Evaluating Teixeira’s Yankee Tenure versus Contract, and Luck

MLB first baseman Mark Teixeira today announced that he will retire from pro baseball at the end of the season. This is his last year on the Yankee’s contract, which will run for 8 years and $180 million dollars after all is said and done. The local state rag ran a poll and it seems most people valued the contract favorably in hindsight.

Statistically, Mark was a quality defensive player throughout the years he played. The past 4 years he was plagued by injuries, especially in 2014 and 2016. The freakish thing was he played maybe 2/3 of the games in 2015 with an OPS+ of 146, which is freakish given he was clearly on a declining state athletically speaking, as he last cracked OPS+ 140 in the 2009 world-series-winning year at 141 OPS+.

But 180M/8 years is a lot of cash. Granted it would be tough to sign a top free agent in their prime without committing to a long contract that covered their declining years as well, but in Mark’s case he could have had his best post-Yankee years in 2015, if not for a foul ball that fractured his tibia. I mean, this is not the kind of injury that you can truly prevent while performing at an All-Star level.

The prudent and sensible way to evaluate the contract is to compare this 8-year contract with other similar-length contracts of position players who signed at around their late 20s. But I think I’m more interested to see how hindsight bias overwrites the factor of luck that plays into these long-term contract evaluations.

Injury is a part of MLB. People get hurt, especially the more they play and the older they got–two factors that are also correlated. The fact is you can guess how much a player is likely to get hurt only based on fairly poorly-explored medical knowledge. Injury due to hit-by-pitch or hit-by-foul-balls are as freakish as anything.

How did luck play a role in how we evaluate Tex’s contract? In hindsight, Tex was just good, not great, during his healthy years, outside of 2015 and 2009. He was great in 2015 and 2009. He was effectively out of commission for 2 seasons (but you take that over the situation he’s in today, as a Yankee fan). So not counting the injuries, the Tex contract was just OK. It definitely worked out in a way that you could have foresaw back in 2008 (minus, again, 2015).

It’s similar to that you can’t really expect David Ortiz to be the best hitter in the Majors at age 40, I suppose. Luck is a skill in these things.