The concept of the “contract year performance bump” has been long debated. Many in the fan and mainstream media communities swear it exists; while those in the analytical circle claim that if the effect does exist, it’s small. Yesterday, Joe Sheehan of Sports Illustrated wrote a lengthy piece discussing this theory. Within his article was a carefully crafted an argument designed to poke holes in the contract year bump theory. Here’s what he had to say.
“I kid, of course. The conventional wisdom is that players find a higher level of success in their ‘walk year,’ putting up big numbers so that they can hit the market as a valuable property. No one associates impending free agency with failure, even though it happens fairly often.”
While Sheehan’s correct that it’s conventional wisdom to assume players will be additionally motivated and therefore “rise to the occasion” in order to cash in on the free agent market; quite frequently, the fans and media will express concerns regarding a particular player’s ability to perform under the weight of an unresolved contract situation. Case in point, let’s travel back in time to this past February. Almost instantly after the Albert Pujols negotiating window closed, numerous articles were released questioning whether or not the uncertainty of his contract status would place additional pressure on him to perform. That apprehension was further amplified when he uncharacteristically struggled throughout the month of April. Clearly, these concerns indicate there was some doubt he wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure; thus affecting both his performance and perceived free agent market value. As a result, it’s unfair to assume that no one associates free agency with failure; because clearly, some do.
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