Arroyo’s Extension

I like a lot of what Walt Jocketty has done in Cincinnati, and with the right moves to surround their young developing talent, they could be perennial contenders in the NL Central. However, Jocketty’s latest move is just not something I can support.

After picking up Bronson Arroyo‘s $13 million option for 2011 in order to keep him from free agency, the Reds renegotiated the deal into a 3 year, $35 million extension that will keep him on the roster through 2013. If you needed more evidence of inflation running amok this winter, $35 million for Arroyo should be all the convincing anyone will ever need.

Arroyo has two obvious strengths – durability and command. He has thrown at least 200 innings in six consecutive seasons, and his walk rate over that time is just 2.6 BB/9. He’s a classic innings eater who pounds the zone and lets his defenders make outs behind him, and when things are going well, those guys can look very good.

His 2010 season is a perfect example of the kind of quality results you can get from this skillset. Over 33 starts, he managed 215 innings with just a 3.88 ERA, putting him in the company of starters like Ryan Dempster, Derek Lowe, Barry Zito, and Randy Wolf. Using those pitchers as comparisons, it would be easy to see how the Reds landed on a 3/35 deal for Arroyo.

Unfortunately for the Reds, Arroyo is highly unlikely to post a 3.88 ERA again. He had the lowest BABIP of any starting pitcher in the National League, and regardless of what you think of DIPS theory, you have to acknowledge that a .246 mark is simply unsustainable for any starting pitcher. His career mark is .290, so there is little evidence that Arroyo is a unique pitcher who can keep getting batters to hit the ball right at his teammates.

Without a low BABIP, Arroyo looks like a mid-rotation starter at best. His career strikeout rate is 6.01 K/9, and it has been hovering near 5.00 for the last two years. His lacks any kind of out pitch, and while he does a nice job keeping hitters off balance, he has the kind of marginal repertoire that can suffer greatly from even a small drop-off in stuff.

Locking your team into three more years of Arroyo’s attempts to get hitters out through voodoo just seems like a setup for failure, especially when pitchers with this skillset hit the market every winter and generally sign for a fraction of the cost.

Last winter, Joel Pineiro got $16 million over two years, and his sinker is better than anything Arroyo has. Jake Westbrook got that same contract at the beginning of this off-season. A less healthy version of this pitcher type, Jeff Francis, had his $7 million option declined and has reportedly only been offered a minor league contract to date. Durability is a valuable skill, but it’s not worth a $30 million premium.

You can get pitch-to-contact innings-eaters with one year deals every winter, limiting risk and keeping your budget flexible for when the narrow road they walk abruptly comes to an end. The Reds already had Arroyo under team control for 2011, making this extension even less necessary. On the whole, Walt Jocketty has done good things for the Reds, but this contract is unlikely to look like one of his better moves.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

32 Responses to “Arroyo’s Extension”

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  1. mbrady16 says:

    Since the contract isn’t really defensible by using statistics, my guess is that we’re going to hear from Jocketty about Arroyo’s “leadership” qualities for the young pitching staff, as well as his “ace mentality”, and perhaps “great guy to have in the clubhouse” too.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      My guess is “reliable” and “durable” are the adjectives used … I don;t think anyone can buy Arroyo as “Ace mentality” or anything like that.

      There is some value in having a guy that makes all of his starts and goes relatively deep into games.

      I know that durability is reflected in WAR, but there is also a comforting aspect with reliability of “knowing what you’re going to get” and your team being in a competitive situation. I’m not sure the Reds are in a position to let Arroyo go and then have tryouts with the young pitchers. Their young pitchers have already ranged from awesome to terrible to injured … sometimes all in the same season.

      While stat-based fans would state that they could essentially sign any pitcher for cheap to replace an injured young starter, that also likely has an effect on the bullpen, managing, morale, etc.

      I’m not gonna argue for Arroyo, because I REALLY can’t stand the guy. But, I do think his type of pitcher has more value than some others think, simply because MLB relievers don’t grow on trees, and you can’t just throw anyone out there, nor can you just ride the bullpen in the dirt, and replace them as if it was a computer sim or fantasy baseball.

      Everyone’s always talking about bullpen strength, durability, usage, etc … but then when we talk stats, we act as if relievers were clones, where you just pick another up at Walgreens on your way home from work.

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      • Anon21 says:

        First, I think you mean starters, right? Unless you’re alluding to the possibility of one of the Reds’ more talented relievers being shifted from the bullpen to the rotation. In which case, I really can’t buy your argument. Relievers may not be clones, but except for the elite among them they’re the lowest-value category of MLB player, and plenty of clubs have live arms capable of tossing 40-60 innings out of the pen with ok results. If the Reds think they have one or more releivers who are capable of starting, keeping them in the pen because they’re worried about how to plug the hole in their bullpen is pretty nuts.

        Second, your whole post just seems off base in the sense that they had already picked up his 2011 option. So we aren’t talking about a situation where they were scrambling for a reliable starter and facing the unpleasant prospect of holding “tryouts.” This spot in their rotation, at least, was set for next year. And they could presumably have spent next year giving their younger potential starters chances when one of their original 5 goes down, as they inevitably will. Now, instead, they’re committed to a mediocre pitcher for an extra two seasons beyond next. Seems like a bad mover, all in all.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        [1] I don’t think teams are full of relievers that can step in and throw 40-60 IP and be okay. I do however, think there are a lot of bad relievers, and compared to them, replacement guys seem “okay”. *grin*

        [2] I must have missed the part about Arroya being signed already for 2011. I would have just did that and see where the team is after 2011.

        Like the Giants, I think the Reds should see if they’re going to consistenly be a contender, or if one year they either put it together or the division was different than it will be.

        Everything else I said I’d rather take back, since I missed that they already picked up his option. That probably means that picking up his option included his re-signing with the Reds. So, rather than let him walk, they signed him for a total of 4 years. I don;t think he’s worth that, although he theoretically could be.

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  2. Pat says:

    repeat of Carlos Silva in ’06?

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  3. CircleChange11 says:

    pounds the zone and lets his defenders make outs behind him

    It sounds so easy doesn’t it? *grin*

    There are times I watch Arroyo pitch and almost get angry trying to figure out how batters don’t light him up continually.

    As for the DIPS stuff, whether you consider .245 BABIP luck, skill, or defense, or any combination … it HAS to be viewed as unsustainable. No pitcher influences BABIP to that degree continually just as no defense is THAT good (or at least THAT good when the SAME pitcher is always on the mound).

    He somewhere around a 2 WAR, league average, pitcher … and that gets him around 9-11M/y? So it’s likely a small overpay, but then CIN gets to keep a pitcher they are already familiar with, and even though I know I say this in opposition to saberists everywhere, but “200 IP innings eaters” don;t grow on trees. Bullpen conservation has some value that would not directly show up in a SP’s stats, but that logical minds would understand. It’s nice not to have to use 4 relievers plus a game.

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    • Alireza says:

      Actually, SABR types do see value in innings. Hence why Fangraphs weighs innings so heavily in the pitcher WAR formula.

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    • vivaelpujols says:

      Arroyo is about 2.5 WAR next year if healthy. The odds that he remains healthy and staves off decline the for the next three years are low, so I’d say he’ll likely average around 2 WAR over the deal. Even assuming healthy inflation that’s still an overpay, and it could turn disastrous in a hurry (think Kyle Lohse).

      Not a good move at all. It’s debateable whether innings eaters have value beyond their WAR (saving the bullpen, etc.). On the other hand, you could argue that innings eaters who are below average (which is what Arroyo is) actually have less value than a 5 inning pitcher. At least the 5 inning pitcher is replaced by the bullpen, which has a lower run expectancy. Suffice to say, there is little evidence for the impact of innings eaters. And if the best saber minds haven’t been able to reason it out, I’m sure that the dinosaur running the Reds doesn’t have a clue either.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Here’s the thing, saberists measure whether a tired average or below starter is better than a reliever in terms of results.

        That’s not the value I was talking of in regards to “innings eaters”.

        I was talking about “saving the bullpen”.

        I concede that almost any reliever is better than a tiring starter going through the lineup a 3rd and/or 4th time. That’s true, even for good starters.

        I don;t know of any way possible to evaluate whether innings eaters actually save the bullpen, since you’d basically have to run a double blind with the same guys on the same season, numerous times. Computer sim, maybe.

        I just look at the teams that have guys that get pulled in the 6th or before and note how their bullpen breaks down and kills the team. Perhaps this does not happen nearly as often as I think, but it seems pretty common. Meanwhile the teams with decent starters seem to have better and more durable bullpens. I’m not saying I can “prove it” and it could be “correlation” and not “causation”, but there’s enough logic to it that is congruent with my experience of 20 years of baseball to voice the opinion until shown that it doesn’t jive with the research.

        But, I am not arguing that having Arroyo in the game in the 7th, going through the lineup a 4th time, is better than having a reliever in. I think that’s been demonstrated by data rathe well.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        I was talking about “saving the bullpen”.

        Which is why I said: “It’s debateable whether innings eaters have value beyond their WAR (saving the bullpen, etc.).”

        I don;t know of any way possible to evaluate whether innings eaters actually save the bullpen, since you’d basically have to run a double blind with the same guys on the same season, numerous times. Computer sim, maybe.

        Obviously, innings eaters save the bullpen. The more innings a starter throws, the fewer the bullpen does. You don’t have to prove that. What you do have to prove is that a guy who “saves the bullpen” adds any value above his WAR.

        One on hand, a starter saving the pen means the relievers are more rested for the future and thus better (I think it’s uncontroversial that the more rest a reliever has, the better he is… up until a point – too much rest is probably bad).

        One the other hand, as you note, nearly any starter will give up more runs than the relievers replacing later in games him because he is not as good of a pitcher (especially the 3rd or 4th time through the order).

        The questions is whether the effect on the relievers of Arroyo saving the pen is as greater than the detriment you have by pitching an inferior pitcher later in games.

        You can say with pretty good certainty that a pitcher like Chris Carpenter pitching later into games is a good thing, as the gap between him and the relievers is pretty small and is likely outweighed by the improvement of the relievers in future games from having more rest. You can say with pretty good certainty that a pitcher like Jeff Suppan pitcher later into games is a bad thing, as the gap between him and the relievers is huge and likely outweighs the improvement of the relievers in future games from having more rest.

        However, let’s be honest here: for a pitcher like Arroyo is in the slightly above to slightly below average range, you have no idea whether or not him saving the pen is actually valuable. I don’t care how man years of baseball you have, you need math to figure it out (not just prove it). So let’s cut the bullshit.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        You can say with pretty good certainty that a pitcher like Chris Carpenter pitching later into games is a good thing, as the gap between him and the relievers is pretty small and is likely outweighed by the improvement of the relievers in future games from having more rest. You can say with pretty good certainty that a pitcher like Jeff Suppan pitcher later into games is a bad thing, as the gap between him and the relievers is huge and likely outweighs the improvement of the relievers in future games from having more rest.

        If I recall correctly, from mgl’s research, that was one of the surprising aspects … that even an average or so reliever chances in regards to run expectancy than a very good starter going through the lineup a 4th time. This issue comes up every time a pitcher (especially in the NL) has a shutout going in a close game in the 7th or 8th, and the issue is whether deciding to pinch hit for him.

        The numbers demonstrated, IIRC, that the advantage is in pinch hitting both in terms of runs scored (offense) and in run allowed (defense). So, when a manager allows his shutout throwing pitcher (particularly a 3rd-5th starter) to bat in the 7th, he’s actually hurting his team in two ways (according to run expectancy).

        However, let’s be honest here: for a pitcher like Arroyo is in the slightly above to slightly below average range, you have no idea whether or not him saving the pen is actually valuable. I don’t care how man years of baseball you have, you need math to figure it out (not just prove it). So let’s cut the bullshit.

        Link me to someone smart that has “figured it out” in terms of how much a pitcher type saves the bullpen and whether it’s significant to care about. I’m not dumb enough to keep running around saying things that aren’t true. It just makes sense to me based on what I do know of both math and baseball.

        Here’s what i said in a previous post …

        But, I am not arguing that having Arroyo in the game in the 7th, going through the lineup a 4th time, is better than having a reliever in. I think that’s been demonstrated by data rather well.

        When i say “saving the bullpen” I am referring to a starter making it through the 6th, so only the team only has to use 3 relievers … and the TOP 3 relievers at that. I’m saying that by not using the 11th and 12th best pitchers on the team, the starter (by going deeper into games) helps his team.

        Guys that don’t either cause their team to pitch their worst pitchers more often and/or use their better/other relievers in situations where the LI is the lowest.

        What I don’t think has occurred statistically, is an exact measure (such as +0.3WAR) for how pitching deeper into games affects a team’s overall WAR, combining starter and reliever in this specific area. Perhaps it can be done mathematically, but due to all of the various aspects that go into a situation such as this, strong correlation might be the best we can hope.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        You can say with pretty good certainty that a pitcher like Chris Carpenter pitching later into games is a good thing, as the gap between him and the relievers is pretty small and is likely outweighed by the improvement of the relievers in future games from having more rest. You can say with pretty good certainty that a pitcher like Jeff Suppan pitcher later into games is a bad thing, as the gap between him and the relievers is huge and likely outweighs the improvement of the relievers in future games from having more rest.

        If I recall correctly, from mgl’s research, that was one of the surprising aspects … that even an average or so reliever chances in regards to run expectancy than a very good starter going through the lineup a 4th time. This issue comes up every time a pitcher (especially in the NL) has a shutout going in a close game in the 7th or 8th, and the issue is whether deciding to pinch hit for him.

        The numbers demonstrated, IIRC, that the advantage is in pinch hitting both in terms of runs scored (offense) and in run allowed (defense). So, when a manager allows his shutout throwing pitcher (particularly a 3rd-5th starter) to bat in the 7th, he’s actually hurting his team in two ways (according to run expectancy).

        However, let’s be honest here: for a pitcher like Arroyo is in the slightly above to slightly below average range, you have no idea whether or not him saving the pen is actually valuable. I don’t care how man years of baseball you have, you need math to figure it out (not just prove it). So let’s cut the bullshit.

        Link me to someone smart that has “figured it out” in terms of how much a pitcher type saves the bullpen and whether it’s significant to care about. I’m not dumb enough to keep running around saying things that aren’t true. It just makes sense to me based on what I do know of both math and baseball.

        I’m not even sure what you are directing the “cut the bullshit” line to, other than it sounds kinda tough.

        Here’s what i said in a previous post …

        But, I am not arguing that having Arroyo in the game in the 7th, going through the lineup a 4th time, is better than having a reliever in. I think that’s been demonstrated by data rather well.

        When i say “saving the bullpen” I am referring to a starter making it through the 6th, so only the team only has to use 3 relievers … and the TOP 3 relievers at that. I’m saying that by not using the 11th and 12th best pitchers on the team, the starter (by going deeper into games) helps his team.

        Guys that don’t either cause their team to pitch their worst pitchers more often and/or use their better/other relievers in situations where the LI is the lowest.

        What I don’t think has occurred statistically, is an exact measure (such as +0.3WAR) for how pitching deeper into games affects a team’s overall WAR, combining starter and reliever in this specific area. Perhaps it can be done mathematically, but due to all of the various aspects that go into a situation such as this, strong correlation might be the best we can hope.

        If a team never had to use more than their top 4 relievers, how many wins would that be worth?

        In a single game, the real issue is facing a lineup for the 4th time. The stats for pitchers are not good for the defense. So an average guy facing a lineup for the 1st time is very often better than a high quality guy going through the lineup the 4th time. It’s not so much fatigue (in a single game) as it is familiarity.

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  4. Rick says:

    I just find it hard to believe he’s $11M better than one of the Reds young pitchers who now won’t get an opportunity to be a starter for the Reds.

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  5. John says:

    I enjoy living in a world where Jon Garland (age 31) signs for 1 year with base salary of $5 million while 33 year old Bronson Arroyo gets 3 years and $35 million. They’ve been remarkably similar pitchers over the past four seasons – if you like ERA+, their numbers are nearly identical over that span – and while Garland has pitched in luxurious Petco, he also tossed 200 innings in the big boy league for LAA.

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    • Alireza says:

      1) Cincinnati is a much harder place to pitch than Anaheim, which is a pitcher’s park, especially at night. Also, Garland pretty much had his worst MLB year in Anaheim.

      2) Garland pitched most of his career with the White Sox in a bandbox.

      3) I do agree, however, with the comparison. Garland, if he hits his innings number and gets $8m, will probably be breakeven or slightly ahead on WAR. Arroyo, on the other hand, is definitely a slight overpay.

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      • John says:

        But does the park factor compensate for the AL-NL divide? I’m not discounting your point, but pitching in the American League is simply a much different ball game, home park be damned.

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  6. Macek says:

    Hi guys. I read the site a lot but don’t comment very often. When I clicked to read the full version of this article a political ad saying “tell the senate to oppose Obama’s latest big labor scheme” showed up. I’d like to be able to read articles on the site without being being told what to think about government policy. I know that you need to sell advertisements to fund the site, but maybe you could shy away from political commercials. Thanks

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    • Macek says:

      I hope that doesn’t sound too nit-picky

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    • Anon21 says:

      Generally, websites will just contract with some ad provider who then runs a sort of rotation of possible ads from a big stock of clients. I’ve heard it said before that the site owner simply doesn’t have the power to control which of the ads in the larger pool end up getting selected for display on their site, and that the intermediary is not inclined to honor requests for “non-political” ads or the like. So I doubt this is anything the site management can change.

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  7. jason461 says:

    I think this deal is totally fine. Bronson is a very solid number three starter. I think WAR understates his value a little as he does seem to consistently beat his FIP and has enough innings that it’s probably not a total fluke. Plus, I don’t know if he’s ever missed a start. This might be an over-pay, but it’s very slight. Nothing to get in a twist about either way.

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  8. Danmay says:

    I find it odd that you say that pitcher’s like Arroyo are available every winter for less money and then cite two groundball pitchers and an injury prone pitcher. Plus you already noted four pitchers (some of who are much more similar to Arroyo) who are being paid at least as much as he is.

    I’m not saying that he isn’t being overpaid, I agree with that.

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  9. jirish says:

    I disagree that this is a bad contract. I see it as necessary for the Reds. Look at the staff-Bronson, 200+ innings, minimum 33 starts-bank it. Volquez? Erratic after returning from surgery, may or may not improve, and is he going to go 30 start?. Cueto? Improved last season, still doesn’t get deep into games though. Bailey? Injury. Pitched well more often than not, finally, last year. Is he taking the next step? Leake? Clearly was gassed with more than a month left in the season. LeCure, Maloney, Thompson? All show promise, none ready to be penciled in for 30+ starts in 2011.

    They’ve got one sure thing. They paid to keep it. Simple as that.

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    • Yo Dawg says:

      He was already under contract for 2011. There really was no need to lock him down beyond that, especially because he was coming off a very good ERA year, and so he would get more money right now than he likely would have next year in free agency once his babip and era rise again in 2011.

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      • jirish says:

        Fair enough. I’m going to look past what those numbers say, because Arroyo is a very different sort of pitcher. They aren’t paying for the ERA, BABIP, or the K/W. They are paying him for the 200+ innings, for being one guy they can count on to start every game. Arroyo is the right handed, NL version of Mark Buerhle. He isn’t a “stuff” guy; he’s never been a “stuff” guy. He’s just a guy who knows how to pitch and has proven to be durable.

        Now, tell me who in their minors is a sure thing to go 200+ innings? Tell me who you think is a similar pitcher out there who would sign the same contract, go to Cincinnati and give the 200+ innings and 33+ starts, because I can’t think of one. Cliff Lee would give them better pitching, 200+ innings, at 2 times the dollars. That is if he’s willing to go to Cincinnati, which it appears he is not. They could trade for Lowe-much older and even bigger contract.

        They have valid reasons to keep, and pay Arroyo to stay around.

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    • blackout says:

      You forgot Wood, jirish. At the very least he adds another MoR arm to the mix.

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  10. pft says:

    Picking up his option was a no brainer, I fully supported that.

    The 3 year extension is questionable though.

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  11. Chris says:

    While this is a bad baseball move because of those 2 additional years, those two years send a message to Votto and Bruce that they should feel safe signing long term deals below market value because the Reds care about them. It sounds silly but baseball players are not economists.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Do you really feel that their agents are telling them, “The Reds locked up Arroyo for the next 3 years. This team is serious. Let’s nail down a long-term extension now.”

      Hell, no.

      Votto’s agent is definitely wanting to test the free agent market, unless Votto is one of those guys (rare) that has no interest in making max money.

      Scott Rolen would sign a longer extension right now, simply because he’s coming of one of those (seemingly) rare, recent years where he was both good AND healthy.

      Cincy is going to have to re-sign a few guys on their current roster in the next few years … and some of those guys are a lot better than Arroyo and are going to cost a lot more. Paying Arroyo what they did for as long as they did, may be “fair value”, but by the 3rd and 4th year of that contract, some of the younger pitcher might be putting up better performances for cheaper, and that money could have went toward retaining some of the younger stars they have on their team … instead of watching Votto replace Teixeira, Bruce replace Drew, etc.

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      • Chris says:

        I’m not trying to make the case that extending Arroyo makes them serious, I’m suggesting that it shows loyalty. I think that is relevant because I feel like loyalty is what inspires players to take discounts to return to the same team. And there is no guarantee Votto tests free agency. Ryan Howard didn’t. If memory serves, Pujols didn’t.

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