Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Don't Hate the Player, Hate the GaMe

Welcome to the Route 30 Detour! US Route 30 intersects at I-95 in Philadelphia and goes from coast to coast, including passing through Pittsburgh and the home of Drexel University SMT student and blog contributor, Bryan Fyalkowski (@fyalkowski)...

To give you an idea of the kind of year Albert Pujols is having with the Los Angeles Angels, he went 1-4 with a double on Monday night and his OPS went up. Yes, with his far from impressive stat line thus far it has been a far from normal 2012 season for the future HOFer. Wait, was that just the first time you heard Albert Pujols referred to as a "future HOFer" and actually thought twice about it? Yeah me too.

Totally emo picture bro.

After signing a 10-year, $254 million deal in the offseason, the second-largest contract in MLB history, Pujols was expected to perform around his career average. Is that too much to ask? However, we are now 45 games into the 2012 season and everyone is wondering, "What is wrong with Albert Pujols?" But more importantly, blaming him for the Angels' struggles and asking, "Why isn't he earning his salary?"

One of these years is not like the other.

Well, sports fans, I'm here today to tell you that Albert Pujols is not to blame for not living up to his uber-contract; Jerry Dipoto is. Never heard of him? He is the General Manager of the Angels, and he is the person responsible for signing Pujols, and other free agent CJ Wilson, to large and in charge contracts this past offseason.

In this instance, and all others, I will blame the GM 100% of the time when it comes down to whose fault it is when a player "underperforms" in relation to their contract. Let's go over something. During last year's free agency, did Albert Pujols go around to each team and say: "I will only sign a 10-year, $254 million deal and nothing else."? No. Jerry Dipoto, at some point, offered that deal and Pujols agreed.

Is Pujols supposed to say: "Sorry Jerry, I'm not worth that much money any more."? No. He was offered the deal and he took it. It is a no-brainer for anyone with $254 million just one signature away. Now, everybody is mad at Pujols for not living up to that contract? Give me a break.

Yes please!

When a fan base gets all bunched up about a mega-deal that did not work out (see: Barry Zito, San Francisco Giants... Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs... Johan Santana, New York Mets... Vernon Wells, Los Angeles... Etc.), they always seem to blame the player, and it is usually for some combination of three reasons:

1. Player was no longer motivated to perform and/or had poor attitude.

Everybody always uses the phrase, "He's only hitting/pitching well because it's a contract year." So when that type of player, like Jose Reyes last season, has a huge year right before free agency, it is up to the GM to decide whether or not the player will have a mental letdown after he has already signed a new deal.

And the kind of player who takes himself out of the game after he won the batting title. Bush league.

I actually do not blame the player in this instance. If the player is the type of person who is motivated just by money, it is the GM's responsibility to not extend an offer to this player. To be honest, these types of players are very rare, and their decline in production is usually attributed to a decline in ability. But, it is just another reason fans and the media give to blame the player.

You suck bro! Lemme throw batteries at your face!

2. Player did not meet expectations based on his salary.

Now this is a tricky one. Whose expectations is the player supposed to live up to? The fans? The organization? His own? Well, if the player is trying his best and his best still is not good enough, maybe he was not good enough in the first place and did not deserve a big contract. Also, you have to remember that in baseball, there is another team trying to make you fail, so you are not just going to go up and hit homeruns just because you want to.

Because this ain't golf, cowboy.

Barry Zito, for example, won the Cy Young Award and had some great seasons with the Oakland Athletics. But with his low velocity, low strikeout rate and large inning count early in his career, among other factors, it is hard to believe his services warranted a 7-year, $126 million deal. At the time, it was the biggest contract for a pitcher in MLB history, but since then, it has seemed to be a big mistake.


Zito is a guy who has been known to try his hardest even though the results have not been consistent. As I covered in the first point, Zito has worked through mechanical issues and nagging injuries to do his best to fulfill his contract obligation. But overall, Brian Sabean, the GM of the Giants, is responsible for Zito's contract and for the entire roster of players.

Even this guy.

3. Player was injured and playing time and/or performance was hindered.

For this happenstance, how could you possibly blame the player? For baseball-related injuries, it is difficult to place blame on anybody; they just happen. If the player being out of shape causes a dip in performance or injury, it is the GM's fault for offering a contract to a player that would allow himself to become out of shape.

Not naming names or anything.

In conclusion...

I do not care how MLB teams spend their money. There is no salary cap, so there is no penalty for making a bad business deal. Whoever owns the team can spend as little or as much as he would like and I could not care less because it is not my money the team is spending to sign players.

Overall, I personally believe that GMs need to be held more accountable for being better judges of talent and character. Players are going to be who they are; they are not going to change. It is the GM's responsibility to determine which players are worth the money and which are not.

On the contrary, I also believe GMs should be praised for making good deals, at least more so than they are now. It is a double-edged sword, but it only makes sense to me that the people in charge of decision-making are held more accountable in general.

Even though I gave a lot of crap to Albert Pujols for the majority of this article, I need to specify one final point before your brains turn completely into Jello. The success or failure of a contract should not be decided until the contract is completely fulfilled.

So even though Albert Pujols is struggling, he is not even 1/3 through this season and still potentially has about 29/30 to go before we can determine whether it was a good or bad deal. It is just fun to make fun of the slugger because he has as many homeruns as Rod Barajas.


Hope you could follow along!

Enjoy your trip back to I-95 and I'll see you next week!

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