The premise is rather simple. ESPN The Magazine writer Peter Bernstein asks, “Who is really the best in MLB at creating wins from dollars?” The answer — Billy Bean’s A’s — is hardly to surprising and demonstrates the superiority of Beane’s Moneyball approach. The other findings though bear more discussion.
First, Bernstein discusses methodology:
If you look at the correlation between a team’s opening day payroll and their final season victory total over the 11 seasons from 1998 to 2008, some trends become clear…There is a slight positive correlation between payroll and victories as indicated by the line shown in the picture.
We conclude this: for every $7 million a team spends on payroll (at 2008 player salary levels) the team will on average win one more game. A team that spends $125 million, or $35 million more than the 2008 average payroll of about $90 million, would be expected to win five more games than average. That comes out to 86 for the season.
Now off the bat, there’s a glaring problem. In the age of the Internet and free-flowing information, Bernstein doesn’t tell us what that “slight positive correlation” is. If it’s just a slight correlation, then the findings are ultimately meaningless. We just don’t know with the information given. For now, we’ll give Bernstein the benefit of the doubt.
Moving on though, Bernstein runs the numbers on the Yankees and manages to miss the point. The numbers show that the Yankees should win 98.7 games per season. Reality shows the Yanks to have averaged 97.8 wins per season for a difference of -0.9. In other words, the Yankees pretty much win the number of games they are expected to win.
Still, Bernstein’s analysis misses the point. “In the Yankees’ case,” he writes, “despite their success and ability to get into position for title runs, they are in the bottom half of the league over the last 10 years in terms of wins per dollar spent. When they lock up Mark Teixeira at $180 million, a player whose stats are equal to or worse in many cases than Milton Bradley, who the Cubs just secured for a sixth of that total … Well, you get the idea.”
In the Yanks’ case, they got what they paid for. As David Pinto (linked above) writes, “They weren’t terribly efficient, but they didn’t waste money either.”
For the Yankees, that’s just right. They have more money than anyone else. The team’s Front Office wants to — and, at times, has to — spend the money, and by and large, it’s been money well spent. The Yanks have made the playoffs every year except one during the course of this study. The team has made five trips to the World Series, capturing three titles in the process.
Money can win; money can lose. While Billy Beane’s approach and his +11.5 win difference is fantastic, I’ll take the money team with no complaints.