Over the last few years there’s been a silly idea floating around… the idea that 1 WAR is worth $8-9 million in annual salary on the open market (note: I’ll be using rWAR). Before we look at that, let’s quickly look at annual salaries and payrolls.. The best players cost $20 million+. $30 million or even higher is reserved for the elite, and even then $35 million seems to be the ultimate limit (though $40 million has been mentioned in the cases of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado). The luxury tax threshold for teams is at $197 million, and most teams try to stay below that in annual payroll. We must consider this information as we look at the theory that 1 WAR costs $8-9 million.
Mike Trout was worth 6.7 WAR in 2017, so according to this idea he was worth a $53.6 ($8 million/WAR) or $60.7 million salary ($9 million/WAR) in 2017! As great as he is, there is no way he would be paid this much on the open market. In fact let’s just look at $8 million/WAR salaries from now on… Aaron Judge was apparently worth $64.8 million in 2017 with his 8.1 WAR; Jose Altuve was worth $66.4 million in 2017 with his 8.3 WAR; and Giancarlo Stanton was worth $60.8 million in 2017 with his 7.6 WAR! Looks like the Miami Marlins should’ve kept Stanton, considering he was paid a bargain salary according to this theory.
Eric Hosmer apparently cost $32 million in 2017 with his 4.0 WAR! I guess his asking price is actually a bargain! It also looks like Jason Heyward is only slightly overpaid, as he was worth $18.4 million with his 2.3 WAR in 2017. Yasiel Puig should expect to be one of the highest paid players in free agency next year, as his 3.7 WAR 2017 was worth $29.6 million! It’s strange how the New York Yankees considered Starlin Castro overpaid… his 2.0 WAR was worth $16 million in 2017, more than his actual $13 million salary! Lorenzo Cain had a 5.3 WAR in 2017 so he was worth an astounding $42.4 million!
So, do you still think that 1 WAR is worth $8 million? WAR is a useful statistic but I think that it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t correlate with player salaries. How much would these players get in annual salary if they were on the open market? Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado are looking at $35-40 million in annual salary; Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Jose Altuve are looking at $30-35 million a year; Eric Hosmer at likely no more than the already well over what he’s worth $20 million a year; Starlin Castro would get around $10-13 million; Jason Heyward around $8-10 million; Lorenzo Cain will likely get $16 million; and Yasiel Puig probably won’t get more than $16 million either. According to the theory each of these players would be underpaid, some by as much as $20 million a year!
It’s obvious that this theory is well-off. It’s tempting to find ways to incorporate WAR into everything these days, but it’s clear that it’s simply not accurate and even comically so. Could 1 WAR be worth a lesser amount? A 4.0 WAR at $5 million/WAR is $20 million, but an 8.0 WAR is $40 million, so this could theoretically work. If we assume that 1 WAR is worth $4 million, then a 4.0 WAR is worth $16 million and 8.0 WAR is worth $32 million. These would be more acceptable theories. The bottom line is that it is ridiculous to believe that 1 WAR is worth $8-$9 million.