At first glance, I’m sure nearly everyone would blurt out “Anthony Rizzo,” perhaps appending any variety of phrasing to indicate that it was a dumb question to begin with. And you may be right: I may be crazy. But it just might be a lunatic you’re looking for.
Then again, maybe you came for some solid baseball analysis, something that’ll slink its way into your brain and change the way you look at the sport as it knocks around in there. Truth be told, I’m not either lunacy or ground-breaking conclusions will be forthcoming, but I had some research that I wanted to perform and share.
Perhaps more than any other sport, baseball loves its stats and awards. Certain statistical measures are held in hallowed reverence and the men who achieve them are deified accordingly. Performance earns big trophies and bigger paychecks, driving Twitter followers and shirsey sales.
What I’d like to discuss here specifically is the concept of the Most Valuable Player, but not necessarily in the manner we’ve come to think of him. Realistically, the award should be the Most Outstanding Player, as determining a player’s value to his own team can be a bit of a tricky figure.
Sure, we’ve got WAR. But who’s to say that a team doesn’t call up some minor-leaguer to replace their stud first baseman and that said farmhand goes on to drink his cup of coffee, only to end up opening a chain of Dunkin Donuts shops?
I certainly don’t mean to dismiss WAR though. Quite the contrary, I plan to lean on it very heavily for this exercise. But I’m pointing out that it doesn’t really work it you just put it out on an island; no individual stat does.
When I think “value,” I look at what I’m getting for my money. In purchasing a new television, I got one that was bigger in size than what I had planned, but that had a great price-point. It may not have all the bells and whistles (not curved, no 4K) of the pricier models, but it was perfect for my needs.
In the same sense, we can look at a baseball player’s eye-popping numbers with slack-jawed wonder and know that he’s great, but the true value of his performance could be somewhat mitigated by high very high salary. So what I am seeking is a way to determine the actual dollar value of each Cub in 2014 to determine who was truly the best.
And not just in gross revenue generated either, but relative to his salary. There are differing schools of thought on this but it’s believed that the marginal value of a win is between $5 million and $7 million. That said, I’m just going to split the difference and go with $6M.
Using WAR, I will see how much a given player generated in marginal value (2 WAR = $12M) and will then compare that to his 2014 salary in order to determine his relative worth. For instance, a guy with 1 WAR making $4M is more valuable, relatively speaking, than a 2-WAR player making $11M. I call the resultant figure Relative Cash Created (RCC).
I could have make the resultant number a percentage, but chose to simplify things for the sake of keeping the numbers a little smaller. So a guy who is worth exactly what he’s being paid will receive an RCC score of 1 (his salary is 100% percent of his marginal value, so it can be divided into it exactly once). So someone with an RCC of 2.0 generated twice as much as he was paid.
Using 2014 salary figures (via ESPN) and WAR totals from FanGraphs, I will seek to determine which Cubs player really was the most valuable last season. Spoiler: given his super-low salary last year, Rizzo is probably still the clubhouse leader. But who knows, mayber there are some surprises.
As a point of order, I did not include Jeff Samardzija or Jason Hammel due to the trade and I did not include the rookies due to small sample sizes.
Player – RCC
Ryan Sweeney – 0
Edwin Jackson – 0.23
Travis Wood – 1.54
Starlin Castro – 2.97
Pedro Strop – 4.53
Luis Valbuena – 9.47
Chris Coghlan – 16.5
Anthony Rizzo – 21.88
Welington Castillo – 24.9
Jake Arrieta – 53.99
Well, that wasn’t even close, was it? Arrieta absolutely lapped the field in terms of his relative value. Admittedly, this is a highly imperfect exercise, but one that I found pretty fun and very interesting. Interesting to see the Unwanted Man, Beef Castle, above Rizzo on the list as well.
Guys like Arrieta ($544,500), Castillo ($530,000), and even Coghlan ($800,000) were able to take advantage of sub-$1M contracts to extract huge RCC totals from them. Arbitration raises, however, will take a big chunk out of that value in 2015. Regression to the mean, I think they call that.
In case you’re interested, Jon Lester put up an RCC of 2.81 last year between Boston and Oakland. Even with his current AAV of $25.8M, Lester’s 6.1 WAR would have been good enough for a 1.42 RCC. Miguel Montero, on the other hand, pulled a score of only 0.74 RCC.
I’m certainly not advocating this as some kind of a legitimate tool for front offices or fans to use, as it’s purely a hindsight calculation. But again, I wanted to take a different approach to the concept of Most Valuable Player, specifically in regard to the Cubs MVP, and this was the result.