Baseball’s new pre-umpire bonus program includes money based on new version of WAR, memo says
Chicago White Sox pitcher Dylan Cease could win the American League Cy Young Award and Arizona Diamondbacks ace Zac Gallen has pitched 41⅓ straight scoreless innings, but both trail the leader in the Wins Above Replacement metric which will award money for baseball’s new pre-umpire bonus program. : Oakland A receiver Sean Murphy.
A memo distributed to teams on Thursday outlined the plan to enrich exceptional players early in their careers who still earn around the major league minimum, which this season is $700,000. The memo, obtained by ESPN, also included totals from the new version of WAR created by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association to reward players.
The $50 million pool, agreed to in the new collective bargaining agreement and funded by the league, begins by distributing money to players who rank high in the awards vote. Those not yet in arbitration, in which players with typically three to six years of service negotiate their salaries, receive $2.5 million for winning MVP or Cy Young awards; $1.75 million for second place in either and $1.5 million for third place; $1 million for fourth or fifth place or All-MLB First Team honors; $750,000 for first place in the Rookie of the Year voting; and $500,000 for second place in Rookie of the Year and Second Team All-MLB.
After those rewards are distributed, the rest of the pool — which would have been $39.75 million last year — is split among the 100 players in the pool with the highest WAR.
The best of the bunch right now is Murphy, the 27-year-old wide receiver who is hitting .252/.333/.442 this season. While his offensive numbers pale in comparison to some of his peers, Murphy derives significant value from his numbers on the field and the positional adjustment that rewards tougher defensive positions, such as receiver and shortstop.
The rest of the top 10 includes: Houston designated hitter Yordan Alvarez, Cleveland second baseman Andres Gimenez, Tampa Bay left-hander Shane McClanahan, Seattle outfielder Julio Rodriguez, St. Louis shortstop Tommy Edman, Cease, Los Angeles Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin, Gallen and Toronto receiver Alejandro Kirk.
Among the top 25 are nine starting pitchers, seven receivers, four infielders, four outfielders and one DH. There is less than a month left in the regular season for players to improve their rankings.
To calculate how much bonus money each player will receive, the WARS of the top 100 players will be added together and whatever percentage of the sum an individual’s WAR constitutes, they will receive that proportion of the pool remaining after the rewards. For example, there were 276 WARs in last year’s class. At 5.2 WAR, Murphy would receive about 1.9% of the $39.75 million, or just under $750,000.
The WAR metric, according to the memo, “has been designed to represent player contributions on the pitch as completely and accurately as possible, while achieving a high degree of correlation with publicly available WAR metrics.”
Batters earn value in four categories: batter (based on their weighted average on base), base run (stolen bases and progression on batted balls), fielder (for position players, judged by outs at above average and for outfielders, throwing arms; among receivers, to frame pitches, throw runners and block balls in the dirt) and position adjustment.
Pitcher WAR is a combination of the two most important calculations: Runs Allowed Per Nine Innings (RA/9), used by Baseball-Reference, and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), preferred by FanGraphs. Relievers receive extra credit for pitching in high leverage situations.