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Arbitration case: How valuable is Rick Porcello?

Rick Porcello hasn't become the top of the rotation star that some had projected him to be, but he'll still get close to $ 5 million in his second season of arbitration eligibility, and he's worth it.

Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

Rick Porcello was touted as the best high school pitcher in the draft when the Tigers selected him out of Seton Hall Prep high school in New Jersey, with the 27th overall pick late in the first round. The Tigers had a late round pick that summer, due to the fact that they made the playoffs and advanced to the World Series in the previous season. But that wouldn’t stop the club from going after the best player on the board.

Porcello had fallen from a projected top ten selection all the way to Detroit because of "signability" issues. The Tigers gave the young star two perks that can no longer be given to a player chosen in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft.

First, Porcello was given a signing bonus that was way above the "slot recommendation" for his slot by commissioner Bud Selig’s office. Second, he was signed to a major league contract, even though he would spend his first few seasons of pro ball in the minor leagues. Included in the deal was a $ 3.58 million signing bonus, plus salaries totaling over $ 3.7 million for his first three- plus seasons, regardless of whether they were spent in Detroit or in the minor leagues.

Under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, clubs are prohibited from awarding major league contracts to draftees, and that kind of signing bonus, even without the salary, is about what a team with the 27th slot can now spend in bonuses on their entire top ten draft picks.

I wrote about Porcello’s value to the Tigers on the field here in a previous article. He also has value on the trade market, as current trade rumors indicate. But this story is about money. Salary. Moo-lah. Dinero. It’s about what a starting pitcher of Rick Porcello’s experience level, salary history, and performance in the major leagues can expect to earn in his second year of arbitration eligibility.

Just as Porcello was breaking in with the Tigers in Detroit as a rookie in 2009, Max Scherzer was breaking in with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Max had been drafted in the first round of the 2006 draft out of the University of Missouri. Agent Scott Boras had also managed to get Scherzer signed to a major league deal, with $ 4.35 million in salary over his first four pro seasons, plus another up to six million in potential performance bonuses.

When the Tigers acquired Scherzer in the famous trade that sent Curtis Granderson to New York, Edwin Jackson to Arizona, and brought Austin Jackson and Phil Coke, along with Scherzer to the Tigers, they had a pair of highly touted young starting pitchers who were earning between $ 1.5 to 2 million salaries at a time when most players with the same amount of service time were making the major league minimum salary, or close to it.

Porcello had a clause in his contract that would allow him to opt out of a $ 1.5 million option for the 2011 season if he was eligible for arbitration. Having accrued two years and 170 days of service time, Porcello was eligible for arbitration as a "super two" player. He then opted out of the $ 1.5 million and received a salary of $ 3.1 million for the 2012 season. Scherzer had accrued over three years of service time and received 3.75 million for last season.

The difference between the two Tigers in service time is that Porcello was sent to the minor leagues, albeit just for a few weeks, during a rough stretch during the 2010 season. That little holiday in Toledo cost him valuable major league service time, and delayed his free agency by a full season. So, although you might consider Porcello lucky to be eligible for arbitration as a super two, you might also consider him unlucky to have four seasons of arbitration eligibility instead of the usual three

On the field, Porcello moved as quickly as anyone could have hoped through the organization, and won a spot in the starting rotation in 2009, after just one and a half seasons in the minors. Despite a K/9 rate of just over five batters per nine innings, Porcello kept his ERA and his WHIP down, and displayed excellent control of four pitches and savvy on the mound beyond his twenty years of age as a pitcher.

As a rookie, he made 31 starts including a dominating performance in game 163 against the Twins, posting a 3.96 ERA and winning 14 games against nine losses. He did nothing to discourage his believers from thinking that he’d live up to all his press clippings and become a top of the rotation starting pitcher before long.

Unfortunately, Porcello’s rookie season was perhaps his best in many ways. In the three seasons since, he has yet to get his ERA back under 4.00, and while his K rate has gradually increased, so has the number of hits he gives up. He does steadily turn in 31 starts per season, doesn’t walk many hitters, and his ERA has been in the mid to high fours while he manages double digit wins every season.

As of the end of the 2012 season, Porcello was the fifth starting pitcher in the Tigers’ five man rotation. When the Tigers acquired Anibal Sanchez, Porcello was bumped from the four man rotation that was used in the playoffs, joining rookie lefty Drew Smyly who was bumped to relief duty during the regular season. Smyly will battle Porcello for the fifth and final rotation spot this spring, barring an injury or a trade.

As we begin to compile a list of "comps" for Porcello, we must be mindful that he was a super two player the previous year, so he has less experience than a player like Scherzer, who now has over four full seasons of experience. Still, Porcello will be more closely compared to those with three plus years of service time, rather than to those who are eligible for arbitration for the first time.

Now, let’s look at some comps. The criteria here are starting pitchers who are eligible for arbitration for the second time. The comps can be used for both Scherzer and Porcello, as the two pitchers head to arbitration. Players are listed with their team, years of service time, and salary received.

2012 second year eligible

Dallas Braden, A’s, 4.039, 3.35 mil

Dustin Moseley Padres 4.030, 2.013 mil

Brandon Morrow Padres 4.091, 4.0 mil (2 yr/ 12 mil)

John Lannan, Nationals, 4.011, 5.0 mil (lost hearing)

Tim Stauffer, Padres, 4.007, 3.2 mil

Kyle Kendrick, Phillies, 3.159, 3.585 mil

Jeff Karstens, Pirates, 4.132, 3.1 mil

Mike Pelfrey, Mets, 4.122, 5.675 mil

Jason Vargas, Mariners, 4.114, 4.85 mil

Anibal Sanchez, Marlins, 4.099, 3.7 mil

Edinson Voloquez, Padres, 4.059, 2.237 mil

Kevin Slowey, Indians, 4.053, 2.75 mil


Matt Garza, Cubs, 3.149, 1 yr/ 5.95 mil

Jeremy Guthrie Orioles 4.130, 1 yr/ 5.75 mil

Jered Weaver, Angels, 4.129, 1 yr/ 7.365 mil (lost hearing)

Francisco Liriano, Twins, 4.104, 1 yr/ 4.3 mil

Shaun Marcum, Brewers, 4.128, 1 yr/ 3.95 mil

Edwin Jackson, Arizona, 4.070, 2 yr/ 13.35 mil


Felix Hernandez, Mariners, 4.060, 5 yr/ 78 mil

Justin Verlander, Tigers, 4.002 5 yr/ 80 mil

Josh Johnson, Marlins, 4.026 4 yr/ 39 mil

Wandy Rodriguez, Astros, 4.105 1 yr/ 5 mil (lost hearing)

There are a couple of cases on this list that are note worthy. John Lannan took his case to arbitration last year and lost, getting an award of $ 5 million instead of the $ 5.7 million that he had asked for. Lannan is interesting in that he was squeezed out of the rotation as the Nationals loaded up their rotation with free agents. He was regarded as a solid back of the rotation starting pitcher, and was kept in the organization for depth, being sent to the minor leagues for most of the season. He is now with the Phillies, where he expects to be back in the rotation.

Jered Weaver took the Angels to arbitration in 2011, and was awarded $ 7.365 million, rather than the $ 8 million he asked for. These two cases are interesting because they actually went to a hearing. Weaver’s award would have to be near the top of the scale for this class of second year arb eligible players, at least at that time.

Justin Verlander reached agreement with the Tigers on a five year, $ 80 million contract when he was eligible for arbitration for the second time. His salary in the first season of that deal was $ 6.75 million. This type of deal is not as reliable in gauging what others may get, however. First, Verlander is obviously the best pitcher on the planet, and is not to be compared with Rick Porcello, or Max Scherzer. But also, clubs often back load these deals to give them more operating revenue in the early years. The players will get plenty of money, but may have to wait for it, and the agent will get paid either way.

Matt Garza was actually a super two, second year eligible pitcher in 2011. He received $ 5.95 million for that season. Kyle Kendrick was a super two last year, and got $ 3.585 million. Although Kendrick posted a stellar 3.22 ERA the previous season, he only made 15 starts and threw 115 innings because of time on the DL.

Several of the lower salaries on the chart belong to pitchers who had a history of injury at some point during their careers. That is one of the criteria that may be considered in arbitration, as I mentioned in the first article in this series, when we covered the criteria. Both Scherzer and Porcello have been healthy their entire careers, and have that going for them in a potential arbitration hearing.

I believed that Porcello would have gotten as much or more than Scherzer last year, because he had a better salary history, even if his performance wasn't quite as good on the field. Matt Schwartz, who has a model that projects arbitration salaries, made a similar projection. Apparently, the system doesn’t value salary history as much when it’s based on a contract that is really part bonus, and it’s all part of a package to get the player to sign his first major league contract. Most fans would agree that this is a good thing, and that players are rewarded more for their recent performance. Salary history was a much more important criteria under the old system, when potential free agent players were eligible for arbitration in some cases.

The projections this year are $ 7.5 million for Scherzer, and 4.7 million for Porcello, according to Schwartz of MLBTR. Both of them are a relative bargain by comparison with what it would cost to replace them. Porcello’s value on the field will largely depend on what role he is called upon to fill. If he’s not needed in Detroit, he should have plenty of value on the market. There are about 25 other clubs that would love to have him.

Next up: Doug Fister joins Scherzer and Porcello on the arbitration schedule

Previous Arbitration cases analyzed in this series:

Brennan Boesch

Max Scherzer