Pirates Roster Already Cost-Efficient

It’s widely accepted that one win above replacement costs at least $5 million on the open market. But the Pittsburgh Pirates don’t make decisions based on actions of others.

Entering this season, the Pirates needed to replace a 4.9 WAR player in Russell Martin. On the open market, Martin was worth roughly $25 million.

Over two years the Pirates received 8.9 wins above replacement from Martin. They paid all of $17 million for that, a cost that landed the organization over $40 million in performance.

Pittsburgh was faced with the daunting challenge of replacing Martin’s production this year. Even though the Pirates made a qualifying offer, the team likely wouldn’t go to the lengths others did in offering extra years and dollars for Martin.

The phenomena isn’t an isolated one for the Pirates. The organization’s philosophy combined with its status as a mid-market team places a premium on acquiring cost-effective talent.

Last year, the Pirates payroll was at roughly $81.4 million. The Pirates roster churned out 37.3 WAR, paying roughly $2.2 million for each win above replacement.

Or, less than half of what the market would require the Pirates, at minimum, to pay.

Overall, the Pirates 2015 roster has accumulated a total of 17.3 WAR in 68 games through the season, while playing to the National League’s second-best record.

Pittsburgh has received 7.4 WAR from the hitters and another 9.9 contributed by the pitching staff. The Pirates pitching staff owns the National League’s third-highest WAR.

Pittsburgh’s 2015 payroll, sits at just over $91 million. Their roster expenses this season rank 27th in the league.

Already, the Pirates are paying market-rate for the WAR they’ve received not even halfway through the season. Each extra win has  cost the Pirates $5.26 million this season.

The Pirates are one of only 10 teams in baseball with a payroll below $100 million.

Oddly enough, three of those teams would be playoff teams if the season ended today with the Houston Astros ($69 MM, 29th) and Tampa Bay Rays ($71.7 MM, 27th) each having won 40 games and leading their respective divisions. And, the New York Mets are at the top of the NL East ($99.6 MM, 20th).

On the pitching staff, Gerrit Cole unsurprisingly leads the staff with a 2.3 WAR as he continues to work on a Cy Young-caliber campaign. He’s making $531,000 this season,

And A.J. Burnett, who returned to Pittsburgh with a $8.5 million deal, has also posted 2.3 WAR.

Andrew McCutchen leads the a group of Pirates hitters with 1.0 WAR or more at 2.2.

McCutchen led the league with a 6.8 WAR last season, for which the Pirates paid $7.25 million.

Francisco Cervelli (1.8), Starling Marte (1.4), Jung Ho Kang (1.3) and Josh Harrison (1.0) round out the group at 1.0 WAR or more with McCutchen. The Pirates are on the hook for roughly $7.5 million to those four players who have contributed 5.5 WAR.

The Pirates highest-paid player is Francisco Liriano and even he’s already performed near the value of his contract. Liriano, making $11.66 million in the first year of the 3-year, $33 million contract extension signed last offseason, has posted a 1.9 WAR.

And back to the replacement of the catcher, Cervelli and Chris Stewart have combined to post a 2.4 WAR which accounts for roughly half of Martin’s 2014 total. Nearly halfway through the 2015 season, the plan to replace Martin’s production has worked out rather well as the two players are costing the Pirates about $2.1 million this season.

If it isn’t already evident, the Pirates’ roster this season has already proven itself to be one of the most cost-effective in baseball.


  • Not sure this is the right way to evaluate either a roster or a management team. I take very little satisfaction out of “contending”. Success is measured in winning the WS. A better analysis would be looking at the Cards and Giants who have spent more – but have something to show for that spending. Also, you conflate the marginal cost of a WAR – what it costs to gain a win via the open market with average cost. Only the Yankees and dodgers have had average WAR costs anywhere near the 5-7 million per win that is today’s marginal coast.

    I would love to see the pirates wisely spend another $20+ million to add 4-6 more wins to this year and challenge the Cards for the division – adding someone like Goldshmidt would do the trick IMHO

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      June 22, 2015 1:02 pm

      Goldschmidt would be awesome, but that is a pipe dream unless you are willing to include Cole in that deal. He maybe the best hitter and player in the NL – and only 27 – he’s not getting traded for 3-4 unproven prospects, regardless of who they are.

      • More like Cole+Marte and a few B prospects at least. Fantasy to imagine ARI even thinking of moving Goldy.

  • Looking at my pre-season schedule picks I had the pirates losing all three games in washingtoon. I was upset until I looked at that, kinda silly to argue with myself.

  • BallHeadWonder
    June 22, 2015 12:50 am

    Great article I needed to read after being EMBARRASSED to be a Pirate fan this weekend!! My God, We let a Rookie look like a Cy Young Candidate, We let a Cy Young Winner No Hit US and then today was just a LACK OF PRIDE!!!! The MVP of the weekend was Jose Tabata!!! LOL!!! I know its a long season, but goodness….tough weekend!!

  • “Market value” implies free agents. It seems inaccurate to count guys like Cole when measuring their efficiency, because I have to imagine that every team gets WAR at below market value from their home-grown guys.

    A better, apples to apples, comparison would be to measure how efficient are they in the FA market vs. that $5M/WAR number, and then measure how much value are they squeezing from homegrown talent, vs. other teams.

  • My problem with Morton was his lack of accountability after the game…Out of context, but saying something like-They hit everything, my good pitches, the bad ones, didn’t matter what I threw, they hit me. How about just saying I was God awful today and move on. Saying that most of his pitches were in the lower third of the zone, but it didnt matter as they hit me.

    For the rest of the squad, it’s quite apparent that 1stbase is a major concern, Pedro is learning 1st on the fly for a contender and makes little league mistakes with not knowing when to cover 1st and going way too far towards 2ndbase. His offense is not up to par either, spare me the OPS. Seems like he hasnt had a productive RBI in over a month. Mercer’s offense is pathetic, Polanco is highly rated in UZR as well as other defensive metrics, last I checked he was the #2 defensive RF in baseball. Also the 2nd best baserunner in baseball. The gaffs and his long looping swing need so much work.

    • It really sucks that Hansen hasn’t been able to stick at SS. Imagine if we had a true leadoff hitter at the top. The average, the speed, and the extra little pop.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    June 21, 2015 10:30 pm

    This disastrous and embarrassing series against the Nationals is one of the worst in recent memory. Coming into the series, the Pirates had won 8 straight – although most were against the Phillies and White Sox – while the Nationals have been struggling and just lost 3 of 4 to Tampa Bay. The Pirates caught a break in game one – not having to face Harper while having a very inexperienced rookie starting for the Nationals. For the series, the Pirates had their 2, 3, and 4 starters going. I wasn’t predicting a Pirates sweep, but 2 of 3 seemed like a reasonable possibility. Even losing 2 of 3 would have not been a complete disaster.

    Instead, the Pirates get outscored 19-3 and never put up much of a fight, except the first 3-4 innings of the second game. Until Liriano imploded. And to add further insult, get no-hitted by Scherzer. If they got swept, but played 3 tough, competitive games, I would have still been concerned but not disgusted. After this performance, I am disgusted with this team – and they should be too. It will be very revealing seeing how they respond after this series. I hope they are embarrassed and angry with themselves – this was a total mismatch against a team that is shorthanded and struggling themselves. Just a disgraceful performance – and it was a total team effort. The saddest thing is, their two best players this series were Hart and Worley!!!! And because Hart managed to get 3-4 hits including a HR, we will likely have to endure having him being on the roster for another month.

    Now on to Charlie Morton….he obviously was just awful today – after winning 5 straight starts and pitching better than he has ever pitched in his entire career. Although, every win was against a team with a losing record I believe. Today was his first real challenge, and he crumpled up like I’ve seen him do so many times before. Am I being harsh, I am. Because, I have never understood why the team stuck with Morton, given his up and down results, and in my opinion today should not have been a major shock. We’ve seen this before – many times before. And why did Hurdle keep him in the game, especially once it reached 6-0? Was he asleep in the dugout or just sacrificing the game and waving the white flag, to preserve the bullpen?

    Again, how this team reacts to this over the next week, will likely tell us a lot about this team. Will this just be the beginning of a downward spiral, or will they show some character, learn from this, and come back strong? How Morton pitches in his next start will also be something to watch closely.

    Given today was Father’s Day, my family even considered driving down to DC and watching the game – although it would have likely cost $200-250 to do so. Thank heavens we didn’t….I would be livid if I paid all that money, to see a 9 spot go up on Morton in the first inning!

    • The team has stuck with morton because he’s a damn good pitcher for 7 m a year and is one of the reasons this team has one of best records in baseball. Bad weekend, yes. Disaster, no.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        June 22, 2015 12:58 pm

        I would call him a mediocre pitcher, and his career numbers bear that out.

        • Depends on what you call mediocre. Is he an arm that goes in the front 2-3 spots of a rotation? Likely not. But he certainly isnt mediocre for a 4-5 arm, since he has given near 2 WAR back to back years and sits below 4 ERA and FIP. His injury issues take him from some value, but even so he is throwing 20 starts or near that most years of fine middle rotation work.

          There seems to be a theme running that back end pitchers shouldnt be inconsistent or less effective than Liriano like arms. Charlie Morton’s career numbers reflect 2 clearly different pitchers. He made a key change and has been solid, yet unspectacular most years since.

  • Given this type of $/WAR performance Neil Huntington is going to be in high demand from other teams in the league.

    • That is what success brings – prime example is Jim Benedict because of the success with the Pitchers, and the new Manager of the Texas team that is finding itself after 2 or 3 years of decline, and Jeff Banister is doing it with his best pitcher out for the year.

  • first off its one thing to cost -efficient its another to hold back some minor league players to slow down their arbitration clock. Glasnow and bell should be in AAA prepared for a late summer call ups along with tallion.allen hansen is good enough to get ab’s in the majors . Willie garcia is a work in progress so he probably need a lot more time in AAA. so there are 4 guys that could help this summer. but who do we cut ,hart and tabata for bell and hansen , and do really think aj, morton or locke are all going to pitch like they have before the washington lost weekend? look for aj to fade and locke to be locke in the second half. ps glasnow and tallion inning should be very low when they get call up, so no excuses neil. I think bell can play outfield and 1b hmmm.

    • meatygettingsaucy
      June 21, 2015 6:46 pm

      Your comment tells me you probably havent seen either Bell or Glasnow play. Bell is NOT ready for the majors. His bat is very close but defensively he is a work in progress. Glasnow, besides being injured the past month, is also not entirely refined as a pitcher. He needs a full year in AA to refine his still developing changeup and to harness his control which can still be hairy at times.

      Taillon is coming back from TJ and could very well make a push to join the rotation later this summer. Hansen will probably be up if an injury occurs (knock on wood).

      Just be patient with the boys on the farm.

      • mgs: I guess we have to be patient, because that is the Pirate way, and I get just as aggravated as many, but I would never insinuate that they should change their methodology. For 20 years I watched that revolving door of management incompetence and no fan should ever have to go through that. I will definitely speak my mind in disagreement in certain cases, but I like NH and the rest of the management team just fine.

    • Im happy that was really tough to read, because what i did pick up didnt make sense. I saw the idea that Bell is near ML ready, and that doesnt seem true. Glasnow is near ML ready, very far from true.

  • This team needs a 1B platoon bat and same for RF, both of which would provide a bench upgrade. I also wouldn’t mind a rotation upgrade to make sure we maintain or even improve our level of pitching bc this offense will need the help. And there should be plenty of payroll dollars available to do it.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    June 21, 2015 1:39 pm

    To their credit, the Pirates have made some good moves this past off season – getting the likes of Kang, Rodriguez, Cervelli, and Camenaro. All good pick-ups. On the flips slide, not so much in regards to Bastardo and Hart. But, that is still a plus 2.

    With that being said, this team does not score enough runs to beat the better teams that also have good pitching – we are 13-16 against teams with winning records.

    First base is not generating consistent production, and neither is right field. Hart must be replaced – ideally both current first basemen would be replaced, but that is not likely feasible. Yes, Hart had 3 meaningless singles the other night – but, one was a popup that should have been caught, That’s not good enough – not with this lineup.

    Right field is also sub par – I am not advocating sending Polanco down, but a platoon is likely necessary at the minimum. And, depending on the pitcher, he may need to sit against certain right handers as well. In very limited time, both Rodriguez and Tabata have been productive to varying degrees. Once Hart is let go, maybe bring up Decker or Lombardozzi to provide additional options in right field.

    I think the pitching staff is fine as constructed, but I think we can do better than Worley and Bastardo – like to see upgrades to both of those guys – whether inhouse (Holdzkom?) or via trade. Those two are the obvious weal links.

    In general, the team has done well – but our record against the better teams is concerning, as well as consistent offensive production. If it wasn’t for the Phillies and White Sox being totally inept, we easily could have lost a couple of those recent games. I don’t think we’re quite good enough, as the team sits right now. No major trades are needed, but a RH hitting first baseman (who can also field), along with another LH and/or RH reliever.

    • The offense has been offensive. Go get a competent hitter this year to fill in the weak first base and RF

      • Pedro’s OPS is around .750, whom out there in the market do you propose we get?

    • If you play .500 against quality teams and beat the teams you should beat, you make the playoffs most years. You can make excuses about why we won a few we shouldnt, but if you play that game i can play the “we easily could have won a few more against STL”.

      We have a top 5 winning percentage in baseball. Areas can be upgraded, but if we arent good enough right now then a ton of teams are in big trouble. Jose Tabata taking starts from Polanco is dumb, had to include that.

    • piraterican21
      June 21, 2015 2:43 pm

      Is funny how people look the other way when it comes to Neil Walker

  • The process of identifying talented players and preparing them to perform to their potential is a skill the Pirates brass has exhibited over and over again, year after year. Keep up the good work NH, CH, et al.

  • ok win the division and go deep into the playoffs and get to w/s and win that and they will be world champion of baseball.Other than that your one of 29 other teams tied for last.

    • Imagine how much it must suck to be cost inefficient and end up tied for last. If im PIT at the end of a season without a ring, i appreciate my FO more than a team like SD or BOS. The process matters.

    • That’s one way to assess the organization’s success. Not the right way, but it is one way.

    • Yessir you hit the nail on the head.

    • Brian Finamore
      June 21, 2015 10:24 pm

      Not sure what you’re implying here. The article is not saying that the Pirates should hang their hat on their efficient spending. Of course their goal is to win championships. They have two choices- spend $90M and contend, or spend $90M and suck. Why would anyone not be pleased with the the front office’s ability to get more for less?

  • Pirates have made some great moves. Having cost controlled draft picks like cole help as well. But marte and polanco great funds among others