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Dustin May salary arbitration preview

San Diego Padres v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Dustin May is eligible for salary arbitration for the first time this winter, but after missing a season and a half recovering from Tommy John surgery, he doesn’t have the career bulk numbers of many comparable pitchers.

May has three years, 59 days of major league service time, in his first foray into the arbitration process.

He made six starts after returning from the injured list in 2022, posting a 4.50 ERA in 30 innings, with 29 strikeouts and an uncharacteristically-high 14 walks. It doesn’t make a ton of sense to use his launch season to figure out what he might earn in 2023, but his career stats deliver much of the same message, in comparison with other starting pitchers going through arbitration for the first time over the last two offseasons.

Comparable pitchers to Dustin May in salary arbitration

Pitcher Year Service time IP W-L K ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR Salary
Pitcher Year Service time IP W-L K ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR Salary
Dustin May 2023 3.059 143.7 8-8 140 3.26 131 3.94 1.9 2.2 TBD
Dakota Hudson 2022 3.066 249.7 24-10 192 3.14 132 4.66 3.6 1.7 $1.05 million
Joey Lucchesi 2022 3.067 337.7 19-24 349 4.24 95 4.12 3.3 4.0 $1.15 million
Jorge López 2022 3.102 350.0 12-31 297 6.04 76 5.15 -1.4 1.3 $1.5 million
Domingo Germán 2022 3.017 341.3 24-16 371 4.54 96 4.47 3.3 4.2 $1.75 million
Erick Fedde 2022 3.099 327.3 15-20 258 5.25 81 5.18 1.0 1.1 $2.15 million
Jakob Junis 2021 3.087 476.0 27-31 427 4.78 95 4.77 4.8 3.8 $1.7 million
Frankie Montas 2021 3.015 261.0 18-14 262 4.21 100 4.09 2.3 3.7 $1.8 million
Salary source: MLB Trade Rumors arbitration tracker

Even with the bumpy landing coming off surgery, May’s numbers while on the mound thus far in his career are very good — a 3.26 ERA (131 ERA+) and 3.94 FIP. But he has barely pitched, relative to his peers.

Dakota Hudson might be the closest comp to May, with both performance on the mound and injury history. The Cardinals right-hander also had Tommy John surgery, his in 2020, after which he returned near the end of the next season. Hudson pitched a combined 47⅔ innings in his last two years before arbitration. May pitched 53 innings over the last two seasons.

Hudson has a 106-inning edge over May, which is hard to reconcile if May wants to beat the $1.05 million Hudson earned in 2022.

Then again, these comps are all over the place. Jorge López had 350 innings through 2021, and it took him parts of six major league seasons to accumulate three years of service time. But he was also terrible over those 350 innings, with a 6.04 ERA and 5.15 FIP. For May to match López’s career ERA, for instance, he’d need to give up 183 earned runs in 206⅓ innings.

So why shouldn’t May beat López’s $1.5-million salary his first time through arbitration? I guess it comes down to just how much career bulk numbers matter to an arbitration panel.

May made $730,000 in 2022.

MLB Trade Rumors projected May to earn $1.4 million in 2023. I’ll guess a bit lower, at $1.3 million, but this is the least confident I’ve felt for any of the Dodgers’ arbitration-eligible players this offseason.