Arbitration Breakdown Rumors

Arbitration Breakdown: Bailey and Masterson

Over the next few months, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.

Both Justin Masterson (pictured) and Homer Bailey enter their third year of arbitration with relatively similar credentials this year, and both are projected to get very similar raises around $4MM. Masterson-JustinSince both players are not first-time eligible players, the rules of arbitration generally dictate that pre-platform year performances are not very importance. Rather, the current salaries on top of which they will receive raises suffice as summaries of their pre-platform year performance.

Masterson and Bailey had pretty similar pre-platform salaries too: $5.35MM for Bailey and $5.6875MM for Masterson. In 2013, Masterson went 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA in 193 innings with 195 strikeouts, while Bailey went 11-12 with a 3.49 ERA in 209 innings with 199 strikeouts. Obviously the ERA and strikeout numbers are almost identical, and the model seems to think that Masteron’s three extra wins only help him a tiny bit more than Bailey’s 16 extra innings. Playing time is extremely important in arbitration hearings, so it is not too surprising that they are still seen as similar by the model. At the same time, Masterson will definitely get some benefit from his wins. We project him to get a $4.0125MM raise as compared with Bailey’s $3.95MM raise, leaving them with $9.7MM and $9.3MM projected salaries respectively.

The comparable starting pitchers in the last few years seem to reinforce these raise approximations. In the last seven years, I looked for third-time arbitration eligible starting pitchers with ERAs in the 3.00-4.00 range, between 10-20 wins, and within 175-225 innings, and found nine guys who met those criteria. They received raises ranging from $2.5-5.9MM, which is obviously a pretty big window, but other than Zambrano’s $5.9MM raise in 2007 (which is largely viewed as an anomaly), the raises fall in the $2.5MM-$4.075MM range. Of course, the lowest raise in there was Wandy Rodriguez’s $2.5MM, but that came as part of a multi-year deal in which he was initially offered $3MM, so maybe the real range is from Kevin Correia’s $2.85MM in 2010 to Oliver Perez’s $4.075MM in 2008. In general, these seven guys are all pretty similar to Masterson and Bailey but I suspect that both inflation and slightly better performances will push them both to the high end of this spectrum.

The limitation on Bailey’s performance is definitely his win total. With just 11 wins in 2013, his team’s poor run support will cost him. A few pitchers in the aforementioned group seem to meet these criteria pretty well. One is Matt Garza, who in 2012 was coming off a 10-10 record to go with a 3.32 ERA in 198 innings. He also had 197 strikeouts, very similar to Bailey’s 199. Of course Bailey had a slightly worse ERA at 3.45, but he also had eleven extra innings pitched. Given the similarity of their numbers but with the extra win and eleven innings, it seems likely that Bailey could argue that Garza’s $3.55MM raise could be a floor for his 2014 raise.

Another possibility that Bailey could use to justify a raise closer to $4MM is the $4.3MM raise that Anibal Sanchez won in a hearing in 2012. He had even fewer wins than Bailey that year, amassing only an 8-9 record, and his 3.67 ERA was worse than Bailey’s too. He did have 202 strikeouts, but had under 200 innings (196 1/3, to be exact) which could give Bailey a leg up on him. Arbitration cases that go to hearings are often tough to use in newer hearings because obviously $4.3MM was seen by the Marlins at the time as too high and chances are a settlement would have come in below $4.3MM (the Marlins offered Sanchez a $3.2MM raise). But nonetheless, both Sanchez and Garza could help Bailey argue for the $3.95MM raise that I’m projecting for him.

This is not very different from the $4.0125MM that I have down for Masterson, even though Masterson had 14 wins. To try to find a good set of comparables for Masterson, I honed the win range to 13-15 wins, and looked for guys with ERAs in the 3.00-4.00 range who also had 175-225 innings. Perez got a $4.075MM raise from the Mets in 2008 when he won his arbitration hearing. Like Sanchez’s raise, Perez’s raise needs to be taken with a grain of salt because it was the result of a hearing, not a settlement, but the fact that Perez’s 15-10 record and 3.56 ERA looks so similar to Masterson’s 14-10 ERA with his 3.45 ERA, that it does warrant a comparison. Perez also only had 177 innings, compared with Masterson’s 193.

Another good, more recent comparable for Masterson is Jason Vargas' raise last year. Vargas got a $3.65MM raise after going 14-11 with a 3.85 ERA in 217 1/3 innings. Of course, Vargas only had 141 strikeouts which puts him well below Masterson’s 195. The extra innings and equal number of wins are a good starting point for the Indians to try to argue that Masterson shouldn’t top the $3.65MM number. Masterson would be better off trying to argue similarity to Sanchez and Perez, whose raises exceeded $4MM after winning cases, but it remains to be seen how much weight those will carry.

Overall, it’s not hard to see that both pitchers will fall reasonably close to a $4MM raise. Some of this is going to come down to how inflation is treated this year, and that is always a bit of a wild card. I suspect that if I’m off in my projections, I’m probably more like to be a few hundred thousand low for both pitchers than high, but if either one of these pitchers settles first and beats $4MM, I suspect the second player to settle to use the first as justification for a larger raise himself.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Arbitration Breakdown: Jim Johnson

Over the next few months, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.

Despite a slow start due to an awful May, Jim Johnson put together another big year as the Orioles' closer. He led the league in saves for the second consecutive season, again hitting the 50-save mark. Entering his fourth year of arbitration, Johnson looks poised to get a big raise on his $6.5MM salary, and my arbitration salary model projects him at $10.8MM for a solid $4.3MM raise. Johnson-JimLast year, Johnson set the record for a closer with his service time during his third year through the arbitration process, earning a $3.875MM raise on top of his $2.625MM salary.

It is difficult to find comparable pitchers for Johnson, because It is very rare for closers to go year-to-year for as long as he has. In fact, in the last seven years (for which I have collected arbitration data), there have only been 20 relievers to reach arbitration eligibility with at least 5 years and 120 days of service time. Johnson has 5 years and 165 days of service time entering this offseason.

The largest raise that any reliever has gotten in this service class for the last seven years was in 2012 when Brandon League got a $2.75MM raise. He only had 37 platform-year saves, far fewer than Johnson’s 50. League also had a 2.79 ERA, which is roughly in line with Johnson’s 2.94 this past season. Since their other numbers are similar, it would seem that League is the absolute floor for what Johnson’s raise could be.

In general, raises through arbitration do not seem to vary much with performance before the platform year for players who are re-entering arbitration. First-time eligibles do get paid for career performances too, but second-time, third-time, and fourth-time eligibles generally get paid based on platform seasons. However, this is not entirely the rule for closers. Pre-platform saves seems to be correlated with arbitration outcomes even after accounting for other factors. I suspect that this may have more to do with reputational effects rather than directly considering the save numbers of past seasons, but either way, this gives Johnson a substantial advantage over League, who only had eight pre-platform saves going into his 2012 arbitration discussion. Johnson had 72 already, thanks to his 51-save 2012. This suggests that Johnson is likely to crush the previous record.

Few other pitchers in Johnson’s service class are even all that close. The next biggest raise went to Santiago Casilla in 2013, who only had 25 saves in his platform season and 12 saves beforehand, and no one else even topped a $2MM raise or 20 saves. League would appear to be the only reliever in his fourth year of eligibility who could even be in the discussion.

Dipping into a slightly larger group and looking at anyone who was entering arbitration eligibility for their third or fourth time, there still aren’t many comparable pitchers. Ironically, the most similar player in the last service class was Johnson himself, who broke the third-time eligible reliever record with his $3.875MM raise last year. His 51 saves and 2.49 ERA in 2012 are actually pretty comparable to his 50 saves and 2.94 ERA in 2013. I doubt that Johnson in a previous service class would make logical sense as a comparable for Johnson this time around, but it does show that raises in the $4MM region are pretty reasonable to expect.

Heath Bell got a $3.5MM raise in his third year of arbitration eligibility (with 5 years and 99 days of service time) back in 2011, when he was coming off 47 saves and a 1.93 ERA. Johnson could argue that is comparable but inferior, and with three years of inflation, something north of $4MM is reasonable.

Jose Valverde could come up as well—with 5 years of service time and 44 platform-year saves, he got a $3.3MM raise back in 2009. Francisco Rodriguez had 40 saves when he entered arbitration with 5 years of 15 days of service time the year before that, and he got a $2.95MM raise.

Johnson’s case is unique because of the lack of comparables, but it seems like a very reasonable argument for “significantly north of $3MM” could be made. While I am not sure he will necessarily hit the $4.3MM mark, I suspect he will get close and the Orioles should definitely budget for somewhere around $10-11MM of salary for their closer in 2014.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Arbitration Breakdown: David Price

Over the next few months, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.


After earning $10.1125MM this past season, David Price already seems to be pretty close to uncharted territory for his third year of arbitration eligibility. Given his career accomplishments, including a Cy Young Award, three All-Star appearances, a 71-39 record in the toughest division in baseball, as well as a 3.19 career ERA in 973 innings, Price seems to be a rare breed.

However, one of the most glaring results that I noticed when putting together my arbitration model for MLB Trade Rumors was that career statistics just don’t matter much for players who reach arbitration unless it’s their first time. Actually—that’s a bit of an overstatement. You always earn more if you have better career statistics before your platform year, but the only channel through which that happens is by affecting your current year salary. For Price, this is why his arbitration case will come down to the question of, “How much of a raise on top of his current $10.1125 million salary will he earn?” However, the size of his raise will have almost nothing to do with his statistics prior to 2013.

His 2013 statistics were decent, but not spectacular compared with previous years. He won only 10 games, his lowest total in four years, and he failed to reach 200 innings for the first time in the last four years as well. Innings and wins are the most important statistics in arbitration for starting pitchers, and since Price was atypically pedestrian this year with respect to these statistics, his raise will be pedestrian as well. We have him projected at $13.1MM for 2013 and looking through comparables, this seems very likely to be near where he lands, or slightly below it.

In my first search for players with similar statistics to Price’s 10-8 record, 3.33 ERA, and 186 2/3 platform year innings, I decided to look for pitchers with between 8-12 wins, ERAs between 3.00 and 3.70, and anywhere from 175-200 innings in my database. This database includes all pitchers in Price’s service class during the previous seven years. Three names emerged as possibilities, and they seem to sandwich Price’s salary pretty well.

Anibal Sanchez went to a hearing with the Marlins in 2012 to earn a $4.3MM raise. He had only gone 8-9 with a 3.67 ERA, but he did have a few more innings than Price at 196 1/3. Sanchez also had 202 strikeouts, far more than Price’s 151. However, the combination of a mediocre record with a good ERA does make him a reasonable comparable for Price. Of course, the fact that the case went to a hearing that the player won means that the actual salary might have been an overpay, due to the Marlins’ low counter-offer of a $2.6MM raise.

Wandy Rodriguez’s $2.5MM raise in 2011 as part of a three-year deal could be a floor as well, but he had actually been offered a $3MM raise when numbers were initially submitted (and he requested a $5.25MM raise). He went 11-12 during the previous year with a 3.60 ERA, while amassing 178 strikeouts in 195 innings. Again, his numbers are very similar to Price’s.

Matt Garza got a $3.55MM raise in 2012 after going 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA in 198 innings, along with 197 strikeouts. Except for the fact that Garza came in with a higher strikeout total, he looks like a very good comparable for Price. Citing Garza may be a good way for the Rays push down Price's raise below Garza’s.

Expanding the innings criteria a little more, we can see a potential comparable in Brandon McCarthy, also in 2012. He went 9-9 with a 3.32 ERA in 170 2/3 innings with just 123 strikeouts. He got a $3.275MM raise, which might be where Price should try to aim.  Another possibility for the Rays to throw into the mix is Kevin Correia, who got a $2.85MM raise in 2010. That came after he went 12-11 with a 3.91 ERA in 198 innings, with 142 strikeouts. Correia might serve as a decent option for the Rays to suggest as a comparable for Price, and may be enough to keep his raise under $3MM.

Regardless of which of these players looks like the best match for Price, it’s pretty clear that he is going to stay well within the range of a $3MM raise, which is right where the model predicts him. Although I think he may be able to push his raise up to $3.5MM, meaning that he will earn a little more than the model projects, he still represents a very knowable cost for any team looking to trade for him, which is probably where this is headed anyway.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Arbitration Breakdown: Giancarlo Stanton

Over the next few months, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.

Giancarlo Stanton has the types of skills that arbitration often rewards most, which is good news as he heads into his first year of eligibility. While players who get on base and play good defense contribute a lot of value to teams, and even get paid handsomely in free agency, they still do not get much recognition in arbitration. The rules of arbitration are not based on estimates of value, but rather on comparisons of salaries of previous players with similar performances (regardless of whether those salaries were fair or not). Stanton has the most important skill that the arbitration process values: power. Stanton

However, there is another way in which the arbitration process hurts Stanton. Although he contributes a lot of value while on the diamond, arbitration awards are based heavily on playing time, regardless of how much value was actually added above a hypothetical backup. Very good players who are often injured can get paid handsomely on the free agent market because of the value they do provide when on the field. However, arbitration panels are typically composed of labor lawyers, who see a lot of merit to the concept of “went to work every day,” so playing time is treated very differently and often treated as more important than the standings treat it.

Stanton has only played in 123 and 116 games the previous two seasons, although he did manage 150 games in 2011. As a result, he has barely cleared 500 plate appearances in each of the past two seasons. This makes predicting his salary somewhat challenging. Our arbitration salary model here at MLBTR pegs Stanton for a $4.8MM salary in 2014, but I could really see that missing in either direction because of how few comparable players there have been in recent years. Although gifted sluggers often get injured more as they age, it is not very common for players like Stanton to miss significant time early in their careers.

So, some of the more classic sluggers to go to arbitration in recent years have had considerably more plate appearances (and the counting stats that go with that). Stanton enters arbitration with 504 PA in his platform season, along with a .249 average, 24 home runs and 62 runs batted in. Prior to his platform season, he had 1498 PA and hit .270 with 93 HR and 232 RBI. Despite the 117 career home runs that Stanton has hit, he is probably going to fall short of the earnings of the three other most recent players to enter their first year of arbitration who can claim triple-digits in career home runs. These include Ryan Howard who had 129 career HR and earned $10MM, Prince Fielder who had 114 career HR and earned $7.5MM, and Miguel Cabrera who had 104 career HR and earned $7.4MM. Although Stanton’s very high service time (just missing Super-2 status last year) has led to similar cumulative career PA, he had far fewer platform-year PA (which are more important) than any of these three, who had 648, 694, and 676 PA respectively, compared with Stanton’s 504. As a result, I don’t expect that any of these three will make for good comparables in negotiations.

Instead, it might make sense to look at players who meet more Stanton-like criteria in terms of PA and HR. There have been a couple players who have fit the mold of having fewer than 600 PA, but at least 20 home runs in their platform season, as well as at least 50 home runs prior to then. One of these was Nelson Cruz in 2011, who had 445 PA, but hit 22 home runs to supplement his 55 home runs before his platform year. He earned $3.65MM, which could be a floor for Stanton, even though Cruz did hit .318, far better than Stanton’s .249.

Another possible comparable might be Carlos Quentin in 2010, who earned $3.2MM and hit only .236, while amassing 21 HR in 399 PA. Quentin only had 50 career home runs before his platform season, making him a more obvious floor than Cruz on all fronts.

Josh Hamilton could be considered a floor as well at $3.25MM, since he only had 11 home runs in his platform season, but had hit 51 leading into that year.

Another possibility is that the case may focus on pre-platform statistics. I looked for players who had hit between 10-29 home runs their platform year, but had hit 60 before their platform year. This produced only one player, Jeff Francoeur in 2009, who earned $3.375MM after struggling through a 2008 season in which he hit just .239 with 11 HR and 71 RBI. Francoeur did have 62 pre-platform HR though, which is still a far cry from Stanton’s 93. That would make a salary of $3.375MM look extremely low as well.

Between Cruz, Francoeur, Quentin, and Hamilton, we have four guys that all earned between $3.2-3.65MM and Stanton seems to have a leg up on each one of them. If nothing else, this should be able to convince all involved to see $3.65MM as a floor for Stanton, while Cabrera’s $7.4MM can serve as a ceiling. The problem is how few players seem to fit in that large window.

Few power hitters have fallen in that range. One exception is Dan Uggla, who is a second baseman, so he wouldn’t usually be used as a comparable but his low-average high-power history might make him a useful comparable. He earned $5.35MM after hitting .260 with 32 HR and 92 RBI in 2008, which followed up on a career .263 average, with 58 HR and 178 RBI prior to his platform-season. Given his 619 PA in his platform season, along with clearing 30 home runs, he might be seen as a ceiling for Stanton as well, but the fact that the projection is now five years old calls into question how useful it is or whether it would be taken seriously in negotiations.

Otherwise, it is very challenging to find good comparables for Stanton and that is why I think that he has such a tough case to guess. I do think that any offer under $4MM by the Marlins will probably be seen as too low, and any request of $7MM or more by Stanton’s team at Wasserman Media Group would be seen as overvalued. I also think that even inching up towards $6MM might be too much of a gamble as well. In the end, the model’s $4.8MM projected value doesn’t seem entirely out of whack, but if he came in closer to $4MM or $6MM, I also would not be surprised. As an added wrinkle, if Stanton does end up getting traded this offseason, and he gets traded before reaching an agreement, his future team may decide that breaking rapport with an ugly negotiation or a hearing is too risky and may offer him more money to avoid such a scenario. This may not end up happening anyway, but it shows how much of challenge it will be to guess Stanton’s 2014 salary.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Arbitration Breakdown: Cishek, Jansen, Holland, Frieri

Over the next few months, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.


The league is full of young closers nowadays, and they all seem to be entering their first year of arbitration at the same time. There are seven different pitchers with at least 16 saves in 2013 who are entering arbitration for the first time, nearly a quarter of the entire league’s closers. Craig Kimbrel has already been discussed in a previous article and his case is far stronger than any of the other pitchers. Aroldis Chapman has a pretty unique case, if not a better one, because he has been an elite closer for two years and will be opting out of a large contract to go through arbitration. Mark Melancon is different than the others as well, because he only really was a closer in the second half of this season, and only due to injury. However, there are a number of similarities between Ernesto Frieri, Steve Cishek, Greg Holland, and Kenley Jansen, and this article will be about the cases for each of them. The model only sees arbitration salaries of $3.4MM for Frieri and $3.2MM for Cishek, while it sees $4.9MM for Holland and $4.8MM For Jansen. In this article, I will explain why the model is making these predictions and discuss whether the actual salaries will diverge this much.

For relievers, the primary determinants of their arbitration salaries are the number of saves they had in their platform season, and the number of saves they had before their platform season, as well as the number of holds in their platform season and pre-platform season. To a lesser extent, platform-year ERA and pre-platform year ERA are important as well, and innings and strikeouts all play a key role too.

Holland has the most platform year saves of the group, with 47 this past year, on top of the 20 pre-platform saves he had. This number along with his 1.21 ERA explains why he had the largest salary projection of this group at $4.9MM. Although Jansen had fewer saves than the others with 28, his 1.88 ERA was better than Cishek’s 2.33 and far better than Frieri’s 3.80 this past season. Combining that with his 2.22 ERA pre-platform (better than the other three) and his 16 holds, and Jansen is projected nearly as high as Holland, with a $4.8MM estimate. Jansen’s 34 pre-platform saves were also the highest of the four, and his 21 pre-platform holds stood only behind Holland’s 27.

Frieri did have 37 saves in 2013 and 23 more beforehand, which is definitely a good case. Although his 3.80 ERA is high for a closer, his 98 strikeouts are way more than Cishek’s 74, but less than Holland’s 103 and Jansen’s 111. Cishek had 34 saves in 2013 with 18 pre-platform. Frieri is projected to get $3.4MM and Cishek is projected for $3.2MM.

The record for closers entering their first year of eligibility still belongs to Jonathan Papelbon at $6.25MM (until Kimbrel breaks this record). His 41 platform year saves and 72 pre-platform saves puts him well ahead of this group. Even Bobby Jenks’ 30 platform year saves were augmented by his 87 pre-platform year saves, putting him ahead of this group when he got a $5.6MM salary back in 2009.

Looking for pitchers who had similar pre-platform saves as well as platform saves is important, since anyone with three years of closing will have earned more than this group of four will. Holland’s 47 platform year save count and 20 pre-platform year save count are a pretty unique pairing, so it will tough to find a perfect comparable. Everyone with over 40 saves in recent memory during their platform years had more pre-platform year saves.

Brian Wilson’s 38 platform-year saves and 48 pre-platform year saves make for an interesting comparable. In 2010, he earned $4.46MM in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Of course, his 2.74 ERA is far worse than Holland’s 1.21, so there seems to be a good chance that Holland could top this salary. On the other hand, if pre-platform year saves becomes important, than perhaps J.J. Putz’s 2007 numbers of 36 platform-year saves and 10 pre-platform year saves could be a floor—but he only earned $2.7MM. Given how stale that number is at this point, I don’t see Putz’s name coming up in negotiations. I think that Holland will have a hard time arguing for anywhere over $5MM, which is what John Axford earned last year after accumulating 35 platform year saves and 71 pre-platform year saves, so I think that the $4.9MM estimate is probably about right for him.

For Jansen, his 28 pre-platform saves are on the low side, but his 16 holds, 1.88 ERA, and 111 strikeouts augment his case. He also 34 pre-platform year saves and his 2.22 ERA and 236 strikeouts before his platform year are a strength as well, in addition to the 21 holds he had already accumulated. Andrew Bailey’s 2012 arbitration salary of $3.9MM could come up as a comparable for him. He had 24 saves in his platform-year but 51 in his pre-platform year, so he could be argued to be a ceiling for Jansen based on the pre-platform save total. However, his 3.24 platform-year ERA is far behind Jansen’s 1.88 and Jansen’s holds could help make up for the gap in pre-platform saves. Especially given the fact that Bailey had only 41 strikeouts in his platform season, I could see $3.9MM being a floor for Jansen.

Another potential comparable could be Chad Cordero, who received $4.15MM back in 2007. Although this is a stale number at this point, the 29 saves that Cordero had in his platform year are similar to Jansen’s 28, and even though his 62 pre-platform year saves beat Jansen, his 3.19 ERA and 69 strikeouts fall short of him. Furthmore, Jansen’s holds are really unique for a guy who has mostly been a closer and give him a small leg up on other names that keep coming up. In the end, something in the $4.8MM neighborhood could be a good bet, though I could see him ending up with less than this if platform year saves become too large of a factor.

Looking for comparables for Frieri is tricky if the high ERA comes into play. Even though he accumulated 37 saves in 2013, the 3.80 ERA that went along with them is abnormally high for a closer. In recent years, few such pitchers have met their criteria. Axford had a 4.68 ERA going into last year’s negotiations, which yielded him $5MM, but given that he had 71 pre-platform saves, that would dwarf Frieri’s 23, despite the similar number of saves during their platform years. Chad Cordero’s name might make some sense as well, when he earned $4.15MM in 2007, but his 62 pre-platform year saves are also too many to make for a good comparable and an ERA of 3.19 isn’t so bad either.

Another name that could come up in the negotiations over Frieri’s salary is Juan Carlos Oviedo, who had a 4.06 ERA in 2009. He only had 26 saves though and no pre-platform saves. These factors got him only a $2MM salary, which probably is way below what Frieri will receive. Brian Wilson keeps coming up as a ceiling for Frieri. He had 38 platfrom year saves and 48 pre-platfrom year saves, so he has Frieri on the pre-platform year saves, and his 2.74 ERA is much better as well. His $4.46MM salary will almost definitely exceed Frieri’s.

It’s hard to pick anyone who makes sense in between these numbers so really anywhere from $2MM to 4.4MM seems possible for Frieri. Of course, I suspect he’ll be somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, so I think that the $3.4MM projection is about right.

Cishek had 34 saves last year, but with only 18 pre-platform saves, he probably has a weaker case than these other closers. Pre-platform year saves matter a lot for first-time eligible closers, so looking for his comparables will entail limiting this. Akinori Otsuka seems to line up in some ways, but his projection is very stale. Back in 2007, he earned $3MM after recording 32 saves and a 2.11 ERA, but he only had 3 saves prior to his platform year. Since Cishek’s ERA was 2.33, it could be that $3MM becomes a floor for Cishek. On the other hand, David Aardsma received $2.75MM in 2010 after recording 38 saves, but those were the first of his career. Given his 18 career holds are similar to Cishek’s 16, and his 2.52 ERA is also near Cishek’s, I could see the Marlins trying to hold down Cishek’s salary by suggesting this comparable.

Of course, if Cishek can downplay the importance of pre-platform saves, he may be able to sneak Brian Wilson’s $4.46MM salary into the argument. Wilson had 38 platform year saves, which is similar to Cishek’s 34, and his 2.74 ERA was higher than Cishek’s 2.33. However, I suspect the 48 pre-platform saves will make it hard to make this argument. Cishek coming in near $3.2MM as he is projected, just above Otsuka’s $3MM and Aardma’s $2.75MM seems likely.

Overall, despite the uncertainty and the difficulties in finding perfect comparables, it seems like the model is probably about right on all four of these guys. Although they each may be used as comparables for each other if one or two sign earlier than the others, drawing their salaries closer together based on the similarities between their platform year and pre-platform year saves, I suspect that the large gap in ERA and strikeouts ends up pushing them further apart, as well as Holland’s standout headline of 47 saves.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Arbitration Breakdown: Max Scherzer

Over the next few months, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.


The current record raise for an arbitration eligible starting pitcher with five years of service time is now seven years old. Carlos Zambrano received a shocking $5.9MM raise back in 2007 after finishing 16-7 with a 3.41 ERA in 214 innings with 210 strikeouts. No other pitcher has come close to this amount. In fairness, this raise was somewhat of an anomaly and still looks like a big outlier, but the raises have slowly inched closer to this amount. Cole Hamels received a $5.5MM raise in 2012 after a 14-9 campaign with a 2.79 ERA. This year, however, it looks like this record may be broken once and for all by Max Scherzer.

Scherzer is coming off a $6.725MM salary, and the model sees him getting $13.6MM in 2014. Although this would beat the record by $975K, it seems like a very reasonable estimate for Scherzer this coming season. This was the breakout season that I had suspected Scherzer had in him for a few years. Especially after leading the league in SIERA last year (which has a higher correlation with the following year’s ERA than ERA itself or other comparable statistics), it seemed like Scherzer had just been unlucky.

This year, he made that assessment look accurate. He posted a 2.90 ERA in 214 1/3 innings, while striking out 240 hitters. His SIERA even declined slightly since last year. However, Scherzer also had the good fortune of a large helping of run support this year, which helped him compile a 21-3 record. Wins and innings are by far the most important statistics for a starting pitcher in arbitration, and these clearly will give him a strong case going into arbitration.

There are very few statistics where other starting pitchers in the five years of service time group have topped him. In the last seven years, no one has come into arbitration with five years of service time after getting more than 16 wins, giving Scherzer a nice five win edge over any other comparable the Tigers try to present to the panel.

Scherzer also has among the most innings of eligible pitchers with similar service time in recent memory. Roy Oswalt had 220 2/3 innings back in 2007, but signed a multi-year deal instead of sticking with one-year agreements. Zambrano (214), Hamels (216), and Vargas (217 1/3) all fell in a similar range, and they received raises of $5.9MM, $5.5MM, and $3.65MM. Of course, all had fewer wins and only Hamels had an ERA under 3.00 like Scherzer does. In fact, Hamels is the only pitcher with an ERA under 3.00 among starting pitchers with similar service time to Scherzer in the last seven years with enough innings to qualify for an ERA title.

The floor for Scherzer really does seem to be Zambrano’s $5.9MM raise. Combine a superior set of platform year statistics, along with a probable Cy Young in his trophy case, and Scherzer seems likely to set a new record for starting pitchers. If the Tigers don’t sign him to a multi-year deal, I think that something in the $13.6MM range that the model projects is likely to be where he lands.

An interesting parallel case will be going on for Clayton Kershaw, who is also eligible for arbitration eligibility this offseason and also has five years of service time, and seems to be a better comparable for Scherzer than any of the pitchers mentioned above. Kershaw only went 16-9, which is much worse than Scherzer’s 21-3, but he had 236 innings pitched and a 1.83 ERA, so if he signs before Scherzer, you can bet their Scherzer’s team will be eager to use him as a comparable.  Check out my arbitration breakdown for Kershaw here.

One or both of these players may sign a long-term extension, so neither will necessarily set the record. But either way, both of them will be getting substantial raises in the neighborhood of $7MM more than they earned last season, and both will set the bar higher for arbitration eligible pitchers with five years of service time in future years.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Arbitration Breakdown: Chris Davis

Over the next few months, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.

Chris Davis had a fantastic 2013 campaign, which will earn him a large raise on his $3.3MM salary. As a hitter reaching arbitration for the second time, the primary determinants of Davis’ 2014 salary will be his 2013 statistics, which will be used as a basis to determine his raise. Unlike first-year arbitration eligible players whose entire history is generally discussed, players who reach arbitration eligibility in subsequent years have their raises determined by their platform year statistics, and their previous salary serves as the only relevant summary of their historical performance.

This benefits Davis immensely, who had a career year in 2013. He led the American League in home runs (53) and runs batted in (138), while putting up a solid average of .286. Playing time is very important to arbitration panels too, which also will be an argument in favor of a big raise for Davis. He played in 160 games, coming to the plate 673 times last year.

Few other sluggers have matched this performance going into their second years of arbitration eligibility. In the last seven years, the largest raise went to Jacoby Ellsbury, who got a $5.65MM raise from $2.4MM to $8.05MM in 2012, after hitting .321 with 32 home runs and 105 runs batted in, while swiping 39 bags. Ellsbury also helped his case with 729 plate appearances that year.

In most other cases where an elite slugger reached arbitration eligibility for the second time, clubs have elected to sign multi-year deals. While we are able to use multi-year deals with adjustments to fill in the some of the gaps this leaves in our analysis, it makes it difficult to find precisely comparable players for teams and agents to use in negotiations. In some of these cases, we can look at the first year salary in the multi-year deal, but take it with a grain of salt. In some of these cases though, a more valuable piece of evidence is what the salary figures were when the player and team exchange numbers in advance of a potential hearing.

For instance, Ryan Howard is a decent comparable for Davis. Howard signed a three-year deal going into his second year of arbitration eligibility in 2009. He was coming off a $10MM salary, and hit .251 (much worse than Davis’ .286) but his 48 home runs and 146 RBI are the only thing remotely similar in recent memory (among second-year arbitration eligible players) to Davis’ 53 home runs and 138 RBI. Howard got a $5MM raise his second year as part of that deal, but this came after exchanging numbers with the Phillies. He had requested an $8MM raise and the Phillies proposed just a $4MM. Given that Davis had a much better average and five more home runs, plus the fact that Howard’s raise is five years old, Davis should easily clear $4MM.

Matt Holliday’s raise of $5.1MM in 2008 (including his pro-rated signing bonus) as part of a multi-year deal is also relatively comparable. While he only hit 36 home runs, he hit .340 and knocked in 137 runs, while stealing 11 bags. Again, the fact that six years has passed since this deal, plus the fact that it was a multi-year deal, suggest that this will not be a great comparison. However, given the similarity of Holliday’s and Howard’s effective raises, it stands to reason that adding a few years of inflation should get Davis a solid gain beyond this amount, especially since he hit more home runs (which is the most important stat in arbitration outside of playing time).

Somewhat more recently, Josh Hamilton hit .359 with 32 home runs and 100 runs batted in going into 2011, which earned him a $5.5MM raise as part of a multi-year deal. He had been offered a $5.45MM raise already and had countered with a request for a $8.75MM raise, even larger than Howard’s $8MM request two years earlier.

Putting all these together, it is pretty clear that Davis is in his own territory and seems very likely to break Ellsbury’s record Arb-2 raise of $5.65MM. The model actually predicts that Davis would get $10.8MM, but given the new limits of “The Kimbrel Rule,” we are only letting him break Ellsbury’s record by $1MM, giving him a $6.65MM raise to $9.95MM.

Arbitration Breakdown: Clayton Kershaw

Over the next few months, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.

Until this past season, Greg Maddux and Lefty Grove were the only pitchers in major league history to lead the major leagues in ERA for three straight seasons. Clayton Kershaw completed that hat trick this year, and his timing is excellent to go to arbitration prior to his contract year. Kershaw signed a two-year deal in his first year of eligibility, which paid him $11.25MM for this past year. The model predicts that Kershaw would get a $19MM salary for 2014 given his 16-9 performance and 1.83 ERA in 236 innings, but this year we have introduced The Kimbrel Rule, which states that a pitcher cannot beat the previous record for his arbitration class by more than $1MM, so we have Kershaw down for $6.9MM raise to $18.15MM, edging out the $5.9MM raise that Carlos Zambrano got as an arbitration eligible pitcher with five-plus years of service time in 2007.

In my dataset that I use to develop the arbitration salary projections for MLB Trade Rumors, I have all players who reached arbitration eligibility during the previous seven years. In this dataset, there are three starting pitchers who have had the same number of wins as Kershaw, 16, but none of them had anywhere near as strong an ERA. Zambrano had a 16-7 record, but his ERA was 3.41 in his platform season. Phil Hughes got a $3.95MM raise after going 16-13 through arbitration last year, but his ERA (4.23) was more than twice as large as Kershaw’s. Jorge De La Rosa’s 4.38 ERA was even higher than that when he went 16-9 in 2009 and got a $3.6MM raise the following season.

Despite ERA’s importance in measuring pitcher performance, it is not actually as important in arbitration negotiations as wins or innings pitched. So, it is a strike against Kershaw that he did not get the run support to win more than 16 games. However, Kershaw was so good at getting hitters out that he was able to get 708 of them in 2013—which amounts to 236 innings pitched. There is nobody in my database with anywhere near that number of innings pitched, giving Kershaw a large leg up on the population and a very good chance to break Zambrano’s record for 5+ years of service time as a starting pitcher. The next most innings of anyone in my dataset was Roy Oswalt, who had 220 2/3 innings pitched back in 2006, but received a multi-year deal with just a $2MM raise built in for 2007 afterwards. Cole Hamels, Jason Vargas, and Tim Lincecum each had at least 216 innings, though. They got raises of $5.5MM, $4.25MM, and $3.65MM, respectively, though Lincecum’s raise was part of a two-year deal. Kershaw has as many wins as anyone in the database, but his innings clearly give him an advantage.

As I mentioned earlier, though, it is Kershaw’s ERA that is so mind-boggling. There were only three pitchers in my database who even had ERAs within a run of Kershaw’s 1.83 mark for 2013. Hamels had a 2.79 ERA, but just a 14-9 record and 216 innings back in 2011. Tim Lincecum had a 2.74 ERA, but a 13-14 record in 217 innings. And Ryan Vogelsong, who got a $2.59MM raise in 2012, was coming off a 13-7 performance with a 2.70 ERA, though he only had 179 2/3 innings pitched. Overall, Kershaw now has a second important stat (in addition to innings pitched) where he laps the comparables against which he will be judged.

Kershaw also laps the competition in a third important statistic that is used frequently in arbitration negotiations: strikeouts. His 232 strikeouts are more than anyone else in my database among his comparable group of pitchers. The previous record of strikeouts going into the third year of eligibility belonged to Erik Bedard who had 221 strikeouts in 2007, but had just a 13-5 record with a 3.16 ERA and only had 182 innings pitched. His $3.575MM raise is far short of where Kershaw will land. The next most belonged to Lincecum, who had 220 on the way to his $4.25MM raise.

Both Kershaw and Max Scherzer are in the same arbitration class and will be coming up for arbitration at the same time. Both of them seem very likely to break Zambrano’s $5.9MM record raise handily. Since you can use players who sign earlier in the offseason as comparables in arbitration negotiations, these two guys will probably be eager to hear what the other signs for. Scherzer had a 21-3 record this past season, but had 2.90 ERA. He at least had more wins than Kershaw, though obviously his ERA is far worse, and he also had fewer innings (214 1/3) and a similar number of strikeouts (240). This does make him probably the best comparable for Kershaw. At the same time, Scherzer’s team may hope that Kershaw agrees to a deal first so that they can use him as a comparable in their negotiations.

It seems quite possible that Kershaw will just sign a long-term extension instead, especially given the rumors of a gigantic offer during the season by the Dodgers. However, if not, look for Kershaw to handily break the record of what a third-time eligible starting pitcher earns.

Arbitration Breakdown: Craig Kimbrel

Over the next few months, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.

In just over three years on the baseball diamond as a member of the Atlanta Braves, Craig Kimbrel has accomplished a wide variety of feats. He has led the National League in saves for three years in a row, with 139 saves in his young career. Kimbrel struck out a fantastic 381 hitters, which amounts to 43 percent of all hitters faced (more than twice the league average). He has also kept runs off the board like no one else, allowing a microscopic 1.39 ERA in his 227 1/3 innings pitched. Now, we can add one more trophy to his case here at MLB Trade Rumors: he is the namesake of the Kimbrel Rule, as well as the first player whose arbitration salary projection has ever been affected by it. Why do we need this Kimbrel Rule? Quite simply, Kimbrel broke my arbitration model.

The result that the model spit out was so outlandishly high that no panel would ever have awarded it to him. The model works by considering how panels and settling parties (teams and agents) have previously interpreted different statistics and factors into their decision, and provides a salary estimate based on these. This is often useful, for example, because we can see how many saves a closer would need to have to offset a higher ERA than a previous comparable. Similarly, for a hitter, we can see how much an MVP adds to salary and how many home runs a hitter would need to belt to make up the difference. However, there is no category in which Kimbrel failed to dominate the preceding closers who have reached their first year of arbitration.

Consider the following lists of maximum first-year salaries for closers in arbitration over the previous seven years:

Jonathan Papelbon ($6.25MM):

  • Platform year—41 SV, 2.34 ERA, 69 1/3 IP, 77 SO
  • Previous years—72 SV, 1.63 ERA, 160 2/3 IP, 193 SO

Bobby Jenks ($5.60MM):

  • Platform year—30 SV, 2.63 ERA, 61 2/3 IP, 38 SO
  • Previous years—87 SV, 3.26 ERA, 174 IP, 186 SO

John Axford ($5.00MM):

  • Platform year—35 SV, 4.68 ERA, 69 1/3 IP, 93 SO
  • Previous years—71 SV, 2.26 ERA, 139 1/3 IP, 171 SO

Brian Wilson ($4.46MM):

  • Platform year: 38 SV, 2.74 ERA, 72 1/3 IP, 83 SO
  • Previous years: 48 SV, 4.34 ERA, 116 IP, 108 SO

Now consider Kimbrel’s primary arbitration-relevant statistics:

Craig Kimbrel (unknown):

  • Platform year—50 SV, 1.21 ERA, 67 IP, 98 SO
  • Previous years—89 SV, 1.46 ERA, 160.1 IP, 283 SO

Now consider the records for each of these statistics by all closers (defined by having 15 platform-year saves or 50 pre-platform saves) put together before Kimbrel, which we will call Mutant Super-Closer:

Mutant Super-Closer:

  • Platform year—41 SV, 1.71 ERA, 78 1/3 IP, 93 SO
  • Previous years—87 SV, 1.63 ERA, 252 IP, 269 SO

Other than innings, Kimbrel actually beat the Mutant Super-Closer too. He beat every previous closer in every previous category.

Looking at the foursome of potential comparables above, it is clear that Papelbon is the only closer who even came close to achieving what Kimbrel ultimately has achieved, and he fell far short of Kimbrel’s accomplishments in every category.

Kimbrel had 50 saves in 2013, his platform season. The most any other pitcher has had going into his first year of arbitration in recent memory (which includes the last seven years, the data I have available) was Jonathan Papelbon, who had 41. No one had more career saves in recent memory than Bobby Jenks who had 117 going into arbitration for the first time, but Kimbrel has 139.

Kimbrel has a 1.39 career ERA, which is well ahead of any other closer reaching arbitration. The closest was Papelbon who had a 1.84 ERA going into his first year of arbitration in 2009, but his 2.34 platform year ERA fell far short of Kimbrel’s 1.21 mark for 2013.

Kimbrel also has all other closers beat on strikeouts too, tallying 381. The next highest for a closer going into his first year of arbitration was 362 strikeouts by Carlos Marmol leading into 2010, but Marmol’s 23 career saves at this point fall well short of Kimbrel’s 139.

In the end, there just weren’t any comparable pitchers for Kimbrel. There was no category where he fell short of another closer’s mark, and the accolades piled on to escalate his salary projection. This is why we invented “The Kimbrel Rule,” which is defined by limiting the maximum salary projection possible to exceed the previous record for his player type to $1MM (and similarly, the maximum raise for a non-first time eligible player is $1MM greater than the previous record raise as well). In this case, no one has ever earned more in their first year of arbitration as a closer than Jonathan Papelbon, when he earned $6.25MM in 2009, so Kimbrel is projected for $7.25MM despite the model itself predicting a salary well in excess of this amount.

This number was selected as a rough approximation of what teams, agents, and arbitration panels have historically decided on. In general, the model I use does a good job of approximating the end-result of their decision processes, but when faced with no historical precedent, there is often a settlement that avoids beating the previous record by too much. Therefore, we have made this specific rule a part of the model. It is not the first time that we have let the model “have eyes.” For players who do not play in a given season, we have observed that they so frequently get rewarded with their exact previous salary that this is now an explicit rule in the model. No player gets projected for a decrease in salary anymore because those that would have often received this floor anyway—their previous salary. Now, we have a rule for the ceiling for players.

We are eagerly awaiting the ultimate settlement in the Kimbrel case, because we have spent much of the last few months discussing the peculiar case of Mr. Craig M. Kimbrel. It is our suspicion that he will land much closer to the $7.25MM we have projected for him than the high number the model produced, which I might as well confess was actually $10.2MM. However, Kimbrel is not just the namesake of the rule; he is also the first test of the Kimbrel Rule. While a couple other players will have their salaries dampened by the Kimbrel Rule in 2014, the amount that it changed their salary projection was under $1MM in these cases, nothing that could shine a light on the theory. Going forward, this may be a clue about how to treat exceptional cases for us (and possibly, for the teams and players themselves). Of course, maybe the Braves will hurry up and settle with him before he breaks my computer.

Arbitration Breakdown: Jim Johnson

Over the next few weeks, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors (read more about it here), but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.

After shuffling between different relief roles for a few years, Jim Johnson emerged in 2012 as the Orioles' full-time closer. He saved a league-best 51 games in just 54 chances as he helped the Orioles make the playoffs for the first time in the 21st century. The Orioles relied on him heavily, winning the AL Wild Card in large part due to their 29-9 record in one-run games, a feat in which Johnson played a large part. Johnson hurled 68 2/3 innings for the Orioles, keeping his ERA low at 2.49 to go along with his hefty save total.

The Orioles are about to be reminded that that type of performance doesn’t come for free, as the Moye Sports Associates client is likely to get a substantial raise on his $2.625MM salary from 2012. My arbitration model projects Johnson to get a $4.275MM raise in his third year of arbitration eligibility, all the way up to $6.9MM. This would be uncharted territory — other than first-year eligible players, no reliever has ever gotten a raise larger than $3.5MM. While I suspect that Johnson may fall a little bit short of the model’s estimated $6.9MM salary, I think he will probably break the $3.5MM record.

Projecting closers’ arbitration salaries is not as hard as for many other types of players. Pitchers with at least 20 saves in their second, third, or fourth year of arbitration got raises ranging from $1.375-3.5MM over the last six years (2007-12) and a good rule of thumb is that the more saves a closer has, the bigger his raise will be. Other statistics matter far less; arbitration cases are very much about whether you got your individual job done, and the closer’s role is seen as saving games. More opportunities means more money — avoiding blown saves (which Johnson happened to do) is not as important as racking up save totals when called upon.

Pitchers who had at least 20 but fewer than 35 saves received raises between $1.375-1.925MM, pitchers who had at least 35 but fewer than 40 saves receives raises between $2.0-3.1MM, and pitchers who had at least 40 saves received raises between $2.7-3.5MM. The relationship between saves totals and raises is clear — other statistics mattered far less. Considering that the maximum number of saves of any of these closers was 47, it makes perfect sense that Johnson should expect to break Heath Bell’s record raise of $3.5MM in 2011 in Johnson’s third year of eligibility and with four more saves than Bell.

There have been three pitchers in the last six years to have at least 40 saves and get one-year contracts in their third year of arbitration eligibility, and all three of them received similar raises and will be the presumed comparables for Johnson’s case. After saving 40 games in 2007, Francisco Rodriguez got a $2.95MM raise; after saving 44 games in 2008, Jose Valverde got a $3.3MM raise; and after saving 47 games in 2010, Heath Bell got a $3.5MM raise. All three of them had a similar number of innings as Johnson had in 2012, with Johnson pitching through 68 2/3, Rodriguez throwing 67 1/3, Valverde with 72, and Bell with 70. Johnson’s 2.49 ERA topped Rodriguez’s 2.81 and Valverde’s 3.38, but fell short of Bell’s 1.93.

Since both Valverde’s and Rodriguez’s raises are less recent, Bell seems like a much better comparable, and given that his case took place two years ago and his saves total was smaller than Johnson’s, it is hard to imagine that that Johnson will fail to top Bell’s $3.5MM raise. Adding in two extra years of salary inflation and four extra saves, I think that Johnson should expect a raise of about $4MM. While my model thinks this will go all the way up to $4.275MM raise (and hence a $6.9MM salary), I think it might be hard to push for $775K more than Bell got. Johnson should still safely end up with over $6.5MM in 2013.