Highlander Hot Take: Has analytics changed MLB free agency?

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Despite having the financial freedom to spend as they can, Major League Baseball (MLB) can’t seem to make offseason free agency exciting. In the past years, big name free agents in the National Basketball Association (NBA), have taken advantage of that and made offseason basketball watchable. Players have made it a game to keep us guessing, having everyone make predictions on what will happen. But that doesn’t seem to happen in the MLB. Maybe it could be because of baseball’s non existence of a cap space, making it less of an issue to get the big contract right away. Even with two big name stars in Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, no one seems to really care where they will end up.

There have been teams who have shown interest in both players, with teams such as the Philadelphia Phillies who at one point showed interest in signing both players. But since then, the destination of both players has been iffy at best. Teams seem to be pulling back on both Machado and Harper, despite both players only being 26 years old with great success. Last season Machado hit for 37 home runs, and 107 runs batted in with the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers, while Harper hit for 34 home runs and 100 runs batted in for the Washington Nationals. Yet both players seem to be in no rush to sign with anyone.

So what could be the reason teams are not going all-in as fast as they can? One reason could be the rise of analytics, the use of probabilities to get the best result in a certain game situation. This has in some way, taken away the importance of one’s all around statistics for something less. Yes, we care that you can hit 40 home runs in a season, but can you get on base when defenses use the shift and force you to rethink your plate appearance? With more and more teams moving in this direction, there has been a change in how teams are selecting their players.

In the last two years, the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox have built their teams based on analytics, and both organizations have won a World Series each. It may not be that Machado and Harper are no longer great players, or too expensive, but how they can fit in with what the analytics are saying. Even with the season he had, Harper was still seen as a bad hitter with his .297 batting average, while Machado had a “worse” second half of the season after he joined the Dodgers.

Major League Baseball’s offseason free agency may not be as exciting as basketball’s, yet it does show how the sport has changed in the last few years. Analytics has changed how teams look at free agency from previous years. Baseball’s free agency has now become more mathematical, and less about what kind of talent is around. There’s a new format to free agency, and it’s going to be here for a long time.

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