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Ross Ohlendorf: Did Advanced Stats Help?

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:

3+ Year      
Player 3+ Yr Next Yr $   IP   ERA   WHIP   K/BB   FIP
Jer. Weaver 2009 $4,265,000   211.0   3.75   1.24   2.64   4.04
M. Pelfrey 2010 $3,925,000   204.0   3.66   1.38   1.66   3.82
Erv. Santana 2008 $3,800,000   219.0   3.49   1.12   4.55   3.30
J. Saunders 2009 $3,700,000   186.0   4.60   1.43   1.58   5.17
J. Verlander 2008 $3,675,000   201.0   4.84   1.40   1.87   4.18
E. Bedard 2006 $3,400,000   196.1   3.76   1.35   2.48   3.59
J. Cueto 2010 $3,400,000   185.2   3.64   1.28   2.46   3.97
D. Braden 2010 $3,350,000   192.2   3.50   1.16   2.63   3.80
C. Capuano 2006 $3,250,000   221.1   4.03   1.25   3.70   4.04
J. Jurrjens 2010 $3,250,000   116.1   4.64   1.39   2.05   4.19
J. Guthrie 2009 $3,000,000   200.0   5.04   1.42   1.83   5.31
J. Hammel 2010 $3,000,000   177.2   4.81   1.40   3.00   3.70
D. Cabrera 2007 $2,875,000   204.1   5.55   1.54   1.54   5.01
S. Olsen 2008 $2,800,000   201.2   4.20   1.31   1.64   5.02
J. Lannan 2010 $2,750,000   143.1   4.65   1.56   1.45   4.47
K. Slowey 2010 $2,700,000   155.2   4.45   1.29   4.00   3.98
P. Hughes 2010 $2,700,000   176.1   4.19   1.25   2.52   4.25
J. Maine 2008 $2,600,000   140.0   4.18   1.35   1.82   4.40
W. Rodriguez 2008 $2,600,000   137.1   3.54   1.31   2.98   3.62
D. Bush 2007 $2,550,000   186.1   5.12   1.40   3.05   4.57
C. Vargas 2006 $2,500,000   167.2   4.83   1.41   2.37   4.85
S. Feldman 2009 $2,425,000   189.2   4.08   1.28   1.74   4.31
B. Morrow 2010 $2,300,000   146.1   4.49   1.38   2.70   3.16
T. Gorzelanny 2010 $2,100,000   136.1   4.09   1.50   1.75   3.92
Ohlendorf’s # 2010 $2,025,000   108.1   4.07   1.39   1.80   4.44
P. Maholm 2008 $2,000,000   206.1   3.71   1.28   2.21   4.15
C. Gaudin 2007 $1,775,000   199.1   4.42   1.53   1.54   4.69
Midpoint   $1,712,500          
E. Volquez 2010 $1,625,000   62.2   4.31   1.50   1.91   4.00
Pirates #   $1,400,000          
J. Patterson 2006 $850,000   40.2   4.43   1.11   4.67   3.25
J. Litsch 2010 $830,000   46.2   5.79   1.46   1.07   5.44
S. Hill 2008 $775,000   63.1   5.83   1.75   1.70   4.06
 

And career:

Career thru 3+ Yr        
Player 3+ Yr Next Yr $   IP   ERA   WHIP   K/BB   WAR
Jer. Weaver 2009 $4,265,000   671.2   3.73   1.25   2.00   12.9
M. Pelfrey 2010 $3,925,000   683.0   4.31   1.46   1.56   8.0
E. Santana 2008 $3,800,000   706.2   4.42   1.29   2.61   12.0
J. Saunders 2009 $3,700,000   571.1   4.22   1.37   1.78   6.9
J. Verlander 2008 $3,675,000   600.0   4.11   1.33   2.18   10.7
E. Bedard 2006 $3,400,000   476.0   4.08   1.44   2.12   10.7
J. Cueto 2010 $3,400,000   531.0   4.27   1.35   2.31   5.5
D. Braden 2010 $3,350,000   473.1   4.20   1.33   2.13   7.3
C. Capuano 2006 $3,250,000   561.2   4.20   1.33   2.44   8.0
J. Jurrjens 2010 $3,250,000   550.1   3.52   1.30   1.97   9.0
J. Guthrie 2009 $3,000,000   603.0   4.27   1.32   2.01   6.4
J. Hammel 2010 $3,000,000   561.2   5.06   1.48   2.24   8.1
D. Cabrera 2007 $2,875,000   661.1   4.99   1.53   1.43   8.7
S. Olsen 2008 $2,800,000   579.1   4.63   1.45   1.81   3.7
J. Lannan 2010 $2,750,000   566.1   4.10   1.41   1.39   3.9
K. Slowey 2010 $2,700,000   473.1   4.41   1.28   4.57   6.9
P. Hughes 2010 $2,700,000   369.0   4.20   1.27   2.48   6.4
J. Maine 2008 $2,600,000   464.2   4.18   1.31   1.97   4.3
W. Rodriguez 2008 $2,600,000   584.1   4.79   1.41   2.10   6.7
D. Bush 2007 $2,550,000   630.1   4.53   1.26   3.23   9.2
C. Vargas 2006 $2,500,000   532.1   4.92   1.44   1.81   1.9
S. Feldman 2009 $2,425,000   430.2   4.58   1.39   1.45   4.6
B. Morrow 2010 $2,300,000   344.0   4.19   1.43   1.97   4.8
T. Gorzelanny 2010 $2,100,000   558.0   4.68   1.49   1.60   5.8
Ohlendorf’s # 2010 $2,025,000   354.0   4.40   1.39   1.89   1.9
P. Maholm 2008 $2,000,000   601.1   4.30   1.41   1.84   6.7
C. Gaudin 2007 $1,775,000   359.0   4.46   1.57   1.42   2.8
Midpoint   $1,712,500          
E. Volquez 2010 $1,625,000   388.1   4.36   1.48   1.86   5.6
Pirates #   $1,400,000          
J. Patterson 2006 $850,000   423.0   4.09   1.31   2.55   6.2
J. Litsch 2010 $830,000   342.2   4.10   1.32   1.90   3.3
S. Hill 2008 $775,000   206.1   4.93   1.46   1.94   3.0
 

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.