Why Rays’ Alex Cobb Received $4 Million in Arbitration
By Robbie Knopf
The deadline for teams to exchange figures with their arbitration-eligible players can be a contentious time. Luckily for the Tampa Bay Rays, all their hard work proved to be enough this offseason as they avoided hearings with all eight of their eligibles. What were the factors that led them to the salaries to which they agreed with their players? Let’s go case-by-case to find out, beginning with Alex Cobb right now.
In his first time through arbitration this year, Cobb ended up receiving $4 million from the Rays. Since it was his first arbitration year, the salary he received was based on not just 2014, but also his overall body of work thus far as a major leaguer. In 81 starts and 498.2 innings pitched over the last four years, Cobb went 35-23 with a 3.21 ERA, 7.7 strikeouts per 9 innings, a 2.8 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9. Let’s compare his stats to those of six relatively similar pitchers.
What really stands out from this table is how few innings Cobb has pitched compared to the others. Not only has he tossed 50.2 total innings less than the nearest pitcher on this list, but his maximum number of innings in a season is far less than any of them as well.
When we’re dealing with pitchers of this caliber, their strong results are usually accompanied by durability. On this list, everyone except for Cobb delivered at least one 200-inning season. Cobb, meanwhile, has topped out at 166.1 innings in 2014, with injuries and a late call-up in 2012 being factors he can blame.
It says a lot about the rest of Cobb’s numbers, though, that he received $4.0 million nonetheless. While ERA+, which puts ERA in the context of league and ballpark, only views him as the third-best pitcher on his list, his ERA is far and away the best of this group. His FIP, which we can use as a summary of these pitchers’ K/9, BB/9, and HR/9 ratios in this case, also leads the pack.
Another interesting statistic to note is that Cobb is the only pitcher we have mentioned that has delivered multiple seasons with an ERA under 3.00. Jered Weaver, Mat Latos, Doug Fister, and Jair Jurrjens had one such season each while Chad Billingsley and Tommy Hanson both had zero.
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Speaking of seasons with an ERA under 3.00, it certainly helped Cobb’s case that he finished so strongly. His 2.87 ERA in his final year entering arbitration was far ahead of his comparable pitchers. Once we shift to ERA+ (as is listed in the table), his season is more in line with the results of Weaver, Latos, and Fister, but it certainly helped him to be grouped with them rather than the bottom three pitchers.
The most remarkable thing of all, though, is Cobb’s consistency in every factor but the innings pitched. If you compare all of his other stats to the averages at the bottom, he beats the averages every simple time. Cobb’s average finish among the seven pitchers in all of these stats (counting IP) is 2.88, a solid margin better than the average of 3.5.
2.8 out of 7 (with lower being better) is the equivalent of the 59th percentile, or .225 standard deviations better than the mean. In this case, the standard deviation of the arbitration payouts of the seven pitchers we discussed was $428,348. If we take the average payout of $3.91 million and add .225 standard deviations, the number we get is $4.006 million. It’s no coincidence that Cobb’s salary is just a shade below that.
Alex Cobb’s lack of innings remain a concern, and the biggest question for him now is whether he will be able to rectify it. This arbitration process reminds us, though, that Cobb’s outstanding performance has made up for his lack of durability and made him an extremely valuable pitcher nonetheless. Now the Rays’ hope is that Cobb can add a 200-inning season to his resume and officially cement his place among the best pitchers in baseball.