Over the coming days, I am discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. 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. 2020 projections are available right here.
Jonathan Villar is projected for a hefty raise in his third year of arbitration eligibility in 2019, thanks to a significant improvement over his performance the prior two years. Villar hit for a career-high 24 home runs and 73 runs batted in last season, while also hitting .274 and stealing 40 bases. Villar appeared in all 162 of the Orioles’ games, accumulating 714 plate appearances. After Villar earned $4.825MM in 2019, my model projects him to more than double that amount, with a $5.575MM raise to a $10.4MM salary for 2020. However, there really are not many useful comparables to work with in Villar’s case.
Very few players with Villar’s service time have similar profiles in terms of home runs and stolen bases. There is only one such player who had more than half as many of each in the last five years — Eduardo Nunez, who also stole 40 bases and hit 16 home runs back in 2016, while batting .288 and knocking in 67 runs over 141 games and 595 PA. Other than VIllar’s eight extra home runs, Nunez does look similar, albeit with fewer plate appearances (119 less than Villar) and games played (21 less). Nunez only got a $2.7MM raise, so add in some inflation and the effect of the extra home runs and extra games, and maybe Villar could get close to a $4MM raise, but that is still far short of the model’s $5.575MM raise estimate.
Looking for players with over 700 PA in the last two years, we find Cesar Hernandez from last year and Charlie Blackmon from two years ago, though Blackmon isn’t a comparable since his case relies more on overall hitting numbers than power and speed (.331 average, 34 homers, 104 RBI, 14 steals for Blackmon in 2017). Hernandez got a $2.65MM raise last offseason coming off a 2018 campaign that saw him post a .253 average, 15 home runs, and 60 RBI, to go along with 19 steals. This is an obvious floor for Villar, as he should clearly exceed this range.
Also from last year, Didi Gregorius may be a more realistic floor for Villar. He got a $3.5MM raise after hitting .268 with 27 HR and 86 RBI — all similar to Villar — but only stealing 10 bases. Of course, Gregorius only had 569 PA, far less than Villar’s 714 PA. Villar should certainly clear $3.5MM as well.
My best guess is Villar gets a raise of around $4MM to $4.5MM. The model may be estimating high because it is rewarding him heavily for his 714 plate appearances. Although the model has clearly established that the average effect of more plate appearances really compounds, there may be exceptions in cases like these. I do not think Villar reaches the $5.575MM raise estimate, so he should land closer to $9MM than the $10.4MM the model forecast.