17 January 2017

How Much Will Kevin Gausman Earn in Arbitration?

Have you ever been denied a raise? Have you ever had your employer list all the reasons why you don't deserve one? This is the frustrating situation Kevin Gausman is in. He asked the Orioles for $3.55M, but the Orioles countered with $3.15M. The two sides couldn't agree on an amount by last Friday's deadline so the Orioles, apparently operating under the file-and-trial policy, will see Gausman in court.

A separation of $400k isn't a lot, not when Dellin Betances and the Yankees are $2M apart. But to Gausman, it's real money, about an extra year of salary at the MLB minimum of $535k. Plus, his filing is 12.6% above the Orioles'. How many of us can go out and get a 12.6% raise?

From the Orioles' point of view, $400k may seem trivial, but as shown by the Yovani Gallardo trade, they're seeking savings wherever they can get it. The team is taking Caleb Joseph to court over $300k, a lesser amount.

I decided to examine Gausman's arbitration case. Will he receive $3.55M or will he have to settle for $3.15M? The arbitration panel must pick either the Orioles' offer or Gausman's. They can't split the difference.


I'll use only IP, ERA, wins, and W-L% to examine Gausman's case. While you and I may look at information like fastball velocity, K-BB%, and DRA to better understand a pitcher's worth, teams and agents present more traditional stats to arbitrators. According to Ben Nicholson-Smith at MLB Trade Rumors:
Teams and agents don't want to risk alienating arbitrators with wOBA, xFIP or UZR, so they stick to the basics. Wins don't necessarily indicate how effective a pitcher has been, but they will impact how much he gets paid. Innings pitched, ERA, RBI, runs, homers and doubles figure in, along with other back-of-the-baseball-card stats like batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

Comparable Pitchers

Both sides will compare Gausman to other players. This year five first-year Super-Two starting pitchers have avoided arbitration. Including Gausman, they are:

Name Age IP ERA W L W-L% Arb-1 Salary ($M)
Matt Shoemaker 29 436.10 3.76 32 27 0.542 3.25
Danny Salazar 26 484.10 3.72 33 27 0.550 3.40
Jacob deGrom 28 479.10 2.74 30 22 0.577 4.05
James Paxton 27 286.00 3.43 18 15 0.545 2.35
Trevor Bauer 25 552.10 4.42 30 32 0.484 3.55
Kevin Gausman 25 451.60 3.99 23 31 0.426 ?

Coincidentally or not, Bauer's Arb-1 salary of $3.55M is exactly what Gausman filed for. Can Gausman claim he's Bauer's equal?

I don't think so, at least, not in the arbitrator's eyes. While Bauer's ERA is noticeably higher than Gausman's, Bauer's pitched 100 more innings and has not only more wins but a higher W-L%.

This comparison alone may sink Gausman's chances. His agent must argue that Gausman's ERA advantage makes up for the difference in IP, W, and W-L%. That's a valid argument to make; I think all available data shows Gausman is the superior pitcher. But MLB arbitrators don't consider all data, and 100 IP is a huge hill to climb. I don't think Gausman's agent can do it.

We can remove two more more pitchers from the list of comparables:
  • Jacob deGrom has an NL Rookie of the Year award and a seventh-place Cy Young finish to his name, not to mention a sub-3 ERA and and a superlative .577 W-L%. Gausman has no such bonafides.
  • James Paxton has a similar number of wins as Gausman but over 150 fewer innings pitched. Paxton has hit the DL in each of the past three seasons and has had mixed results when on the mound. If Gausman's agent uses Paxton -- who earned $2.35M in arbitration -- as a point of comparison, Gausman should switch agencies.
We're left with Danny Salazar and Matt Shoemaker. Each have better ERA's than Gausman. They each have about 10 more wins and a much higher W-L% than he does. Salazar's pitched about 30 more innings than Gausman; Shoemaker, about 15 fewer.

Unfortunately for Gausman, Salazar earned $3.4M, quite close to $3.55M. If Gausman can't claim he's equal to Salazar, the arbitrator has no incentive to award Gausman more money than Salazar. The story with Shoemaker, who earned $3.25M, is similar. Gausman has only a 15 IP advantage on Shoemaker but is inferior in every other way. The arbitrator has no incentive to pick the amount that's above Shoemaker's salary.


Based on the evidence that the arbitrators likely will see, I expect the them to rule in favor of the Orioles and pay Gausman $3.15M. Gausman's a better pitcher than Trevor Bauer, but Bauer's outperformed Gausman in the metrics arbitrators typically see. Hopefully Gausman and his teammates will excel in 2017 and give Goose a more productive second trip through arbitration.

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