Rays Reliever Ryan Thompson Offers Detailed Explanation of How Arb Process Really Works

Major League Baseball’s arbitration process isn’t really a mystery because most everyone grasps the basic concept pretty readily. Eligible players and their teams file separate salary figures for the upcoming year and, if an agreement isn’t reached prior to a certain date, the two sides plead their case before a non-partisan panel. Those arbitrators will then declare one party the “winner,” thus locking in that salary figure.

Those who possess a deeper understanding know that teams are particularly cutthroat when presenting their evidence, arguing that an otherwise valuable player isn’t worth as much money as he’s requested. Take the Brewers, who claimed staff ace and recent Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes was the reason they missed the postseason in 2022.  Even though players understand it’s a business, arbitration can cause rifts that may never heal.

That’s a big part of the reason why the Cubs have gone to the arbitration table so few times, with only Ryan Theriot (2010), Justin Grimm (2018), and Ian Happ (2021) making it all the way through the process in the last 15 years. Happ is the only one of those three to win his case, earning $4.1 million rather than the team’s proposed figure of $3.25 million in his first year of eligibility. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Happ and his reps have worked out settlements in each of the last two years.

Willson Conteras was headed to the panel in 2022, but the lockout postponed proceedings and he and the Cubs ended up settling for $9.625 million in early June of last year.

Now that we’ve established a little background on the very basics of arbitration, I want to dive into the process on a granular level with the help of Rays reliever Ryan Thompson. The 30-year-old righty was arb-eligible for the first time this winter and he laid out in painstaking detail why he will be earning $1 million this season rather than the $1.225 million at which he filed.

Setting aside the fact that it’s really odd for a team to take a hard-line stance for a quarter-million dollars, the facts of how it played out are eye-opening. Those who want to interact with the thread in its native format can go ahead and do so, but Thompson’s tweets are all included below as individual pull quotes. Check those out and we’ll meet up again on the other side.

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”. Noone 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.

What stood out most to me was the arbitrators’ seeming lack of anything more than rudimentary baseball knowledge, followed closely by the fact that they retired to the bar to make hash out their decision. While we’re obviously getting the player’s version of events, this tracks with what I’m sure many of us already assumed was the case.

Thompson’s mistake, one he readily admits, was believing the Rays would abide by the letter of the law rather than gaming the system. The team was able to use the panelists’ lack of in-depth understanding to strengthen its case and effectively skew Thompson’s results. It seems as if the Rays used the same tack as the Brewers in laying postseason absence at the feet of a single pitcher, which is apparently as effective as it is disingenuous.

That said, my goal here was not to defame any individuals or even to take up arms against what appears to be an unfair — or at least unsavory — labor practice. It’s really just as simple as wanting to share some information I encountered this morning and found fascinating. I hope you’ve learned a little bit about a process that to this point remained somewhat esoteric despite being quite visible.

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