Have you ever wondered if baseball pitchers were actually paid their worth? Or if the percentage of salary a team dedicates to its pitching staff has an effect on the total number of wins?

Well this article is for you.

Last week we detailed the subtle differences between how FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, and Baseball Prospectus calculate Wins Above Replacement.

We also noted our predisposition towards FanGraphs fWAR, which we will be utilizing as the main statistic.

We recommend you read that article, if you have not already.

Enough of the introductions, let’s dive into what was one of the more satisfying number crunching, sabermetric touting articles we have written to date.




Sabermetric Research Goals

  • Identify the most valuable starting pitching rotations (and least valuable) from the 2016 season, based on Wins Above Replacement.
  • Determine the salaries for each team’s starting rotation
  • Determine the Wins Above Replacement salary for each team’s starting rotation, based on average equivalent dollar per win
  • Compare actual salaries to WAR salary to identify teams that overpay or underpay their baseball pitchers
  • Attempt to determine if there is a direct correlation between WAR and team wins
  • Repeat for baseball pitchers in the bullpen

Two disclaimers before the we share the meat and potatoes of starting pitching WAR.

Wins Above Replacement is not a good indicator of future performance as we noted in our previous article and we hope you like graphics, there will be a lot.

Okay, enough of the introduction, let’s dive in, feet first.

Wins Above Replacement, Starting Rotation

Innings Pitched pulled the Wins Above Replacement for every Major League Baseball team from FanGraphs. Starting pitchers were separated from the team and the data was placed into a spreadsheet that feeds into the fancy graphic below.

Each bar in the below chart represents the total WAR for each team in reference to their starting pitchers.

Wins Above Replacement, WAR for Starting Baseball Pitchers

Wins Above Replacement, Starting Pitchers

We ordered the data to show an incremental curve, with the lowest performing at the top, and the best performing team at the bottom.

You’ll notice that nine of the ten worst performing teams (Reds, Braves, Royals, Angels, Twins, Padres, Pirates, Athletics, Diamondbacks, and Brewers) failed to make the playoffs or failed to finish the season above 0.500. The only exception was the Texas Rangers who really thrived because of their offense in 2016.

You’ll also notice that eight of the top ten best performing starting rotations, helped their teams make the playoffs, the exceptions were the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago White Sox.

To put this in perspective, the New York Mets starting pitchers had on average, earned their team 15.2 additional wins than the lowly Cincinnati Reds. If we were to add 15 wins to the 68 that the Reds earned in 2016, they would have finished above .500 with 83. More realistically if we were to add the average 11 WAR for starting rotations in 2016, the Reds would have finished a more respectable 79-83.

Eat your heart out Cincinnati faithful, your starting pitching was worse than the Atlanta Braves who were purposely tanking in 2016 (we assume).

Next, we took the average salary per win for starting pitchers and multiplied by the total Wins Above Replacement.

FanGraphs has the average salary per win above replacement at approximately $7.97 million for 2016.

We have labeled this overall starting pitching salary, utilizing WAR, as the equivalent Wins Above Replacement Salary.

Wins Above Replacement Salary, WAR for Starting Baseball Pitchers

Equivalent WAR Salary, Starting Pitchers

The image above does not have a lot of talking points right now, but you can clearly see that the top teams that went deep into the playoffs received over $100 million of equivalent WAR salary from their starting rotations.

Keep the image above in your mind as we pass through the next couple segments of this study.

Next, we tallied the salaries of all the starting pitchers and compared this to the equivalent WAR salary.

The comparison formula is simple, equivalent WAR Salary minus Actual Salary Compensation = Equity Salary.

A positive value means the respective team received more equity than it spent on its starting pitchers.

A negative value means the respective team paid more money to its baseball pitchers than it received.

Not a good thing.

Wins Above Replacement Equity Salary, WAR for Starting Baseball Pitchers

WAR Equity Salary, Starting Pitchers

The chart above shows that the lowly Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim paid their starting pitchers $8.5 million more than they received in value, during the 2016 season (the equivalent of 1.25 wins).

The Cleveland Indians received $95.9 million of value from their starting rotation, which get this, is more than their entire payroll for 2016!

If we were to go back into the way back machine to early 2000’s, talk about mastering Moneyball!

Innings Pitched has provided a table below, with a summary of all the above information, in case you want to quickly see the value your team has in comparison to WAR salary and total salary.

After all, some people prefer the raw data versus a fancy chart.

Be sure to continue after the table, we are less than halfway completed with the analysis.

WAR Salary vs Actual Salary vs Equity Salary, Baseball Pitchers

WAR Salary vs Actual Salary vs Equity Salary, Starting Pitchers

The next step we were hoping to take, was to correlate successful teams with a ratio of starting pitching revenue to total teal revenue.

Unfortunately, though, the comparison is overwhelmingly not statistically significant.

So much so that we still wanted to highlight that here for you to see for yourselves.

The table below organizes all the playoff teams and shows how much each team spent on starting pitching salaries compared to their counterparts.

Starting Pitcher Salary vs Team Salary

Starting Pitcher Salary vs Team Salary

As you can see there is no real correlation.

The Cleveland Indians devoted 19.1% of their team payroll to their starting pitchers and made it to the World Series.

The Texas Rangers devoted 23.7% and lost in the American Division Series, no true blueprint to success here.

The next step in our analysis, graphed Wins Above replacement on the Y-Axis and Overall Wins in the Standings on the X-axis. The hope here was that a nice correlation between Wins Above Replacement for Starting Pitchers was identified.

Overall Wins vs Wins Above Replacement (WAR)

Overall Wins vs Wins Above Replacement

The correlation is pretty poor between overall wins and wins above replacement.

We regressed a formula, but the R-values are 0.5 or less (an R-value of 1.0 means that the trendline applied matches the data set exactly).

However, the effort was not fruitless.

Take a look at the data cluster to the right of the 90-wins mark on the x-axis.

Follow this line vertically, and you can see that nearly all the data clusters are above the 10 Wins Above Replacement line on the y-axis.

This is good news for our study.

The 90-wins mark is generally accepted as the threshold to make the playoffs (or close to).

Therefore, if a baseball team wants to make the playoffs the starting rotation should generate a minimum of 10 WAR. That will be handy for teams looking to piece together their starting rotations, 10 WAR (based on FanGraphs) and your team will be in good position to make the playoffs.

Not too shabby!

Let’s jump into the bullpen and those often eccentric relief pitchers.

Rinse and repeat.




Wins Above Replacement, Bullpen

Innings Pitched pulled the Wins Above Replacement for every Major League Baseball team from FanGraphs.

Relief pitchers were separated from the team and the data was placed into a spreadsheet that feeds into the fancy graphic below.

Nothing new here.

Each bar in the below chart represents the total WAR for each team in reference to their relief pitchers.

Wins Above Replacement, WAR for Relief Baseball Pitchers

Wins Above Replacement, Relief Pitchers

Examining the bottom of the barrel, Cincinnati Reds relief pitchers complied a -3.6 WAR, that is pretty atrocious.

The Reds could have thrown run of the mill AAAA relief pitchers onto the mound and obtained 0.0WAR.

Other teams with who finished below 0.500 in the standings, Los Angeles Angels of Anahiem (0.3WAR), Arizona Diamondbacks (0.5WAR), Tamp Bay Rays (0.1WAR), and Philadelphia Phillies (0.4WAR).

Compare this to the bullpen of all the playoff teams.

The New York Mets bullpen compiled a 6.6 WAR, the Los Angeles Dodgers a 6.5 WAR. Generally speaking, all the bullpen of all the playoff teams accumulated at least 2.0 WAR, with the exception of the Texas Rangers.

Again, let’s put everything in perspective.

The difference between the last place bullpen and the best bullpen is 11.5 WAR.

That means if the Cincinnati Reds had the best bullpen in the league they would have won approximately 79 games instead of 68.

Next, let’s repeat the exercise for the equivalent Wins Above Replacement Salary.

Wins Above Replacement, WAR for Relief Baseball Pitchers

Wins Above Replacement, Relief Pitchers

Similar to the starting pitcher graphic, the relief pitcher image above does not have many talking points.

The biggest is that the Reds bullpen cost the team dearly.

Next, we tallied the salaries of all the relief pitchers and compared this to the equivalent WAR salary.

To remind you of the formula, equivalent WAR Salary minus Actual Salary Compensation = Equity Salary.

A positive value means the respective team received more equity than it spent on its starting pitchers. A negative value means the respective team paid more money to its baseball pitchers than it received. Not a good thing.

Wins Above Replacement Equity Salary, WAR for Relief Baseball Pitchers

WAR Equity Salary, Relief Pitchers

The chart above shows that the lowly Cincinnati Reds paid their relief pitchers $33.7 million more than they received in value, during the 2016 season (the equivalent of approximately 4.2 wins).

The Houston Astros received $41.3 million of value from their relief pitchers, which get this, is more double their actual relief pitcher payroll for 2016!

Innings Pitched has provided a table below, with a summary of all the above information, in case you want to quickly see the value your team has in comparison to WAR salary and total salary.

After all, like we previously mentioned, some people prefer the raw data versus a fancy chart.

WAR Salary vs Actual Salary vs Equity Salary, Relief Baseball Pitchers

WAR Salary vs Actual Salary vs Equity Salary, Relief Pitchers

The next step was to correlate successful teams with a ratio of relief pitching revenue to total team revenue.

The table below organizes the all the playoff teams and shows how much each team spent on starting pitching salaries compared to their counterparts.

Relief Pitcher Salary vs Team Salary

Relief Pitcher Salary vs Team Salary

With the exception of the Texas Rangers, all the playoff teams spent between approximately 11% and 17% of their payroll on relief pitchers.

Other teams such as the Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates, Minnesota Twins, and Colorado Rockies spent upwards of 20% of their total payroll on their relief pitchers.

Based on the analysis, it looks like spending too much on overpriced relievers is actually a detriment.

The Final Wins Above Replacement Wrap-Up

Let’s wrap up the 2000+ word article in a nice little bow-tie.

Teams should aim to have their starting rotation earn a minimum of 10 WAR on paper. The difficulty is that WAR does not necessarily translate well year to year. Major League starting rotations that had 10 WAR at season end made the post-season over 90% of the time.

Teams should, on average, spend approximately 11% to 17% of their total payroll on their bullpen.

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The balance of young cheap baseball pitchers and seasoned pricier veterans is paramount to maintain a balance in a starting rotation or bullpen.

Innings Pitched calculated the average cost of a win based on the salaries of the starting rotation and bullpen.

Baseball Pitcher Salary Per Win

Pitcher Salary Per Win

The image above shows which teams obtain the best bang for the buck.

The Los Angeles Dodgers paid approximately $1.3 million dollars in order to obtain one win from their starting rotation and bullpen.

All in a day of work.

I wish I was paid that much for one day worth of work, oh the possibilities.

What you can also see is that the Cleveland Indians made their money work for them the most out of any team in baseball. This proves that you do not necessarily have to break to bank to make it to the World Series, rather teams need to look at the other tangible benefits of WAR and percentages of salaries to be truly effective.

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