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Astros: What Is An Ideal Payroll Allocation?

As part of my analysis of the Hader trade, I developed this table which showed the relative payroll allocations among the major position groups.

Payroll

How the team is structured today is quite different than arguably the best 2019 Astros of the dynastic era.


The question we should be asking for the Astros is what is an ideal payroll allocation for a championship team?


In the data above, I listed "Core" payroll:

  • The players under contract

  • The arb player's salaries

  • The payroll adjustments- salaries paid to or from other teams


There are about $25-32M that get added to this for the official CBT payroll number.


The Astros have steadily increased the payroll allocation to the bullpen the last three years. Was this the best for the Astros? I am not so sure.


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Now let's continue.


My way to consider what is the best allocation is to consider what is the most efficient way to get WAR for their money.


Let's look at the same time period and the WAR those Astros teams delivered by year and position groups.

WAR

As you can see the bullpen delivers less than half the WAR as SPs do. This is probably obvious to most.


Let's consider the Bang for the Buck aspect of spending by looking at the $/WAR or spending efficiency you have seen me discuss before.

$/WAR

This is the data to really use to consider what is happening with the Astros and their payroll.


As a reminder, players who were pre-Arbitration or in the early stages of arbitration in 2019 and even 2022 are mostly not anymore.

  • Montero, Bregman, Alvarez are now in negotiated contracts.

  • Tucker, Valdez, and Urquidy are in their advanced Arb years and are no longer cheap by MLB standards.

  • Most of the last players to be developed to key MLB roles completely internally in the MiLB (McCormick, Pena, Meyers, Brown, France) were acquired in 2017, 2018, and 2019 or before.

The Astros did not have an MLB Draft pick in the first two rounds in 2020-2021 and there has not been any pick in the Astros draft since 2019 to even appear in a MLB game. This means the well of cheap pre-arb players has been drying up and it shows as we project the 2024 payroll.


Clearly from the data above, spending a LOT of money in the bullpen is never going to be the most efficient way to stack up WAR; and therefore, the likelihood of winning.


Of all of these teams the 2019 team did the best job of delivering WAR for the lowest cost ($2.64/ WAR). You may not care about this as a metric, but in a payroll limited environment (yes, the Astros will not spend like the Dodgers), it is important.


The 2019 Astros allocation of payroll is probably more ideal than the 2023 payroll. Ideally all position groups would have a mix of youth and veterans. I would say in a perfect world the allocation looks something like this for say a $200M core payroll:

SP - 28% ($56M)

RP - 22% ($44M)

IF - 30% ($60M)

OF - 20% ($40M)

Obviously, there will be deviations from these as certain stars are getting paid. The key is to keep a mix at all positions to not get out of balance as I would submit to you the 2024 Astros are now.


How well do the teams stack up in spending efficiency compared to 2019? Here is the same data with that comparison.

Comp to 2019

The Astros are spending about 76% more in $/WAR than they did in 2019 as a team.


In the bullpen, the Astros are spending about 98% more in $/WAR than they did in 2019.


The Astros are spending a lot more and not getting the WAR results for it. Now, if Hader delivers the same WAR he did last year (1.7) instead of the 1.2 WAR he is projected to get, these comparisons will get better.

21st Century MLB

I will also add this. I was curious. Here is a VERY LONG list of 21st century teams. Look who is at the top of this list as being the best team in the 21st century as far as WAR goes- Yes, the 2019 Houston Astros.


Therefore, when we compare our current Astros to that team, we are comparing to the best in this era of the MLB. Here is the massive table- ENJOY. The Astros teams are highlighted in orange.


I think I may have found my hook to another topic.


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