Deciding Three AL Arbitration Cases-Off the Radar

Darren O’Day helped the Baltimore Orioles to a surprise playoff berth but should he win his arbitration case? Check out the analysis below. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Previously, I looked at 5 different arbitration cases in the National League and made judgments as to who deserved to “win” the arbitration case. Strangely (many teams don’t let the process go this far, for example, the Rangers haven’t actually gone to arbitration since 2000), there weren’t as many interesting arbitration cases in the American League as there was in the National League. So instead, I looked at just 3 cases, and elaborated on them a little more than in the previous post.

Darren O’Day: Orioles

O’Day: 3.2 million

Orioles: 1.8 million

MLBTR Projection: 2.2 million

On one hand, the Rangers basically gave O’Day after 2011, losing him on waivers after an injury plagued season. On the other hand, O’Day has been mostly fantastic in his career. He always seems to be undervalued by teams, as he was let go by the Mets and the Angels unceremoniously, but has a career 62 ERA – (and FIP 80 -). He is a sidearming reliever, limiting his ceiling obviously as he doesn’t have much of a fastball and he is stuck pitching in situational roles, but I have argued that situational relievers have been undervalued (though Randy Choate’s new contract suggests that teams may be starting to recognize that these players actually have real tangible value and should receive more than minor league contracts). MLBTR sides closer to the Orioles, and it is a little hard to believe that a pitcher with 247.2 career innings (not to mention he will most likely only throw 40 or so innings in 2013) and has an injury history deserves 3.2 million dollars. However, considering he has been worth at least 1 win above replacement (at least according to FanGraphs) in 3 of the last 4 years (and ~5 million per WAR is usually the going rate), a 3.2 million dollar salary is hardly absurd, especially when you look at things like the Rafael Soriano and Brandon League contracts.

Jason Hammel: Orioles

Oct 7, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Jason Hammel (39) throws in the first inning of game one of the 2012 ALDS against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Hammel: 8.25 million

Orioles: 5.7 million

MLBTR Projection: 6.5 million

Like O’Day (but unlike Jim Johnson), the MLB Trade Rumor Projection is closer to the team than the player. In what proved to be a steal, the Orioles acquired Hammel in a trade for Jeremy Guthrie. Hammel had a stretch where he was one of the best starters in baseball, and while a knee injury limited him to 20 starts, he had a 77 FIP -, career high (53.2%) ground-ball rate, and nearly a strikeout an inning (22.9 %). He limited homers better than he has in his entire career, but it may be hard to say he is due to regress, as he pitched the previous 3 seasons in Colorado (his highest HR/9IP actually came when he was pitching for the Rays). He was predictably better on the road than at home when he was with Colorado and in 2012 the average batted ball went 12 feet shorter on average than the batted balls he gave up from 2009-2011. Even when adding park factors and the way the ball travels in Colorado, this is quite a large difference. He did a good job of hitting the corners in 2012, as he was on par with Jered Weaver (who has a notoriously bad fastball when it comes to velocity but has superior command) in Edge %. His Edge % was basically the same in 2011, suggesting that most of the problems was just Colorado, and that is what was keeping him from being a pretty special (if not elite) pitcher. If the Orioles have a legit number 1 starter (or anything even close to that), then even the 8.25 million he is asking for is a bargain for the Orioles. For his career, he has only been an averagish pitcher, but he was clearly a different pitcher with the Rays and Colorado clearly hurt his numbers. However, he has a big ground-ball rate, an above average fastball (93.2 MPH for his career and 93.6 MPH in 2012), a hard slider, a relatively hard curve, and a changeup that averaged over 88 MPH in 2012. That stuff alone, along with the command Hammel has shown, would earn him more than 8 million dollars in the open market. Even with the injury concerns (knees are still concerning, but at least it didn’t have anything to do with his arm), I would expect the Orioles to try to give him some kind of extension. The Orioles rotation has been very shaky, and it would be nice to keep Hammel around to help anchor it.

Mike Aviles: Indians

August 26, 2012; Boston, MA USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Mike Aviles (3) throws the ball to first base during the third inning against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Aviles: 3.4 million

Indians: 2.4 million

MLBTR Projection: 2.3 million

Aviles probably fits best as a utility player, but he can be a starter and has a 1.1 career WAA. Of course, most of this comes from his rookie year and he is below average over the last 3 years. Most of the defensive measurements like him, and his hitting is acceptable for a middle infielder. Aviles did get to play 136 games for the Red Sox last year, as they traded away their top 2 shortstops, but the Red Sox weren’t a very good team, and the off-season (with him being traded by both the Red Sox and the Blue Jays) does show that he isn’t valued too highly. This is an argument from authority obviously, but this is something that may be considered by the arbitration judge. It also appears that he isn’t going to be a starter for the Indians, as they already have Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis. They were rumored to be ready to trade Cabrera, but they haven’t yet, so it appears Aviles will be the utility infielder behind two legitimate starters. This makes you wonder just how much playing time he will actually get, meaning that he will provide less pure value simply cause of playing time.