Given that they spent half a billion dollars more than any other team over the last decade, it should come as no surprise that the New York Yankees top the list of Major League Baseball teams when it comes to cost per victory. However, in an interesting article posted on SportsIllustrated.com, Tom Verducci contends that the Yankees got much more bang for their buck than some teams that spent less money during the decade. Just looking at the raw numbers, the Yankees top the sport by spending $174,600 for each of their league-best 965 victories.
The New York Mets ($133,300), Boston Red Sox ($127,000), Los Angeles Dodgers ($116,200) and Chicago Cubs ($112,400) round out the list of the top five teams in spending per victory. Not surprisingly, the Yankees and Red Sox are the only two teams to claim multiple World Series titles in the decades.
However, using a formula that weighs playoff success and then compares it with total payroll to illustrate efficiency and inefficiency, Verducci suggests that the Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals got the most for their money over the past decade.
But, Verducci also points out the flaw in his system when considering the comprehensive success of those teams during the decade. The Cardinals spent $843 million (eighth highest in baseball) while winning 913 games (third in MLB). They also reached the playoffs eight times, appeared in two World Series and claimed the World Series title in 2006.
While the Marlins equaled the Cardinals with one World Series title (2003 over the Yankees), their rise to the top of the efficiency scale is tied primarily to annual place at the bottom of the league when it comes to team payroll. The Marlins spent only $349 million during the decade, which is $50 million less than the other team in Florida, the Tampa Bay Rays. The 2003 championship was the only playoff appearance for the Marlins and they finished within five games of making the playoffs only one other time in the decade. Given that general lack of regular contention, Verducci questions if fans are really content with supporting a team that may win one championship a decade, but is rarely in the playoff race in other years. I would say that the fact that the Marlins also generally rank near the bottom of the league in attendance every season answers that question. Analyzing the least efficient teams over the last decade shows some contrast in levels of on-the-field success.
Considering that the Baltimore Orioles spent $712 million (16th in MLB) without posting a single winning season, it should be no surprise to see the Orioles register as the second least efficient team in baseball.
Playing in the same division as teams with the two highest payrolls in baseball (Yankees and Red Sox), the Orioles annually feel some pressure to keep a respectable payroll. However, that payroll has provided little assistance for a team that hasn’t finished a season with a winning record since 1997.
Over the years the Orioles have tried to balance their roster with a combination of veterans and young players, thus resulting in a payroll that makes it difficult to contend with the Yankees or Red Sox, but ranks near the middle of the road among major league teams.
The team deemed the least efficient is somewhat of a surprise given that they twice advanced to the playoffs and in 2000 reached the World Series.
However, with the third highest payroll in baseball, you might have expected the New York Mets to have more success over the last decade. With a payroll during the decade of nearly $1.1 billion, the Mets ranked behind only the Yankees and Red Sox in that department.
Yet, when it came to victories, their total of 815 wins ranked only 15th in the league. In addition, 14 teams made more playoff appearances than their total of two (2000 and 2006).
Verducci’s primary point is that while teams like the Yankees and Red Sox can sometimes mask bad decisions with huge payrolls, in most cases a team must be both willing to spend money on player payroll and make good decisions if they hope to maintain success.
As we enter the new decade, the teams that will enjoy success will have to be able to balance good personnel decisions with a willingness to spend enough money to stay up with the Yankees, Red Sox and other “big spenders.”