In 2016, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant and Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson had nearly identical Wins Above Replacement marks and comparable OPS, home run, double, RBI and runs scored totals. Both of their clubs reached the postseason. But while both players made $650,000 that season, Donaldson just so happened to have two little 1s at the front of his salary for a cool $11.65 million.
Factor salary into the equation, and there's no doubt that Bryant was the more "valuable" to his team because he provided it with more bang per buck.
That's what the term "surplus value" is all about -- performance relative to paycheck. This stuff matters a ton toward club construction and, even for those of us not signing the checks, it adds an interesting little wrinkle to our assessment of individual performances as the 2017 season winds down.
What follows is our annual look at the surplus value leaders. To come up with these figures, we took all players' Baseball Reference-calculated Wins Above Replacement marks at midweek, multiplied them by an industry estimate of the value of a win (we'll go with $9 million, and, even if that's high or low, it won't really matter because it's applied across the board) and then subtract the guy's actual salary figure from that total to come up with his surplus value.
Here are the 20 guys who have put the most V in MVP.
20. Byron Buxton, CF, Twins
Surplus value: $38.17M
After injuries, demotions and a rough first half to 2017 (.216/.288/.306) had people wondering if this guy would ever reach his potential, he's become one of the game's breakout offensive contributors in the second half (.333/.370/.657). He might be the best defensive center fielder in baseball, and he's got some of the fleetest feet in the bigs on the basepaths.
19. Jose Ramirez, 3B, Indians
Surplus value: $38.63M
The Indians extended Ramirez off his out-of-nowhere breakout last season, and he's delivered a fantastic follow-up with another flourish of multi-hit games, good D and lost helmets in 2017. He was rightly voted the AL's All-Star starter at third base.
18. Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Orioles
Surplus value: $38.83M
He's been an underrated power threat for a couple years now, but this year Schoop has also amplified his on-base percentage by more than 50 points.
16. (tie) Tommy Pham, LF, Cardinals
Surplus value: $39.07M
A late breakout for the 29-year-old had him sitting with a .304/.401/.500 slash through 102 games, including that dramatic walk-off homer to beat the Rays last weekend (a moment the man himself dubbed "Pham-tastic," in a rare third-person pun).
Chris Taylor, UTL, Dodgers
Surplus value: $39.07M
One of baseball's best out-of-nowhere stars of the 2017 season is also one of its cheapest stars of 2017. A low-profile 2016 trade acquisition who is still a full season away from arbitration-eligibility, Taylor has built up his value by playing all over the place and producing at an astounding clip (.304/.376/.529 slash with a 135 OPS+).
15. Eugenio Suarez, 3B, Reds
Surplus value: $39.9
Regression set in after an absurd April (.329/.415/.610 slash), but Suarez has recovered to put up an absurd August (.349/.491/.723). A product of the Joey Votto School of Improved Plate Discipline, Suarez has raised his OPS about 160 points and worked hard to improve his defense to become a surprise strength in that Reds lineup.
14. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies
Surplus value: $40.45M
Rather than go to salary arbitration, Arenado and the Rox agreed to a two-year, $29.5 million contract prior to this season. His salary jump from $5 million last year to this year's mark tames down the surplus value he provides, but nobody in Colorado is complaining. Arenado's in the MVP conversation yet again -- this time on a contender.
13. Marcell Ozuna, LF, Marlins
Surplus value: $41.5M
"Why do people keep pitching to Giancarlo Stanton?" you ask. Ozuna and Christian Yelich are the answers. Ozuna has an OPS+ 47 percent better than league average. He and the Marlins avoided an arbitration hearing when they agreed to his 2017 salary, and he'll obviously rake in considerably more in his second round of that process.
12. Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Marlins
Surplus value: $43.1M
Even with Stanton homering about once every six or seven at-bats lately, you might be wondering what he's doing on this list, considering he has the largest contract in American sports history. But remember, the Marlins heavily backloaded that deal, so this is quite likely the last year you'll see him listed here. Stanton's salary will take a big jump to $25 million next season, which is why people in the game are incredibly curious whether the Derek Jeter-Bruce Sherman ownership group might dangle Stanton in the trade market this offseason.
11. Marcus Stroman, RHP, Blue Jays
Surplus value: $43.4M
Because of their schedule and the way WAR is calculated, it's inherently more difficult for pitchers to crack this list. But there are always a few who sneak through.
Stroman's asserted himself in that AL starting pitching tier below that of Chris Sale and Corey Kluber. Mr. "Height Doesn't Measure Heart" improved his ERA+ from 97 last year to 148. He won an arbitration case against the Blue Jays to make $3.4 million this year, but it's still been a bargain.
10. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
Surplus value: $43.5M
There's a reason Kyle Seager put "Corey's Brother" on the back of his Players Weekend jersey. This 23-year-old has quickly asserted himself as an elite player on an elite team. His sophomore year is really not garnering nearly as much attention as his rookie effort, but his output is pretty much identical.
9. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals
Surplus value: $43.7M
Hey, you: Why aren't you paying more attention to Anthony Rendon? He's been every bit as important to the Nats as Bryce Harper this season, and he's making nearly $8 million less.
8. Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs
Surplus value: $43.95M
The Cubs did right by the reigning MVP in the spring by giving him the largest pre-arbitration contract in history. Bryant led this list one year ago, but a slight bump in pay and a slight dip in WAR knock him down the list. Still, he's quite clearly one of the game's bright young lights.
7. Mookie Betts, RF, Red Sox
Surplus value: $44.95M
The Mookster has seen a substantial statistical regression from his MVP runner-up performance in 2016, but he's still provided Boston with above-average production, baserunning and defense at a pre-arbitration rate. Betts is eligible for salary arbitration for the first time this winter.
6. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, D-backs
Surplus value: $46.03M
Goldy's five-year, $32 million extension was signed in advance of a 2013 season in which he led the NL in homers, RBIs and OPS and finished second in the MVP voting. He remains one of the game's most complete players, and he's in the MVP conversation again with a contending club.
5. Corey Kluber, RHP, Indians
Surplus value: $46.3M
Kluber's five-year, $38.5 million extension signed before 2015 has team options for $13.5 million in 2020 and $14 million in 2021. The deal does have some escalators based on where Kluber fares in the Cy Young Award voting (and he might just win it this year), so the option years can potentially be increased by $4 million apiece. Still, it's a bargain deal for the Tribe.
4. Gio Gonzalez, LHP, Nationals
Surplus value: $47.4M
It should be noted that the pitching element of this list, in particular, varies greatly depending on which WAR calculation you use -- Baseball Reference or FanGraphs. I just happened to use B-Ref, which has Gonzalez at 6.7, as opposed to FanGraphs, which has him at 2.9. (It works the opposite way for Chris Sale, who has a 7.3 FanGraphs WAR but just a 5.3 on B-Ref.)
Anyway, I'm happy to list Gonzalez here, because he isn't getting enough credit for the stability in both health and performance that he's provided the Nats in their runaway win with the NL East title. He's in the final guaranteed year of an extension signed in 2012, but he's on the verge of the 180-inning threshold that will activate his $12 million vesting option for 2018.
3. Aaron Judge, RF, Yankees
Surplus Value: $48.1M
Judge's first half had him on pace to basically break the surplus value scale. He's come down to earth in the second half, but the Yankees have certainly gotten more than their "just north of the league minimum's" worth out of him.
2. Andrelton Simmons, SS, Angels
Surplus value: $49.6M
A six-week absence due to injury and a salary raise from $16M to $20M kept Mike Trout off this list for the first time in his career. But even Trout himself has advocated the idea that Simmons is the Angels' actual MVP this year.
Superior shortstop defense was what earned Simmons a seven-year, $58 million extension from the Braves and what made him a top trade target for the Halos. But this year, he's raised his OPS about 100 points, stolen more bags, hit more homers and doubles and walked more frequently.
1. Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros
Surplus value: $57.6M
As if it weren't easy enough to root for Altuve because of his size (5-foot-6, 165 pounds), the pure joy he brings to the field and the pure hitting he provides, he's also a bargain. Altuve is making $4.5 million this year, and he might be the AL MVP.
Altuve signed his club-friendly extension midway through the 2013 season, when the Astros were still terrible and when he was in the midst of compiling a .283 average and .678 OPS -- marks that look so strange attached to his name now. It was a four-year deal covering his arbitration years for a grand total of just $12.5 million, with club options for $6 million in 2018 and $6.5 million for 2019. So he's going to be a candidate for this list for the next couple years, too.
Just missed: Luis Severino and Max Scherzer at a surplus value of $37.3M (it's pretty crazy that Scherzer is still far outperforming his $22M paycheck); Charlie Blackmon at $36.8M; Sale at $35.7M (again, had I used FanGraphs' WAR, Sale actually ranks SECOND on this list despite a $12M salary); and Jacob deGrom and Cody Bellinger at $35.6M (Bellinger likely would have had a high enough WAR to land in the top 20 had he debuted Opening Day and not a few weeks later).
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.