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Baseball’s average salary exceeds $3 million for the first time

Dec 13, 2010, 2:02 PM EST

Money Bag

The Associated Press reports that the average salary in Major League Baseball has surpassed $3 million for the first time.  Here’s a breakdown of the average salaries and minimum salaries in Major League Baseball going back to 1967.  Two thoughts:

1) I remember back in the 80s when Sports Illustrated ran a story with all of the baseball players’ salaries listed from highest to lowest. On the cover was big-money-Mike Schmidt, topping the league with his $2 million and change salary. These days that’s below average.

2) For anyone who says that Marvin Miller isn’t a Hall of Famer, check out those 1967 salaries. The minimum was $6,000.  Even in 1967, that meant that ballplayers with families often had to take winter jobs to make ends meet.

I’m not suggesting that Miller’s Hall of Fame case is based just on salaries, but ask yourself: how much better is the quality of play today, when ballplayers can spend their winters recovering, conditioning and getting ready for the next season, than back in the days when they had to sell cars or dig graves or whatever?

  1. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Dec 13, 2010 at 2:06 PM

    That leaves me without words. Wow.

  2. Adam - Dec 13, 2010 at 2:15 PM

    I understand the average is over 3 million, but does anyone know what the median salary is in baseball? I’m curious to know that. Because a Jayson Werth/Carl Crawford salary can bring up the average a bit.

    • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Dec 13, 2010 at 2:16 PM

      That’s a great question. That has to be out there somewhere.

  3. Jason @ IIATMS - Dec 13, 2010 at 2:18 PM

    Matt Treanor just signed for $850k. Well below average for an MLB’er yet I’d practically KILL for that salary.

    I need Marvin Miller.

    • Adam - Dec 13, 2010 at 2:25 PM

      All you need are some ridiculously good skills in a very high demand, low supply market and you too will make a crap-ton of money.

  4. Adam - Dec 13, 2010 at 2:27 PM

    I should have read the MLB.com article before asking my question. From http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080401&content_id=2479371&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb

    “Although the average player salary increased, the median salary remained at a record $1 million for the third consecutive season, The AP reported.”

  5. The Common Man/www.platoonadvantage.com - Dec 13, 2010 at 2:37 PM

    Ozzie Smith reportedly topped Schmidt midway through 1985: http://www.platoonadvantage.com/2010/12/40-greatest-shortstops.html, amazingly enough.

  6. Professor Longnose - Dec 13, 2010 at 2:40 PM

    It’s just my personal preference, but I’d trade the game today for the game in the 70s. Firemen instead of closers; no such thing as a fifth starter; better players staying longer with one team; managers who were on-field strategists, rather than clubhouse handlers of players: there was a lot to be said for the 70s version of the game.

    • Adam - Dec 13, 2010 at 3:22 PM

      Ah, the good old days. Collusion, short careers for pitchers, cocaine, greenies. How we long for thee. Players stayed longer with one team because there was no such thing as free agency and the owners controlled the players (and their salaries) through the reserve clause until 1975 when it began to deteriorate. Isn’t that AWESOME?!?

      And how exactly are managers not on-field strategists? Today, more than ever, they have to make decisions in regard to bullpen usage, pinch hitters, defensive substitutions, pinch runners, etc.

      So you can go back to the 70’s. I’ll stay right here and watch better baseball than you.

      • Professor Longnose - Dec 13, 2010 at 3:54 PM

        Collusion and no free agency aren’t ethically right, but I say they made for a better game. No, I wouldn’t go back: a better game doesn’t justify them, just as not having really good pyramids anymore doesn’t justify slavery. But the pyramids aren’t better now.

        Managers aren’t strategists the same way as they used to be because they don’t have the authority or flexibility they used to. They can’t keep someone on the bench if he can find a starting job elsewhere. They can’t force guys to learn to bunt for a hit now. They could actually make more decisions about pinch hitters and runners and defensive substitutions because they only had 9-man pitching staffs and thus had bigger benches.

        I’m not aware of any data that says pitchers had shorter careers then, but it would be interesting to see. don’t know how that would have affected the game on-field, but it’s an interesting question. Overall, though, I think taking starting pitchers out of games earlier doesn’t make for a better game; it guarantees inferior pitching more often than it improves it.

        I won’t get into the greenies vs steroids debate, but I hope you don’t think it’s a closed question that the results are better now than they were then.

        I’m curious; with no disrespect intended, and without attacking your right to your opinion (aftrer all, I’m stil la big fan now), were you around to see the game in the 70s?

      • Adam - Dec 13, 2010 at 6:02 PM

        No, I was born in 82.

        I completely disagree with your assertion that pulling starting pitchers makes for worse pitching in a game. With hitters today doing year long conditioning drills and working the count, willing to take a walk, it’s a lot harder to get through innings. Baseball Reference notes this in an article (http://www.baseball-reference.com/blog/archives/7533) showing that pitches per game have increased by 11 pitches since 1988 (they only had data going back to 88). In those 22 years the average number of pitches per start has stayed basically the same, right around 95.

        Pulling a tired starting pitcher to bring in a fresh reliever throwing 95 mph doesn’t make for worse pitching, it actually makes it harder on a batter. When you knew a guy was going to go 9 regardless you only had to prepare for him. When you know the pitcher is only going to go 6 you have to prepare for everyone.

        MLB.com doesn’t show ERAs for the 1970s on the site, but they do show total runs allowed (I could calculate it but I’m feeling lazy). In 1970 the range of runs allowed per team (24) was 574 to 826. In 2010 the range was from 581 to 866. So it didn’t really change on the low end, but it jumped on the high end (though to be fair only 3 teams were over the 826 and they’re horrible, the Pirates, Diamondbacks and Royals). You could probably chalk up the run differential to expansion, and the DH (which didn’t come into play until 73) being fully utilized.

        As for having a bigger bench since you have a 9 man staff, did they really need 16 hitters in the 70s? And with scouting being way smaller than it is now, do you actually think those 16 hitters were good? No way they were better than the 13 position players in the dugout now.

        Only 9 can be on the field at one time, and I would be hard pressed to believe that the 9 put out on the field now aren’t significantly better than the 9 that were on the field in 1970. We’re talking about international scouting, players from everywhere versus only those found by the 4 scouts each team employed (or however many but I guarantee there were fewer per team).

        And, finally, bunting is stupid in most situations. There’s MAYBE 1 situation per game where bunting makes any sense, so the game’s not ruined because managers don’t bunt. It’s improved the game because they let hitters hit (well, some managers don’t…I’m looking at YOU LaRussa).

        Thus ends my novel.

      • Professor Longnose - Dec 13, 2010 at 7:41 PM

        I, for one, enjoyed your novel.

        Most of the time you don’t bring in a guy with a 95 mph fastball. Most of the time you bring in a middle reliever who’s pretty bad. Very few teams have decent middle relief, and very few middle relievers who have a good year can repeat it the next year. And certainly it’s general knowledge that the best relievers, the closers, are pitching mostly in unimportant situations. It’s my impression that bullpens are less effective than they used to be. I’d be interested on any data on that.

        That there are more pitches per game may be the reason for it, but that’s beside the point. I didn’t say that in today’s game managers should make starters finish games, only that one aspect of the game was more fun when they did.

        I’m not sure range is the way to make your point. There were certainly more runs per game being scored since 1985 than were scored in the 70s. (I’ve seen that data, I think on baseball-reference.com). There are a lot of reasons for that, but I wouldn’t rule out middle relief being worse. In any case, aside from the data, it was less frustrating then. In the middle 70s even good teams may have had a crummy guy in the pen, but you didn’t see him unless you were losing big early. In close games the basic question late in the game was whether to take out a pitcher and put in your fireman, or try to let the starter get through the jam. These days, it’s more like you know the guy is coming out after 6, and you have to worry whether the guys pitching the 7th and 8th are not so totally crappy that you lose the game. Most teams, most games, anyway. Sure, there are reasons, and you can’t just graft old pitching styles onto the game today. But I liked it better the old way.

        As for bench players, it wasn’t a question of having 16 guys better than the 13 guys now. That wasn’t the original question. The original question was why I thought there was more strategy in the 70s, and I think with more players there’s more room for strategic substitutions. But as far as them being better, I think they were different. There were more platoon players and more specialists, because there was more room on the bench for them, and because more players had no choice but to accept the role.

        Sacrifice bunting is indeed a losing proposition most of the time, but not all of the time (I remember a Bil James article in which he says the conventional wisdom about playing for a tie at home in the 9th or later and a win on the road is probably correct), but bunting for a hit can be a great play and it’s an almost totally lost art. Forget the hit and run; they haven’t done that regularly in so long that most announcers don’t even know what it is and start calling any base hit with a runner going a hit and run.

        Hey I don’t think everything’s worse, and I certainly love the sabermetric revolution. I’m all for it.

        I agree that the players today are bigger and stronger. But I don’t think that necessarily means they play a better game.

      • Adam - Dec 13, 2010 at 8:39 PM

        Having not been alive during the 70’s I can’t say for certain, but I never heard of a manager bringing in a LOOGY to face the other team’s best left handed hitter, or a pitching change being countered with a pinch hitter. But, like I said, maybe they did, I wasn’t there.

        We agree on bunting so that’s out of the way.

        I still think you are way, way off on bullpen stats. Let’s look at the top ERA of starting pitchers in MLB last year. The A’s led the way at 3.47. The Yankees bullpen had a 3.47 ERA as well, and they were 7th in MLB. That’s barely in the top 25%. The league average starter ERA was 4.16, the league average reliever ERA was 3.94. That’s a .2 difference, or the difference between having the best team ERA in baseball or being 5th. I’d say the relievers have a pretty big impact, and I’d say on the whole they’re better than starters (based on stats).

        If you look at fastball velocity, the top 5 fastballs for MLB starters were 96.1, 95.4, 94.9, 94.6 and then 94.4. To put that in perspective, the 5th fastest SP fastball average would be 36th in relievers. The top SP fastball (Ubaldo Jiminez) would be 5th (he’s a freak). Fangraphs does their rankings with 35 to a page, so let’s just take a look at #35 on the SP and RP rankings. That will allow the top thrower from each team to get out of the way, in theory. RP would be throwing 94.5 and the SP would be throwing 91.6. That’s huge.

        And having 13 instead of 9 pitchers actually improves your odds of seeing a good RP. They can have their mop up guy as well as their usual guys who are actually, you know, good.

        As for the 70’s having more platoon players, I can’t speak to that. I do believe platoons aren’t used nearly enough, mostly due to egos I’m sure. I just think you’re idealizing the time period.

        And, by the way, the original question wasn’t all about strategy. It was about players staying with teams longer, you liking firemen rather than closers (which I actually agree with, I think Bill James has a great idea for bullpen usage) and not having a 5th starter. Strategy was a part, but not the whole. Managers today still have to be strategists, but on top of that they have to assuage personalities more so today than in the past because players actually have options about where they play. That’s a tough job.

        I would, however, have liked to have watched baseball in the 70’s, if only for the amazing uniforms and awesome facial hair action.

      • Professor Longnose - Dec 17, 2010 at 12:23 PM

        I don’t know if you’re stil around, but what the hell, a few comments.

        They didn’t have LOOGYs in the 70s, because they expected pitchers who came into the game to go more than one hitter. They did have lefties and righties in the pen. The focus wasn’t one one batter, it was on flipping the batting order.Most teams had a couple of big names who played every day, and then a few platooners. If you were, say, facing a left-hand starter, you played your right-handed hitting lineup. Then when the starter got in trouble, they would bring in a righty reliever, and the other manager would have to decidee whether to start pinch hitting with his left-hitting platooners, or wait because there might be another pitching change later. It was a different way of looking at things.

        Because of that, I think there was a lot more pinch hitting in the 70s–there were more pinch hitters available and more places to use them.

        I think you have to temper your stats about starters vs relievers by remembering that relieving is an easier job. I don’t think anyone would really believe that reloievers in the majors are,a s a group, better than starters. Maybe I’ll go looking for data, but I seriously doubt it.

        I think your logic is off on 13 vs 9 pitchers. If they’re all drawn from the same pool, then no way can the top 9 relief pitchers be better than the top 5. It makes no sense.

        I agree with you that managers have a tougher job today. I don’t think that makes for a better game–most of the job is off the field and having Jeff Francoeur whine abou tnot playing full time isn’t a whole lot of fun for the fans no matter how difficult it makes his manager’s job, whereas the onfield strategy is, for me anyway.

        Perhaps I’m idealizing the game that I grew up with. I don’t think much of the Ty-Cobb-could-hit-.400-with-1000-homers today school of thought, either, but I think the people who have grown up in the recent era have sometimes gone too far in the other direction.

        You’re right about the uniforms. Of course,. most of the stadiums back then sucked.

  7. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Dec 13, 2010 at 2:45 PM

    In 1950s, all but five or six players (Williams, Musial, Mantle are in the group) had to have a job in the winter to make ends meet. I can remember Harry Carey talking about a Pirate 3B who was a grave digger in the off season.

    • hep3 - Dec 13, 2010 at 3:14 PM

      That would have been Richie “Digger” Hebner.

  8. slam922 - Dec 13, 2010 at 3:37 PM

    The average number is interesting but what I would like to know is what is the median salary in MLB. For those of you that don’t know, the median is the number in which half of the players receive less and half receive more. Just curious.

    • Utley's Hair - Dec 13, 2010 at 3:42 PM

      Adam commented on that above:

      I should have read the MLB.com article before asking my question. From http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080401&content_id=2479371&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb

      “Although the average player salary increased, the median salary remained at a record $1 million for the third consecutive season, The AP reported.”

      • slam922 - Dec 13, 2010 at 6:35 PM

        Roger that. Thanks.

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