The value of each team’s highest-paid player

My article from this week, discussed each team’s most valuable player, in terms of percentage of total WAR. One of the commenters, brought up an interesting question, and I’d like to supply the answer.

I’d love to see the same type of analysis done on each team’s highest paid player—who is contributing the least among the biggest paid players?

For those who missed the article, what the commenter meant by the “same type of analysis” is:

I used Baseball Prospectus’ Compensation tables to find the percentage of team payroll for each player with the highest WAR on his team. I then subtracted the payroll percentages from the production (WAR) percentages to create a chart that showed the surplus (or negative) value that each star has brought to his team thus far in 2012

I ran the numbers and this chart is the reflection of each team’s highest-paid player production, in comparison to their salary:


Every team, but one has received lower production than percentage of overall payroll from their best player. Interestingly enough, that team, the Miami Marlins’ highest-paid player at the start of the season was Hanley Ramirez, but after he was traded to the Dodgers, Josh Johnson became their highest-paid player. Johnson’s production is only 0.21 percent higher than the percentage that his salary takes up of Miami’s total payroll.

The team who has received the least production from their highest-paid player is the Houston Astros, with Carlos Lee. Lee, of course, is no longer with the Astros, but given the fact that Miami is paying less than $250k for his services, he still makes the most, by far, of anyone in Houston’s organization.

Names, such as, Jayson Werth, Vernon Wells and Barry Zito being close to the bottom should be a surprise to no one, at this point.

Only three teams’ highest-paid players currently lead their team in WAR. Matt Holliday, Felix Hernandez and surprisingly, Alfonso Soriano have been paid the most, while producing the most for their teams, this season.

This result leads me to believe that baseball’s front offices are overspending on their superstar players, give the fact that 29 of the 30 teams are receiving a lower percentage of production than their highest-paid player takes up of their payroll.

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  1. Todd said...

    I don’t think it means they’re overspending. You can anticipate getting a certain percentage of production above the cost you pay for it from cost-controlled players. That gives teams extra money to put toward players that aren’t cost controlled. If there was no such thing as a cost-controlled player, you probably wouldn’t see this relationship.

  2. Glenn DuPaul said...

    I agree with you to an extent.  As I noted in the original article, when the Mariners spend ~23% of their payroll on Felix Hernandez, they don’t actually expect to get 23% of their production from him, because they can get production from cost controlled players.

    At the same time, when the majority of the league is getting over 5% less production than they’re paying their top player, and a third of the league is getting over 10% less, and not one team in the league’s highest-paid player at the start of the season has brought back the same percentage of production, it has to be at least a slight overpay

  3. Glenn DuPaul said...

    Both of those points are fair. Actually based on these two articles and your comment, I plan on writing an article that looks into which teams get the most production from pre-arb players, and who get the least, as well as, finding an average % of production from league minimum players

  4. Glenn DuPaul said...

    Some of the highest-paid players are absurd; like Wells, Zito, Lilly, Barmes and Werth.

    I also agree that success here is slightly inverse to team success, but as you noted, getting a high % of production from one player, in most cases means the rest of the team isn’t doing well.  I did a piece on this for Beyond the Box Score, that showed even when Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth were incredible, they still needed other players around them to be successful.

    The pitching thing is surprising, though. But I think it has more to do with bad contracts for batters like Wells, Michael Young, Werth, A-Rod, Travis Hafner and Carlos Lee

  5. Paul G. said...

    Teams overpay for championships. 

    Sometimes they make very, very bad decisions on what players will provide said championships.

  6. aweb said...

    Thanks Glenn, that’s great! A few names stand out as “he’s the highest paid player?” types – Ted Lilly on the Dodgers? and wait, he stopped walking people after he left Toronto?
    Clint Barmes on the Pirates? Has a highest paid player ever given a team less(-0.3 WAR)…oh, hey Vernon Wells, didn’t see you there!

    Counter-intuitively to me, it looks like having a pitcher as your highest paid player works out better (of course, you have to have a worthy pitcher to pay that much).

    Also surprising at first glance – succeeding by this metric looks to be inversely related to team success. I guess that makes sense, because even if your highest paid player is performing well, it should be difficult to make up the performance % vs payroll % gap, unless the rest of the team isn’t going so well.

  7. Todd said...

    I think you’d have to crunch some numbers on expected savings from cost-controlled players before you could state that definitively. There’s also the issue of WAR not necessarily being linear. It might be worth paying an 8 WAR player more than 2x a 4 WAR player, because of limitations in terms of roster spots and so on.

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