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Dollars and Sense Part Six: Payroll Distribution by Position

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In this session of Purple Row Academy, I will focus on the Rockies' (and NL West's) positional payroll distribution this year within the context of the rest of MLB. Note that all of the salary figures used in this session come from Jeff Euston at Cot's Contracts--which is one of my favorite internet resources.

The inspiration for this piece was a piece on positional payroll distribution that was submitted to Baseball Prospectus as part of their BP Idol competition. Euston looked at MLB's extremes for the dichotomy between fielders and pitchers in percentage of payroll dollars spent, Washington and Atlanta. Here are their splits:

Opening Day payroll $97,692,834 *
Infielders $19,400,000 (19.86%)
Outfielders $8,312,500 ( 8.52%)
Catchers $5,466,667 ( 5.59%)
Starting Pitchers $51,783,667 (53.00%)
Relief Pitchers $12,730,000 (13.04%)

Opening Day payroll $61,455,049 *
Infielders $24,525,000 (39.91%)
Outfielders $23,317,500 (37.95%)
Catchers $1,406,500 ( 2.38%)
Starting Pitchers $6,351,049 (10.34%)
Relief Pitchers $5,801,000 ( 9.42%)

* Figures include 2009 salaries for players with Major League contracts, including signing bonuses, pro-rated over the life of each contract. Figures do not account for deferred money and do not include performance, award or roster bonuses.

 In other words, while the Braves spend an amazing 66.04% of their ODP on pitching (with 53% going to the starting rotation), the Nationals spent an equally amazing 19.76% on pitching. This strategy of paying starting pitching so highly is akin to the Broncos' historically spending so much of their payroll on the offensive line. As strong offensive line play is for the Broncos, stellar starting pitching has long been the Braves' calling card--and they're willing to pay top dollar to continue to receive it.

Looking closer at the Braves' and the Nationals' pitching expenditures does shed a considerable amount of light into this situation. The Braves are paying Derek Lowe $15 million, Tim Hudson $13 million to be injured, Javier Vazquez $11.5 million, and Japanese import Kenshin Kawakami $7.67 million in 2009. In other words, four of the five highest paid players on the team are starting pitchers. All of these names are guys that have a proven track record here or in Japan and who are arguably worth paying. Throw in young cost-controlled pitchers Jair Jurrjens, Jo-Jo Reyes, and Tommy Hanson, and the Braves have lots of arms worthy of a big payday. Alas, this is not a problem the Nationals have.

One major reason for a team to devote a low percentage of their ODP is if they have a rotation composed of young pre-arbitration guys who are talented prospects, as the Oakland A's (20.47% spent on pitching) do. The Nationals' pitchers are young guys, but beyond Jordan Zimmerman and possibly Shairon Martis, there's not much there to pay for. The Nationals don't spend a lot on pitching currently and won't until they draft Stephen Strasburg. This is understandable.

What is not is the fact that well over half of the Nationals' ODP was spent on corner outfielders and first basemen--players like Austin Kearns, Nick Johnson, and Dmitri Young. That's a fantastic plan if I ever saw one (ooh, a sarcasm detector, like that's a useful invention). Again courtesy of Cot's Contracts, here are the 2009-2013 salary obligations of the Braves and the Nationals.

Join me after the jump as I look at the positional payroll distribution of all the teams in the NL West...

NL West Positional Payroll Distribution

Euston has compiled a wonderful chart that breaks down the spending of each team in MLB by positional group (INF, OF, C, SP, RP). In addition, Euston has a chart that offers a more extensive payroll percentage breakdown by player. For your convenience, I will break down the NL West data and report a little on the findings. The only problem that I have with the first chart is that it doesn't break the infield segment into corner and middle infielders, which I will do (but won't have a ML-wide rank for those categories). I will also delineate between starting position players and bench players (based on my subjective evaluation of their intended pre-season place on the team), though again I will not have ML ranks for this.

Also note that the numbers might not add up exactly (and differ slightly from previous PR Academy articles due to a different source and different method of calculation for ODP data), but these anomalies do not significantly affect the data.

Major League Averages (% only), not all categories available
Opening Day payroll $91,197,010
Position Players 56.34%
Infielders 29.53%
Outfielders 21.72%
Catchers 5.09%
Pitchers 43.66%
Starting Pitchers 27.40%
Relief Pitchers 16.26% 

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS (Salary Obligations 2009-2013)
Opening Day payroll $72,475,000 (ML Rank: 20)
Position Players $32,922,000 (45.43%) (28)
Starters $18,917,833 (26.11%)
Reserves $14,004,167 (19.32%)
Infielders $12,418,333 (17.12%) (25)
Corner $6,705,833 (9.24%)
Middle $5,712,500 (7.88%)
Outfielders $17,078,667 (23.57%) (11)
Catchers $3,425,000 (4.73%) (15)
Pitchers $39,553,000 (54.57%) (3)
Starting Pitchers $30,450,000 (42.01%) (3)
Relief Pitchers $9,130,000 (12.56%) (19)

COLORADO ROCKIES (Salary Obligations 2009-2013)
Opening Day payroll $74,730,533 (ML Rank: 18)
Position Players $38,386,000 (51.36%) (22)
Starters $33,005,000 (44.16%)
Reserves $5,381,000 (7.20%)
Infielders $27,502,000 (36.81%) (8)
Corner $24,054,000 (32.19%)
Middle $3,448,000 (4.61%)
Outfielders $6,719,000 (9%) (27)
Catchers $4,165,000 (5.58%) (12)
Pitchers $36,344,533 (48.64%) (9)
Starting Pitchers $25,208,333 (33.73%) (9)
Relief Pitchers $11,136,200 (14.91%) (16)

LOS ANGELES DODGERS (Salary Obligations 2009-2013)
Opening Day payroll $109,176,603 (ML Rank: 8)
Position Players $67,423,000 (61.74%) (9)
Starters $48,812,000 (44.69%)
Reserves $18,611,000 (17.05%)
Infielders $18,550,000 (17%) (26)
Corner $6,420,000 (5.88%)
Middle $12,130,000 (11.12%)
Outfielders $43,973,000 (40.28%) (2)
Catchers $4,900,000 (4.49%) (18)
Pitchers $41,753,583 (38.26%) (22)
Starting Pitchers $34,213,083 (31.35%) (11)
Relief Pitchers $7,540,500 (6.91%) (28)

SAN DIEGO PADRES (Salary Obligations 2009-2013)
Opening Day payroll $42,746,653 (ML Rank: 29)
Position Players $20,230,200 (47.19%) (27)
Starters $16,672,900 (38.87%)
Reserves $3,557,300 (8.32%)
Infielders $6,300,800 (14.74%) (27)
Corner $3,968,500 (9.18%)
Middle $2,332,300 (5.46%)
Outfielders $12,775,000 (29.89%) (7)
Catchers $1,154,400 (2.71%) (22)
Pitchers $22,516,453 (52.81%) (4)
Starting Pitchers $17,275,000 (40.52%) (4)
Relief Pitchers $5,241,453 (12.29%) (20)

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS (Salary Obligations 2009-2013)
Opening Day payroll $88,777,106 (ML Rank: 14)
Position Players $44,202,000 (49.79%) (24)
Starters $34,496,750 (38.86%)
Reserves $9,705,250 (10.93%)
Infielders $11,209,000 (12.64%) (29)
Corner $1,401,000 (1.58%)
Middle $9,808,000 (11.06%)
Outfielders $26,591,250 (29.95%) (6)
Catchers $6,401,750 (7.21%) (7)
Pitchers $44,575,106 (50.21%) (7)
Starting Pitchers $35,255,000 (42.01%) (5)
Relief Pitchers $9,320,106 (12.56%) (26)

NL WEST NEUTRONS (Average NL West Team)
Opening Day payroll $77,581,179 (ML Rank: 17 out of 31)
Position Players $40,632,640 (52.37%) (18)
Starters $30,380,897 (39.16%)
Reserves $10,251,743 (13.21%)
Infielders $15,196,027 (19.59%) (25)
Corner $8,509,867 (10.97%)
Middle $6,686,160 (8.62%)
Outfielders $21,427,383 (27.62%) (11)
Catchers $4,009,230 (5.17%) (14)
Pitchers $36,948,535 (47.63%) (14)
Starting Pitchers $28,480,283 (36.71%) (6)
Relief Pitchers $8,473,652 (10.92%) (25)

Whew, that's a lot of data to chew on. Let's make some sense of it.

Conclusions: Rockies within the NL West

First of all, let's compare the Rockies to the average NL West team, in bullet form.

  • Despite their very strong bench, the Rockies comparatively pay their bench players at a much lower rate than the NL West average, meaning that in general the Rockies start their highest paid players (or at least going into the season they intended to). In fact, Yorvit Torrealba ($3.75 million) represents the bulk of the Rockies' bench spending. Correspondingly, the Rockies' starting position players are paid at a higher rate.
  • The Rockies' biggest area of spending on position players is by far their infield, in particular their corner infielders (as the middle infield is considerably less compensated). Helton and Atkins alone represent 31.65% of the ODP. Meanwhile, the middle infielders are all young players with very little service time, lowering overall payroll expenditure. This percentage of infield expenditure (36.81%) is nearly double the NL West average of 19.59%.
  • In the same vein, since the Matt Holliday trade saved the Rockies $13.5 million in outfield expenses this year, Colorado (9%) is well below the NL West average (27.62%) in outfield spending. On their ODP the Rockies had three pre-arbitration outfielders out of four on the roster, making this positional group both productive and frugal.
  • The Rockies are about average when it comes to overall pitching spending compared to the average in the NL West. They are below average in compensating their starters by NL West standards but this is balanced by their relatively higher bullpen spending.

NL West vs. Major League Average

When compared with the Major League average, a few traits become evident when looking at the NL West.

  • The average NL West ODP is well below the ML average ODP, largely due to the smaller markets involved, the severe rebuilding in San Diego, and the overall lower cost of winning in the NL.
  • The major area of spending in the NL West is definitely concentrated on starting pitching, with all of the teams in the division in the top 11 in MLB in percentage spending for starters. No other division places quite the premium the NL West does on starters--with an average 36.71% of total compensation as opposed to the league average of 27.40%.
  • On the flip side of the equation, the NL West as a whole does not compensate their bullpens (10.92%) as highly as an average MLB team (16.26%). Averaging these out, the NL West has a slightly greater emphasis on pitching (and therefore a lower emphasis on hitting) than does the rest of MLB. A small part of this is the fact that AL clubs have the DH, a position that is historically well compensated. Another is that the NL West has three pitcher's parks that lead to a greater pitching emphasis.
  • Furthermore, due mainly to LA's anomalous outfield spending, the NL West spends more on outfielders than an average MLB team and correspondingly less on infielders.
  • Therefore, the NL West's competitive landscape is one that focuses more on starting pitching and offensive production from the outfield to succeed.

Sources and Additional Reading

Payroll by Position, Jeff Euston

Team Payroll Percentage Distribution Chart, Jeff Euston

Player Payroll Percentage Distribution Chart, Jeff Euston

Cot's Contracts, Jeff Euston