$10,000 Per Pitch — The Absurdity of Gerrit Cole’s New Contract
Yankee fans rejoice, the rest of us be dammed.
It was perhaps not possible to not let out an audible groan when learning of pitching phenom Gerrit Cole’s new contract. For two reasons: first, that he signed with one of the more despised teams in baseball — the always on, rarely out of the pennant race New York Yankees. Two, the value: a nine year contract worth $324M, an average of $36M per year.
Not bad for a 29 year old.
I suppose I should pause here to disclose a few things: this has nothing to do with Cole himself (Stephen Strasburg recently signed a deal worth $35M a year and this article could have just as easily had his name on it). Second, I’m from Toronto, and thus a divisional rival, with no love for the Yankees or Red Sox. Finally, most strangely, I’m not much of a baseball fan at all. I find it to be a uniquely drawn out and boring affair compared to literally all other sports. You can catch me watching curling more often than regular season baseball.
I do, however, enjoy numbers, and social commentary that we can derive from said numbers.
Major League Baseball is no stranger to big dollar contracts. It is the only major sports league in the United States that has yet to adopt a salary cap: the NHL ($81M), NBA ($109M), and NFL ($188M) all place a maximum each team can spend on salaries every year. This eliminates the possibility of these blockbuster contracts — it’s hard to be competitive if 40% of your salary is wrapped up in one or two players.
Cole will make $222,000 each time he slides into his Yankee’s jersey, even if he doesn’t throw a pitch.
I could get in to the benefits and drawbacks for the salary cap at large, but that’s for another day.
Instead, I’m interest in exploring the numbers of Cole’s contract. So let’s break it down.
For sake of simplicity and readability, I’ll be rounding off numbers a bit here. In the name of honesty and holding true to my disdain for sensationalism, I’ll round down unless it’s very close.
What does $36M look like for a starting pitcher? Each team plays 162 games per season, which means Cole will make $222,000 each time he slides into his Yankee’s jersey, even if he doesn’t throw a pitch.
That’s less interesting than breaking down is compensation for when he’s actually working. Last year, Cole made 33 starts, and is expected to pace about the same for the Yankees. Should that remain to be the case, he will make just north of $1M for every game he appears in.
Working on a commission only basis, Cole is projected to get 20 wins, which means he would be making about $1.8M for every win.
But he will get paid for the wins and the losses, so that stat loses some of its luster. Let’s go back to looking at it by games he’s in.
Cole averages just over 6 innings pitched, netting him $182,000 every inning, but in the name of being reserved and against inflating the numbers, lets round that up: assuming 7 innings pitched, Cole makes more than $155,000 per inning pitched.
Each inning he goes out there trying to deliver three outs, and that breaks down to a pay of $52,000 per out.
The mean income in the United States is about $48,000 a year. But the average person can’t throw a ball 98MPH 100 times in a day.
Which brings us to our final pay line for Cole: averaging about 100 pitches per appearance, Cole is slated to make $10,000 for every pitch he throws. Every single one. Strikes. Balls. Wild Pitches. Hits. Home runs.
The federal minimum wage for a full time worker without any time off is $15,000 per year.
“You can’t compare professional athletes to average people. Supply and demand! Revenue of the teams! Communist!”
Or something like that.
The Yankees pull about 47K spectators per game, at an average ticket cost of $47. That means that $22 of every ticket, $22 from every person goes to the salary of the starting pitcher.
“Worth it to see such a talent play the game.”
Okay, fair. And no one is forcing anyone to buy a ticket.
The new Yankee stadium, built in 2009, cost $2.3B. That included $1.2B of public subsidies.
And inside, a single man is being paid by a private organization $10,000 per pitch.
John Oliver has a great piece on sports stadiums, you can watch it here:
I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy baseball, or your team. I’m not even saying that contracts like Cole’s are bad business: my degree in finance can surely be used to describe why this makes perfect business sense.
But in a time where middle class wealth is evaporating, perhaps it’s time to have the conversation about public funding of teams that can afford to spend $10,000 for one man to throw a ball.
And perhaps it’s time the MLB get on board with a salary cap. But maybe that part is just my desire to see the Blue Jays and Rays being something more than a doormat for the rest of their division.
Writer’s Note: I understand that I have ignored practice time per season, and time invested over the course of his entire life and career. But I defend this as I, too, enjoy sports and understand what it takes to get to this level, and I am not the first to break down a contract on a game by game basis. It’s not the best way to look at it, but it’s certainly the most interesting.