Recently, I have been discussing some of the higher-profile upcoming arbitration cases as part of MLBTR’s Arbitration Breakdown series. I 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. Full arbitration projections for 2018 are also available.
Jacob deGrom enters his second year of arbitration eligibility poised to earn a solid bump up from his $4.05MM salary from 2017. He went 15-10 with a 3.53 ERA in 201.1 innings and struck out 239 batters, so my model places him at $9.2MM, good for a $5.1MM raise. This is probably too high based on comparables, as I discuss below, but it should easily be enough to earn him a large raise.
Players who are past their first year of arbitration eligibility general get raises based on their platform year performance only. So we just need to look for pitchers with roughly 15 wins and a ton of strikeouts, along with respectable ERAs. One such player who got a very large raise is David Price—he got a $5.76MM raise back in 2013 after going 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA and 205 punch outs. That is probably somewhat stale by now, although it certainly looks like a ceiling given the much stronger performance in terms of wins and ERA. A more recent ceiling might be Jake Arrieta’s $7.07MM raise two years ago after going 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA. Like Price, he won a Cy Young, and clearly has better numbers. I think both Price and Arrieta cap how high deGrom’s raise can get.
More within striking distance is Stephen Strasburg three years ago. He went 14-11 versus deGrom’s 15-10. And his 3.14 ERA is better than deGrom’s 3.53, but when you consider run environment it’s nearly a dead ringer. A panel might not consider run environment, but either way both have ERAs in the 3’s. Strasburg’s 242 strikeouts are of course very similar to deGrom’s 239. Strasburg took home a $3.43MM raise. Add in some salary inflation, and you might get closer to $4MM for deGrom.
Strasburg is actually the largest raise in the last five years excluding the two Cy Young Award winners (Arrieta and Price), so that might be the best comparable. Tyson Ross had a 13-14 record the same year as Strasburg and just 195 strikeouts, but had a 2.81 ERA. He got a $3.27MM raise. But that is likely to fall below where deGrom gets, and could be viewed as something of a floor. ERA is generally not as important in arbitration as you might expect.
Garrett Richards is the only other comparable that makes sense to me. His $3.23MM raise two years ago off a 15-12/3.65 performance came with only 176 strikeouts, though. So he also likely helps to establish a floor for deGrom.
Overall, I think there is a good case case for deGrom to get a raise closer to $4MM than the $5.1MM projection. Look for a salary around $8MM when push comes to shove.