clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ryan Yarbrough will have the most interesting arbitration case of the offseason

Assessing the Yarbitration

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

In our Guide to Arbitration, we noted the players who qualified for arbitration this offseason:

  • Jose Alvarado – $1.0MM / $1.1MM / $1.0MM
  • Yonny Chirinos – $1.6MM / $1.8MM / $1.6MM
  • Ji-Man Choi – $1.6MM / $2.1MM / $1.6MM
  • Tyler Glasnow – $2.8MM / $5.1MM / $3.2MM
  • Manuel Margot – $2.8MM / $3.6MM / $2.9MM
  • Joey Wendle – $1.6MM / $2.7MM / $1.6MM
  • Ryan Yarbrough – $2.2MM / $3.6MM / $2.2MM

All of those players have clear player contracts to compare them to, except one.

The Case of Ryan Yarbrough

Being the most popular (and successful) player of the Opener experiment, Ryan Yarbrough will be one of the most interesting cases this offseason, simply because there isn’t a previous player’s case to compare him to — although that isn’t going to stop me from trying.

According to the above MLBTR projections, Yarbrough’s number is somewhere between Jose Alvarado and Tyler Glasnow. We don’t know exactly what happens in these hearings, what kind of statistics or arguments are made for either side. Yarbrough’s agent could make the argument that he was used as a starter, while the Rays’ could argue that he is a reliever because he didn’t start games. This is a tough comparison to make because of the arguments are made behind close doors.

Utilizing the Fangraphs Split Tool, Ryan Yarborough has tallied 183.2 IP as a “relief pitcher” and 161.0 IP as a “starting pitcher” for his career. As the “bulk” pitcher after an opener, we know that most of Yarbrough’s relief innings are really more like starter innings, but for argument’s sake, lets take a look at how Yarbrough stacks up against other relief pitchers from 2018-2020, as this is likely to be the Rays position. All numbers were taken utilizing the Baseball Reference’s Stathead lookup tool.

The reason for this criteria is to utilize some advanced and basic statistics that will give us a good idea of Ryan Yarbrough’s true value without going into Games Started, W-L record, saves, etc. In addition to relief pitchers signed via FA, I searched for any players in the current and previous Collective Bargaining Agreement (2011-2020).

Ryan Yarbrough Relief Comp

Pitcher IP ERA K% BB% FIP Strikeouts 1st Year Arb Salary 2nd Year Arb Salary FA Salary (If applicable)
Pitcher IP ERA K% BB% FIP Strikeouts 1st Year Arb Salary 2nd Year Arb Salary FA Salary (If applicable)
Ryan Yarbrough 183.2 3.63 21.10% 6.70% 3.88 161
Yusmero Petit 197.2 2.73 21.5% 4.3% 3.80 164 N/A N/A $5,500,000
Richard Bleier 191.0 2.97 12.0% 4.2% 3.69 95 $915,000
Troy Patton 155.2 3.24 19.70% 5.90% 3.7 126 $815,000 $1,250,000
Shawn Tolleson 218.0 3.92 23.1% 8.3% 4.11 213 $3,275,000
Tyler Clippard 156.2 3.22 28.0% 6.7% 3.84 175 N/A N/A $2,750,000
Tony Watson 138.0 3.20 22.7% 5.1% 3.62 128 N/A N/A $3,000,000

Have we taken Ryan Yarborough for granted? These are some decent names, with the closest being Yusmero Petit & Sam Dyson! These salary numbers are looking mighty good for Yarborough’s team and scary for the Rays front office.

But in arbitration year one, you can’t utilize Free Agent contracts or signings as how you should be paid, so that leaves Richard Bleier, Troy Patton, and former Rays pitcher Shawn Tolleson. Out of those three, the “best” comp might be Tolleson, and his first year of arbitration was big due to the 35 saves he accrued in 2015. That comparison doesn’t really fly here.

Comparing Ryan Yarbrough as a SP to other SP

404 not found.

There was supposed to be another table here, but the theme persisted in my research of there is nobody like Ryan Yarbrough.

The first problem is the pitcher journey. Many relief pitchers make the transition to starting and vice versa, but those pitchers who did, such as Luis Cessa, Jaime Barria, Dylan Covey, etc don’t have enough service time to go through arbitration yet, signed a FA contract and are not eligible for comparison, or are currently not playing.

The second problem is with only 161 IP as a starter, the only ones that matched Yarbrough were relief pitchers.

Lets look at Yarbrough’s overall stats to see if we can find a good comparison. Using the same stats as above, here is what I found:

Ryan Yarbrough Overall

Pitcher IP ERA K% BB% FIP Strikeouts 1st Year Arb Salary
Pitcher IP ERA K% BB% FIP Strikeouts 1st Year Arb Salary
Ryan Yarbrough 344.2 3.94 20.3% 5.8% 3.87 289
Roenis Elias 388.0 3.97 19.7% 9.0% 4.26 325 $910,000
Joe Ross 335.1 4.29 20.3% 7.4% 4.13 294 $1,000,000
Matt Andriese 358.0 4.55 20.5% 6.3% 4.32 312 $920,000
Jake Odorizzi 374.1 3.77 22.2% 7.4% 3.73 350 $4,100,000

Although these are more recognizable names, and on paper look to be similar it is still different. Joe Ross seems to be the most apt to Ryan Yarbrough, but there are a few concerns. Joe Ross made the transition from starter to reliever, while Yarbrough has always been a starter. Ross started in 45 games over a 3 year period, and was rewarded with a $1,000,000 contract. For 2018 & 2019 He only started in 12 games, and received a $500,000 increase for his 2nd time through arbitration.

Roenis Elias began as a starting pitcher for Seattle, was traded to Boston, and after a injured 2016 & 2017, came back as a reliver with some spot starts in 2018. That result netted him a $910,000 contract for his first year in arbitration, and if I’m Ryan Yarbrough’s team, I’m using that as an absolute minimum.

The best overall comp might be Matt Andriese, who began his MLB career with the Rays, and started in 8 out of 25 games in 2015, 19 out of 29 in 2016, 17 out of 18 in 2017, and 5 out of 39 games, split between Tampa Bay & Arizona in 2018. The back and forth between starter and reliver got Andriese $920,000 his first year, and a nice bump to $1,395,000 in his second year of arbitration.

Jake Odorizzi is the biggest question mark in this comparison, as he was part of the Rays’ starting rotation from the beginning and was not forced into relief roles a couple batters into the game. Even comparing his stats, Odorizzi is better than Yarbrough in K%, ERA and IP. So why include him on this list? Because Yarbrough might be better.

  • Ryan Yarbrough: 92 ERA-/91 FIP-/98 xFIP-
  • Jake Odorizzi: 99 ERA-/97 FIP-/102 xFIP-

Note: Special thanks to DRB’s own JT Morgan for pointing this out.

ERA, FIP & xFIP also have league adjusted numbers, scoring from a center of 100. For every point below 100, that means the ERA/FIP/xFIP is one percentage point better than league-average.

So Ryan Yarborough had a 7% better ERA, 6% better FIP and 4% better xFIP than Jake Odorizzi when compared to the rest of the league.


With all this data, we still don’t know how Yarbrough’s first trip through arbitration will go, and we aren’t considering the strangeness of the 2020 season. Most of the time, these cases don’t even go to an arbitration hearing, and when they do, we don’t know what each side presents for reasons why they are correct, OR which data sets have more influence over the third-party arbitrating panel.

This case may be more important than we think , as more teams look to replicate the Rays’ Opener success, and when those players buy-in and find success being the next “bulk” pitcher, the Ryan Yarbrough arbitration will set the precedent for how future players are paid.

This is going to be an interesting arbitration as there hasn’t been a pitcher utilized quite like Ryan Yarbrough, and the ramifications for player salaries across baseball could be felt for a long time, not matter which side wins.