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.
Jake Arrieta enters his third and final year of arbitration this winter with a hefty $10.7MM base salary following his 2015 Cy Young Award season. While his 2016 campaign was less stellar, Arrieta still posted a very respectable 3.10 ERA in 197.1 innings, along with an 18-8 record and 190 strikeouts. As a result, my model projects him to get a $6.1MM raise and earn $16.8MM for 2017.
Finding comparable pitchers to Arrieta’s platform season is tricky. His $6.1MM raise would be the second-highest ever for a third-year eligible starting pitcher — Max Scherzer got an $8.8MM raise after his Cy Young Award-winning season three years ago. Scherzer’s 21-3 record, 2.90 ERA, 214.1 innings and 240 strikeouts (plus the Cy Young Award itself) combine to put an obvious ceiling above Arrieta. There is no way Arrieta is going to get anywhere near Scherzer’s $8.8MM raise, but where the Cubs ace falls below that number is difficult to discern.
Aside from Scherzer, the next highest raise in this service class (excluding the anomalous and stale case of Carlos Zambrano in 2007) belongs to Jeff Samardzija, who got a $4.46MM raise in 2015. Samardzija posted just a 7-13 record that season, but with a 2.99 ERA in 219.2 innings to go along with 202 strikeouts. While Arrieta’s 2016 season fell twenty innings short of Samardzija’s 2014, Arrieta’s 11 extra wins suggest he should easily top Samardzija’s raise.
Doug Fister in the 2014-15 offseason could be an interesting comparable because his win total is more applicable to Arrieta’s case. Fister received a $4.2MM raise after winning 16 games in 2014. Fister’s 2.41 ERA bested Arrieta’s mark from this past season, though Arrieta significantly outpaced Fister in innings (197.1 to 164) and strikeouts (190 to 98). Alfredo Simon got a $4.05MM raise that same year with 15 wins and 196.1 innings, but his 3.44 ERA is less impressive than Arrieta’s, and his 127 strikeouts are far weaker too.
One plausible comparable could be Justin Masterson, who got a $4.07MM raise after a strong 2013 campaign — 14-10 record, 3.45 ERA, and 195 strikeouts in 193 IP. While the innings and strikeouts are a reasonable comparison, the record and ERA are clearly a step behind Arrieta.
Overall, we see a very obvious ceiling at $8.8MM with Scherzer way above Arrieta, and a series of pitchers in the low $4MM-raise range that clearly represent a floor. Where Arrieta lands is a mystery, but it would surprise me if he achieved the $6.1MM raise as projected by the model. I think a $5MM raise makes a lot of sense based on these comparables, and maybe $5.5MM since he clearly has a much better case than all of the $4MM-raise pitchers, though $6.1 million seems a little too high. Look for Arrieta to land somewhere closer to $16MM in 2017 than the nearly $17MM the model expects.