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Why Ryan Yarbrough Lost His Arbitration Case

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Walking through how the Rays determined their $2.3 million salary for Yarbrough

MLB: World Series-Los Angeles Dodgers at Tampa Bay Rays Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Yarbrough lost his arbitration case against the Rays last week after trying to secure a $3.1 million salary for 2021. He will end up receiving the salary provided by the Rays, $2.3 million. Let’s take a look at why he lost, and what made the Rays’ salary more appropriate from the perspective of the arbitrators.

If you need further context, I have written previously about the arbitration process in this article, and there is a DRaysBay Guide from this offseason as well. Please refer to either to learn about eligibility and the hearing.

If you prefer an audio/visual medium, here’s a video breakdown of everything I will discuss below:

On to the breakdown!

How to Build an Arbitration Case

There are a few key elements to consider when building an arbitration case:

  1. Basic stats – Wins, IPs, Games, ERA, etc
  2. Comparable players
  3. The player’s career performance
  4. The player’s “platform year” performance

The “platform year” refers to the year the player is eligible for arbitration.

Ryan Yarbrough’s Basic Stats

The first thing I did was put together Ryan Yarbrough’s basic stats in his platform year (2020) and career for reference.

Yarbrough’s Basic Stats

Stat Platform Year (2020) Career
Stat Platform Year (2020) Career
ERA 3.56 3.94
Games 11 77
Games Started 9 29
% of Games Started 82% 38%
Wins 1 28
Losses 4 16
IP 55 344.2

We will use these later on as a comparison tool, and keep in mind that 2020 was a shortened season.

Finding Comparable Players

Now we need to find similar players. First, we need to identify players who were first year arbitration eligible (because this is Yarbrough’s first year).

Next, it would be ideal to find players who have experience as a starting and relief pitcher. We want them to have transitioned into more of a starter role (similar to Yarbrough) at or around their platform year.

I compiled this list by going back three years and looking at all first year arbitration eligible pitchers. I came up with the following players (organized by year):

Platform Year: 2019

Player Awarded Salary for 2020 Position
Player Awarded Salary for 2020 Position
Luis Cessa 1.5 million RP+SP
Jharel Cotton 640,000 SP
Kyle Freeland 2.875 million SP
Tyler Glasnow 2.05 million RP+SP
Josh Hader 4.1 million RP
Jonathan Holder 750,000 RP
Dinelson Lamet 1.3 million SP
Keynan Middleton 800,000 RP
Jordan Montgomery 805,000 SP
Wandy Peralta 805,000 RP
Noe Ramirez 900,000 RP
Kyle Ryan 975,000 RP
Brent Suter 1.50 million RP+SP
Julio Urias 1 million RP+SP

Platform Year: 2018

Player Awarded Salary for 2019 Position
Player Awarded Salary for 2019 Position
Joe Biagini 900,000 RP
Matthew Boyd 2.6 million SP
Adam Conley 1.125 million SP+RP
Chris Devenski 1.525 million RP
Ryan Dull 860,000 RP
Carl Edwards Jr 1.5 million RP
Michael Fulmer 2.8 million SP
Nick Goody 675,000 RP
Junior Guerra 2.25 million SP+RP
Sean Menaea 3.15 million SP
Taylor Rodgers 1.525 million RP

Platform Year: 2017

Player Awarded Salary for 2018 Position
Player Awarded Salary for 2018 Position
Cam Bredrosian 1.1 million RP
Mike Foltynewicz 2.2 million SP
Blaine Hardy 1.3 million RP+SP
Andrew Heaney 800,000 SP
Kelvin Herrera 7.937 million RP
Keone Kela 1.2 million RP
Corey Knebel 3.65 million RP
Dominic Leone 1.085 million RP
Michael Lorenzen 1.3 million RP+SP
Lance McCullers Jr 2.45 million SP
Roberto Osuna 5.3 million RP
JC Ramirez 1.9 million RP+SP
Hansel Robles 900,000 RP
Carlos Rodon 2.3 million SP
Eduardo Rodriguez 2.375 million SP
Chasen Shreve 825,000 RP
Hunter Strickland 1.55 million RP
Noah Syndergaard 2.975 million SP
Daniel Winkler 610,000 RP

If we take these lists and pull out all of the pitchers who have experience as starters and relievers, it becomes much smaller.

Then we want to identify those who started their careers as relievers and then transitioned into the starter role.

Yarbrough is entering his first year of arbitration as a Super Two, meaning he will receive arbitration across the final four years of his rookie contract. Accordingly, we have used Super Two players unless otherwise noted in the player comps moving forward.

We are left with three pitchers:

  • Tyler Glasnow - $2.05 million
  • J.C. Ramirez - $1.9 million
  • Julio Urias - $1 million

We want to compare each of these players to Yarbrough so that we can get an initial feel for what he should be compensated.

When making these comparisons, I looked at the player’s platform year (the year they were eligible for arbitration) and their career stats through their platform year.

I also considered the 2020 shortened season, as Yarbrough’s games played, innings pitched, wins etc. would be impacted. To resolve this issue, I used percentages. For example, instead of strictly looking at “Games”, I compared based on the percentage of games the player started relative to the season length (162 vs 60 games). An alternate method is to multiply the platform year stats (excluding ERA) by 2.7 (162/60).

J.C. Ramirez vs Yarbrough

I started by comparing J.C. Ramirez to Yarbrough because of the three players we’ve identified thus far, Ramirez has the mid-range salary. He’s also one of the few non-Super Two.

I determined the following:

  • During their platform years, both pitchers started a similar percentage of games
  • J.C. Ramirez was placed on the 60 day IL during his platform year (which would hurt his awarded salary)
  • Yarbrough pitched more career innings and has 13 more wins
  • Yarbrough qualified as a Super Two for arbitration eligibility, while Ramirez did not

Conclusion: Yarbrough should be making more money than J.C. Ramirez >$1.90 million

Tyler Glasnow vs Yarbrough

Tyler Glasnow has the upper range salary of the three players, so let’s compare him to Yarbrough next. Here we find:

  • Glasnow has a higher career ERA than Yarbrough and won 18 fewer games.
  • Yarbrough pitched almost 100 more innings than Glasnow (in a similar amount of games)
  • During his platform year, Glasnow was placed on the 60 day IL (which would hurt his awarded salary)
  • Both Glasnow and Yarbrough qualified as Super Twos

Conclusion: Yarbrough should make more money than Glasnow, which sets a Lower Limit of $2.05 million.

As for determining an Upper Limit, we now know that Yarbrough should be making at least $2.05 million. Let’s find some more players to compare him to so we can find an upper limit.

Going back to that original list of pitchers, we can remove everyone who earned less than our lower limit of $2.05 million (determined from our comparison to Glasnow). We can also remove any pitchers who have only pitched in relief. Yarbrough was more of a starter his platform year.

Our revised list is as follows, and now consists of only starting pitchers.

Let’s use a similar approach of comparing pitchers to Yarbrough by starting in the middle of the list. We can then work our way higher or lower to determine where Yarbrough fits salary wise.

Matthew Boyd vs Yarbrough

I started at Matthew Boyd because of his mid-range salary, and determined the following:

  • Boyd has more wins than Yarbrough in his platform year (even after extrapolating), but a higher ERA
  • Boyd has better career stats- more games played and significantly more (>100) innings pitched
  • Both Boyd and Yarbrough qualified as Super Twos

Conclusion: Yarbrough should be making less than Boyd, <$2.6 million

Lance McCullers Jr. vs Yarbrough

If we drop down one salary on the list, we have Lance McCullers Jr at $2.45 million.

  • McCullers Jr. has more wins his platform year, but Yarbrough has more career wins
  • McCullers Jr. has a lower career ERA
  • Pitched in a similar amount of innings
  • Both McCullers Jr. and Yarbrough qualified Super Twos

Conclusion: McCullers Jr. and Yarbrough are very similar, but McCullers Jr. has a slight edge. Yarbrough should be making slightly less than $2.45 million

Eduardo Rodriguez vs Yarbrough

Eduardo Rodriguez is one below McCullers Jr. salary-wise.

  • Yarbrough has a lower ERA than Rodriguez in his platform year and career overall
  • Yarbrough has more wins, more games, and more innings pitched career-wise
  • Both Rodriguez and Yarbrough qualified Super Twos

Conclusion: Yarbrough should be making more than Eduardo Rodriguez, >$2.375 million

Rays Baseball

Yarbrough’s Salary Range

Our previous Lower Limit from Tyler Glasnow was $2.05 million, but we can now refine it to be $2.375 if you believe Yarbrough should be making more than Rodriguez. Our Upper Limit remains set at $2.45 million from Lance McCullers Jr.

So, Yarbrough should have earned between $2.375 million and $2.45 million. to split the difference, I personally would put him at around $2.40 million.

This all brings us to the hearing. As a reminder, here is what each party requested:

  • Yarbrough requested $3.1 million
  • The Rays offered $2.3 million

Arbitrators cannot negotiate or come up with their own salaries. Those presiding over Yarbrough’s case ultimately decided to side with the Rays and award Yarbrough $2.3 million. I am not sure why my estimate was off by $100,000 from that of the Rays deemed fair, but I can see why Yarbrough did not win this case.

So where did Ryan Yarbrough’s number come from? One factor that I believe did hurt Yarbrough was the shortened season. I based my comparisons above off of the numbers as they were, without extrapolating over 162 games.

If we were to go back through this method and compare Ryan Yarbrough based on these hypothetical stats, we would have ended up around the salary requested by Yarbrough, in a range of $3.00 to $3.10 million (between Noah Syndergaard and Sean Manaea).

While there are many reasons Ryan Yarbrough’s arbitration hearing could have been precedent setting for Major League Baseball, in the end his arbitration case appears to have been very straight forward.

Do you think Ryan Yarbrough is being compensated fairly for the 2021 season?