BtB Mailbag: Arbitration & Free Agent Compensation

BOSTON - SEPTEMBER 22: Adrian Beltre #29 of the Boston Red Sox hits a single in the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles on September 22 2010 at Fenway Park in Boston Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Welcome back to the BtB Mailbag, where every week we take our best shot at your best questions. Send your questions to btbquestions@gmail.com and include your name for inclusion.

Just a couple questions this week - it is a holiday* after all.

* In that spirit, I'd like give thanks for the whole Beyond the Box Score crew - past and present - and all the other great baseball writers out there who put out such interesting, informative, and enjoyable to read work; all the people who read my ramblings; Albert Pujols' swing, Mariano Rivera's cutter, and Nick Markakis' arm; and my family and friends, I guess.

First up is Dan: What's the most surprising arbitration decision?

Initially I was a little surprised to see Toronto offer it to Jason Frasor, given that as a type A free agent I can't see him getting much on the open market - and thus he'd be pretty likely to accept. I suppose the cost for the Jays wouldn't be that bad though, so there's some mild risk but the potential for a good return if Frasor did leave.

In the same vein, I was surprised that the Orioles didn't offer arbitration to Koji Uehara. Koji should be a relatively attractive bullpen arm, the O's can really use the draft picks, and the down-side of having to pay him $5 M for one more year isn't that bad,. Arthur Rhodes too, especially since the Reds want to bring him back anyway. And Jon Rauch and the Twins. Really, it looks like teams are being more frugal when it comes to relievers. Perhaps they're thinking that teams aren't going to be valuing relief pitchers as highly on the free agent market and so for the players (and their agents) accepting arbitration rather than having it used against them (teams should be paying less for players for whom they also have to give up a draft pick) might start looking like a better option.

Otherwise it's things like Trevor Hoffman being offered arbitration, but it seems like he had an agreement with the Brewers to decline. Nothing too out-there this year, in my opinion.

Jesse: Why is Scott Downs a Class A free agent when Adrian Beltre is a class B free agent?

Because the free agent compensation system is really, really stupid? Scott Downs (8.0 career fWAR, 1.2 fWAR in '10) is only compared against other relievers, and since he's one of the better ones around - in this case, in the categories that Elias looks at (Total games, IP, Wins + Saves, IP/H, K/BB, ERA ) - he gets an A designation. Beltre (7.1 fWAR just in '10), on the other hand, gets compared against not just third-basemen but also* second-basemen and shortstops, using PA, AVG, OBP, HR, RBI, fielding percentage, and total chances at designated position. Beltre - while averaging almost 5 fWAR over the past two seasons - had those numbers dragged down by a superficially rough 2009. He missed some time with an injury I don't want to repeat, resulting in his first season with less than 600 plate appearances (477) since 2001. Elias doesn't park-adjust their stats, so Beltre's .265/.304/.379 batting line and only 8 home runs that year look even worse than they really were due to how tough Safeco is on right-handed batters. Being in a poor line-up didn't help in the RBI department either (just 44). Also, so much of Beltre's value comes from his defense - and more in the range department than with fielding percentage. So in multiple areas, the stats that go into determining a player's free agent compensation status would unappreciate how good of a player Adrian Beltre is.

* This might actually be to Beltre's benefit - third-basemen tend to hit better than shortstops, after all - but I'm not sure it makes a ton of sense.

Even with all that though, I still expected Beltre to slip into the Type A group. MLB Trade Rumors actually has him listed there, even though Maury Brown has him as a type B (which is where the question comes from). My intuition is that the latter is a mistake, and that Beltre really is a type A. That doesn't mean the system isn't stupid, since it's entirely possible that a situation like Beltre at B could occur. Beyond not judging the players all that well, how effectively the idea behind the system is carried out isn't great either. RJ Anderson got into this in some detail earlier this year.

Bob: How much longer will Albert Pujols play?

Until he gets tired of dominating in the Majors and heads back to his home planet? If you call Pujols a 7 WAR player for 2011, a 0.5 win decline per year would have him retiring (or, at least, becoming a replacement level player) in 2025, while being somewhere in the neighborhood of 10th all-time in WAR amongst position players.

Jacob:: Thanksgiving is coming up, so the Cowboys and the Lions are playing (right?). In that light, answer this: Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith?

Barry Sanders was my gut response, and reading this discussion at Football Outsiders doesn't change my mind. The highlight video of Barry is amazing; both the running and the music.

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