What Baseball Players Earn By Postion - Introduction
Going to a Major League Baseball game on a bright and sunny day is one of the best feelings. The warm air, the sound of the ballpark, the sight of the game, the crack of the bat makes me smile.
MLB baseball is the highest level of baseball in the world. To ensure the best players continue to play, they are paid enormous salaries. Sometimes when I am at the park watching the game I tend to forget that there are millions of dollars worth of players strolling around on the field. It kind of makes me sick and envious ;-) but when it occurs to me it is an interesting thought.
Different Baseball Positions Get Paid Different Amounts
Not all players are equal. Some ball players are superstars, others are mediocre. While the mediocre player and the great player both earn excellent paychecks, the great player will earn millions of dollars more.
There is no doubt that ability means money. With that in mind, are certain players destined to make more money simply because of the position they play? Are catchers, for example, paid more than second basemen? You might think catchers have the toughest job on the field compared to a second basemen. Do catchers on average make more money that 2nd basemen?
I did some research on MLB baseball salaries by position. I looked up the average salary for each position, then ranked the salaries from highest to lowest. I discovered that certain positions earn on average more money than other positions, sometimes a lot more. Outfielders on average earn far more than second basemen, for example.
Are top salaries biased toward players of certain positions or is there more than meets the eye here? I have some thoughts and hope to hear your thoughts as well.
Explanation of The Data
I must admit that I am not a statistician but I can recognize that the data in this post might have some flaws. First of all, the salary data may be skewed a bit. For example, third baseman Alex Rodriguez "A-Rod" earned $32,000,000 dollars a year in 2011. He's a third baseman for the New York Yankees as of the date of this post. The average 2011 salary of all MLB third basemen is $4,863,000, (I thank Sports Illustrated, click link for stats, for all of the annual MLB salary data).
I searched the Internet and I could not seem to locate various batting figures for each position. I could find individual stats but I could not find stats ranked by position only so I thought I'd create my own from existing data. The batting statistics I'll cite are taken from the MLB's most active players. I tried to only tally players with roughly 400 and up at bats. Some positions had fewer player statistics available to calculate than others. Designated hitter, for example, naturally had less player stats to work with than outfielders. (I thank ESPN, click link for stats, for the individual player statistics. I was able to use these statistics to generate my own calculations, by position)
So, what did I do with this data? Well, I took the average salary of each position and entered them into an Excel Spreadsheet. Then I sorted the salaries of each position from high to low.
Then I took most-active player batting data (roughly over 400 at bats) and entered that data into an Excel spreadsheet. Then I broke the data out by position (both leagues combined) and did the math to calcuate the average of each key batting statistic (HR, OBP, AVG, SLG, etc) and then sorted the hitting statistics best to worst by position.
Here's my findings and thoughts....
MLB Baseball Salaries By Position
Let's look at the average MLB Baseball salaries by position 2011:
1. Designated Hitter - $6,689,000
2. 1st Base - $5,537,000
3. 3rd Base - $4,683,000
4. Outfield - $3,715,000
5. Shortstop - $2,998,000
6. Pitchers - $2,710,000
7. 2nd Base -$2,336,000
8. Catcher - $2,160,000
How Batting Correlates to Earning Money
When I went over the hitting statistics and the money players earned at each position there is definitely a correlation between hitting ability and salary. No surprise. Players historically are paid for their ability to hit a baseball well. The difference in earnings between someone getting 10 RBI's (runs batted in) a year and 40 RBI's per year adds up to millions, even tens of millions of dollars.
A great example is the 1st baseman. When you break down the batting statistics, first baseman, often rank first in many of the key hitting indicators. They finish first in average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, runs batted in, and home runs. They dominate hitting and their ranking of #2 on MLB salaries justifies that players are paid for batting.
1st basemen show 'real' hitting ability. What does surprise me is that some of the money is being thrown at what I call 'perceived' hitting ability. Before I delve into this though, let's look at average batting average by position in the MLB.
MLB Batting Average By Position
Batting average did not vary as widely by position, at least not by the statistic gathering method I used above. As with anything I post in this article, feel free to comment or let me know of any other source that might provide other info.
Here is batting average by position (Note for all hitting numbers in this post I omit pitchers since they are not paid based on batting ability anyway):
1st base - .279 (actually .27947)
Short Stop - .277 (actually .277476)
Right Field - .276 (actually .276478)
3rd Base - .276 (actually .27633)
Designated Hitter - .271 (actually .271143)
Center Field - .269 (actually.26905)
Catcher - .267 (actually .2671)
Left Field - .265 (actually .26495)
2nd Base - .263 (actually .26329)
Perceived Hitting Ability By Position and Money Earned
'Perceived' ability is more of an illusion of talent rather than a fact. You might be very good at what you do but if a lot of people have the perception that you stink, you're in trouble. Perception is as powerful as reality. The same goes for if you are perceived as great but you really are mediocre. You might not have the talent but the people think of you as talented and you can benefit from that perception.
Let's look at the designated hitter position.
On Base Percentage - How is It Figured Out
- Doing The Math: Determine On Base Percentage Average In Baseball
Sabremetrics loves On Base Percentage and a lot of mainstream baseball stat lovers do to. How is it determined. Click above link to learn more.
The Designated Hitter Briefly Explaned
The designated hitter position is most widely used in Major League Baseball's American League. With special exceptions (playoff games, etc) the National League does not use this position.
Basically, a designated hitter bats in place of the pitcher. Pitchers historically do not bat well. A pitcher is paid to throw the ball and get batters out. The American league uses designated hitters as a means to generate more offense during the game. The logic is that the pitcher, who tend to get out more often than any other position, sits down when it is their turn at bat and the designated hitter, who is a far superior batter, bats for the pitcher. The designated hitter does not play in the field. They sit on the bench the whole game and wait for the pitcher's turn at bat, then go to work.
The Designated Hitter - Baseball Money Fraud?
Based on the baseball salary rankings by position, the designated hitter, or "DH", dominates earning over six million dollars a year.
Given the correlation between hitting and salary, there should be no surprise that the DH earns on average more than any other job in baseball. Their job is to hit and hit well. Their top earning rank by position makes perfectly good sense right?
Well, actually, it makes no sense at all. The DH might be pulling off the biggest baseball money fraud ever.
The designated hitter position as a whole, when it comes to batting is pretty mediocre. Compared to other positions the DH fails to finish in the top three or better among every key batting statistic. For example, the average batting average for designated hitters is just about .271. Respectable but not dominating. To put into perspective , four other positions finish better in average batting average than the DH. 1st basemen bat .279 on average. Further down below in this article you'll see that they don't do well in home runs or RBI's either.
DH's are being paid more for the expectation or perception that they will be great hitters but they do not deliver.
Baseball Positions Deserve The Money They Earn
Not every position in baseball is paid as fraudulently as the designated hitter. The second, third and forth top paid positions, 1st base, 3rd base and outfielders are actually earning their money with respect to their batting.
1st base ranks number one in batting average, runs batted in, slugging, almost number one in on base percentage (.354 vs right field .355) and home runs. 1st basemen dominate in hitting.
Outfield and 3rd base duke it out for second and third highest scores in virtually all other batting statistics.
If you were able to take the designated hitter out of the equation, players at 1st, 3rd and outfield would find themselves being paid perfectly proportionately to their hitting ability (see "MLB Salaries by Position" above)
Which Baseball Stat Earns the Most Money
Overall batting statistics such as batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage don't vary a great deal from position to postion. That is not to say that they do not vary greatly from one player to another, they do, but when looking at hitting statistics by position there is not a big variance. For example, the top five batting averages by position begins with 1st base at .279 . 5th place is designated hitter at .271
There's not a big statistical variance between these 5 postions so I don't see a profound correlation to salary. That said, there are two statistics seem to correlate more clearly. They are home runs (HR) and runs batted in (RBI).
Home Runs (HR) By MLB Position
Average home runs (HR) in one season by position
1. 1st Base - 25 (25.0526) - Salary Rank #2
2. Right Field - 22 (21.8751) - Salary Rank #4 (outfield)
3. 3rd Base - 20 (20.0833) - Salary Rank #3
4. Left Field - 19 (18.7895) - Salary Rank #4 (outfield)
5. Catcher - 19 (18.5) - Salary Rank Last Place
6. 2nd Base - 18 (17.6471) - Salary Rank #7
7. Center Field - 16 (16.4286) - Salary Rank #4 (outfield)
8. Designated Hitter - 16 (16.2857) - Salary Rank #1 (scam?)
9. Short Stop - 11 (11.7142) - Salary Rank # 5
Runs Batted In (RBI) by MLB Postion
Here are the average runs batted in (RBI) by position in Major League Baseball.
1st Base - 88 (actually 87.8947) - Salary Rank #2
3rd Base - 82 (actually 81.5833) - Salary Rank #3
Left Field - 76 (actually 75.7895) - Salary Rank #4 (outfield)
Right Field - 75 (actually 75.1905) - Salary Rank #4 (outfield)
Catcher - 72 (actually 71.7) - Salary Rank Last Place
2nd Base - 68 (actually 68.4118) - Salary Rank #7
Center Field - 66 (actually 65.8571) - Salary Rank #4 (outfield)
Designated Hitter - 66 (actually 65.7143) - Salary Rank #1 (here we go again)
Short Stop - 59 (actually 59.04762) - Salary Rank #5
Slugging Percentage - How Far That Batter Gets
- BASEBALL SLUGGING PERCENTAGE CALCULATION -HOW TO DETERMINE -
We don't dig much into slugging percentage in this baseball salary article if you want to learn how is determined (please) click article link above to learn how it is determined
OK, where am I going with all this? Good question. I've rewritten this post a number of times and haven't really found real direction but I do hope that the stats help to put in perspective how the positions are paid.
Here is a summary of my thoughts, which might not be all that surprising so feel free to comment and include your own.
Designated Hitter (DH) - No idea why they this job is paid more on average than any other position else. They fail to achieve mediocrity on most key statistics.
1st Base - Their batting ability seems to correlate just fine with #1 salary ranking at this position. In the National League, where there is no DH the paycheck of a 1st baseman correlates even better. This position bats the best and gets the number one paycheck. Great batters typically are drawn to first base or should I say 1st base is drawn at great batters. I suspect this is because great hitters can be nurtured into good MLB fielders at first base more readily than other positions. You don't throw a great hitter out due to fielding, you put them at first.
3rd Base - The average amount of money 3b earns correlates just fine as well. Pretty much the same comment as 1st base. Their salary ranking seems appropriate to ability. Keep in mind too that 3rd base requires great fielding skill as well.
Outfielders - The outfield also seems to correlate salary (#4 rank) with ability. The left and right fielders tend to maintain the highest batting statistics and prop this position up in the hitting rankings. Center field weighs down the left and right field hitting numbers but that makes good sense. Center Fielders have long dominated the amount of Gold Glove award winners in MLB baseball. Baseball seems to have an inverse relationship between position difficulty and batting statistics (as mentioned in 1st base example above). Center field is the toughest outfield position to play and therefore can tolerate batting statistics lower than RF and LF
Shortstop - Don't let their high average batting average fool you (#2 by my math). Shortstop finishes last in just about every key batting metric (on base percentage, RBI, HR, Slugging, Home Runs, dead last) Shortstop is ranked in the middle of the pack for average earnings by fielder position. Probably justified though. The inverse relationship between fielding talent and ability to swing a bat applies here. Shortstop has long been considered to be the cornerstone defensive position in baseball. Fielding talent is paramount, which leaves a lot of room for lower batting numbers. Shortstops seem appropriately ranked as far as their paychecks go.
Pitchers - I didn't get much into pitchers here but you can't live without them. They are essential, more critical than any other fielding position and are paid well in spite of their poor (not even worth mentioning) batting skills, worth investing money into. The ultimate inverse fielding-hitting relationship.
2nd Base - Fairly mediocre hitting statistics, I'd say they are ranked just right when it comes to salary. It takes talent to play 2nd base but not as much others such as 3rd and shortstop. 2nd base is a position that takes guts and brawn over finesse (though finesse helps a lot).
Catcher..... see below......
Baseball Salary Level Poll
Should Catchers Be Paid More Money?
The amount of money a catcher makes caught me off guard. I didn't realize the position, on average, was worth so little. Catcher ranks dead last in how much money they make.
Overall, the average hitting numbers for a catcher are fairly mediocre but so is the designated hitter and second baseman. In my view, the catcher has the dirtiest job in baseball. They get pounded by foul balls, call all the pitches, monitor base runners, pick off base runners, frame pitches, schmooze with the umpire, gather coaching signs and overall are the most active players on the field. Oh yeah, they are still expected to bat well. I'm not sure why they don't earn as much but I guess someone has to be on the bottom. Any thoughts? I wonder if there is just an over-supply of catchers in the world right now?
I Guess That's It...
Thanks for stopping by. I can't say I exactly invented the spaceship here but it was a fun article to write. I'm sure my statistical calculations leave plenty of room for error and argument. If you have any thoughts, let me know. I appreciate you coming by.
So... How to The Positions in The NFL Get Paid?
If you are wondering what pro football positions seem to earn the most money I wrote an article on that too. The positions in football vary in what they get paid. If you are a fan of the National Football League or just curious to see what the various positions earn, check out my post.
Audrey Howitt from California on December 09, 2014:
I should have been a hitter!
TurtleDog (author) on January 06, 2014:
Ha! Thanks William15 for stopping by
William from America on January 05, 2014:
I love it. Thanks for making my research easy... and once again, I am reminded that the my Oakland A's really have no money.
TurtleDog (author) on August 01, 2013:
Ha! @Mortgage-news Great point. Heck, if you add in the George Steinbrenner years that could skew the data right there. Thanks for coming by!
mortgage-news from Los Angeles, CA on August 01, 2013:
I can't believe that the DH is #1. Nice deal for folks who can't play Defense. I wonder if the American League pays more than the national league. Perhaps that is a sign?
Steven on December 15, 2012:
the reason the designated hitter gets paid more is because they are great position players at the end of a big contract
TurtleDog (author) on November 26, 2012:
Hi Matt! Thanks for your thoughts. The research on batting statistics by position is based on 400 bats and up. I suppose this could also include non-starting ball players but likely all starters.
Yes, catchers did earn a surprisingly low salary on average. There could be a lot of reasons behind this though beside them being underappreciated. There simply could be a lot of them competing for few positions in baseball (supply vs demand).
One possible flaw in my data is that it only shows the hitting stats of 400 bats and up but the salary stats are based on a much wider range of players. I might be looking at two (semi) mutually exclusive stats. It's still fun to compare the data though.
matt short on November 25, 2012:
another thing, the catcher is such an important position. before i looked at this, i expected catchers to be paid the MOST, so the fact they are paid the least is surprising.
is this research only on starting players? the fact that catchers get beat up so much behind the plate may mean there are a lot MORE of them, lowering their average on the whole.
matt short on November 25, 2012:
definitely a helpful article, i was looking for something exactly like it at the other football one. blackhawk above me has a great point about the DH position, i think he/she may have nailed it. also, it would be interesting to look at which league (NL vs AL) pay more. if there is a difference, it could also account for the DH's strangely higher figures.
blackhawk on November 04, 2012:
DH's rank high in pay, because they are older, and have all hit their Free Agent contract (peak earning) years. You won't find low paid rookies at the DH position. It is position for older guys who have already proved their worth and been rewarded with increased salaries.
TurtleDog (author) on September 18, 2012:
Thanks Jschlehuber for checking out my MLB stats post and for the great comment. I appreciate it
Jared Schlehuber from In the batter's box on September 17, 2012:
There is an old baseball saying that states "if you hit, you will play." I think that this has a lot to do with how players are paid. MLB clubs want offensive production. And, since steroids are virtually gone from the game, pitching has been much more dominant. So, in order to win games, you have to score runs. I wasn't surprised to see the corner positions with higher offensive numbers because that is what they are expected to do. They are often times bigger and less athletic players. The catcher, short stop, second baseman, and centerfielder are the defensive keys to the team.
Very interesting article, I really enjoyed all your research and evidence you found.
RobSawyer on August 13, 2012:
Very interesting article, and I agreed and enjoyed most of your opinions and interpretations. However, if you want to make this a little more mathematically oriented you could actually find the correlation by making scatter plots of batting avg vs salary with each data point being a position. Or if you want to go more in depth, you could take a bunch of players from that position (randomly selected if you wanna get real mathy) as data points and make scatter plots for each position to see if hitting for one position is more strongly correlated. This could indicate if one position's salary is based off of hitting (high correlation/high slope) or based off of other things (low correlation/low slope).
And a theory for DHs is that maybe they are paid so much because being hitting specialists, they do not have to play in the field. This provides several possible benefits including less injury risk and less fatigue. These two traits would indicate that DHs are a "safe" bet and can be locked into long term contracts which can become inflated if they increase over time.
TurtleDog (author) on March 11, 2012:
Thanks for the nice compliment Emma! I'm sure baseball's Bob Costas or Billy Bean wouldn't have as kind of words if they read this, so I'll take all the support I can get (lol). Thanks again!
Emma Larkins from Manchester, MD on March 10, 2012:
Wow, what an in-depth explanation about the subject of baseball earnings! I didn't know there was such a range depending on positions, stats, and other characteristics.