First Pitch: The Best $36.5 M Spent in Baseball Today

There’s not a lot that $36.5 M will buy in baseball these days.

**Ten free agents this off-season received contracts that will pay them $36 M or more over anywhere from 3-6 years.

**The New York Yankees are spending $41 M on their injured third basemen — Alex Rodriguez and Kevin Youkilis.

**20 players in the majors make $20 M or more, which means you couldn’t even get two of the highest paid players for that amount.

**80 players in the majors have total contracts that pay them $36 M or more.

**The Miami Marlins had an Opening Day payroll of $36.3 M, so you could get the second worst team in baseball.

**Or you could get the worst team, the Houston Astros, who had a $22 M Opening Day payroll, and still have room for one year of Nick Swisher’s off-season deal with Cleveland.

Here is another thing $36.5 M will buy: the best pitching staff in baseball.

Prior to tonight’s game, the Pirates had a 3.08 ERA, and that’s not going up when the stats update in the morning. The next best team ERA is Atlanta, with a 3.35 ERA. The Pirates are due for some regression, but not much. Their 3.69 FIP ranks 7th in the majors. For comparison’s sake, the Braves have a 3.58 FIP, so they’re bound to regress. That might end up being steeper with tonight’s injury to Tim Hudson.

Here is another stat on the pitching staff: they’re projected to make about $36.5 M this year.

I was thinking about that tonight when Francisco Liriano was putting up yet another dominant performance. Liriano is making a $1 M base salary this year, and $2.125 M in roster bonuses. He has been the second best off-season pitcher to sign. The top guy has been Anibal Sanchez, who has a $16 M a year deal over five years. Clearly Liriano is a much bigger value.

Then Justin Wilson and Mark Melancon came on to close out the game. Combined they are making a little over $1 M. They have been two of the best relievers in the game, which is huge for the Pirates since one of the other “best relievers in the game”, Jason Grilli, just went down with an injury.

So I started to add up all of the projected payroll totals from the 40-man payroll for the pitching staff. I wanted to see what the total cost would be for the Pirates pitching staff, figuring in all of the values they have been getting. And the total cost was around $36.5 M. That figure could and will change by the end of the year. They could add a new pitcher. They could send someone down. They will call up guys in September, which will add to the figure.

But $36.5 M for the best pitching staff is huge. That’s the entire pitching staff. That includes the horrible performances from Jonathan Sanchez and his $1.375 M deal. It includes experiments like Jose Contreras and Mike Zagurski. It includes the $5.5 M in sunk money on Jeff Karstens (injury) and James McDonald (injury, poor performance). The Pirates haven’t even been perfect with their spending and they’re still getting value.

Here are the most valuable pitchers, using their rWAR and their cost this year. I used Baseball-Reference WAR over FanGraphs since that is based off ERA. I usually go with FanGraphs when looking at future value. In this case we’re looking at the value of what has happened. Take Jeff Locke, for example. FanGraphs has his value lower, since he is a regression candidate. But whether he regresses in the future or not doesn’t change what has already happened, and the value of those numbers are better shown with rWAR.

Jeff Locke is a big reason why the Pirates have one of the most valuable pitching staffs in baseball. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
Jeff Locke is a big reason why the Pirates have one of the most valuable pitching staffs in baseball. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

1. Jeff Locke – $165,833 per win above replacement level

2. Mark Melancon – $260,500 per win

3. Justin Wilson – $329,000 per win

4. Gerrit Cole – $498,333 per win

5. Bryan Morris – $612,857 per win

6. Vin Mazzaro – $642,857 per win

7. Ryan Reid – $657,730 per win

8. Jeanmar Gomez – $833,333 per win

9. Francisco Liriano – $1,420,455 per win

10. Tony Watson – $1,685,000 per win

11. Jason Grilli – $2,777,778 per win

12. A.J. Burnett – $7,272,727 per win

13. Wandy Rodriguez – $26,666,670 per win

Those are all of the players with positive rWAR values. Obviously some of those numbers are a mis-representation. For example, the Pirates aren’t paying Wandy Rodriguez $26.67 M. They’re paying him $8 M for an 0.3 rWAR. Same with Jeanmar Gomez, Ryan Reid, Vin Mazzaro, and a lot of the league minimum guys.

To put these numbers in perspective, usually a win costs $5 M on the open market. Anibal Sanchez has been the top free agent pitcher, and he has been worth $5.93 per win above replacement this year so far. All of the Pirates pitchers are way under that except Burnett and Rodriguez. Some of the numbers are just ridiculous. A lot of the league minimum guys get credit just because they have smaller salaries and provide positive value. It really shows the type of value the 0-3 years provide, and shows why the Pirates can’t make a habit of trading prospects close to the majors for guys making big contracts.

But beyond the league minimum salaries, Jeff Locke and Mark Melancon are doing phenomenal work. Between the two of them the Pirates aren’t even paying the league minimum for every two wins above replacement. Anibal Sanchez is costing the Tigers $16 M for 2.7 wins. Locke and Melancon are costing the Pirates about $1 M for 5 wins. That’s almost double the wins at 1/16th the price.

Or, let’s put it another way. The Tigers are spending $16 M for 2.7 wins above replacement from Sanchez. The Pirates are spending $9.45 M for 12.7 wins above replacement from the top 11 pitchers on the list above. So they save $6.5 M, and get ten extra wins.

A lot of credit has to be given to the fielders and the use of defensive shifts. That’s a big reason why the Pirates have such a low ERA, and it’s a reason why they might not regress as much as their FIP indicates (which again, isn’t much). But you can’t take away from how good the pitchers have been, and how every time someone goes down, there’s someone else ready to step in. Yesterday I talked about finding value at the trade deadline. One thing Neal Huntington has been doing is finding value in the pitching staff. It started with relievers, and has been continuing with starting pitchers over the last two years.

The end result is that the Pirates are paying $36.5 M for the best pitching staff in baseball, while teams like the Yankees, Phillies, and Dodgers pay more than that just on their top two starting pitchers.

Links and Notes

**Francisco Liriano Dominates Nationals in 4-2 Pirates Win.

**Prospect Watch: McGuire Has a Four Hit Day; Cunningham Ties Career High in HRs.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Pirates Sweep Orioles, Lose Badly To Rockies.

**Minor League Schedule: Holmes And Pimentel Take The Hill Tonight.

**Minor Moves: D’Arnaud Activated From Triple-A DL.

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Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average.

Our performance on balls in play is anything but league average. Extreme shifting really makes FIP a trickier thing to effectively use. Part of me believes there’s really not much regression in store for us.

Jeremy J Stein

Heh, the Pirates broke the FIP stat.

Nuke Laloosh


Mike C.

dare I say it?
In Neal we trust??
I don’t know why, but it just seems NH and his team is better at recognizing value pitchers than hitters for the mlb team imo. (G.Sanchez & R.Martin and the studs in the minors notwithstanding)

sure regression could come any time now, bit i’m enjoying every moment Locke, Liriano and the BP dominates till then.


Tim: Remember at this time last year our Rotation was AJ Burnett, James McDonald, Kevin Correia, Eric Bedard, and Jeff Karstens – what a difference a year can make, and this year’s Rotation has additional depth, and the Pirates have succeeded in breaking in the first two of the youth movement (Jeff Locke and Gerrit Cole). A great plan.

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