The Rays have won their arbitration hearing against left-hander Ryan Yarbrough, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports (via Twitter). Tampa Bay will pay Yarbrough $2.3MM in 2021, as opposed to the $3.1MM salary Yarbrough was hoping to land.
This was the first of four arb-eligible years for Yarbrough, who qualified for the extra arbitration year by gaining enough service time to reach Super Two eligibility. He therefore gets his first big (if not quite as big as he was hoping) guaranteed payday a bit earlier in his career, and he’ll have an opportunity for greater earning potential as his arbitration salaries escalate up until he is eligible for free agency following the 2024 season.
MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected a salary in the range of $2.2MM to $3.6MM for Yarbrough, a wider range than usual due to both the unusual nature of the 2020 season and due to the Rays’ unique usage of Yarbrough for much of his pro career. Tampa often deployed Yarbrough as a bulk pitcher in both 2018 and 2019, with the southpaw entering the game for extended outings in “relief” after an opener tossed the first inning or two.
Yarbrough mostly worked as a regular starter in 2020 (starting nine of 11 games), which may have additionally worked against him since arbiters tend to rely on traditional statistics in hearings. By that standard, Yarbrough only recorded one win and 44 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings, along with a 3.56 ERA. This case could also be an important precedent for future arbitration cases involving bulk pitchers, as the Rays and other teams continue to blur the lines between the standard definitions of starters and relievers.
No matter the role, Yarbrough has posted some solid numbers over his three MLB seasons and 344 2/3 career innings. The 29-year-old has a 3.94 ERA (4.44 SIERA) and a middle-of-the-pack 20.3% strikeout rate, but also a tiny 5.8% walk rate. Between this strong control and an elite ability to limit hard contact, Yarbrough had found success despite a fastball that averaged only 87.4mph last season.