Some reflections on arbitration and scrambling….

  • We'll be running the conclusion to the Greg Maddux arbitration case in this space next week. The number of entries was impressive, although many of you took the word limit about as seriously as Chris Kahrl usually does. I also want to give you a quote from a plaintiff's attorney who's spent an awful lot of time in front of judges:

    There's nothing worse than an ignorant judge. If you have a complicated case, you have to spend forever educating them, and then reminding them of the salient points every step of the damn way. All the defense has to do is distract them slightly, or pound away on minutiae that chew up the judge's time, and you're going to eventually lose. If you have to spend any time educating the judge, don't take the case. Just walk away.

    All I can say is that a great many entries would have an excellent shot in front of a panel consisting of Clay Davenport, Keith Woolner, and Doug Pappas. Right now, I'm working on signing up Carrot Top, Chesperito, and Pink as the arb panel, so things don't look good for those of you with a target audience of BPers.

  • Freddy Garcia won his case yesterday, which is going to cause some sphincter clenching among finance guys in front offices. Garcia's presentation was apparently based largely on his gaudy 34-16 W/L record over the last two years, which is a pretty good thing to bring to the table in his case. That $6,875,000 figure's a nice data point to have in pocket if you're Jarrod Washburn's agent at this time next year, or the agent of some other young Ace – or even just a simulacrum of one. The Mariners would have had to spend a lot of time and negotiation capital to go in there and talk about run support and park effects. Those types of things get remembered by hitters' agents when it's time for them to negotiate, and they also take up valuable presentation time.

    I can understand clubs' frustration with the arbitration process. I'm not going to argue that it's more expensive than free agency, but you basically have to make your case not only against the player's agent, but you also have to defend every boneheaded signing or incompetently-constructed arbitration case ever put forward by a front office somewhere. One lazy intern for another club can cost you a couple of million bucks. Add in the confrontational nature of the process, and the fact that there's plenty of apparent randomness, and you've come up with one more reason to buy stock in antacid suppliers.

  • The fact of the matter is that Rickey Henderson's lobbying of Billy Beane isn't going to work.

    However, is Henderson a good pickup for anyone at this point? I hope so, but if not, it's still a great run. Context has worked against Henderson almost his entire career, and he's still put up numbers that are truly astonishing. Here are some abbreviated stat lines:

    YEAR  TM   G  SB  CS   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
    1979 Oak  89  33  11 .274 .338 .336  .674 
    1980 Oak 158 100  26 .303 .420 .399  .819 
    1981 Oak 108  56  22 .319 .408 .437  .845 
    1982 Oak 149 130  42 .267 .398 .382  .780 
    1983 Oak 145 108  19 .292 .414 .421  .835 
    1984 Oak 142  66  18 .293 .399 .458  .857 
    1985 NYY 143  80  10 .314 .419 .516  .935 
    1986 NYY 153  87  18 .263 .358 .469  .827 
    1987 NYY  95  41   8 .291 .423 .497  .920 
    1988 NYY 140  93  13 .305 .394 .399  .793 
    1989 --  150  77  14 .274 .411 .399  .810 
    1990 Oak 136  65  10 .325 .439 .577 1.016 
    1991 Oak 134  58  18 .268 .400 .423  .823 
    1992 Oak 117  48  11 .283 .426 .457  .883 
    1993 --  134  53   8 .289 .432 .474  .906 
    1994 Oak  87  22   7 .260 .411 .365  .776 
    1995 Oak 112  32  10 .300 .407 .447  .854 
    1996 SD  148  37  15 .241 .410 .344  .754 
    1997 --  120  45   8 .248 .400 .342  .742 
    1998 Oak 152  66  13 .236 .376 .347  .723 
    1999 NYM 121  37  14 .315 .423 .466  .889 
    2000 --  123  36  11 .233 .368 .305  .673 
    2001 SD  123  25   7 .227 .366 .351  .717 
    2002 Bos  72   8   2 .223 .369 .352  .721
    Total  3051 1403 335 .279 .402 .419  .821  

    This ignores Henderson's defensive contributions, which were outstanding. You may remember than Henderson came up as a natural center fielder–and a very good one–but moved to left field because of the presence of Dwayne Murphy, one of the few people who's ever been better.

    But consider this context–Henderson spent the first 17 years of his career in absolutely miserable hitters' parks. For most of that time, league offense was significantly depressed compared to the levels we see today. The Oakland Coliseum's park factor was 93 during Henderson's first full year, and he patrolled the OF in Yankee Stadium when the dimensions there were still enormous. During his prime, Rickey didn't see anything even close to a hitters' park as his home field.

    Henderson is probably the most underappreciated player of all time. Not because he hasn't gotten attention, but because people don't seem to grasp precisely how amazing a player Henderson's been.

    That said, it's going to be an uphill climb to find a spot for the 2003 season. He hasn't really hit lefties for the last several years, he hasn't posted a batting average over .240 since 1999, and a 44-year-old pinch runner and right-handed bat off the bench is a pretty tough sell. We'll definitely be rooting for him, and there's likely a spot where he can play a role for a good club–no matter what else, Rickey still looks like he can post a .360 OBP and steal a few bases, and it's nice to have that in reserve if you're a manager.

  • There's been a whole bunch of questions coming in about minor leaguers, scouting, playing time projections, new parks, etc. Normally, I'd refer people to the Minor League Scouting Notebook, which is a must-read every year. This year, I can't do that, because STATS is no longer publishing that, nor the green or red books. We've tried to address some of the loss of the red and green books by including untranslated stats in Baseball Prospectus 2003, and if you miss John Sickels' excellent work on minor league players, the good news is that he's publishing his book himself this year. It's called the John Sickels Baseball Prospect Book, and it should be outstanding, since he's now out from under the editorial thumb of STATS. You can order John's book here at the BP Store, and he should have it wrapped up and out the door shortly.
  • The first Northern California Pizza Feed takes place next Tuesday night at the BART-Friendly Round Table Pizza in Concord. It's a big venue, so we've got some space left. If you want to come on out and celebrate pitchers and catchers' arrival in Arizona and Florida, please do. The Feeds are always a lot of fun, and it's great to get to meet people. Once the season starts, the Pizza Feeds fill up extremely quickly, so this is a great opportunity for you to attend. There's still space left for Saturday afternoon's Southern California Feed in Redondo Beach too, so come on out.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.


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