Pitchers are treated liked royalty in baseball. If you’re among the best, you get paid very well. If you’re even an average pitcher who stays healthy, you’ll likely earn yourself a lot of money and a long career in Major League Baseball. However, some teams have grossly overpaid for their rotations that have yielded little in return.
For starters, and as a good measurement for comparison, the team with the best pitching staff in 2013 for the least amount of money has been the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies pay $28,401,500 to their staff, which is 22nd out of 30 teams in MLB. But their return on those pitchers has been splendid: through 73 games, the Rockies’ staff leads all of baseball in Wins Above Average (WAA) with a 7.6 rating. Similarly, they also lead all of baseball in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) with a 12.8 rating. Their flexible payroll allowed them to replace their two underperforming starters — Jon Garland and Jeff Francis, who had a combined WAR of -0.5 — with established veteran Roy Oswalt and 23-year-old Tyler Chatwood who in just 7 games has compiled an impressive 1.8 WAR. Oswalt makes his season debut tonight. Their only pitcher making more than $5 million per year is Jorge De La Rosa, who makes $11 million. But he leads the rotation in virtually every single category and is in the top-10 in MLB in WAR with a 3.1 rating.
Now onto a less financially flexible team. Perhaps winning the 2010 and 2012 World Series has helped pay off their 2013 annual salary of $89,042,500 paid to just their pitchers, but the San Francisco Giants cannot be happy with what they’ve received from a few of the games highest paid players. So far in 2013, 554 pitchers have toed an MLB mound. Three starters on the Giants rank among the bottom 30 of all pitchers in WAR. Tim Lincecum, who makes $22 million a year, ranks 526th. Barry Zito, who ranks 543rd, is paid $20 million a year. And the 552nd worst pitcher in baseball, according to WAR, is Ryan Vogelsong — who makes $5 million a year. Their ace from a season ago, Matt Cain, got off to a terrible start this season but has started to look a little better of late. Though he still only has a WAR of -0.1 and an earned run average of 4.64 through 95 innings of work. He is paid $20 million a year too. Their one bright spot this year, both in terms of performance and what he is being paid, has been Madison Bumgarner. The 23-year-old makes just $750,000 in 2013 but leads the team with a 1.4 WAR, 97 innings pitched, 7 wins, 3.25 ERA and 97 strikeouts. He is ranked 52nd in WAR amongst all MLB pitchers. Chad Gaudin has replaced Vogelsong in the rotation after he broke his hand. (Gaudin has won two of his first three starts since replacing the struggling Vogelsong.)
In all, the Giants’ staff is dead last in WAA with a -4.7 rating, they’re last in WAR with a 0.2 rating but still stand at 37-34 and in second place in the NL West. That won’t put them in position for the playoffs, but if they had the far less expensive Rockies staff, the numbers suggest that at this point in the season they’d be approaching the 50 win mark rather than the 40 win mark. The St. Louis Cardinals lead the majors with 46 wins.
The Giants got a lot more out of these guys over the past few years when they won their two championships and there is still plenty of time for them to right the ship. But with Lincecum and Zito both free agents in 2014, you can expect the Giants to think more efficiently with their spending’s.