The best value player for the Yankees

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The Yankees do not cheap out when they have the opportunity to land a superstar player. Whether it’s locking up Jeter, trading for A-Rod, or signing CC Sabathia, we all know that the Yankees will spend money. They’ve spent so much, in fact, that they currently have $144 million committed to just nine players in 2011. With such a top-heavy group of players, the team still needs young, cost controlled talent to fill out its roster. Thankfully for them, there can be plenty of value in those players.

To examine how much the Yankees paid their best players for their contributions, I’ll put their Wins Above Replacement (WAR) up against their salary for the season. We can take this all the way back to 2005, just because it’s easy and the data is so readily available. I’m going to leave out players who the Yankees traded for mid-season, just to make everything a little easier. Also, I’m clearly only going with position players, at least in this post.

2005: Alex Rodriguez

Photo credit: Gregory Bull/AP

Yes, the Yankees got more value out of Alex Rodriguez than any other player in 2005. With his salary that might not have seemed possible. Remember, though, that Texas was still paying a chunk of that salary, at least until 2008. According to Cot’s, the Yanks paid $16 million for a $25 million player. That covers 2005 and 2006. In 2007 his salary escalated to $27 million, so we’ll add another $2 million to the Yankees’ contribution (even though they might have still paid him $16 million). The team also got quality values from Jorge Posada, Jason Giambi, and Hideki Matsui, for whom they paid less than $2.6 million per win above replacement.

While WAR is a big picture value tool, it can’t see the nuances throughout a season. For instance, it has the Yankees paying Tino Martinez $4.58 million per win, since he produced only 0.6 WAR. His home run streak in May, though, did help the Yankees recover from a stagnant start.

2006: Robinson Cano

The Yankees got excellent value from Robinson Cano in his second season. At a league minimum salary he produced 3.5 WAR, finishing third in the AL batting average race. His buddy, Melky Cabrera, was also effective, producing 1.6 WAR at his paltry salary (which, during a partial season, I estimated at about $300K). Gary Sheffield’s and Hideki Matsui’s injuries skewed their value numbers, though that’s to be expected. The Yankees did seemingly pay a lot for Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi that season, over $4.5 million per win.

2007: Robinson Cano

Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/AP

While Cano did lead the Yankees in win value in 2006, he was outstanding in 2007. His 5 WAR at a $490,800 salary meant under $100,000 per win, easily the best mark on this list. His overall WAR mark is also impressive, as it ranked third on the team behind Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada.

Again, we see A-Rod come in under $2 million per WAR despite his enormous salary. Jorge Posada made a bit more in 2007 than he had in the past, but still came in at $1.7 million per win. He hasn’t gotten close to there since. Then again, he hasn’t come close to his 2007 production, either.

2008: Brett Gardner

I made something of an exception to the partial season idea by including Melky in 2006 and Gardner in 2008. There was good reason, though, as both produced more than 1 WAR. Gardner, in fact, produced somewhere around $200,000 per WAR, though that comes with a roughly estimated $200K salary. Adjust that all you want, he’s still way out in front of the rest.

Johnny Damon, at 3.7 WAR, was the next highest, followed by Alex Rodriguez, his full salary finally realized. Bobby Abreu, or at least Bobby Abreu’s defense, was the goat here, as he produced just 1.3 WAR for his $16 million. While a team certainly can win while paying a lot of money for its wins, it’s unsurprising that the Yankees didn’t have any players, other than Gardner, for whom they paid less than $3.5 million per WAR. That doesn’t sound like a winning formula.

2009: Brett Gardner

Photo credit: Jim Mone/AP

Clearly, if Gardner took home the prize in 2008 he did again in 2009. He produced 2 WAR while earning just $414K, or $207K per win. Melky Cabrera, with 1.7 WAR, was also a decent value. Count Cano and Swisher as others for whom the Yankees paid less than $2 million per WAR.

Alex Rodriguez falls to the cellar on this list, not only because of his $32 million salary, but because his shortened season hurt his value. Jeter’s 7.4 WAR season also played nicely with his $20 million salary, as he cost only $2.7 million per WAR. Damon and Matsui were trailers here, too, but it wasn’t as bad as the situation in 2008. Not by a long shot.

Here’s the spreadsheet, in case you wanted to take a look at the whole list:

Selig implements a better LCS format
Chad Gaudin Released
  • KoFH

    Bo is gonna die.

    • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      Bo JMK is gonna die.


    • Bo

      the guy making the major league min had great value on a team that won 103 games?????

      no way!!

      • William

        I think you don’t understa….oh fuck it.


  • Adam B.

    The name of the last column needs to be adjusted. Because that’s dollars per win above replacement. Getting dollars per win means figuring out how many wins (overall, not above replacement) a replacement level player in that amount of playing time is worth.

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      You’re right, though I think it was understood.

  • Richard Iurilli

    I laughed when I saw Gary Sheffield was paid 32.5 million per WAR in 2006. Then I cried.

    • Dela G

      i seriously just laughed my ass off

  • YankeesJunkie

    It would be interesting to compare these stats to the Athletic’s the Moneyball monopoly Beane had.

  • dudes

    I’m curious to see if GGBG’s UZR regresses moving forward. Currently he barely has enough innings in CF (or the outfield for that matter) to constitute a sufficient sample size for UZR. If this number does regress, than WAR has been overvaluing his contributions.

    This, of course, is not meant to take anything away from GGBG. He is still a great value to the Yankees at his production and salary levels–just maybe not that great.

    • Will

      Exactly…Gardner’s WAR is not very telling because of his very high UZR values, which as you pointed out are based on very small samples.

      Saying Gardner provides the most value is a gross overstatement based mostly on limited sample and his minimum salary.

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      It’s not like having a small sample means his worth means nothing. It just means it’s not predictive. WAR hasn’t been overvaluing his contributions, at least not relative to other players, because Gardner was worth those runs above average. Whether he’ll continue to be worth that many runs in the future is what’s at issue. But in terms of pure results, Gardner has gotten to more batted balls than his peers.

      • Spaceman.Spiff

        This is true. Regardless of what his true talent level is defensively, Gardner has performed at an elite level defensively in limited time. The small sample size only weakens the predictive value of his defensive stats, not actually what has been recorded and happened.

        If you take this example and shrink it to a single game situation, say a guy like Jason Bay, who is not very good defensively, makes 2 outstanding plays in a game and doesn’t misplay any flyballs through missteps or anything. For some reason, he gets to more balls than he normally does and even gets to more balls than a normally good defender does. The (extremely) small sample size prevents us from saying, ahh this is his true talent level on defense. However, it does tell us, he actually did provide value to us on defense in that single game. So it’s very possible that Gardner’s worth was actually the greatest per salary even if his true defensive talent level is lower than what he’s played at.

    • Bo

      His UZR was so good that notorious stat book manager Girardi benched him after 2 weeks for Melky.

      If that doesnt show that metric is flawed i dont know what will

  • Will

    I also don’t agree with the premise that “most value” is defined by “Wins” per dollar because it ignores the idea of increasing costs for marginal wins. It’s kind of like how diamonds are priced. A 4ct diamond of a certain quality might be worth 100,000, but four individual 1ct stones of the same quality might not even be worth 1/4 as much.

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      I mean, obviously you’re right. It’s not like this is a rigorous analysis. I thought that was clear, too.

      • Will

        I know it wasn’t a rigorous analysis, but I thought you were trying to say something. I guess my point is Gardner has not even been close to being the Yankee who has provided the most value.

        • Don W

          I had the same thought as Will. Please don’t interpret these as criticisms, loved the analysis, just suggestions at tweaking the formula to provide possibly better results.

          You’re only allowed so many opportunities to compile WAR. Getting 5 WAR out of one position for X amount of $’s isn’t directly relate-able to getting 3 WAR out of another position the way you’ve done it. If you keep trading the big more expensive WAR’s for lower but cheaper WAR’s you end up with the Pirates. When one guy puts up and A-Rod, Mauer or Pujols WAR it’s more valuable than the WAR total itself due to the opportunities afforded you have not needing 2-4 positions to compile that WAR.

          WAR/salary should be calculated where the next tenth adds more than the previous tenth. Similarly a players contribution should be in context to the % of time the player used the available opportunities. If Gardner contributes 1 WAR using 50% of the available opportunities that’s more valuable than a player contributing 1.5 WAR using 95% of the available opportunities.

          The math is beyond me but maybe someone will come up with something that effectively values positional WAR.

    • pete

      which is why it’s so cool that A-Rod still won in ’05. with this in mind, though, you’ve got to figure he probably should have won in ’07 too

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      After thinking about this, I think this does start to show the value of a marginal win. In only one year was the highest WAR player also the best Dollar/WAR value. To me, that says it costs more for those extra wins.

  • Rose

    Alex Rodriguez – $32,000,000

    Just ridiculous. I don’t care how good you are at anything. Your salary shouldn’t be anything close to this. If you make a certain amount via bonuses and such I guess it’s easier to swallow but cmon.

    Movie stars took a step back ( The unions would NEVER allow it though.

    That being said. It allows you to appreciate the Brett Gardners of the world a little bit more. Btw, any of you feel he has much fantasy value or mediocre at best?

    • pete

      i disagree. it’s absurd and nobody actually deserves this money, but if a player generates that kind of money for his employer, he certainly should be compensated fairly. otherwise it’s just the owner pocketing all the cash.

      • Rose

        But it’s a domino effect. You pay the actor more money…you raise the movie prices…you make more money…you have to pay the actor even more money…the movie prices go up again.

        With baseball it’s worse because you have teams competing for the services of the individual so the prices get out of control. In the movies you can do two at once if you want and collect 2 pay checks or more.

        Compared to other players today $32 million sounds better for what he produces…but the highest paid player’s salary has more than DOUBLED in the past 10 years. Kevin Brown was the highest paid in 2000 and made $15,714,286 that year. Now here we are with Alex Rodriguez making $33,000,000? That’s quite a drastic jump.

        Then again Kevin Brown’s salary was an even more ridiculous jump from 10 years prior when Rickey Henderson had the highest salary of a whopping $3,000,000 (over 3x as much).

        So in another 10 years they might be making like $50M a year lol. It’s getting out of control.

        • camilo Gerardo

          Jesus Montero’s pay-day!

        • Ed

          You’ve got your cause and effect backwards.

          Teams charge what the market will bear. A ticket at Yankee Stadium doesn’t cost what it does because A-Rod is making $32m. The Yankees are charging what they think they can get away with. And other than the Legends seats, they were pretty good at estimating what people are willing to pay.

          Baseball salaries have gone up as much as they have for two reasons. First is baseball has had huge growths in revenue over the past decade or so. Lots of new stadiums, teams starting their own TV networks, etc. There’s more revenue coming into the game, so more is making its way into the payroll.

          The other big reason, is that free agency only existed since the late 70s. Players didn’t instantly earn pay similar to the rates they have today, it took a lot of years of people pushing the limits higher and higher before payrolls stabilized. If you look at when Rickey had the highest salary, I’d going to guess it was only the highest salary for a few months at most before someone else topped it.

          Back to your movie example – stars made what they did because the movies were still turning massive profits. From your article, just about everything was beating the internal projections, so it was very easy to justify giving more money to stars. Note that the salaries started going down as soon as movie revenue went down. Revenue leads to salary. Salary doesn’t set prices.

      • Bo


        i love how fans rip the ballplayers for actually earning their salaries. you really think billionaire owners want to pay these guys?? they didnt get rich by giving $ away. if they could pay a-rod 8 mil they would.

        a guy like a-rod is worth every penny and then some. you can prob make a case that hes underpaid if you really got a look inside the books.

    • William

      All three of the Potter stars make more or equal to 30 mil this year. Radcliffe makes 40. The top earning movie stars make more than AR-rod. If you don’t like the salaries, don’t pay tons of money to see the movies/watch the games.

  • Bo

    Another example of why these statistical models are totally flawed and need to be fixed/tweaked.

    We’re talking about a guy who lost his job after two weeks to that future HOF Melky.

    And never won it back.

  • camilo Gerardo

    since Gardner has the best value, let’s have a whole team full of them! Brilliant!

  • mike c

    2010: Granderson?