A few days back, T.J. Zuppe of The Athletic sat down with former ALCS MVP and current MLBPA player rep Andrew Miller for a chat about what he describes as the “science” aspect in the game of baseball across the past couple of years. Specifically, the two talked about the way pitcher usage is slowly morphing towards a landscape in which each individual matchup, and the leverage situation in each of them, has a much greater impact on when and how pitchers are used.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of their conversation is the subject of the arbitration process as it relates to relief pitchers. Miller describes the arbitration process as “a little bit behind”, which makes a lot of sense considering the fact that reliever raises take the saves stat into significant consideration. With reliever usage shifting the way it has been (the usage of Miller, Josh Hader and Sergio Romo are all good examples), the correlation between the best relievers and the relievers earning the most saves will continue to decrease.
One other item that Miller brought up is that perhaps stats like WPA will end up coming more into play as the arbitration process adapts (painfully slowly) to the way players are valued in free agency. Even that, however, could be problematic considering that Tampa Bay’s “openers” won’t work in particularly high leverage situations to begin the game (as Miller himself notes).
If the way relievers are rewarded during arbitration doesn’t already seem silly to you, consider the fact that, if both entered arbitration today, Arodys Vizcaino would be likely to earn a far larger raise than Josh Hader due to his accumulation of saves, or in essence, the fact that he’s been used in the ninth inning more frequently during his career. Hader, of course, is considered to be a far better relief pitcher based on nearly every statistical category typically used to evaluate reliever value.
One of the issues this creates, says Miller, is an incentive for pre-arb or arb-eligible players (and their agents) to push for use in certain innings, rather than accept the assignments they’re given during the game. Speaking from a hypothetical player’s point of view, Miller says, “If the only difference is the situation I’m pitching in, that’s worth $4 million, I want that $4 million. I’m going to go in there (and demand it).”
He’s right, and the fact that the arbitration system incentivizes a structure that runs somewhat contrary to the most efficient use of a bullpen seems problematic. So we want to hear your thoughts. What would you like to see happen to the arbitration process as it relates to relievers? (Poll link for app users)