It’s mid-May and Major League Baseball is in full swing. What better time than now to perform our first MLB players census? Fans of the blog will remember our previous work on the NFL census and the NBA census, which turned out to be very interesting looks into the diversity of professional athletes. The MLB census has been a slightly different experience for me, as I am not as big a fan of baseball as I am of football and basketball. That being said, of the three censuses that have been conducted here on the Best Tickets Blog, I have found this one the most interesting. There are so many stories behind the faces of Major League Baseball, and the international influence is immense. Fans and non-fans alike should find this study interesting. I certainly did. This post will follow the same format as the previous two, which means we start with a positional analysis.
Analyzing Each Position
We separated our MLB positions into two categories: broad and specific. The broad categories include pitcher, outfielder, infielder, designated hitter and catcher. Below, a look at how our broad positions are distributed throughout the league.
The most common position by far is the pitcher, with more than double the number of players as the next most common position of infielder. Teams must cycle through pitchers from game to game in order to prevent injury, so it is important to have a wide selection of pitchers at your disposal. In some cases, pitchers are not even expected to play full games. With a mere 15 designated hitters currently in the league, DH is the only position in the league where there are fewer players than teams.
Below, we dive a bit deeper into our positional analysis by further narrowing our broad positions into the following specific positions: shortstop, starting pitcher, relief pitcher, right field, left field, designated hitter, center fielder, catcher, third base, second base and first base.
The bulk of pitchers are relievers, who make up about 60% of pitchers in the league. They are followed in frequency by the starting pitchers, and then by catchers. Left fielders are the first players from the outfield to approach the top of the list of most common positions. One of our favorite lenses to use when looking at the pro sports censuses is salary. How much do these guys make on average? We all know baseball players get paid a lot, but which position is the most lucrative?
First basemen, on average, are the highest-paid players in Major League Baseball. Some of the big-money first basemen whose names you may recognize include Albert Pujols ($23,000,000), Prince Fielder ($24,000,000), Ryan Howard ($25,000,000), Mark Teixeira ($23,125,000) and Miguel Cabrera ($21,943,027). In all, seven first basemen are getting paid more than $20 million, and 11 (about 31%) of them are getting paid more than $10 million. Youngsters, you now know what sport to pursue, and which position to play.
Relief pitchers, on the other end of the spectrum, are the lowest-paid players in the sport, making an average of $2,051,544. Only four relievers get paid more than $10 million. They are: Jonathan Papelbon ($13,000,000), Rafael Soriano ($12,072,658), Brian Wilson ($10,000,000) and Jim Johnson ($10,000,000). The discrepancy in pay between an elite reliever and an elite starting pitcher is immense. For example, the highest-paid starter, Zack Greinke, is listed as making $28,000,000. That’s more than the salary of the top two relievers combined!
Moving on, we take a look at which positions exhibit the greatest longevity in the league.
Designated hitters come in on top, with an average of nearly ten years of experience. The prime example of this is David Ortiz, who has been in the league for 17 years. Designated hitters are followed (but not very closely) by right fielders (6.5 years), and then first basemen (6.3 years). With high pay and apparent job security, that first base position is the place to be. The unlucky relief pitcher has the shortest average career. With that being said, two of the three players with the longest careers in our study are relief pitchers. LaTroy Hawkins of the Colorado Rockies is the league’s longest veteran, with 19 years experience. Only Derek Jeter has been in the league for as long. Jamey Wright of the LA Dodgers, with 18 years of experience, has had the second-longest career of all the players currently in the league.
Baseball features another player characteristic that is important for us to analyze: handedness. Below is a quick breakdown of which hand players use to throw and hit.
Prior to this study, I didn’t think of baseball as a sport that demanded any particular size. It turns out that more than 81% of pro baseball players are 6-foot or taller. On average, they are about 6’2. Below, we see every MLB team organized by average height.
The Colorado Rockies top the list, with an average height of a little more than 6’2. At the bottom of the pack sit the Milwaukee Brewers, at an average height of 6′ 1/2. Now, who has the fattest roster?
The Pittsburgh Pirates come in at an average of 218 lbs., which is about 14 lbs. heavier than the lightest team in the league, the Cleveland Indians. In a close second for heaviest team are the LA Dodgers, at 217.8 lbs. The Pirates have the highest average BMI in the league as well, at 28. The Baltimore Orioles, at 26.3, have the lowest BMI in the league.
I think this might be my favorite part of this entire study. Like I said before, the international influence on the MLB population is intense. 196 MLB players (more than 26%) were not born in the United States. Below are all of the non-US countries where MLB players came from and how many each has produced.
In all, current MLB players hail from 18 different non-US countries. The biggest exporter of MLB players is the Dominican Republic, with 73 currently in the league. Throughout history, the Dominican Republic has produced a steady stream of stars, including David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Pedro Martinez, Sammy Sosa, Hanley Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero, Miguel Tejada, and many more. Next up is Venezuela, who has produced 52 current MLB players. Big names include Miguel Cabrera, Felix Hernandez, Victor Martinez, Carlos Gonzalez, Bobby Abreu, Carlos Zambrano and more. Following Venezuela is Cuba, with 14 players.
The thing that amazes me the most about these top three exporting countries is that they are generally not great places to live. In particular, the Dominican Republic is ranked 52nd on a list ranking countries based on how desirable a place they are to be born. The list consists of 80 countries, with Nigeria occupying the 80th spot. The US is ranked 16th. Venezuela and Cuba, while better off than the Dominican Republic, both also fall at the bottom half of the list. These baseball players are coming out of highly undesirable situations and building awesome dream lives. It is rags to riches at it’s best. Even the great Mariano Rivera came from very humble beginnings in Panama. Now, we’ll take a look at the teams that have the most non-U.S. players
The Chicago White Sox lead the league with 12 players from outside of the country. In a close second are the San Francisco Giants with 11. The Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals are the closest thing to an all-American team you’ll find in MLB, with just three international players each.
If we keep it local, we see that baseball players come from a pretty highly focused trio of states. For those of you that have read my previous census posts, the numbers for California, Texas and Florida on the following graph should come as no surprise.
South Dakota has produced 3 total players. With a population of just 833,354 their rate of player per 1,000,000 residents is 3.6. In second place is another low-population state, Wyoming. With 2 current MLB players, and a population just under 600,000, they produce players at a rate of 3.47 per 1,000,000. California in third place is pretty impressive, as it is the most populous state in the country. They produced players at a rate of 3.155 per million, despite having a population in excess of 38 million. Four states have produced no current MLB players: Alaska, Montana, North Dakota and Utah.
The next chart drills down a bit deeper and looks at the cities that have produced the most current MLB players.
Again, I find the international influence on the players in this sport to be awesome. The city that has produced the most current MLB players is Santo Domingo of the Dominican Republic, with 17. The city with the fifth-most is Valencia, Venezuela with eight. Of our list of the top player-producing cities, 7 of the 12 included are in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela. What is it that drives these countries athletes to play baseball?
Race in Major League Baseball
With the large influence of non-US countries, you might expect the race distribution in MLB to differ quite a bit from what we have seen in the NFL and NBA. You’d be right. See below.
60% of the players in the league are White, while 28.53% are Hispanic. That leaves roughly 12% available for Black and Asian players, who occupy 9.47% and 2% of the league respectively. This is entirely different from what we are used to seeing with the other professional sports leagues. White players dominate the pro baseball population. Following them in second place are Hispanic players, and in third, Black players. In our other two studies, Black players ran away with the largest percentage of both the NFL and the NBA. We’ll let you speculate in the comments about what makes baseball different. Now let’s take a look at player salaries based on race.
This chart shows the exact opposite of the one above it. Asian players, the least common in the league, make the most money. White players, the most common, make the lowest average salary. This graph could very well be skewed by the varying sample sizes, but it is still interesting to consider. The following graph was a fan favorite of the NBA census: the team distribution of players of different races on each team.
Getting an Education
Education is another area in which the MLB differs greatly from the NFL and the NBA. Of the 750 players included in the MLB census, 420 did not go to college. That’s about 56%. Not bad for a job where the average pay sits at a little less $4,000,000. Players who did not go to college make $4,566,158 on average, while players who did attend college make $3,252,066. MLB players who went to college make $1.3 million less on average than MLB players who did not go to college.
Long in the Tooth
Risk of injury in baseball is certainly present at all times, but the likelihood of injuries is certainly lower than that of football or basketball. One might make the assumption that because of this, baseball players manage to stick around much longer than those in the other two sports.
That assumption would be a safe one to make. With three players in their forties, the MLB has two more players in their forties than the NFL and NBA combined. 29% of the MLB population is over 30 years old. In the NBA, that number drops to 22%, and in the NFL the number falls to 14%. The peak age of MLB players is 27, two years older than NBA players, and four years older than NFL players. Now how does age play a role in your salary as an MLB player?
By my estimation, the age all players should shoot for is 30. There are plenty of players sticking around this long and at an average salary of $6 million, it’s hard to say this isn’t the sweet spot. Of course, if you can make it even longer than that, your chances of signing some mega contract increase even more, but $6 million ought to do just fine if you can’t extend your career.
That’s it for our MLB Player census. Be sure to make yourself heard in the comments section below, and sign up to receive our monthly email! Thanks to Mykel Kovar for assisting the data collection process.
As always, here are your raw data download links.