The business of baseball is grounded in finding the best players to field teams and win championships. After those players complete their first three seasons of play, they are eligible to negotiate with clubs for a salary that is worth their performance, output, and impact on their team. If the player and club do not agree on a salary, they go to arbitration.
In each arbitration, the player files a salary number and so does the club. The filing number is the equivalent of what each side thinks the player is worth. The average between the two salaries filed is the midpoint. Your job as an advocate is to showcase why your client’s salary number is more reasonable compared to your adversary. Baseball arbitration is a unique form of arbitration because it all comes down to one dollar. If you can show that your player is worth one dollar more or less than the midpoint, your side gets the salary filed.
Your argument of the facts and ability to persuade the panel of arbitrators is the difference in your client winning or losing thousands of dollars. Lawyers negotiating on both sides do not have the luxury of using case law, precedent, or dicta to persuade the arbitrators their salary filing number is reasonable. They can only use statistics from the player’s first three seasons of play, individual awards, and post-season team success. By crafting an argument with strength in numbers, the panel will see why a player is worth their filing number.
Step 1: Research
The first step in creating an argument is understanding what the statistics mean. Traditional baseball statistics include hits (H), runs batted in (RBI), homeruns (HR), batting average (AVG), and strikeouts (SO). These statistics are traditional statistics because they have been used throughout the history of baseball. These focus on limited elements offensively and defensively. For example, a hit occurs when a batter strikes the baseball into fair territory and reaches base without an error or a fielder’s choice. For a hit, there are four types: singles, doubles, triples and home runs. The statistic does not take into effect what that hit does for the team in scoring runs. Newer statistics in baseball with the emergence of “Sabermetrics” helps combine multiple traditional baseball statistics to measure efficiency. The statistics help show the value of a player offensively and defensively. Offensively as a hitter two new statistics measured are on-base percentage (OBP) and on-base plus slugging (OPS). Sabermetric stats such as OBP and OPS are different from other statistics offensively because they show a player’s ability to score runs. The statistics illustrate there is a predictable relationship between a player’s batting and how many runs they produce. On offense, a player who brings in more run creates more opportunities to win. The more efficient the player is at producing runs, the more valuable the player is to his team. These numbers are not just the output of the player while at bat. The statistics show the consistency, grit, and effectiveness of the player on the field.
While researching the statistics of your player, it is critical to understand the differences in the types of statistics and the nuances of your specific player. First you must determine what position they play. Then, you can compare how they fare against players in the same position, the impact they have on their team, and their success across the league. A Cy Young nominated pitcher is going to have completely different statistics compared to a power-hitting first baseman during arbitration. Statistics will also show how consistent players are over the course of their career, versus their platform season. The platform season is the preceding season to the arbitration. A player who progressively gets better each season of their career and has an elite platform season can argue for a higher salary filing. Those same facts can also prove inconsistency throughout their career. The value in the player is determined by how you spin the usefulness of the statistics available.
Step 2: Creating your Slideshow Presentation
During the presentation of your argument, you are allowed to use a demonstrative slideshow. In this slideshow you present the main points of your argument and comparable players. The comparable players in the slideshow is critical to your player analysis.
In order to display how your player is worth more or less than the midpoint, you compare them to other players of similar position, output, and salary. In your presentation, you take the statistics of your player and compare them to another group of comparable players. With your presentation, you can use graphs, tables, photos, and quotes to showcase how the players compare.
For example, Shohei Ohtani had a landmark 2021 season for the Los Angeles Angels. The only comparable player to Ohtani, who pitches and bats at an elite level, is Babe Ruth. Comparing a player in the arbitration process to one of the greatest players in the history of baseball is very persuasive. Lacking statistics can be positive or negative based on your argument. For the player side, not having statistics to compare is a positive because it shows how unique of a two-way player Ohtani is. On the Los Angeles club side, arbitrators can state the difficulty of finding a reasonable salary number for a player who is the only player in his position performing on the offensive and defensive side of the field.
The final touch to your presentation is proof-reading. You can only make one lasting first impression. Your PowerPoint presentation should be free of grammatical errors and use the correct statistics. You also should be able to clearly read the presentation. Judges want to see visually appealing slides with the correct information presented. Otherwise, it is hard to believe an arbitrator who does not present their client in the best light.
Step 3. Presenting Your Argument
Now you present your argument to a panel of judges. During the time you have in front of the arbitrators you must present the player’s current and career contribution, awards, post-season success, past compensation, time on the injured list, mental and physical condition, and the team’s recent success. Additionally, you must use your comparison to other players to show that your player is either better than, equal to, or below the level of play of the comparable players.
The player side goes first. It is effective to have a theme for your argument. Crafting an argument with a theme makes it easy for the panel of judges to follow and focus on your big picture ideas. The theme also helps the judges conclude why your player deserves a salary above the midpoint. After laying out the theme, you present your narrative of who the player is, how they have played in their first three seasons, and why their platform season performance is significant. This gives the judges a holistic view of who your player is. By weaving in critical statistics, awards, and impact within the league with your reasoning for the salary number, a judge will be persuaded to agree with your salary filing.
It is important to recognize the weaknesses in your argument as well. A judge and opposing counsel will rip apart your argument for ignoring statistics or periods of time to better support your argument. The goal is to recognize the inconsistency and pivot the attention of the panel back to a strength in your argument. Persuasion is key. If you make a persuasive argument that recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of your player, you show the judges you are making a reasonable, articulate argument proving the player is worth a salary above the midpoint.
Finally, the club side makes their argument. The club side is a practical argument. As an arbitrator on the club side, you want to keep this player. That is why you went to arbitration. Your job is not to break down the player and degrade their performance for the club. Your job is to show why you love this player and want to keep him on your roster. Unfortunately, he is asking for too much money. Through your analysis, you can show how he is comparable to players within a pay bracket below the midpoint.
For example, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was a player in the 2022 International Arbitration Competition. He filed for a salary of $10 million and the club filed for $6 million, so his midpoint was $8 million. He had a service time of 2.157 years, due to a shortened 2020 Covid season. During the 2021 season, Guerrero Jr. made an All-Star Appearance, won the Silver Slugger Award, won the Hank Aaron Award, and was second in MVP voting. While these are exceptional statistics for his platform season, the club argued he did not have the career awards or statistics to match up to a salary above the midpoint. His performance aligned more with players paid below the midpoint, who had great platform season statistics, but they did not have multiple years of All-Star appearances, Silver Slugger Awards, or success in the playoffs.
On the club side, you want to show the judges that you are making a logical, practicable argument for the benefit of the organization and the player. The argument is not as personal as the player’s side. The club side is a persuasive, sensible argument. While recognizing that the player is incredibly important, the club asserts that the salary does not fit the level of performance. The strength in that argument comes from numbers. If you can persuade the judges by looking at the statistics across the player’s career, awards, and success in the playoffs, you will win your argument.
Conclusion: Reviewing Your Argument
The process of researching, writing, and presenting an argument is a time-consuming, tedious task. At the end of your argument, it is important to reflect. The arbitrators will give you feedback on how you did. They will refer to your exhibits and the clarity of the information provided. They will also tell you the strengths and weaknesses of your argument and how well you presented the information. Overall, take the notes from the seasoned professionals and see where you can improve to best support your client.
Baseball arbitration is a fun, engaging environment because you must be creative. Looking at the limitation in resources of your argument to strictly statistics, awards, and postseason success creates an even playing field. Arbitrators are forced to create the most appealing exhibits and persuasive arguments to be remembered. By finding the strength in numbers, you can become the best advocate for your side of the argument.