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From Pitchers to Point Guards: The 41 Highest-Paying Positions in Sports

Reed Hoffmann/AP / Shutterstock.com

Any modern sports fan is probably familiar with the work of author Michael Lewis, even if they don’t realize it. His breakout hit “Moneyball” detailed how Billy Beane, a former general manager of the Oakland A’s, leveraged statistical analysis into building a better baseball team with less money — and it completely changed the face of the game. Likewise, Lewis’ book “The Blind Side” dug into how devastating pass rushers like Lawrence Taylor forced football teams to recognize that the left tackle — the one protecting the “blind side” of a right-handed quarterback — is one of the more important positions on the field.

While these two books were about different sports played on opposite sides of the country, they honed in on the concept of value. In particular, how do the people putting together professional sports teams determine which players are the most decisive when it comes to winning? And how do they spend the dollars at their disposal as strategically as possible to get the players who will make the biggest difference?

That second question can get even trickier when you include market dynamics. No matter how essential a player might be to a team’s success, it won’t translate into a big contract if there’s an abundance of other players capable of doing the same job. As such, player salaries can be a fascinating insight into the value of specific positions and athletes to a successful team.

To find the most valuable positions in sports, GOBankingRates analyzed Spotrac’s current season positional cap/payroll data for the four major North American professional sports leagues — the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB — and broke it down by position. GOBankingRates then determined the average cap hit for each position and measured that against the average league salary in terms of percentage difference.

Take a look at all 41 positions in football, basketball, hockey and baseball, ranked by how much more — or less — the cap hit is for the average player at those positions compared to the salary earned by the average athlete in their league. You’ll see that there’s a huge discrepancy when it comes to the highest-paying jobs.

Last updated: Aug. 18, 2020

Pictured: Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce

Matt Slocum/AP / Shutterstock.com

Relief Pitcher

  • League: MLB
  • Position average cap hit: $741,174
  • League average salary: $2,109,949
  • Percentage difference: -64.87%

Pictured: Houston Astros relief pitcher Chris Devenski

Roger Steinman/AP/Shutterstock / Roger Steinman/AP/Shutterstock

Long Snapper

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $927,012
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: -62.54%

Pictured: Dallas Cowboys long snapper L.P. Ladouceur

AP / Shutterstock.com

Fullback

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $1,110,277
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: -55.14%

Pictured: Former Buffalo Bills fullback Mike Tolbert

Jeff Roberson/AP / Shutterstock.com

Catcher

  • League: MLB
  • Position average cap hit: $1,098,595
  • League average salary: $2,109,949
  • Percentage difference: -47.93%

Pictured: St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina

Shutterstock / Shutterstock.com

Second Base

  • League: MLB
  • Position average cap hit: $1,310,342
  • League average salary: $2,109,949
  • Percentage difference: -37.90%

Pictured: New York Mets second baseman Robinson Cano

Duane Burleson/AP / Shutterstock.com

Punter

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $1,599,258
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: -35.38%

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Pictured: Former Detroit Lions punter Sam Martin

Cj Gunther/EPA-EFE/REX/ / Shutterstock.com

Power Forward

  • League: NBA
  • Position average cap hit: $5,777,782
  • League average salary: $8,277,527
  • Percentage difference: -30.20%

Pictured: Milwaukee Bucks power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo

David Dermer/AP / Shutterstock.com

Running Back

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $1,760,906
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: -28.85%

Pictured: New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell

Matt Slocum/AP / Shutterstock.com

Shortstop

  • League: MLB
  • Position average cap hit: $1,549,458
  • League average salary: $2,109,949
  • Percentage difference: -26.56%

Pictured: Washington Nationals shortshop Trea Turner

Ed Zurga/AP / Shutterstock.com

Tight End

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $1,870,225
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: -24.43%

Pictured: Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce

AP/REX / Shutterstock.com

Center Field

  • League: MLB
  • Position average cap hit: $1,771,090
  • League average salary: $2,109,949
  • Percentage difference: -16.06%

Pictured: Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout

Nick Wass/AP / Shutterstock.com

Left Wing

  • League: NHL
  • Position average cap hit: $2,600,085
  • League average salary: $3,038,357
  • Percentage difference: -14.42%

Pictured: Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin

Carlos Osorio/AP / Shutterstock.com

Cornerback

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $2,135,086
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: -13.73%

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Pictured: Former Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay

Chris Szagola/CSM / Shutterstock.com

Right Tackle

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $2,182,631
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: -11.81%

Pictured: Philadelphia Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson

Rick Scuteri/AP / Shutterstock.com

Kicker

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $2,191,461
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: -11.45%

Pictured: Detroit Lions kicker Matt Prater

Ross D Franklin/AP / Shutterstock.com

Wide Receiver

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $2,201,309
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: -11.06%

Pictured: Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Derik Hamilton/AP / Shutterstock.com

Defenseman

  • League: NHL
  • Position average cap hit: $2,713,550
  • League average salary: $3,038,357
  • Percentage difference: -10.69%

Pictured: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty

Ron Jenkins/AP / Shutterstock.com

Guard

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $2,285,623
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: -7.65%

Pictured: Dallas Cowboys guard Zack Martin

Erik S Lesser/EPA-EFE / Shutterstock.com

Shooting Guard

  • League: NBA
  • Position average cap hit: $7,700,340
  • League average salary: $8,277,527
  • Percentage difference: -6.97%

Pictured: Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden

Eric Gay/AP / Shutterstock.com

Left Field

  • League: MLB
  • Position average cap hit: $2,055,381
  • League average salary: $2,109,949
  • Percentage difference: -2.59%

Pictured: Washington Nationals left fielder Juan Soto

Kelvin Kuo/AP / Shutterstock.com

Strong Safety

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $2,441,491
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: -1.35%

Pictured: Los Angeles Chargers strong safety Derwin James

Jack Dempsey/AP / Shutterstock.com

Outside Linebacker

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $2,541,724
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: 2.70%

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Pictured: Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller

Rob Latour/Variety / Shutterstock.com

Center

  • League: NBA
  • Position average cap hit: $8,552,563
  • League average salary: $8,277,527
  • Percentage difference: 3.32%

Pictured: Former Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond

Jeffrey T Barnes/AP / Shutterstock.com

Center

  • League: NHL
  • Position average cap hit: $3,146,141
  • League average salary: $3,038,357
  • Percentage difference: 3.55%

Pictured: Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid

Mark Humphrey/AP / Shutterstock.com

Goalie

  • League: NHL
  • Position average cap hit: $3,182,628
  • League average salary: $3,038,357
  • Percentage difference: 4.75%

Pictured: Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy

Paul Sancya/AP / Shutterstock.com

Right Field

  • League: MLB
  • Position average cap hit: $2,234,687
  • League average salary: $2,109,949
  • Percentage difference: 5.91%

Pictured: Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper

Gail Burton/AP / Shutterstock.com

Free Safety

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $2,659,856
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: 7.47%

Pictured: Baltimore Ravens free safety Earl Thomas

Mark J Terrill/AP / Shutterstock.com

Defensive Tackle

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $2,718,190
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: 9.83%

Pictured: Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald

John Salangsang/WWD / Shutterstock.com

Small Forward

  • League: NBA
  • Position average cap hit: $9,219,977
  • League average salary: $8,277,527
  • Percentage difference: 11.39%

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Pictured: Los Angeles Lakers small forward LeBron James

Nick Wass/AP / Shutterstock.com

Starting Pitcher

  • League: MLB
  • Position average cap hit: $2,400,465
  • League average salary: $2,109,949
  • Percentage difference: 13.77%

Pictured: Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander

Chris Szagola/AP / Shutterstock.com

Inside Linebacker

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $2,860,372
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: 15.57%

Pictured: Seattle Seahawks inside linebacker Bobby Wagner

Chris O'Meara/AP / Shutterstock.com

Right Wing

  • League: NHL
  • Position average cap hit: $3,549,381
  • League average salary: $3,038,357
  • Percentage difference: 16.82%

Pictured: Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov

David Zalubowski/AP/REX / Shutterstock.com

Third Base

  • League: MLB
  • Position average cap hit: $2,552,116
  • League average salary: $2,109,949
  • Percentage difference: 20.96%

Pictured: Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado

Brian Blanco/AP / Shutterstock.com

Defensive End

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $3,028,332
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: 22.36%

Pictured: New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan

David Maxwell/EPA/REX / Shutterstock.com

Point Guard

  • League: NBA
  • Position average cap hit: $10,136,971
  • League average salary: $8,277,527
  • Percentage difference: 22.46%

Pictured: Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry

Lynne Sladky/AP / Shutterstock.com

Center

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $3,196,071
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: 29.14%

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Pictured: Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce

John Minchillo/AP / Shutterstock.com

Closer

  • League: MLB
  • Position average cap hit: $2,810,731
  • League average salary: $2,109,949
  • Percentage difference: 33.21%

Pictured: San Diego Padres closer Kirby Yates

Kamil Krzaczynski/AP / Shutterstock.com

First Base

  • League: MLB
  • Position average cap hit: $2,858,279
  • League average salary: $2,109,949
  • Percentage difference: 35.47%

Pictured: Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera

Reed Hoffmann/AP / Shutterstock.com

Left Tackle

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $3,998,055
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: 61.54%

Pictured: Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Mitchell Schwartz

Michael Dwyer/AP / Shutterstock.com

Designated Hitter

  • League: MLB
  • Position average cap hit: $3,937,074
  • League average salary: $2,109,949
  • Percentage difference: 86.60%

Pictured: Boston Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez

Bill Feig/AP / Shutterstock.com

Quarterback

  • League: NFL
  • Position average cap hit: $5,316,404
  • League average salary: $2,474,962
  • Percentage difference: 114.81%

Pictured: Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins

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Joel Anderson contributed to the reporting for this article.

Methodology: In order to find the highest-paid positions in sports, GOBankingRates looked at Spotrac current season positional cap/payroll data across the “big four” American sports leagues: National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL). For each position in every league, GOBankingRates found the following factors: (1) average players of that position on a team; (2) average total cap hit for that position per team; (3) average cap hit by position; (4) league average salary for all players; and (5) percent difference between position average cap hit and league average salary. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the data only includes players on an active roster who have also tested negative for COVID-19. All data were collected on and up to date as of Aug. 4, 2020.