Over the next few days, 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.
Modeling arbitration salaries is an inexact science, and sometimes “inexact” is too generous of a description. Setup man Addison Reed’s projected $5.3MM raise to $10.6MM is clearly one of those times. Even worse is that the model was only saved by the “Kimbrel Rule,” which states that a player can only beat the record salary for their service class by $1M in the model. The raw model projected a $5.8MM raise. Reed is going to get a far smaller raise than he projected, because the peculiarities of his case confuse the model so much.
Reed’s case is unique because he has 106 career saves but had 40 holds this year in lieu of working as a closer. Further, he struck out 91 batters in 77.2 innings while posting a microscopic 1.97 ERA. Relievers who have a career of closing success behind them tend to out-earn those who have a single good year as closers. So the model gives credit to career save totals, which boosts Reed’s projection significantly.
He is, however, unlikely to get extra credit for those saves in real life. Remove those career saves, and the model projects him for a $3.6MM raise. That’s still large, but much more reasonable.
Reed’s 40 holds this year put him in elite company on their own. In the last decade, only three relievers entering their third year of arbitration eligibility have even accumulated 30 holds—David Robertson in 2014, Tyler Clippard in 2014, and Mike Adams in 2012. They had 33, 33, and 32 holds, respectively, and earned raises of $2.12MM, $1.88MM, and $1.87MM. Their ERAs were strong as well: 2.04, 2.41, and 1.47, as compared with Reed’s 1.97 ERA total. The extra holds suggest Reed’s raise will be worth significantly more than Robertson’s $2.12MM.
That establishes a floor for Reed, but looking for a ceiling is tricky with a lack of relievers amassing 40 holds or anything near it. To find a potential ceiling, we can look to closers who pitched similarly. Among closers who had ERAs under 2.00 like Reed, only one name emerges from the last five years—Aroldis Chapman. He had 33 saves and a 1.63 ERA in 2015, with 116 strikeouts in 66.1 innings. Chapman got a $3.27MM raise. Although Reed had seven more holds than Chapman did saves, he had a higher ERA and fewer strikeouts.
Putting this together, it makes sense that Reed should fall somewhere between a $2.12 and $3.27MM. I suspect right in the middle at $2.7MM would make sense, putting him at $8MM. It is a far cry from the model’s $10.6MM projection ($11.1MM ignoring the Kimbrel Rule), but it definitely would be a healthy raise for Reed’s third year of eligibility.