At FanGraphs, Craig Edwards dug into the numbers to see how salaries are distributed across Major League Baseball. He has a number of interesting findings, some of which I’ll highlight here, but go check out the article as it’s worth your time.
The plight of players not yet eligible for arbitration has been covered a lot here lately, what with Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Jake Odorizzi, Brad Boxberger, and Kevin Kiermaier making headlines for protesting their relatively meager pay compared to their arbitration-eligible and free agent peers. So how bad do pre-arb players have it?
According to Edwards’ research, the average salary for a pre-arb player is $885,000. For an arbitration-eligible player, his average salary is $3.9 million, and for a veteran with six or more years of service time, his average salary is $11.3 million. The jump into arbitration-eligibility provides, by far, the biggest pay increase on a percentage basis. A player with less than three years of service time averages $960,000 while a player with three to four years of service time averages $2.72 million, a 183.3 percent increase. The next-highest percentage increase is going from 3-4 years of service to 4-5 ($4.37 million, 60.7%).
Perhaps the most stark finding, illustrating the disparity clearly, is that players with less than three years of service time make up 38 percent of the Major League Baseball player pool, but take home only 7.2 percent of the total salaries. Players with seven or more years of service time — 183 players in this sample, less than 25 percent — take nearly 60 percent of total salaries.
While baseball doesn’t have the inequality of American society at large — the top 1 percent owns about 40 percent of the nation’s wealth — it is still quite imbalanced. This will be a topic that, at the very least, will be broached when the next Collective Bargaining Agreement is negotiated this coming winter. The aforementioned motley crew of five may very well have a case.