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.

Video: Albert Almora, Jr. saved by the ivy

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
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The ALCS had a weird play in Game 4 on Tuesday night, but Game 4 of the NLCS did as well. This one involved Cubs outfielder Albert Almora, Jr. and his attempt to spark a rally in the bottom of the ninth inning against Dodgers reliever Ross Stripling.

After Alex Avila singled, Almora ripped a double to left field, past a diving Enrique Hernandez. The ball rolled to the ivy in front of the wall. Most outfielders there would’ve put their hands up, which would have alerted the umpires to call an immediate ground-rule double. Hernandez didn’t, instead fishing the ball out and firing it back into the infield. Avila had stopped at third base, but Almora kept running. Much to his surprise, he pulled up into third base to see his teammate standing there, resigned to his fate as a dead duck. Third baseman Justin Turner applied the tag on Almora for what he thought was the first out of the inning.

Almora, however, was then sent back to second base after the umpires correctly called a ground-rule double.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, the lucky break didn’t help as closer Kenley Jansen came in and took care of business, retiring all three batters he faced without letting an inherited runner score. The Dodgers won 6-1 and now lead the NLCS three games to none. They’ll try to punch their ticket to the World Series on Wednesday.