Psst, buddy, how much for a win?

Posada to play in WBC
Heyman: Pettitte's return at 'less than 50-50'

Via Shysterball and Baseball Musings comes a rather interesting, if somewhat flawed, study about the marginal cost per win.

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.

Posada to play in WBC
Heyman: Pettitte's return at 'less than 50-50'
  • Nigel Bangs

    shoot. can we get pavano back somehow? we need those extra millions to convert into wins!

  • Rebecca-Optimist Prime

    There are plenty worse things that the Yankees could be doing with their money.

  • Eric

    Milton Bradley’s statistics are similar to Mark Teixeira? Uhem…in what universe? That was right where the article lost all credibility for me.

    • Ben K.

      There are also some methodological and mathematical problems with Bernstein’s salary conversions and inflation rates as well.

      • Rebecca-Optimist Prime

        And I suspect there will be some deflation problems as well, given current circumstances.

        • Eric

          Well I mean. In 9 years, Bradley has played in 80 or fewer games 4 times. He’s only played over 100 games only 3 times.

          How could you ever say that Bradley and Teix are worth anything near each other? I mean in reality…

          • DP

            Based on the logic presented here, Bradley is making 40-45% of what Teixeira makes and therefore only needs to play 40-45% of the games

            • Rebecca-Optimist Prime

              I’m sure there are some that would prefer Bradley only play 40-45% of games…

  • Dave

    “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. ”

    On the contrary, they spend so much money that it covers up all the huge mistakes that were money very poorly spent. But the yanks have so much money that can cover up the mistakes easily – pavano at 10 mil per season for an average of 2 wins per yr would have been a crushing blow for a team like the marlins or rays. For the yanks, the signing didnt have all that much impact because the payroll was already around 200 mil or 20 times pavano’s annual earnings. YOU CANT SAY BY AND LARGE THE MONEY HAS BEEN WELL SPENT. They spent a lot of money and it has resulted in a lot of wins but i would say by and large the money was not very well spent. Most of it was going to players for past performance and most of the players signed to bigger contracts in the cashman era have no lived up to expectations to a slight or very large degree. There are a few exceptions – that is NOT money well spent.

    • Ben K.

      Most of it was going to players for past performance and most of the players signed to bigger contracts in the cashman era have no lived up to expectations to a slight or very large degree.

      Care to back that up with more than just a Carl Pavano reference? Otherwise, I’d say you’re wrong. The Yankees have had their share of bad deals and their share of good deals. When it comes down to it, they are no worse than any other team in that department, and by and large, they’re far better.

    • Rebecca-Optimist Prime

      I dunno, I thought that 12 straight playoff appearance thing spoke to money well spent.

      Money can’t do anything for you in the playoffs, sure, but you do have to get there first.

      • Jamal G.

        How in God’s name did you stay at LoHud so long?

        • Rebecca-Optimist Prime

          I’m not quite sure how to respond to that…but I have to say, it’s quite nice to avoid the OMGSIGNBENSHEETS posts and the “I’ll follow the Yankees blindly if they jump off the Brooklyn Bridge” mentality on occasion.

          Grad school is sadistic enough…

          • TurnTwo

            yeah, good to see you over here now.

            overall, LoHud is good for the occasional insight from a couple go-to posters, but otherwise, i can do without most of what is there nowadays.

  • Dave

    Pavano and Igawa along were 80 million of the yanks money not including the luxury taxes that resulted in 9 wins in four years from pavano and a minor league player. Some other money that the yanks could have used elsewhere with much better results- RJ, Vazquez, Brown, el duque, Wright, Weaver and Loaiza to name a few overpayed players who didnt live up to expectations. I know some of those were trades but it was all yankee money. Clemens pro-rated money was money not well spent. Posada’s contract looks pretty horrid so far. Giving Cano that big deal when it was not essential looks like money poorly spent because he regressed, The yanks giving arod everything he could possible ask for including the kitchen sink when arod crawled back to them last year with no leverage … I dont know how that happened but one would think some money could have been saved. Farnsworthless’ entire contract was money badly spent. The large majority of Giambi’s contract was not money well spent. I am not saying these did not make sense at the time (although many of them did not) or that the yanks even drew up the contract – All I am saying is that money could have been spent much more wisely by the yanks had most of this money never been payed out in these contracts. How can the blog say money has been by and large well spent when not a single one of the players mentioned above lived up to the kind of money they were making on the yanks? If any of the small market clubs were burdened by some of these contracts, it would crush the organization’s financial flexibility for years.

    • Ben K.

      Please use the “reply to this comment” link when replying to other comments.

      Anyway, I don’t have time to debate this point properly right now because i have to wake up in six hours. But you’re completely cherry-picking what you personally feel are bad contracts without acknowledging the good contracts and trades and without putting a baseline performance value on those contracts. I mean, Esteban Loaiza? Come on. He was on the Yanks for 10 games, and the Yanks paid him a pro-rated portion of his $4 million contract. That’s money the Yanks wouldn’t even notice is gone.

      Here’s another point: Jason Giambi’s on-field performance basically justified his contract. You’d really have to do more than just tell me he didn’t to ever convince me and many others around here of that fact.

    • Rebecca-Optimist Prime

      Dude, most move the Yankees made were sensible at the time-the Red Sox actually offered Pavano more money. NO ONE knew he was going to turn into American Idle.

      And Cano had an off year last year–an entire career does not one off year make.

      Every team makes crap decisions that they don’t realize are crap until years later. It’s part of the game.

  • Dave

    Next up on the list – AJ Burnett’s 82.5 million. I dont think it was money well spent right now but we willl see. Frankly, I dont know how one can rationalize giving a player who has never had two consecutive injury free seasons and a player who has never made an all star game or received a single mvp vote or a player who is in the top ten in walks allowed per inning each season that kind of money. He has a ton of talent but he has never harnessed it and he is 32. Even he hasnt been able to do it yet, I dont really expect any drastic improvements or decrease injury risk. So next year we may be adding 82.5 mil to that list. I really hope not but its not like burnett has even earned this kind of contract with past performance so its hard to justify the signing if it goes badly.

    • Ben K.

      So next year we may be adding 82.5 mil to that list.

      How can you write off a five-year contract after one season? That doesn’t make any sort of logical sense to me.

      • pat

        More importantly, how can you write a five year contract off after one no years ?

    • steve


      can we get over this already.

      they gave him the money. deal with it. please. its the same thing over and over and over and over….

    • Rebecca-Optimist Prime

      So? It’s the Yankees’ money. Given the available free agent pitchers, Burnett was widely hailed as being the second-best available, after Sabathia. He’s also had success pitching against AL East teams, and when you play each other 19 times–a total of 76 games or nearly half the season–that counts for a hell of a lot.

      In that instance, you pay what you can to get him.

    • The Fallen Phoenix

      For what it’s worth, the Braves bid Burnett’s value that high, since they were willing to go to $80 million/5 years.

      For what it’s worth.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        It’s not really worth much of anything, though…

  • Dave


    I dont disagree – Giambi played well for the most part. But his contract was huge. I find it hard to believe math can prove that Giambi’s production across the entire length of the contract would prove he was worth that kind of dough. I am pointing out the bad contracts and not the good ones but the post said by and large – look at how many bad contracts that is… And almost entirely pitching contracts. I can only think of maybe three pitching contracts the yanks have signed in the last decade where the player lived up to the contract. That is certainly not by and large. I have no math to prove it but just looking at contract and performance it would appear that the large majority of the pitching signings were not good use of monetary resources.


    Didnt you read the whole comment? Third to last sentence — “I am not saying these did not make sense at the time (although many of them did not) or that the yanks even drew up the contract – All I am saying is that money could have been spent much more wisely by the yanks had most of this money never been payed out in these contracts. ” And I do NOT care how many teams wanted pavano just like i DONT care how many teams do not want sheets currently. A teams decision should not be based on how many other teams want a player or dont want a player – nor should a decision be justified by such a measure.iVE SAID THAT A MILLION TIMES. It was very clear just from glancing at pavano’s preyankee career that he was extremely injury prone and only had one good season in the NL under his belt – if a player has not had more than one great season, they do not deserve a four year contract. And i am not saying cano’s contract is a bad one or that it should already be deemed a failure – it is too premature for that. I am simply saying the contract was NOT essential and even went against yankee tradition and therefore, was a waste of monetary resources that could have been spent more wisely elsewhere. Every team makes bad decisions but the yankee ones can be covered up much better than most teams bad decisions.

    • Rebecca-Optimist Prime

      You are making my head spin and writhe.

      It’s nearly three AM, so let’s see if I can state this in proper English and not in one long rambly paragraph.

      1) You’re still looking at it from a hindsight point of view. What we would consider spending the money more wisely now, is not necessarily what we would have thought at the time of the signings.

      2) If you don’t want to care about other teams, that’s fine, but they influence the prices of free agents when they bid on the same free agent, so yeah, they matter.

      3) Should Canò perform up to expectations, you’re going to be really glad he signed that contract now.

      Most importantly though, it’s the Yankees’ money. It’s theirs to use as they see fit.

      As far as I’m concerned, as long as they’re not funding al-Qaeda, they can spend what they want on who they want. It might not make a lot of sense to me, but I don’t exactly have a whole lot of say over it.

      • TurnTwo

        how do you do the ‘o’ with the accent??

        • Rebecca-Optimist Prime

          Dunno if you’ll see this, but on a Mac it’s option + the key to the left of the one, and then you press the letter you want the accent to be over.

  • Dave


    You can write off a five year contract after one season if burnett has to get major surgery or has a major injury missing part of this year and next year or if he appears to have chronic problems. Fact is, Burnett is 32. He is not a spring chicken. If he is getting consistently injured next season or has something major happen, based on his past injury history and age, the contract is almost doomed. It doesnt seem likely that after brunett’s history with a major injury next year that he will turn it all around at the age of 33 or 34 and never be injured again over the next three or four years. Does it seem likely to you?

  • Dave


    Yea and the braves gave an almost 36 year old derek lowe 60 mil and 4 years to the age of 39. I dont think they should be the team that we try to extract logical contract offers from.


    Really? I havent heard any one say anything negative about this contract in a while. Granted, I dont read the comment section of this blog consistently but this is the first time I have said something bad about this contract since it was made. Sorry if it seems like beating a dead horse but if it is, its news to me.

    • steve

      yea. maybe it came off a little harsh. but people have killed this thing to death

      another month of “AJ isn’t worth 82.5 million dollars” and it’ll be in the same stratosphere as the joba to the bullpen remarks.

  • Argenys

    Hey guys, can you add your podcast to the zune marketplace?

    • steve

      hmmm. a zune ? how come u chose a zune over an ipod ? was it your choice or a gift ? are you a microsoft fan? i’m curious. iv’e only met 3 people with zunes.

      • Argenys

        By choice… I really like the Subscription for Music service.

        • steve

          hmm. better than itunes ?

          • TurnTwo

            maybe you pay a flat per month fee, and get all the downloads you want vs. pay-per song purchasing?

            not familiar with Zune, but if something like that were set up (though not sure if its feasible), it would give itunes some real competition.

  • Dave


    1. That is why i KEEP mentioning Burnett. To try to show you that these things dont always have to be thought of in hindsight. Just because the market is that HIGH for him doesnt mean he is worth that kind of money. He is over-rated and has underachieved his whole career. He never had two consecutive seasons staying healthy, He has basically had one great season his whole career, maybe two depending on what you consider great. Pavano’s career looked very similar to this when we signed him – never healthy, coming off a solid year, every team wanted to overspend for him. They arent the same type of pitchers but it is the same type of situation. One was a huge mistake. Burnett is better but no less of a risk and def not worth the money the yanks gave him just like pavano.

    2. I didnt mean that we cant let other teams influence the money we give to a player. You are taking my comment in the wrong context. I meant just because every team wanted pavano or every team wanted burnett doesnt mean it is the right signing and it certainly doesnt justify the burnett signing if it ends up being a disaster. Of course, teams offering prices influence what the yanks give players money-wise. But im sure teams interest in players doesnt influence the yanks interest in players (unless it is the sox.) So you cannot say “well, everyone else wanted pavano” in order to justify the signing – that is NOT a good reason to say the yanks did the right thing.

    3. I do not think the cano contract was a bad signing. My point was there was no need to lock him up to a long-term deal at that time IMO. He received the big contract and is still immature so it appears he got cocky. iM NOT saying the contract was the sole reason for a bad performance but it certainly could have been one of the reasons for it. And further, cano could’ve still been cheap last year – we would have had that money to spend in better ways. That was my original point.

    I know its the yanks money – but im a fan. I buy a ton of merchandise and about 20 tickets per season. I watch YES every single day during the season. I can have a say over whether or not i agree or disagree with what they have done and what they are doing with the money even though I cant influence their decisions.

    • steve (different one)

      3. I do not think the cano contract was a bad signing. My point was there was no need to lock him up to a long-term deal at that time IMO. He received the big contract and is still immature so it appears he got cocky. iM NOT saying the contract was the sole reason for a bad performance but it certainly could have been one of the reasons for it. And further, cano could’ve still been cheap last year – we would have had that money to spend in better ways. That was my original point.

      dude, you are 100% wrong here.

      Cano made $3M last year. that’s exactly what he would have made in arbitration.

      how exactly could the Yankees have had that money “to spend in better ways”?

      also, the Yankees didn’t NEED to lock him up, but they did it b/c they were able to get a good deal on his first 2 years of free agency.

      they guaranteed him what he would have stood to make in arbitration anyway, and then they got two CLUB options for his first two years of free agency.

      it was a very team friendly contract.

      you are barking up the wrong tree if you are going to point to Cano as some sort of example of egregious spending.

      it’s just completely wrong.

  • Dave


    One more thing, even though i doubt you are reading any more – i never wanted to sign AJ in the first place so it is hard for me to say what i wanted the yanks to get him for. Of course, i KNEW they would have to pay well over whatever i would want to pay for him which was the main reason i did not want him at all and a major reason i do want sheets (little interest means cheaper). I realize the yanks had to pay over the next highest bidder to get him and thats why they ended up paying what they did but i just dont like that they got him at all.

  • Dave


    If you think by and large the yanks spending has been money well spent answer me this – How did we spend over 70 mil last season than the next highest club and finish in third place in our division to a team with the second lowest payroll in the MLB? I dont care how many injuries a team has, if the yanks are spending their money wisely and have about five times the salary of the rays, no way should last year ever happen.

    • dan

      Holy shit Dave, do you not see the “reply to this comment” button?

      • steve

        i don’t know why. but l laughed pretty hard reading this comment

    • Should be working

      You do realize what being last place for many years in a row gets you right? Top picks that make a good farm system. When alot of your players blossom at the same time. You get a good team ala the Rays. When those players are past team control and are ready for their big contracts, most of them wont be on the Rays anymore. How can injuries not matter? They lost key players anywhere from part to all of the year. I think now you’re just spewing random things.

      • Dave

        Should be working,

        You are wrong because very few of the rays talent last year that won them the world series were number one picks. Almost the entire team was via solid trades, smart signings and great draft picks out of the lowers rounds. Fact is, if the yanks spent their money as wisely as the rays, we would have won a lot more world series than zero since 2000. I did not say injuries did not matter. I said even with injuries, the yanks should not finish that many games behind a club that had a fifth of their payroll if they were spending money wisely all the time. And every team has significant injuries every year- a team like the yanks should be able to overcome them if they were spending the large majority of the money wisely.

        • MarkJ

          That’s just wrong on so many levels.

          The Rays have consistently had high draft picks, either to develop themselves or trade away for other players (often high draft picks themselves), and also have NO pressure on them to perform each year.

          This ONE season everything came together for them – a lot of their good young players became MLB ready at the same time, and they suffered no significant injuries to their solid starting staff.

          The Yankees are under pressue to perform EVERY year, and because they tend to do pretty well they rarely get top draft picks. They use the resources they have to remain competitive all the time.

          It’s ludicrous to take one year out of all of them, stack the Yankees payroll against the Rays and then use that as some kind of definitive answer to why the Yankees spend their money badly.

          It’s like saying that an orange is a better fruit than a tangerine because it’s bigger.

          Most seasons what they did this year would have been good enough for a playoff run. Despite the injuries. And wasteful spending.

  • DCStack

    “If it’s just a slight correlation, then the findings are ultimately meaningless.”

    Speaking as a statistician (that’s my job) I can definitively tell you this statement is false. A slight correlation, if it is statistically significant, is still a real relationship with meaning. It may not be the most important factor when determining the number of wins, but it is still very real when done correctly.

    That being said there are many other methodological issues with the technique they used. The most glaring of which is the assumption of linearity. They used a simple straight correlation which assumes that each dollar spent has the same leverage as the previous dollar spent, when it is most likely a diminishing return to each dollar. This may not be the case at all. In fact, based on the scatterplot it appears there is really a curvilinear relationship. That immediately discounts their analysis. (As I have sometimes written on my students papers, “You used dollars and you didn’t log them?!? F!”)

    I won’t bore you with the rest of the problems, but suffice it to say there is a relationship between dollars spent and wins but the Yankees part of this analysis is next to worthless for methodological reasons.

  • The Third Yip-Yip

    Appreciate the comment blocking, guys…

    This $-per-win stuff is gold for Yankee-bashers, but trash to everyone else, including us. If Tex doesn’t get that money, it goes into Hank’s calzone-of-the-day fund. No reason to stash your riches away when you have the most, as Ben K. convinced me.

  • Artist formerly known as ‘The’ Steve

    This article strikes me as pretty bad timing in the year that the 40 mil Rays go to the World Series. And do so not even with a totally homegrown team, but one with key players acquired via trade. If anything, that proves that smart management and some good luck trump payroll for translating into wins.

    You expect the payroll police to be out when the Yanks are in the WS, even when they lose to the 2003 Marlins. But last year when the Yanks have the highest payroll in the sport and miss the playoffs, it comes across as a meaningless academic exercise.

  • Jay CT

    I think sometimes statistics can get carried away. The Yankees total value including the YES network is roughly 2 billion dollars. There is no way that they can field a team on a 50 million dollar payroll. Due to the fact that they are having a larger payroll due to them being the largest market and most profitiable team along with most recognizable world wide, they need to carry a larger payroll. However, teams do not routinely win 105 games or more, as is basically what the Yankees would need to do in order to be a successful example in Berstein’s article. This doesn’t seem to take into account things that occur (injuries, issues in a players personal life, etc…) and thus does not seem fair. The Yankees cannot be expected to win over 100 games a season (nor can the Mets or Red Sox), so this type of statistic will never show the Yankees to be “successful.”

  • steve (different one)

    here is the bottom line:

    from 1998-2008, the A’s may have spent less per win, but that’s not the goal of a baseball team.

    the goal is to win the World Series.

    and the Yankees won 3 of those during that stretch and 2 more pennants.

    the A’s won nothing.

    if the goal of baseball was to win the Marginal Dollars per Win World Series, they’d be great at that. good for them. it’s a model they probably have to follow in their market.

    it’s not a model that makes sense for a team in the biggest sports market on earth.