Friday is the deadline for teams and players to exchange salary figures for arbitration cases. As is usual, most teams and players will agree on a salary without even going to an arbitration hearing. The Rays historically will negotiate with their players up until the deadline to exchange figures, but if there is no agreement they are content going to a hearing. Jeremy Hellickson is one Rays player who will either agree to a contract by Friday or go to an arbitration hearing.
MLB Trade Rumors projects Hellickson’s 2014 salary at $3.2 million dollars, which is in my opinion a bit low. To determine a player’s arbitration salary, many things must be accounted for. First of all, you have to consider how many times the player has previously been arbitration-eligible: in Hellickson’s case this is his first time eligible. Secondly you must look at statistics. For pitchers the most commonly used statistics in an arbitration case are ERA and strikeouts, with walks and wins also considered. One more component is if the player has been an injury risk. When you take all these factors and put them together, that player is normally compared to other similar cases from previous years. Here is how Hellickson lines up against some pitchers who were eligible for arbitration for the first time in 2013.
One player that Hellickson is similar to going into his case is Tommy Hanson. Both players had top prospect pedigrees before debuting in the big leagues. Both Hanson and Hellickson experienced success in their first two service years before falling off in their final year before arbitration. From a statistics standpoint, Hanson was slightly better before arbitration, pitching to a 3.48 ERA and striking out 592 batters compared to Hellickson’s 3.70 ERA and 409 K’s. But, what bridges the gap in statistics is that Hanson was injured much more than Hellickson. Hanson had a partially town rotator cuff in 2011, causing him to throw just 130.0 innings. When he came back his fastball velocity was way down, which led him to struggle in 2012, leaving a bleak outlook for his future. Hellickson, on the other hand, has been fairly healthy, and has only spent time on the DL with minor injuries. His stuff was actually considered better in 2013, as he set a career high K/9 and a career low BB/9. His main problem was his inability to throw his fastball down in the zone, but this is much more fixable than Hanson’s decline in velocity (as shown by Hanson’s even worse 2013 season). Through an agreement with the Los Angeles Angles, Hanson avoided arbitration at a salary of $3.75 million dollars. Because strikeouts are a big part of arbitration value, Hellickson might not get quite that much, but in comparison to Hanson it would seem fair for him to get around $3.5 million.
Another case to look at is that of Mike Leake. He is a bit on the low end for Hellickson, as his pre-arbitration ERA of 4.23 and 325 K’s are well below Hellickson’s 3.70 ERA and 409 strikeouts. Similar to Hellickson, Leake was not viewed as a huge injury risk before his first year of arbitration. Another thing that Hellickson has going for him is that he posted two years of under 3.00 ERA ball before his horrendous 2013 season. Leake, on the other hand, posted a career low 3.86 ERA in 2011, and had not shown quite the ability that Hellickson has. Last offseason, Leake and the Cincinnati Reds avoided arbitration with a 1-year, $3.06 million dollar deal. Given Hellickson’s superior statistics, as well as his two very good years, and once again around a $3.5 million dollar salary looks plenty fair in comparison to Leake.
One last case to look at is Doug Fister‘s. Unlike Leake, Fister’s numbers were a bit better than Hellickson’s before arbitration. He posted a 3.48 ERA before he was arbitration eligible, although he did strike out 412 batters, very similar to 409. Both Fister and Hellickson have lived off of inducing poor contact, although Fister has had overall better walk numbers than Hellickson. Fister also posted his best year in the season prior to being arbitration eligible (3.33 ERA), while Hellickson had his worst (5.17 ERA). Still, had Hellickson’s numbers been in line with his first two years, his statistics would have been superior to Fister’s. Fister made a $4.0 million dollar salary to avoid arbitration with the Tigers in 2013. Once again, it seems in comparison that a $3.5 million dollar salary for Hellickson would be completely fair.
One more factor to consider is the ever rising inflation of big league salaries. Every single year, the average major league salary rises. This year as well, a new TV deal provides teams an extra $25 million that can be used towards player salary (although owners certainly can pocket it as well) that will cause even bigger inflation. With usual inflation added on top of the new TV deal, it would seem that Hellickson could surely get a higher salary than he would have gotten had he been arbitration eligible a year or two ago.
When looking at all the facts, it seems as if a $3.5 million dollar deal for Jeremy Hellickson this offseason is more than fair for both him and the Rays. When comparing Hellickson to arbitration cases from earlier years, it seems as if he has what it takes to receive this salary. Also, added inflation from the new TV deal should increase the cost of all arbitration salaries this offseason (and is also something that MLB Trade Rumors’ model does not consider). Regardless of salary, lets hope Hellickson can bounce back in 2014 and become a force to be reckoned with once again.