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THE COST OF WINNING

[October 16th] -- Baseball is without a doubt a sport that revolves around statistics. There is a statistic for everyone and everything. Some, like on-base percentage, is very important. Others, like game winning RBI's, were so meaningless that statisticians stopped using them.

From my perspective, the best way to gage a team's front office success or failure is the "wins to payroll dollars" ratio. Divide the total payroll by number of wins, and you have a pretty good idea of how well (or how poorly) a team' front office is doing.

Here's how the National League ranked in cost per win for the 2006 season (playoff teams are in red):

  1. Chicago Cubs [$1,430,666.00]
  2. San Francisco Giants [$1,184,952.00]
  3. Atlanta Braves [$1,141,226.00]
  4. Houston Astros [$1,128,670.00]
  5. L.A. Dodgers [$1,118,715.00]
  6. St. Louis Cardinals [$1,070,000.00]
  7. N.Y. Mets [$1,042,103.00]
  8. Philadelphia Phillies [$1,038,000.00]
  9. Washington Nationals [$889,338.02]
  10. San Diego Padres [$794,274.32]
  11. Arizona Diamondbacks [$785,318.90]
  12. Milwaukee Brewers [$767,577.88]
  13. Cincinnati Reds [$761,368.30]
  14. Pittsburgh Pirates [$697,279.33]
  15. Colorado Rockies [$542,539.27]
  16. Florida Marlins [$192,307.66]

The top four teams on the list, as well as the bottom six, didn't make it into the playoffs The amount of money spent on payroll, then, doesn't necessarily increase a team's chances of making the post-season, but spending too little almost guarantees a winter bereft of baseball. The great majority of the teams that made it to the post season fell into the middle (the American League teams spent far less than their N.L. counterparts), spending just the right amount of money.

In 2005, the Nationals' 81 wins came at a cost of $592,592.33 per game, much better than this year's $889,338.02. The league average was $862,000, and the average of the playoff teams was surprisingly less, coming in at $686,500 per team.

Many Nationals' fans have been concerned that the Lerner's payroll limit in the low $60 million dollar range would keep the team from competing for a spot in the playoffs. That doesn't seem to be the case. Half of this year's post-season teams have a payroll less than the Washington Nationals, so it's becoming pretty evident that spending millions and millions of dollars on super-stars doesn't make a team that much more likely to make the playoffs. To that end, only five of the fifteen highest payrolled teams made it to the post season in 2006.

What's the right payroll amount for the Nationals? Take a look at the following breakdown:

Surprisingly, teams with a payroll in the $60-70 million range had the most entries in the post season, and that's where I think the Nationals' payroll should be for the foreseeable future. That level of payroll would demand that the team's roster would be constantly pruned of older players with bloated contracts, forcing the team to keep the minor league system well stocked.

Most importantly, a $60+ million dollar payroll doesn't allow for players like Alfonso Soriano to make $15 million dollars per year. No matter what players' agents might say, there is no way that any baseball player is worth that kind of money. For that same $15 million, Bowden could sign two or three players, players whose combined stats would likely dwarf anything Soriano could produce. For instance, the Nats could have three members of the Tigers (Magglio Ordonez [.298-24-104], Carlos Guillen [.320-19-85] and Brandon Inge [.253-27-83]) for less money than Soriano would cost the Nationals next season. They combined for 70 homers and 272 RBI's -- do you think Soriano would be that productive in 2007??

The only teams that could afford Soriano would be the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, White Sox, Mets, Dodgers and Cubs; they are the teams with the seven highest payrolls in baseball. Only two of them went to the post season this year. And that's what I'm trying to say. Scouting is far more important to the Nationals' future than Mark Lerner's checkbook.

Alfonso Soriano or two to three quality players for the same price: which would you prefer to see next year at RFK? I think it's a no brainer.


Comments:
that's an interesting viewpoint on the payroll dollars -- I never thought of that before.

But does it hold over several seasons, or was this just a "snapshot" that happened to work this time, this year?
 
I'd like to see the team's "win to payroll" amount be about $842,000, or about 95 wins with a payroll of $80 million.

That would be a good return on investment, wouldn't it?
 
A couple things:

I'd be most interested to see the percentage that made it by payroll bracket. 3 out of how many? 5, 10? 15?

Magglio is costing the Tigers, on average, 15 mill a year, which is what Soriano wants. The three Tigers you mentioned commbined in 2006 to cost 23 million. Soriano isn't going to get THAT much.
 
How did wins within a division compare to payroll? I will bet it is significantly different in each division. The Eastern Divisions (NL & AL) both lead their respective leagues in payroll. So does teams with low payroll in the Central Divisions do not have to compete in the high dollar free agent market to compete with other Central teams.
 
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