How much does it cost the Astros for a hit, a home run, or an RBI? Which player is the most cost-effective? That is if we look at the salaries of Astros position players and determine the cost of a hit, which player will give the most bang for the Houston buck? If we’re looking at the most effective, we must also discuss the least effective.
Obviously, this is not a true measure of a player’s worth. It is one way to look at the numbers to get an idea of which Astros players are giving the Astros more – or less – than the team is paying for. Before looking at the numbers, it’s no great stretch to guess that the highest paid are not likely to be as cost-effective as the bargain guys. A man that makes the Major League minimum salary that hits a lot of home runs is more cost-effective than a player that makes a huge salary and doesn’t hit so many.
Of course, we have to take into consideration that not every player is expected to hit 35 home runs or drive in 100 runs. A lower cost per home run for someone like Jose Altuve is not a bad thing because although he hit a career high in homers in 2015, he is not likely to ever be a real power hitter. While his home runs are loudly applauded and much appreciated, it is his higher average and on-base percentage that makes him so valuable as a hitter. The Astros knew going into the season that Colby Rasmus and Evan Gattis would strike out a lot, but they would hit home runs.
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The highest paid Astro position players are Rasmus, Carlos Gomez, and Jed Lowrie, all making about $8 million in 2015. Luis Valbuena, Chris Carter, and Jason Castro are next at around $4 million, followed by Altuve at $2.5 million. Marwin Gonzalez and Hank Conger are just above $1 million, with Carlos Correa, Gattis, Jake Marisnick, George Springer, and Preston Tucker all between $500,000 and $525,000. (via Baseball-Reference.com, Spotrac, and ESPN).
To determine cost-effectiveness, the number of hits divides each player’s salary, runs home runs, RBI, and strikeouts. Added together, the total dollar amount is that player’s net cost-effectiveness per unit (hits, runs, etc.) – the lower, the better.
Looking at the numbers, Lowrie is the least cost-effective Astros position player, at a net of $1.747 million per unit. Yes, Lowrie missed a significant part of the 2015 season due to injury, so we hope he will play more next season, and therefore, lower his cost per hit, since the production would be higher.
Next on the least effective list is Gomez, at $1.098 million/unit, based on his full season numbers with Milwaukee and Houston. Behind Gomez is Rasmus at $772K/unit, and Castro at $699K.
At the other end, the #4 most cost-effective Astros position player is outfielder Tucker, at $84K per unit. #3 is Springer (#67K), with rookie Correa at #2 ($55K). Either Springer or Correa might have been #1 on the most effective list had they played the entire season.
That leads us to the #1, most cost-effective Astro – Evan Gattis ($42K/unit). For the money, Gattis’ production at the plate is the best bang for the Astros dollars. Despite his low on-base percentage (.285), the amount of money that it cost the Astros for Gattis’ team-leading home runs (27), triples (11, third in MLB), and RBI (88) makes him the most cost effective position player.
That is interesting to note in light of recent criticisms of Gattis and his effectiveness as a hitter. If I were Gattis, I would certainly use that information in contract talks when he becomes eligible in 2016 for salary arbitration. Such knowledge may also affect future contract negotiations and team decisions such as whether to sign players like Rasmus, Carter, Castro, and Valbuena for next season. Are those players worth the combined $20 million they make? Were any of them cost effective enough to continue to pay them so much?
Clearly, this article is not about who is the best Astros hitter. It is simply a basic economic exploration into how much it costs the Astros to hire players to perform specific tasks – hits, home runs, strikeouts, etc. For example, it cost the Astros $6,051.72 for Gattis to drive in one run. It cost them $75,000 for each of Valbuena’s RBI – more than 12 times as much as they paid for Gattis’ RBI.
This is exactly the kind of thinking behind former A’s GM Billy Beane’s ‘Moneyball’. He determined how much it would cost him to buy wins, and he chose players based on those findings. He found players with the basic essential tools; players that he knew would produce runs (and hopefully, wins) for very little money – i.e. – cost-effective players. He did not seek out Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera type of players, because their cost per home run, RBI, (yes, even strikeout) etc. was too high. He looked for Gattis/Springer types – players who would produce on the field, but for far less cost.
We are not discussing who is the best or who has the best WAR – we are discussing buying production for less money – cost-effectiveness. (Cost-effective = economical in terms of tangible benefits produced by money spent. -via Mirriam-Webster.)
In my opinion, the Astros have minor league players that would make the MLB minimum that would likely be at least as effective (if not more so) in offensive production than those current players with questionable cost-effectiveness. The Astros should cut ties with Rasmus, Carter, and Valbuena ($16 million total), and replace them with three top minor league players such as A.J. Reed, Tony Kemp, and Tyler White (about $1.5 million total). The remaining $14.5 million would go a long way towards finding the lights out closer that might make the difference in the 2016 playoff run.