Free Report: 10 Powerful Technical Chart Formations

How are the Top 25 Highest Paid MLB players performing?


A couple of years ago, way back in 2013, we took a look at how baseball’s top 25 highest paid players perform.  There were two main takeaways at the time.  First was that from 1998 to 2002 the highest paid were collectively performing at a high level, posting an average Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of about 117.3 (or about 4.7 per player).  Ever since, their collective performance hasn’t been nearly as elite, as from 2003 to 2014 their average total WAR has been about 71.9, or about 2.9 per player.

The reasons for this are not immediately apparent (at least to this fan).  It certainly is possible that the calculation of WAR overvalued players 15 years ago, though that’s not a topic I’m capable of tackling.  It seems slightly more plausible that with contracts of increasing length, as players enter the final years of lengthy contracts towards the end of the careers they’re not able to produce as consistently as they were in the earlier years of their contracts (take Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia as textbook examples).  Finally, we’ve noted on these pages before that pitchers have been cracking the Top 25 of highest paid players more in the past few years, and pitcher performance, on average, has more fluctuation from year to year, which can lead to less total WAR from this elite group of players.  Again, taking C.C. Sabathia as an example, his WAR of 4.7 in 2012 dropped to 2.6 in 2013, 0.1 in 2014, and 0.8 so far in 2015.

How have their performances stacked up in recent years?

Year

Sum of WAR – Top 25 Highest Paid

1998

135.9

1999

103.8

2000

98.8

2001

121.8

2002

126.3

2003

78.2

2004

78.7

2005

69.5

2006

87.9

2007

66.7

2008

72.3

2009

69.7

2010

70.5

2011

66.9

2012

70.0

2013

59.2

2014

73.6

This group’s collective performance hit an all-time low (at least going back to 1998) in 2013, as they couldn’t even crack a total WAR of 60 (instead averaging a non-elite 2.4 WAR per player). Breaking these players out by their individual WAR, we see again that 2013 was not a good year:

Season

<2 WAR

2-3.9 WAR

4+ WAR

1998

2

4

19

1999

5

8

12

2000

9

4

12

2001

6

2

17

2002

5

2

18

2003

9

10

6

2004

9

10

6

2005

9

8

8

2006

6

11

8

2007

11

9

5

2008

6

12

7

2009

6

14

5

2010

8

11

6

2011

11

7

7

2012

10

6

9

2013

12

6

7

2014

9

7

9

 

Again going back to 1998, 2013 was the first season in which 12 out of these 25 players couldn’t muster a total WAR of 2.0 or greater. And it wasn’t just players producing value and not just a whole lot of it; 2013 saw a record number of these players perform below replacement level:

Year

Players With Negative WAR – Top 25 Highest Paid

1998

0

1999

0

2000

0

2001

1

2002

1

2003

2

2004

1

2005

2

2006

0

2007

3

2008

2

2009

1

2010

2

2011

1

2012

2

2013

6

2014

3

2013 set a record with six players among the top 25 highest paid produce a negative WAR: Derek Jeter (-0.7), Roy Halladay (-0.7), Vernon Wells (-0.7), Matt Kemp (-0.4), Barry Zito (-0.3), and Mark Teixeira (-0.1).  (It’s also worth noting that Johan Santana produced exactly 0 WAR in 2013 by not playing a single game.)

2014 saw some overall improvement from this group as they produced the highest collective WAR since 2006 and also had fewer than 10 players produce less than 2.0 WAR for the first time in 4 years. Interestingly, 2014 was also the first year in which three pitchers (Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, and Cliff Lee) were the top three highest performing pitchers since 1999 (Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Kevin Brown).

Judging by the first half performance of the top highest paid players in 2015, they likely won’t be reversing the trend of decent-but-not-great performances we’ve seen in years past. There are a number of well-compensated players who won’t be producing a whole lot in 2015, including Justin Verlander, Josh Hamilton, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Robinson Cano, Joe Mauer, and a few others.

Given baseball’s salary structure, team Owners and General Managers are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to long term contracts.  On the one hand they (presumably) want to win championships and lock up their younger players to long term deals, but on the other hand they know Father Time always wins out, even if they don’t want to think about that while the ink is still drying on newly-signed contracts.



Latest Articles


TEAM UP