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Everyone seems to love a good handwringing about overpaid Major League Baseball stars, but the truth is that the majority of them are actually underpaid.
Today, MLB Metrics 101 aims to shine light on the most egregious examples.
Hello and welcome back. Having already covered the worst contracts in MLB, we’re here to cover the other worst contracts. These are the ones for which the bang drastically outweighs the buck, provided they meet these qualifications:
- Only multiyear contracts worth less than $ 10 million per year were considered. Because they’re underpaid by default, no pre-arbitration or arbitration-eligible players are allowed.
- Deals must still be active and have no strings attached. Jose Altuve, for example, technically isn’t finished with his notoriously cheap contract, but it’s now part of a much larger deal.
- Deals must be at least two years old. So, nothing that began in 2017 or is beginning now in 2018.
With help from Spotrac, these ground rules produced a list of 54 players to choose from. Read on for more on how they’ll be sorted.
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When we looked at the most overpaid stars in MLB, we took the simple approach of trying to find the biggest negative gaps between what a player’s been worth and what he’s paid.
This time around, we’re looking for the biggest positive gaps.
One difference is that average annual value will be used as the measuring stick for what players are getting from their contracts. This is partially because AAV was a basis for the sample of players. It’s also a good way to control for players who haven’t yet hit the big money in back-loaded deals.
From here, it’s a matter of calculating the annual worth of each player’s performance.
Wins above replacement are one element of the equation. For that, we’ll be using the average of a player’s Baseball Reference WAR and his FanGraphs WAR for each season (not counting 2018, as it’s a tad too early for that) of his deal.
Another element of the equation is the dollar value of WAR, for which we’ll again be using FanGraphs as the source. According to their numbers, the cost per WAR has been between $ 6.5 million and $ 8.0 million since 2012—which is as far back as this study reaches.
Ultimately, we can do this:
- Add up each player’s total WAR value during the life of his contract
- Divide that by how many seasons he’s served
- From that number, subtract his contract’s AAV
The higher the resulting number, the better.
Go here for full results. For reports on the top 10, keep reading.
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The Deal: 5 Years, $ 35 Million (with 2018, 2019 Club Options)
AAV: $ 7 Million
Average WAR Value: $ 31.54 Million
Difference: $ 24.54 Million
Madison Bumgarner was only 22 years old when the San Francisco Giants extended him early in 2012. Since he’d shown ace potential in 2011 with a 3.21 ERA over 204.2 innings, it was worth a shot.
Boy, was it ever.
Bumgarner had little trouble carrying his 2011 success over to 2012. And when his extension actually started in 2013, that’s when he evolved from budding ace to mega-ace.
He logged over 200 innings and posted an ERA under 3.00 each year between 2013 and 2014. He was the only pitcher to do that, so there’s an argument that he deserved better than to rank eighth among pitchers in rWAR for those four seasons.
WAR also can’t encapsulate what Bumgarner did in the 2014 postseason. He turned in a 1.03 ERA over 52.2 innings. It’s arguably the greatest October run ever by a pitcher, and the Giants wouldn’t have won their third World Series in five years without it.
Although the lefty has run into injury trouble over the last two seasons, he’s continued to pitch like an ace when he has been healthy. If he can keep that up, he should have no trouble collecting appropriate riches after he’s finally free of his contract after 2019.
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Tom Lynn/Associated Press
The Deal: 7 Years, $ 49.57 Million (with 2022 Club Option)
AAV: $ 7.08 Million
Average WAR Value: $ 33.33 Million
Difference: $ 26.25 Million
Christian Yelich isn’t the easiest player to appreciate.
He’s never been a big-time slugger or a hot-shot speedster, as he’s peaked at 21 home runs and 21 stolen bases. Nor has he ever won a major award or even been an All-Star.
But when you add up everything he can do on the diamond, you get a gem.
His power and speed were at least solid during his five years with the Miami Marlins, who extended him in 2015. His hitting was more than just solid, as he racked up a .290 average and .369 on-base percentage. And between 2013 and 2016, only three players tallied more defensive runs saved in left field.
It was also always apparent that Yelich could hit for more power if he wanted to. Between 2015 and 2017, for example, he hit fly balls and line drives at an average of 95.4 mph. That was the same as Yoenis Cespedes.
By his own admission, what held back Yelich was Marlins Park. It scared him into not hitting too many balls in the air, resulting in 18 homers at home to go with his 41 on the road.
Because Miller Park is more power-friendly, that should change now that Yelich is on the Milwaukee Brewers. If so, he’ll only become more valuable in the remaining seasons of his contract.
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The Deal: 5 Years, $ 26.50 Million (with 2019, 2020 Club Options)
AAV: $ 5.30 Million
Average WAR Value: $ 33.19 Million
Difference: $ 27.89 Million
The Chicago White Sox took a page from the Giants and Bumgarner when they extended Jose Quintana in March 2014.
He’d only made his major league debut in 2012, and his body of work included just 336.1 innings. But since said body of work also included a 3.61 ERA, there was relatively little risk in trying to gain some cost-controlled production.
The White Sox ended up getting a lot of that between 2014 and 2016. He averaged a 3.29 ERA and 205 innings per season, and he placed behind only a couple of heavyweights in the rWAR rankings for American League southpaws:
- 1. Chris Sale: 14.5
- 2. David Price: 13.5
- 3. Jose Quintana: 12.7
Quintana subsequently stumbled out of the gate in 2017 with a 4.49 ERA in 18 starts for the White Sox. But the Chicago Cubs came calling with a basket of prospects anyway, and they got more or less what they wanted: a 3.74 ERA and six innings per start the rest of the way.
Thus far in 2018, Quintana is serving as the Cubs’ No. 4 starter. Beyond being one of the best to hold that distinction, he’s also one of the better bargains.
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John Hefti/Associated Press
The Deal: 6 Years, $ 51.50 Million (with 2018 Club Option)
AAV: $ 8.58 Million
Average WAR Value: $ 36.78 Million
Difference: $ 28.19 Million
Yes, Andrew McCutchen is technically a member of the San Francisco Giants now. But his appearance here has everything to do with his time as a Pittsburgh Pirate.
After extending him in March 2012, general manager Neal Huntington said of McCutchen: “It has been our intent for Andrew to be a cornerstone for this organization, and this contract solidifies that intent.” This was something of a gamble, as McCutchen was fresh off three not-quite-superstar-level seasons at the time.
Obviously, it paid off.
McCutchen did indeed become a full-blown superstar in 2012, posting a .953 OPS with 31 homers and 20 steals. He went on to win the National League MVP in 2013, and he continued to put up MVP-caliber numbers in 2014 and 2015. According to rWAR, there was no better player in the NL over those four seasons.
Alas, McCutchen wasn’t the same player in 2016 and 2017. But he at least continued to hit well with an .807 OPS and 52 homers.
After a slow start for the Giants, McCutchen is now teasing that he still has it. He’s collected two walk-off hits in a span of four days.
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Tony Dejak/Associated Press
The Deal: 4 Years, $ 22 Million (with 2019, 2020 Club Options)
AAV: $ 5.50 Million
Average WAR Value: $ 33.73 Million
Difference: $ 28.23 Million
Carlos Carrasco is basically getting Quintana money to be an even better pitcher.
This would have been unthinkable not too long ago. Carrasco first came to the Cleveland Indians in the 2009 Cliff Lee trade and then provided mixed results between 2009 and 2011. He then missed all of 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery, only to return to providing mixed results in 2013 and 2014.
That is, for most of 2014.
Cleveland moved the right-hander from its bullpen to the starting rotation in August and was rewarded with a 1.30 ERA in 10 outings down the stretch. It looked legit too, as Carrasco was throwing strikes with mid-90s heat and an electric slider and changeup.
So, then came his extension in April 2015.
From there through the end of 2017, the Indians watched Carrasco put up a 3.41 ERA with 592 strikeouts in 530 innings. Among AL pitchers, only Chris Sale, Chris Archer and teammate Corey Kluber struck batters out at a better rate.
Although he’s 31, Carrasco may not have peaked yet. He’s fresh off a 3.29 ERA and a career-high 200 innings in 2017. He’ll be a top Cy Young contender if he builds on that in 2018.
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Stacy Revere/Getty Images
The Deal: 7 Years, $ 41 Million (with 2020/2021 Club Option)
AAV: $ 5.86 Million
Average WAR Value: $ 35.62 Million
Difference: $ 29.77 Million
It’s safe to say now, in retrospect, that the Cubs won the Anthony Rizzo-Andrew Cashner trade.
That wasn’t entirely clear back in 2013. Rizzo had looked the part of a cornerstone in his first season with the Cubs in 2012, but he responded to his May 2013 extension by coming down to earth. In the meantime, Cashner pitched to a 3.09 ERA over 175 innings with the San Diego Padres.
But here’s what happened over the next four seasons:
That’s mainly the result of Rizzo turning into one of MLB’s best players. He averaged a .910 OPS and 32 homers a year between 2014 and 2017. To boot, he led all first basemen in defensive runs saved.
Not pictured in these accomplishments is the role that Rizzo played in helping the Cubs snap their 108-year World Series championship drought in 2016. He started slow that October, but he finished with a 1.258 OPS and three homers in his last 10 games.
Amazingly, Rizzo is still only 28 years old. He should have plenty more where all this came from over the next four years.
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Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
The Deal: 4 Years, $ 20 Million
AAV: $ 5 Million
Average WAR Value: $ 36.93 Million
Difference: $ 31.93 Million
Before he debuted with the Minnesota Twins in 2012, Brian Dozier had hit a grand total of 16 home runs in four minor league seasons.
He beat that just a year later when he launched 18 homers in his first full season with the Twins. After he had improved to 23 homers in 2014, the Twins pounced and extended him in March 2015.
Dozier celebrated by improving to 28 homers in 2015, and then to 42 in 2016. It wasn’t until 2017 that he finally stepped back…all the way to 34 homers.
All told, Dozier’s 104 long balls since 2015 are 21 more than any other second baseman. That alone would make him a special prize, yet he’s no one-trick position player.
He’s managed a solid .335 OBP during the life of his deal. He’s also stolen 46 bases. And while his defense typically doesn’t rate well, his defensive highlights will make you think twice before questioning the Gold Glove that he won last year.
Dozier is now in the final year of his contract. If his 1.006 OPS and four homers so far this season are any indication, he doesn’t intend on being underpaid by his next contract.
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The Deal: 5 Years, $ 32.5 Million (with 2018/2019 Club Options)
AAV: $ 6.50 Million
Average WAR Value: $ 43.66 Million
Difference: $ 37.16 Million
Once upon a time, one could wonder if the White Sox were pushing their luck with Chris Sale.
They graduated him to the majors just weeks after drafting him in 2010. They then pushed him hard as a multi-inning reliever in 2011. Although he emerged as a Cy Young contender in 2012, there was a point where he had to be shut down with a dead arm. No wonder, in light of his thin frame and herky-jerky motion.
Still, the White Sox went ahead with an extension in March 2013. Rather than the point where they’d finally pushed their luck too far, that marked the true unleashing of Sale’s potential.
Almost unfathomably, Sale reached even greater heights with the Boston Red Sox in 2017. He pitched to a 2.90 ERA over an MLB-high 214.1 innings, and he struck out a whopping 308 batters.
Because Corey Kluber finished the year stronger than Sale did, the AL Cy Young once again eluded him. But Sale came closer than ever in finishing second in the voting. And now, the 29-year-old is already teasing (1.06 ERA in three starts) that he finally means to get it done in 2018.
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The Deal: 5 Years, $ 32 Million (with 2019 Club Option)
AAV: $ 6.40 Million
Average WAR Value: $ 45.06 Million
Difference: $ 38.66 Million
McCutchen’s descent opened the door for somebody else to take up the mantle of the National League’s best player.
He may not be the first player who comes to mind, but Paul Goldschmidt might have the strongest claim.
Goldschmidt began his career as an eighth-round draft pick in 2009, and he was mostly ignored by the big prospect lists over the next few years. Yet the numbers were always there, and they continued to be there in his first two seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011 and 2012. He’d put up an .840 OPS and slugged 28 homers.
The D-backs had little to lose when they extended Goldschmidt in March 2013, but even they might not have expected him to blossom into an MVP-caliber superstar with a .952 OPS and 36 homers.
It’s been more of the same since his extension kicked in back in 2014. Over the next four seasons, Goldschmidt’s season averages included a .953 OPS, 28 homers and 20 stolen bases. He’s also won a couple of well-deserved Gold Gloves at first base.
Add it up, and his 23.8 rWAR between 2014 and 2017 just barely edged Nolan Arenado for the high mark among National Leaguers.
Knowing that, it’s probably best not to worry too much about his slow start to 2018.
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Tony Dejak/Associated Press
The Deal: 5 Years, $ 38.50 Million (with 2020/2021 Options)
AAV: $ 7.70 Million
Average WAR Value: $ 48.40 Million
Difference: $ 40.70 Million
Let’s flash back to July 2010, when Cleveland assistant general manager Chris Antonetti addressed the Indians’ addition of a prospect named Corey Kluber in a three-team trade centered around Ryan Ludwick and Jake Westbrook.
“He has an above average fastball with a plus breaking ball,” Antonetti, who’s now the team’s president, told reporters. “He has the ability to miss bats. He gives us another upper-level major league starter that hopefully can be part of our rotation at some point down the road.”
Kluber didn’t make much of an impression on the Indians in 2011 and 2012, but he found his footing with a 3.85 ERA over 147.1 innings in 2013. That turned out to be a prelude to a Cy Young-winning 2014, which he finished with a 2.44 ERA over 235.2 innings.
The righty signed an extension with Cleveland in April 2015, and he’s essentially given the team more of the same for its money. He’s averaged a 2.98 ERA and 214 innings over the last three seasons, the most recent of which resulted in his second Cy Young Award.
At the very least, rWAR makes it easy to argue for Kluber as the AL’s best pitcher. But given that he’s currently riding a 1.62 ERA in 26 starts dating back to 2017, the reality is that there isn’t a better pitcher in all of MLB right now.