Five Facts About The Elias Rankings

If you’re interested in free agency or the draft, chances are you’ve heard about the Elias rankings. The Elias Sports Bureau takes player stats from the previous two seasons and classifies all players as Type A or B or unranked. If Type A or B free agents turn down their teams’ offers of arbitration to sign Major League deals elsewhere, the clubs collect picks in the upcoming Rule 4 draft

But there’s a lot of history to the rankings, which are now in their 30th edition. Here are the essential facts about the Elias rankings system:

How did it all begin?

Free agent compensation was at the center of the 50-day strike that took place between the teams and the players in 1981. Baseball owners wanted compensation for losing top free agents, but the players association was reluctant to diminish free agents’ bargaining power. The association argued that teams would be less eager to bid on free agents if that meant surrendering a big league player or amateur draft choice.

The sides determined statistical formulas through collective bargaining and hired the Elias Sports Bureau to track players’ stats and provide rankings. The rankings aren’t exactly the same as they were 30 years ago and teams don’t approach the rankings as they did in the early ‘80s, but the Elias Bureau has tracked them the entire time.

Then and now

The rankings are not much different now than they were 30 years ago. Players are still ranked on their stats from the previous two seasons and divided by position (for example, catcher) or position group (for example, second base, third base and shortstop). The stats used have been tweaked, but the MLBPA and MLB have generally asked the Elias Bureau to track the same stats. For example, plate appearances, batting average, on-base percentage, home runs and RBI still figure prominently into the rankings for non-pitchers.

The rankings themselves haven’t changed much in 30 editions, but signing ranked free agents used to have significantly different consequences for clubs. Teams that signed ranked free agents once had to expose major league players to a winter draft. The clubs that had lost top free agents would select players from a pool created from unprotected players on the rosters of teams that decided to pursue that year’s crop of top available players. Teams could opt out and protect all of their players, but that would prevent them from signing the top names.

For example, the Mets decided to pursue free agents after the 1983 season and left Tom Seaver, unprotected in January of 1984. The White Sox pounced on the future Hall of Famer, who had just posted a 3.55 ERA (103 ERA+) in 231 innings in his age-38 season. Seaver would spend two and a half years in the White Sox rotation, pitching deep into games with ERAs slightly better than the league average.

Draft pick compensation, always an element of the system, became more prominent once major league players were no longer exposed to MLB teams.

The top 20% of players are still Type As if they’re free agents, but the remaining players are now categorized differently. There were once Type C free agents, but that classification no longer exists; it’s now Type A, Type B or unranked.

Changes in compensation

Today, teams obtain two draft choices for losing Type A free agents who turn down arbitration and one draft choice for Type Bs who turn down arbitration.

Teams once obtained amateur draft choices and professional players for losing Type A free agents, as explained above. But after the 1985 strike, big league players were no longer involved in compensation.

In the early 1980s, teams obtained two amateur draft choices for losing Type B free agents (now they just get one pick).

Bargaining Power

Players would occasionally use the rankings to prove their worth in negotiations with teams. After the 1986 season, for example, Blue Jays catcher Ernie Whitt was acting as his own agent. And as he explained to the Toronto Star, he used the Elias rankings in negotiations with Toronto GM Pat Gillick.

“Out of the 63 catchers who were ranked," Whitt said, "my client, Ernie Whitt, is No. 6. The rankings are based on the performances of the last two seasons – plate appearances, on-base percentages, RBIs, home runs, defense – the works. I got this information through the players' association. Naturally, I feel it's powerful information."

Next up…

Steve Hirdt has been a statistician at the Elias Sports Bureau since the rankings were implemented and he expects the bureau to continue producing the rankings.

“As long as they’re a part of the CBA and we’re baseball’s official statistician, we’ll produce them as we’ve continued to for the last 30 years,”  Hirdt told MLBTR.

Data compiled from the Elias Sports Bureau and historical reports in the New York Times, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail and the Miami Herald.

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11 Comments on "Five Facts About The Elias Rankings"

4 years 6 months ago

I can’t wait until they start using less flawed stats than the ones they use now so as to give a better idea of the true value of each player. The system itself needs an overhaul but I would definitely like to see the stats being used to be more what the player can control rather than stats like RBI, AVG, Runs etc.

4 years 6 months ago

Great article. Thanks.

4 years 6 months ago

Nice informative article. I liked this way better than the this day in trade history type posts; those I skip over every time.

4 years 6 months ago

what an opening line , if your interested in the draft . um wait if your on this site chances are your interested in everything baseball. This is the best baseball website EVER even if they censor your comments.

4 years 6 months ago

Wow, I never knew major lague/professional players were ever involved in compensation. I could see why the MLBPA wouldn’t like that (even though the MLBPA is usually just crazy).

What really needs fixing is the relief pitcher rankings. For a setup guy to cost two draft picks is a bit absurd.

4 years 6 months ago

i like that. some position players are higher valued than others. For instance a type A starting pitcher and catcher is higher valued than a type A relief pitcher; yet they both being type A would cost the team aquiring them the same thing. I feel this could be a change MLBPA could take on because it just makes sense to look into changing.

4 years 6 months ago

Why even consider position? A player’s value is what he can get on the open market. Give the highest compensation for the highest paid players, regardless of position.

4 years 6 months ago

Some things I’d like to see in the new CBA:
1. Fix the rankings so that it may not overrate middle relievers. Players should not be punished for good performance (e.g. Balfour, Francisco, etc)
2. International free agents should be acquired through the draft. This is where big markets will most likely flex their financial muscles. It also doesn’t make sense that a kid from Venezuela can get a major league contract at age 16 while a US born citizen has to wait til he gets a H.S. diploma (oh and if he doesn’t sign he has to wait another three years to enter the draft).
3. Some form of hard slotting in the draft would be nice (this one is a tough one, since it will most likely drive some kids away from baseball into other more popular sports)

4 years 6 months ago

the big market clubs dont clean up in the LA market

Ynoa, Sano, Heredia, Champman, etc

Gary Sanchez got huge money from the yanks but this seems to be the one area where these teams arent really flexing their financial might. As soon as the Yankees decide to do that, game over.

4 years 6 months ago

Point taken. But the Yanks and Mets, for example, have two dominican rookie teams unlike most other teams. It may be a case of them being able to sign more quantity.
Either way, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the current system is unfair and it would be much much better if the international players had to submit to the amateur draft.

4 years 6 months ago

No mention of the rankings is complete without a nod to Eddie Bajek- the man that cracked the code!

That being said, I’d scrap the system, or overhaul it by ranking players based on their real market value, which is how much they get paid, regardless of position. The best paid players bring the best compensation. Secondly, comp picks should not be “protected”. They should be available to be given as compensation in the case of a team that signs more than one Type A free agent.