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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.