MLB’s Latest Proposal Would Swap Arbitration for WAR Algorithm

In yet another sign that they are either completely oblivious to reality or actually want a work stoppage, MLB owners have proposed a drastic change to the salary arbitration system. The current model sees team and player file separate figures before settling on a number or having the case determined by an arbitrator. While it’s far from perfect and could be tweaked to be more equitable, it’s far from the worst aspect of the CBA.

But rather than simply adjust the process a little, the brain geniuses on the league side reportedly want to use an algorithm to determine salaries for arb-eligible players. I can only imagine this came from someone talking about how players are more into analytics and would probably go for something like this. Because who wouldn’t want to give up all control of their salary to a mysterious algorithm?

Well, it’s not entirely mysterious because the owners would lean on FanGraphs’ WAR calculation (fWAR) by using career numbers weighted for recency. Even if there is some merit to removing the pitfalls of a system that doesn’t adequately account for advanced metrics, fWAR is very sketchy when it comes to pitchers in general and would crush relievers in particular. As Evan Drellich and Eno Sarris point out in The Athletic, teams could “game those numbers” to suppress the market even more than before.

If this is any indication of the good faith with which owners will be operating this winter — and everything we know says it is — these negotiations are going to drag out for a while. The idea that it’ll be “2 1/2 months of pain” actually sounds optimistic to me, so I sincerely hope the owners realize they’re already in a position of strength and can easily afford to give a little on some key topics.

Alas, that’s not in their nature.

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