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Baseball's Most Valuable Players: Updated


At the end of May, I wrote about who had been baseball's most valuable players (economically) up until that point in the season. The goal behind that post was to discover which players brought the most value (WAR) to their ballclubs for the lowest cost ($, salary).

I've updated the original leaderboards to reflect the last two months of play, and also changed the methodology, behind the post. My original idea to discover who was the most valuable was a simple WAR/$ analysis, but it that type of analysis is slightly flawed. I think WAR/$ biases too heavily towards rookie contracts, instead I should have been looking for the players who brought the most net value (essentially profit) to their clubs. The economic definition of profit is as follows:

Profit = Revenue (Quantity*Price) - Cost

In this case baseball production, revenue (or value) is WAR x market rate for the value of one WAR (the 2011 assumed rate was $4.5 million per WAR). Cost is, of course, salary. Thus, my value formula for baseball players is:

Net Value= Value (WAR*$4.5 million) - Cost (Salary)

This formula does a much better, than a simple WAR/$ analysis, of showing the true worth a player adds to an organization economically.

So without further adieu, here are the top-10 hitters and pitchers, in terms of overall monetary value, thus far in the 2012 season:

Batting Leaderboard:





Net Value

1. Mike Trout





2. Andrew McCutchen





3. Carlos Ruiz





4. Ryan Braun





5.Josh Reddick





6. Austin Jackson





7. Jason Heyward





8. Joey Votto





9. Ian Desmond





10. Michael Bourn





Two players, whose salaries are well above the league minimum reached the top-5 of this list. A lot can be said for Ryan Braun and Carlos Ruiz' performances, this season. Ruiz and Braun have been utterly dominant, and it's pretty incredible that they've brought enough surplus value to be ranked above so many good players who cost so much less than them.

Ruiz leads the Phillies in every offensive category, except stolen bases. Chooch also leads all Major League catchers in wRC+ (166). Braun won the 2011 NL MVP, yet somehow he has been just as good at the plate, in 2012. Braun's 2012 wOBA and wRC+ are just 11 points below his 2011 numbers (.433wOBA vs. .421 and wRC+179 vs. 168).

Stating that Josh Reddick has been the fifth-most valuable player in baseball this season may sound a little crazy. But his numbers (21 home runs, 142 wRC+) have gone relatively unnoticed, especially because he was snubbed from the AL All-Star team. Reddick's offense has helped propel Oakland to their current position as a playoff contender.

Jason Heyward was dismissed in a lot circles after a disappointing sophomore campaign, but the big left-handed slugger has been great in 2012. He and his fellow mate in the Braves' outfield, Michael Bourn, have brought a ton of value for Atlanta, this season.

The most important takeaway from this leaderboard has everything to do with Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen. There's a good chance Trout and McCutchen win the respective MVP trophies this season. People often discuss how astonishing it is that two of baseball's best players are 20 and 25 years old, respectively. The amount of money they're making for their production is insane, though.

Baseball's two most valuable players (arguably) up until this point make a combined $1.19 million. They have produced 11.3wins above replacement for $1.19 million; while the Baltimore Orioles, a 50-win team, have produced a total WAR of 13.2, for $84.9 million. Wow.

Pitching Leaderboard:





Net Value

1. Chris Sale





2. Stephen Strasburg





3. Johnny Cueto





4. R.A. Dickey





5. Gio Gonzalez





6. Wade Miley





7. Matt Harrison





8. Ian Kennedy





9. Jason Hammel





10. Lance Lynn





Interestingly, only four of the ten pitchers on this list make at or around the league minimum salary. R.A. Dickey and the Washington Nationals' stellar rotation have received a good deal of publicity; Dickey and the Nats' top two starters (Strasburg and Gonzalez), all are members of the top-5, despite playing for above the league minimum.

Chris Sale is the current leader for the title of most valuable (economic) pitcher. But even when is $500k salary isn't considered, the numbers he's been putting up (2.37 ERA, 2.68 FIP) are worthy of thrusting him into the heart of the AL Cy Young race.

The rest of the list is rounded out by All-Star starting pitchers (or players who were snubbed from the game), who have either broken out this year, (Wade Miley and Lance Lynn) or have put numbers well above usual for their careers (Matt Harrison and Jason Hammel).

Relievers Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman just missed cracking the top-10.


When I did the original post, I wrote of 2012's ten worst hitters and pitchers, in terms of overall economic value. I noted at that time, how difficult it was the quantify just how much a player with a below-replacement WAR hurt his team. I wasn't sure whether or not a negative 1 WAR cost a team as much as 1 positive WAR is worth ($4.5 million). I went ahead with that number anyways in the last post, and used it to create " most costly" laggardboards using essentially the same method I used for the leaderboards, above:

Negative Value (Net Cost)= Value (WAR*4.5 million) - Cost (Salary)

The only tweak that i decided to add to the laggards for this post, was the addition of $.48 million to account for the cost of replacing each player. Thus, the formula looks as such:

Net Cost= Value (WAR*$4.5 million) - Cost (Salary) + League minimum salary ($.48 million)

I listed the top-10 least valuable hitters and pitchers below:

Batting Laggards (min 100 PA):





Net Cost

1. Michael Young





2. Vernon Wells





3. Chone Figgins





4. Jeff Francoeur





5. Rickie Weeks





6. Marlon Byrd





7. Justin Morneau





8. Delmon Young





9. Ryan Raburn





10. Mark Reynolds





For the last couple of seasons, Vernon Wells and Chone Figgins have consistently been hammered for the huge lack of production they put up, despite playing for such large salaries. But this season, the Texas Rangers' Michael Young is giving them a run for their money (pun intended).

Young has been far and away the least valuable batter, this season. Shockingly enough, Young's peers listed him as the most underrated position player, in baseball, just this year. But, Young isn't the only position player who has been awful this season.

Rickie Weeks has had a historically bad season. His fall from All-Star to abysmal offensive player came completely out of nowhere and has been startling as Adam Dunn's 2011 collapse. Weeks still resides below the Mendoza line (hitting .195) and his current wRC+ (82) would be by far the worst of his career.

Delmon Young has the second lowest walk-rate among qualified batters (2.5%); that plate discipline combined with a fairly low average (.266) and a career as a horrible defender has led Delmon to be one baseball's least valuable position players, this season.

Pitching Laggardboard (min 25 IP):





Net Cost

1. Barry Zito





2. Ervin Santana





3. Jeremy Guthrie





4. Brett Myers





5. Jonathan Sanchez





6. Carlos Marmol





7. Nick Blackburn





8. Jair Jurrjens





9. Francisco Cordero





10. Heath Bell





A list like this wouldn't be the same without Barry Zito residing at the top.

Ervin Santana was supposed to be the Angels' fourth ace this season after posting a 3.38 ERA last year. But Santana's strikeouts are down, walks are up, and home runs have risen, as well; which has led to an awful 6.00 ERA, in 19 starts.

What makes this list really interesting; however, has nothing to do with Santana or Zito, but instead the roster moves that these pitchers' bad performances have forced their teams to make.

Brett Myers, Jeremy Guthrie, Francisco Cordero and Jonathan Sanchez have all been sent to new teams, this week.

The Houston Astros essentially dumped Myers on the White Sox, this weekend, promising to pay almost the entirety of his remaining salary, as well as buy his contract out for next season, in exchange for prospects. Interestingly this week, the Astros also traded for Cordero; although I think the Astros are merely agreeing to eat Cordero's salary, in order to receive the prospects that were involved.

The strangest move though has to be the Royals and Rockies swapping Guthrie and Sanchez, for each other. R.J. Anderson of BP described the trade better than I could, stating that;

both pitchers have struggled—but their struggles almost cancel out. Both sides are gaining lottery tickets here. Let’s see if one wins a prize.

I'm not if either Sanchez or Guthrie are lottery tickets at this point, but maybe a change of scenery will wake the two starters out of their season-long slumps.

The fact that Jair Jurrjens' name pops up on this list should surprise no one. Trade talks swirled around Jurrjens this offseason, but the Braves stood pat, keeping the right-hander, who had a monster first half in 2011. Jurrjens began the season with an awful 9.37 ERA, in four starts, before being demoted to Triple-A on April 24th. After posting an unimpressive 5.18 ERA in Triple-A, Jurrjens was recalled, and has posted an 5.69 ERA, since.

A final edition of these leaderboards will appear when all is said and done at the end of this already exciting 2012 MLB season.

All WAR data updated through Sunday,July 22nd and courtesy of FanGraphs. All salary information is courtesy of Cot's Contracts.

You can follow Glenn on twitter @Baseballs_Econ.