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Tommy Pham is the NL’s Best Value in 2018

He chose to bet on himself, and it’s paying off.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The end of the first full month of baseball brings with it a multitude of (premature) benchmarks. There’s nothing we humans love more than round numbers, and the sound of “one month” gets us all reflective — especially in such a statistics-laden game as baseball. I’ll be contributing to those early looks in this post, because what else are you supposed to do at the end of April?

Contracts and associated player performance have been discussed frequently at VEB over the past week, driven mainly by Greg Holland’s poor start to his $14 million pact. I wanted to expand and look at all of the Cardinals’ 2018 contracts, trying to find the most “valuable” players in this young season.

Valuable, as it’s used here, isn’t in the “MVP” sense of the word, but in terms of cost-effectiveness. The better term would be that we’re looking for the “best value.” The initial intent of this post was to look at the dollars per WAR ($/WAR) of every Cardinal to make a major league appearance this season and see where the organization is getting a steal or where they’re essentially burning money. After looking at the numbers for the Cardinals, it prompted some further digging — but we’ll start with St. Louis. Each player’s 2018 salary was divided across 162 games, then multiplied by the current games played (28 through 5/1 for STL). That year-to-date salary was then divided by the year-to-date WAR, resulting in $/WAR to this point in 2018.

$/WAR, Cardinals, 2018 YTD

Player Name Annual Salary WAR YTD Salary $/WAR
Player Name Annual Salary WAR YTD Salary $/WAR
Pham, Tommy $570,100 1.5 $98,536 $65,691
Weaver, Luke $550,800 0.6 $95,200 $158,667
DeJong, Paul $1,166,667 1.1 $201,646 $183,315
Martinez, Jose $560,400 0.4 $96,859 $242,148
Garcia, Greg $569,600 0.4 $98,449 $246,123
Bader, Harrison $545,000 0.3 $94,198 $313,992
Brebbia, John $552,000 0.2 $95,407 $477,037
Flaherty, Jack $545,000 0.1 $94,198 $941,975
Gant, John $545,000 0.1 $94,198 $941,975
Norris, Bud $3,000,000 0.5 $518,519 $1,037,037
Wacha, Michael $5,300,000 0.4 $916,049 $2,290,123
Wong, Kolten $4,000,000 0.3 $691,358 $2,304,527
Gyorko, Jedd $9,000,000 0.6 $1,555,556 $2,592,593
Mikolas, Miles $7,500,000 0.5 $1,296,296 $2,592,593
Martinez, Carlos $11,700,000 0.7 $2,022,222 $2,888,889
Molina, Yadier $20,000,000 0.4 $3,456,790 $8,641,975
Carpenter, Matt $13,750,000 0.1 $2,376,543 $23,765,432
Ozuna, Marcell $9,000,000 -0.1 $1,555,556 N/A
Holland, Greg $14,000,000 -0.2 $2,419,753 N/A
Fowler, Dexter $16,500,000 -0.5 $2,851,852 N/A
Leone, Dominic $1,085,000 -0.1 $187,531 N/A
O'Neill, Tyler $545,000 -0.1 $94,198 N/A
Bowman, Matt $565,900 -0.2 $97,810 N/A
Hicks, Jordan $545,000 -0.2 $94,198 N/A
Munoz, Yairo $545,000 -0.3 $94,198 N/A
Wainwright, Adam $19,500,000 0 $3,370,370 N/A
Cecil, Brett $7,750,000 0 $1,339,506 N/A
Gregerson, Luke $5,000,000 0 $864,198 N/A
Lyons, Tyler $1,200,000 0 $207,407 N/A
Pena, Francisco $650,000 0 $112,346 N/A
Tuivailala, Sam $554,600 0 $95,857 N/A
Mayers, Mike $545,000 0 $94,198 N/A

It makes sense that this list would be front-loaded with many younger guys or late bloomers, given the pay disparity between controllable talent and the players who have scored big contracts. But it’s interesting to see such a large portion of team WAR coming from players who don’t get many starts or appearances, particularly Greg Garcia, Harrison Bader and John Brebbia (who isn’t even in St. Louis). The player that really caught my attention, as evidenced by the title of this post, is Tommy Pham.

There was plenty of discussion about the tumultuous contract negotiations between the Cardinals and Pham this offseason, with the front office apparently fearing regression. The baseball blogosphere was split on the subject, and projection systems seemed to side with St. Louis. Pham famously chose to “bet on himself” and have his contract renewed.

He’s done nothing but back that decision up with his play this year.

As of end-of-play Wednesday, Pham was tied with Noah Syndergaard for the third-highest WAR in the National League (and, in strange early season fashion, the two NL players ahead of him were A.J. Pollock and Asdrubal Cabrera). It’s early, but Pham sits in the top 10 in average, OBP, wRC+, and position player WAR. He’s 11th in steals. He falls just inside the top 30 in slugging percentage. Even more than that, he’s doing it at such a low salary. Here’s a list of the top 10 players in the MLB by $/WAR so far this year:

$/WAR, MLB Top 10, 2018 YTD

Player Annual Salary WAR YTD Salary $/WAR
Player Annual Salary WAR YTD Salary $/WAR
Matt Chapman $548,000 1.5 $98,099 $65,399
Aaron Judge $622,000 1.7 $111,346 $65,497
Tommy Pham $570,100 1.5 $98,536 $65,691
Daniel robertson $548,300 1.4 $94,768 $67,691
Mitch Haniger $560,200 1.4 $96,825 $69,160
Yoan Moncada $555,000 1.3 $92,500 $71,154
Ozzie Albies $555,000 1.2 $95,926 $79,938
Jose Berrios $570,000 1.1 $87,963 $79,966
Jeimer Candelario $548,000 1.1 $94,716 $86,105
Rhys Hoskins $553,000 1.1 $98,994 $89,994

Pham is third, barely behind Matt Chapman and Aaron Judge — bona fide superstars. That’s already great company, but if you remove the AL from the list, Tommy Pham is left at the top. Ranking them by WAR, the Cardinals have the third-best player in the National League and he’s delivering his output on what is the most cost-effective contract in the senior circuit.

This post isn’t intended to spark discussion on the Cardinals spending habits up to this point. It’s a highlight of just how good Tommy Pham has been, and how little he’s being paid for it when compared to his peers. One would hope this means additional payroll flexibility at the trade deadline. Or, if Pham sustains the production, that St. Louis would lock down a contract this offseason. Either way, Tommy Pham bet on his future, and he’s absolutely delivered in the first month of the season. Here’s hoping the Cardinals will bet on his future, too.