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WAR STORIES
April 05, 2010
The numbers don't lie: Here's a metric that shows which players deliver the most bang for the buck
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April 05, 2010

War Stories

The numbers don't lie: Here's a metric that shows which players deliver the most bang for the buck

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SALARY 2009 WAR
C KURT SUZUKI, A's
  $410,000* 2.8
Doubled his previous homer and RBI highs in '09, and guided A's staff to third-best AL ERA
1B JOEY VOTTO, Reds
  $437,500* 4.5
In his second season led Reds in homers (25) and had NL's third-best OPS (.981)
2B BEN ZOBRIST, Rays
  $438,100 8.6
Super utilityman played seven positions and had AL's fourth-best OBP (.405)
3B EVAN LONGORIA, Rays
  $950,000 7.2
2009 WAR leader at 3B; offensive star also led all 3B in defensive measure Ultimate Zone Rating
SS YUNEL ESCOBAR, Braves
  $425,000* 4.0
Clutch hitter (.373 with runners in scoring position) is one of several young Braves stars
LF RYAN BRAUN, Brewers
  $1,000,000 4.8
Has 103 career homers; only five players in history have had more in first three seasons
CF NYJER MORGAN, Nationals
  $411,500* 4.9
Washington speedster had second-highest WAR among NL outfielders
RF SHIN-SOO CHOO, Indians
  $420,300* 5.0
Rare bright spot in Cleveland: High OBP (.394) made him one of AL's top WAR outfielders
SP CLAYTON KERSHAW, Dodgers
  $404,000* 4.2
A scary thing happened to NL hitters last season: Kershaw, now 22, learned a slider. The lefty already had a mid-90s fastball and superb curve and change; the new pitch is almost overkill. He led the NL in opponents' hitting (.200) and was fifth in K/9 (9.7). Says Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki, "His potential is just unlimited."
RP ANDREW BAILEY, A's
  $400,000* 2.4
AL Rookie of the Year (26 saves) had third-best relief-pitcher WAR in majors

MEET BEN ZOBRIST. He's a utility guy—plays second, right, short, left, center, first, third and DH for the Rays. He's never hit 30 home runs in a season, never driven in 100 runs, and despite having the fourth-best OPS (on-base-plus-slugging) in the American League last year (.948), he didn't receive a single first-place MVP vote.

Yet in some sabermetric circles the versatile 28-year-old was the game's best position player in 2009. Zobrist—or Zorilla, as he's known in Tampa Bay—ranked first in a stat called Wins Above Replacement (WAR), the baseball version of physics' unified theory. WAR measures a player's total contribution (offense, defense, baserunning and pitching) and expresses it as the number of wins he adds to his team beyond what the average player would provide. A player with a WAR of 0 or 1 is easily replaceable; 4 or 5 is an All-Star; 7 and up is Albert Pujols.

WAR isn't perfect, but it's a great tool for comparing players' values on the field and the payroll sheet. In '09 Royals ace and AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke had the majors' best WAR, 9.4. Zobrist—he hit 27 homers, was on base more than 40% of the time and played superb defense all over the field—was second, at 8.6. (Pujols was third at 8.5.) Zorilla wasn't just MVP-caliber, he was the most payroll-efficient player in baseball. He made $415,900, barely above the minimum.

Zobrist, who will make $438,100 this season, is still a bargain. The following pages list the players with the top 2009 WARs at each position (excluding DH), organized by what they'll make in 2010. The result: an All-Star team at various price points—and proof that teams don't always get what they pay for. It's the old argument: Who's the most valuable player? Let the WAR begin.

WAR data from FanGraphs.com

Salary data from the website Cot's Baseball Contracts and published reports

2010 Salaries up to $1M

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

*2010 data not available, '09 salary used. Player under team control, contract will be renewed for this season with minimal raise

$1M to $2M

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