Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This Post Will Not Win Me Any Friends Among My FJayM Colleagues and Our Loyal Readers

This is poised to be my least popular post in the history of this site (the "I hate the NBA Playoffs" post notwithstanding). Why?

a.) It is an attempt of sorts to dispute the idea that baseball is an exceptionally "unfair" sport in terms of parity, salary, what have you...particularly in the context of this most recent Yankees championship--something I know most of you (especially Larry and Jack) have strong feelings about.

b.) It is a rip of an article by Joe Posnanski, a guy who is my favorite sportswriter living today not named Bill James--and I'm sure a favorite of a number of yours since the readers of this site generally seem like non-idiots.

c.) It's not a particularly new article. Baseball's over right? It's basketball (bleh) and football (Fire Lovie Smith!) season.

Nevertheless. Here goes.

Here’s the thing about the New York Yankees huge payroll: It has been talked about so much that, in reality, it is hardly talked about at all. I know this makes little sense, but what I mean is this:

A. Everyone knows the Yankees spend much more money than any other team to win games.
B. Because everyone knows it, people have been complaining about it for many years.
C. Because people have complained about it for many years, everybody is sick of hearing about it.
D. Because everyone is sick of hearing about it, nobody really listens.
E. Because nobody really listens, people don’t talk about the Yankees spending much more money than any other team to win games.

Yes, this is a weird circle. But in this bizarre world of spin where Alex Rodriguez tries to project himself as an underdog* and Yankees types try to recast George Steinbrenner as sympathetic figure, I think this Yankees money fatigue is very real. As soon as you start talking about it, people turn off. What we’re talking about this again? Or, as indignant Yankees fans, they get angry: “Oh man, you’re not going to talk about the Yankees MONEY thing again, are you?”


Joe begins with--in typically Posnanskian fashion--a very interesting and intellectually fascinating point. The Yankees success is so talked-about it is no longer talked about. Sadly, the article loses steam from here on:


Now, let’s think about this for a moment: You have a sport where the New York Yankees — in large part because they are located in America’s largest city and they have baseball’s richest television contract — can viably spend tens of millions of dollars more than any other team to acquire baseball players. You have one team (and only one team) playing the video game on cheat-mode.


"Only one team"? This is not intellectually honest. Do the Yankees spend preponderately more than the competition? Absolutely. They spent more than 50mm more than the Mets, the 2nd highest payroll in MLB in 2009. However, the Mets spent 150mm in 2009. The Cubs spent 134mm. The Red Sox spent 120mm. The Tigers spent 110mm. Yes, that is proportionately smaller than the Yankees' payroll #'s, but it is likewise proportionately larger than the middle of the pack teams like the Cardinals and Rockies who spend in the 70mm's. Look at it this way--The Yankees spend ~33% more than the Mets. The Mets spend 100% more than the Cardinals and 500% more than the Marlins (the lowest payroll in MLB).

Clearly we have a lot of teams exploiting a salary differential. And "playing the game on cheat mode"? I can understand the general sentiment behind this statement insofar as the Yankees bought up the perceived top 3 free agents this past winter. But the Yankees have been doing this for the past 8 years. The 2008 Yankees had a payroll that was even more disparate in re: the competition than the 2009 Yankees. Whereas the 2009 Yankees ranged from 50-80mm above the rest of the top 5 in payroll, the 2008 Yankees were 70mm beyond the 2nd highest payroll in MLB--the Tigers @ 139mm. They were ~80mm above the 5th place team (White Sox @ 120mm) making their "advantage above the competitive field" EXACTLY THE FUCKING SAME IN 2009 AS IT WAS IN 2008. What does that mean? It means "cheat mode" is a really impotent way to cheat, being that the 2008 Yankees missed the postseason. Or in 2007 when they enjoyed a similar payroll advantage and....made the playoffs as a Wild Card team.

What kind of cheat mode is this? A used Game Genie?

Perhaps I'm putting too fine a point on this, let's continue with Posnanski's article:

his is much starker than people think, by the way. I quickly went back and looked at the numbers before writing my column for SI.com, and I’m going to reprint them here because even as someone who has also grown sick of hearing about the Yankees payroll, I found them to be stunning:

In 2002, the Yankees spent $17 million more in payroll than any other team.

In 2003, the Yankees spent $35 million more in payroll than any other team.

In 2004, the Yankees spent $57 million more in payroll than any other team. I mean, it’s ridiculous from the start but this is pure absurdity. Basically, this is like the Yankees saying: “OK, let’s spend exactly as much as the second-highest payroll in baseball. OK, we’re spending exactly as much. And now … let’s add the Oakland A’s. No, I mean let’s add their whole team, the whole payroll, add it on top and let’s play some ball!”

In 2005, the Yankees spent $85 million more than any other team. Not a misprint. Eight five.

In 2006, the Yankees spent $74 million more than any other team.

In 2007, the Yankees spent $40 million more than any other team — cutbacks, you know.

In 2008, the Yankees spent $72 million more than any other team.

In 2009, the Yankees spent $52 million more than any other team.


Is it just me or does this seem to be counterproductive to the argument that there is a clear and easily defined correlation between payroll and success--postseason or otherwise?

By Joe's own numbers, shouldn't the years when the Yankees had their biggest advantage be 2005, 2006, and 2008, when their payroll advantage was at its most disparate? (85mm,74mm, and 72mm respectively) What were the results in those years? ALDS loss. ALDS loss. Missed playoffs.

Likewise, the years when the Yankees have had the most overall success (2003 with their WS berth and 2009, with their 27th WS title) have been years with a lesser (at least from "THE FREE SPENDING YANKEES standpoint") payroll advantage: 35mm and 52mm respectively.

I can appreciate the concept that the Yankees seem to be a monolithic team in their spending. Hell I see it every year when free agents on the open market are priced out of my favorite team's range of affordability by a Yankees team that drives prices on open-commodities through the roof. But why cite these numbers in this way, given the Yankees lack of success (at least by their own standards) throughout the 00's. And especially given that this year's payroll advantage comes at a reduction from their payroll advantage average from 2004-2008?

Is this a compelling argument in terms of "The Yankees bought themselves a World Series in 2009" rather than "The Yankees smartened up and did a better job assembling a team in 2009 than they have in years past...when they attempted to BUY a World Series team by equating dollar value of total salary with quality of team."

In other words doesn't this argument make the same mistake the Yankees of the 00's made?

Posnanski tries to blur this distinction, arguing that success and unfair dominance in baseball is harder to recognize.

Baseball happens to be a sport where dominance can be obscured. It doesn’t look like dominance. What I mean is this: Baseball, for many reasons, is built in such a way that the best teams win less often than in other sports. A 13-win NFL team wins 81% of the time. A national championship contending football team might lose once or twice — or not at all. A 60-win NBA team wins 75% of the time, and a big time college basketball team will win closer to 90%.

A 100-win baseball team wins 62% of the time … and there was only one 100-win baseball team this year. The New York Yankees. Every baseball team that won even 56% of the time this year made the playoffs. It is a sport of small triumphs, good months, one-run victories. I believe it was Whitey Herzog who said that the key to baseball is not getting swept … the idea being that if you can play well most of the time and steal at least one in a three-game series when you’re not playing well, then you will be in good shape at the end of the year.


An admirable effort but here are two important points

1.) Even if we assume that 55% success rate is dominance, the Yankees have not been the most dominant team in baseball year in and year out. They have had years, like this year, where they have won the most games--by Joe's definition "being the most dominant"--but they have had years where they have not even been the most "dominant" team in their division, much less their league

2.) 55% is not dominant. It may be "best," but it's not dominant. Plain and simple. There are teams who have won a historic amount of games, who have dominated rs/ra measurements, who have owned the postseason. You could argue that the 1975 Reds (Joe's book on them was fucking exceptional) or the 1939 Yankees or the 1908 Cubs were "dominant" despite only winning 70% or so of their games, because in addition to that their runs scored so vastly eclipsed their runs allowed, their batting and pitching statistics were oppressive, etc. etc. but you can't say that a team that won 103 games and had a fairly pedestrian RS/RA for a championship team was "dominant" just because "they play more games in baseball." It just doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

This Yankees team was "dominant enough" just like the teams before them between 2001 and 2008 were "not dominant enough" but this is not a historically dominant team by any fucking measure.

Baseball happens to be a sport where dominance can be obscured. It doesn’t look like dominance. What I mean is this: Baseball, for many reasons, is built in such a way that the best teams win less often than in other sports. A 13-win NFL team wins 81% of the time. A national championship contending football team might lose once or twice — or not at all. A 60-win NBA team wins 75% of the time, and a big time college basketball team will win closer to 90%.

A 100-win baseball team wins 62% of the time … and there was only one 100-win baseball team this year. The New York Yankees. Every baseball team that won even 56% of the time this year made the playoffs. It is a sport of small triumphs, good months, one-run victories. I believe it was Whitey Herzog who said that the key to baseball is not getting swept … the idea being that if you can play well most of the time and steal at least one in a three-game series when you’re not playing well, then you will be in good shape at the end of the year.

So, dominant baseball teams don’t LOOK dominant in the same way they do in football or basketball. It’s like the billionaire CEO who doesn’t wear ties and rides coach on planes. He’s still a billionaire but he doesn’t LOOK like a billionaire. No team goes winless or undefeated in baseball. Few ever go winless or undefeated even over 16-game stretches. No team in baseball loses fewer than 40 games, and no team wins more than 120, and it’s only the rarest of teams that get anywhere close to either of those numbers.


Right, but some teams do win 70% of their games. Some teams have a RS/RA margin greater than 200. Some teams have an acceptable 4th starter.

This is not a compelling argument.

I think of it this way, using a mockabet: I would bet if the Indianapolis Colts played the Cleveland Browns 100 times, and the Colts were motivated, they would probably 95 of them — maybe even more than that. But if the New York Yankees played the Kansas City Royals 100 times, and the Yankees were motivated, I suspect the Royals would still win 25 or 30 times. That’s baseball.


I love Joe, except for this article, but man I hate his neologisms. "Mockabet" is his coined term for a bet that you couldn't possibly ever resolve because it's completely hypothetical and immune to reality's trappings. Here he's saying something completely uncheckable and something I disagree with completely.

There is a kernel of truth to this because the Cleveland Browns will start the same roster against the Colts every week but that some days the Yankees will start Chien Ming Wang against Zach Greinke. However, the generalized point Posnanski's making seems completely illogical. The talent divide between the best teams in football and the worst seem to pretty much any rational fan to be about the same as in baseball. Does anyone really think the Raiders are any more equipped to beat the Colts week in and week out than the Pirates are to beat the Yankees? If so, I apologize I guess.

So you have this sport that tends to equalize teams.


So...the Yankees's spending is unfair because....the sport they play in tends to...equalize teams?

Also, isn't this the exact opposite of the argument for why the NFL is a paragon of parity? I'm confused now*

*I anticipate the commenters who use this moment to point out that "heh heh you are confused". Nevertheless.**

**And yes, I stole this device from Posnanski.

If the New England Patriots were allowed to spend $50 million more on players than any other team, they would go 15-1 or 16-0 every single year.


I don't believe this for a fucking second.

The Patriots' dominance is BECAUSE they have quote/unquote outsmarted a capped system and have found a way to produce effective and dominant players and keep them at a cost that allows their roster to be more well-rounded and schemable than other teams. If you take away the nature of their advantage (i.e. that other teams can't acquire as much talent as they do because these other teams are forced to allocate money to that talent in a way the Patriots have avoided up till now through smart use of draft picks on accruing affordable talent in the late first round and late rounds of the draft), they're not going to become more dominant. It will most likely allow other teams to catch up to them.

Or something like that.

But in baseball, a great and dominant team might only win 95 out of 160, and it doesn’t seem so bad.


So now a 95 win team is dominant?

The second thing is that ,at the end of the year, the best teams are thrown together in a succession of short series that are fun to watch but are not designed to pick the best teams. Quite the opposite: A short series in baseball is designed to shelter weaknesses and expose strengths. Yuni Betancourt can out-hit A-Rod in a five-game series. Livan Hernandez can out-pitch Tim Lincecum in a one-game match-up. Baseball doesn’t hide this — they slam it down your throat. October baseball! Anything’s possible! And so on.


I don't agree with this, but I suspect I'm alone. Let's move on.

So, you create a system where the best team doesn’t always win. In fact, you create a system where the best team often doesn’t win. For years the Yankees didn’t win. They lost to Florida. They lost Anaheim. They blew a 3-0 series lead against Boston. They lost to Anaheim again and Detroit and Cleveland — and how could you say that baseball is unfair? Look, the Yankees can’t win the World Series! See? Sure they spend $50 million more than any other team and $100 million more than most. But they haven’t won the World Series! Doesn’t that make you feel better?


You'll be hard-pressed to explain to me how the 2003 Marlins were inherently a worse team than the 2003 Yankees. I guess there's an argument to be made for the concept that the 2003 Yankees lineup was overpowering enough to overcome the fact that the Marlins's frontline pitching was better than the Yankees' but I don't really buy that.

All this is mighty subjective. The Angels teams that beat the Yankees were better in some ways than the Yankees and worse in some ways against the Yankees. The Tigers team that beat the Yankees were bette in some ways and worse in others.

And the major way these teams were better is pitching. So let's not get on the pity party of "the Yankees lost to a worse team." They lost to teams that did some things better than they did and did some things worse than they did, and they did it in close serieses and they did it because they weren't by any means an unbeatable team.

And this has been the Wizard of Oz slight of hand game that Baseball has been playing for a long time … ignore the man behind the curtain who makes more money off of baseball than anyone else and can buy just about any player he wants. Ignore the absurdity of it all. Just remember: The Yankees haven’t won in a while! Just remember: Anything is possible.


Ah, yes, but not only hadn't the Yankees not won in a while, they hadn't come close to winning in a while. The closest they got was Dave Roberts stealing second. And then their payroll advantage decreased...and...they won it all.

This is not exactly helping the case.

There’s something else that people say: They talk about how money doesn’t guarantee wins. And they point out that other teams (the Mets, the Cubs, the Astros, etc.) spend a lot of money and don’t win. I think this actually makes for an interesting argument if you want to talk about the inequities of baseball … big markets, small markets, all that.

But the Yankees are a whole different argument. They are their own argument. The Yankees are not a big market team. They DWARF big market teams. They are quantitatively different from every other team in baseball and every other team in American sports. They don’t just spend more money than every other team. They spend A LOT more money than every other team. The Boston Red Sox spend $50 million more than the Kansas City Royals? Who cares? The Yankees spend $80 million more than the Boston Red Sox.

The Yankees have a pat hand.


Ah, let's just dismiss a reasonable objection out of hand. Why? Because IT'S JUST DIFFERENT. Never mind that the Cubs had a 100% payroll advantage over the team that beat them handily in the Central last year. IT'S JUST DIFFERENT. Never mind that another team that spends heavily, but smartly, has been consistently a better team in the latter half of this decade than the Yankees. BECAUSE IT'S JUST DIFFERENT. The Yankees spend the most. AND IT'S JUST DIFFERENT. They're the most successful too because of it. Never mind that they haven't really been all that successful. That's just because success isn't easy to see in baseball. Just trust me when I say they've been successful in relation to their expectations.

Sigh. I love you Joe, but this was awful.

Look--I don't know if this is the beginning of the end of any semblance of competitive balance. I hate the Yankees, and sadly it seems as if they're primed to win a lot of games next year too. But then again, it looked like the Phillies were primed until their stud pitcher decided he wasn't any good at pitching and their closer decided to shit himself and then not shit himself and then shit himself again. And it looked, in 2001 that the Yankees were going to keep on winning championships until the commissioner disbanded the MLB. It's easy to sit at what seems like the precipice and abandon all logic and point to one aspect of a team's success (payroll) and ignore the fact that it had only a little to do with their moderate success in the past. It's easy to do that. But it doesn't make you right.

Apologies to my fellow writers on this blog for this 5000 word essay devoid of humor burying your always-hilarious posts. But it had to be done. May the Lord forgive me!

:)

44 comments:

pnoles said...

::fart::

Larry B said...

A disturbing amount of your thoughts are dedicated to discussing what constitutes "dominance." You'd fit in well on Around the Horn in that regard.

Meanwhile, another solid chunk of your thoughts are dedicated to establishing the idea that championships are all that matters. I'm glad we've settled that! For a while I thought it was fair to judge success (at least in large part) by number of playoff appearances, or number of 90 win seasons, or something of the ilk. But now my eyes are opened- championships are the only real measuring stick. Therefore: the Yankees' spending has not really led to any level of "success" from 2001-2009 that exceeds the likes of the Marlins or Diamondbacks. You know, with that argument, you'd also fit in well on Around the Horn.

In conclusion I think we can agree that the Yankees are in large part spending their way to success.

I anticipate an angry response to this from you, so before you get to that, let me make one last point I really want to make re: my stance on this issue. In fact, you also made this point yourself, but I want to say it again my way. I can't believe you don't assign the same level of importance to it I do. Here's the thing: every offseason, the Yankees can pretty much sign whichever free agents they want. Now, sometimes, these free agents end up sucking (Carl Pavano). Most of the time, though, they end up being pretty darn good. To put it even more simply: say the Yankees have a need for better players. They can fix that need more easily than pretty much every team in the league. That's fucked up, at least to some degree. I don't see how this doesn't bother you. The White Sox have issues in LF. Wouldn't you like Matt Holliday? Maybe you don't, for some reason, but it's just one example. Pretend you do. Too bad- you can't have Matt Holliday if the Yankees want him. This is where the Orioles were with Teixeira last offseason; where the Brewers were with Sabathia; etc., etc., etc. And it's not changing anytime soon. I'm not calling this the greatest injustice in the history of sports. But it's pretty fucked up. They're playing with a loaded deck, and making the playoffs pretty much every year. And to me, that's success.

Jack M said...

Hey Chris,

I DISAGREE!

Chris W said...

This is too long for one post. Multiple posts follow:

"A disturbing amount of your thoughts are dedicated to discussing what constitutes "dominance." You'd fit in well on Around the Horn in that regard."

That's a response in kind to Posnanski's large amount of thoughts dedicated to discussing dominance.

Are you new to this FJayM thing?

"
Meanwhile, another solid chunk of your thoughts are dedicated to establishing the idea that championships are all that matters. I'm glad we've settled that!"

Read the article. That's really not the case. Most of my thoughts touch on the idea of combined regular season success and postseason success.

There is one passage where I talk about postseason success and only postseason success and that's only in response to Posnanski's comment as such.

"Therefore: the Yankees' spending has not really led to any level of "success" from 2001-2009 that exceeds the likes of the Marlins or Diamondbacks. You know, with that argument, you'd also fit in well on Around the Horn."

Where have I said the Yankees haven't been more successful than the Diamondbacks or Marlins?

OTOH I think it is safe to say that they haven't had any more success than those two teams based on the terms they have defined for their own success. Which is worth discussing--but not the point of my post.

"
In conclusion I think we can agree that the Yankees are in large part spending their way to success."

I would actually agree, but I would say that the general overreaction to this championship is overstating things immensely, and that Posnanski's article is a good example of this.

Chris W said...

"Here's the thing: every offseason, the Yankees can pretty much sign whichever free agents they want. Now, sometimes, these free agents end up sucking (Carl Pavano). Most of the time, though, they end up being pretty darn good."

Is this really true? I mean your last clause.

I think it'd be interesting to look at how good the FA's the Yankees have signed have been, this offseason notwithstanding. I'd look at Sheffield, Matsui, Damon, Abreu, and Giambi as the major ones...and probably the most successful. And yet they weren't nearly as successful as they appeared to be.

Is this an advantage of sorts? Absolutely. Is it a "cheat code"? I don't think so. My opinion is that this ability the Yankees have to buy whoever they want on the open market--an ability I don't dispute in the least--is at best a mild advantage since BIG SPLASH Free Agency--i.e. signing superstars on the open market (2009 notwithstanding) has not proven to be a very good way to improve immensely. And not just for the Yankees, but for everyone. I mean think about it--most of the FA's, based on baseball's arbitration structure, are leaving their prime by the time they are eligible for free agency.


"To put it even more simply: say the Yankees have a need for better players. They can fix that need more easily than pretty much every team in the league. That's fucked up, at least to some degree"

Absolutely. I agree completely. But just because it's fucked up to SOME degree doesn't mean that all this hyperbole about the 2009 Yankees is warranted, especially considered how little that spending has come to in the past. Yeah, the Yankees usually make the playoffs. I agree. But sometimes they don't, and sometimes they don't win their division.

There are other teams that often win their division, and they're not doing it by buying every player they can get. That doesn't mean anything per se, but it's one reason why I don't muster that much outrage over the Yankees.

But the main reason I'm not that upset about this free agent thing is that nearly ever free agent I've been drooling for the White Sox to sign in the past 5 years are free agents that I'm more or less glad we didn't commit years and money to.

"The White Sox have issues in LF. Wouldn't you like Matt Holliday? Maybe you don't, for some reason, but it's just one example. Pretend you do. Too bad- you can't have Matt Holliday if the Yankees want him."

Yeah, that kind of sucks. Matt Holliday is a good free agent this year. So is Chone Figgins. Two players who would definitely help the White Sox. They might not be available. That sucks.

To what extent does it suck though?


Look--at the end of the day we don't disagree. The Yankees have an unfair advantage. I don't dispute that idea. I just don't think the advantage is as much as you've made it out to be. There's no doubt that when smart teams have more money to spend they have an advantage over smart teams that don't have money to spend. That's an important point about baseball and one I don't dispute. But the Yankees lucking into the confluence of "big names" actually "being the best players" doesn't change a lot imo, and a bunch of people are acting like they are.

Chris W said...

I want to say again, that you missed my point in your G-chat message, which isn't surprising beause you'd decided before you read the article that you disagreed with me, which is why you assumed I'm using championships as a measuring stick rather than just disputing the supposedly accepted fact that the Yankees' spending has made them unreasonably dominant based on a combination of championships (their own definition of binary success-failure), failure to win their own division twice in the last 3 years (despite having mammoth paryoll) and failure to even advance to the World Series or ALCS (despite having mammoth payroll). This seems to me a pretty mighty tonic to the concept of an unfair Yankee dominance, and on, Larry, that doesn't "rely on championships as the sole measuring stick" (I'd roll my eyes here if this was RL)

I also want to say one thing about your assertion that this contradicts with my statements about NFL parity. Once again you're vastly overstating my argument. I'm not saying whatsoever that "salary caps" and "payroll disparity" don't play a role in the EXTANT DISPARITY (pardon) in PARITY in both leagues. I acknowledge

a.) they exist

b.) that money is a big factor in their existence

What I'm saying is that parity is OVERSTATED in football and its absence is OVERSTATED in baseball. Disagree if you will, but quit fucking oversimplifying my position as if my post here saying that the Yankees' dominance is overstated and my well-known views that NFL parity is overstated are somehow mutually exclusive.

They're fucking not.

Angelo said...

1. For a "5000 word essay devoid of humor," I got a pretty good chuckle out of "the Phillies were primed until their stud pitcher decided he wasn't any good at pitching and their closer decided to shit himself and then not shit himself and then shit himself again."

2. Comparing (Yankees payroll - 2nd highest payroll) vs success each year is an incredibly terrible way to make a point. There are 30 teams, not 2. Plus, the second highest salary team might be a disaster like the Mets, so there's really no reason to compare to them. It's easy enough to find league average payroll statistics and compare to that, which will give you at least a better idea of a correlation between payroll and success.


3. Furthermore, the correlation is not as direct as Joe (and you, in your post) naively think. Look at how contracts are structured. Yeah, if you sign a big-name free agent, your payroll will go up that year. But, for instance, here's A-Fraud's salary/year since signing with the Yankees.

2004: 21.7 million
2005: 25.7 million
2006: 25.7 million
2007: 27.7 million
2008: 28 million
2009: 33 million

Notice, A-Rod's salary increased 5 million from last year, increasing the yankees payroll by 5 million. But he was a free agent signed 6 years ago. If you sign one (or more, for the yankees) huge free agent per year, your salary will increase significantly each year. Most teams feel like they have to spend more and more to "keep up" with the Yankees, and I don't think they're being unrealistic.

Anyway, without changing players, your payroll will increase. If you have better players (i.e. those worth more on the market), your payroll will be higher and will increase by more per year. This is why I believe that a comparison to league average will better expose the Yankee trend.

4. Finally, to respond to the debate concerning overall success, see the terrible article written before the World Series at http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/playoffs/2009/columns/story?columnist=stark_jayson&id=4599154

The point is, you can easily see that the Yankees have had more success this decade than any other team. Is it solely due to their high payroll/ability to attract free agents? Of course not. But it's tough to determine how much of a factor it is, and I'm more on Larry's side in thinking that it is a huge factor. Yeah, you can cite the fact that they didn't make the playoffs last year, but it was the first time they didn't make it since the strike. And they still won 89 games, which isn't DOMINANT, but they're never going to be like the royals or the pirates while they spend so freely.

In conclusion, Libya is a land of contrast.

Chris W said...

You're generally right. I disagree with you about the extent to which you're right, but you're generally right.

I will say this, briefly:

The Yankees will never be the Royals and Pirates while they spend so freely. But the Yankees wouldn't be the Royals and Pirates if there were a salary cap of 60mm.

Almost no team in baseball is the Royals or Pirates irrespective of payroll. The Royals or Pirates are just desolate organizations, whose analogs exist in other sports governed heavily by salary caps. Even the NFL has teams that go through 10 year periods of absolute futility.

Angelo said...

One more thing: again, that article is terrible, but it lists 6 teams as potential "teams of the decade." The top 5 teams for wins in the 00's are represented, plus the Phillies (I guess in case they won this year).

5 of those teams seem to be in the top 10 for average payroll from 2000-2009. (There are multiple ways to average and the Cardinals and Braves are around tenth based on procedure) Is that a coincidence?

The one that's not is the Phillies. Is that a coincidence?

One more interesting site:
http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2009/03/20062008_payrol.php

It analyzes payroll vs wins from 2006-2008. The Twins win the award for "doing the most with the least"

It also shows that the Yankees are less efficient in terms of spending than almost every other team, supporting Chris's point a bit.

Anonymous said...

Oh boy, did you miss his point! It's almost impressive.

Chris W said...

Angelo--

I agree that being in the top 10 of payroll correlates pretty well with being successful over a long period of time. I guess I just don't agree with the implication that it's difficult to be in the top 10 of payroll.

Anonymous--

I don't think I missed his point at all: that the Yankees disparate spending creates a competitive imbalance that doesn't necessarily show up in championships or even obviously in overall performance but that is nonetheless a sad fact of the game that makes competing excessively and unfairly difficult for teams that aren't the Yankees.

You obviously either feel that I missed that point or that that was not the point. I couldn't disagree more, but I guess that's why pencils have erasers, or some such platitude.

Anonymous said...

I dont disagree that the Yankees have an advantage with being in NY and having a huge TV contract, but to propose that the White Sox, Twins, Cardinals, et. all owners dont have money and cant spend to bring in a free agent is absurd. i really think people look at the Yankees and fail to realize that the owners are willing to re-invest what would be profits into the team. they win, continue to draw huge crowds, have a huge fan base which justifies the TV network, and can sign players. i just think that some owners are unwilling to invest would be profits in order to go out and try and build a winner. the twins owner is one of the five richest men in america, why the fuck cant he spend? cause, to him, the twins are a tax write off. i dont doubt the yankees have some advantage, but i think its is over-stated when you take other owners wealth into account and realize that they are stubborn assclowns who care only about their profit and not necessarily putting a great product on the field.

cs said...

That post was longer than the NBA Playoffs...

Tonus said...

I think the problem with Posnanski's blog post was that he kept his examples a bit narrow. He was trying to explain that the Yankees big edge in spending is an advantage, but that baseball 'hides' this advantage due to its nature. So while the Yankees may not win every year, they can contend every year, unlike teams that spend less.

But that rests entirely on the assumption that the Yankees are a world apart from every other baseball team, and I don't think that's true. Yeah, spending 35-85 million more than anyone else is staggering, but teams like the Mets and Cubs and Angels can still afford to stock up on free agents and, perhaps more importantly, keep their rising young stars after their sixth pro season.

Sure, the Yankees can right the ship by buying CC, AJ, and Tex a season or two after re-doing ARod's contract. But they wanted to get those FAs because some of their previous signings didn't pan out as hoped and they weren't getting out of the first round of the playoffs (and in 2008, not even reaching the playoffs).

So it is definitely an advantage, I'm just not sure that you can say "Yankees over here, all the rest of MLB over there." Not every team that spends more than $100 million is doing as well as you'd expect, even allowing for baseball's unique nature.

Chris W said...

Just to clear up some confusion

1.) I don't think that the Yankees advantage based on ridiculous spending is invented or even small. I just think it's overstated in the grand scheme of MLB success

2.) I bring up postseason success for the following reason:

There seems to be major planes of success in terms of a MLB team over the course of a season

1: win 82 games
2: make the playoffs
3: win your division
4: win a playoff game
5: win a playoff series
6: win the pennant
7: win the world series

To me, there's no doubt that the Yankees are able to buy themselves to the "2" level nearly every time and the "5 level" quite often as well. But really how much success is that considering the unreasonable amount of money they spend? I don't know.

I guess depending how highly you value "making the playoffs" as an ultimate goal will determine how unfair you think it is that the Yankees spend ridiculous amounts of money.

If you boil it down to what Larry and I talked to earlier--the Yankees are spending 80mm in order, essentially, to ensure they make the playoffs, IMO that seems a bit like overkill. Big deal, you made the fucking playoffs. But to others, I can understand that seems absurd.

Of course this doesn't even touch on the point that anonymous 2 brings up--that pretty much every team CAN afford to spend the money the Yankees do, but they feel that spending less money and having a CHANCE to make the playoffs is better business than spending twice as much to ensure you make the playoffs but not ensure much else.

Who knows. Well, besides Larry, who has told me unquivocally that I am wrong and stupid. He knows.

PS: cs--now you know how bored I feel, having to sit through the NBA playoffs every year :)

Adam said...

The second Anonymous brings up a very good point that is often conveniently ignored. Fans complain about how much the players make, but they either don't realize or forget that the owners are really the ones with all the wealth. Baseball has a strong union and without a salary cap that is less money in the owner's pockets and more to the players. That's the real reason other leagues have salary caps, not competitive balance. If you ask me the way baseball is right now is a good thing. Anybody who is advocating for a salary cap in baseball is advocating to further increase the owners' wealth.

Angelo said...

Adam- I guess you're not a 45-65 year old white Republican in the top tax bracket. So nobody asked you anything, okay?

Larry B said...

Lost in all this commotion and hubbub is the best comment this blog has ever received, in my post below. Anonymous around 8 PM on 11/10. Check it out.

Pete said...

Chris,
Your post from 8:53am illustrates Posnanski's point and (concurrently) why you are completely wrong. You agree that the Yankees can spend enough to get into the playoffs almost every year and, "quite often" enough to also win a playoff series. Whether you want to play semantic games with the word "dominance" or not, those two facts are evidence of an EXTREMELY unfair advantage for the Yanks.

The nature of baseball, especially in a 5- or 7-game series, is such that the best team doesn't necessarily have a huge advantage. I think Baseball Prospectus put the Yankees' odds of winning the WS at 60/40 before game 1 this year. Billy Beane repeatedly responded to criticisms of his A's teams' playoff performances by noting the small sample size afforded by a playoff series. No amount of payroll disparity can guarantee WS titles. But when you have one team that can guarantee itself a playoff spot every year simply through its spending, that is an unfair advantage.

Also, in regard to "dominance," the fact that Cashman is a largely incompetent GM who has pissed away millions on scrubby free agents doesn't negate how unfair the monetary advantage is. If you gave, say, Pat Gillick or Beane (and I realize they're two totally different types of GMs) a NYY-level payroll, their teams would win 110-120 games almost every year.

Chris W said...

Pete--

Like I said, it depends on your conception of whether

a.) Making the playoffs is a significant goal

b.) The playoffs are a crapshoot

I disagree with both those premises and therefore I see nothing dominant about making the playoffs year in and year out with little success. You and Joe (and Larry and Jack and whoever) are welcome to disagree. I've said my piece to that end.

Chris W said...

Also, no offense, but this is laughable:

"If you gave, say, Pat Gillick or Beane (and I realize they're two totally different types of GMs) a NYY-level payroll, their teams would win 110-120 games almost every year."

Adam said...

Angelo - If you take out the "if you ask me" part, the point still stands and it is an argument against a salary cap that is never talked about. Ignoring it doesn't make it go away.

Adam said...

Actually the more important point is that there is no way to implement a salary cap without blowing up all existing contracts. Since the total value of all player contracts added together has to remain the same there would have to be a salary floor as well. (Like in the NFL and NHL). This would seriously hurt small market teams who would be forced to spend a large portion of their overall revenue on player salary and could be forced into serious financial trouble. If a salary cap is going to hurt the largest and smallest revenue teams in baseball, then what's the point?

Chris W said...

Theoretically they could grandfather out old contracts, treating contracts over $X signed before the cap as $X and then count all contracts after the fact at full value against the cap.

That said, the players' union is way too strong for a cap to come about. It would take a lockout...and MLB, unlike the NFL, doesn't have a strong enough contingency plan for replacement players because there aren't enough players outside the player's union who are "almost good enough to play in the MLB"

Fred Trigger said...

I think MLB actually tried to use replacement players, but a judge ruled against it because the owners were not negotiating with the players in "good faith", or something like that. I think the owners are done with trying to mess with the players union because every time they do, the union head usually burns them pretty good.

Pete said...

Chris,
Making the playoffs is a significant goal *because* the playoffs are somewhat of a crapshoot. I understand you disagree, but what is the basis for your disagreement? The 2006 Cardinals were demonstrably not the best team in baseball, yet they won the WS. The 2007 Rockies were not the best team in the NL. The 2008 Phillies weren't the best in baseball.

I don't have the stats handy, but the wild card team has fared significantly better than one might expect. Given the length of a baseball season, the final standings are a pretty good reflection of each team's relative strength. Yet, the team with the best record in baseball really only has a 50/50 shot (at best) of winning it all. I don't see how you can disagree with that. Really all a team can do is get into the playoffs. The Yankees have, essentially, a guarantee of doing that every year. That is an unfair advantage.

And laugh at me, Gillick and Beane all you want, but Cashman is a crappy GM

Chris W said...

a.) I would say of those teams the 2006 Cardinals was the only team measurably worse than the teams they beat

b.) I agree that Wild Card teams succeed (hard to disagree with the facts) but I would charge that's because THERE IS a way to build a team for the postseason (i.e. shallow rotation, strong defense-emphasis) that doesn't translate to regular season success. Therefore, Wild Card teams will generally have less successful regular season records but will not be necessarily "inferior teams". In other words, there is a strategically sound way to build WS teams but it is a high tradeoff that does not always translate to playoffs. I recognize not everyone agrees with this POV

c.) Cashman is a lousy GM. Your claim was still absurd

Jack M said...

I for one think that Major League Baseball should switch to a schedule similar to European Club soccer. Every team plays 2 series against every other team (1 home, 1 away), the team with the best win/loss record (with rs/ra being the tie breaker) wins the title.

Not only would it be more fair, but it would mean that as an Orioles fan, I might conceivably watch them play a meaningful game in September.

Of course, playoffs are more exciting. So forget that.

Pete said...

So you think Gillick, with an additional 100 million to spend, could not build a team that wins 15-20 additional games? And that Beane couldn't get there with an extra 150 million? Why not?

What's absurd is the idea that the WC teams have figured out the "secret sauce" of having 2 good pitchers and good defense. Making that argument is simply admitting that a 5- or 7-game series is a crapshoot. Yes, running your 2 or 3 best pitchers out there and minimizing errors will help teams win a postseason series. But all you're saying is that teams with low payrolls can build an objectively worse team, hope to sneak into the playoffs, and then have slightly better odds than they otherwise might because of pitching and defense. IT IS STILL A CRAPSHOOT.

The 2007 Rockies stunk - they got incredibly hot and still needed a blown call in a tiebreaker to even get in. They stayed lucky until the series, and then got dismantled.

The 2008 Phillies were a very good team, but they were very lucky to win the WS (and I'm a Phils fan). They were something like 2-40 with RISP and needed lifetime-best pitching performances from their entire staff and 'pen to eke out wins in games 1, 3 and 5.

Chris W said...

"So you think Gillick, with an additional 100 million to spend, could not build a team that wins 15-20 additional games? And that Beane couldn't get there with an extra 150 million? Why not?"

Yes. It's absurd. No team in baseball history has ever won 120 games, and you expect that Gillick could do it consistently with the exact same talent pool available to Cashman?

Nope.

"What's absurd is the idea that the WC teams have figured out the "secret sauce" of having 2 good pitchers and good defense. Making that argument is simply admitting that a 5- or 7-game series is a crapshoot."

Where have I said they "figured it out." It's hard to argue the concept that on the whole the teams with a claim to best frontline starting pitching tend to win their pennants. Correlation does not imply causality, but it does give me cause to believe that it's as likely that pitching and defense tends to win championships as it is that "the playoffs are a crapshoot."

" Yes, running your 2 or 3 best pitchers out there and minimizing errors will help teams win a postseason series. But all you're saying is that teams with low payrolls can build an objectively worse team, hope to sneak into the playoffs, and then have slightly better odds than they otherwise might because of pitching and defense."

No. What I'm saying is that I believe that teams with better frontline pitching and defense are the teams that tend to win in the postseason.

These teams are not always the teams with the best regular season records. Your assumption that teams with the best regular season records are the "objectively best teams" rests on your assumption that a team's goal in building a team is to win the most regular season games.

IF that is not the goal, and rather a team's goal in building a team is to give themselves the best advantage in the postseason AND if my assumption that frontline pitching and defense wins the postseason THEN the "objectively best teams" to that end are teams that are best built to succeed in the postseason irrespective of regular season record.

Sometimes those teams HAPPEN to be Wild Card teams. Sometimes they happen to be division champions. Sometimes they happen to be the best team in the league.

"The 2007 Rockies stunk - they got incredibly hot and still needed a blown call in a tiebreaker to even get in. They stayed lucky until the series, and then got dismantled."

They won until they encountered a team with significantly better pitching than they had. They beat the Phillies and D-Backs, teams that did not have significantly better pitching and certainly worse defense.

"The 2008 Phillies were a very good team, but they were very lucky to win the WS (and I'm a Phils fan). They were something like 2-40 with RISP and needed lifetime-best pitching performances from their entire staff and 'pen to eke out wins in games 1, 3 and 5."

What team did they beat in the postseason that had objectively better pitching and defense than they did?

Chris W said...

ALSO: I need to amend something. I kept talking about "frontline pitching." I forgot to include bullpen with that, something just as important as frontline pitching.

Larry B said...

Hey Pete, don't be upset about the 2007 NLDS. Your then-broke ass team got swept because your pitching sucked. Remember Kyle Loshe coming out of the pen to put out a fire in a must-win game? Yeah, that's not going to work. Big ups to my boy Kaz Matsui The reason you guys won it all last year and won the NL this year was, surprise, because your pitching got better. The 2007 Rockies had much better pitching than the 2007 Phillies (by the time the playoffs rolled around), and were the better team as a result.

-Rockies fan

Pete said...

Chris -
The Rays had objectively better pitching and defense than the Phillies. The Brewers were a wash pitching-wise, given the huge advantage provided by CC. The only team where the Phils had the clear pitching/defense advantage was the Dodgers.

Also, as far as including the 'pen, your argument is now basically that teams with the best pitching have an advantage in the postseason. That is a given.

Larry -
The Phils' pitching in 2007 was crap, I agree. Kyle Kendrick was their second best starter, and Antonio Alfonseca was a prominent member of the bullpen. That doesn't mean the Rockies were some kind of juggernaut - wasn't Josh Fogg a critical part of their rotation?

Pete said...

Anyway, here's hoping the Phillies trade for Halladay over the offseason

Larry B said...

Josh "the Dragonslayer" Fogg, as he was then known, was our 4th starter. You may recall being shut down by Jeff Francis and Ubaldo Jimenez. They were the guys who made things happen down the stretch that year. No, the 2007 Rockies were not a "juggernaut." But they were almost certainly the best team in the NL from July onwards. They went 50-31 over that stretch- the Phillies went 48-33, the Cubs went 46-37, and the DBacks went 44-36. Of course, no one thinks that Rockies team was any good because... how could they have been! They were the Rockies! They just got hot at the right time! (As long as "the second half of the season" is the right time, people who say that are correct.)

Tonus said...

They went 21-1 because they found the will to win! It was buried in a small pile of grit near the home dugout.

Chris W said...

"Chris -
The Rays had objectively better pitching and defense than the Phillies. The Brewers were a wash pitching-wise, given the huge advantage provided by CC. The only team where the Phils had the clear pitching/defense advantage was the Dodgers."

Bullshit:

Cole Hamels: 142 ERA+
Jamie Moyer: 118 ERA+
Brad Lidge: 225 ERA+
four other relievers over 140 ERA +

(not that ERA+ is the only way to measure a pitcher but it's sure a good place to start)

James Shields: 124 ERA+
Scott Kazmir: 126 ERA+
Percival: 97 ERA+
(only 3 relievers over 140 ERA+)

I wouldn't go so far as to say that the Phillies frontline starting pitching and bullpen was BETTER than the Rays was but certainly your bullshit claim that the Rays frontline pitching and bullpen was "objectively better" is just that--bullshit

"Also, as far as including the 'pen, your argument is now basically that teams with the best pitching have an advantage in the postseason. That is a given."

You don't read very closely or think very critically do you?

I said FRONTLINE starting pitching. i.e. top 2-3 starters and bullpen.

That's why so many wildcard teams have so much difficulty winning 95+ games but do well in the postseason. Having a good 4th and 5th starter is valuable in the regular season but is not particularly necessary in the playoffs.

Also if "teams with better pitching tend to win in the postseason" is such a "given" then

a.) How the fuck are you going to claim that the playoffs are a crapshoot

b.) How come the Yankees of the past 5 years didn't seem to give a fuck about pitching and how come so few people seem to point out that the major difference between this Yankees team and the ones that didn't win the WS between 2001-2008 was that this team had dominant pitching (hey! frontline dominance, whaddayaknow!) and the other Yankees iterations did not.

Come on man. You're clearly going to great lengths to try to shoot down an idea for which there is clearly plenty of evidence (doesn't mean it's right--just means there's plenty of evidence) and you're failing pretty miserably by ignoring important key facts.

Chris W said...

Also, good grief man:

"That doesn't mean the Rockies were some kind of juggernaut - wasn't Josh Fogg a critical part of their rotation?"

NO ONE IS SAYING THE 2007 ROCKIES WERE A JUGGERNAUT. Just that there was no better team than them in the NL.

Is it inconceivable that rather than "Getting really lucky because the playoffs are a crapshoot" that the Rockies won the NL because the NL was very weak that year and even a relatively unimpressive Rockies team had a claim to best team in the NL because its only competition was the fucking Cubs, DBacks and Phillies (3 lousy teams)?

After all, everyone assumes the Red Sox pasting the Rockies proved that the Rockies were an inferior team. I'll buy that. After all, I think the better team nearly always wins in postseason serieses...lol

Pete said...

Fuck the 2007 Rockies. The "best team in the second half" never should have made the playoffs because Matt Holliday never touched home in the 1-game playoff against the Padres. So stop trying to tell me luck wasn't involved and the Rockies were just THAT GOOD. They weren't, even if Jiminez did pitch well in the playoffs.

Chris, you're the one who apparently can't read and who is failing at trying to defend an absurd point. Ironically, your last couple of posts are reminiscent of Mariotti's efforts on ATH. You can cherry-pick ERA+ all you want, but at least try to keep it to guys who actually pitched in the World Series, or at least the playoffs (hint: Troy Percival DID NOT). If you had done that, you might have included gentlemen such as JP Howell (199), Dan Wheeler (141), Grant Balfour (285), Chad Bradford (310) and David Price (228). You also conveniently left out Game 3 starter Matt Garza (119) and Game 4 starter Andy Sonnanstine (101).

Even more laughable is your selection of Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer as representative starters for the Phils. You forget to mention Game 2 starter Brett Myers (96) or to note that Moyer had been shelled throughout the playoffs. So what you have is Tampa's 4 starters all with ERA+'s over 100, and everyone who actually pitched out of the 'pen for Tampa with an excellent ERA+ mark. You also didn't bother to mention that Tampa led the league in UZR.

But yeah, you're right, Tampa's pitching sucked because Mitch Talbot had a 39 ERA+. Of course, he wasn't on the playoff roster and only pitched in 3 games for them all year, but I guess as long as Percival is fair game then why not Talbot? He was the pitcher of the year in Durham though.

As for the playoffs, NO SHIT better pitching helps teams win. By the way, "FRONTLINE" starting pitching is a meaningless term. Teams can have a varying number of frontline starters depending on how good their pitching is. This year in the playoffs, the Phillies had 1 and the Yankees had 3. So, your genius argument is: "Teams that have the best starting pitching and bullpen will do well in the playoffs." Again: NO SHIT.

Great insight, pal...you should write it up and submit it to Bill James to see if he puts it in the 2010 Encyclopedia.

Pete said...

One last point on the 2007 NL playoff teams. Using Chris' own metric (defense and pitching as measured by ERA+), the Cubs' top 3 starters had ERA+ of 117, 121, and 118. Their bullpen guys, outside of Dempster (98) all had ERA+ of above 130. The Cubs were third in the league in UZR. The Cubs should be Chris' ideal playoff team. But no, they are "lousy" and would not have stood a chance against the NL's best 2007 team, the Rockies.

Of course, the Cubs couldn't even get past the D-Backs, another lousy team who started a bona fide ace (Brandon Webb) with an ERA+ of 158, along with Livan Hernandez (98), Doug Davis (112), and Micah Owings (110). No one in the Arizona bullpen had an ERA+ below 145, and three guys were above 170 (Valverde, Lyon, and Slaten). Naturally, the "lousy" D-Backs melted in the face of the mighty Rockies, whose best starter boasted a 116 ERA+, who had only one reliever with an ERA+ above 155, and whose closer posted an immortal 2.18 WHIP in the 2007 playoffs.

Yep, you're right - there was never a question when the NL playoffs started that the Rockies were the best team and would steamroll their way to the World Series.

Chris W said...

All right dude...you win. There's absolutely no way you can accept that you're wrong, so I have no reason to continue this discussion.

You're absolutely right--the 2007 Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Cubs were clearly "objectively better" than the 2007 Rockies and that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the results of the playoffs are just random chance and have very little to do with the quality of the teams competing.

Let's move on.

Larry B said...

The 2007 Rockies were not the best team in the league during the entire season. They were the best team in the league from about mid June onward. It's not that hard to understand. Season-long statistics will not bear out my point, because "they were the best team the whole year" was not my point in the first place. Almost every key member of the pitching staff had a better 2nd half that first half.

A couple points about game 163-

1) Holliday probably never touched the plate. However, even if he were called out, the game was still tied, there were 2 outs, and a runner on 2nd. To say that if the call was made correctly "they wouldn't have made the playoffs anyways" is fucking stupid. They were still probably 65% favorites to win the game at that point anyways.

2) Garrett Atkins hit a home run leading off the bottom of the 7th inning. The umps completely blew the call, ruled it a double (said it didn't cross the top of the fence; it did, clearly, and then bounced off a seat and back onto the field of play), and Atkins didn't score. If he does they in all likelihood win without going to extra innings. But hey, bitching about blown calls works a whole lot better when you only mention the blown calls which help prove your point, right?

Alex said...

One word:

Tolstoy.

Pete said...

Larry:
As far as season-long stats, I was just responding to chris on his own terms (ERA+), to point out that his argument was garbage. You may be right about the second half splits I'm not sure.

You are right about game 163, I had forgotten about the atkins hr. Still, that game is a microcosm of why the playoffs are basically a crapshoot. Luck plays a huge role in any short series.