The Phillies entered the 2009 season with an opening-day payroll of $113,004,046, roughly $15M more than the previous team record set in 2008. $50.6M was spent on the starting lineup alone.
Seems like an obscene amount of money, doesn’t it? It is, let’s not kid ourselves. But according to the brilliant system at Fangraphs.com which converts a player’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement) to his value in dollars, the Phillies 1-8 hitters were actually worth $86.8 million dollars MORE than that, for a grand total of $137.4M.
What the hell am I talking about? It’s actually quite simple. I’ll give the step-by-step to those interested in how these numbers are calculated, or just give you all the option of skipping the next section and clicking here for an in-depth explanation.
Before delving into this, I beg of you not to be turned off by these numbers. This isn’t an overly complicated or highly sabermetrical article, this is simply a method of proving a point using quantifiable evidence rather than run-of-the-mill flowery prose.
And that point is: the Phillies were the most financially efficient National League team in 2009.
The Financial Value of Chase Utley
For starters, recognize that the term “replacement player” is shorthand for just about any AAA player who could be promoted to fill in at the major league level. Think Andy Tracy or Mike Cervenak. For a major league equivalent, look no further than Jeremy Hermida, whose awful ’09 season was equivalent to the value a replacement player would provide.
As an example, let’s use Chase Utley, a man (or baseball robot – you decide) who has been worth 77.4 runs more than a replacement player in 2009. This is easily converted to Wins by multiplying by 0.1, since 1 run is equivalent to approximately 1/10 of a win. So, Utley’s WAR is 7.7.
This tells us that if Utley would have been replaced by Tracy/Cervenak all season, the Phillies would have 7.7 fewer wins. Get it so far?
Now, to convert Utley’s Wins Above Replacement to an actual dollar amount for the 2009 season, we multiply that 7.7 by 4.5.
Because based on every single free-agent contract signed from 2006-2008, one Win Above Replacement has paid out $4.5 million on average. So if a player with a WAR of 1 averages $4.5M/year, Utley and his mammoth 7.7 WAR would/should be worth $34.2M per season if he were to enter free agency next season.
The beautiful thing about these dollar amounts is that they factor in offense, defense, positional factor (e.g. CF is a tougher position than LF), and park factor.
Utley’s $34.2M 2009 season signifies his brilliant work at the plate (best plate discipline of his career), on the basepaths (23-23 SB’s), and in the field (best zone-rating for an NL second baseman for the fifth consecutive year.)
Efficiency At Every Position
Below you will find each player’s actual 2009 base salary, followed by his true financial value according to this system.
Jimmy Rollins: $7.5M - ($11.5M)
Shane Victorino: $3.125M – ($14.2M)
Chase Utley: $11M – ($34.2M)
Ryan Howard: $15M – ($22.5M)
Raul Ibanez: $6.5M – ($18.4M)
Jayson Werth: $2M – ($20.5M)
Pedro Feliz: $5M – ($6M)
Carlos Ruiz: $475,000 – ($10.1M)
One of your first responses to this will likely be, “How did Carlos Ruiz have a $10 million season? Well, for one, the catcher position carries the biggest positional adjustment because it is considered the most difficult position to play.
Plus, Ruiz quietly put together a fine season for a backstop. He ranked 4th among National League catchers in both on-base percentage (.351) and slugging percentage (.424.) And in the field, he committed a major-league low 3 errors among catchers who caught at least 850 innings.
Compared to Other Teams
Of the four NL playoff teams, the Phillies starting lineup possessed, by far, the biggest difference in 2009 salary to 2009 financial value.
The team that came the closest was the Los Angeles Dodgers, who spent $57,432,000 on their 1-8 hitters (plus Juan Pierre since he saw ample playing time with Manny Ramirez’ suspension), and received $115.7M worth of value. The difference of $58,268,000 that this creates is nearly $30 million less than that of the Phillies.
What makes this discovery so staggering is that Matt Kemp ($467,000 in ’09) and James Loney ($465,000) were two of the Dodgers biggest run producers. Kemp was worth $24M more than he made, and Loney was worth almost $7M more, yet the Phillies still outdid LA significantly in the financial efficiency department.
The Collective Genius of Gillick and Amaro
Every Phillies hitter that received significant playing time outperformed their 2009 salary. This displays two things: great production from top to bottom, and a superb job of talent acquisition and contract negotiation by Ruben Amaro and former GM Pat Gillick.
The ability of Gillick to take a flyer on the oft-injured Werth and former Rule 5 pick Victorino, and watch BOTH turn into eventual starters on the NL All-Star team, is a true testament to his low-risk, high-reward philosophy. Being somewhat of an expert on Gillick’s career (my brother and I co-authored an analysis of Gillick for The Hardball Times 2009 Annual), I can tell you that these were two of the top five signings in his very long, successful career.
Gillick also did a great job of locking up Feliz for an economical 2 year/$8.5M deal, with a club option of $5M for 2010 that will most certainly be picked up. Feliz has had two splendid years with the glove and given the Phils more than they expected at the plate, having the two most disciplined years of his career in terms of BB/K ratio.
Gillick’s successor wasted no time making his own splash, as Amaro pulled off one of the best moves in recent memory with the signing of Ibanez. Raul outperformed his 2009 salary by almost 300%, a number that would be even greater had he not missed a month of the season.
What It All Means
As the saying goes, “it starts at the top.” This organization is living proof of that statement, as one of the most rewarding feelings of all is the knowledge that this team was built from the ground-up, with so many of its key components coming from an extremely underrated farm system.
The past few seasons have given Phillies fans much to smile about. Had someone told you in 2006 that over the next three seasons, your beloved Fightins would win a World Championship, three consecutive NL East titles, be awarded with another MVP, a Rookie of the Year pitching candidate, and an entire starting outfield in an All-Star game, you would have laughed. Prior to ’06, we all would have deemed ourselves lucky to be rewarded with ONE of those things.
But now, none of it even seems mildly surprising. We’ve become so accustomed to an exceptional level of play from a team that has finally made it out of the quicksand that bogged us all down for so many years, that we EXPECT it now.
And thanks to great decision-making and unparalleled player development, that winning culture is here to stay.
Who’s ready for another magical October?