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February 15, 2013

Arbitration Showdown

Mock Hearing: Sergio Romo

by Nick J. Faleris, Bradford Doolittle and Ben Lindbergh

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It's salary arbitration season in Major League Baseball, and here at Baseball Prospectus we're holding mock hearings, arguing for or against the actual team/player filing figures before a three-person panel of certified arbitrators. We've selected 10 of this winter's most intriguing, highest-dollar cases to cover in depth over the first two weeks of February (regardless of whether the players' real-life cases remain unsettled). After each side's opening argument and rebuttal/summation below, we'll give you a chance to vote on what you think the result should be before seeing the panel's decision. For more on the arbitration process, read the series intro by Atlanta Braves Assistant GM John Coppolella, listen to his appearance on Episode 35 of Up and In, or check out the BP Basics introduction to arbitration.

In Part 10 of this 10-part series, we'll tackle San Francisco Giants reliever Sergio Romo, who sought $4.5 million and was offered $2.675 million. Unbeknownst to our arbitrators, Romo and the Giants reached an agreement on a two-year, $9 million contract, avoiding arbitration.

Mock Hearing Schedule

  • Chase Headley [2/4]
  • Jason Hammel [2/5]
  • Shin-Soo Choo [2/6]
  • Max Scherzer [2/7]
  • Jim Johnson [2/8]
  • Martin Prado [2/11]
  • Homer Bailey [2/12]
  • Jordan Zimmermann [2/13]
  • Dexter Fowler [2/15]
  • Sergio Romo [2/15]

Table of Contents

The Criteria

The criteria will be the quality of the Player’s contribution to his Club during the past season (including but not limited to his overall performance, special qualities of leadership and public appeal), the length and consistency of his career contribution, the record of the Player’s past compensation, comparative baseball salaries, the existence of any physical or mental defects on the part of the Player, and the recent performance record of the Club including but not limited to its League standing and attendance as an indication of public acceptance.

The complete procedure for salary arbitration is available in the Basic Agreement.

The Case

vs
Sergio Romo
Player Request:
$4.5 million
Represented By: Nick J. Faleris
Midpoint:
$3.587 million
San Francisco Giants
Club Offer:
$2.675 million
Represented By: Bradford Doolittle

Position: RHP
DOB: 03/04/1983
Bats/Throws: R/R
Service Time: 4 years, 97 days
   

Player's Presentation

Sergio Romo’s submission of $4,500,000 represents a request to be adequately compensated for his contributions to the 2012 World Champion San Francisco Giants. Through the two seasons leading up to his platform season, Romo performed as an elite set-up man for the organization. Early last year, after the Giants’ bullpen was deprived of its incumbent closer by injury, even more was asked of Romo, and he delivered a performance that catapulted him from a piece of the pen to a face of the franchise—all while leading the Giants to a World Championship.

The Giants entered 2012 with Brian Wilson at closer. Wilson had served as the team’s closer in each of the previous four seasons, notching three All-Star appearances between 2008 and 2011 and finishing second, third, first, and eighth in the National League in saves over that span. Additionally, he was a key component in the Giants’ 2010 World Series run.

Brian Wilson as Giants Closer
(2008-2011)

Player

IP

Saves

Blown

Saves

Save %

ERA

WHIP

SO/9

BB/9

SO/BB

Brian Wilson (2008-2011)

264.1

163

23

88%

3.00

1.309

10.1

3.8

2.65

Brian Wilson (2010 Post Season)

11.2

6

0

100%

0.00

0.771

12.3

3.1

4.00

Wilson logged just two innings in April before being lost for the season due to an elbow injury, leaving a gaping hole at the back of the bullpen. Santiago Casilla served as closer beginning in April and through ups and downs helped to keep the Giants in contention, with Romo serving as a dominant set-up man.

2012 Sergio Romo
(April through August)

Player

IP

ERA

WHIP

Saves

Blown

Saves

Save %

SO/9

BB/9

SO/BB

Sergio Romo

40.2

1.99

0.910

8

1

89%

10.6

2.2

4.80

As impressive as those numbers are, in order to fully understand the depth of Romo’s dominance over those five months we need to see slightly adjusted numbers. In back-to-back appearances at the end of July, Romo logged his two worst outings of the year, totaling 1.1 innings pitched and allowing six runs, six hits, and one walk with just one strikeout. Thereafter, Romo immediately returned to form, allowing just three runs over the remainder of the season (after allowing just two runs prior to those back-to-back outings in July). If we remove that 1 1/3 innings pitched, his numbers from April through August are simply mind boggling.

2012 Sergio Romo
(Adjusted April through August)

Player

IP

ERA

WHIP

Saves

Blown

Saves

Save %

SO/9

BB/9

SO/BB

Sergio Romo

39.1

0.69

0.767

8

0

100%

10.8

2.1

5.22

As the Giants pushed towards the playoffs, Romo’s incredible performance, including in save situations (innings pitched in which a player was maintaining or completing a potential save opportunity), ultimately led to his winning the closer job outright at the end of August.

Romo vs. Casilla
(Save Situations)

Player

IP

ERA

WHIP

Saves

Blown

Saves

Save %

SO/9

BB/9

SO/BB

Sergio Romo

32.0

2.25

0.719

14

1

93%

8.7

1.1

7.75

Santiago Casilla

39.1

2.75

1.195

25

6

81%

8.9

3.2

2.78

Though Casilla was given more time than Romo in the closer role in 2012, when the calendar changed to September and the Giants geared up for the most important stretch of the season, it was Romo that they wanted finishing their games. Romo responded by going a perfect six-for-six in save opportunities to close out the season, allowing just two runs over 14 2/3 innings pitched (1.23 ERA). The Giants entered the playoffs with Romo entrenched as closer and through the playoffs Romo put up a stat line comparable to that of Brian Wilson’s 2010 postseason. Like Wilson, Romo led San Francisco to a World Series title, pitching in 10 of the Giants’ 11 wins while allowing just a single run.

Sergio Romo vs. Brian Wilson in Postseason

Player

IP

Saves

Blown

Saves

Save %

ERA

WHIP

SO/9

BB/9

SO/BB

Sergio Romo (2012)

10.2

4

0

100%

0.84

0.469

7.6

0.8

9.00

Brian Wilson (2010)

11.2

6

0

100%

0.00

0.771

12.3

3.1

4.00

The loss of Wilson at the beginning of the season created doubt as to whether the Giants would have the stopper they needed, and in the most critical stretch, from September through their World Series win in October, Romo provided more stability and production than the organization could have hoped for.

2012 Sergio Romo
(September and Post Season)

Period

IP

Saves

Blown

Saves

Save %

ERA

WHIP

SO/9

BB/9

SO/BB

September

14.2

6

0

100%

1.23

0.681

9.2

0.0

INF

Post Season

10.2

4

0

100%

0.84

0.469

7.6

0.8

9.00

Total

25.1

10

0

100%

1.06

0.592

8.5

0.4

24.00

The Giants have already declared Romo the closer for 2013, and in a recent Associated Press article, both Romo’s manager Bruce Bochy and his bullpen mate Jeremy Affeldt chimed in with quotes extolling Romo’s fantastic finish to the season:

I think he’s earned the right to be [our closer] as we start the season. —Bochy

I think if anything he proved something to himself [last year]. He didn’t have to prove anything to us. I always knew he had the stuff to do those things. —Affeldt

The stats back up Affeldt’s claim, as Romo’s last three years as a set-up man, and the end of last year as a closer, show consistent dominance.

2010-2012 Sergio Romo

Period

IP

ERA

WHIP

SO/9

BB/9

SO/BB

2010

62.0

2.18

0.968

10.2

2.0

5.00

2011

48.0

1.50

0.708

13.1

0.9

14.00

2012

55.1

1.79

0.849

10.2

1.6

6.30

2010-12 (Postseason)

14.1

2.51

0.837

8.2

1.3

6.50

Total

170.1

2.01

0.898

11.4

1.6

6.97

Looking as far back as six years, there have been no true comps to Romo among players with similar service time, due to his dual role as set-up man and closer in his platform season and his extended dominance in the role of set-up man over the three-season period including his platform season. In attempting to find the closest appropriate comparable players, the closest matches to Romo in terms of set-up men demonstrating both platform season dominance and some extended success over a three-year span are Scot Shields (2006 platform season) and Santiago Casilla (2011 platform season).

Romo vs. Shields vs. Casillo
(Platform Season)

Player (Platform Season)

IP

Saves

ERA

WHIP

SO/9

BB/9

SO/BB

Salary

($MM)

Adjusted

Salary ($MM)1

Sergio Romo (2012)

55.1

14

1.79

0.849

10.2

1.6

6.30

4.502

4.50

Scot Shields (2006)

87.2

2

2.87

1.072

8.6

2.5

3.50

3.40

3.97

Santiago Casillo (2011)

51.2

6

1.74

1.123

7.8

4.4

1.80

2.20

2.20


1 Note: “Adjusted Salary” represents actual salary adjusted for the increase in average player salary to 2012 levels
2 Note: Romo’s listed salary is the player’s submitted salary

Romo’s platform season stands out compared to those of Shields and Casillo due to the combination of his save totals (as closer for his club), elite strikeout rates, and low walk rates, ranking first in all such categories. In fact, the players’ rankings in WHIP, SO/9, BB/9, and SO/BB coincide perfectly with their respective platform season adjusted salaries.

Romo vs. Shields vs. Casillo

(Three-Year Period Including Platform Season)

Player (Seasons)

IP

Saves

ERA

WHIP

SO/9

BB/9

SO/BB

Salary

($MM)

Adjusted

Salary ($MM)1

Sergio Romo (2010-12)

165.1

15

1.85

0.853

11.1

1.6

7.00

4.502

4.50

Scot Shields (2004-06)

284.2

13

3.00

1.173

9.2

3.2

2.88

3.40

3.97

Santiago Casilla (2009-11)

155.1

8

3.13

1.352

7.9

4.4

1.79

2.20

2.20

1 Note: “Adjusted Salary” represents actual salary adjusted for the increase in average player salary to 2012 levels
2 Note: Romo’s listed salary is the player’s submitted salary

Again we see Romo stand out in WHIP, SO/9, BB/9, and SO/BB, showing significantly better rates than those of Shields and Casilla. Further, with performance normalized over three seasons we see Romo essentially maintaining his platform season performance over the full three year span, while both Shields and Casilla see regression in ERA, WHIP, BB/9, and SO/BB. In addition to posting the most impressive platform season, Romo has proven to be the more reliable reliever, producing at a higher and more consistent level than either of his two closest comps.

Romo’s multi-season performance as a set-up man, platform season performance as a set-up man and closer, and impactful contributions as closer through the end of the 2012 season and throughout the Giants’ World Series run places him in rarified air among relievers with similar service time over the past several seasons. The club has tabbed him as its closer for the upcoming season due to his near-flawless performance through the 2012 season (excluding his two-appearance hiccup in July) and throughout the postseason. Further, he played a pivotal role in bringing San Francisco its second World Series in three years.

At a time when the Giants were without their dependable closer of four years, the club turned to Romo to provide stability in the pen throughout 2012 and ultimately entrusted him with the most important role in the bullpen when the games mattered the most. Romo excelled in that role and should be compensated accordingly. The player’s submission of $4,500,000 provides an appropriate increase from the adjusted salary of his closest comparable players, Scot Shields and Santiago Casilla, due to his added contributions as a closer during his platform season and his greater consistency over multiple seasons. —Nick J. Faleris

Club's Presentation

Sergio Romo had a fine 2012 season and was a key component of the Giants’ championship run. The image of Romo striking out Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera to clinch the World Series title will forever be a cherished piece of Giants baseball history, and deserves to be. He’s been a top-notch middle reliever during his career and is deserving of a salary increase commensurate with a player of his ability. However, the $4.5 million figure filed by Romo’s representatives is out line with the typical earnings of a relief pitcher at his level of service time.

The player’s figure is more appropriate for a closer with an established track record of finishing games than it is for a set-up reliever. While Romo finished the season as the Giants’ closer and held the role through the playoffs, he had never served in that capacity on a full-time basis during his first 3 ½ seasons in the major leagues. He had just three saves during his first three years of service time, and even after switching roles late in the 2012 season, he has just 17 career saves.

PLATFORM SEASONS FOR RELIEVERS

WITH FOUR YEARS OF SERVICE TIME

PLATFORM

YEAR

 

PITCHER

SERVICE

TIME

 

IP

 

G

 

ERA

 

SAVES

 PLATFORM

YEAR SALARY

POST-PLATFORM

SALARY

SAVES BEFORE

PLATFORM YEAR

SAVES THROUGH

PLATFORM YEAR

2012

Sergio Romo

4.097

55

69

1.79

17

 $1,575,000

 $4,500,000

3

17

2009

Jonathan Papelbon

4.064

68

66

1.85

38

 $6,635,381

 $9,926,529

113

151

2011

Brian Wilson

4.169

55

57

3.11

36

 $6,764,702

 $8,846,149

134

170

2006

Francisco Rodriguez

4.015

73

69

1.73

47

 $4,530,194

 $8,400,359

59

106

2007

Chad Cordero

4.260

75

76

3.36

37

 $4,848,269

 $7,243,197

91

128

2007

Jose Valverde

4.090

64

65

2.66

47

 $2,336,515

 $5,490,811

51

98

2007

J.J. Putz

4.022

72

68

1.38

40

 $3,154,296

 $5,140,334

26

66

2011

Joel Hanrahan

4.065

69

70

1.83

40

 $1,457,013

 $4,266,966

25

65

2009

Jonathan Broxton

4.020

76

73

2.61

36

 $1,937,531

 $4,246,644

19

55

2009

Heath Bell

4.099

70

68

2.71

42

 $1,332,384

 $4,246,644

2

44

2010

Joakim Soria

4.000

66

66

1.78

43

 $3,129,332

 $4,172,443

89

132

2010

Carlos Marmol

4.084

78

77

2.55

38

 $2,216,610

 $2,642,547

23

61


Note: Dollars adjusted to account for increase in average big-league salary to 2012 levels

Other than Heath Bell, every comparable pitcher had accumulated at least 19 saves prior to his platform season, and all of them held the closer role for the entirety of their fourth season. Nevertheless, five pitchers earned less in their post-platform season than Romo is requesting for 2013. Those five pitchers had on the average 31.6 career saves prior to their platform season, and 71.4 through it. Again, Romo had three saves prior to 2012 and has just 17 career saves to date. Simply put, this group of closers does not constitute Romo’s peer group, though the $4.5 million salary figure filed by his representatives suggests that it does.

A more appropriate group of comparable pitchers would be those who, like Romo, had established themselves as dependable middle relievers before transitioning to the closer’s role during their fourth year of service time. Such pitchers are not easy to isolate, because pitchers tend to fall into roles quickly upon arriving in the major leagues.

 

YEAR

 

PITCHER

SERVICE

TIME

 

G

 

SV

 

IP

 

ERA

PLATFORM

YEAR SALARY

POST-PLATFORM

YEAR SALARY

PRE-PLATFORM

SAVES

2012

Sergio Romo

4.097

69

14

55.3

 1.79

 $1,575,000

 $2.6MM OR $4.5MM

3

2008

Jon Rauch

4.126

74

18

71.2

 4.14

 $1,308,464

 $2,753,226

6

2009

Jason Frasor

5.134

61

11

57.2

 2.50

 $1,539,408

 $2,813,401

21

2008

Luis Ayala

5.000

81

9

75.2

 5.71

 $1,853,657

 $1,417,502

9

2008

Chad Qualls

4.058

77

9

73.2

 2.81

 $1,430,587

 $2,764,129

15

2007

Rafael Soriano

5.057

71

9

72.0

 3.00

 $1,401,909

 $3,095,883

4

PEER GROUP

4.675

72.8

11.2

69.8

 3.00

 $1,506,805

 $2,568,828

11


Note: Dollars adjusted to account for increase in average big-league salary to 2012 levels

By placing Romo in a more appropriate peer group, it becomes apparent that the figure filed by his representatives is excessive. Romo has fewer saves than relievers in or near his service class who have saved between six and 18 games, end points which serve to cut out those who were either full-time closers or full-time middle relievers. Romo’s request is well beyond the average salary for this group and is without precedent. He also had fewer pre-platform year saves than the other pitchers in this group.

The midpoint between the club’s request of $2.675 million and Romo’s $4.5 million is $3.58 million, which is well above the established level for his appropriate peer group. The club’s offer is almost exactly in line with the salaries of previous relievers that had track records comparable to Romo’s. The Giants are hopeful that Romo will develop into an established closer, but in light of the fact that he lacks even a single full season in the role, the figure filed by his representatives is excessive. — Bradford Doolittle

Player's Rebuttal/Summation

While Romo has only recently been given the opportunity to serve as the Giants’ closer, he has excelled in his time with the team. Additionally, his extended track record indisputably evidences his status as an elite set-up man, and the conclusion of his platform season (as well as the club’s decision to entrust Romo with the closer job for 2013, parting ways with former All-Star closer Brian Wilson in the process via non-tender in November) provides ample evidence that the Giants view him as an elite closer moving forward. Prior to Romo’s 2012, no set-up man in recent history had compiled comparable dominance for three consecutive years outside of Scot Shields, and as discussed above, even Shields falls short of Romo in terms of dependability and consistent production. Romo’s compensation should surpass that of Shields’ adjusted salary, and admittedly should not be on par with the likes of closers who have shown multiple years of dominance in the role.

Using Shields as the floor, the following table compares Romo against the group he joined in 2012—relievers with comparable service time and less than two full years of experience as closer.

Relievers with Comparable Service Time and <2 Years as Closer
(Platform Season)

Player (Platform Season)

IP

Saves

Blown

Saves

Save %

ERA

WHIP

SO/9

BB/9

SO/BB

Adjusted

Salary ($MM)

Jim Johnson (2012)

68.2

51

3

94%

2.49

1.019

5.4

2.0

2.73

5.701

Jose Valverde (2007)

64.1

47

7

87%

2.66

1.119

10.9

3.6

3.00

5.13

J.J. Putz (2007)

71.2

40

2

95%

1.38

0.698

10.3

1.6

6.31

4.80

Sergio Romo (2012)

55.1

14

1

93%

1.79

0.849

10.2

1.6

6.30

4.502

Joel Hanrahan (2011)

68.2

40

4

91%

1.83

1.049

8.0

2.1

3.81

4.10

Heath Bell (2009)

69.2

42

6

88%

2.71

1.120

10.2

3.1

3.29

4.17

Scot Shields (2006)

87.2

2

6

25%

2.87

1.072

8.6

2.5

3.50

3.97


1 Note: “Adjusted Salary” represents actual salary adjusted for the increase in average player salary to 2012 levels
2 Note: Romo’s listed salary is the player’s submitted salary

Utilizing the player’s submission, Romo fits perfectly into this group of relievers with less than two years’ experience as closer. In fact, we see an almost perfect correlation between production and compensation when we focus specifically on the player directly ahead and directly behind Romo in terms of compensation.

Romo vs. Putz vs. Hanrahan
(Platform Season)

Player (Platform Season)

IP

Saves

Blown

Saves

Save %

ERA

WHIP

SO/9

BB/9

SO/BB

Adjusted

Salary ($MM)

J.J. Putz (2007)

71.2

40

2

95%

1.38

0.698

10.3

1.6

6.31

4.80

Sergio Romo (2012)

55.1

14

1

93%

1.79

0.849

10.2

1.6

6.30

4.501

Joel Hanrahan (2011)

68.2

40

4

91%

1.83

1.049

8.0

2.1

3.81

4.10


1 Note: Romo’s listed salary is the player’s submitted salary

Across the board, save percentage, ERA, WHIP, SO/9, BB/9 and SO/BB line up perfectly with the compensation columns, with Putz, Romo, and Hanrahan ranking first, second, and third, respectively. While there is a discrepancy in save totals, Romo should not be penalized for the club’s decision not to give him ninth-inning opportunities until late in the season. Further, Romo’s consistency over the past three years, when compared to his peers here, more than makes up for the few extra months Putz and Hanrahan served as closer.

Romo vs. Putz vs. Hanrahan
(Three-Year Period Including Platform Season)

Player (Seasons)

IP

Saves

ERA

WHIP

SO/9

BB/9

SO/BB

Adjusted

Salary ($MM)

Sergio Romo (2010-12)

165.1

15

1.85

0.853

11.1

1.6

7.00

4.501

J.J. Putz (2005-07)

210.0

77

2.36

0.967

9.9

2.1

4.71

4.80

Joel Hanrahan (2009-11)

202.1

51

3.38

1.300

10.4

3.4

3.07

4.10


1 Note: Romo’s listed salary is the player’s submitted salary

The only area in which Romo does not clearly outperform Putz and Hanrahan is the total tally of saves, which at its heart is an issue of opportunity, and not performance. Taking into account the previous tables, as well as the above table, the club’s submission of $2,675,000 is a significant underpay—about 60 percent and 65 percent of Putz’s and Hanrahan’s respective compensation—despite Romo’s equivalent or superior performance in ERA, WHIP, SO/9, BB/9, and SO/BB over the past three seasons, and comparable performance in each of those categories, as well as save percentage, in the players’ respective platform seasons.

While Romo is in the early stages of his tenure as a top-tier closer, we have shown that there is no question as to the extended nature of his dominance over National League hitters. Just as important, Romo served as an important presence in the Giants’ playoff push and postseason, ultimately leading the organization to a World Series victory. Romo stepped in for Brian Wilson, the team’s closer of four years and a multiple-time All-Star, and the club did not miss a beat. Indeed, Romo’s performance was so impressive that the club decided to non-tender Wilson at the end of November, severing ties with their former All-Star closer and anointing Romo the closer for the upcoming season.

The player’s submission of $4,500,000 is in line with the compensation given to relievers with comparable service time and less than two years of closer experience. The team’s own actions in giving Romo the closer position for the playoff push, the postseason, and now the 2013 season, as well as the club’s decision to part ways with Wilson, speaks volumes about the importance of Romo to the organization. While all of these actions indicate that the club views Romo as an elite closer, the club’s submission of $2,675,000 seeks to pay Romo as a set-up man. Even more shocking, the club’s submission seeks to compensate Romo less than a comparable set-up man, Scot Shields, was paid despite superior production and consistency to Shields’ at the same point in their respective careers. The panel should not acquiesce to the club’s request to obtain closer production from Romo while compensating him as a middle reliever. —Nick J. Faleris

Club's Rebuttal/Summation

The Giants don't dispute that Romo has been an excellent and consistent set-up reliever over the course of his career. However, the fact of the matter is that the most highly-compensated relievers are paid on the basis of saves. Middle relievers with four years of service time do not earn $4.5 million, and with just 17 saves over his career, Romo has to be classified as a set-up reliever, at least until he's spent a full season in the closer role. Of the 36 active relievers who appeared in least 200 games over their first five seasons without reaching 20 career saves, not of them approached the level of salary requested by Romo, in either their fourth, fifth, or sixth years in the big leagues.

Player

SV

G

From

To

IP

ERA

Y4$

Y5$

Y6$

Sergio Romo

17

276

2008

2012

233

2.20

$1,575,000

$4,500,000

--

Peter Moylan

3

287

2006

2011

255

2.60

$435,281

$1,199,577

$2,081,447

Craig Breslow

6

295

2005

2011

279

3.06

$427,431

$448,021

$443,322

Eric O'Flaherty

0

290

2006

2011

244

3.14

$424,664

$458,969

$931,447

Ramon Ramirez

8

359

2006

2011

364

3.16

$468,192

$1,204,793

$1,717,194

Rafael Perez

3

330

2006

2011

321

3.64

$463,203

$829,273

$1,384,162

Nick Masset

4

308

2006

2011

333

3.78

$443,774

$1,079,620

$1,795,248

Sean Marshall

7

292

2006

2011

530

3.96

$477,747

$990,955

$1,665,158

Mark Lowe

5

217

2006

2011

223

4.03

$443,774

$1,199,577

$1,248,868

Edward Mujica

2

246

2006

2011

309

4.10

$435,281

$437,898

$832,579

Jose Veras

4

255

2006

2011

247

4.11

$459,673

$573,711

--

Carlos Villanueva

6

263

2006

2011

532

4.28

$474,562

$990,955

$1,472,624

Sean Green

2

264

2006

2011

269

4.41

$500,042

$1,017,033

$910,633

Matt Albers

0

237

2006

2011

382

5.04

$435,281

$709,315

$910,633

Todd Coffey

11

369

2005

2010

359

4.15

$989,526

$849,331

$2,112,301

Manny Delcarmen

3

298

2005

2010

292

3.97

$459,053

$505,351

$944,015

Brad Thompson

1

201

2005

2010

405

4.46

$451,420

$690,080

--

Luis Ayala

18

377

2003

2009

390

3.67

$1,080,046

$1,518,735

$1,853,657

Brian Bruney

13

230

2004

2009

221

4.27

$462,098

$790,530

$1,327,076

Matt Guerrier

4

319

2004

2009

401

3.41

$476,065

$1,035,867

$1,565,950

Jesse Crain

2

305

2004

2009

314

3.50

$584,129

$1,144,906

$1,804,824

Matt Thornton

9

349

2004

2009

339

3.71

$496,509

$954,088

$1,406,701

Rafael Betancourt

16

342

2003

2008

379

3.23

$438,379

$981,336

$2,235,292

Oscar Villarreal

1

258

2003

2008

336

3.86

$555,024

$1,080,638

$1,226,685

Ryan Madson

5

295

2003

2008

439

3.94

$480,021

$1,285,083

$1,526,541

Aaron Heilman

9

305

2003

2008

450

4.24

$430,818

$529,221

$1,308,464

Vinnie Chulk

2

244

2003

2008

264

4.36

$418,218

$462,630

$913,199

Neal Cotts

1

265

2003

2008

245

4.51

$480,021

$963,813

--

Jeremy Affeldt

18

286

2002

2007

486

4.74

$1,241,332

$1,200,051

$1,460,322

Julio Mateo

2

219

2002

2007

318

3.68

$509,600

$840,036

$1,255,877

Juan Rincon

3

299

2001

2006

353

3.26

$456,525

$574,933

$1,080,046

J.C. Romero

2

259

1999

2004

350

4.49

$315,944

$437,502

$1,134,396

Kyle Farnsworth

4

343

1999

2004

478

4.78

$602,498

$807,696

$1,936,774

Juan Acevedo

19

263

1995

2001

457

4.41

$491,839

$1,014,172

$1,111,504

C.J. Nitkowski

3

270

1995

2001

419

5.37

$454,951

$640,530

$1,723,965

Hector Carrasco

13

333

1994

1999

414

3.99

$1,441,259

$1,721,437

$1,708,080


Note: Dollars adjusted to 2012 levels to account for increases in average league-wide salary

The case of former Giants closer Brian Wilson is telling:

Year

ERA

G

SV

IP

Salary

Svc

2008

4.62

63

41

62

$392,500

1.169

2009

2.74

68

38

72

$480,000

2.169

2010

1.81

70

48

74

$4,437,500

3.169

2011

3.11

57

36

55

$6,500,000

4.169

2012

9.00

2

1

2

$8,500,000

5.169

By the time Wilson reached his first season of arbitration eligibility in 2010, he had already notched two seasons as the Giants’ closer, and only then did he approach Romo's requested figure. After another successful season in the role, which helped the Giants win the first of their two recent World Series titles, he signed a two-year contract that placed him solidly in his peer group. Romo can become a member of the closer peer group and achieve the type of contract that goes with that distinction. But he is not a member based on 17 career saves. —Bradford Doolittle

The Reader Poll

Before scrolling down to read the three-person panel’s decision, record your own decision here:

The Panel

Burt Fendelman is an attorney with more than 45 years of experience, initially in corporate finance and securities laws working as inside counsel for several major securities brokerage firms. He has performed as an arbitrator for FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority), the American Arbitration Association, and currently as an arbitrator and mediator for the New York County Lawyers Association in fee dispute-related matters. He is presently a self-described “work in progress”, working with clients in areas related to art and antiques. He attended Washington University in St. Louis and NYU Graduate School of Tax Law, and he now lives in Manhattan.

Doris Lindbergh is a retired lawyer who is an arbitrator with FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) and its predecessor forums, the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) and the New York Stock Exchange. She also arbitrates for the National Futures Association (NFA). She attended Washington University School of Law and has a Master of Arts from Fordham University. Her employment history includes stints at Wall Street investment banks and, most recently, the MTA New York City Transit Authority, but her most challenging assignment was raising a future Editor-in-Chief of Baseball Prospectus.

David Marcus is a retired lawyer and serves as an arbitrator with the Financial Advisory Regulatory Authority (FINRA). He lives in Metuchen, New Jersey. He attended Columbia College and Yale Law School, after which he served as an enforcement attorney with the SEC. His subsequent career includes working for the New York Stock Exchange heading its regulatory division, and working for several broker-dealers as a regulatory attorney or General Counsel.

The Panel’s Decision

2-1 in favor of the Club

Arbitrators Fendelman and Marcus voted in favor of the club, finding that Romo's record as a closer, while excellent, is too brief to warrant a raise of the magnitude that he requested. Therefore, they believe that the club's offer is fair for the coming year. Arbitrator Lindbergh believes that the record Romo compiled as a closer, coupled with his earlier pitching performance, is sufficient basis to be confident of his future performance at a level justifying his salary request. The team's decision to name him closer for the coming year demonstrates a similar confidence in his future performance.

The Sabermetric Perspective/Additional Commentary

There’s so much to say about Sergio Romo. You can recite the stats: no reliever with at least 200 innings pitched over the past five seasons had a FIP as low as Romo’s 2.41; Only Mariano Rivera had a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Romo’s 5.8 or a lower WHIP than Romo’s 0.88 over the same span. You can marvel at the stuff: the slider, which he threw as a higher percentage of his 2012 pitches (58 percent) than anyone but Luke Gregerson; more slowly than all but three of the 78 other pitchers who threw 200 sliders last season (78.3 mph); and with more horizontal movement (10.1 inches) than any other pitcher. You can unravel the mysteries: a merely league-average multi-season platoon split, despite all the sliders and the low arm angle, which generally lead to large splits. (The solution(s), most likely: limited use against left-handed hitters; a .220 BABIP against them; and a changeup he throws exclusively to southpaws.)

But I don’t want to (continue to) talk about those things. Instead, I want to talk about two semi-conflicting sentences from opposite sides of today’s case. First, the second sentence of a paragraph by Bradford on the Club side of the case:

A more appropriate group of comparable pitchers would be those who, like Romo, had established themselves as dependable middle relievers before transitioning to the closer’s role during their fourth year of service time. Such pitchers are not easy to isolate, because pitchers tend to fall into roles quickly upon arriving in the major leagues.

And second, the beginning of this sentence from Nick’s pro-Romo argument:

While Romo is in the early stages of his tenure as a top-tier closer, we have shown that there is no question as to the extended nature of his dominance over National League hitters.

Those two contentions—that pitchers tend to adopt their long-term roles quickly upon arriving in the majors, and that Romo is only at the start of his closing career (which would suggest that there’s much more closing to come)—are somewhat at odds.

Romo has long been a more effective pitcher than most closers, even though he was a set-up man until last season. But he doesn’t pitch like the typical closer—he throws slower than any other closer, and also slower than nearly all non-closer relievers—and he doesn’t look like one, either. Romo is listed at 5’10”, 185, lighter than every other pitcher who recorded 10 saves last season and shorter than all but one (Greg Holland, who’s also listed at 5’10” but throws 96.5 mph anyway). Given his profile, it’s not that surprising that it’s taken time (and injuries to other pitchers) for him to get a shot—it’s telling that Santiago Casilla, another reliever with no closing experience, was tapped to replace Wilson before Romo. But now that he’s excelled in the closer role, even in the highest of high-pressure situations, is it safe to include him among the closer elite? Or is he still in some danger of being busted back to set-up duty?

To get some sense of what might lie ahead, let's look at what happened to other other late-blooming closers like Romo. By “like Romo,” I mean pitchers who never started a game in the majors—by the time they got to the big leagues, there was no uncertainty about whether they were ultimately bound for the bullpen or the rotation. That rules out, say, Ryan Madson or Joe Nathan, closers who didn’t have their first 10-save season until around Romo’s age but spent some time starting before they settled into their eventual roles.

I also mean pitchers who, like Romo, pitched at least four seasons of at least 30 innings each before their first with 10 saves. That rules out anyone who started closing quickly, as well as oft-injured arms such as Rafael Soriano, who (in addition to doing some starting) had a few early seasons in which he barely made it to the mound. We’re trying to isolate pitchers whom teams viewed as relievers from the start, but didn’t view as closers even after seeing them pitch out of the bullpen over a pretty long period.

Here’s a list of pitchers who’ve satisfied those criteria, along with their ages in the seasons that they first recorded 10 saves and the number of saves they recorded in all subsequent seasons combined. It’s not a very long list. (Asterisks denote active players.)

Name

YEAR_10_SV

AGE_10_SV

Additional Saves

Barry Jones

1991

28

1

Heathcliff Slocumb

1995

29

64

Dave Veres

1999

32

49

Antonio Osuna

2002

29

0

B.J. Ryan

2005

29

75

Chad Qualls*

2009

30

12

Heath Bell*

2009

31

109

Brandon League*

2011

28

15

Rafael Betancourt*

2012

37

0

Santiago Casilla*

2012

32

0

Since we restricted our sample to pitchers with zero starts, the query returned only recent pitchers; before the accelerating bullpen specialization of the 1990s, every pitcher with a decent arm was presumably pushed to start at some point. Only 11 pitchers (counting Romo) qualify for the club, with three of them joining last season alone. Among the five non-active pitchers on the list, the average number of additional saves recorded is 38, or roughly one full season of successful closing; throw in Heath Bell and Chad Qualls, whose save-recording days are probably just about over, and the average rises to 44.

If we raise the minimum to five career games started, allowing for the occasional spot start, we get a slightly larger sample:

Name

GS

YEAR_10_SV

AGE_10_SV

Additional Saves

Donnie Moore

4

1984

30

61

Cecilio Guante

1

1988

28

2

Paul Assenmacher

1

1990

29

32

Barry Jones

0

1991

28

1

Larry Andersen

1

1991

38

2

Heathcliff Slocumb

0

1995

29

64

Mike Timlin

4

1996

30

98

Dave Veres

0

1999

32

49

Antonio Osuna

0

2002

29

0

Mike DeJean

1

2002

31

19

Matt Herges

4

2004

34

0

B.J. Ryan

0

2005

29

75

Al Reyes

2

2007

36

0

Alan Embree

4

2007

37

0

Chad Qualls*

0

2009

30

12

Heath Bell*

0

2009

31

109

Brandon League*

0

2011

28

15

Rafael Betancourt*

0

2012

37

0

Santiago Casilla*

0

2012

32

0

Grant Balfour*

1

2012

34

0

The average additional saves count among retired members of this group is 29 (33 with Qualls and Bell included). As a kind of control group, the average number of additional saves among all pitchers who’ve ever had a 10-save season (including the ones above) is 56. Their average age in those first 10-save seasons was 28, a year younger than Romo's.

If closing is in the cards, pitchers who aren’t considered potential starters generally get a chance to close quickly. Those who take a long time to get their first shot at saves generally don’t last long in the role; the circumstances that belatedly led to their getting saves change, or they pitch poorly, or whatever bias discouraged teams from giving them opportunities earlier causes teams to take their opportunities away.

Granted, most of these pitchers weren’t as effective as Romo before they became closers, and some were considerably older. This is mostly for fun. But it would be unusual—though hardly the most unusual thing about Sergio Romo—if 2012 turned out to be not a temporary departure from lower-leverage relieving, but the start of a lucrative second career. —Ben Lindbergh
 

Thanks to Rob McQuown, Colin Wyers, Hudson Belinsky, Jonah Birenbaum, and Andrew Koo for research assistance.

Nick J. Faleris is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Nick's other articles. You can contact Nick by clicking here
Bradford Doolittle is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bradford's other articles. You can contact Bradford by clicking here
Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

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