St. Louis Cardinals: Predicting the Michael Wacha Arbitration Outcome

Jul 28, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha (52) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 28, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha (52) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Cardinals will head to arbitration with starting pitcher Michael Wacha over a difference of nearly $500,000.

The St. Louis Cardinals intend to go to arbitration for the first time in 17 years in order to have a third party determine the value of starting pitcher Michael Wacha. According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, John Mozeliak stated that the club has no intention of settling before the hearing. The Cardinals submitted a filing of $2.775 million for Wacha, who then filed at $3.2 million.

The difference is $425,000 and can be largely attributed to the lack of confidence the Cardinals have in Wacha’s ability to perform and his ability to remain healthy. This is Wacha’s first year as arbitration eligible so the arbitrator will factor in his platform season, his career contributions, any physical or mental defects, and they will look at comparable players at relevant salaries. Because of these factors, it seems likely Wacha may “win” his hearing.

The former first round draft pick had a rough 2016 season. He only managed to pitch in 138 innings and posted a 5.09 ERA with 114 strikeouts that resulted in a 7-7 record. Over his career, Wacha has recorded 33 wins and 21 losses with a 3.74 ERA and 426 strikeouts in 491 innings. Over the past two seasons however, Wacha has experienced injury issues that have stunted his performance and those injuries will surely play a role in the hearings.

All of this factors into an arbitrators decision and it will all be heavily argued and evaluated by both sides. But, one of the most persuasive ways to earn the salary one party filed for is to use comparable players. If Wacha wishes to be awarded the $3.2 million he filed for, then he will have to compare himself to players that earned a similar amount in their first year of arbitration. Two pitchers that he can use are Miguel Gonzalez and Nathan Eovaldi.

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In Nathan Eovaldi’s platform season (2014), he went 6-14 with a 4.37 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 199.2 innings. Eovaldi also allowed the most hits (233) in the National League that year. When compared to Wacha’s platform season (2016) it is arguable that Eovaldi was better because he pitched more and because his ERA was better in that time. However, if the arbitrator prefers to look at career contributions then Wacha is clearly better.

Over his career, Eovaldi has a 15-35 record with a 4.07 ERA and 321 strikeouts in 460 innings. Wacha clearly has more wins, a better ERA, and a better strikeout rate all while pitching in more innings. Add in the fact that Wacha was superb in the 2013 playoffs and it seems as the Wacha is clearly more valuable than Eovaldi. Eovaldi was awarded $3.3 million following his platform season while Wacha is requesting $3.2 million.

Miguel Gonzalez is also comparable to Michael Wacha over the course of his career and platform season. Gonzalez made $3.275 million which is slightly over Wacha’s request of $3.2 million which makes sense when comparing these players side by side.

Similar to Eovaldi, comparing Wacha’s platform season to Gonzalez’s is difficult for Wacha’s side to do considering Wacha’s injuries and lack of performance. Gonzalez, in his platform season (2014), won 10 games and lost 9 while posting a 3.23 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 159 innings. Clearly, Gonzalez was better than Wacha in their respective platform seasons.

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However, when comparing Gonzalez’s respective career to Wacha’s we see many similarities. Gonzalez had 30 wins, 21 losses, a 3.45 ERA and 308 strikeouts in 435.2 innings. Wacha has a similar amount of wins and losses with a near identical ERA but has more strikeouts and more innings pitched. When looking at the similarities, it makes sense that Wacha would be paid similarly to Miguel Gonzalez.

With Wacha’s injuries and his recent inconsistencies, a salary slightly less than Eovaldi and Gonzalez is logical. Eovaldi made $3.3M and Gonzalez made $3.275M while Wacha filed for $3.2M. The big argument on both sides will be Wacha’s ability to rebound from injury and perform similarly to his 2013 and 2014 self.

Ultimately, it will come down to the arbitrator’s preference for the arguments. The St. Louis Cardinals will focus on his poor platform season as well as his injury issues while Michael Wacha’s representatives will focus on his career contributions and comparable players like Eovaldi and Gonzalez.

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Both arguments are strong and can be very persuasive, but when a player is in his first year of arbitration eligibility, career contributions are usually weighted heavier than platform season performance. That weight shifts more heavily to platform season performance when a player enters his second or third year of arbitration eligibility. For this reason and the given comparable players, Wacha should be favored in the upcoming hearings.