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B.J. Upton & The Arbitration Hangover

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Every year around the time of arbitration hearings the media paints a picture of what an uncomfortable and difficult process it is for a player to sit in a room and basically listen to their employer downplay his ability and worth. This is typically followed by the team saying its simply a professional process and the player saying there are no hard feelings and its just business. This year B.J. Upton and the Rays went to battle over $300,000 with the Rays coming out on top with their offer of $3 million. True to form Andrew Friedman said:

"Today officially marks the end of the arbitration process for us this year. We had a lot of eligible players (12) and we're happy to have it behind us and and be able to focus solely on getting ready for the season.''

 

While Upton offered:

"I thought we put on a good case, but they ruled the way they did. Congratulations to the Rays. Now it's time to put all this behind me, hit spring training and get ready to play baseball.''

 

So this begs the question is it really all that simple? Can these grown men move past the distractions and any residual bitter feelings to play the game they grew up loving? Intuition says sure. Yet, Dioner Navarro put up a 2008 all-star campaign featuring a wOBA of .330, went to arbitration and lost. He followed his all-star season with a league worst(minimum 400 plate appearances) wOBA of .258. Regression was expected, but that adorable monkey Marcels had Navarro projected at .309. Oh, how we all wish Navarro managed to post .309. Was Navi a victim of an arbitration hangover?

 

The Study

Pool a sample of the 40 most recent position players who went to arbitration hearings (1998-2009). Compare their wOBA for the season prior to arbitration, their Marcels projections for their post-arbitration season, and their actual post-arbitration performance.

 

The Data

Workbook

 

The Results

First, let's look at all 40 players lumped together. The average wOBA from the season prior to arbitration was .330. However, Marcels average projection was .325. What can we gather from this? Maybe players coming off their best offensive seasons are more likely to disagree with their teams on their present values?  We also might expect arbitration eligible players to improve over time since they are going to be in their mid-to-late 20's. Since Marcels takes four seasons into account with the most recent the most heavily=weighted, there may be a lag on average until players peak. So how did the players fare after their hearings? The average wOBA dropped to .321. So on average a player's wOBA dropped .009 from their previous season, but only. 004 from their Marcels projection.

Is this a fair study? It seems that maybe we should not weight Derek Jeter and Karim Garcia evenly. After all after arbitration Jeter had 739 plate appearances while Garcia had a whopping 33. If we take the difference between each player's post-arb wOBA and both the pre-arb wOBA and Marcels projection and weight them by the percentage of post-arb plate appearances each player accounted for out of the overall pool, we can get get a more true result.

Well, that changes things. Now the weighted margin for post-arb - Marcels is actually positive by .005. Weighted post-arb - pre-arb still lags by .002.

 

I suppose those who want to play the hurt feelings card would want to isolate those who lost their hearings. After all, if the player wins they enjoy the last laugh all the way to the bank. This decreases the sample sizes to 16 winners and 24 losers.

 

The dejected arbitration losers on average equal their projection and beat their previous season by .002. If we weight actual minus projected for each player we see a .005 increase in wOBA while weighted actual minus previous results in a .004 increase. So much for the arbitration hangover!

 

And those fat cat winners? On average they declined .024 from the previous season while underperforming their Marcels by .009. If we weight the margins by PA, they actually outperform Marcels by .005 while declining .010 from their pre-arbitration season.

 

Pre-Arb

Marcels

Post Arb

Overall

0.330

0.325

0.321

Winners

0.349

0.334

0.325

Losers

0.317

0.319

0.319

 

wPost-Pre

wPost- Marcels

Overall

-0.002

0.005

Winners

-0.010

0.005

Losers

0.004

0.005

 

So ultimately what can be deduced from all of this? There is very little evidence of a hangover as a result of arbitration hearings. Both the winners and losers' weighted margins show them outperforming Marcels projection system by .005 which is a far more reliable benchmark than the previous season. That sure sounds reasonable for players prior to their peak level. Perhaps the most interesting finding is the previous season bias the panels seem to have in making their decision since its actually the winners whose performance declines from the previous season.

 

There is little reason to fear a B.J. Upton collapse to the depths of Navarro. His 2009 wOBA was .310, but our friend Marcels has him at .348. Since post-arbitration players tend to outperform Marcels by .005 (for seasoning reasons), I'll cast my lot at .353. Book it.