FanGraphs Audio: Eno Sarris on the Curiosities of Arbitration

Episode 419
Full-time employee of FanGraphs, Eno Sarris, has recently performed some legitimate reportage on the peculiar logistics of salary arbitration in baseball. He discusses that exact thing on this edition of FanGraphs Audio.

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Audio after the jump. (Approximately 38 min play time.)

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2 Responses to “FanGraphs Audio: Eno Sarris on the Curiosities of Arbitration”

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  1. Compton says:

    If arbitrators incorrectly evaluate player value, is there a competitive advantage to be gained for teams to seek out a certain type of player? Are the Pirates doing this by playing Marte and (soon) Polanco in the corner-outfield?

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  2. walt526 says:

    Early in the interview, you guys discuss why “baseball card stats” are preferred by MLB to more advanced metrics to be the basis for arbitration cases.

    You guys touch on this when discussing how saves lead to closers being overvalued and that there is an incentive to use a post-arb reliever as a closer and pre-arb and arb relievers as setup men. But I think that might be true of position players, since most “baseball card stats” are counting stats. To some degree, teams can influence something like RBIs by batting order or SB by simply not running often. Moreover, a stat-saavy team knows that batting order is essentially inconsequential, so there’s no real penalty for batting a young hitter outside the middle-of-the-order, where he is most likely to accumulate RBIs.

    So say I’m the Pittsburgh Pirates in the late 1980s and I’ve got a young Barry Bonds. They moved Bonds from CF to LF earlier than his performance warranted (setting aside the AVS acquisition for the moment) and they kept Bonds hitting leadoff for longer in his career than his power would suggest. As a result, Bonds doesn’t 60 RBI in his first four seasons, despite an ISO of 202. Now Leyland’s reasoning for playing Bonds this way early in his career were made for reasons totally unrelated to manipulating Bonds potential arbitration awards while keeping him in the lineup everyday–and you could make a sabermetric argument that batting Bonds leadoff was something that teams should have done throughout his career (but then making him bat 5th was ridiculous). But my point is that using Bonds as a leadoff hitter in his pre-arb years had a significant effect on his RBI accumulation, which presumably constrained what an arbitrator relying on “baseball card stats” would have awarded Bonds (not sure if Bonds and the Pirates ever made it to arbitration).

    So a “young Bonds” of the current generation of players could describe Bryce Harper, who has batted 2nd most of his career and hasn’t been used regularly in CF despite being an outstanding defensive centerfielder and better than Denard Span (by UZR, albeit SS). And, like Bonds, Harper has not topped 60 RBIs in his first two seasons despite an ISO north of 200 (209).

    Batting your best player second is the sabermetrically sound thing to do and so it’s defensible. But seems possible that part of the Nats motivation is to influence at the margin Harper’s future arbitration awards. By keeping arbitrators focused on “baseball card stats” rather than the more advanced context-neutral statistics that we prefer, teams can realize a small cost savings in how they use their position players similar (albeit not to the same extent) as they might in limiting a young reliever’s save opportunities.

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