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Today is the day teams and arbitration-eligible players exchange salary figures for the 2012 season, and the Chicago Cubs have a number of arbitration eligibles this year.

One of the more interesting cases, in terms of pegging a projected 2012 salary, is recently-acquired pitcher Chris Volstad. A physical specimen whom scouts have loved for a long time, Volstad broke in the bigs at a very young age, succeeded, and then trailed off. Still just 25, Volstad is now in his first year of arbitration eligibility.

How much is a kid with that unique set of circumstances worth in his first year of arbitration? It’s one thing to be optimistic that he can continue to develop (I am), but it’s another thing to pay him today for what you hope he can be in the future, particularly when he’s already under team control. In other words, there’s no need to overpay here.

Most folks have Volstad expected to get between $2.5 million to $3 million, but, when I look at comparable players over the past couple of years, I’m not sure that isn’t a bit high for a guy who hasn’t had an ERA under 4.50 in the last three years.

(At the outset, it’s worth pointing out that, because the money the Cubs send to the Marlins for Carlos Zambrano will be $18 million, minus the amount the Cubs pay to Volstad in arbitration, you could argue this is an entirely academic discussion. Not so. Determining what Volstad should get in arbitration in his first year will be the foundation for what he could earn in 2013 and 2014. The Cubs have an incentive to keep the number as low as possible, even if it doesn’t “cost” them anything more in 2012. Even setting that aside, it’s an interesting exercise in pricing out a first year’s arbitration pay.)

Obviously, one can review Volstad’s career stats to start the arbitration salary discussion, but, because players receive far less than their market value in arbitration, using past precedent – i.e., salaries for comparable first-time arbitration-eligible players – is usually your best guide. On the statistical side of things, I’ve written a fair bit on Volstad already:

Volstad’s ERA over the past three years has been an ugly 5.21, 4.58, and 4.89, and his ERA+ was just 82, 91, and 80. His WHIP has stayed above 1.410, and his K/9 hasn’t been much better than 6.0 (though it did improve in 2011). His BB/9, on the other hand, has generally been both good and consistently improving – 3.3, 3.1, and 2.7 over the last three years. He’s just a dude who gets hit a whole lot, giving up more than a hit per inning. That leads to plenty of runs given up. And in 2011, an abnormally high number of those hits were homers, so the run situation was even worse.

Coupling those poor numbers together with a slightly downward trend, and you’ve got a guy who should be on the lower end of the salary scale for first-time arbitration-eligible pitchers. As I go on to point out in that article, however, advanced statistics suggest Volstad has been a fair bit better than those numbers suggest, so using the plain statistics, alone, to put a number on Volstad is probably unfair.

That’s why we turn to precedent.

It’s hard to find a perfect comparison this year for Volstad in terms of the kind of salary he should expect, primarily because only a handful of arbitration-eligible pitchers have yet signed.

The closest comparison might be first-time arbitration-eligible pitcher Charlie Morton, who reportedly just avoided arbitration with the Pirates for $2.445 million earlier today.

Morton’s career numbers are ugly (5.11 ERA, 1.532 WHIP, 79 ERA+), but he’s coming off the best season in his career, with a 3.83 ERA in 171.2 innings. His WHIP was still ugly – 1.532 – and his ERA+ was an even 100, but he’s said to have reinvented himself, and could continue on the upswing. He was worth a 2.2 WAR last year, far better than any of Volstad’s last three seasons (0.3, 1.8, 1.3). In short, Morton probably deserved more money this go-around than did Volstad. So if Morton got $2.445 million, you’d think Volstad’s figure would be slightly lower.

Other pitchers who’ve signed this year include part-time starter Jesse Litsch, whose numbers are considerably better than Volstad’s, but Litsch had to settle for just $975k in this, his second year of arbitration. Litsch missed some time a couple years ago with injury, so that certainly factors into the equation. But it’s hard to look at the two pitchers and fully understand how, if Litsch is worth just $975k in his second year of arbitration, Volstad is worth triple that amount in his first year.

Then there’s Red Sox lefty Andrew Miller, like Vostad, a former top prospect who hasn’t shown much at the big league level. Miller received just $1.04 million from the Red Sox for 2012, his first year of arbitration. Miller, 26, has bounced around a number of teams, has had some injury issues, and has never pitched particularly well in the bigs – he sports a career 5.79 ERA, 1.815 WHIP and 75 ERA+ in 359.1 professional innings. Volstad has been the superior pitcher to date, but three times the pitcher? Hard to say.

(Randy Wells is also a first-time arbitration-eligible pitcher, and his career numbers stack up favorably in comparison to Volstad’s. Should Wells also expect $2.5 to $3 million? I’m not so sure about that).

Because of the lack of close precedent yet this year, it’s worth looking at a couple comparable first-time arbitration-eligible pitchers in 2011.

A close comparison from last year is Armando Gallaraga, who came into his first year of arbitration in 2011 and netted a $2.3 million contract. But! Gallaraga’s ERA+ at that point was 97, compared to Volstad’s 90, and just two years prior had a brilliant, 121 ERA+ season (Volstad two years ago was brutally bad). Finally, Gallaraga’s season immediately preceding arbitration was significantly better than Volstad’s. So, if that case led to Gallaraga getting $2.3 million, how could the Cubs justify giving Volstad more than, say, $2 million?

And then there’s Phil Hughes, who received $2.7 million in 2011, his first year of arbitration. Before last year, Hughes was coming off an 18-8, 4.19 ERA (in the AL East) All-Star season. To that point in his career, his ERA+ was 106, and he had a career 4.20 ERA and 1.266 WHIP. In short, his numbers were significantly better than Volstad’s, and Hughes had arguably just had his best season. So, again: if a pitcher like that is worth $2.7 million in his first arbitration year, how could Volstad get $2.5 million?

(From 2010, one could also point to Tom Gorzelanny, whose career numbers were very similar to Volstad’s when Gorzelanny first reached arbitration before the 2010 season, and Gorzelanny got a meager $800k from the Cubs (Gorzelanny was a Super Two, mind you, which depressed his salary somewhat).)

Taking it all together, I would be surprised and a little disappointed to see Volstad get $2.5  to $3 million from the Cubs. Based on his career numbers, his down 2011 season, and, most importantly, the comparisons, it seems like he should settle more in the $1.9 to $2.1 million range.

I’m not looking to take food out of Chris Volstad’s mouth, and I don’t want this exercise to suggest that I’m not excited about his future with the Cubs. I think he could prove to be a very nice surprise over the next few years.

But establishing an appropriate first year arbitration salary for a pitcher like Volstad is a difficult process, and can get a little ugly. It’s important, however, for the Cubs to get this right, because a few extra hundred thousand this year could mean an extra $1 million in 2013, and an extra $2 million in 2014. That ain’t nothing.

  • Darin Taylor

    Have u heard any truth to the rumor Cubs may be trying to acquire Phil Hughes for Dempster while picking up some or most of Dempsters salary

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I am aware of that rumor, but I haven’t heard it, myself. I’m aware of the Cubs vaguely kicking the tires on Hughes after the Pineda trade/Kuroda signing, but that’s all. Hughes fits the Cubs’ rebound mold, I suppose.

      • CubSouth

        I understand you meant rebound in the form of the players coming off bad seasons, after having a good one. But maybe it could be used in a different context, say, the Cubs in general? We are not rebuilding, we are rebounding. It’s just a 100+ years in the making.

    • oswego chris

      I see no way the Yankees want Dempster….Hughes would be great, just don’t see it happening….you’d have to take Burnett…who i am not sure how many years he has left….

      Dempster for Huges?…..no way

    • Randy

      That rumor comes from another site (blog) where the guy who runs it has no sources (except the voices in his head and a wild imagination) but claims he has sources. He has never broke any trades/signings in advance. He often claims that he checks his “inbox” and finds these “interesting” tidbits left by his “source”. The Yankees, who claim to have 1-2 million left for a DH are going to be interested in trading for Ryan Dempster and his 14 million dollar salary and give us Phil Hughes on top of it.

  • Ivy Walls

    The WAR has it with where you mentioned (1.5, 0.3, 1.8, 1.3) and even though his FIP vs xFIP has a huge deviation last year of over (1.25…geez) his four year FIP averages 4.44 which places him in the lower end of the arb numbers. My guess is that his side will go with $2.8-$3.0M and the Cubs will be smart to go with $2.0-2.1M

    The real question will be if or whom Epstein/Hoyer decide to go all the way with arbitration and send an early message or will they go with Hendry’s always go for the deal.

  • jandersonjr81 father of Caden

    His salary is irrelevant considering we have to pay 18 mil for him regardless. If he pitches anything like in the past, and I suppose he pitches just as bad if not worse, he will be non-tendered next offseason anyway. I really hope I never have to see him pitch in a Cubs uniform. If he is one of our 5 best pitchers, LORD HELP ME.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      As explicitly discussed in the post, it is not irrelevant.

      • jandersonjr81 father of Caden

        I stated that it is irrelevant because I believed he gets non-tendered next off-season. I praised Theo for all his moves but 2. 1) Reed Johnson, good player but doesn’t fit our needs , and 2) this one. I truly don’t understand this move. Volstad is a Rediculiously horrible pitcher, and if he is in the lineup instead of Wells, as we know Garza, Dempster, Wood, and Maholm without a trade are the other 4, that would be idiotic.

    • oswego chris

      he is one of our best 5 pitchers….but he is 25, and had a very good second half last year…you can’t go off of pitchers career numbers until their late 20′s even 30′s….if you would have judged Sandy Koufax(AND I AM NOT COMPARING HIM TO KOUFAX) at 25..you would have seen a different pitcher….we don’t know what we have yet with Wood or Volstad…either good or bad…

      • HoustonTransplant

        OMGZ! Volstad is as good as SANDY KOUFAX?!?!?! No wazzzzzz!!! Itz cleer that ur comparing the 2, even tho u just sed ur wernt!!!!!one!!1!!!!

        U dont no what ur takin bout! Grr…stop talking baseball…rawr…rage and anger.

        *********

        Tee hee.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          I really can’t believe Chris said that Volstad is far superior in every way to Sandy Koufax.

          • HoustonTransplant

            Thanks for the translation of the above comment. Your way is far classier not to mention more legible than mine. Huzzah.

        • ferrets_bueller

          he said he’s one of the 5 best pitchers in baseball? What about Halladay, Hamels, Cain, Ubaldo, Dice K, Zambrano, Ben Sheets, Armando Gallaraga?  Thats your top ten right there!  No waaaay is Volested a 5 top pitcher in baseballs.

           

           

           

          lmao.

          • Bric

            I think we finally figured out the true identity of Ferrets Bueller. 3 reasons:

            *First, nobody other than Big Z himself would list Zambrano as one of the top 10 pitchers in baseball.
            *Second, only Zambrano would list 8 pitchers (himself included) and count that as the top ten pitchers.
            *Third, nobody other than Big Z would say “No waaaay is Volested a 5 top pitcher in baseballs.”

            – If that’s not a true Zambrano quote I’ll have to stop watching Pawn Stars.

        • Eric

          OMG UR SO DUMB. (psst by the way I agree, don’t tell no one)

    • ferrets_bueller

      Unbelievable.  Can you read?  Or is the problem in the understanding?  Lmao.

      • jandersonjr81 father of Caden

        You sir are the one that can’t comprehend. If you read the whole post, you will see why I say it is irrelevant. Know what you are reading before making comments.

        • ferrets_bueller

          Glad to see you fixed your grammar errors.

          First, you might want to check when my post was made, in relation to your explanation.  Hint: mine came first.

          Second, you might want to proofread that one in the same way you did this post.

          Third, its ridiculous (both your explanation, and your spelling of ridiculous).

          • jandersonjr81 father of Caden

            This is a blog, and the editor of this blog has just as many grammatical errors as does everybody else. It’s a blog, who cares. And it was in my first post that I stated he would be non-tendered. This guy is not worth a roster spot. It amazing how people bash our own Coleman and Wells but get mad when someone else bashes a guy who has never worn our uniform. Stewart, Dejesus, Seppalt, Wood are all guys I’m excited about. This guy Volstad doesn’t do it for me. He is RIDICULOUS as a SP.

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              “the editor of this blog has just as many grammatical errors as does everybody else”

              Typos? Yes. It happens. I write 5,000+ words a day, every day, without the benefit of a copy editor. Because of the pressing nature of publishing timely material, my fingers make minute mistakes that my eyes don’t immediately catch. That’s not an excuse. It is simply an explanation, and an unfortunate truth. On the balance, I would say the typos are extremely rare.

              Grammatical errors? I’m still waiting for someone to bring the first one to my attention. I don’t make them. (That’s not a challenge, mind you, as I know it has become a favorite hobby to point out my mistakes …. )

              Whether the format of this site is a “blog” or something else, it matters not: I am a writer, and I take what I do very seriously.

              • jandersonjr81 father of Caden

                I guess mine are technically typos or either words my phone will create when I hit the wrong buttons. But the point was that I have a Business degree, an Industrial Engineering degree(Black Belt, look it up) and a 2 year Airframe and Power Plant Certificate, which allows me to work on any aircraft without needing a second signature. I have passed plenty of English classes. No need to call out or be called out for spelling on a blog. I see way more errors on ESPN.COM then I do here, and that company is doing pretty good, Atleast I assume.

                • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                  And I didn’t call you out for any such thing. I defended myself when criticized, totally out of nowhere. I thought it was a bit unfair.

                  I did, however, point out to you that your original point was addressed, explicitly, in the post. That’s all.

                  • jandersonjr81 father of Caden

                    Brett, you didn’t, Ferrets did. I guess my point wasn’t to criticize you, and if taken that way, I apologize. The point was that no matter where you go, Bleachers Nation, ESPN, Foxnews or any other site, you find errors. I see no need to point them out just because I disagree with what you are saying. Once again, I apologize.

                    Now on another note, do you really think Volstad is a good pitcher. Personally, I don’t see it. And if he starts over Wells, would you agree its more politics then baseball.

                    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                      I agree that, on past performance, it would be very difficult to choose between Volstad and Wells (I don’t think it will come to that). On upside, though, it looks like Volstad offers more than Wells. I like both, though, to be honest.

              • Ogyu

                Sorry, Brett, but I spotted a grammatical error a few days back. If I recall correctly, you used the phrase “I am loathe.” That is incorrect. The correct usage is “I am loath.” The adjective form of the word has no “e” at the end. If the “e” is included, it becomes a verb. For example:

                I am loath to point out grammar errors on a blog.

                I loathe people who point out grammar errors on a blog.

                Now, since you issued a challenge, what do I win?

  • die hard

    …..very detailed and persuasive arbitration analysis set forth like a lawyer’s statement of the case….if that analysis is accurate as to his worth, Cubs may have buyer’s remorse….would have thought his upside was higher….

  • oswego chris

    A. I didn’t compare him to Koufax

    B. I am going to write a message board post regarding pitchers 25 and younger…
    the point being that you can’t say Volstad or Travis Wood sucks yet

    • ferrets_bueller

      I do believe we were all joking (;

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      We were just joshin’, homey…

  • http://CubbiesCrib.com Luke

    Irrelevant to the arbitration discussion, but worth remembering when discussing what Volstead could do for the Cubs is that he is a ground ball pitcher who has spent his career on the fairly fast turf in Miami. Yes, he gave up over a hit per innings, but how many of those hits were ground balls that would not have gotten through the the slower infield grass at Wrigley?

  • Tommy

    I don’t think we have much to lose with Volstad.  I’d rather see the Cubs taking a chance on a 25 year old pitcher that’s being paid a couple million, then a 30 year old pitcher being paid several million!

    I’m with Oswego Chris on this one!  I think he’s going to come through for the Cubbies in ’12!  GO VOLSTAD!

    • DocWimsey

      Even if Volstad turns out to be a bust, then he’s the right sort of mistake. With the artificial turf cookie cutters a thing of the past and so many of the newer ball parks catering to hitters, it is just playing the odds to get guys who have good GB:FB ratios.

      An overlooked part of the “steroid” era is that the “response” tactic was to go for high K pitchers. After all, no contact means no HR. However, lots of K’s often accompanies increased walks (the pitcher has to “work” the count here). Moreover, when power pitchers “miss,” they give batters great pitches to drive.

      The alternative of going for GB pitchers superficially looks worse because more balls get put into play: but a lot fewer of them are HR because groundball HRs are novelties that happen 2-3 times a year. Even groundball doubles are pretty uncommon. As grounders have gone up in the last few years, HR have dropped: shocking, that!

      So, it makes sense to try a guy who will give up sharp grounders when he makes mistakes. Yeah, a lot of them will be singles: but not many of them will be extra base hits.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        And, with theoretically improved defense (and I’d bet heavily on taller grass), ground-ballers like Volstad could do quite well at Wrigley.

        • DocWimsey

          I wonder if the Cey-Bowa grass strain is still around…..

  • rocky8263

    Who’s Sandy Koufax?

  • die hard

    wont taller grass eat up the Cubs grounders too?…..or is the grounds crew working on that issue?…they could install artificial grass in the infield and program the computer to point the blades towards the batter when other team is up and away from the batter when Cubs are up….bet other team will never catch on especially if their grounders become so only after shooting over the infielder’s outstretched arms or worse if his propensity to give up homers haunts him in Wrigley too…which is what is wrong about this deal as the Cubs let the kid believe hes going to be a big part of rotation and yet at arbitration tell him hes a POS…poor kid will suffer whiplash from the back and forth….which wont help his WHIP a whit

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      The theory is, you stack your team with more groundball pitchers/better infielder defense than your opponent, and then the taller grass helps you more than the opponent.

      That’s the theory.

    • Deer

      signing of LH bats and Sori trade talk shows the right side of the infield will be cut short, the left side will be long. A smiple adjustment to the lawn mower wheels gets it done. Sveum will stress to pull the ball at all times, advantage Cubs.

      • die hard

        wont the commish look askew at such shenanigans or were you cracking wise? i hope the latter as the thought of the Cubs trying this would speak volumes as to their worry about the pitching staff…if they do this, is this on the odd days or even days as is done with snow parking rules?

        • DocWimsey

          It’s an old, old tactic that goes back to when the Kaiser was still running Germany. It’s no different than watering the infield heavily when a running team is in town (which is what cost Sutcliffe his hamstring and eventually shoulder in 1985). In the 1970′s, a couple of teams with good infielders and speedy slap hitters went to astroturf infields to increase the relative number of groundball hits for their team.

          • Deer

            exactly, it’s part of the competitive advantage theo speaks about. The difference won’t be noticeable to the novice observer and will not need to be confirmed. watch for it.

        • http://CubbiesCrib.com Luke

          Adjusting your infield grass to benefit your own team is absolute standard practice in every single professional baseball stadium in the country, and it has been that way for decades.

          If you listen to the Cubs radio broadcasts, Pat Hughes often comments on the length of the infield grass in whatever stadium they happen to be visiting, and when Ron Santo was alive the two of them would sometimes pick on the excessively long or short length of the grass in some ballparks.

          As for differing lengths of grass on different parts of the infield… standard practice. The most noticeable spot is right along the baselines. The grass there is almost never the same height as the grass on the rest of the infield. Teams that like to bunt cut it super short on the baseline, and teams that don’t leave long (sometimes stupidly long). I’ve even seen ballparks adjust the way the cut the grass from series to series in some cases, depending on who was coming in.

          It’s all standard practice and has been part of baseball for generations. Bud Selig knows about it, because it is part of the game. Every team’s pitching staff knows about, from the lowest rung prospect to the staff ace, because it is part of the game. No one is going to be offended by the grounds crew doing the job they are paid to do in compliance with the rules and traditions of the game any more than a pitcher would be offended at the outfield playing deep against certain hitters.

          • DocWimsey

            And the practice has been around for a very, very long time: it was old in Ron Santo’s day. Not to be snarky, but it’s really Baseball 101.

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