Working hard for the money: What each Yankee hitter was paid, versus his worth

I like to imagine the Yankees know what they have in Brett, but I have my doubts.

One of my favorite guilty pleasures in all of sports, never mind just baseball, is examining which players are overpaid, which are underpaid, and which get paid their worth. If baseball allocated its resources fairly, each player would be paid precisely what he was worth to his team (which, incidentally, is often millions of dollars). Unfortunately, that is never the case in any sport and baseball is a particularly gross offender.

Ivan Nova was worth $12.1 million to the Yankees this year, but he’s cost controlled so the team only had to pay him about $430 thousand. Alex Rodriguez, meanwhile, missed more than a third the season, but he was still the highest paid player in the game.

With that in mind, the table below looks at what Fangraphs said all the major contributors to the Yankee offense were worth this season, and compares it directly to their salaries. The name at the top, Curtis Granderson, generated the highest profit (for lack of a better word) for the Yankees, while the name at the bottom, Jorge Posada produced the largest loss. Every other major position player falls somewhere in the middle. Next week I’ll examine pitchers. All dollar values are in millions.

Forgetting for a moment that I gave away the surprise earlier in the post, it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone who followed the 2011 Yankees that Curtis Granderson produced the most value for the team. What is a bit of a surprise is that he managed to produce the most surplus for the team. Curtis has a legit big league salary. Despite that, he still managed to produce almost three times that in profit for the Yankees. I always imagined Curtis would be near the top of the list; I just didn’t expect to see him on top of the list.

The other name at the top of the list that shouldn’t come as a surprise is Robinson Cano. This is right where I would expect to see Cano. He’s also a classic example of why team’s are trying harder to lock their best players up early in their careers. Cano made $10 million in 2011, and was underpaid. That’s a deal.

The player who always sneaks his way into any discussion of value on the Yankees is Brett Gardner. Somewhere, Brian Cashman must know this, and is grinning slyly. The calculus on Gardner is simple. The game continues to undervalue most of his skills: defense, speed, getting on base without hitting for much power. As a result he’s affordable. He may always remain affordable. But, if you put any faith in defensive metrics, Gardner is also valuable — extremely valuable, according to these numbers.

Russell Martin is a shock to me. In a million years I never would have guess that he’d have been such a value for the Yankees. This can be chalked up to three things. First, Martin wasn’t very expensive to sign. Second, most Catchers are black holes with a bat. Martin isn’t Yogi Berra, but he had his moments. Finally, he rates as a defensive beast.

Nick Swisher rounds out the core players who generated strong positive returns for the Yankees. There is a trend among these players. Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher are all in the midst of their primes, on team friendly contracts. Cashman has mentioned before that he wants to gravitate more toward these kinds of players, and it should be obvious why. They generate top flight production, often for mid-level cost.

Andruw Jones and Jesus Montero jump out at me as demonstrations of just how valuable a booming bat can be. Neither guy produced tremendous value, mostly due to limited playing time. Neither guy was all that expensive. This is why the Yankees will always find room for an affordable reclamation project. It doesn’t take much to get a superior return.

None of the names on the negative side of the ledger should be all that much of surprise. For anyone wondering if the Yankees will offer Jorge Posada anything, look no further than the table above. He’s expensive, and he cost the Yankees money on the field. Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez all produced respectable value for the Yankees, but it wasn’t in line with their Yankee sized contracts. The only player on the negative side of the ledger who surprised me was Eduardo Nunez, but that’s on me. I hadn’t realized that he was below replacement level on the season.

There you have it. The best value comes from underpaid, productive, cost controlled players, such as Brett Gardner (I haven’t run the numbers, but I’m guessing David Robertson on the pitching side of the ledger) or superstars, like Curtis Granderson. The dead weight, meanwhile, is former superstars, players like Derek Jeter who get paid as though they’re top five guys in the league, but aren’t anymore.

7 thoughts on “Working hard for the money: What each Yankee hitter was paid, versus his worth

  1. bg90027

    I don’t mean to be too critical because I can’t suggest a better way to analyze value but I don’t think the dollar value should have a linear relationship with WAR. In other words, 7 WAR from one roster spot should be significantly more valuable than 7 WAR from two roster spots.

    • That’s more of a complaint for Fangraphs. They’ve defined their Value metric to be a linear transformation into dollars of WAR and all the data from this post were taken directly from Fangraphs. I see your point, and agree, but I’m content to let Fangraphs do the heavy lifting for me.

  2. The Gardner example is one of the reasons why I don’t like the idea of trading Montero. He’ll be making next to now money, but is likely to produce at a relatively high level. Even as a DH, I think he’ll provide a ton of value to the team.

  3. Fun post, Mike. I forgot you always do this, and I greatly enjoyed it as always.

  4. Matt, I agree 100%, but I’m not sure the Yankees aim for profit. Other teams probably do, but I think the Yankees would be happy for their players to break even. My gut tells me that if the Yankees could choose between averaging 4 WAR a season from Montero, or from a pitcher, over the next five years that they’d trade Montero, even if the pitcher produced less value because it will be easier for them to replace those wins with a bat.

    Lar, glad you enjoyed it.

  5. bornwithpinstripes

    AROD SHOULD GIVE BACK 30MIL

  6. The game continues to undervalue most of his skills: defense, speed, getting on base without hitting for much power. As a result he’s affordable. He may always remain affordable. But, if you put any faith in defensive metrics, Gardner is also valuable — extremely valuable, according to these numbers.

    A run suppressed is every bit as good as a run scored, but so few people view the game that way.

    Another way Brett outperforms his triple slash is speed. When on the bases he scores runs at a much higher rate than other players with average or sub par speed. Not sure if Speed score or another metric tracks this, but if you look at the team’s LOB% that seems pretty valuable at first glance.

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