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Ryan Thompson loses arbitration hearing, criticizes process and judges on twitter

The team referenced a FanGraphs metric called “meltdowns” to justify paying Thompson $200k less than requested.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Rays reliever Ryan Thompson recently lost his salary arbitration hearing against the Tampa Bay Rays, having filed for $1.2 million with the Rays offering only $1.0 million.

Arbitration hearings are conducted before a panel of judges and typically rely on old school, public facing statistics. Advanced metrics are rarely used, and if utilized rarely accepted in arguments.

Given that precedent, it was interesting to hear directly from Thompson on what statistics the Rays utilized to argue against his higher salary request. His full twitter thread is posted below:

My thoughts concerning arbitration: (THREAD)

I want to make clear that although I lost my case, there is absolutely no ill-will towards the Rays as they were as professional and respectful as possible considering the circumstances. This is merely a review of the process.

Criteria summary:

1. Platform year contribution
2. Career and consistency contribution
3. Record of past compensation
4. Comparable baseball salaries
5. Existence of any physical or mental defects
6. Recent performance record of the club

Our approach to the hearing was to stay as strict to the criteria as possible. My concern was that the 3 arbitrators have an unknown knowledge of the game of baseball. Maybe they play fantasy baseball or maybe they call scoring runs “points”. No one knows.

We had to assume that the arbitrators were savvy enough to understand basic rules and statistics. I believe that assumption was incorrect.

The most important statistics for a middle reliever/set up man are holds and leverage index both of which I excelled in both the platform year and in my career with consistency.

The Rays did an excellent job discrediting holds and leverage while targeting me on blown saves, lack of LHH usage, and a fangraphs metric called “meltdowns”.

Blown saves is not a stat indicative of a middle reliever’s poor performance. A blown save can happen with no earned runs in the 7th inning or in extra innings from the ghost runner scoring. “BS” are for those attempting to record a Save and fail.

My career BAA is .214 against LHH. My lack of usage against LHH which is as high as Jalen Beeks(LHP) btw, isn’t from a lack of quality, but via team projections.

Meltdowns is not an official MLB stat. I’ve never heard of it and maybe never will again. We could have scoured the web for positive terminology but stuck to the criteria.

The use of “buzz words” by the team without a doubt swayed the arbitrators. Blown saves, meltdowns, and “protected” from LHH created a bias. Brilliant.

Our main focus was comparisons. Logically this made the most sense. If we prove I am above the midpoint of 1.1 then 1.2 is the logical choice. The comps we chose were Graterol at 1.225, Bedrodian at 1.1, Staumont at 1.050, Hernandez at 995K

Graterol (1.225) and myself were the most comparable, which is why we filed at 1.2.

Thompson career: IL- 137 G- 151 IP- 147.7 W- 9 L- 10 SV-6 HLD-32 gmLI- 1.40 LC- 53 ERA- 3.78

Graterol career: IL- 115 G- 152 IP- 155.7 W-9 L-10 SV-6 HLD-29 gmLI-1.14 LC-56 ERA- 3.58

And the arbitrators decided that I was worth 225 thousand dollars less than Graterol.

Staumont (1.025) was in the bottom 5 in baseball in ERA and WHIP in his PY with only 5 holds and a 6.75 ERA. He has me in career holds (43) but his career gmLI (1.08) is nowhere near my 1.40. Staumonts stat decline and PY, shows I should make more than him, not 25k less.

Jonathan Hernandez has double the IL time (286) with only 18 holds, and a gmLI of 1.05 for his career. PY year he has triple the IL time, with only 3 holds and a gmLI of 1.09. This one is nowhere close and I will be making only 5k more than Hernandez

The key however is the midpoint. Cam Bedrosian (1.1). Career holds (19) to my (32). gmLI (0.98) to my (1.40). Basically every single important stat, I beat Bedrosian in both career and PY. Arbitrators decided I make 100k less than him.

The Rays of course used my IL time as an arguing point but placed a high emphasis on timing of injury which is not in the criteria.

Missing playoffs in 2 seasons hurts me against Graterol which is why we filed at 1.2 not 1.225 but should put me even farther ahead of Bedrosian and Staumont for they have 0 postseason experience to my 9 games with 1.93ERA and 3HLD

The argument against was a more emotional ploy that relied less on logic or facts but was excellently put together. Our case potentially made unwise assumptions on the arbitrator’s understanding of statistics and the logic of being over the midpoint.

The process is flawed without a doubt but fascinating how different approaches can prevail with so much unknown. If I go again, I will definitely play every card in my hand, for you may be able to convince them that 2,4,6,8,10 beats a full house.

The flaws:

I was told leading up to my case it was paramount not to share the date of my case for the arbitrators may be able to research me and create a bias.

However upon entry to the hearing, they all have phones out and they use them freely during the breaks. After the case, they don’t sit in the room and hash out the decision, but rather they head to the hotel bar.

It is extremely disconcerting that the arbitrators are socializing, drinking, and using their devices prior to making a decision. (Not at all assuming foul play). Just an obvious flaw I witnessed.

The biggest issue with this process to me is that the arbitrators get to make whatever decision they come to, but with no explanation or defense of the decision. In any other legal case, the decision is public, this for some reason is very hidden and secretive.

If the process is created in order for fairness, then why don’t we learn the laws of the land. In some sense, we were shooting in the dark not knowing what the arbitrators leaned into and what they disregarded. These understandings matter.

Considering my player comps and middle reliever statistics for PY and career were undeniable, they must have chosen the other side for reasons not stated in the criteria which is a dangerous thought for the process. If that is the case, they should be held accountable.

Perhaps I am clueless and understand the process even less than the little that I claim. I am thankful for the opportunity to fight for the wage I felt I’ve earned. I really did have fun with it all and I am beyond blessed to be a Ray and play with and for people I love.

1M is unbelievably amazing. More than I need or deserve. To much is given, much is expected. I pray that I adequately bless others as I have been blessed beyond measure.

There are several things to react to in this thread, but the first might be, “What are meltdowns?”

Meltdowns (MD) is a FanGraphs alternative to Blown Saves (BS) that was developed around 2010. You can read in detail about the metric in this article from former DRaysBay editor in chief Piper Slowinski. Essentially, the metrics is BS designed for pitchers who do not pitch in a closer role. But the team also used Blown Saves against Thompson, which is curious because, well, he was not utilized in a closer role!

Surprises around unexpected statistics aside, Thompson’s biggest point of contention appears to be with the judges, and their perceived lack of knowledge and professionalism.

In response to Thompson, baseball writer Maury Brown - currently at Forbes - offered some insight into where the Judges are selected from for the hearing, for those that are interested:

All of this drama will surely make interesting additions to Thompson’s book he is writing, currently titled Three Days Removed.