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.
Josh Hader just barely qualified for early arbitration eligibility as a Super Two, significantly boosting his career earning outlook. He did so on the heels of his first season as a full-time closer. Hader saved 37 games in 2019, after saving just 12 games in his career beforehand. However, Hader has consistently pitched in high leverage innings, accumulating 39 career holds, and has put up phenomenal strikeout numbers and a low ERA. In less than three full seasons, Hader has struck out 349 hitters in 240.2 innings and put up a 2.42 ERA. My model projects him to earn $4.6MM in his run through arbitration.
A typical comparable for Hader would be someone who had a full platform year as a closer, but only limited saves prior to that, while having a lower ERA and a lot of strikeouts. The closest comparable is probably Ken Giles two years ago. He had 34 platform saves (to Hader’s 37) and 65 career saves (to Hader’s 49). He struck out 336 hitters in his career, but just 83 in his platform year. Hader struck out 349 in his career, but had 138 in his platform year. Giles’ 2.30 platform year ERA was similar to Hader’s 2.62, and his career 2.43 ERA was almost exactly spot on Hader’s 2.42. Giles earned $4.6MM. Overall it is not clear which of Giles or Hader should earn more, which means the $4.6MM projection to match Giles is probably about right.
This is reinforced by the fact that the other three players in the last five years with 30 saves in their platform year and between 40 and 65 saves in their career all earned between $4.1 and $4.2MM, each back in 2016. Those were Hector Rendon, Cody Allen, and Jeurys Familia. They all had ERA in the mid 2’s as well, ranging from 2.42 to 2.82.
The one thing that sticks out about Hader beyond that list is his very high strikeout rate. That distinguishes him from all of these other relievers who fell short of triple-digit strikeouts in their platform year. Hader’s 138 strikeouts topped all four aforementioned closers.
Another avenue could be to ignore old-fashioned stats like saves and holds and see if anyone else has similar strikeout numbers out of the bullpen. Ultimately, this was limited. I looked for any reliever in the last five years who entered arbitration for the first time with at least 120 strikeouts in their platform year and 300 in their career. That only yielded Dellin Betances, who earned $3MM three years ago, despite only 22 career saves. (That came after he lost a high-stakes hearing in which he sought $5MM.) That would certainly provide a floor, but it is clear that Hader should be well above this anyway.
Ultimately, I think it is safe to assume he lands close to his $4.6MM projection. I could see some upside if his strikeouts are considered more heavily, but since relievers generally get paid based on saves and holds, I do not think he will exceed his projection by much.