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.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Since the contract isn’t really defensible by using statistics, my guess is that we’re going to hear from Jocketty about Arroyo’s “leadership” qualities for the young pitching staff, as well as his “ace mentality”, and perhaps “great guy to have in the clubhouse” too.


My guess is “reliable” and “durable” are the adjectives used … I don;t think anyone can buy Arroyo as “Ace mentality” or anything like that.

There is some value in having a guy that makes all of his starts and goes relatively deep into games.

I know that durability is reflected in WAR, but there is also a comforting aspect with reliability of “knowing what you’re going to get” and your team being in a competitive situation. I’m not sure the Reds are in a position to let Arroyo go and then have tryouts with the young pitchers. Their young pitchers have already ranged from awesome to terrible to injured … sometimes all in the same season.

While stat-based fans would state that they could essentially sign any pitcher for cheap to replace an injured young starter, that also likely has an effect on the bullpen, managing, morale, etc.

I’m not gonna argue for Arroyo, because I REALLY can’t stand the guy. But, I do think his type of pitcher has more value than some others think, simply because MLB relievers don’t grow on trees, and you can’t just throw anyone out there, nor can you just ride the bullpen in the dirt, and replace them as if it was a computer sim or fantasy baseball.

Everyone’s always talking about bullpen strength, durability, usage, etc … but then when we talk stats, we act as if relievers were clones, where you just pick another up at Walgreens on your way home from work.


First, I think you mean starters, right? Unless you’re alluding to the possibility of one of the Reds’ more talented relievers being shifted from the bullpen to the rotation. In which case, I really can’t buy your argument. Relievers may not be clones, but except for the elite among them they’re the lowest-value category of MLB player, and plenty of clubs have live arms capable of tossing 40-60 innings out of the pen with ok results. If the Reds think they have one or more releivers who are capable of starting, keeping them in the pen because they’re worried about how to plug the hole in their bullpen is pretty nuts.

Second, your whole post just seems off base in the sense that they had already picked up his 2011 option. So we aren’t talking about a situation where they were scrambling for a reliable starter and facing the unpleasant prospect of holding “tryouts.” This spot in their rotation, at least, was set for next year. And they could presumably have spent next year giving their younger potential starters chances when one of their original 5 goes down, as they inevitably will. Now, instead, they’re committed to a mediocre pitcher for an extra two seasons beyond next. Seems like a bad mover, all in all.


[1] I don’t think teams are full of relievers that can step in and throw 40-60 IP and be okay. I do however, think there are a lot of bad relievers, and compared to them, replacement guys seem “okay”. *grin*

[2] I must have missed the part about Arroya being signed already for 2011. I would have just did that and see where the team is after 2011.

Like the Giants, I think the Reds should see if they’re going to consistenly be a contender, or if one year they either put it together or the division was different than it will be.

Everything else I said I’d rather take back, since I missed that they already picked up his option. That probably means that picking up his option included his re-signing with the Reds. So, rather than let him walk, they signed him for a total of 4 years. I don;t think he’s worth that, although he theoretically could be.