Follow the Money—Sports

Why Guys Are Getting Paid Big

MLB Starting Pitchers—Prices are Going UP

the highest-paid starting pitcher in baseball

the highest-paid starting pitcher in baseball

This site has a real theme going when it comes to rising free agency costs in professional sports. Today’s post is no exception.

In the NBA, more and more money is being thrown at big men, many of whom don’t produce to equal their wage. In the NFL, rookies who haven’t played a single down professionally are getting an increasing amount of guaranteed money written into their contracts.

Next up is a rather alarming trend any baseball fan has noticed over the past decade: starting pitchers are getting paid a lot of money through free agency, and the number has skyrocketed over the past five years. And yes, I’ve got examples.

Here are the top five starting pitchers in Major League Baseball as of right now in terms of earnings:

1.) Johan Santana (New York Mets)–$137.5 million (signed in 2008. Has pitched very well for the Mets. Will be in the running for NL Cy Young.)

2.) Barry Zito (San Francisco Giants)–$126 million (signed in 2007. Has grossly underperformed since coming to SF.)

3.) Mike Hampton (Colorado Rockies/Atlanta Braves)–$121 million (signed in 2001. Has barely played in the last five years due to injury.)

4.) Kevin Brown (Los Angeles Dodgers)–$105 million (signed in 1999. Got injured often, never lived up to the contract.)

5.) Carlos Zambrano (Chicago Cubs)–$91.5 million (signed in 2008. Had a very nice 2008 season.)

And, just for kicks, here’s the top single-season wage earned by a pitcher all-time:

1.) Roger Clemens (New York Yankees)–$28 million (2007 season. Didn’t even pitch the whole year.)

Judging by those numbers, it’s safe to say that as the years have gone on since 1999, starting pitchers have been making more and more money in free agency. The same is true for different positions in every sport. The major difference about baseball is that players make the most money out of all the professional sports. In the NBA, there are only a handful of players who make close to $100 million. In the NFL, you can count them on one hand. In MLB, there are a plethora of players who earn around or more than that amount. Starting pitchers are among them. With the exception of Zambrano, the rest of the top five shows that salaries have increased big time in a fairly short stretch. There are reasons for this. Allow me to explain.

1.) Pitching wins championships–In the MLB playoffs, look carefully at the teams who win. Last season, the Red Sox won the World Series because they had dominant starting pitching at the front of the rotation and a solid bullpen. Josh Beckett was nearly unhittable, as was Jon Lester at times.

My favorite all-time example of the tired phrase “pitching wins championships” is the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks. Their two horses, Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, basically single-handedly beat the New York Yankees in the World Series due to their command performances in nearly every game. They started nearly every game of the seven-game series, and even pitched with no rest out of the bullpen towards the end. When Arizona won the Series in Game 7, guess who got series co-MVP? You guessed it, Schilling and Johnson.

Basically, pitching does indeed win championships, and that is why general managers and owners who can afford these high-priced starters will do so.

2.) A great starting pitcher will take pressure off a great offense–Look at the Mets. Before they got Johan Santana, they were a great offense that couldn’t stop anyone else from scoring. They choked in 2007 because they had nobody in the starting rotation that could act as a stopper and take pressure off the lineup to drive in a mass amount of runs. In 2008, they collapsed again, but this time they had an ace in Santana who could take the ball every fifth day and almost always get a win. The Mets’ offense responded well to it in the second half of the season, despite not earning a playoff spot.

Teams that are well-balanced like Boston have great lineups that wouldn’t quite be the same without good starting pitching to take the pressure off. Starters are making more money year by year because they are an intrical part of any TEAM’S success.

3.) The domino effect–What this means is that salaries are going up, and will continue to go up. Over the past 10 years, this fact has been true, and it’s only a matter of time before a starter is making a quarter billion dollars for throwing a baseball fast for two hours every five days. That’s just the reality.

I like to call this trend “The Barry Zito Effect” because if you’ve got one pitcher who signs a contract for $100 million or more, the next best free agent at the same position who feels he deserves more (Santana) will most likely find a suitor who will pay more. Zito set the bar high with his Giants contract, and, because he’s been abysmal since joining the team, other starters will continue to cash in more and more based on his dollar amount and lack of production. It should be interesting to see wha C.C. Sabathia gets offered this winter. Smart money says it will be in the realm of Santana’s deal, and probably even more than that amount.

In Major League Baseball, quality starting pitching is a must for any team to contend for a title. Because of this, the best guys are getting increasingly large contract offers, which is driving up the price tag. Right now, $126 million for Barry Zito is considered a huge contract. 10 years from now, what will the most ludicrous number be? The way the trend is leaning now, we’ll find out sooner than later.

October 20, 2008 Posted by | MLB | 1 Comment