Last week, the Washington Nationals and a member of their starting rotation, John Lannan, had their case heard by arbitrators after failing to come to an agreement on terms for the upcoming 2012 season. The arbitrators ruled in favor of the Nationals. As a result Lannan will be paid $5 million instead of the $5.7 million he requested. Monday, the Miami Marlins lost their case to starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez. Sanchez will be paid his requested amount of $8 million. The Marlins offered $6.9 million. So, while I’ve never sat inside the room of one of these hearings, it is interesting to see what sways the arbitrators to one side versus the other. I’ll take a stab at determining if the respective panels made the right decision.
Lannan has been with the Nationals for five seasons compiling a 38-51 record with a 4.00 ERA (4.61 FIP) over 751 IP. In 2011, he went 10-13 with a 3.70 ERA (4.28 FIP) in 184.2 IP. This equated to a 1.3 WAR. Lannan’s WAR figures have constantly been in the low 1’s. His best season was in 2009 with a 1.4 WAR. Lannan is an extreme contact pitcher (85.6% for his career). He doesn’t strike many batters out (4.71 K/9 for career) and walks too many hitters (3.38 BB/9 for career). He gets by with a very high ground ball to fly ball ratio of 1.90 for his career.
Since Lannan has been incredibly consistent in terms of WAR, I believe it is fair to assume he will come close to duplicating his average from 2008 – 2011 of 1.25 WAR. FanGraphs determined Lannan’s 2011 WAR of 1.3 to be worth $5.9 million, which is $4.54 million per 1 WAR. If we add 5% for inflationary purposes to that figure we get $4.76 million per 1 WAR for 2012. So, 1.25 WAR would be worth $5.96 million. Even Lannan’s requested contract is below the market value.
The Nationals were able to convince the arbitrators that Lannan is more like a 1.05 WAR pitcher. How did they do this? Most likely, they were able to point to the peripherals listed above. His FIP is always higher than his ERA and there is a good argument that he could easily produce a WAR less than one if he has a season where the balls hit do not stay down. There isn’t anything about his stuff which suggests he will perform better than any previous season. I think this hearing could have gone either way, and it doesn’t bother me that the team won here. Lannan’s agent had an argument for his figure based on the previous season and his career averages. But, the club must have been able to convince the arbitrators that Lannan could just as easily be a train wreck in 2012. Funny, how teams have to basically bad mouth their players to win the cases.
The other hearing for a starting pitcher over the last week was between the Miami Marlins and Anibal Sanchez. Sanchez has pitched for the Marlins for six seasons, so following his 2012 campaign he could hit free agency. Sanchez has a career record of 39-38 with a 3.72 ERA (3.87 FIP) in 673.1 IP. In 2011, he was 8-9 with a 3.67 ERA (3.35 FIP) in 196.1 IP resulting in a 3.8 WAR. It marked the second straight season in which he threw at least 195 innings. Sanchez is more of a strikeout pitcher or at least established himself as one in 2011. Last season, he set down 9.26 batters per nine innings via the strikeout. In each of the last two seasons he has been able to reduce the number of walks issued from the previous year showing he may be learning how to pitch versus throw.
In 2010, Sanchez was actually more productive than 2011; recording a 4.4 WAR. In previous years Sanchez did not pitch full seasons, as he only made a total of 32 starts between 2007 and 2009. In his rookie season he was very good going 10-3 in 17 starts with a 2.83 ERA (4.22 FIP).
Sanchez’s agent most likely concentrated on the last two seasons and the above average production the Marlins received from him. His 3.8 WAR in 2011 was worth $17.1 in performance value to the Marlins according to FanGraphs. This is equal to $4.5 million per 1 WAR. For this coming season with a 5% inflationary increase, 1 WAR would equal $4.725 million. The Marlins with their offer of $6.9 million looked at Sanchez as a 1.46 WAR player. Really? I understand that these are market numbers and the team’s advantage here is that they do not have to pay market value for arbitration eligible players, but this seems like a low-ball offer.
Sanchez was definitely right to take his case to arbitration. Even his figure of $8 million would end up being a bargain and is equal to a little less than 1.7 WAR. The Marlins are not looking at an extension for Sanchez, so there is something there they do not like. I’m not certain what it is. He isn’t spectacular, but he is better than just average.
My guess is the arbitrators were out for lunch well before the normal time with this hearing. Even if Sanchez drops back to 2.5 WAR production in 2012 (I’m sure the Marlins tried to show a worse decline), that is worth $11.8 million. Barring an injury, Sanchez should easily beat the break even number and make a positive return on investment for the Marlins. The arbitrators were correct in their decision in the Sanchez case in my book.
For more on the Washington Nationals visit, District on Deck and for more on the Miami Marlins visit Marlin Maniac. Be sure to check out all of Call to the Pen’s transaction breakdowns for the 2011-12 offseason. You can follow Call to the Pen on Twitter at @FSCalltothePen or like us hereon Facebook. You can also subscribe to our RSS feed. You can follow Chris Carelli on Twitter at @Chris_Carelli.