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Baseball May Have Found Its Salary Sweet Spot


For the first time in a sometime, the sport as a whole has seem to come to an agreement on how much money should be spent on pitchers versus positional players.

On this site we’ve previously looked at how major league baseball teams distribute their money between pitchers and non-pitchers.  After a period in the early 2000’s when teams on average were spending nearly 60% of their salary on positional players, that gap has since narrowed. The reasons for this are a bit unclear, though in a run-depressed environment it makes sense that teams are valuing pitchers more.  Additionally, while the risk of significant injuries will always be present for pitchers, teams may be putting more value in their own long-term strategies of managing workloads for younger pitchers.  Plus, even when a player goes down for Tommy John surgery (or suffers another significant injury), we’re seeing more and more pitchers recover from missing significant time and returning just as effective or perhaps even more effective than before.

However, looking at overall salaries of the past few years (looking at the USA Today Salaries Database) there has been very little movement year to year going back to 2012 in how much teams spend on pitchers relative to their overall team salary:

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Percentage of Overall Salary Devoted to Pitchers and Batters

Other than a slight and apparent one year blip in 2011, baseball as a whole has been valuing pitchers more and more going back to about 2003.  However, it appears that unless something changes in the near future such as a sudden offensive explosion or some kind of magical injury prevention introduced league-wide, pitchers shouldn’t be expecting to get an even greater slice of the pie any time soon.

Of course, while league-wide trends show an evening out of salaries, of course not all teams have this exact same distribution and there are teams in 2015 at the extremes of paying a high percentage of overall salary to both pitchers and batters.  Here is how every team in 2015 stacks up (as of Opening Day), with the teams the pay the highest percentage of their overall salary to batters listed first:

Team Batters Pitchers Total Salary
Cleveland 77.60% 22.40% $87,746,766
NY Yankees 65.80% 34.20% $213,472,857
Atlanta 64.30% 35.70% $89,622,648
Boston 64.00% 36.00% $168,691,914
Toronto 62.60% 37.40% $116,415,800
Colorado 62.20% 37.80% $98,261,171
NY Mets 61.90% 38.10% $100,133,953
Tampa Bay 59.60% 40.40% $74,849,584
St. Louis 58.30% 41.70% $120,301,957
Los Angeles Angels 58.10% 41.90% $146,449,583
Seattle 57.90% 42.10% $123,225,842
Texas 57.00% 43.00% $144,816,873
Milwaukee 56.60% 43.40% $98,683,035
Baltimore 54.30% 45.70% $118,862,632
Washington 53.50% 46.50% $174,510,977
Oakland 53.50% 46.50% $80,786,666
Miami 53.20% 46.80% $84,637,500
Cincinnati 52.70% 47.30% $117,732,284
Houston 51.80% 48.20% $69,064,200
San Diego 51.60% 48.40% $126,619,628
Chicago White Sox 50.60% 49.40% $110,712,866
Kansas City 49.40% 50.60% $112,914,525
Los Angeles Dodgers 49.40% 50.60% $230,352,402
Minnesota 48.10% 51.90% $108,262,000
Arizona 47.50% 52.50% $65,770,333
Pittsburgh 47.00% 53.00% $85,885,832
Detroit 46.30% 53.70% $172,792,250
Philadelphia 42.80% 57.20% $133,048,000
San Francisco 42.50% 57.50% $166,495,942
Chicago Cubs 41.80% 58.20% $117,164,522

Top Five Teams Paying Batters the Most

1. Cleveland

For a team with the reigning Cy Young Winner, one certainly wouldn’t expect the Indians to pay more to their batters than anyone else. However, none of their pitchers are under a team-unfriendly contract, and some of the (albeit unwise in retrospect) free agent contracts they have handed out in recent years have largely been to their batters.

2. New York Yankees

Another team for which it seems counterintuitive to appear at the top of this list, what with C.C. Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka commanding a cool $45 million between the two of them.  However, as they usually do, the Yankees have waded pretty deeply into the free agent pool for hitters recently as well, and other than the aforementioned pitchers the Yankees aren’t deeply committed to many other pitchers.

3. Atlanta

They would likely be even higher on this list had they not traded away much of their outfield in the offseason. As they (expect to) contend in 2017 and beyond, they likely won’t maintain their current position on this list.

4. Boston

This is one team in which it’s not surprising they’re listed here, given the concern in the offseason that they bulked up too much on offense and not enough on arms (their 4.92 ERA through May 2 – last in the American League – certain reinforces this belief for many).

5. Toronto

Much like the Red Sox before them, the Blue Jays are committed financially to their middle-of-the-order lineup (along with Jose Reyes at the top), as they hope to slug their way to a division title in 2015 (though their team ERA is currently just one hundredth of a run better than the Red Sox).

Top Five Teams Paying Pitchers the Most

1. Chicago Cubs

There are two reasons for this: 1) the Jon Lester signing, and 2) having very few other players (especially batters) currently locked in to expensive deals.  If they hope to contend in the near future, their payroll distribution will need to become more even.

2. San Francisco

Not re-signing Kung Fun Panda in the offseason is a large reason why they stand here, as is their current commitment to a number of pitchers, including Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, and Tim Hudson (none of whom project to be superstars in the Bay Area in 2015).

3. Philadelphia

The Phillies would love to be in the top spot on this list if they could just find a willing trade partner for Ryan Howard (good luck with that), but may be able to shed some pitcher salary if they can find a desperate team willing to take a risk on Cole Hamels come the trade deadline.

4. Detroit

Despite paying a hefty sum to Miguel Cabrera in 2015 (and many years into the future), the Tigers are paying three of their four highest salaries to pitchers this year (Justin Verlander, David Price, and Anibal Sanchez) and other than Cabrera don’t have a significant amount of financial commitments invested in players not named Ian Kinsler or Victor Martinez.

5. Pittsburgh

Despite suddenly turning into a perennial contender, Pittsburgh has managed to avoid spending an exorbitant amount on salaries overall (thanks in large part to Andrew McCutcheon’s ridiculously team-friendly contract) and pay five of their eight highest salaries to pitchers (Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Charlie Morton, Mark Melancon, and Antonio Bastardo).

 



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