A-Rod among baseball’s most overpaid: Forbes

With a 3-1 record and a 2.01 Earned Run Average through his first four starts of 2011, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Kyle Lohse(notes) is off to a promising start. It’s the least the Cards could expect after agent Scott Boras hoodwinked them into a four-year, $41 million contract extension for Lohse after the 2008 season despite a career record of 63-74.

In 2010 Lohse accomplished what few would have believed possible: He beat out the likes of Oliver Perez(notes), A.J. Burnett(notes), Kevin Millwood(notes), Josh Beckett(notes) and Javier Vasquez for the title of baseball’s most overpaid pitcher. Even with all the big money busts on the mound in 2010, Lohse’s 6.55 earned run average, 4-8 record and 129 hits allowed in 92 innings, all while raking in close to $9 million, earns him the booby prize.

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In Pictures: Baseball’s most overpaid players

To determine the game’s most overpaid players we compared each player’s salary in 2010 to his production, measured by the Value over Replacement Player score put out at the end of the season by Baseball Prospectus. The VORP score uses myriad stats to measure a player’s productivity over and above that of a minimum salaried rookie.

To keep things fair, we separated players by service class, the better to avoid directly comparing younger players to veterans who have passed the six-year free agent threshold and whose salaries generally reside in a different bracket. So we measured each player’s production vs. salary against only those in his service class. Others leading their respective positions around the diamond on the all-overpaid list:

Yankee infielders Alex Rodriguez(notes) ($32 million; 36.1 VORP) and Derek Jeter(notes) ($22.5 million; 27.5 VORP), both of whom had solid years but didn’t merit their outsized pay.

Astros outfielder Carlos Lee(notes) ($18.5 million; 1.3 VORP, who slumped to a career-low on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).

Brewers reliever Trevor Hoffman(notes) ($7.5 million; -4.2 VORP), who got battered around to the tune of a 5.89 ERA in his last year.

The numbers suggest that Lee, for example, was worth no more than $1.1 million to the Astros last season, given a performance that only moderately exceeded the expected production of a minimum salaried rookie making $400,000. By forking over $18.5 million, the Astros overpaid Lee by a whopping $17.4 million. Club brass is obviously hoping for a quick recovery – they still owe Lee some $37 million through 2012.

One thing to note: any player who registers a negative VORP is theoretically “overpaid ” by even more than his salary – he’s producing less than what the minimum cost would bring. Mathematically speaking, that makes his deserved salary negative. The game’s most overpaid catcher last year, Detroit’s Gerald Laird(notes), turned in a -10.1 VORP for $4 million. In real terms, of course, the Tigers were only out the $4 million.

But intrinsically, based on his production (.230 batting average, 16 extra base hits) lagging that of a minimum cost replacement, Laird was overpaid by a whopping $9 million. While that figure may not affect the club directly, it shows the true disparity between productivity and pay. In theory, Laird should have written the Tigers a $5 million check for the privilege of playing – that’s what the team effectively gave up by paying him $4 million instead of $400,000 to a rookie who would have given them more.

Lohse, for his part, turned in -22.0 VORP last season, one of the five lowest in baseball and by far the lowest among players in his pay class. St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan is known as the best in the business, and whatever tinkering he’s done with Lohse is showing some promise in early 2011. Then again, Lohse is 90-99 with a 4.76 ERA in his 11 years. Even Duncan isn’t a miracle worker.

The list:

First base: Todd Helton
Second base: Luis Castillo
Shortstop: Derek Jeter
Third base: Alex Rodriguez
Outfield: Carlos Lee
See the rest of the positions

In Pictures: Baseball’s most overpaid players


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Updated Tuesday, Apr 26, 2011