Baseball's Bizarre Cost-Benefit Economics Means Brad Penny Signing Has Already Paid Off For Giants

Categories: Business, Sports
Brad Penny.jpg
Keith Allison
Boston castoff Brad Penny has already earned his keep with the Giants
Raise your right hand high over your head if you predicted that the San Francisco Giants' scrap-heap recovery project, Brad Penny, would come within three outs of throwing a shutout last night in a dominant debut vs. a very good Philadelphia team.

You are all liars.

How a pitcher who was getting regularly lit up in Boston like a San Francisco outhouse managed to immediately "revert to All-Star form" when pitching for the Giants ignites all kinds of bar-room postulations. Is the American League that much more dominant than the Senior Circuit? Do athletes really turn it on and turn it off depending on their motivation? Was Satan involved, somehow?

Those arguments are designed to last until closing time. But it seems that, from a dollars-and-cents standpoint, signing Penny -- for the league minimum of around $75,000 -- has already paid off for San Francisco. Even if he fails to win again for the rest of the season, his ratio of $75,000 per victory would be one of the best on the team.

Baseball salaries, like the national deficit or the distances between Earth and its celestial neighbors, deal in numbers so gaudily high that they cease to hold any relevance. It's only when you take an athlete's salary and place it in the context of his measurable on-field performance that things come into focus.

For example, during his record-obliterating 2001 season, Barry Bonds earned $10.3 million (this almost sounds quaint by today's baseball standards -- but it would take even the most highly compensated BART driver just shy of 86 years to earn that). Yes, $10.3 big ones is a ridiculous sum of money. But it seems even larger when you consider that this means Bonds was compensated $141,095 for each of his 73 home runs, or $67,320 for every game he played in -- or $15,512 for every time he merely stepped up to the plate. Somehow, these numbers feel even bigger than the nebulous $10.3 million.

So Penny's ability to crank out a win for $75,000 ain't bad at all. Glancing at the Giants' roster -- and, yes, I know that all of these guys have pitched well enough to have even better records -- here's the cost-per-win ratio of the team's hurlers:

Tim Lincecum: $50,000 per win
Jonathan Sanchez: $75,833 per win
Matt Cain: $241,667 per win
Randy Johnson: $1,000,000 per win
Barry Zito: $2,055,556 per win

(By the way, the argument over whether ballplayers deserve these sorts of salaries is redundant. Of course they don't. Who in the entire world can honestly claim to "deserve" millions or tens of millions of dollars in compensation? But players are being paid the amount that management agreed to compensate them -- and it isn't as if this money would have been paid to teachers and social workers by team ownership if only those money-grubbing players hadn't taken it all).

So, $75,000 per win is a good deal. But if Penny and the Giants can get that ratio down to $25,000 per victory or less -- then it's a good bet we'll soon be factoring in the postseason.

Photo   |   Keith Allison 

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