Monday, October 09, 2006

Moneyball: Do You Get What You Pay For

OK, it doesn't exactly cover Red Sox Nation with glory for yet another member to state just how gratifying it was to see the Yankees go down big-time to Detroit. But it sure was. As one local columnist put it, "For Red Sox fans, this was the World Series." We won't get into the obvious sour grapes being spit out here: "we" finished third in the Division, and for the first time in years got pounded in the Division's internal Boston vs. NY standings for the season.

Still, it feels so good to see the Yankees out of it, so sweet to savor this little fiasco as it played out. Just how apopleptic is Steinbrenner? Will A-Rod get tossed (and land - yikes - in Fenway)? And, of course, The Nation's personal favorite, Johnny Damon, claiming that even though they lost they still were the best team in baseball (sniff, sniff), a lot in thanks for having brought him on for the season.

The beat down of the Yankees, of course, does seem to bring out the business analyst in me. And the payroll numbers when you look at them are just staggering. I found a listing of the 2006 MLB payrolls (from April, so it doesn't include expensive intra-season pickups like Abreu, which punched the Yankees over $200M). Abreu or not, based on these numbers, three of the teams that made the playoffs (Padres, Twins, and A's) had below average (mean and median) salary figures. OK, only the A's are still standing in this pack, but it's still impressive.

Tigers and Cardinals, who both made it to their respective LCS's are not that far above average. And of the three big-money teams that made the playoffs (Yankees, Mets, Dodgers), only the Mets (number 5 out of the 30 MLB teams) are still in contention. As for the remainder of the top six big-money teams, "our boys" finished a poor third in their vision, as did the White Sox. The Angels came up second in theirs. At least they were all in the hunt for the season (excepting the Red Sox, in retrospect completely out of it post-All Star Break). The next team down (number 7 in payroll) is the Cubs, who finished dead last in the NL and had the thir worst record in baseball.

So do you get what you pay for? Yes and no. Most of the teams with the fatter wallets at least make a good run for it. And the guys with the tiny coin purses mostly end up well down in the standings. But it's not true across the boards.

Baseball is business, but it's a business unlike most others. When I think about the companies I worked for over the years where investors threw good money after bad and where we never broke even, it doesn't look all that different than the Yankees of late, does it? Except that in the real business world, investors eventually throw in the towel and you're gone. In baseball, it takes a lot longer - if ever - to pack it in, and then the teams ("companies") rarely get fully dissolved. They just find new owners, new cities, and new fans.

In any event, I can now watch the playoffs with full enjoyment. I have a team to root for and I can do so without the pit in the stomach anxiety that goes along with the Red Sox losing and the Yankees winning. Go Tigers! (Fourteen out of 30 in the spending ranks. Pretty good ROI so far.)

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