St. Louis Cardinals: Predicting the Carlos Martinez Arbitration Outcome

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Sep 14, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Carlos Martinez (18) pitches to a Chicago Cubs batter during the second inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 14, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Carlos Martinez (18) pitches to a Chicago Cubs batter during the second inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /
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The St. Louis Cardinals and Carlos Martinez are headed to arbitration. When looking at past players, Martinez should be awarded his 2017 request of $4.25M.

The St. Louis Cardinals have not gone to an arbitration hearing since 1999 and have not lost one since 1994. Now, they are entering the arbitration arena again to decide Carlos Martinez‘s value for the 2017 season. Jon Heyman tweeted that the Cardinals filed at $3.9M and Martinez’s group filed at $4.25M.

When evaluating arbitration candidates and salaries, career contributions and platform season (most recent season), physical or mental defects, and comparable players are the main factors in the decision. It is also important to note that this is the first time Carlos Martinez is arbitration eligible so he is going to be compared to pitchers at their first year of eligibility. Because of these factors, it is much more likely Martinez will “win” his case.

Carlos Martinez is coming off a strong 2016 season. He went 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA in 195.1 innings while also recording 174 strikeouts. Over his career, he has a 34-21 record with a 3.32 ERA while recording 466 strikeouts in 492.2 innings. Very few first time arbitration eligible players match up with this type of performance.

Given the two filing numbers, some of the most comparable players are Shelby Miller ($4.35M), Matt Harvey ($4.32M), Doug Fister and Alex Cobb ($4M each), and Stephen Strasburg ($3.97M). These are the only pitchers, who did not sign multi-year deals, over the last five seasons who have 25 career wins, 400 career innings, 400 career strikeouts, and career ERAs under 3.50.

However, none of these pitchers had more than 13 wins in a platform season while Martinez had 16. Martinez’s 3.04 platform ERA rests right in the middle of the group but he pitched more innings (195.1) than everyone except for Miller. For his career, Martinez’s 34 wins are second in the group while his innings and strikeouts both match up with the other 5 pitchers.

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With these simple comparisons, it seems extremely likely that Martinez will be awarded his request of $4.25M. It even becomes arguable that he deserves more than Miller’s $4.35M considering they have nearly identical platform ERAs, innings pitched, and strikeouts. Throw in the fact that Martinez won 16 games and lost 9 while Miller only won 6 while losing 17 and the gap between the two pitchers begins.

Over their careers, Martinez has two more wins that Miller with 14 fewer losses. Their ERAs and strikeouts are almost identical but Martinez has pitched in about 80 fewer innings. So in reality, it is interesting that Martinez did not request the $4.35M that Miller received or even more when looking at these pitchers side by side.

But, it is important to note the risk of filing too high or too low in arbitration. If Carlos Martinez’s representatives request a salary too high, they risk losing altogether. The same can be said for a team that files a salary that is too low. This risk assesment explains why the two parties are in disagreement over $325,000 which doesn’t seem like a lot. Furthermore, arbitration is a good tool to tool for both sides to have a third party determine a player’s value which could factor in any future extension negotiations.

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Ultimately, it comes down to the persuasiveness of the parties’ arguments. Miller is a great comparable player for Martinez’s side given their similarities and salary amounts while Strasburg, Cobb, and Fister are closer to the club’s offer and are arguably just as similar. In the end, it would surprising if the St. Louis Cardinals “win” and pay Martinez under $4.0M though because of Martinez’s recent success and growth.

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