Report: MLB Proposes Basing Player Salaries off FanGraphs' WAR Instead of Arbitration

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVNovember 11, 2021

CINCINNATI, OHIO - AUGUST 30: A detail view of a MLB logo during the game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on August 30, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The current arbitration system utilized by MLB isn't perfect, but league officials may have discovered an even more divisive alternative.

The Athletic's Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal reported MLB has raised a proposal that would allow FanGraphs' WAR calculation (fWAR) to help determine a player's salary before they're eligible for free agency. Salary arbitration is triggered for players with at least three but less than six years of service time.

"A player's career WAR would be part of the calculation, weighted for recency," per the report. "Whether a player has been in the majors for three-plus, four-plus, or five-plus years would affect the calculation."

Drellich and Rosenthal spoke with one agent who said the idea has "zero chance" of becoming a reality.

Advanced metrics can be more illustrative of a player's performance than traditional statistics, but they are far from definitive. And in the case of WAR, it's not the be-all and end-all for ranking the top players in baseball.

Jeffrey Paternostro @jeffpaternostro

The literal Managing Editor of FanGraphs didn’t even use fWAR for his Cy Young vote. <a href="https://t.co/y0CFtg7ttI">https://t.co/y0CFtg7ttI</a>

Drellich and Rosenthal also laid out some of the pitfalls of fWAR specifically:

"Using fWAR would create its own biases. The metric likely would hurt relievers, as the market has always valued them higher, though on shorter deals, than fWAR suggests it should. Some strong defenders would be helped by the defensive component of fWAR, but the potential will exist for teams to game those numbers, which currently do not account for defensive opportunities in extreme shifts. Pitching fWAR, meanwhile, is mostly based on strikeouts, walks and homers, potentially hurting pitchers who thrive on soft contact."

One could argue that MLB's proposal would potentially bring a more standardized approach than arbitration. In addition, the league wouldn't be instituting this unilaterally, with the MLB Players Association inserting its input on whatever the final value system would be.

And while Drellich and Rosenthal argued relievers would potentially see their earning power diminished by inserting fWAR into the formula, the status quo isn't all that beneficial for them, either.

Elite setup men or inexperienced closers might lose out on money in arbitration because the panel typically puts a lot of stock in a pitcher's number of saves.

Adam McCalvy @AdamMcCalvy

Hader had filed for $6.4 million, which would have been a record for a first-time eligible reliever. But the arbitration system tends to reward saves, and Hader has only one year as a closer under his belt. <a href="https://t.co/26vQhvVS7K">https://t.co/26vQhvVS7K</a>

But it's not hard to see why players might push back against MLB's proposal when most teams seem to be spending less money in almost direct correlation with the proliferation of sabermetrics and proprietary data.

If nothing else, The Athletic's report furthers the notion that negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement could become prolonged and contentious.