Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Parity (or lack there of) and the best and worst of the last 1.5 decade

I long ago began putting together a spreadsheet by which I was determined to prove the disparity that exists within MLB. I’m not exactly sure that’s what the end result was, but none the less what I did find was interesting. Also, it no doubt solidified my previous belief that the Oakland A’s have been one of the greatest run franchises for a while now, and the Orioles one of the worst. My ultimate discovery provides some proof that there does exist a pretty vast chasm between the rich and the poor in Major League Baseball. More so than that though, it pretty conclusively shows that money does buy wins, just not absolutely.

I took all of the standings over the last 15 seasons (1995-2009) and all of the payrolls for each team over the 15 seasons. I was absolutely shocked to see that the Yankees had spent the most. Of course, I am being incredibly facetious. So the Yankees spent the most (~$145 mil per season) and the Florida Marlins spent the least (~$34 mil per season) and there were 28 other teams in between. I then simply added up all the money each team had spent and divided that number by 15 (for number of seasons) to determine each team’s average $ spent per season and ranked them accordingly. After that, I took all of the wins for each team (The Yankees had won the most – big surprise – and the Royals had won the least), divided those by 15 and ranked each team according to wins per season. The Yankees averaged over 96 wins per season over this period of time and the Royals, a measly 68 wins, or just 6 wins more per season than was needed to average 100 losses per season . Phew, that was a close one. That is more or less the extent of the data that I took a look at. But this is where it started to get interesting.

If money meant everything and every team who spent the most always had the most wins, you would expect that every single team would fall in line with their average payroll and average number of wins. Of course, we know that’s simply not true. Some teams have terrible GM’s. The Mariners had Bill Bavasi at the helm for several years, for example, while others have exceptional GM’s. Billy Beane – the obvious choice – of the Oakland A’s is regarded as one of the very best. I’ll also note that Tampa Bay has an exceptional (acting) GM in Andrew Friedman, unfortunately, he’s only been at it for a few years and thus his genius won’t quite be reflected in the results. Any who, once I had ranked each team by their wins and payrolls; I simply subtracted their win rank from their payroll rank to see whether they were positive or negative (+/-). What do I mean by positive or negative? Well, I wanted to see which teams had leap-frogged the ranks. Meaning, which teams had won more games than the field despite having spent less and thus won more games than expected were money the only factor in acquiring wins (ceteris paribus, if you will).

Within the MLB, 17 of 30 teams (57%) fell within 3 teams (10%) plus or minus of where they should have been. 22 of 30 teams (81.25%) fell within just 5 teams (17%) of where they should have been. So there definitely seemed, to me at least, that there was a correlation between money spent and wins. The 8 teams that were essentially outliers and didn’t fall within 5 teams (17%) of where they should have were the 4 best teams and 4 worst teams in MLB, as follows:

Best                                                  Worst

1. Oakland Athletics (+15)               1. Baltimore Orioles (-15)
2. Cleveland Indians (+12)               2. Chicago Cubs (-13)
3. Florida Marlins (+9)                     3. New York Mets (-10)
4. Minnesota Twins (+8)                  4. Detroit Tigers (-9)

As I said, the results of my playing around more or less affirmed what we already know. The A’s were brilliant for a period of time, despite their being extremely poor and the Orioles have been really bad for a really long time despite having a somewhat substantial purse to work from. I will provide some defense for Baltimore. Baltimore has had the unfortunate problem of having to play against the Yankees and Red Sox, year in year out. This could not have helped their ability to win a lot of games when each of their two foes were outspending them and by ever increasing dollars. The same can be said for the Jays who have played relatively well over the last decade and a half, nearly sneaking into the playoffs a few times and rarely laying in the cellar, and yet not once actually making it to the postseason.

I then thought it would make sense to look at each league, especially because over this period of time there’s an apparent talent gap. The AL is widely believed to be the better league by some amount and the results of the All-Star Game have definitely supported this. In the AL, 8 of the 14 teams (57%) were within 2 teams (14%) of where they should be based on payroll. 11 of the 14 teams (79%) were within 3 teams (21%) of where they should be based on payroll. In the NL, 10 of 16 teams (62.5%) were within 2 teams (12.5%) of where they should be based on payroll and 13 (81.25%) were within 3 teams (18.75%) of where they should be based on payroll. This is how they stacked up by league:

NL Best                                          NL Worst

1. Florida Marlins (+5)                   1. New York Mets (-5)
2. St. Louis Cardinals (+3)             2. Chicago Cubs (-5)
3. Houston Astros (+3)                   3. Colorado Rockies (-3)

AL Best                                          AL Worst

1. Oakland A’s (+6)                       1. Baltimore Orioles (-6)
2. Cleveland Indians (+5)              2. Detroit Tigers (-3)
3. Minnesota Twins (+3)               3. Seattle Mariners (-3)

Lastly, I stacked all 30 teams by win rank and then highlighted the 4 teams that improved on their $ expected rank the most, and also the 4 teams that did much poor than their $ expected win rank (i.e. my previous best and worst list). The best teams had an average win rank of 13, which is just slightly better than the middle of the pack. The worst teams had an average win rank of 21, which is just slightly below the bottom third of the all teams. And the rest? They conveniently equaled 15, an exactly average team. Weird.

Sadly, between the best very best of these teams that managed to perform despite their fiscal handicap, on average they were just slightly better than the middle of the pack and they only have two World Series’ between them, the Florida Marlins the proud owners of both. Luckily and on the plus side, the poor teams that aren’t capitalizing on their fiscal advantage have zero titles between them.

My conclusion in all of this is that money absolutely seems to be playing a huge role in determining how many wins a team has. On the other hand, this ‘study’ definitely exposed both the worst franchises in allocating money and the very best. Also, it would probably be nice to hear for some fans (such as those of the Pirates, Royals, Rangers and Blue Jays to name a few) that it’s not all their franchises fault that they can’t get to the promise land. With that, I would like to crown my team of this 1.5 decade. The honor goes to the Oakland A’s for the extraordinary work Billy Beane did in the early 2000’s. And my goat of the last 1.5 decade is the Orioles. At least they can say they had to play the Bronx Bombers and the Sox in the AL East, right?


I want to mention that using my method, the Yankees and Red Sox basically had no shot at being considered the best franchises. The Yankee’s, for example, could only wish to have gotten a neutral (0) plus or minus rating which they did. To this, in the spirit of SNL’s impersonation (Fred Armisen) of Joy Behar on “The View,” I say "So what? Who cares?” The Yankees and the Red Sox play with every advantage each season, knowing full well they have a shot at winning the title. They have the money to sign free agents. They have the money for deadline deals. And, they have the money to cover up their mistakes. It was time, even in this trivial endeavor, to give the smaller guys the advantage.

Finally, why did the Giants do fairly well despite having “kick the tires” Sabean in the front office during the duration of this 1.5 decade? For one, Sabean had Barry Bonds. Perhaps you should read this post on FanGraphs on Bonds’ splits to grasp just how good he was. He was incredible and had no equal. Two, Sabean was using roughly the same information the rest of the franchises were using for a good portion of this 1.5 decade. Prior to the Moneyball revolution, Sabean would have and did fair just fine. He was always good at picking up some useful pitching and flipping, or more accurately dumping, his stud pitching prospects prior to them being exposed as duds. If you were to put a greater weight on the last several years you would see his true talent level start to expose itself. As Bonds aged (as well as the rest of the Giants’ rosters) and teams began using statistical analysis more, the Giants began to lose more and more games. This, because Sabean has been one of the slowest adapters in this era where more information that has ever been available is suddenly readily available, and yet, to date he seems all but content to just ignore it.It’s abundantly clear that doing so is a grievous mistake.

1 comment:

  1. The game of baseball is set up so that one player cannot dominate the game. For instance in the NBA you had Jordan, now you have LeBron and Kobe. Baseball is much, much harder, if not impossible. The only two players that come to my mind that had this ability to take over a MLB game, in my lifetime, are Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson! Sabeans mistakes were over looked because of his gift of having Bonds. But sabean is also the reason why Bonds does not have ring. I could only imagine what the Giants would have looked like during the Bonds era if we had Billy Bean has our GM? Would we have 1,2,3 rings? Sabean needs to GO! Hes the same disease has Don Nelson and Al Davis...