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Posts Tagged ‘Billy Beane’

With The Jays collapsing this year, and the dangling of Roy Halladay on the trade block, it appears that JP Ricciardi’s days in Toronto could be numbered.  Hailed as one of Billy Beane’s golden boys, expectations were high in Toronto when he was hired following the 2001 campaign.  Since then, the Jays have had only once finished above third place in the American League East, and most fans consider his tenure a failure.  I am one of the few who disagree, but unfortunately did not really have any numbers to back myself up. 

I decided to undertake a small project to put some numbers behind my claim. As I was working through the data, I became unsure that I was going to be able to find a solution.  However, the end product gave me the results I wanted.  Given the financial resources relative to their division, the Toronto Blue Jays under JP Ricciardi were outperformed in terms of winning percentage compared to their division only by Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics and depending on your point of view, Terry Ryan’s Minnesota Twins.  These are arguably the top two GM’s in baseball over this time frame, so I would say JP is in pretty good company.  Now to the data.

Ricciardi was hired following the 2001 season, so I plugged the records of every team in the American League from 2002-2008 into Excel.  I then tabulated each team’s winning percentage over this time period, as well as the winning percentage of the other team’s in the division.  For example, the “Division Winning Percentage” box for the Tampa Bay Rays would include the records of the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles, but NOT the Rays.  I then calculated how much each team had spent on payroll (information from Cot’s MLB Contracts), and figured out what percentage of the division’s total payroll was spent by each team.  The results for the three AL divisions are as follows:

 AL East

 AL Central

AL West

 *Because the AL West only has four teams, I added a hypothetical fifth team that has a payroll that is the average of the other four teams.  This helps make the Percentage of Payroll constant across all divisions.

The numbers are not perfect, and could be refined further, but I think the general point I am trying to make is apparent.  Given his financial resources, JP Ricciardi did very well with the Jays.  He achieved a winning percentage only .010 lower than the rest of the division, while playing in the toughest division in baseball with the two best teams in the league.  You might be saying, well that is not very good, he was below average.  However, if you take a closer look, he did this while spending only 14.39% of his division’s total payroll.  The only other teams to spend similar or less were Baltimore (.087 lower winning % than division), Tampa Bay (.107 lower), Kansas City (.095 lower) and Oakland (.039 higher).  Among these teams, only Oakland was better.  With regards to Minnesota, they did spend 3.5% more than Toronto, but I would argue the .088 boost in winning percentage relative to the division is greater than the financial surplus.   

The two big failures were Detroit and Seattle.  Detroit spent 24.10% of their division’s payroll to be .058 below the rest of their division, while Seattle spent 23.18% to be .053 worse. 

So there you have it.  In my opinion, the JP Ricciardi era in Toronto has not been a failure, and he has actually done very well.  Other than a brutal 2004 season, the Jays have remained extremely competitive with the Red Sox and the Yankees despite financial limitations.  A lot of this depends on how you label success.  Some would argue that Tampa Bay has done a better job because they won a division title and a pennant with even smaller resources than Toronto.  To that I would say, “oh really, how did you enjoy the six 90+ loss seasons prior to 2008?”  I do not think success can be attributed to one good year, so overall, I think the top three general managers in the American League from 2002-2008 were Billy Beane, Terry Ryan and JP Ricciardi.

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Every year you hear the same arguments coming from the fans of small market teams to justify their team’s futility.  They range from “we just do not have the payroll to compete” to “it is those darn Yankees and their $200 million payroll stealing all of our talent”.  I have always felt that these arguments, while passionate, were completely unfounded.  I believe that when the first pitch is thrown to open Spring Training, any team has the chance to still be playing in October.  However, that is a difficult argument to make without any numbers to back it up.  So I decided to run the numbers and this is what I have come up with.

The Numbers

 

 

I started by listing every individual team since 1998 (the first year that MLB had thirty teams) by total payroll.  I then added wins, losses, playoff appearances and World Series titles.  For example, the row for the 1998 Atlanta Braves would have a $59.536 million payroll, 106 wins, 56 losses, a playoff appearance and no World Series.  Then year-by-year, starting in 2008, I ran regressions with payroll as my dependant variable.  What I found was that in no way was total payroll indicative of wins, losses or World Series titles.  There was, however, a very loose relationship between payroll and playoff appearances, but nothing substantial enough upon which to found an argument.  So to all the Yankees and Red Sox haters out there, I am sorry but there is not much in the numbers to back up your argument.

Of course, the data that Excel spits out is not the only way to interpret the information, so I decided to have a look with the naked eye as well.  Two things I can say for certain are that a high payroll does not equal success, and well-run teams can compete even with below-average payrolls.

 

Money Doesn't Buy Happiness

Money Doesn't Buy Happiness

What Were They Thinking?

 

 From 2001 to 2004, the New York Mets had payrolls that ranked 4th, 6th, 2nd and 4th in the league, with a final outcome of 294 wins, 352 losses, one season above .500 and as you can probably guess, no playoff appearances.  The 2003 squad was particularly inept; their 66-95 record the product of a $117 million payroll, second only to the Yankees.

From 1998 to 2000, the Baltimore Orioles were 24 games under .500 despite payrolls that ranked 1st, 8th and 3rd.  After this, ownership wisely decided to stop spending truckloads of money as it became clear the team was going nowhere.   

Bang For Their Buck

On the flipside, there are other teams that were consistently good over several years despite budget limitations.  Billy Beane’s Moneyball A’s made four consecutive playoff appearances from 2000 to 2003 despite a payroll in the bottom six in three of those years.  From 2001 to 2008,Terry Ryan’s Twins were 117 games over .500 despite a payroll that never cracked the top seventeen, and three times found itself in the bottom six.

The Three Tiers

The final way I looked at my charts was to split the league into three tiers each year, with the top 10 payrolls occupying one tier, the middle ten another, and the bottom ten the final tier.  Here is how it played out.

Top Tier  

  • Payroll: $10.696 billion
  • Wins: 9,633
  • Losses: 8,175
  • Playoff Appearances: 53
  • Word Series Titles: 6

Middle Tier

  • Payroll: $7.124 billion
  • Wins: 8,840
  • Losses: 8,975
  • Playoff Appearances: 23
  • Word Series Titles: 4

Bottom Tier

  • Payroll: $4.381 billion
  • Wins: 8,240
  • Losses: 9,563
  • Playoff Appearances: 13
  • Word Series Titles: 1

As you can see, the top ten teams essentially spent as much money as the bottom twenty to win on average ten more games per year, make seventeen more playoff appearances and win one more World Series title.  On average, this means that the playoff pool consists of five teams from the top tier, two from the middle and one from the bottom.    

Conclusion

I think this helps proves that anyone has a chance to make the playoffs and win the World Series during any given year.  While low-payroll teams do not have success as often as the high-payroll teams, it is not impossible for a $55 million team to put together a winning season or even make the playoffs.  Fans of perpetually bad teams like the Pirates, Royals, Nationals and Orioles need to stop blaming cheap owners and payroll limitations, and start focussing their anger at poor management and bad drafts.

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