If I had to peg myself as a type of investor, it would probably be a value investor, looking for an asset under-priced by the market. That same philosophy was one of the core tenets of Moneyball (finding undervalued players) but it doesn't perfectly apply to surplus value. All players aren't free agents at the end of each year, so you are only able to find value in free agency through what's available. Also cheap assets usually aren't found in free agency either but instead homegrown through the drafting, trading, and internationally.
However it's the goal of every MLB team to get more value out of their team than they pay for. Efficiency might not be found on the open market, but even the Dodgers would love to field a 95-win team on a $50M payroll. Teams normally accomplish surplus value through the first three years of a player contract where they are under the minor league minimum (except for Super Two players). Even in arbitration there is the old 40-60-80 rule that first year arbitration players generally get 40% of their open market value, second year arbitration get 60%, and third year arb players get 80% (though that rule may no longer be applicable).
Surplus value is an easy concept. It's the value a player performs (or the club receives) above their salary. A player getting paid $20M is expected to perform more than a player receiving $10M, generally. This is a bit murky though when you include pre-arb players. The expectations for Kris Bryant are still sky-high regardless of if he is making $652,000 or $20M. That though is a bit outside the idea of surplus value. For surplus, we only really care about performance vs salary, agnostic of expectations outside the fulcrum of payment vs performance (the more you make the more you need to perform).
So I've collected the salaries of 1026 MLB players (~35 per team), found their wins above replacement (as measured by FanGraphs), and calculated each players surplus value based on the cost of a win.
- I guarantee you this is not 100% accurate in every single measure. I'm sure some of the salaries are off by just a bit. Normally the bigger salaries are fine but there's probably a guy who made $510,000 instead of $507,000.
- Most major trades have been accounted for. For instance the Cubs don't get credit for April-July Aroldis Chapman, only the Chapman fWAR they actually got. Unless salary was explicitly mentioned as being traded, the contracts were split among both teams.
- Batters must have had a minimum of 50 plate appearances and pitchers a minimum of 10 innings pitched. The only caveat here is that big money contracts where the player didn't reach the minimum playing time threshold (ie: Andre Ethier) still count.
- Pitchers only got credit for pitching. Sure, some pitchers produce value through hitting but how much of their contract is towards pitching vs hitting? It wasn't fair either to those pitchers who didn't hit. There are probably some starters who got lumped in as relievers since they made several relief appearances, and vice versa.
By Team (click to enlarge)
The Mets rotation as a whole provided a ton of value. They were highly productive (when healthy) and inexpensive. However that tower was built on shaky grounds and had troubles and questions for the long term.