The 2014 offseason has been a peculiar one in the sense that the market for hitting and the market for pitching have developed in a very asymmetrical manner. Most of the position players who are any good - sorry Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales- have found homes, whereas a lot of relatively high profile free agent pitchers remain vagabonds. Guys who would be upgrades to the vast majority of rotations like Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza are still looking for work at a time where pitchers and catchers will be reporting for Spring Training in not much more than a month. The most commonly discussed explanation for this situation is that the market cannot set itself until Masahiro Tanaka signs, which makes sense, but can't be the whole story. Some pitchers expect to make so much less than Tanaka that it's hard to see their market developing exclusively on account of the Japanese import's contract. Some pitchers are simply without jobs. One of those pitchers is Bronson Arroyo.
Although interest in Arroyo has seemingly picked up of late, there haven't been too many rumors about the ancient right-hander and apparently he's interested in signing a contract sooner than later.The reason that the process may be in hold is that teams aren't 100% sure what they are getting, as strange as that sounds to say about a guy who has pitched 199+ innings in every season since 2005. The reason for that is that Arroyo's career ERA is 4.19 compared to a 4.54 FIP. Without knowing how realistic it is that Arroyo maintains that gap going forward it's hard to put a dollar value on the veteran. Luckily, Eno Sarris of Fangraphs recently wrote an excellent piece of whether Bronson Arroyo has magical BABIP suppression powers concluding that the infield of the Cinncinati Reds had a great deal to do with his low BABIP, although Arroyo's use of the changeup is also a factor. If we assume that Arroyo should be expected to outperform his FIP slightly, but not as much as he has in the past, we can begin to determine his value.
The number one thing that teams are going to get from Bronson Arroyo is quantity. Bronson Arroyo has been one of the most consistent innings eaters in the game. What's interesting is that he has very definitely not been one of the best pitchers in the game during this time period. The following chart shows the top 10 pitchers in the major leagues in terms of innings pitched over the last five years and their WAR:
|Num||Pitcher||Innings Pitched||WAR (league-wide rank in brackets)|
|1||Justin Verlander||1172||33.6 (1st)|
|2||Felix Hernandez||1158.1||28.4 (3rd)|
|3||James Shields||1128.2||18.0 (17th)|
|4||CC Sabathia||1116||24.9 (6th)|
|5||Cliff Lee||1110.1||30.0 (2nd)|
|6||Clayton Kershaw||1072.1||27.1 (4th)|
|7||Matt Cain||1066.1||16.8 (21st)|
|8||Cole Hamels||1053.2||20.4 (12th)|
|9||Dan Haren||1049||19.2 (13th)|
|10||Bronson Arroyo||1039||4.9 (131st)|
The correlation between innings pitched and WAR is strong because pitchers who pitch more have more opportunity to accumulate value and pitchers who pitch more tend to be better, but Arroyo bucks this trend. He is a rare pitcher to provide a lot of innings but not a great deal of value. To be fair, the fWAR displayed here understates his value, but he's clearly not in the class of the other pitchers on the list.
Even if Arroyo is clearly not an elite pitcher, durability and reliability are hot commodities for a pitcher and we've seen pitchers with a similar profiles sign pretty significant deals. In 2012, a similar Jeremy Guthrie (21st in innings pitched and 63rd in WAR in the five years before the deal) signed a three-year $25 million dollar contract with the Kansas City Royals. That's not a perfect comparable for a variety of reasons, but it's apparent that a pitcher can get paid with durability as his calling card. So why isn't Bronson Arroyo getting his piece of the pie?
The problem is twofold. Firstly, Arroyo isn't that good. If you sign Arroyo you are signing him to be a back of the rotation starter and it's not that smart to spend too much money on a 4th-5th starter. Most teams have in-house options who cost far, far, less and probably have more upside. While Arroyo has a smaller range of outcomes than most guys, there is a fairly decent chance that teams can dig up a pitcher, or a couple of pitchers who can provide similar production. In fantasy lingo, Bronson Arroyo is a real life "set it and forget it" type pitcher, but that trait is only worth so much.
The second issue with Bronson Arroyo is his age. Bronson Arroyo is about to turn 37 which is a scary proposition. There is a great deal of wear and tear on his arm and it's possible that shoulders or elbows could be on the verge of falling off, literally or metaphorically. In Jeff Zimmerman's 2014 starting pitcher DL% predictions he gives Arroyo a 40.8% chance of spending some time on the shelf, which ranks 50th highest among the 129 pitchers ranked. If even if we generously call that "middle of the pack" it's hard to make Arroyo's durability a selling point given his age, even if he has been very durable historically.
What we are left with is an unusual package. Arroyo's calling card is his ability to pitch 200 innings for whatever team he pitches for, albeit innings of potentially suspect quality. However, given his age it's hard to count on him to stay as healthy as he has in the past. Old and durable is a tough sales pitch because while they aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, they do tend to be. Some team will spring for Bronson Arroyo because he is a known quantity and a workhorse, but they may come to find that hitching your wagon to and old horse can be a dicey proposition. Bronson Arroyo has logged an impressive amount of innings in the past, but players are paid for future performance. Whatever money Arroyo gets as a free agent in the weeks to come will be reflective of the value this league puts on a "sure thing." Unfortunately there's no such thing as a sure thing in baseball.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Nick Ashbourne is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.