The expectations were high for Jake McGee entering 2013. Fernando Rodney got all the headlines after his record 0.60 ERA, but McGee was coming off an incredible season as well, managing a 1.95 ERA with a 73 strikeouts against just 11 walks in 55.1 innings pitched. Like Rodney, however, McGee’s season got off to a rocky start, and his final numbers left something to be desired. McGee went 5-3 with a 4.02 ERA, a 10.8 K/9, a 3.2 BB/9, and a 1.1 HR/9 in 71 appearances and 62.2 innings pitched. One highlight for McGee, though, was that he accumulated enough service time to be eligible for arbitration for the first time as a Super Two player this offseason. McGee’s salary is projected by Matt Swartz as $1.2 million. What will he really get?
The thing about relievers in arbitration is that there are always going to be a million possible comparisons. The key is to sort through all the possibilities to find the ones that really make sense. Through his first 185 appearances and 151 innings pitched in the major leagues, McGee has a 3.28 ERA, 10.8 strikeouts per 9 innings, and a 3.41-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio. One big thing to note, is that McGee did so while saving just 1 game, something that is sure to cost him money. On the other hand, McGee’s strikeouts with so few saves leaves him in relatively uncharted territory. Here are the pitchers since 2000 who have managed an ERA between 3.00 and 3.50 and five or less saves in 140 or more appearances prior to their first go through arbitration. We are using appearances here instead of games because of situational righties and lefties–every player below threw at least 0.8 innings per appearance (what McGee has for his career) or higher. Let’s see what salary these players suggest for McGee.
This table is sorted by ERA, and we see immediately in the two salary columns that there is far from a perfect correlation between ERA and salary. Another huge factor is games pitched. Ronald Belisario and Evan Meek had almost identical ERA’s, but Belisario made almost $600,000 more dollars because he pitched in so many more games. You could say that really the difference has to do with Meek’s considerably worse strikeout to walk ratio, but then look at Ryan Webb, Logan Ondrusek, Jared Burton, and Manny Delcarmen. They all had virtually the same ERA and the order in which their salaries came was identical to the order of who made the most appearances. We also see Ondrusek getting the second most money in that group despite the worst strikeout-to-walk ratio of anyone. It looks like ERA and appearances are king, and with McGee right around the league average for both, it looks like a salary around $900,000 is appropriate.
On the other hand, however, the top four salaries on this list in 2013 dollars come from the players in the top 5 in strikeout-to-walk ratio: David Robertson, Belisario, Ramon Ramirez, and Juan Rincon. Without even adjusting for inflation, Ramirez got more money than Meek and Jose Mijares despite an ERA than was noticeably higher. But then we go back to appearances–Ramirez and Rincon outpaced everyone else by a solid margin with 224 appearances. Just looking at appearances, the two players closet to McGee are Mijares and Ondrusek, who made $950,000 to $925,000 respectively. That looks like the bottom range of what McGee could possibly get. But we have to expect that McGee will go for Ramirez money, arguing that he has struck out so many more batters that it cancels out the fewer games pitched. The compromise could be inflation-adjusted Rincon and an offer of a tad over $1 million.
At the end of the day, McGee’s strikeouts are great, but his average ERA and number of appearances have him set up to make a little less money than you might think. Take the under on Swartz’s projection and expect a salary for McGee between $1 million and $1.05 million.