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Predicting Tyler Clippard's arbitration award against the Athletics

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Are there good reasons to award a $3 million raise to a 2014 setup man?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A's expect to take both Tyler Clippard and Jarrod Parker to arbitration hearings, writes Joe Stiglich of CSN Bay Area. Under Billy Beane's tenure, the A's have taken only two players all the way to a hearing, winning against Juan Cruz in 2005 and Ariel Preito in 2000, according to MLB.com's Jane Lee.

I wrote about Jarrod Parker's case back in October, citing an article by Wendy Thurm in Fangraphs noting that there are no comparable players who lost their entire season to Tommy John surgery immediately preceding their first arbitration year. The club has submitted an $850,000 contract, Parker $1,700,000.

Clippard is an entirely different matter altogether. The arbitration hearings are scheduled to take place between February 1-20, so time runs short to resolve the impasse before then. Clippard submitted for $8,850,000, the club $7,775,000.

What sort of arguments are we likely to see? First, here are the criteria for the arbitrators to consider, from the 2012-16 Basic Agreement, edited for clarity:

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 most important of these criteria are the comparisons to contracts for similar baseball players. In Clippard's case, we will be looking at the rise in salaries of 2014's non-closer relievers with over five years service time, limiting the table to those that garnered raises of at least $1.5 million:

2012-14 non-closer relief pitcher arbitration results, compared to Tyler Clippard, sorted by salary increase
Pitcher Platform year statistics
Plat.
Year
Contract notes (Salary in $MM)
IP ERA WHIP SO/9 BB/9 SO/BB Service Salary
Prior
Salary
Salary
Increase
Tyler Clippard (player) 70.1 2.18 0.995 10.5 2.9 3.57 2014 5.148 8.850 5.875 2.975
David Robertson 66.1 2.04 1.040 10.4 2.4 4.28 2013 5.070 5.215 3.100 2.115
Tyler Clippard (club) 70.1 2.18 0.995 10.5 2.9 3.57 2014 5.148 7.775 5.875 1.900
Luke Gregerson 72.1 2.12 1.009 7.3 1.9 3.93 2013 5.000 5.065 3.200 1.865
Mike Adams 73.2 1.47 0.787 9.0 1.7 5.29 2011 5.019 4.400 2.535 1.865
Eric O'Flaherty 57.1 1.73 1.151 7.2 3.0 2.42 2012 5.062 4.320 2.490 1.830
Neal Cotts 57.0 1.11 0.947 10.3 2.8 3.61 2013 5.041 2.200 0.490 1.710
Edward Mujica 65.1 3.03 1.041 6.5 1.7 3.92 2012 5.115 3.200 1.625 1.575

It is hard to discern too many differences here from the top comparables of the last three arbitration classes. In favor of the club, a mid-point raise of just over $2.4 million would be the largest raise for a non-closer with more than five years service time on a one-year deal. Clippard will practically end up bearing the burden on explaining why he deserves such a raise. He has a few factors running in his favor, however, that might lead the arbitrators to consider a superlative award for a non-closer.

Clippard is trusted with many high-leverage situations

Number of saves continues to be the dominant reason for enormous awards for relievers. His past experience as a closer, earning 32 saves for the Nationals in 2012, might lend more credence to arguments that his lack of saves is merely an issue of opportunity rather than quality. Clippard also aided the Nationals in reaching the postseason in 2014, leading all of baseball in holds with 40.

The team could counter by noting that Clippard has already been amply awarded for his performance as a closer with the $4 million contract he earned in 2013, which was the base for the $5.8 million contract he earned as a setup pitcher in 2014.

Additionally, the team can say that Clippard was given plenty of opportunities to perform in critical situations, but did not perform with the consistency that David Robertson did:

Pitcher Save situations SvSit% by lead
Hold SV BS SvSit SvSit% 1-run 2-run 3-run
David Robertson (2013) 33 3 2 38 95% 100% 100% 71%
Tyler Clippard (2014) 40 1 6 47 87% 71% 89% 100%
Luke Gregerson (2013) 25 4 5 34 85% 80% 88% 86%
Neal Cotts (2013) 11 1 3 15 80% 70% 100% 100%

A save situation is any time a reliever enters with a lead of one, two, or three runs, or with the tying run on deck. A save situation is converted if it results in a hold or a save, and lost if it results in a blown save. A save situation differs from a save opportunity in that a save opportunity is only counted if the reliever's appearance results in a save or a blown save.

Aside from Clippard's lower save situation percentage, Clippard's performance in the most critical of situations, preserving a one-run lead, pales in comparison to Daniel Robertson's perfection. Clippard was handed a one-run lead 14 times in 2014, and lost that lead four times, all when entering with the bases empty.

David Robertson, on the other hand, held on to all 13 of his one-run leads in 2013, which the team can point out as an argument for what merited Robertson's superlative $2.115 million raise, and why Clippard, though an excellent pitcher, does not merit such an increase.

None of the comparables are also All-Stars

Tyler Clippard has what might be the unique quality of being a two-time All-Star reliever despite not being his team's closer at the time of either of his appearances. Of the comparables listed, none made the All-Star Game in their platform year, and David Robertson is the only other All-Star prior to their platform year (Edward Mujica made the All-Star Game the following year).

These sorts of arguments fall under the category of public appeal arguments. One can never be quite sure how the arbitrators are going to view such arguments, but I don't think they are worth the half million dollars needed to take Clippard to the mid-point that already stands above David Robertson's 2014 raise.

The team has good reason to stay close to its figure

Considering these comparables, it is no wonder the team has a good incentive to stick to its submission of a $1.9 million raise (to $7.775 million), even if Clippard offered to meet in the middle at around a $2.4 million rise. Rather than hazard a guess at the likelihood the club wins, here's an evaluation of settlements assuming both parties are risk-neutral:

Salary Raise
Player submission $8,850,000 $2,975,000
Midpoint $8,312,500 $2,437,500
60% Settlement $8,205,000 $2,330,000
70% Settlement $8,097,500 $2,222,500
80% Settlement $7,990,000 $2,115,000
90% Settlement $7,882,500 $2,007,500
Club submission $7,775,000 $1,900,000

For example, if both the club and Clippard think the club has an 80% chance of winning at arbitration, and both are risk-neutral, then a settlement at about $8 million is sensible. Here are two ways of saying the same thing: (1) The club would be buying off the 20% risk of losing $1,075,000 for $215,000, or (2) the player is buying the 80% risk of losing $1,075,000 for $860,000.

I think the A's have a great chance of winning at a hearing.

An impasse arises when the two sides disagree on their chances of winning. If the club thinks their argument is almost a lock (e.g. 90% chance of winning) while Clippard's camp thinks its 50-50, the club has no reason to go to the middle. A proposed midpoint settlement would be buying off, say, a 10% chance of losing $1,075,000 for $500,000. The club will roll the dice against paying that premium, unless it was particularly risk-averse.

I think the A's have a great chance at winning at a hearing, but I am still not sure it gets that far. Despite reports of an impasse, parties have a way of suddenly reevaluating their chances as their arbitration hearing date draws closer. Do not be too surprised by a deal before the hearing, or even at the door to the hearing room, as happened with Andre Ethier in 2009.

Thank you to the MLB Trade Rumors arbitration trackers to tracking down comparables, and Baseball Reference for statistics.