We’ve been focusing on the best and brightest in the NL so far this week, but we’re going to pause for a bit and consider the other end of the scale today. Clearly, not everyone in the league can be an MVP candidate, but most players can be considered at least average. However, there are those special few that are not only below average, but making superstar money. Those happy few will be honored here today as we look for the most overpaid player in the NL.
Finding the most overpaid player is more than just searching the list of the highest-paid players in the league. The player who makes the most money in the NL is actually Johan Santana of the New York Mets (due to make $20,144,708 this year, which, although a lot, is actually less than four Yankees), and while you might not think he quite deserves that much, you have to agree that he’s a talented pitcher and is at least coming close to earning his keep.
In fact, there’s a tidy statistic for that – WAR (Wins Above Replacement). WAR tells you how many wins you would stand to give up if you replaced any given player with a generic replacement level player. Santana has a WAR of 3.7, meaning he accounts for nearly 4 wins by himself. $5 million might sound like a lot per win, but he’s at least contributing wins to his team. Santana is off the hook with us.
Let’s take a look at position players first and see how they stack up. Below are seven players who all make a strong case as the most overpaid player in the league:
WAR is going to be a useful stat in evaluating how much of their salaries these players are actually earning, but some more basic stats like batting average and home runs are included so we can get a sense of whether or not they’re passing the eyeball test.
Players like Ryan Howard and Manny Ramirez immediately come to mind as players with enormous contracts who are past their prime, but surprisingly, they have higher WAR numbers than most players on this list. Howard has an anemic slash line, but his 23 dingers do a bit to balance that out. Granted, he costs you over $14.6 million per additional win (or $826,000 per homer), but it’s clear he’s not the worst offender on this list.
My initial thought was that Todd Helton would run away with this, as he earns over $17 million each year and is a shell of his former self this year. In fact, the numbers say that he costs your team nearly $52.3 million for just one additional win. (For reference, that’s slightly more than the Oakland A’s entire payroll.) And his WAR of 0.3 is bad, but if you notice, there’s a player up there who makes more and actually contributes less than the Toddfather. The Mets’ Carlos Beltran takes the cake here, earning over $19 million to actually produce less than a replacement player. Part of his terrible performance this year has to be because he missed a few months due to knee surgery, but it’s not as though he’s been tearing up the world while he’s been playing. He’s barely above the Mendoza line, actually has a lower slugging average than his OBP, and he’s only hit two home runs (at $9.7 million apiece) all season. Yikes.
But as terrible as he’s been, at least he plays every day. The same can’t be said for pitchers. Let’s take a look at some of these guys and how they measure up:
Carlos Zambrano has to be the poster boy for the overpaid player in MLB. Not only is he earning nearly $19 million to only produce 1.3 WAR, but he was suspended for a fair chunk of this season. Once he came back, he spent time in the bullpen until finally returning to the rotation recently. Earning that kind of money to only play every five days is one thing, but when you’re only playing an inning or so per game, that’s much, much worse.
That makes me wonder why teams pay such high prices for relievers who hardly pitch at all. I’m already on the record that I think saves are way overhyped, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that my most overpaid player is a reliever. I wanted to go with Francisco Rodriguez, but his WAR of 1.4, ERA of 2.20 and K/9 ratio of 10.52 made me reconsider. Couple that with the fact that the Mets aren’t technically paying him anymore, and it’s tough to consider him as overpaid.
No, I’m going to have to go with Phillies closer Brad Lidge at this point. Lidge famously melted down last season, and it’s not as though he’s really regained his form this season. His K/9 ratio of 10.86 hides the fact that he has an ERA of nearly 4.00 (and considering he’s only pitched 32 innings, that’s a lot of runs to give up), and his WAR is only 0.2. Couple that with his $12 million salary and you’re looking at a player who costs you $60 million for just one additional win (or roughly as much as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ entire salary).
That’s an awful lot of money to tie up in someone who only pitches at most an inning per game. Looks to me like we have a winner.
Follow Sam on Twitter at @TheRealSamOrme.