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How much does a baseball pitcher make?

Baseball is heralded as America’s pastime and will always be imbedded into American culture. The game that simply uses a stick, ball, and glove has produced years of legendary games and iconic figures.  From Babe Ruth’s called shot to the incredible comeback of the 2004 Boston Red Sox, baseball captures our imaginations and has developed into a lucrative worldwide business.  Perhaps the most iconic position on the diamond is that of the pitcher.  A great pitcher can single handedly win a game for his team and a great pitcher is invaluable to the team.  Recently, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers agreed to a 7 year $215 million contract.  This is the largest contract for a pitcher in Major League Baseball history.  Obviously, Clayton Kershaw is at one end of the spectrum, but on average how much does a professional baseball pitcher earn each year?  It depends on three main factors.  First, and most important is the level of the league.  Second, the stats accumulated by the pitcher will help determine the value of the pitcher to management.  Finally, the popularity of the team will determine the team’s market value and influence how much money the management has to spend on the players salaries.

League Determines Compensation

Major League Baseball utilizes three minor league farm systems to develop future talent for the major league.  The three leagues are class AAA, class AA, and class A.  Each league has a salary system based on the level of talent within the league.  The following shows the current pay structure among the leagues.

First Year Players (League Does Not Matter) - $850/Month

Class AAA - First Year $2,150/Month, Average $2500-$3000/Month

Class AA - First Year $1,500/Month, Average $1500-$2000/Month

Class A - First Year $1,050/Month, Average $1250-$1500/Month

Majors - Minimum $500,000 Salary, Average $3.5 million/Year

It is clear a huge disparity in payment between the minor and major league exists.  After completing the initial “First Year,” minor league players can negotiate their payment.  Many of the elite minor league pitchers make between $3,000 and $4,000 dollars per month.  In the major league even the lowest paid pitcher is making $500,000 a year.

Pressure to Perform

A pitcher needs to perform well to make money in any of the professional baseball leagues.  This mainly means winning baseball games, but also means putting the fans in the stands.  A pitcher will only get paid what the team management thinks their value to the franchise is worth.  Normally, a great pitcher with shutdown stats and high winning percentage will draw more fans and justify a larger salary.  Sometimes, pitchers can earn more money by putting on a great show.  A 102 mph fastball or crippling knuckleball may also justify a larger salary if it produces more ticket sales.  Overall, a pitcher that makes the team money earns more money and that is largely based on their performance.

Big Market vs. Small Market

Baseball has no salary cap, this means that a team can pay the players as much as they can afford.  This creates a large money gap between teams in the league.  A team like the New York Yankees in the big market of New York City can constantly pay the large price tag associated with perennial All-Star players. A small market team like the Minnesota Twins is constantly struggling to pay their emerging talent.  Pitchers that play for one of these large market teams will make more money than their counterparts playing for a smaller market.  Usually, the high paid pitchers worked their way up from smaller markets teams to get the lucrative big money contracts.  The salary cap is also the main reason why minor league players make pennies as compared with the major league players.  No salary cap means that there is no revenue sharing among the leagues.  The major league teams use the majority of the money to support the major league team and pay the minimum to the minor league players.

A professional baseball pitcher can expect to make what their value is to the franchise.  As a pitcher progresses up through the minor leagues to the major league, they will keep earning more money.  To make the millions, a pitcher must perform well enough to earn a way into the major league and then win big to get a lucrative contract in a big market.

Sarah writes at Allpro her blog about sports and sports reviews.