Will Stubbs Be Offered Arbitration?

After a surprising 2013 Cleveland Indians season the organization has higher expectations for 2014 than any season dating back to 2008. The Indians and their fans will expect a playoff team and World Series contender. For the month of October, we’ll look at the how the Indians became a contender, but most importantly, How Do the Indians Reach the Next Level?

On December 11, 2012 the Indians acquired Drew Stubbs in a three team exchange that also netted the Tribe top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer, and relievers Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers. At the time it seemed as though Stubbs was just filler in the trade, someone the added just to get the deal completed, but fans hoped his defense and his speed would lead to good season. While his numbers were not all that pretty, he was a big part of playoff team in Cleveland. Stubbs is now eligible for arbitration for the first time in his career, and the Indians have a decision to make.

MLB arbitration can be confusing on the surface, but it is really very simple. Basically, a player is not able to become a free agent until he has six years of service time. Arbitration prevents a team from paying league minimum to a young, high performance player. Once a player reaches a minimum of three years of service time, he is eligible for a salary raise. A team can either tender a contract to their player and agree on a deal, or the two sides cannot agree and the case goes to an arbiter. The arbiter hears the team present their case and their salary offer, then listens to the players case and his counter. He then decides which of the two salaries’ to award the player. Looking at Stubbs, his case seems to be fairly straight forward.

Offensively Stubbs has two strong points; one of those is his speed. When the Indians acquired him from the Cincinnati Reds last year, his ability to steal bases was one of his positive skills. He stole 30 or more bases in each of his three full Major League seasons, and a fourth in a row seemed likely. He managed to steal only 17 on the season, in part due to playing time, but the low stolen base total is not necessarily bad. He was only caught twice on the season for an 89% success rate. A stolen base can be a huge boost to the run production of an inning. The chance to score a run increases greatly when a runner steals second, but getting caught stealing can kill an inning.

In this regard, Stubbs was a very successful base stealer. His speed came through in another way as well. Of his 100 hits on the season, 14 of those were infield hits. His speed actually greatly added his batting average. He hit a very poor .233 for the Tribe in 2013, if not for those 14 infield hits; he would have hit a nice and even .200.

The other strong point to his offense is his eye. He posted a good 9% walk rate, but with his abysmal .233 batting average, he’s getting on base at only a .305 clip, well below league average. When a player is making outs at that rate, he is a great detriment to his team’s offense.  There is a clear reason for his bad offensive numbers. When he puts the ball in play, he does well. BABIP or Batting Average on Balls In Play is a stat that measures exactly what it sounds like, a player’s batting average when he actually hits the ball into the field. Stubbs’ BABIP in 2013 was .319, 22 points above league average. So why the bad numbers? Stubbs doesn’t put the ball in play all that often. Stubbs struck out in 29.3% of his plate appearances, nearly one third of the time he stepped up to the plate. Only six players with as many plate appearances as Stubbs struck out more often than he did.

Defensively, Stubbs was a bit of a surprise. He came to the team as a center fielder with a good defensive reputation. After the signing of Michael Bourn, Stubbs was pushed over into right field. Maybe it was the position change, but he performed slightly below league average defensively for the season. Advanced defensive metrics like Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved place his glove just below league average and his arm at just about league average.

In terms of his role on the team, it is tough to see him in any capacity beyond that of a fourth outfielder. Stubbs made $2.8M for the Tribe in 2013, and as with any player, he is set to get some sort of raise in arbitration. He is likely to receive somewhere between $3.8-4.1M this season, so it is a possibility that the Indians non-tender him. A team can chose to non-tender any arbitration eligible player, and that player then becomes a free agent. With his poor season this year, and the players the Indians have on the team now, I think that is a likely scenario for Stubbs.

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