For the second consecutive year, the BBWAA awarded Miguel Cabrera the AL MVP over Mike Trout. Cabrera received 23 out of the 30 first place votes and totaled 385 points while Mike Trout accrued only 5 first place votes and 282 points. The actual vote may not have been that contested but the debate amongst baseball writers and fans that followed most definitely was.
At the heart of the squabble is how the baseball community defines “value”. Quite simply, some members of the BBWAA seem to interpret “value” as a noun and some as a verb. Those who lean towards “noun” are Mike Trout supporters. They measure Trout’s worth through numbers. When combining his performance at the plate, in the field, and on the base paths, no player in the AL adds more statistical “value” to his team than Mike Trout.
Meanwhile, BBWAA voters in the Cabrera camp seem to consider “value” also as a verb. They look at Cabrera’s incredible offensive output then reflect on the importance of Cabrera’s production in helping his team consistently win. They might think of his offensive production as more “valuable” because it comes during more stressful and/or meaningful games. The “value” of being a clutch player cannot be denied to Cabrera voters. To them, a player who puts up good numbers lands in the record books. But a player who puts up good numbers in big games ends up in the history books.
Recently, much has been written about this very debate. J.P. Breen tackled the topic for this site in a great article from September. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs weighted in with his thoughts before the MVP results were announced on Thursday. Jeff Passan passionately defended the Mike Trout camp in an article posted after Cabrera’s victory. Even Tom Haudricourt, Brewers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, threw himself into the fray. As a writer covering a team in the NL, Haudricourt didn’t vote in the AL MVP race. But Haudricourt’s comments on Twitter, which Passan jumped all over, made his position quite clear. According to Haudricourt, if BBWAA voters should consider “value” solely as a noun, then –
@JeffPassan We can make it easier by renaming it “Best Stats Award.” Sort of like the Hank Aaron Award. I prefer the MVP debates.
— Tom (@Haudricourt) November 14, 2013
The Baseball Writers Association of America doesn’t help clarify the issue either. In fact, the BBWAA stokes the flames by telling MVP voters that –
There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team.
The BBWAA goes on to list five MVP voting parameters that haven’t changed since being written for the first ballot in 1931.
- Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense
- Number of games played.
- General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
- Former winners are eligible.
- Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.
While the semantic debate swirling the MVP race is fascinating, it got me thinking about the other significant way MLB players are valued – money. A player’s salary is one way to judge his value to a team. Yet, baseball fans know that each team has players whose performance either exceeds or falls short of what is expected for their salary. To bridge the monetary gap between perceived and actual value, the good folks at Fangraphs devised a “Dollars” metric.
The “Dollars” metric, found under the “Value” tab, converts a player’s fWAR into an exact monetary value. The stat was not designed to help teams calculate what a player should be paid. Instead, it looks at a player’s previous performance then values what the level of production would cost if a team paid for it from a free agent. The “Dollars” metric doesn’t factor in whether a player is under team control or not. Just how much his production would be worth in a free market.
Here are last season’s most valued players by the “Dollars” metric –
Player | “Dollars” Value |
---|---|
Mike Trout | $52.1 M |
Andrew McCutchen | $41.2 M |
Josh Donaldson | $38.6 M |
Carlos Gomez | $38.1 M |
Miguel Cabrera | $38.0 M |
Matt Carpenter | $35.1 M |
Evan Longoria | $34.0 M |
Chris Davis | $33.9 M |
Clayton Kershaw | $32.5 M |
Paul Goldschmidt | $32.0 M |
Max Scherzer | $32.0 M |
Since the “Dollars” value is derived from fWAR calculations, it obviously favors Trout, and even Josh Donaldson, to Cabrera in the AL MVP battle. But this is not a metric to be used in considering MVP candidates. It’s one to have a little fun with. Like by comparing a player’s calculated “Dollars” value to what he actually got paid. For fun, let’s call it a player’s “Net Worth” to his team.
Here are last season’s top valued players again. Now with their “Net Worth” –
Player | “Dollars” Value | 2013 Salary | Net Worth |
---|---|---|---|
Mike Trout | $52.1 M | $0.51 M | $51.59 M |
Andrew McCutchen | $41.2 M | $4.5 M | $36.7 M |
Josh Donaldson | $38.6 M | $0.493 M | $38.107 M |
Carlos Gomez | $38.1 M | $4.3 M | $33.8 M |
Miguel Cabrera | $38.0 M | $21.0 M | $17.0 M |
Matt Carpenter | $35.1 M | $0.504 M | $34.596 M |
Evan Longoria | $34.0 M | $6.0 M | $28.0 M |
Chris Davis | $33.9 M | $3.3 M | $30.6 M |
Clayton Kershaw | $32.5 M | $11.0 M | $21.5 M |
Paul Goldschmidt | $32.0 M | $0.5 M | $31.5 M |
Max Scherzer | $32.0 M | $6.725 M | $25.275 M |
Obviously, the salary restraints on young players in the CBO skewers the numbers by allowing a team to maintain control of a talented player at an affordable price without the interference of the massive money magnets of large market teams. The CBO’s market restraint is meant to give smaller market teams, like the Brewers, more of a fighting chance. But, in the case of “Net Worth”, it hampers veterans, like Cabrera, who are getting well-deserved pay days. Fittingly, “Net Worth” does reflect the old baseball truism about free agents that a team “pays for a player’s 20’s but gets his 30’s”.
While the table above is an interesting way to assess MVP value from a different (admittedly, slightly ridiculous) perspective, I immediately wondered what would happen if I applied the same method to the players on the 2013 Brewers. Small market teams can only succeed by squeezing production out of every last cent. How much “Dollars” production did the Brewers get compared to what they paid for?
First, here is how the Brewers position players with at least 50 at-bats fared last season –
Player | “Dollars” Value | 2013 Salary | Net Worth |
---|---|---|---|
Carlos Gomez | $38.1 M | $4.3 M | $33.8 M |
Jonathan Lucroy | $18.1 M | $0.75 M | $17.35 M |
Jean Segura | $16.8 M | $0.492 M | $16.308 M |
Scooter Gennett | $9.4 M | $0.49 M | $8.91 M |
Norichika Aoki | $8.7 M | $2.0 M | $6.7 M |
Ryan Braun | $8.4 M | $5.1 M* | $3.3 M |
Aramis Ramirez | $7.0 M | $10.0 M | (-)$3.0M |
Khris Davis | $5.8 M | $0.49 M | $5.31 M |
Jeff Bianchi | $3.9 M | $0.49 M | $3.41 M |
Caleb Gindl | $2.2 M | $0.49 M | $1.71 M |
Logan Schafer | $0.0 M | $0.49 M | (-)$0.49 M |
Sean Halton | (-)$0.1 M | $0.49 M | (-)$0.59 |
Rickie Weeks | (-)$1.5 M | $10.0 M | (-)$11.5 M |
Martin Maldonando | (-)$1.9 M | $0.494 M | (-)$2.394 M |
Alex Gonzalez | (-)$5.3 M | $1.5 M | (-)$6.8 M |
Juan Francisco | (-)$6.3 M | $0.496 M | (-)$6.796 M |
Yuniesky Betancourt | (-)$9.0 M | $0.9 M | (-)$9.9 M |
Totals | $94.3 M | $38.972 M | $55.328 M |
(* Once suspended, Ryan Braun forfeited around $3.4 M of his $8.5 M 2013 salary, thus the $5.1 M number.)
In total, the “Dollars” value of the Brewers position players exceeded what the team paid. The team netted just over $55.3 M in value, mainly from stellar and affordable seasons from Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, and Jean Segura. Rickie Weeks’ large contract accounted for his team leading negative net worth of (-)$11.5 M. Yet, Yuniesky Betancourt’s poor play almost accrued enough negative “Dollars” value to catch him.
Of course, Corey Hart’s $10.333 season salary wasn’t factored in above. When accounted for, the Brewers’ net worth from position players drops to around $45 M.
Now, let’s see how the Brewers pitchers performed –
Player | “Dollars” Value | 2013 Salary | Net Worth |
---|---|---|---|
Kyle Lohse | $9.2 M | $11.0 M | (-)$1.8 M |
Yovani Gallardo | $8.6 M | $7.75 M | $0.85 M |
Marco Estrada | $7.8 M | $1.955 M | $5.845 M |
Brandon Kintzler | $6.7M | $0.491 M | $6.209 M |
Tyler Thornburg | $5.7 M | $0.49 M | $5.21 M |
Wily Peralta | $4.9 M | $0.49 M | $4.41 M |
Tom Gorzelanny | $3.0 M | $2.6 M | $0.4 M |
Rob Wooten | $1.5 M | $0.49 M | $1.01 M |
Jim Henderson | $1.4 M | $0.492 M | $0.908 M |
Burke Badenhop | $1.3 M | $1.55 M | (-)$0.25 M |
Jimmy Nelson | $0.6 M | $0.49 M | $0.11 M |
Hiram Burgos | (-)$0.9 | $0.49 M | (-)$1.39 M |
Donovan Hand | (-)$2.2 M | $0.49 M | (-)$2.69 M |
Alfredo Figaro | (-)$2.8 M | $0.49 M | (-)$3.29 M |
Mike Fiers | (-)$3.0 M | $0.498 M | (-)$3.498 M |
Michael Gonzalez | (-)$3.1 M | $2.25 M | (-)$5.35 M |
Johnny Hellweg | (-)$3.7 M | $0.49 M | (-)$4.19 M |
Totals | $35.0 M | $32.506 M | $2.494 M |
In terms of production versus salary, the Brewers pitchers did not do nearly as well as the position players. The pitcher’s “Dollars” value barely surpassed what they were paid last season. That’s even with me giving them a few breaks –
- I didn’t include Chris Narveson, who threw only 2 innings at the major league level last season. If counted, his “Net Worth” would be (-)$0.94.
- Also, I didn’t account for any of the Brewers pitchers who were involved in a trade to or from the team (John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez, and Michael Blazek). There was just no way of determining the exact portion of each player’s salary that the Brewers paid.
Just know this, as a Brewer, Axford accumulated the second worst “Dollars” valuation for a pitcher with (-)$3.5. If we assume the Brewers paid the majority of his $5 M salary, then Axford’s net worth would land around (-)$7.5 M. Easily, the worst net worth for a pitcher and enough to push the entire pitching staff into a negative “Net Worth”.
“Net Worth” may be nothing more than an exercise in statistical funny money but I found it to be an interesting new lens in which to view a player’s “value”. Even though “value” may by a subjective term in the baseball world, for small market teams, like the Brewers, a player’s production can only be part of the “value” puzzle. The actual cost of that production must also be considered a factor.
While the tables above are far from predictive, one thing is quite clear. For the Brewers to compete next season, they must somehow squeeze as much value out of the pitching staff as possible. As this season proved, barely breaking even just won’t cut it.
I know it is tough because the fWAR to Dollars multiplier isn’t exactly constant, but did you consider looking at the RA9-WAR rather than the FIP based WAR for the pitchers? Since this is a pretty much purely descriptive thought, wouldn’t using the description version of pitcher WAR make more sense than the predictive version?