Thursday, January 16, 2014

Adjusting for Context and Arbitration

One of the keys to solving the value puzzle in sports is separating what the player controls and what he doesn’t. Sounds simple, but it’s not.

In baseball arbitration, context can be a huge factor. In extreme examples – such as pitcher who plays home games in Coors Field – the arbitration process makes the proper adjustments to salaries. But there are many others where it doesn’t. For example, factors like run support, defensive play, and bullpen performance all have a massive impact on starting pitcher statistics.

Relievers also face challenges when it comes to context. Holds and saves greatly influence arbitration salaries, and they get impacted by the man calling the shots. Managers vary tremendously in how they handle relievers, and this can be good or bad for pitching stats. Here are just a few examples:

Pitching Changes: Some managers change pitchers far more often than others. Giants Manager Bruce Bochy used 524 relievers in 2013 versus 440 for Washington’s Davey Johnson. The frequency of Bochy’s changes created more opportunities for holds. Giants relievers had 46 holds of less than one inning. The Nationals had just 15.

Free Passes: Seattle’s Eric Wedge ordered 48 intentional walks last season, compared to 10 by John Farrell and the Red Sox. This hits the statistics of relievers especially hard, since they pitch far fewer inning than starters. Intentional walks cause stats like walks per nine innings and WHIP to rise, even though the pitcher did nothing to cause it. Because intentional walks are usually poor strategic moves, they can also increase a reliever’s ERA.

Wearing Them Down: Overuse can also make relief pitchers less effective. The Red Sox and Indians had similar ERA figures – both for their starting rotation and bullpen – yet Terry Francona worked his pen much harder. Cleveland relievers pitched on consecutive days 122 times. Farrell, on the other hand, used Red Sox pitchers only 71 times without a day of rest.

Every player’s situation is different. And The Sports Resource identifies how context impacts all the stats that matter in arbitration.