Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and Ignoring the Contract Year Fallacy

No matter what Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran have accomplished to this point, the duo will witness every iota of their 2011 performance being scrutinized in the context of their future with the Mets organization.

Beltran's knee. Reyes's heart. Beltran's home run total. Reyes's stolen bases. All of it is in play in this conversation and rightfully so considering the important questions facing the Mets regarding the team's longest tenured member and former All-Star outfielder. Each of them will need to prove their worth to the team on their merits and be judged in the context of their present health and past performance.

So rather than engage that dialogue and judge the pair on their achievements so far, some folks are already dismissing it as a mirage due to each player's contract year status. Each of them will get paid by somebody in the offseason, which should provide them ample motivation to raise their game and deliver in the clutch. They're both just looking out for themselves and not the team's best interests. Selfish Beltran and Selfish Reyes strike again.

If you find yourself in this growing contract year camp, please keep reading to learn why I intend to flog you with my shoe.

Are you familiar with Occam's Razor? The principle recommends favoring simpler explanations and rules of thumb rather than longer, more thorough responses. Why explain it in seven steps when you can do it in three?

The rule of thumb about players raising their games in contract years is a baseball spin on Occam's Razor. It emanates from anecdotal evidence of players like Adrian Beltre or Bret Boone that produce better numbers right as the time comes to start negotiating their next contract. The payday somehow provides extra motivation for Beltre to step up his game and focus more intently than he would in a non-contract year. Winning isn't enough, but money never fails to motivate.

Of course, the contract year phenomenon is also wrong. At his SABR 36 presentation in 2005, Phil Birnbaum gave a presentation on whether players outperform in their contract years. Birnbaum recounted his study on whether players could deliberately find ways to outperform and found no significant evidence of it being a true phenomenon. He found no meaningful change in the average performance of contract-year players from a pool of players between 1977-2001. Instead, Birnbaum hypothesized that free agents tend to be older players and that aging could explain some of the post-contract year decline.

If aging is a reasonable explanation for why a player may decline following a contract year, then it already lines up for Beltran's detractors to jump all over him should he falter. They'll dismiss his present .295/.387/.590 line this season as luck and small sample size, even though he's only significantly slugging over his .282/.360/.496 career line. The detractors don't care that Beltran's hitting as well as he did over a full season in 2006. He didn't swing at that Adam Wainwright curveball in 2006 and he was hurt the last two years. That's the new normal.

And Reyes? At age 27, he's likely starting to hit his peak years as many position players do at age 27. But he abandoned us with his thyroid issue and hamstring issues and WHY THE HELL IS HE LAUGHING WHEN WE'RE LOSING?!?!? We're supposed to dismiss his current rebound as a contract year mirage and expect his performance to crater when history indicates he should be peaking.

Listen, I'm receptive to a healthy dose of skepticism when discussing Beltran or Reyes. The entire reason they're under a microscope revolves around all the questions they need to answer this season. They dug holes over the past two seasons with poor performances and poorer health that previously looked insurmountable and only now reveals a way out.

I simply cannot stand anyone marching out the contract year fallacy to dismiss what the duo has done so far and will likely continue to do until either player slumps and the detractors can point their fingers and shout "I told you so!" at anyone who will listen. They're not playing well because they're selfish. They're playing well because, when healthy, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes are good at baseball.

And I swear, if both players find new homes in 2012 and excel and you try to whine that "They never cared about the Mets because they never did that for us" and point your fingers some more, I will hunt you down with my other shoe and flog you for not appreciating what that player likely did in Flushing all along when health wasn't an issue.

I wear a size 15. I promise to make it hurt.

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