In the wake of Ross Ohlendorf’s arbitration win, it would be easy to claim that this was a win for advanced stats. That may not be the case, however. Yes, Ohlendorf recorded only one win last season, but this is the not the first time a pitcher has won an arbitration hearing with one win. You only need to go back to 2009, when Shawn Hill won his hearing against the Nationals despite a 1-5 record the previous year, to see that it’s not necessarily always about wins and losses.
But while it’s not just wins and losses, advanced stats are not yet commonly used in arbitration. Just a few years ago, there were stories about arbitrators who needed RBI explained to them. And while in some situations these days you will see advanced stats used, Ohlendorf’s advanced metrics don’t necessarily help him make his case. A large factor in arbitration is your bulk, and so even with an advanced bulk stat like WAR, Ohlendorf doesn’t necessarily stack up better than recemt comparable players.
On a more basic level, it’s not hard to see why the Pirates would have felt confident taking Ohlendorf to a hearing. Last season, he had two stints on the disabled list, and as a result only accumulated 108.1 innings pitched in his platform year. Add in that lone victory, and that during his career he was optioned back to the Minors for more than two months, and the Pirates were armed with a couple of black marks on Ohlendorf’s record. They also had Edinson Volquez’s recently signed contract on their side of the midpoint.
In some areas, Volquez and Ohlendorf match up well. A player’s first arbitration hearing, be it as a super-two or a regular three-plus in terms of service time, is the one time when career and platform season (the season most recently completed) are weighted equally. Certainly, each side can argue differently, putting more emphasis on what strengthens their case most. Using Volquez as a comp is a good example of how the two sides would likely have argued differently.
The Pirates would be more inclined to point out that career ERA, WHIP and K/BB for the two are nearly identical, but since Volquez has more than double the wins and was a Game 1 starter in the playoffs, Ohlendorf shouldn’t earn more than him. Ohlendorf, on the other hand, would point to the fact that it took Volquez two seasons longer to accrue barely more innings pitched than Ohlendorf did, thanks to Volquez’s injuries and performance enhancing drug suspension. Additionally, Ohlendorf would point to the fact that he had a better platform year per conventional statistics like ERA, IP and WHIP (he wouldn’t point to platform year FIP, since Volquez’s 4.00 trumps Ohlendorf’s 4.44 handily). But where Volquez presented the Pirates an opportunity, there simply weren’t a ton of cases for them to use. Here are some recent comp players for Ohlendorf – pitchers whose platform season was 2006 or more recent, who were in their first arbitration hearing and who were primarily starters during their platform season. First, platform (or 3+ season) numbers:
|Player||3+ Yr||Next Yr $||IP||ERA||WHIP||K/BB||FIP|
|Career thru 3+ Yr|
|Player||3+ Yr||Next Yr $||IP||ERA||WHIP||K/BB||WAR|
There simply aren’t a lot of cases on the Pirates side of the ledger, and except Volquez, those that are had poor platform seasons. That lack of precedent in his case – there just aren’t many examples of a player with only around 350 innings pitched but also with 20-plus starts in their platform season – opens the floor for more creative arguments. So while Ohlendorf doesn’t stack up with most of these players on his side of the ledger in terms of games started or innings pitched (or FIP or WAR), there is a window to an effective argument in traditional rate stats. He has better or similar ERA, WHIP and K/BB numbers than many players on his side of the midpoint, such as Mike Pelfrey, Brandon Morrow, Jeremy Guthrie, Scott Olsen, Joe Saunders and Scott Feldman, Daniel Cabrera, John Lannan and John Maine.
Again, Ohlendorf didn’t have the career bulk of these players, and that is why those players earned or will earn more than him. On the other hand, Ohlendorf and his team seem to have known that, as they didn’t ask for similar amounts of money. And with those players on his side of the midpoint, Ohlendorf had more comparable players from which to build his case than did the Pirates.
Ross Ohlendorf and his people did need to show that wins and losses aren’t the only thing that counts in their arbitration hearing against the Pirates, but it wasn’t necessarily to their advantage to use advanced statistics to illustrate that point. They well may have, as only the people in the room on Tuesday will know what was said and what wasn’t, but it certainly would not have been necessary. Filing an appropriate salary number and taking advantage of a lack of precedent by using rate stats like ERA, WHIP and K/BB may have been just as, if not, more important.
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