With the bulk of this offseason’s free-agent spending complete, I thought it might be interesting to look back at some spending trends over the last several free-agent periods. There was a big jump in overall spending in 2013-14, and the market has continued to grow since. While the total spend decreased last year, AAV continued to rise, and we’re headed for new records in both total outlay and dollars per year this winter.
One interesting aspect of the 2015-16 market, of course, has been the general success experienced by pitchers. While several notable bats have come in under expectations, pitching flew off the shelves and still seems in demand. True, Yovani Gallardo has yet to sign, but reports suggest he could still be in line for over $40MM. It’s not clear the same can be said for fellow qualifying-offer-bound hitters Ian Desmond and Dexter Fowler, each of whom came into the winter with greater anticipated earning power than Gallardo.
So, how have spending patterns shifted over the past three years? Let’s go to the data. (For what it’s worth, I tried to break things down further, but was ultimately uncomfortable with the lines I would’ve been forced to draw between, say, relievers and starters or infielders and outfielders.)
Clearly, there’s a shift in results. Let’s take a look at a few of the key figures across the three-year period, in graph form. To begin, we have witnessed a major swing in the total outlay made to pitchers as opposed to hitters:
Free-agent pitchers have posted some notable gains by other measures, too. Consider the average length of contract:
There’s also been a bump in AAV that closed down a gap that existed at the start of the period in question:
It’s possible that this is simply a straightforward reflection of the quality of the players available. Let’s have a look at the pitchers who were able to command $30MM+ overall commitments (that includes posting fees, where applicable):
David Price ($217MM), Zack Greinke ($206.5MM), Johnny Cueto ($130MM), Jordan Zimmermann ($110MM), Jeff Samardzija ($90MM), Mike Leake ($80MM), Wei-Yin Chen ($80MM), Ian Kennedy ($70MM), Scott Kazmir ($48MM), Kenta Maeda ($45MM), J.A. Happ ($36MM), John Lackey ($32MM), Darren O’Day ($31MM)
And here’s what that looks like in table form, to get a visual sense of the impact this volume and quality of players may have had on driving salary.
It’s possible that some of the inclination toward pitching is the result of an imbalance between the volume and quality of hitting versus pitching prospects entering the game right now. Fangraphs’ Jeff Zimmerman wrote a couple of years ago about the shifting aging curve for batters, and that could play a role in the trend as well. Alternatively, the increased demand for arms could be attributable to the very thing (enhanced injury risk) that makes them such a risky investment in the first place.