Baseball’s New Market Ineffiency
Cross-posted at Huffington Post Sports
As expected, the baseball cognoscenti has gone ga-ga for Tyler Kepner’s New York Times piece on AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke. And why not? Here’s Greinke telling Kepner how his increased interest in advanced baseball statistics helped him run roughshod over hitters this season.
“That’s pretty much how I pitch, to try to keep my FIP as low as possible,” Greinke said.
Kepner also notes how Greinke learned about Fielding Independent Pitching and Ultimate Zone Rating from stats-savvy teammate Brian Bannister. So influenced was Greinke from these pow-wows with Bannister that he began purposely trying to induce batters to hit flyballs to left field, knowing that vacuum cleaner David DeJesus would track down almost any ball that wasn’t hit over the fence. It’s no surprise then that everyone from Dave Cameron to Patrick Sullivan to Rob Neyer (the only one of this trio who hasn’t joined me for a meal at epic Boston brunch/lunch spot The Friendly Toast, though hopefully that will change some time soon) was all over the story. (It’s doubly interesting because Kepner and Neyer engaged in a playful argument earlier this year over UZR as it pertained to Mark Teixeira, with Kepner taking the position that UZR, especially when viewed through just a few months worth of data, doesn’t tell you everything–a position I agree with, by the way.)
All well and good. Except the masses seem to have missed the most interesting and relevant part of the whole article.
The award will raise Greinke’s profile, which he does not want. When Oakland’s Andrew Bailey won the A.L. rookie of the year award Monday, he said he was happy to be asked for an autograph in a mall. Greinke has the opposite reaction to fame.
“I haven’t really gotten a whole lot of attention from people, which has been nice,” Greinke said. “I hope it doesn’t get that way, where everybody’s like, ‘Oh, hey, Zack, hi,’ and they talk to me a bunch.”
As my buddy Ben Kabak of River Avenue Blues (yes, I’m going to name-drop every intelligent writer in the Western Hemisphere by the time this post ends) notes, there’s an excellent chance that Greinke might be the rare superstar who chafes at going to New York or Boston when he reaches free agency, or gets close enough to where the Royals will want to trade him. Ben’s almost certainly right. Earlier in his career, Greinke took time off from the game to get treated for Social Anxiety Disorder. While he’s obviously progressed enough to become a knockout major league pitcher who can take the mound every fifth day without a hiccup, Greinke’s never going to be confused with any kind of social butterfly. There’s a very real chance that the Royals might be able to retain Greinke for well below market value, since Kansas City is a place that’s more comfortable and far less visible for someone who fears the public eye. (In fact, the Royals have already done this, giving Greinke a bargain four-year, $38 million contract last off-season). If Greinke thinks “Oh, hey, Zack, hi” is bad, imagine what would happen in New York if he gained a fraction of the fame and infamy of, say, Alex Rodriguez.
Granted, Greinke is an extreme example, and Social Anxiety Disorder is no laughing matter. Still, you can see where this is going, right? Small-market teams could benefit from performing rigorous personality tests on potential draft picks, screening for signs of introversion. If two pitchers profile as close to identical in talent and smarts, a team like the Royals or Pirates could choose the homebody over the gadfly, wrap him in a Snuggie every day, hand him hot cocoa before every start, and tell him horror stories about the big city and all the dangers that lurk there behind every corner.
With the deck so heavily stacked in favor of teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, it’s time for smaller-market teams to exploit an edge of their own. Forget statistical analysis, on-base percentage, defense, new medical technology, advanced training methods or any other edge lower-revenue teams try desperately to find. Shy guys are the new market inefficiency.