In America, money tends to be everything. There’s no difference in the world of professional baseball. Baseball is a business, and businesses are all about making money.
So my question is: Why do we not pay more attention to player value in terms of salaries when deciding who should win the MVP or Cy Young awards?
I choose to focus on the MVP award, which stands for Most Valuable Player award just so we’re clear, and in particular the American League MVP award. Why? It just so happens that for the first time in recent memory a pitcher is in the running for the AL MVP, which makes it more interesting.
Originally, this was to be a piece arguing for why Justin Verlander should win the AL MVP even though he is a starting pitcher. While building my argument, I asked myself the question presented earlier and found the idea to be much more interesting.
My sole focus when deciding an MVP is that “V,” the players value to their team. Many tend to look only at peripheral stats such as HRs, RBIs or wins when making a case for a certain player as MVP, but these metrics aren’t necessarily the best indicators of that player's value to their team.
More recently voters have begun looking at value stats such as WAR (wins above replacement) to determine their candidate for MVP, which makes for better decisions than in the past.
Yet, on-field performance isn’t the only area in which a player can be valuable to their team. Remember, baseball is a business. With that being true, doesn’t it make sense that players can also be valuable to their team in terms of getting paid less in any given year than their performance commands on an open market?
We’ll start with a little background.
WAR is a metric that determines how many more wins a player provides his team over the course of the year than a replacement level player at his position would provide.
When WAR is converted into dollars (represented in millions), it represents what a player would make in free agency. Taking this amount (dollars) and dividing by WAR you come to a number that represents how much each individual win is worth on the market.
For the 2011 season, each win was worth about $4.5 million, or in other words, if teams were to pay fair market value for wins, a player worth five wins should be paid about $22.5 million.
Now to move on to the analysis of the eight players considered in the race for the AL MVP award.
What I did to determine a player's value to a team monetarily was take how much money they should have been paid (WAR multiplied by $4.5 million). When I got this number (true player value), I divided it by their actual salary for 2011 to find what percentage of their worth they were actually being paid.
To teams, this means the lower percentage of their player's true player value they are paying him, the more valuable they are to the team. A player being paid only 10 percent of what he is worth is more valuable to the team than a player being paid 60 percent of what he is worth.
Instead of presenting each player individually, I will list out the eight players considered in the AL MVP race followed by their value to their respective teams.
All dollar amounts are presented in millions. Salary numbers for 2011 were gathered from baseballplayersalaries.com. The percentages show how much of a player’s value the team is actually paying for.
Dustin Pedroia (worth $33.7, salary $5.5, 16.3 percent)
Adrian Gonzalez (worth $28.7, salary $5.5, 19.2 percent)
Miguel Cabrera (worth $27.3, salary $20.0, 73.3 percent)
Jose Bautista (worth $36.8, salary $8.0, 21.7 percent)
Jacoby Ellsbury (worth $39.2, salary $2.4, 6.1 percent)
Curtis Granderson (worth $31.9, salary $8.25, 25.9 percent)
Justin Verlander (worth $31.4, salary $12.75, 40.6 percent)
C.C. Sabathia (worth $32.0, salary $23.0, 71.9 percent)
Looking at these salary numbers, Jacoby Ellsbury would be the best vote for AL MVP if you were looking solely at his monetary value to the team because he is only being paid 6.1 percent of what he is worth.
I am not saying monetary value to a team should be the only deciding factor in who wins the MVP award. I am arguing that, in addition to on-field production and playing for a playoff team, monetary value to a team should be considered when people cast their votes for MVP.