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June 22, 2009 12:47 AM

Should MLB Teams Give One Player 20% Of Their Total Payroll?

A couple of days ago I wrote an article for Inside The Majors discussing the future of Albert Pujols in St. Louis.  As much as Cards fans hate to admit it, the end of the 2011 season is quickly approaching and Pujols could be gone.  While I covered all of the factors that affect the Cardinals, I did not discuss in depth something that applies to every Major League club.

"The other big question is whether it is even worth it for a team to spend 25-30% of their budget on one player, but that is a story for another day."

That day has come.  While it is very rare for a player to make more than 25% of a team's total payroll, it could be the reality in St. Louis, with Pujols eating $25 million out of approximately a $100 million payroll.  I want to look at the success rate of teams where they have a player who takes up more than 20% of the team's financial resources.  After examining the numbers from 2006-2008, I lowered my threshold to 18%, still very high, to get a larger sample size of data.  All salary information is from USA Today, and these were my discoveries:

Over the last three years there have been eighteen occasions where a single player has made up over 18% of a team's total salary.

20082008 25%

 

  

  

  

  

  

 

2007

2007 25%

 

  

 

 

 2006

2006 25%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see, these teams as a whole have not been very successful, with an overall record of 1398-1517 for a winning percentage of .480.  The only playoff clubs among the group are the 2007 Rockies, and the 2006 Tigers, A's and Padres.  That means 22% of these clubs have made the playoffs, while the rest of the teams in the league made the playoffs at a 28% clip.  Not a huge drop off, but significant enough.

There is also a lot of repetition among the teams, with the Rockies appearing all three years, the Royals with three players in two years, and the A's, Marlins, Pirates and Giants all making two appearances each.  Other than the Giants, these are all small-budget teams, and it does not take much to eat up 20% of their payroll.  You will never see a Yankee make 20% of the team's salary simply because the denominator of $200M is way too big.  On the other end of the spectrum, Willis ate up 29% of the Marlins salary in 2006 while only making $4.35M

So far, I have shown that these eighteen teams have performed below the major-league average in terms of winning percentage in playoff appearances.  However, what I have failed to mention is the total payrolls of these teams.  If you sort all of the MLB teams by total payroll each year and rank them, the eighteen teams on this list rank an average of twenty-two.  The 2006 teams are an average of $16M below league average, the 2007 teams are 20$ million under, and the 2008 squads are a whopping $31 million under the league average.  Only three of them ( '06 Giants, Astros and Tigers) are in the top half, and thirteen out of eighteen are in the bottom third.  These teams are actually quite successful considering their financial limitations.  If you were to tell me I could run a team for $20 million less than the average but only have a 6% chance less of making the playoffs, I think I would take you up on the offer.

I honestly thought going into this that I would discover that it would almost without fail be disastrous to have one player take up a huge chunk of your payroll.  There are occasions where this is true, most notably the 2008 Royals who spent 40% of their money on Meche and Guillen, two barely above average players.  However, it is also very possible for these small market teams with one high-paid star, like Todd Helton, to succeed.

After my analysis, the original point from my Inside the Majors article stands.  John Mozeliak, get Pujols locked up.  If there is one player that is worth of that much money and such a large percentage of your payroll, it is him.    

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