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The most valuable pitchers in 2011

Posted by Andy
The most valuable pitcher of 2011
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Here's a look at the pitchers who provided the most value relative to their salaries in 2011.

We'll use Wins Above Replacement as a measure of the value provided. Baseball-Reference.com's replacement level is a W-L% of .320. The estimated total payroll of all teams in 2011 was $2,784,091,291 (yeah, nearly 3 billion dollars...)

In 2011, teams actually won 2,429 games. If all teams had won at a .320 clip, the total number of wins in baseball would have been 1,555. That means that the nearly $2.8 billion payroll bought 874 extra wins. That works out to $3.19 million for each win above replacement registered by teams this year.

For our analysis, it's easier to look at the reciprocal of this number--namely how many Wins Above Replacement each million dollars spent earned. That number (874 wins divided by $2784M) is 0.312 wins per million dollars.

So, we can use this figure--about a third of a win per million spent--to evaluate individual player contributions in terms of their WAR vs. salary.

In 2011, the top 20 pitchers in terms of value were:

Rank    Player            WAR   Salary     WAR/$M
1       Clayton Kershaw   6.9   $500,000   13.80
2       Ian Kennedy       5.8   $423,000   13.71
3       Doug Fister       5.2   $436,500   11.91
4       Gio Gonzalez      4.9   $420,000   11.67
5       Jeremy Hellickson 4.3   $418,400   10.28
6       Ivan Nova         4.2   $432,900    9.70
7       Justin Masterson  4.4   $468,400    9.39
8       Jonny Venters     3.9   $429,500    9.08
9       David Robertson   4.1   $460,450    8.90
10      Matt Harrison     3.8   $428,830    8.86
11      Jhoulys Chacin    3.6   $419,000    8.59
12      Alexi Ogando      3.4   $430,150    7.90
13      Tyler Clippard    3.5   $443,000    7.90
14      Jordan Zimmermann 3.2   $415,000    7.71
15      Trevor Cahill     3.3   $440,000    7.50
16      Craig Kimbrel     3.1   $419,000    7.40
17      Daniel Hudson     2.9   $419,000    6.92
18      Philip Humber     3.4   $500,000    6.80
19      John Axford       2.9   $442,500    6.55
20      Mat Latos         2.9   $460,700    6.29

The way to read this table is that Clayton Kershaw was worth 13.8 wins above replacement per million dollars he was paid, which was way, way above the major-league average of 0.31 wins per million. All of the guys on this list were extremely valuable and, as you can see, they are all youngsters who haven't hit free agency yet.

Now here are the top 20 pitchers by salary, along with their WAR/$M:

Rank    Player          WAR     Salary          WAR/$M
1       CC Sabathia     7.8     $24,285,714     0.32
2       Roy Halladay    7.3     $20,000,000     0.37
3       Carlos Zambrano 1.2     $18,875,000     0.06
4       Barry Zito     -0.6     $18,500,000    -0.03
5       Josh Beckett    6.3     $17,000,000     0.37
6       A.J. Burnett    1.9     $16,500,000     0.12
7       Roy Oswalt      1.6     $16,000,000     0.10
8       Jake Peavy      1.2     $16,000,000     0.08
9       John Lackey    -1.2     $15,950,000    -0.08
10      Derek Lowe      0       $15,000,000     0.00
11      Mariano Rivera  3.8     $14,911,700     0.25
12      Chris Carpenter 3.6     $14,259,403     0.25
13      Tim Lincecum    4.3     $14,000,000     0.31
14      Mark Buehrle    3.8     $14,000,000     0.27
15      Zack Greinke    2       $13,500,000     0.15
16      Ryan Dempster   1.6     $13,500,000     0.12
17      Just. Verlander 8.3     $12,850,000     0.65
18      Dan Haren       4.1     $12,750,000     0.32
19      Kyle Lohse      2.4     $12,187,500     0.20
20      Fran. Rodriguez 2.2     $12,166,666     0.18

Remember, league average is 0.31 WAR per million spent. Only a few guys on this list are above that figure--and only Verlander beat it by a lot. Even a guy like Mariano Rivera--below average.

Note that this simple analysis doesn't actually work quite right for negative WAR values--just know that Zito, Lackey, and Lowe were the 3 pitchers among the 20 best-paid with non-positive WARs in 2011.

The 10 pitchers with the worst values in 2011 were John Lackey, Barry Zito, Carlos Zambrano, Derek Lowe, Scott Kazmir, Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt, A.J. Burnett, Joel Pineiro, and Joe Nathan.

What's the moral of this story? Pretty much what we already knew:

  • The most valuable players in MLB tend to be those who are either really good players in their first 3 years or excellent arbitration-eligible players. Justin Verlander is sort of an example of the latter group, having signed an extension before he reached free agency--so he's getting big (but not huge) money.
  • The high-paid stars (Sabathia, Halladay, etc) tend to be, at best, league average in terms of value. They are anchors of their rosters and provide value, but not at the same rate as a really good younger player. As is the case in pretty much all of professional sports, many veteran players are paid for past performance, not future.
 Check back later for the same info for batters.

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