Most Underpaid Athletes in Every Major Sport
In the four major U.S. sports leagues — the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB — players are well compensated. The minimum annual salary in each league is nearly $500,000, and star players are paid far more, often signing huge contracts worth tens of millions of dollars per year. However, not every player turns out to be worth what he is paid, some athletes deliver incredible value to their team, despite being paid relatively little.
Young players can become instant stars, yet they may not make a lot of money because they signed long-term contracts as unproven rookies. On the other hand, established players can demand long-term deals that pay them handsomely, yet fail to deliver the level of play that made them stars.
It is vital that teams make the most of their budget. Pro sports teams are limited by salary caps and luxury taxes, meaning they have a finite amount of money they can pay players. Teams that find diamonds in the rough have likely set themselves up for success.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed both the salary and performance of all players from the four major U.S. sports to determine the most underpaid athletes across the four leagues.
Click here to see the most underpaid athletes in every major sport.
It can be tough to determine exactly what one player is worth. They may not have impressive statistics, but can contribute to team chemistry and offer leadership, which can be crucial factors to a team’s success. Unfortunately, there is no way to account for intangibles, so we ranked athletes based on the metric that best encapsulated their overall value to their team.
When young players are drafted, they typically sign a rookie contract that pays them well below their more experienced teammates. Players such as New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge and New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara have shown that even young athletes making less than $1 million annually can become highly productive players. Often, when players perform well, they are rewarded with lucrative long-term deals. Philadelphia 76ers forward Robert Covington was making around $1 million per year, but his outstanding play led the 76ers to give him a major contract extension.
Aaron Nola, a starting pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, has developed into a true ace in his fourth season. Nola has a 2.30 earned run average and racked up 12 wins before the all-star break, making him one of the best pitchers in baseball. This success has all come even though he is making just $573,000 for the 2018 season. In comparison, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke is making over $34 million per season on his current contract. Though Greinke has pitched well, Nola has posted better numbers and established himself as the best value in baseball — if not all of sports.
In order to determine the most underpaid professional athletes, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the value of professional athletes as well as the average salary each player made. Contract figures were based on the average salary paid to the player for the length of the contract. For each league, we used a different advanced statistical measure to determine a player’s overall value to their team. NHL players’ value was ranked based on Point Shares. Point Shares calculates the number of goals a player helped create on offense plus the goals he prevented on defense. Goaltenders are ranked based solely on their defense. Baseball players’ value was ranked based on Wins Above Replacement, or WAR. WAR determines the number of additional wins a player helps his team achieve when compared to a replacement level player at that same position. NFL players’ value was ranked based on Approximate Value, which judges groups of seasons and attempts to assign seasons a numerical value based on quality. Typically, an average starter will have an AV of 10, and a player with an AV of 16, 17, or higher will be in contention for the MVP. NBA players were ranked based on Win Shares. Win Shares determines how many wins a given player is responsible for in a season. These statistics came from the Sports Reference family of sites.
Salary information, which came from sports information sites like Spotrac and Over the Cap, as well as other media sources, was ranked based on the average yearly pay from each player’s contract at the start of the season. NHL and NBA players’ salaries were ranked based on the 2017-2018 season. NFL salaries were ranked on the 2017 season. MLB salaries were based on the 2018 season, and MLB statistics were as of during the all-star break. Players who missed a majority of the team’s games due to injury were not considered.
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