Why most arbitration cases settle

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Arbitration season starts in earnest today, as the filing period for arbitration begins. Players and
teams will exchange figures on Jan. 19th. The hearings begin on February 1st.

Arbitration, most people don’t realize, is basically litigation, and as is the case with litigation, most arbitration cases settle. Ninety percent, in fact. There are a number of reasons for this. One of them is institutional: the system is set up so that the arbitrators have to pick either the player’s number or the teams, with no splitting the baby. As such, the only hope of real compromise comes from a pre-hearing settlement. There’s also the small matter of the process favoring teams to some degree: Since 1974, arbitrators have ruled on behalf of the players 207 times and clubs 280 times, so players may tend to lean settlement out of defense.

But there’s also the fact that the arbitration process can be difficult for the players on a personal level, as teams and players are forced by the process to say the stupidest things about the player’s ability in order to justify their positions. If you ever have the good fortune to have a beer with agent, ask him to tell you arbitration war stories. You won’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Today MLB.com has a good one:

When Mike Scioscia was in the midst of a sterling career as the catcher
for the Los Angeles Dodgers, he walked into a late 1985 arbitration
hearing with plenty of confidence, having just finished second in the
National League with a .407 on-base percentage for a division-winning
club.

Well, as is often the case in arbitration, he didn’t exactly hear what he wanted.

The club told Scioscia that the hardly-fleet-of-foot backstop was actually getting on base too much and therefore clogging up the bases to the detriment of the offense.

I imagine that the denigration of a player’s skills — and the accompanying glorifying of those skills by the player — has gotten a little more sophisticated than that.  But probably not too much.  If the Giants are dumb enough to let Tim Lincecum go to an actual arbitration hearing as opposed to settling, they’ll have to say something. And given that Brian Sabean is the Giants’ GM, it’ll probably be something about him being an unproven kid.

So, watch the arbitration filings and figures fly, but know this much: most everyone is going to settle because arbitration really, really sucks.

Clayton Kershaw struggles with control, walks six Marlins

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Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw entered Wednesday night’s start against the Marlins without having issued a walk in his previous three starts. In fact, his last walk came on April 3 when he issued a free pass to Paul Goldschmidt with the bases empty and two outs in the bottom of the first inning. All told, Kershaw was on a streak of 26 walk-less innings before he took the mound at home to take on the Marlins.

Kershaw started off Wednesday in character, striking out the side in the first inning. He issued a walk in a tough second inning, but escaped without allowing a run. Kershaw walked two more in the third and again danced out of danger. In the fourth, Kershaw walked Lewis Brinson to load the bases with no outs and — you guessed it — didn’t end up allowing a run. His errant control finally came back to bite him in the fifth when Kershaw issued back-to-back two-out walks, then served up a three-run home run to Miguel Rojas down the left field line. His night was done when he completed the inning. Five innings, three runs, five hits, six walks, seven strikeouts, 112 pitches.

The six walks Kershaw issued over five innings marked his first six-walk outing since April 7, 2010 when he issued six free passes to the Pirates in 4 2/3 innings. The only other time he walked as many was on August 3, 2009 against the Brewers in a four-plus inning outing. Kershaw hasn’t even walked five batters in an outing recently — the last time was September 23, 2012 against the Reds.