Rays Win Arb Case Against Yarbrough (source) (m.mlb.com)

Yarbrough will earn a significant raise from his $578,500 (non-prorated) salary last season as he enters his first of four years of arbitration eligibility. He had been hoping for higher, however, as he filed for a $3.1 million salary compared to the club’s $2.3 million figure.

The two sides went to a hearing because they were unable to reach an agreement before the deadline to file salary figures last month. They made their cases over Zoom last Tuesday, and a panel of three arbitrators issued their decision on Saturday. The club has not confirmed the report.

The 29-year-old left-hander’s hearing was an interesting one for the entire industry — not just because he’s been a valuable pitcher for Tampa Bay the last three seasons, nor because he’s a

player with three more trips through the arbitration process in his future, nor because he’s one of many arb-eligible pitchers coming off a pandemic-shortened season. Rather, it was Yarbrough’s role that made his case more intriguing than most.

Arbitration decisions are typically made based on precedent and traditional statistics, but Yarbrough pitched often in a unique role that occasionally didn’t allow him to garner counting stats like a typical starting pitcher. He made 29 starts over the last three years, including nine last season, but he also served as a bulk-innings pitcher behind an opener, a strategy the Rays began using in 2018.

In that regard, it’s possible that the arguments presented — and the decision reached — in Yarbrough’s hearing could set a precedent for other “bulk” pitchers moving forward.

Regardless, there’s no question that Yarbrough remains an important pitcher for the Rays heading into this season. The lefty has put together a career record of 28-16 and a 3.94 ERA in 344 2/3 innings over 77 appearances, including 29 starts. He doesn’t possess overpowering stuff, but he limits walks and hard contact like few other pitchers in baseball.

Among qualified pitchers last season, only Max Fried and Kenta Maeda posted a lower hard-hit rate than Yarbrough’s 25.1 percent. Nobody held hitters to a lower average exit velocity than Yarbrough’s 82.6 mph. He finished the year 1-4 with a 3.56 ERA in nine starts and two bulk-inning relief appearances.

Yarbrough figures to be one of the Rays’ top starting/bulk-inning options heading into Spring Training, joining Tyler Glasnow as the most experienced returning starters alongside new veteran additions like Michael Wacha, Chris Archer and, if his deal is completed, Rich Hill.

The Rays’ arbitration victory settled their arbitration slate for this offseason and ended their six-hearing losing streak spanning from Ji-Man Choi’s hearing last month to Drew Smyly’s case in 2016. Prior to that, the Rays had won their first six arbitration hearings in franchise history.

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