Bye jersey number “0”

This is not something I expected to address today:

The New York Yankees are dumping salary.

They’ve sent Adam Ottavino, minor leaguer Frank German and $850,000 to Boston to take Ottavino’s salary and signing bonus off their hands. (The bonus is payable after the contract ends.)

Yes, the franchise with a value of $5 billion and owned by someone with a $3.8 billion net worth is unable to afford a pretty valuable relief pitcher. Let’s start with the finances…

The luxury tax the Yankees are trying to stay under is not a luxury tax, it’s a salary cap. And salary caps benefit team owners and only team owners.

  • They do not benefit players – the Yankees’ 2021 player payroll is almost exactly the same as their 2005 player payroll.
  • Salary caps do not benefit fans, as you well know if you’ve purchased a game ticket or subscribed to cable TV over the past two decades – it’s not like team cost efficiency and control trickles down to us – our costs have gone straight upward for decades.

And by the power of Marvin Miller’s mustache, stop believing it’s good for the game. The stretch from the mid-seventies (when free agency started) through the mid-nineties had more parity than any other era in baseball history. Since revenue sharing and the luxury tax/salary cap were instituted parity has dropped. (Read Rob Mains and Joe Sheehan’s work on this for more specifics).

And yes, although watching Ottavino lose the strike zone was certainly frustrating at times, he is a very valuable pitcher.

Among 68 American League relief pitchers who threw at least 60 innings over 2019-20, Ottavino ranks 9th in WAR, due in large part to his durability. His 97 appearances rank 5th and his 84 innings rank 23rd over that span.

And although he was at best the 4th best pitcher in his own bullpen, his performance was somewhat overlooked as well. In the same group of 68 AL pitchers mentioned above, Ottavino was 18th in FIP and 33rd in K%-BB%.

Somewhat tangentially, he’s also exhibit A in the case against paying attention to ERA for relief pitchers. One bad outing affects it to a degree that’s very hard to overcome during a season. For example, on September 7th against Toronto, Ottavino faced six batters, gave up four hits, two walks and six runs. If you took that one appearance out, his ERA would drop from 5.89 to 2.98.

That said, from a purely on field perspective, the Yankees can replace him. But don’t let that distract you from the facts that Ottavino was a pretty good pitcher for the Yankees who’s now on their biggest rival (can’t wait to see Gary Sanchez bat against Ottavino’s slider…) and that the Yankees needing salary relief is absolute nonsense on several levels.

Did I miss something? Let me know.

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