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Ongoing Shift of MLB Payrolls to Pitching Staffs


The prior offseason could have been referred to as the offseason of the pitcher.

First, before the sting of their 2012 ALCS sweep at the hands of Detroit had even worn off, the Yankees and C.C. Sabathia came to terms with a new 5-year extension worth $122 million, as Sabathia wisely chose to opt out of his contract.  Then Zack Greinke came to terms with the Dodgers (to no one’s surprise) to the tune of 6 years and $147 million.  Shortly before the season started Felix Hernandez temporarily set the record for the greatest total value in a contract for a pitcher at $175 million over 7 years.  Finally, just a couple of days before Opening Day Justin Verlander signed a 7-year extension worth $180 million.

These are the most significant examples of teams putting more financial faith in pitchers over the past few years, though they are not the only ones.

According to the USA Today salary database, both 2012 and 2013 saw a record number of pitchers among the highest 25 salaries in all of baseball (at least going back to 2002).  In each of the last two years there were 11 pitchers among the top 25 salaries, compared to an average of less than 8 in the previous ten seasons:

Year

Batters

Pitchers

2002

18

7

2003

18

7

2004

18

7

2005

17

8

2006

17

8

2007

20

5

2008

17

8

2009

16

9

2010

16

9

2011

15

10

2012

14

11

2013

14

11


Similarly, in recent years baseball teams are committing a greater share of their total resources to pitchers when it comes to salaries of elite players.  As can be seen in the tables below, as recently as 2007, of the total amount of salary given to players in the Top 25, 80% went to 20 different batters.  But in 2013, only 55% of Top 25 player salary went to batters.

Batters

 

Total Salary

% of Top 25

Average

2002

 $      239,771,994

73%

 $     13,320,666

2003

 $      271,228,573

73%

 $     15,068,254

2004

 $      287,633,334

73%

 $     15,979,630

2005

 $      272,695,136

68%

 $     16,040,890

2006

 $      275,827,120

69%

 $     16,225,125

2007

 $      314,583,820

80%

 $     15,729,191

2008

 $      300,759,901

71%

 $     17,691,759

2009

 $      301,856,186

67%

 $     18,866,012

2010

 $      312,193,378

66%

 $     19,512,086

2011

 $      309,030,684

63%

 $     20,602,046

2012

 $      299,151,784

58%

 $     21,367,985

2013

 $      291,504,365

55%

 $     20,821,740

Total

 $   3,476,236,275

67%

 $     17,381,181

Pitchers

 

Total Salary

% of Top 25

Average

2002

 $        87,464,286

27%

 $     12,494,898

2003

 $        99,989,286

27%

 $     14,284,184

2004

 $      106,339,286

27%

 $     15,191,327

2005

 $      126,739,286

32%

 $     15,842,411

2006

 $      122,973,528

31%

 $     15,371,691

2007

 $        76,206,180

20%

 $     15,241,236

2008

 $      125,777,347

29%

 $     15,722,168

2009

 $      148,629,254

33%

 $     16,514,362

2010

 $      164,029,725

34%

 $     18,225,525

2011

 $      184,755,421

37%

 $     18,475,542

2012

 $      217,695,011

42%

 $     19,790,456

2013

 $      237,185,184

45%

 $     21,562,289

Total

 $   1,697,783,794

33%

 $     16,977,838


2013 marked the first time in the past 12 years in which the average salary of Top 25 salaried players was higher for pitchers (over $21.5 million) than it was for batters (over $20.8 million).  In each of the past twelve years, batters both outnumbered pitchers on the Top 25 list and also made more than them.  Now the trend is to pay elite pitchers even more than elite hitters.

Furthermore, a quick glance at the Top 25 list shows more potential “dead weight” in the salaries of position players than in pitchers.  After identifying the players who expect to miss a significant portion of the season or who are not expected to or have not yet produced (all highlighted below), six of the eight are position players.

Rank

Player

Team

Position

Salary

1

Alex Rodriguez

NYY

3B

$29,000,000

2

Cliff Lee

PHI

P

$25,000,000

3

Johan Santana

NYM

P

$24,644,708

4

Mark Teixeira

NYY

1B

$23,125,000

7

Prince Fielder

DET

1B

$23,000,000

6

Joe Mauer

MIN

C

$23,000,000

5

CC Sabathia

NYY

P

$23,000,000

8

Tim Lincecum

SF

P

$22,250,000

10

Adrian Gonzalez

LAD

1B

$21,000,000

9

Miguel Cabrera

DET

3B

$21,000,000

12

Vernon Wells

NYY

OF

$21,000,000

11

Zack Greinke

LAD

P

$21,000,000

13

Matt Cain

SF

P

$20,833,333

14

Cole Hamels

PHI

P

$20,500,000

15

Matt Kemp

LAD

OF

$20,250,000

16

Justin Verlander

DET

P

$20,100,000

19

Ryan Howard

PHI

1B

$20,000,000

17

Carl Crawford

LAD

OF

$20,000,000

18

Roy Halladay

PHI

P

$20,000,000

20

Barry Zito

SF

P

$20,000,000

21

Felix Hernandez

SEA

P

$19,857,143

22

Alfonso Soriano

CHC

OF

$19,000,000

23

Josh Hamilton

LAA

OF

$17,400,000

24

Joey Votto

CIN

1B

$17,000,000

25

Derek Jeter

NYY

SS

$16,729,365


While this is something of an arbitrary exercise it still proves the point that the years of teams being hesitant to commit big-time money to position players and not pitchers appears to be coming to an end.

Do you think these pitchers are worth these huge contracts? Let us know in the comments!



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