Baseball arbitration is even dumber than you think

Baseball arbitration is even dumber than you think

Rays reliever Ryan Thompson took to Twitter to discuss the arbitration process
Photo: Fernando Leon (Getty Images)

The idea of arbitration for determining a baseball player’s salary has never sat right with anyone, other than maybe the front offices that get to save a few hundred grand here and there. There was a time when a few scribes would keep a scoreboard, and some still do. But the concept of two sides trying to come to an agreement, and then turning around and sitting in front of a board of strangers and then tearing down all the common ground they seemingly had just found in negotiations never sat right. Secondly, baseball unlike most businesses, has a clear tracking system — i.e. stats that should be indisputable. There’s always a change in what stats we value more than others as time goes on, but it’s still on paper.

Even if clubs and agents can’t agree on what those stats mean or what they’re worth, you would think it would be clear to those who have been decreed arbiters to settle disputes would have clear criteria on what they mean or are worth. But to hear Rays reliever Ryan Thompson tell it, that is very far from the case:

The whole thread is worth the read, and Thompson doesn’t show too much ill will towards his employer as we’ve seen just this winter. But the nuggets in here are just too delicious.

One, there is no guarantee that the arbitrators know anything about baseball at all. Which would seem to be a real problem! Even if they don’t, you would think to allow for that there would be a clear delineation of what stats can be used to judge the case, and that the arbitrators would at least be well-versed in what those mean. And then the player and front office could at least argue about the context of those.

But the picture Thompson paints here isn’t even close to that. The Rays were able to make their case on something you only find on FanGraphs, called “meltdowns.” Which gets into Win Probability and some other formulas you likely don’t want to read about. But again, it’s hard for Thompson and his reps to prepare for that when there isn’t a set guideline into what’s admissible and what isn’t.

Furthermore, the Rays are allowed to point out what Thompson’s usage was during the season, which they’re in charge of! Given what we know about the Rays, they’re very hands-on with how the team is run during a game. Whether the Rays limited Thompson’s use against left-handed hitters with the knowledge that a side bonus would be getting to save a few bucks on his salary through arbitration might be a stretch, but it’s also not completely unfeasible. It would seem an unfair platform to argue from. And how would you explain this to anyone who isn’t baseball savvy?

Perhaps the biggest piece of comic relief was Thompson revealing that the arbitrators are on their phones constantly, and that they basically decide the case at the bar. That’s right, players’ salaries are being finalized in the same way you finalize your fantasy draft, through somewhat bleary eyes and wits.

It’s important to note that the players agreed to all this in the CBA, and if they wanted changes in arbitration they could have gotten them. But it’s still some combination of disheartening/hilarious that players are making their case for their income in front of a panel whose grip of the sport could range anywhere from expert to clod, with rules that are nebulous at best and can be made up on the spot, all the while that very same panel is getting the shakes and just want to get to the bar (perhaps the most relatable thing I’ve ever heard about salary arbitration in any field).

To quote Frank Costanza, “And as a rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be a better way!”

Angel Di Maria’s masterpiece

I’m gonna sign off for vacation with this art installation from Angel Di Maria in Juventus’s 3-0 win over Nantes in the Europa League Thursday:

He’s just as much hitting an approach shot to the green here as depositing it in the top corner. 75 percent of the punters getting in your way on the links on Sunday afternoon would kill for a draw like this. Di Maria starts this thing somewhere around Bordeaux and it still answers to his call in a trance. 

Original source here

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.