above was supposed to say "any attempt to set pay in that way would be considered riotously unfair in baseball or any other labor situation"
ack, I also mentally swapped Beane and Epstein but the point remains- the Cubs at $1.3b valuation (Forbes) paying 3.7m for a highly regarded CEO with demonstrated sucess in the past is comparable to what any other 1.3b company would pay for someone of that description. Maybe slightly less, but not an order of magnitude.
Determining *which* players are "on the field winning the games" is valuable in a business that spends ~$100M/yr on 25 people, and disproportionately on a subset (free agents) of them.

Pollis' argument is that free agents are overpaid relative to their alternatives. It costs ~$5-7M to upgrade a free agent signing by ~1 expected win. Pollis' findings suggest you come out ahead by instead investing that money in scouting and development.

Go back 10 years and look at the MLB draft. Of the 41 first-round picks:
- 8 have never played in a major-league game, including the #1 pick.
- 9 have produced 0.0 or less career bWAR.
- 13 have produced between 0 and 5 career bWAR.
- The top 3 players outproduced the bottom 38.

That's a very unusual market, even for sports. (26 of 29 2004 NBA first-round picks played in 80+ NBA games. 21 played in 400+.) Pollis' approach gains strength when half of the MLB draft's first round are busts. Turning one bust into even a +10 WAR pick (Neil Walker) is worth $50M-70M of free agent upgrades.
I actually interpreted the "two minute deal" as rarely occurring since teams had done so much due diligence and had already talked out scenarios with each other long before the deadline that a last minute proposal with no prior negotation was almost unheard of.
Interesting point on future demand for manual data collection - a counter-effect, perhaps, to the potential increase in medical analysts to take advantage of new data sources.

whowouldathunk that baseball analysts would fall under this type of research:
One other question regarding FO skill: is there a fair way to measure it? It would seem to be almost impossible to assess fairly when looking at a candidate with no previous experience. Even for those who have had previous success (or lack thereof), how much weight do you place on the process they used versus the results they obtained?

Also - and maybe this is just the cynic in me coming out - do we really feel like the current 30 GMs (for example) are the best 30 potential GMs in the industry? With players, you can justify a multi-million dollar investment by pointing to a variety of concrete statistics. With front-office types, it certainly doesn't seem like there is any close corollary to use. (If using Wins as the sole stat to assess pitchers is bad, it is surely worse to do so for front-office personnel!) If someone sees a 16 year-old throwing 95, they have obvious potential and are snapped up. It seems likely that there are hundreds? thousands? of potential high-ranking front-office types whose ability is simply not recognized.

I guess what I am getting at is that there is probably a relatively deep pool of front office talent that exists, and given the lack of a good way to differentiate it, it seems questionable to hand out massive contracts except in extraordinary cases.
Yeah, I agree with this. There isn't a deep amateur and minor league system that, over the course of many years, adequately assesses and promotes GM and FO staff talents so that the very best are identified the way there is for on-field performance. Heck, it is possible--even likely--that there are whole cadres of unexplored talent that aren't even on the radar screen (e.g., analytic and quant mavens attending major state schools instead of the national private universities).
As mentioned during the conference, the days of the lone ranger GM are pretty much over. Everything is a group decision done with group research though there may be someone with a final yea/nay. So, whether an active GM is among the 30 potential best in the industry isn't as relevant as whether the people making up their front office is in the Top 30... and as we've seen, front office personnel do serve awhile for a team, then take a better position with another team, so there is movement there.
It looks like the scouting and Naive forecasts came out the same, if those numbers are correct.
This is my favorite post on BP in many months. And a great example of what makes Baseball such an incredibly great game.